The Do's and Don't of Designing a Camera: a list for manufacturers that need help...

This post is directed at the consumer level camera divisions of ALL manufacturers of cameras (and some things could be directed at any consumer electronics manufacturer). These are just a sampling of my gripes and praises. I keep up to date with all the point and shoot model out in the market and play around with all the new ones when they come out...I get tired of the designers making the same stupid choices, so my rant is here for anyone to read and hopefully pass on points they agree with to the people responsible for giving us the junk that most compact cameras have become.

Have an idea that you don't see here? Let the rest of the class know down in the comments!


1) DO use a metal thread for the tripod mount, have it well supported the the frame of the camera. Kodak! Seriously, if I try to attach one of your cameras onto a tripod, the threads are going to strip. I also had a camera that had the tripod threading mount pop out of the camera because it wasn't properly attached to the frame, this is just ridiculous.

2) DO give the camera to your grandmother and see if she can use it before you finalize the UI...this is directed at you Nikon/Fuji/Olympus...your UI's really suck. Why have a "Menu" "Home" and "*" buttons? What should be under "Home" what should be under "Menu"? There should be a "Menu" that has a easy to understand sub-structure, like "System Settings" for clock, formatting, sounds, ect. and a separate area for mode specific settings.

3) DO give consumers what they need, not what they say they want. Did you give your kid the cookie because it asked or did you give it vegetables to eat? When a consumer says "smaller with more zoom", give it more zoom, but make sure you don't sacrifice image quality for it...Nikon/Olympus, do you hear me? A wafer thin camera cannot physically have a good sized senor and lens with 5-10X optical zoom without sacrificing too much image quality...therefore those cameras should not be produced. You may sell some, but no one that buys one of them will buy a camera made by your brand ever again! (and definitely won't recommend your brand to their friends and family!)

4) DO test to make sure your auto-white balance actually can figure out the difference between daylight and tungsten. Ask Canon for help if you can't figure it out.

5) DO leave digital zoom turned off by default. It's confusing to people. If they need more zoom, tell them to buy one of your more expensive models. Doesn't that sound good to you?

6) DO include GPS. This is a very cool feature that will eventually be standard in all brands. It does drain battery life though, so have it off by default and easily switched on by the user. Please don't make this crippled GPS like what Eye-Fi offers, which requires a WiFi hotspot to know where it is.

7) DO use brushed metal, and/or semi-gloss plastics for the outer shell of the camera. Glossy metal and plastic shows way too many finger prints and looks bad. Glass screens also are easier to clean than plastic screens. Plastics just make it possible for fingerprints to be visible half a mile away.

8) DO offer models that vary in color. If you must offer non-standard colors, don't pick "puke yellow" or "nuclear waste green", show it to 10 random people on the street and if even 1 thinks it looks bad, don't use that color.

9) DO remember that underwater cameras need to give good images out of the water too, that means don't put in folded optics, even if it makes it a little thicker. If you're trying to take pictures underwater, a bigger camera means you don't lose grip and have it sink to the bottom.

10) DO make sure when the average Joe holds your camera they don't cover the lens or the flash with their fingers, if even 2 out of 10 people's back to the drawing board.



1) DON'T keep adding megapixels, the high ISO noise is out of control, compact cameras take worse images now than they did 3-4 years ago. Find something new to get consumers believing is the "Holy Grail" of image maybe a good lens?

2) DON'T add 20-30 "scene modes" to the camera for marketing purposes. Just make the image quality good and the UI easy to use, and salepeople will sell it for you. No one uses the scene least not on purpose. If your hunk of plastic has 30 scene modes and the other model has 15...your's is just more unnecessarily cluttered with useless buttons, knobs or menu options.

3) DON'T bother with exposure compensation buttons on $100-200 cameras. Exposure compensation is very useful...but consumers don't know how to use it and shouldn't need to use exposure compensation at -.07EV just to get a properly exposed picture. Ask 10 people at Starbucks what exposure compensation is, and they'll tell you it has something to do with celebrities and the tabloids...

4) DO build cameras with better lenses. A faster lens is better than having "6400 ISO" might cost a little more but customers won't hate the camera they just bought when they're taking photos of their kid's birthday party. Even with a sensor 6X the square area of the average compact camera, ISO 6400 is a realm still avoided at all costs with pro-DSLRs!

5) DON'T use USB based charging systems! If you're going to have a rechargeable battery, make sure it's an external charger and doesn't use a AC cable, just have the charger plug right into the outlet. Even if consumers say they want to charge the camera directly from the wall...they're wrong. It causes cameras to short out if there is a power surge and they can't charge a battery while they're using their camera to take photos. If they say they want to charge it through their computer...they're wrong! People will loose their USB cable within days, leaving them with no way to charge their camera. A block the size of the camera that holds their battery to charge it will not get lost for months or years! 

6) DON'T make proprietary accessories if you can avoid it. If you must use proprietary cables for cheaper licensing or just after-the sale revenue, make it easy for consumers to find the cables for purchase on your site.

7) DON'T advertise a brand name lens like Schneider or Carl Zeiss if they're not actually manufacturing the lens for you and simply designed it for you or if you're just licensing the name, that's being disingenuous to the end user who thinks that the name Carl Zeiss means something, when the lens is manufactured in Tawain by another OEM. I'm not saying that the lens is bad, just that BMW doesn't buy Hyundai's and slap the BMW logo on it and say they make it.

8) DON'T include a large detailed manual. A quick-start guide is sufficient and an interactive computer based guide will help consumers a lot more than a 300 page book they'll never read.

9) DON'T use touch screens unless you have buttons as well. They're small cameras that are easy to drop, a consumer shouldn't have to use one of their hands to tap the screen. If you must put a touch screen in, make sure the grip is big enough so the user doesn't knock it out of their hand. Sony? Nikon? Bueller?

10) DON'T falsely advertise resolutions. If you're going to advertise HD video. Have it record HD video, not up-rezed SD wide screen. Don't interpolate 12 megapixels from an 8MP sensor. This goes to not only every camcorder manufacturer, but all the brands that advertise on QVC and the shopping channel selling "14 megapixel" cameras for $79.99.


Think of something I missed or disagree? Let the rest of the class know in the comments!