Usage Reports; Details Please!

6 03 2008

A number of people are giving brief usage reports on the Sigma DP1, but what seems to be missing are the important details about usability.

For example, Jack Howard gives a “first look” over at PopPhoto in which he mentions using manual focus, but he doesn’t say anything about how manual focus is achieved. He also mentions the widely known fact that you have a choice of using the LCD display or the optional optical viewfinder to compose, but he doesn’t mention if the LCD goes off when using the optical viewfinder.

These may sound like piddling details to some people, but they go to the heart of what serious photographers see as the difference between a gadget and a camera. What we photographers are looking for is usability based on how we really work and react in the field. That generally means a lower reliance on nested menus and endless button pushing to change modes.

Let’s look at manual focus for example. I used to have a Nikon Coolpix 5400. Nice camera, and it included a manual focus feature, but that feature was completely unusable. You had to hold down one button while rolling a command dial with a different finger, all while trying to compose your shot. It was terrible and I never used it.

On the other hand, I currently use a Lumix DMC LX2, a very well designed compact camera. To use manual focus, I flick a physical switch on the lens barrel to enter manual focus mode, then I use my thumb to move a little joystick on the back. All the while, the screen shows a close up of the center zone so I can see the focus, plus there’s a bar on the side that displays the depth of focus. It’s very easy to use, requires only one finger, and involves no pecking through menus. I can go back to autofocus with one flick of my finger. As a result, I use manual focus fairly often, as I did when shooting my nephew’s basketball game and I wanted to pre-focus in order to reduce lag time.

Manual focus helped me get this shot.

So how about the DP1? Is using manual focus as effortless as it is with the LX2? (I doubt it, as the DP1 doesn’t have a physical switch for changing focus mode.)

Then there’s the issue about the LCD when using the optical viewfinder. It makes sense that you should be able to turn off the LCD. No, it is imperative that you should be able to turn off the LCD. If you’ve ever tried to be inconspicuous with a compact digital – especially in low light – you know how important it is to turn off that big glowing light. With the optical viewfinder, the LCD isn’t necessary, and in some shooting situations you would really, really want it to be dark.

But just because something makes sense, doesn’t mean they build it that way. Also, there’s the question of how easy it is to turn off the LCD; does it go off automatically when you mount the optical viewfinder? (I hope not, as there may be times when you want both.) Can you turn it off with a flick of your finger, or do you have to peck your way through a nest of menu items?

We need to know! Why isn’t anyone telling us?

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6 responses

6 03 2008
mikros

You know what drives me nuts about my LX2? The manual focus resets to infinity when you shut it off, and there’s no way to sleep the LCD without putting the camera into auto-shut-down-reset the focus mode. So I generally leave it on until the batteries die, LCD shining the whole time.

The DP1 manual focus is via thumb dial on the rear of the camera – right where the AF/AE lock switch is on the LX2. The dial is marked with a distance scale. (seen on a photo of the back)

6 03 2008
Ed

Thanks for the tip, Mikros. That problem with resetting to infinity drives me nuts too. I can see how it might be useful to some people, but not all. It would be nice if there were a “set it and forget it” configuration item in which you can choose to have manual focus “remember last setting” or “reset to infinity.”

Regarding the DP1, I know that it’s done through that thumb dial, but what I want to know is “what is the whole process?” As in, how do you get in and out of manual focus mode?

Is it like the following?

– Click “Menu”
– Scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll until you find “Focus”
– Click “Focus”
– Scroll through “Auto, close-up, manual” and choose the one you want.
– Click “Menu” to set the choice.

If it’s like that, forget it. With some cameras it IS that convoluted, but for a camera that wants to be positioned as a “photographer’s camera,” it needs to be as simple (or at least almost as simple) as it is with the LX2.

6 03 2008
mikros

I do like the barrel switch on the LX2. I pretty much auto-focus on something the right distance away, then switch it to manual. That seems to work OK.

BTW, as an LX2 owner considering the upgrade to the DP1, I find this a very interesting little blog. Thanks.

10 03 2008
chunsum Choi

MF is achieved by pressing a button marked ‘focus’ which toggles between AF and MF.

15 03 2008
Steve Gillette

Hey…things are moving fast, now that DP-1 cameras have been delivered and numerous samples are available online. You should go out and find them, right? Not just sit and wait for them to come to you. This site needs to “get off the dime” and provide some insights beyond what a simple Google search can provide. Onward!

21 03 2008
Ed

Steve, you’re right. It’s just that I’ve been very busy with other things lately, plus there’s the fact that with so much DP1 info coming online, this blog is becoming redundant.

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