I have owned and extensively used different cameras from different manufacturers and, from my experience, each one of them have their own shortcomings. I have owned a Canon 40D, Sony A700, Olympus E-P1 and currently shoot with a Pentax K5, Nikon D700 and Olympus E-P3. I have given up on trying to find the perfect camera. There isn’t one and I doubt if there will be one. In my native tongue, we have a saying that goes “libre ang mangarap”. It literally means it won’t cost you anything to dream.
So dream I will. I want it to be as realistic as possible so I will use current technology to build the perfect DSLR.
First, the sensor. I would like the dynamic range of the Pentax K5 in a full frame 35mm format with the noise profile of the Nikon D700. The K5 has this amazing capability to pull details from shadow areas without a shift in color even in shots that were underexposed by 2 stops. The D700 noise profile is like film, not the smudgy type you find in other cameras. I want a base ISO of 100 so I can do long exposures without the trickery that happens when you use extended ISO sensitivities. Even a max ISO of 6400 offered by the D700 is fine by me because I rarely shoot beyond 800 anyway. I would like 24Mp maximum. This resolution allows me to crop a 2:1 panograph at 18Mp or 3:1 at 12Mp. That is still huge! At 24Mp I can confidently shoot at f11 without noticeable drop in sharpness due to diffraction or unnecessary blur from mirror slap.
Color rendition. Nothing beats Olympus colors. They are simply the best. Although I shoot RAW, I shoot JPGs when using my E-P3 unless I’m bracketing for HDR capture. The D700 has the worst JPG colors ever.
Memory banks. I want 5 custom banks to store my favorite settings and I want them to be easily recalled via a twist of a knob. The Canon C1/C2 is the perfect example of this but I want 5. The custom banks must be fully customizable like the Canon 40D does. I would like to couple the timer with high-speed successive shooting and AEB in aperture priority mode. Aside from this, the timer should automatically enable mirror lock-up just like the Pentax K5 which means only the shutter curtain should be moving throughout the entire X number of frames in the AEB mode. This prevents blurring caused by mirror slap. Oh, the knob must be secured by a button like the one on the K5 and not the retarded set up of the D700.
Image stabilization. I like how Sony does it. Very reliable and very easy to disable because it has a dedicated button. Other cameras require you to hunt for it in the complicated menu. Pentax SR is almost useless and it totally ruins your shot if you forget to disable it when the camera is mounted on a tripod.
Viewfinder. Large and bright like the D700 but should cover 100% of the frame. The viewfinder door of the D700 is also very handy for long exposures because it prevents stray light from entering through it. The rubber cap should be round but not too large. The D700 got this right. Of course there should be a viewfinder focus adjustment for those who wear glasses like me.
Sensor cleaning. So far only the Olympus cameras have reliable sensor cleaning feature.
Build quality and ergonomics. The D700’s shape and build quality is superb but they should get rid of the built-in flash which is very vulnerable to damage especially from extreme weather. The weather sealing of the K5 is very good because it could withstand serious liquid and dust and temperature abuse. In terms of grip, I like the Sony A700. I also like the layout of the A700’s adjustment wheels. Very easy to reach and turn. The D700’s front wheel is quite tricky to use and I don’t like it. The battery compartment of the K5 is the best. There is a metal lock that twists to close the battery door. Very well done.
Focusing. D700 focus points but please spread them wider. The screw focusing motor of the D700 is fast enough for me. Those of the K5 and A700 are also fast. Canon, on the other hand, should have fired their engineers.
Adjustment buttons. The button layout of the Canon 40D is the best. I could change just about any setting with just my right hand. That thumb stick is also very welcome. But please not that HUGE thumb wheel. The thumb wheel of the D700 is the best. It has enough resistance and click feedback when you turn it. Those of the A700 and K5 are too clicky and too jagged for my liking. For the AEL button, the A700 is perfect. It can be configured such that the exposure is locked until it is pressed again. That means you can lock the exposure and take multiple shots then unlock. Perfect for panoramic stitching and when using exposure compensation.
Power switch. The K5 is perfect. It is similar to the D700 but is more clicky and easier to grab with your pointing finger. The A700 is ok but it requires the left hand. The one on the Canon 40D is nuts. Canon should fire the one who designed it.
AEB. At least 5 frames but 7 or 9 would be ideal. The bracketing range and intervals should be fully customizable just like the K5. The A700 has a very limited AEB. The D700 although it has 9 could not go beyond 1-stop intervals and worse, it could not be coupled with the timer.
Menu system. I like the A700 while I absolutely hate the D700. Canon 40D and Pentax K5 are also acceptable.
LCD screen. There should be two. The top LCD of the Nikon D700 is perfect as long as you don’t get confused by the inverted exposure indicators. You can also easily turn on the LCD light in the D700 from the power switch. The K5 LCD is fine with me. I do not need touch screen. I actually disabled that feature in my E-P3. I do not need a flip LCD because I feel that it’s just another thing that could easily break. The K5 silver limited edition LCD is supposedly shatter-proof.
Pop-up Flash. None just like in the Canon 5D2. However, there should be an option to do commander mode like in the Nikon D700. Not sure if that is possible but it’s just a radio signal so I don’t know why you have to fire a flash to do that.
Lens mount. Nikon mount is the best because of it’s compatibility with old, cheap but superb manual lenses. Pentax and Sony are also very good in terms of compatibility. It’s just that I have a huge investment on Nikon film cameras that I prefer the Nikon mount. Forget Canon. Aside from abandoning the FD mount you can’t even mount a modern EFS lens in a full frame camera.
Storage. I prefer the speed of CF cards but hate bent pins. A dual format CF/SD would be perfect. I like the huge bay door of the Nikon D700. The K5 and A700 do not open wide enough and are quite annoying.
Shutter cable port. I like the simplicity of the K5. The D700 is unnecessarily complicated while the A700 reminds me of how annoying it is to plug a computer IDE data cable.
Neck strap hook. I like the ordinary hook of the Canon 40D. I do not like the movable triangular hook of the D700 and K5. Aside from being noisy, they twist the neck strap as well.
Color. Although black is fine I probably would want the chrome finish.
And that is my realistic yet impossible dream camera. At this point in time, the Pentax K5 is the closest match followed by my previously owned Canon 40D. I think the new Canon 5D3 would be the closest to my dream camera but I have not and may never use it due to monetary constraints.
If you have managed to finish reading this lengthy post, I hope you will realize that there simply is no perfect camera for everyone. Being a fanboi is just insane. Use the right tool that suits you best and don’t be afraid to switch brands if needed. For those who are new to photography, trust me when I say that any camera is good enough if you put enough effort into photography.