There are always a half dozen or so “must-have” features touted by camera reviewers and photo enthusiasts posting on the internet. But some (or all) of them might be not be so critical for you based on how and what you shoot. Here are my top 5 possibly overrated camera features for 2020 (in no particular order).
#1: Dual Card Slots
You’ll see the lack of dual cards slots frequently bemoaned in reviews of recently released camera bodies. There was a chorus of “WTF!!!” comments for both Nikon and Canon when they released their first few mirrorless interchangeable lens full-frame bodies, such as the Z6, Z7, and EOS R. There is this pervasive idea that in order to be a “professional” body, the camera must have dual cards slots. I don’t believe this is true at all, unless you are engaged in a few very specific photographic scenarios (event photography and sports photography are two obvious examples).
If you are shooting an event as a paid photographer (such as a wedding, quinceañera, sweet 16, bar mitzvah / bat mitzvah, or other “life event”), having dual card slots configured for duplicate/backup recording is a really useful thing. In fact, I’d argue it is pretty much a requirement for weddings, because even though the chance of card failure is quite low, it’s just not worth taking the chance of seriously disappointing your clients on the most important day of their lives (and/or possibly being on the receiving end of a civil lawsuit).
But if you’re not shooting events or sports as a hired gun, the advantage of having two card slots is pretty minimal. I wrote a whole article on single versus dual card slots that gets into a lot more detail on this.
#2: Image Stabilization (Bodies / Lenses)
This one might seem kinda silly, as pretty much everybody wants stabilized lenses and/or in-body stabilization (IBIS), such as the Sony A7III. I’m included stabilization as potentially overrated because it is often misunderstood by beginning photographers.
I’ve seen a lot of photography newcomers ask “Why did my subject come out blurry? I’m using a lens/body with stabilization!” The most common answer is that the subject was moving and the shutter speed was slow, a classic combo that almost always results in motion blur.
Stabilization helps correct for movement of the camera, NOT the movement of anything else. In other words, the best stabilization in the world can’t overcome a moving subject combined with a shutter speed too slow to stop motion crisply. The only cure for a moving subject is some combination of increasing ISO speed and widening aperture in order to be able to increase the shutter speed enough to compensate for subject movement.
On the other hand, IBIS or a stabilized lens removes a major obstacle in the way of getting sharp, in-focus images in less than idea lighting: camera/photographer shake. Natural-light / low-light shooters appreciate all the help they can get. So it may be worth it to you to spend the extra money to get an extra couple stops of stabilization.
#3: High Resolution Sensors
More is always better, right? Well, maybe not always. Going for that monster megapixel sensor might just be one of the overrated camera features for you needs. But before I get into the downsides to increasingly higher megapixel counts, let’s look at the benefits and who might get their money’s worth.
The more megapixels you have, the more you can crop and not lose detail. This is huge for wildlife photographers, as well as landscape shooters. And sometimes you just can’t get as close as you’d like to a subject, and having a huge megapixel count effectively allows you to zoom in via cropping. And anyone who uses heavy cropping as part of their style benefits from higher resolution as well.
But what are the downsides of cramming ever-more resolution into APS-C and full-frame sensors? There are more than a few things to consider here, so let’s get started.
Perhaps the most immediately noticeable downside is larger image files…sometimes much larger. This has multiple implications, including that you’ll need bigger memory cards, more storage and backup capacity, and your camera’s buffer is going to fill up faster (possibly limiting your ability to shoot high FPS at the worst possible time). And while local storage is cheap, backing up huge datasets to the cloud can get expensive quickly.
Another problem is that your lenses are going to need to be able to deliver the resolving power that stand up to a 36MP or higher sensor. Your current glass might look great on your main camera right now, but increasing the resolution will also magnify any flaws in your lenses. Of course, you can always overcome this by scaling down the dimensions of your final images, but if you’re doing that…then why bother getting the high-resolution camera to start with?
And finally, another issue is that when you pack more pixels onto a sensor, you inevitably add more noise to the images it produces. The popular thing to say these days is “I don’t care about noise.” But there are a lot of people out there that do care. And I am one of those people. If I wanted more noise, I’d go back to shooting film. You can always add noise in post-production, but you can only get rid of so much before you start to lose sharpness/detail. I’d prefer to start with the cleanest, sharpest image I can get and then scale back if I need to.
#4: Flippy Screen (Fully Articulating Screen)
This one might seem silly, as just about everybody can make use of use of a rear LCD that rotate or flip in multiple directions. For vloggers that need to see framing, focus, and exposure while self-shooting, or travel shooters that do a lot of selfies, this feature is not only not overrated, it’s downright essential. Sure, you can get external monitors or tether to a smartphone or laptop, but why haul extra gear if you don’t need to?
But if you’re not a vlogger or an aspiring Instagram influencer, perhaps partial articulation (or even a fixed screen that doesn’t move at all) would suffice. More and more cameras have at least some ability to adjust the screen, but perhaps full articulation isn’t a deal breaker for you and would help save a few bucks that you could put towards a lens, flash, some filters, or other necessities.
#5: Headphone Jack
A lot of people complain about cameras with no headphone jack. It definitely can feel like such an obvious omission. Almost as bad as not having a functional hot shoe. And generally, I agree that not having a headphone jack can be a real pain to work around, but also consider this: many cameras have sub-par microphones and noisy preamps that offer next to nothing in the way of adjustments.
If you are serious about video, you’ve probably invested in an off-camera microphone and audio capture device anyway, and you’ll be monitoring from the mic/recorder. So you really don’t need the camera to have a jack for audio out. You’ll be pulling your video into editing software, deleting the onboard audio track, and importing what your external microphone captured.
Conversely, the infrequent or casual video shooter may be fine with the camera’s preamp and automatic settings and not feel the need to monitor while shooting (or during setup). It’s just like shooting video on a smart phone: most of the time, the automatic audio settings are pretty decent for a candid, non-serious video session.
Overrated Camera Features – Summary
Some of the above may be super-critical for your style of photography, while others are not even on your radar. Carefully consider what your needs are versus what is the new “must have” feature. You could potential save a lot of money by avoiding overrated camera features…overrated for your uses, that is. Fight the FOMO!!