Four Little Camera Specs That Have Made A Big Difference In My Workflow

Sometimes, the things that make a camera the perfect fit for you aren’t the same things that make all the headlines.

We all know the specs that sell cameras. Megapixels. Frames per second. 4K. 8K. 64K. Whatever. Dynamic range, even though I suspect a great many of the people who insist on great dynamic range privately aren’t even 100% sure what the term actually means. In the race to try and quantify the supremacy of their new products, manufacturers are quick to point our attention in the direction of these numbers. Likewise, technology influencers follow suit because they know that, the more outlandish the number, the more likely their content will get clicks. So, soon upon release of any new technology, the internet will quickly be flooded with videos proclaiming how any camera without a 500 MP sensor is pure child’s play. And, hey, I can’t blame them. Clicks are the name of the game. And, for manufacturers, something has to be done to sell new merchandise. That’s why they are in business.

Don’t get me wrong. Top line specs can make a difference for photographers if they directly address an issue one has been having delivering for their clients. So, I’m not here to bash the importance of those top line specs. But, rather than talk megapixels for the umpteenth time, I thought it might be more fun to talk about some of the lesser acknowledged specs that have actually had a more practical effect on my life as a professional photographer, even if they don’t make the headlines.  

The other day, I was out at dinner with a group of fellow commercial photographers, an end-of-year get together/group therapy session where we could compare notes on the past year and look forward to the new one. Because it is impossible to get more than one photographer in a room and have the conversation not, at some point, turn to gear, throughout the evening multiple gear discussions would flare up so we could all engage in a little good-natured nerding out on what everyone was shooting with. Since I’ve been shooting with the Nikon Z9 for the last couple of years, my unsolicited monologues generally would surround my love of that system. And, since I found myself sitting across from a fellow Nikonian who was contemplating making the switch from DSLR to mirrorless, I admit that I found it physically impossible not to offer my two cents.

But despite the fact that the Z9 has 45.7 MP, 8K, and can shoot a blazingly fast frame rate, what did I find myself most excited to tell her were the reasons she should consider it? Battery power and the dual stream viewfinder. The camera has plenty of top-line specs. But, practically speaking, those two things are probably just as responsible as the 8K for making the camera so objectively effective for me as a tool. As someone who uses my camera as much, if not more, as a filmmaking device than a still photography one, the fact that the batteries are massive and the camera can go a long time without me needing to cut or re-rig to address power issues is genuinely important. It saves me time and, thus, saves me money. As someone who stayed in the DSLR world well into the mirrorless movement, the big hurdle for me moving to mirrorless was always my hatred for electronic viewfinders. Yet, largely due to the Z9’s dual stream technology, which offers a “clean feed” separate to the one hitting the sensor, the Z9 was the first mirrorless camera that I, as a DSLR lover, really enjoyed using.

Not that I’m trying to make this a sales pitch for the Z9. Different strokes for different folks. And, what is amazing for me might not be what’s amazing for you. I just happened to find it funny that of all the things about the camera that I could have found myself droning on and on about, it’s two fairly innocuous features that really are what has made me such a fan of the system.

On that same note, as I write this, I’m literally looking at another camera sitting in front of me on my desk which I’m borrowing in order to review an accessory. I won’t mention the name since, again, the point of this article isn’t to bash one camera or build up another.  We’ll just say that this camera is from a different brand other than Nikon. It’s more geared toward filmmaking, but does have amazing still capabilities. And, in pretty much every way, this camera system is a technological marvel. It’s even smaller than my Z9, so, by all accounts, one would expect it to be pushing to take some snaps away from my Nikon come game-time.  

Yet, other than testing, I have hardly felt the urge to use it? Why? Well, it’s not because of the megapixels or top line specs. All those things are well within my use case. The autofocus is even arguably better than my own camera (although the difference is marginal). The biggest problem for me with this loaner camera is the smallest component. Instead of a full-size HDMI, it has a micro HDMI port. Now, I know what you are thinking.  Can’t you just buy an adapter? Sure. In fact, I have multiple full HDMI to micro HDMI cords. The problem is that, because of that port, I now have to remember to bring an entirely different set of cords just to work with the other components in my workflow. If they had included a full HDMI or even SDI port, I could have seamlessly slid this body into my usual workflow without any further considerations.  

Again, I am well aware that this is merely a minor inconvenience. And the camera is excellent in every other way. But, since this article is about the less heralded specs that can end up making a big difference in the usefulness of a product, as a matter of my practical use case, it has proven itself clear that the size of the HDMI port on a camera can make a major difference if you have a workflow that requires your camera to frequently be connected to external systems. It’s not that you can’t easily solve the issue. It’s just that, as is basic human nature, I’m more likely to choose a system that doesn’t have the issue in the first place.

Lastly, here is one pet peeve that I have for all camera manufacturers. Well, specifically those making hybrid mirrorless cameras meant for both still photography and motion filmmaking. My gripe isn’t about what’s in the camera. Rather, it’s about what is missing and supposed to be missing. I’m literally talking about empty holes.

Every time I buy a new mirrorless camera, I find myself buying a cage to go along with it. Again, I use my cameras for both still and motion and expect them to split their time between both. Generally speaking, I try to connect as few accessories to my system as is realistically possible. And, if a shoot will call for multiple connection points, I will generally opt away from a mirrorless camera to a larger cinema body which can more easily accommodate the added real estate demands. But, when you need to connect more things to your mirrorless camera, a cage is a basic necessity.

The problem is that I find myself needing to leave my mirrorless camera in a cage either way because cages tend to come with two mounting points in the bottom instead of the standard one hole in the bottom of most mirrorless cameras for connecting to a tripod. Sure, when doing stills, one hole is all you need. But, when I’m putting my mirrorless camera onto a video head and will be panning, tilting, and everything else, the single screw mount will more often than not result in my camera rotating back and forth around the single screw. Cages and cinema cameras have two screws systems which prevent the camera from rotating along the axis of the mounting plate. I understand that many mirrorless cameras are too small to institute two mounting points at the base of the camera. But, for those that do have the real estate, it would be amazing for shooters like me if the two screw mount system would become standard on mirrorless cameras so that, even if it’s not in a cage, the camera could still mount to a video tripod system without any fear of unwanted rotation.

Okay, clearly I’m nitpicking now. But, I did promise you that this article would be about the little things rather than the big things. The truth is that we live in a technological age where darn near every camera on the shelf is an amazing leap forward. There are very few bad cameras. And there are very few high-end specs that actually end up making a practical difference when choosing one camera over another. Instead, I find that it’s the little things that end up making a big difference in which cameras work well for my workflow and which do not. The choices I’ve listed about are clearly based around my own specific needs. But, whatever your workflow, I’m sure you might have a few small (big) spec preferences of your own.


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