It’s easy to look at the impressive slate of cameras today and wonder what more they could possibly do. But there’s always room for improvement, which is why I’d like to go through some of the most useful features found on some – but not enough – cameras today.
All the features I’m listing below exist at least somewhere on the market. In other words, the technology is there. But I think there’s a big gap on the market if a company wants to stand out with their feature set, since no camera comes anywhere close to having all of these.
Note that when I’ve listed the features below, I’ve also mentioned some of the prominent cameras today with each feature. It’s not an exhaustive list and I’m sure I missed plenty, especially on brands that I’m not as familiar with like Pentax and Panasonic. If you let me know in the comments, I’ll add any missing cameras to the appropriate sections.
Without further ado, here are the features I think should be found on more cameras today:
Table of Contents
1. Back-in-Time Buffer
One of the key skills of sports and wildlife photography is anticipating the moment. There’s always some shutter lag – and lag in our own perception – to deal with. But even with top-tier anticipation skills, you’ll occasionally end up pressing the shutter button a hair too late and missing the moment. One feature that can save the day is what I like to call a “back-in-time buffer.” It’s found on some Olympus cameras and a few smartphones, as well as a more limited implementation on the discontinued Nikon 1 line of cameras.
Here’s how it works. Any time you hold down the shutter button halfway, the camera captures a constant burst of photos with the electronic shutter. (It discards them rather than saving them to the memory card.) Once you fully press the shutter button, the camera saves the backlog of images from the past half-second or so. As a result, you’ll capture a moment that you otherwise would have photographed too late. (On the late Nikon 1 cameras, the camera automatically chooses which “back in time” frames to keep, and only keeps 5 frames total.)
Of course, this feature takes up more card space – and some pros may tell you just to learn anticipation skills instead – but you can always turn it off if you don’t want it.
- Currently Found On: Many of the newest Olympus cameras (where it’s called “Pro Capture”), including the OM-D E-M5 Mark III and all OM-D E-M1 cameras from Mark II and beyond; more limited implementation on Nikon 1 cameras (called “Smart Photo Selector”)
- Helps With: Sports and wildlife photography
2. Sensor Dust Protector Curtain
I’ve found when shooting mirrorless that my sensor gets dirty more often compared to using a DSLR. It’s not a big pain to clean it, but I’d rather worry about other things when I’m out in the field.
I’m sure someone will correct me on this, but as far as I know, the first camera with a dust-protection curtain was the Canon EOS R. When you remove the lens on the EOS R, the shutter curtain closes in order to protect the sensor from the outside world, including dust.
Other cameras have added this feature in the meantime, including the Nikon Z9 (which doesn’t even have a mechanical shutter and instead uses a dedicated dust protection curtain for the job). I hope it becomes standard issue on all mirrorless cameras, and frankly, even on DSLRs.
- Currently Found On: Sony A9 II and A1; Nikon Z9; Canon full-frame mirrorless cameras other than the EOS RP
- Helps With: Any genre of photography where you’re using narrow apertures, especially landscapes, macro, and architecture
3. Voice Memos
Practically every camera these days has a microphone and a storage device. So why has it taken so long for voice memos to find their way to the masses?
High-end professional cameras have had voice memo options for ages. A quick Google search tells me it existed on the Canon EOS-1D Mark II in 2007 and the Nikon D2X in 2004, and maybe even on some earlier cameras.
Voice memos aren’t something everyone would use, but for documentary photographers, wedding photographers, and a few others, they can be a big help.
I’m glad to see Nikon adding voice memos to some of their less expensive cameras via a firmware update, including the Nikon Z6 that was released a few years ago. Hopefully more camera companies follow suit.
- Currently Found On: Most flagship sports cameras; Nikon Z6 and Z6 II (not the Z7 or Z7 II for some reason); Canon 5D IV for $100 service fee; Fuji X-Pro2, X-Pro3, X-T2, X-T3, and Fuji medium format cameras
- Helps With: Any sort of documentary photography
A lot of cameras are compatible with external GPS units that can tag your photos as you take them, but there’s no reason for the extra expense and annoyance of a dongle. To me, the proof is in point-and-shoot cameras. So many of them have built-in GPS, even cameras from more than a decade ago. If companies could add it to such basic cameras for so long, why isn’t everyone adding it to higher-end cameras today? (Maybe this next part is asking too much, but I’d also like to see the GPS sync your current location with the camera’s clock, so you don’t need to change the time in the menu each time you go to a different time zone.)
At least GPS is found on more cameras than some of the other features on this list. But it should be as common as WiFi and bluetooth – and it shouldn’t require you to sync your camera to your smartphone in order to piggyback on the phone’s GPS.
- Currently Found On: Nikon Z9, D6, D5300; Olympus E-M1X; Canon EOS R3, 1DX II, 5D IV, 6D II; Pentax K-1 series and K-3 II; several point-and-shoot cameras; almost all smartphones and drones
- Helps With: Documentary photography, landscape photography, or any time that you want to remember a location
I’ll be the first to say that you should learn how to use your camera with your eyes closed. You should instinctively know the location of every button and dial, or you’ll miss some shots in fast-moving conditions. However, for Milky Way photography or other shoots in pitch-black environments, backlit illuminated buttons can still be very useful. It certainly beats a bright headlamp that can shine into your photo or just ruin your night vision.
A few cameras have illuminated buttons, and the Pentax K-1 series even has a small light that illuminates the camera lens mount! For changing lenses at night, this makes things a lot easier. I’d like to see both these features on landscape-oriented cameras in the future.
- Currently Found On: Canon EOS 1DX III; Nikon D850, D4-D6, D500, Z9; Pentax K-1 series (separate light, not backlit buttons); Panasonic S1 series
- Helps With: Astrophotography and other times when you’re taking pictures in the dark.
6. Bulb Mode Preview
Some cameras show a live preview of how your exposure is building up during a Bulb or Time exposure. This is a helpful way to tell when to end an ultra-long exposure rather than spending lots of time with trial and error. This is a big win for Olympus including such a feature when most camera companies don’t!
- Currently Found On: Most recent Olympus cameras; some smartphones
- Helps With: Long exposure landscape photography
7. Vibration Detection Shutter Firing
Imagine if your camera could measure external sources of camera shake – for example, a gust of wind when you’re shooting on a tripod – and only fire the shutter once it detects the image will be stable?
I’d find that to be a huge help as a landscape photographer, even if it’s not a feature I’d always keep turned on. Sometimes, I think a photo is perfectly sharp, only to realize at home (once it’s too late to fix it) that there’s a bit of low-lying blur thanks to the wind.
Very few cameras have this feature today, but a couple Phase One medium format cameras do. They call it “Seismographic vibration delay.” Hopefully the other companies are taking notes.
- Currently Found On: Phase One XF IQ4 cameras
- Helps With: Landscape photography
8. Native Image Averaging
I’m a big fan of image averaging as a way to dramatically improve your image quality and dynamic range. So too, it seems, is Phase One.
On a few Phase One and Olympus cameras, there’s built-in image averaging to simulate ultra-long exposures without an ND filter, as well as improving shadow noise significantly. Image averaging is basically a way to simulate arbitrarily low ISO values, and it would be a great addition for a lot of landscape photographers.
- Currently Found On: Phase One XF IQ4 cameras; Olympus E-M1 III and E-M1 X
- Helps With: Landscape photography and any application that requires high dynamic range
9. Sensor Shift High Resolution
One feature that’s gotten a lot of attention recently, and is found in increasingly more cameras, is a pixel-shift high resolution mode on cameras with in-body image stabilization. This mode takes multiple photos in a row with slightly different sensor positions, then merges them together to increase resolution substantially. On most cameras with pixel-shift, you can quadruple the sensor’s native resolution.
- Currently Found On: Lots of cameras, but still not enough! A majority of recent high-end cameras have this, aside from Nikon and Canon cameras, which still don’t
- Helps With: High resolution needs, especially landscape and architectural photography
10. Focus Stacking
Landscape and macro photographers often have a difficult time capturing enough depth of field without resorting to tilt-shift lenses or narrow, diffraction-prone apertures like f/16. Some cameras have a built-in focus stacking mode that can help you get around that problem. I’d like to see focus stacking expand to more cameras. I’d also like to see it output a single, stacked raw file rather than making you assemble the final stack yourself on your computer.
- Currently Found On: Most new Olympus, Nikon, and Fuji cameras
- Helps With: Landscape and macro photography
11. Photographer’s-Eye-Sensing Autofocus
Canon caused a stir when the EOS R3 was confirmed to track your eye – specifically, where in the frame you look when you’re using the viewfinder – to figure out where to focus. It’s still not a fully-featured operation that lets you track the subject (it’s just used for initial acquisition), but it’s still an amazing sight. I’d love to see this in more cameras, especially as the technology keeps improving.
- Currently Found On: Canon EOS R3
- Helps With: Sports and wildlife photography
12. Multi-Axis Tilting Camera Screen
As a landscape photographer, I’ve found tilting camera screens to be a huge ergonomic improvement in recent cameras. And while almost every camera these days has at least a single-axis tilt, not enough of them can tilt sideways. For vertical photography, this sideways tilt is a big help. I’d like to see multi-axis tilting screens (or fully articulating screens) find their way to more cameras in the future. Although a lot more cameras have it these days, a few companies still lack it in some of their most important cameras (like the Nikon Z7 II and Sony A7R IV).
- Currently Found On: Nikon Z9, Zfc, D5600 series; Panasonic S1 series; Pentax K-1 series; Fuji medium format and X-T4 series; Sony A7S III; most Micro Four-Thirds cameras
- Helps With: Composing vertical images from a tripod
13. Shutter Speeds Beyond 30 Seconds
Nikon was early to the game with extended shutter speeds beyond 30 seconds, and I really thought that other camera companies would copy them. But so far, it’s not really happening. I’d love to see more cameras on the market capable of taking multi-minute exposures without the need for a cable release.
- Currently Found On: Most new Nikon cameras; Panasonic S1 cameras (up to 60 seconds); most Olympus cameras (a “time” exposure mode where you press the shutter once to start the exposure and once to end it)
- Helps With: Landscape and astrophotography
14. Raw Histograms
It’s almost comical how long the “every ounce of image quality” club (which includes me) has been asking for raw histograms on a modern camera. The response from camera companies? Crickets. There’s are only a few cameras on the market with a raw histogram. One of them is a Leica that only shoots black and white, and the others are Phase One medium format backs.
- Currently Found On: First generation of Leica M Monochrome; Phase One XF IQ4 cameras
- Helps With: Maximizing image quality through proper ETTR
15. 16-Bit Raw
Although I just admitted that I’m part of the “every ounce of image quality” club, even I don’t care too much about getting 16-bit raw on a camera. 14-bit raw is already excellent. But at the same time, I also know that if my camera had a 16-bit raw option, I’d be using it for my landscape photography. Some medium format cameras already have it, and it’s a contributing factor to their excellent range of colors and tones.
- Currently Found On: Most medium format Hasselblad and Phase One cameras
- Helps With: Landscape photography, studio photography, and other situations requiring utmost image quality
Most new cameras have eye-AF capabilities that can track the eye of the person you’re photographing. Animal-eye-AF, though, is rarer.
I admit that this feature may not be necessary once you master the standard tracking capabilities of your camera, but it’s still something I’d like to see more often. Not all photographers are pros who have hundreds of hours to spend learning their camera’s tracking capabilities inside and out, so a bit of a head start like this can be nice.
- Currently Found On: All recent Sony cameras, even some aps-c; Canon EOS R3, R5, R6; Nikon Z9, and limited implementation (cat and dog only) on other Nikon Z cameras
- Helps With: Wildlife photography
17. Brighter Light Compositing
This next feature is a bit difficult to describe, but I’ll do my best.
The idea is that you’re taking a long exposure that doesn’t get overly bright over time. Instead, it only composites particularly bright lights into the exposure over time.
It’s easier to describe by example. If you’re photographing lightning, you can use a 10-minute exposure, and the foreground doesn’t get drastically brighter during that time. But the moment a lightning strike flashes, it shows up in the photo because it’s a bright light.
This mode would be useful for photographing fireworks or even star trails to avoid getting an overexposed foreground. It’s only found on Olympus cameras these days (where it’s called “live composite”), but I’d like to see it on more.
- Currently Found On: Most Olympus cameras
- Helps With: Photographing lightning and a few other long exposure subjects
18. Base ISO Below 100
With camera sensors improving so much in terms of noise and dynamic range, they’ve almost hit a ceiling. One way around that, at least in terms of dynamic range, is to implement a lower base ISO.
We’ve seen it work with the Nikon D850, Z7, and Z7 II. These cameras have class-leading dynamic range that’s about 2/3 stop better than any base ISO camera on the market. I hope more camera companies follow suit, and maybe even try to go down to ISO 50, 32, and so on. (Though implementing the built-in image averaging feature I discussed a moment ago can serve a similar purpose.)
- Currently Found On: Nikon D810, D850, Z7, Z7 II, Z9
- Helps With: Landscape photography and any situations requiring extreme dynamic range.
19. Built-in Flash Commander
Almost all new cameras have gotten rid of the pop-up flash, and I’ve never heard anyone complain about the loss of the weird, harsh light they used to give. But I have heard a lot of people complain that removing the pop-up flash also removed the commander mode for firing external flashes! I wish that a company would add this back, even if they only add a commander mode to fire external lights and not the full pop-up flash.
- Currently Found On: Most cameras that have a pop-up flash
- Helps With: Portraiture, studio photography, and other situations where you’re using an external flash
20. Star Tracking Sensor Shift
A lot of clever things can be done with a moving camera sensor. In-body image stabilization is only the beginning. One of the most interesting is the ability to track stars for Milky Way photography, a feature found on a couple Pentax DSLRs at the moment. It’s a bit of a niche feature, but considering that the baseline IBIS technology is already built into most new mirrorless cameras these days, it’s a niche feature that more cameras should have.
- Currently Found On: Pentax K-1 series
- Helps With: Astrophotography
One thing that impressed me while working on this article is that the unique features I’ve listed here are spread out among camera brands pretty evenly (although Olympus gets the nod for having the most). To me, this shows that every camera company has something good to offer and they can still learn from one another when making new cameras. Now it’s just time to put that into practice! Let’s see a camera that has all these features and more. I’m sure there are many possible features that I can’t even begin to guess, which aren’t on any camera today.
Are there any that I missed, or some feature you’re especially hoping reaches your next camera? For my landscape photography, I’d personally love to see a camera with raw histograms and vibration detection when firing the shutter, unlikely though it may be. But I’d frankly be excited if any of these features become more widespread. After all, as I said at the start of the article, the technology is already here – all we need is for today’s camera companies to bring it all together.