Camera Handling - a personal view

Following on from pictures like the above which show people using the Sony RX1, I thought I'd do a piece on camera handling from my personal perspective. This is a favourite topic of mine as regular readers will know, and in these days of small cameras this is becoming an issue.

The top picture is interesting. This is I believe Richard Butler at Dpreview, who is a big tall guy. (At least thats how he looks in the videos he makes!) He has got an interesting solution to small camera handling in that he seems to gripping the camera with the knuckle of his second finger. He does seem to have fingers that are too long for the camera, so maybe thats his only solution. Incidentally I tried this and its really uncomfortable, that is when I could actually manage to do it. Not for me.

So what do I do? Well first, here's a picture of me with Nikon D800E.

As you can see my right hand is around the grip, nicely rounded fingers and with little tension in them. A very comfortable camera to hold. It is of course DSLR size and DSLR weight.

The next two are Panasonic GH3 and Olympus OM-D, both with grips fitted.

Again you can see much the same position as with the D800E. Fingers wrapped around the grip and spaced out, again with little tension. The cameras feel secure and I don't get that feeling that I'm hanging on for dear life like I have with some of my smaller cameras (and my Leica M9 when I had it of course, but that was for different reasons!!)

Here's an interesting comparison. My two Sigma DP Merrills, one fitted with my John Milich grip, the other not.

You can clearly see that the top picture, DP1 without grip, shows my fingers much more tense and jammed into the camera than in the lower picture, which is the DP2 with grip. The grip certainly creates a more relaxed feeling when I'm holding the camera. You might note that the top picture has camera shake. Now I was doing this in not great light and I wanted to use the lowest ISO I could get away with as the Sigmas are dreadful at high ISO's. I therefore was using a low shutter speed (1/30th.sec). The picture with the 'tense' grip is shakier than the one where I'm more relaxed. This is what I have found over the years. The more relaxed my grip on a camera, the slower the shutter speed I can use. I just couldn't get a sharp image from the DP1 with this tension in my fingers, I tried a few times but it just wouldn't work. However as you will see the DP2 shot worked better.

Finally the NEX-7.

The NEX-7 isn't a large camera, but it has a raised grip and I've got it fitted with a Gariz leather case. Again you see nicely spaced and tension-free fingers. Despite its size I do find it a very comfortable camera to use. I would also mention that with its very left sided viewfinder, it also keeps my nose off the screen. (If you are wondering what the attachment in the hot shoe is, its a Sony to everybody else hotshoe adapter. It lets me use my Rode microphone and other accessories on the NEX-7.)

Now I've used small gripless cameras before and I have always found them difficult. The Panasonic GF series are obvious examples, plus the Olympus Pens, while looking very pretty, haven't always been the easiest to use. So a camera like the RX1, no matter how good it might be, just isn't for me. 

Just on the second picture down of the RX1 with the EVF. I had one of those for my NEX-5n, and it was always popping up. In the end I had to use a rubber band to stop that happening. Why on earth they couldn't put a viewfinder into the RX1 I can't imagine. Unless of course it has something to do with ripping off buyers by charging them a lot of money for the accessory. I'm actually surprised Sony don't charge extra for the battery, as they seem to regard the RX1 as a cash cow.

So the whole grip thing is obviously personal, but I've outlined what works for me and most importantly what I feel comfortable with. I hate having to 'fight' a camera. On very small cameras I'm constantly fiddling with my finger positions to get a relaxed grip. On some cameras I never succeeded. For various reasons I've put up with it over the past few years, but now I'm not prepared to anymore. There are enough alternatives for me not to have to tolerate bad design any more. If making a camera small is the first priority ignoring how it works in practice, then thats the wrong way round as far as I'm concerned. I'm a photographer, not a 'Hoxton Hipster' and I want tools that make my job easier rather than don't spoil the cut of my jeans. Maybe all those people who are desperate to put their cameras in their pockets should keep them there. They probably aren't photographers, just camera owners.

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