9 Features Every DSLR Should Have Now

9 Features Every DSLR Should Have Now

They say that the DSLR’s better days are behind it, but it’s still the choice for most working pros. Rapid advances on point and shoots, ILCs (mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras) and smart phones have left the DSLR looking like the camera of yesteryear, so here are a few features we think every DSLR should have now.

Focus Peaking
While not necessarily practical for moving subjects, focus peaking can be extremely helpful for still life or portrait work. But focus peaking (the highlighting of the in focus area of an image), is becoming commonplace on point and shoots and ILC cameras, and there’s no technical reason why it couldn’t be adopted for the Live View mode on DSLRs or DSLRs with EVF (electronic viewfinders).

Photo by Allen Murabayashi
Photo by Allen Murabayashi

Live Histogram
This histogram has become a fairly indispensable tool for photographers to understand the distribution of tones across an image. DSLR owners are used to viewing the histogram of an image after capture, but many non-DLRs have live histograms so you can adjust exposure prior to capture.

Photo by Allen Murabayashi
Photo by Allen Murabayashi

Variable Rate Motor Drive
The shooting rate of your camera is in part limited by the mechanics of the shutter mechanism, but it’s also gated by the rate at which your camera can reliably move all that data to your flash card. A Nikon D800 can shoot 4 fps natively, and 6 fps in DX mode with the optional MB-D12 Battery Grip, which suggests that the frame rate limitation is a software limitation that probably prevents people from complaining about an inadequate buffer size. But what if you could enable a higher burst for, say, three frames only? Magic Lantern hacked the Canon 5D to shoot RAW video and more, shouldn’t this be a trivial hack?

Faster Flash Sync
The Nikon D1 had an electronic shutter with a 1/500th flash sync. Although issues of synchronizing a flash are myriad and complex, it’s been fifteen years since the D1 was introduced and now most systems top out at 1/250th of a second. Higher sync technologies like Nikon’s Auto FP High-Speed Sync” and Canon’s “High Speed Sync” can dramatically reduce power output. Why can physicist slow light down to a virtual stop, but we can’t have higher flash sync?

Photo by Allen Murabayashi
Photo by Allen Murabayashi

Wireless networking
By far, the most sought after functionality is WiFi and all the associated capabilities that could enabled with it. Cameras like the Sony QX100 have done away altogether with a viewfinder or screen, relying solely on a WiFi connection and your smartphone. In our instant on world, sharing your next photo via Instagram, Twitter or Facebook shouldn’t fall within the purview of amateurs only. Pros should be able to interface directly to their phones where a wealth of apps already exist to (FTP, web browser, app ecosystem) to share an image just a little bit faster.

We geotag our photos with Instagram. We check-in with Foursquare. Our phones automatically (if allowed) record the GPS coordinates for every photo we take. But GPS is an afterthought and accessory for the people who arguably need it the most – professional photographers. Concerns about battery life are legitimate, but modern DSLRs have much more capacity than smartphones, and GPS chips aren’t very expensive relative to the cost of a pro body. Better yet, use a protocol like low power bluetooth to send data from a smartphone to the DSLR in realtime.


Facial Detection Focusing
Your point and shoot camera and iPhone have had it for years – That yellow square(s) that lights up and automatically detects faces helps you focus on the most important subject in your image. For all of the awesome advancements in autofocus technology (continuous tracking, 3D tracking, etc), I still occasionally miss a shot because a person is out of focus. Give me a mode that biases focus for faces and I’ll be happy.

Photo by Allen Murabayashi
Photo by Allen Murabayashi

Since the introduction of the iPhone’s App Store in 2008, we’ve become accustomed to having a highly programmable and customizable device in our pockets. But cameras have woefully lagged behind in such capabilities. The focus preset button found on many long telephoto lenses and custom function buttons are the closest we have to programming our cameras. But what if you could toggle between two exposures at the press of a button, or use your phone to perform such an action? What if a fully programmable button could use protocols like IFTTT to trigger a remote then send off the image to your photo editor 2,000 miles away? What if a third party app could help better navigate the atrocious menus that most camera manufacturers employ? That would be so 21st century.

Video auto-focus
The hybridization of cameras continues with the high quality video capabilities of many DSLRs. However, the downside is that most DSLRs use traditional phase detection focusing systems which are disabled when the cameras go into Live View. Mirrorless manufacturers like Fuji have solved this problem with hybridized systems or phase detection on the sensor, but Nikon and Canon have yet to release such a system.

As the push to increasingly high resolutions of video (2K, 4K and 8K) come into the mainstream, better autofocusing is a must.

h/t: Andy BiggsRobert DeutschRobert HanashiroChris Owyoung, and Todd Owyoung for their input.


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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 17 comments for this article
  1. Wayne Cable at 2:24 pm

    Good article, most of these items will be on the “must have” lists for photographers/videographers. Maybe why Panasonic is quietly kicking Canon’s but in certain “in the know” circles.

  2. Baron Sekiya at 4:00 pm

    I’d add: Audio tags for still images (some cameras have it, most don’t), security code via touchscreen pattern so if the camera is stolen it’s useless to the thief (unless they part it out), mirrorless/silent (yeah, I know it wouldn’t be an SLR without a mirror but whatever), headphone out (some have, most don’t), unlimited video recording time (yeah, I know EU taxes), new standardized robust replacement for the hotshoe and open firmware with SDK. I can dream can’t I?

  3. Darren Skidmore at 5:17 pm

    Wireless capabilities are already available for DSLRs such as the Eye-Fi SD card and wireless grips for certain cameras like the 5DmkIII and 1DX.
    Also put the 5DMkIII into live view and you do get facial recognition focusing.
    Also 5DMkII and MkIII have a live histogram in live view mode.
    The canon 6D has GPS built in.

  4. Reuben at 5:51 am

    WiFi and GPS is long over due in Pro DSLR’s, the feeling is that Nikon and Canon are hanging on for the few sales they make each year in the accessories to enable both functions. But third party add on’s are bringing the cost down, and I no longer see why they don’t just build it in. I would buy a D5 tomorrow if it had both of these facilities built in…

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  6. Andy at 1:58 pm

    The limitation of the D800/e is the Expeed 3 processor. It’s so full of code that features need to be removed for new ones to be added. As capable as it is, the unit is at the end of its development cycle which is why it’s (likely) the last camera to be using it.

    The Nikon Expeed 3 processor’s memory architecture is entirely internal so there’s no way to intercept it to make it run external code. Nikon is moving to a different memory architecture and extra memory spaces are available to the new unit. Magic Lantern uses Canon’s early inclusion of externally addressable memory to make its hacks. One may anticipate that eventually we’ll see something similar for Nikon within limits.

    Why limits?

    Secondly, a huge part of frame rate is built into the power management system of the camera, and is NOT software related. Why? Heat. The faster you cycle the camera sensor, the more heat is generated and this contributes to image noise. The microvolts and microamps are governed by physical components and the tweaking of them between versions of cameras is how we get the half-stop improvements.

    Power management is a huge issue in DSLRs because they’re driving mechanical systems. It’s easy to say ‘just reprogram it’ but the hardware constraints are real and merciless.

    About WiFi, I’m of two minds. I think we’ll see it more in consumer DSLRs than in the pro DSLRs. Why? People confuse their home wifi networks with public stadium wifis what have no practical traffic management. This makes them basically useless for pro work. Secondly, the pro cameras have loooooooong product life cycles and wifi standards change comparatively quickly. Locking in a wifi standard will age the camera.

    So, yes for wifi on consumer cameras, ethernet to your 4G laptop in the bag on the pro gear. Finally, I am no expert on GPS, but apparently the regulations and frequencies uses for GPSs differ from continent to continent. This is why it’s preferable to build them in to consumer cameras and not to the hyper expensive pro cameras.

  7. SeoulFood at 2:34 pm

    Hi Allen. Great article. Just for clarification, when you stated in the first paragraph “so here are a few features ‘we’ think every DSLR should have now,” did you and the crew at photo shelter come up with these or was a survey taken? How were these features selected? Thank you.

  8. Andy at 2:36 pm

    Oh, about Flash Sync speeds, the reason they’re “limited” is because beyond that it’s just simpler to go to a leaf shutter. Besides, flashes that operate at very high speed are even more expensive than normal flashes that make up 99 per cent of the market including the ones used by PJs shooting sports.

  9. Andy at 1:46 pm

    Another issue to consider is that the Expeed 3 processor is being replaced for sheer bandwidth internals.

    It appears almost for sure that EXPEED 3 simply couldn’t process more than 144 MP/sec which translates to 6fps at 24MP without adding significant extra electronics that the D4 has which only got it up to 176 MP/sec. The D610, D7100 and D800 all process exactly 144 MP/sec. For inexplicable reasons, the Df is quite a bit slower.

    But, the EXPEED 4 is now here (already shipping in the D5300, though not being asked to go fast in that camera – the D5300 is using new video processing features in the EXPEED 4). The EXPEED 4 is based on a new Fujitsu Milbeaut processing core that says it can do 12fps at 24MP. While those are Fujitsu’s spec numbers and we don’t know exactly what the max throughput of the EXPEED 4 will be, it seems likely that it could at least handle 8fps at 24MP.

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  13. raul Roa at 7:40 am

    most of these listed items can already be done by some pro and prosumer cameras. My thought here is that by having the camera do all the work, people loose the art of how the photo itself is created. Taking time and learning how to quickly focus on a subject should be something everyone should know. Exposure w different settings can be done already one after the other. Eye-fi can already help send an image almost instantly but it maybe worthless without a caption. As a photojournalist working daily, I prefer to control the camera myself and not the other way around. I can still get an image out to my editor from anywhere w caption in less than 2 mins if I need to using the tools available today. As a consumer and fan of photography, these points could really be fun.

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