Is the "Fun" All Gone?

I keep running into that word: fun. 

For instance, I get messages saying that I don't understand the Nikon Z fc camera, because it's fun (really? Because it has dials?). And after my article on Stop Switching, Mike Johnston picked up on it and wrote about me: "The guy's no fun." (Yes, I know Mike was being sarcastic, but note that some of the comments picked up on "sucking the fun" out of photography theme.)

I'd like to change the discussion a bit. Let's stop using the word "fun" and start using the word "enjoyment." Merriam-Webster says "fun" can mean providing entertainment, amusement, or enjoyment, which seems to suggest that the word has a broad ability to mean different things to different people. I try to use words carefully, and with specific meaning that's more difficult to misinterpret.

My camera doesn't entertain me: I've yet to figure out how to get it to stream Netflix. And my camera rarely amuses me—one of MW's definitions of fun—and if were to start doing so regularly I'm not sure if I'll like that or find it objectionable. After all, I use my camera as a tool. It's not a whoopee cushion. Besides, I'll need to crank up the VR if I'm laughing, right?

Of course, if you're the prankster type, Nikon cameras in particular have the flexibility for you to set them in ways that when your photographer friend picks his or her camera back up, they'll go crazy and perhaps you'll be amused. I'm talking about things like reversing buttons, rings, and displays, and then piling on the prank by setting Release button to use dial, turning on an odd Automatic ISO sensitivity setting or two, or on cameras that allow it, setting locks on the aperture, shutter speed, or focus. 

Are we having fun yet?

As I noted above, one of the places where the word fun keeps showing up is in emails to me, and this always seems to center around dedicated dials versus non-dedicated dials. Particularly the Z50 versus the Zfc, which are basically the same camera with a different UI. According to correspondent after correspondent, the Zfc is "more fun." Apparently numbers etched into single function dials are fun. Go figure.

I'd say something different: if you enjoy—there's that word—such dedicated dials, then you enjoy directness and separation of function. Nothing wrong with that. However, there's a reason why Canon and Nikon moved away from dedicated dials and went to button+dial interfaces, with the dial not being predefined to a single function. When your eye is at the viewfinder of your camera, you don't want to take it away lest you miss a photographic moment. The button+dial interfaces allow photographers to change many things without taking their eyes from the viewfinder, and without having to move their finger away from the shutter release. 

Which led me to a little informal polling of some of those sending me "the Zfc is fun" emails. I simply asked if they were framing using the EVF or the Rear LCD. Quite a few were indeed using the Rear LCD. I'm a little perplexed by that. More and more I'm seeing folk with very sophisticated DSLR/mirrorless bodies that aren't looking through the viewfinder, but rather judging things on a dim LCD with lots of overlay clutter. In December I even saw someone trying to photograph birds in flight from the LCD. I get Rear LCD usage for street photography, particularly now that we have tilting and articulating screens and can thus disguise the fact that we're snapping photos, which reduces the chance that the subject goes into a "pose," particularly a "I don't want you photographing me" pose. Plus, of course, taking a selfie virtually requires you to use the Rear LCD flipped to some awkward angle if you want to get the composition "right".

But I don't get it for some of the other types of photography I've seen people doing while looking at the Rear LCD. And I don't get that this looking at an LCD instead of an EVF somehow makes a camera more fun. Nor do I think it's fun to discover that despite the fact I set a dial to a fixed number, that's not what the camera actually used. 

We all enjoy photography, otherwise why would we be doing it? The Zfc and its dedicated metal dials are pretty nicely crafted, too, and not a bunch of plastic round shapes pasted here and there (buttons) on more plastic. So I can enjoy the engineering that goes into the Zfc. Still, I always reach for the Z50 over the Zfc because I also enjoy taking photographs, and sometimes I have to do that quickly and make quick adjustments in response to something without taking my eyes from the scene or my hand from the shutter release.

There's room for both of us in the pursuit of photography (the dedicated dialers versus the button+dialers). We both enjoy our cameras and what they provide us, obviously, otherwise we'd dump them and buy something else. (Wait! That's what a lot of you keep doing! ;~) But I don't think one of us is having more "fun" because their dials have numbers etched and hand-painted on them.

This all reminds me of the faux debate of "less filling, better taste." Maybe that's it: all the dedicated dialers are taking the time for a sip of beer between each carefully executed shot, which would certainly seem like more fun if I drank alcohol (I don't). (I'm starting to realize why everyone insists on having image stabilization built in. ;~)


Obviously my tongue is stuck in my cheek once again. Might be genetic it happens so often. But there is something we need to be careful of in all the discussions of UX (user experience). If a camera company thinks that some fashionable thing that's being talked about a lot will sell more cameras, they'll dedicate a design team to iterate that. That's a design team that might not be pushing true state-of-the-art for our tools further forward, but into something they think will move more boxes temporarily. 

That's actually my biggest fear with the Zfc. It got more media and customer attention than the Z50 it mildly updated. I find it a slower camera to work with than the Z50, and again, if you miss the moment, you miss the moment. 

Even the Lords of the Dials—that would be Fujifilm—aren't quite sure what to do, as the X-S10 has been doing quite well, and it's...wait for it...a button+dial camera. One has to wonder whether "different than what we've been doing" is actually a new selling point, because it's worked recently for both Fujifilm and Nikon, in opposite directions. 

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