Home / An Idea: Portable Camera Settings

An Idea: Portable Camera Settings

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A while back I got a second 5d mark IV to use as a second body, and with that had to go through the process of setting it up to match my other mark IV. For some reason, I had though the 5D mark IV had the same feature as the 1D series does where you can write out camera configs to a flash card and then load them in another camera or back into your camera at a later date.

Alas, it doesn’t have that feature, and I spent 20 minutes going through each menu and sub-menu meticulously transferring the settings over to my camera.

In the process of doing this I started thinking, I really shouldn’t have to do this manually. The 1D’s save settings feature should be on more bodies — Nikon does this; good going Nikon.

By why stop there?

Admittedly I have no hard data to back this up, but I strongly suspect that the vast majority of photographers that own and use multiple bodies don’t own only one model. I could point to Canon’s own Explorers of Light, very few of them have only one camera type listed on their profile pages on Canon’s site.

Likewise, every photojournalist I know that supplies their own cameras, has various generations and classes of bodies. The freelancers can’t afford to replace 2 or 3 cameras every time some new $7000 flagship body comes out. Instead they get one new body to use as their primary, and push everything down a step as backups.

Given the apparent rarity of photographers with many identical cameras, or rather the much higher ratio of photographers with different cameras, I have to wonder just what value the current implementation of this has. Especially for Canon users, where it’s only available on the $6000 flagship camera anyway.

What I’m proposing is to expand the idea of saving settings much further. Instead of being limited to a specific model, I should be able to transfer my settings across models and even generations. In other words, I should be able to save the settings from say my hypothetical 5D mark IV, and load them in to a new 5D mark V.

Or for that matter, go the other way and apply the settings from a newer or higher tier camera to an older one.

This kind of portability is useful even if you’re just upgrading to a new camera. Instead of having to manually set all your functions, you could take the settings that you had in your current camera, save them to a card, and load the settings into your new camera. While this wouldn’t address any new setting the new camera had, it would save you from having to redo most of the basics all over again.

Given that I find the technical stuff interesting, I want to make at least a brief comment on the technical side of things.

To make a portable settings format work, Canon would need to increase the complexity of the save and load code in their firmware, as well as come up with some kind of file format that wasn’t dependant on the specific camera model.

A binary file could certainly be used, it just has to be something that’s intelligently thought out to be compatible. However, I’d like to suggest taking things a step further; make the file human readable text. Something like a JSON or ini file.

Bear with me here, because I think this is nifty.

One thing I see from time to time are photographers that offer advice on how to configure your camera. I even did so in my 5D mark III review, where I have a section detailing my camera’s configuration in case someone wants to try it out. That’s nice, but what would be even nicer is if I could say, “download this configuration file, and your camera will be setup like mine.” (Of course with the caveat of saving your existing config so you can roll the camera back to the way you had it.)

Better yet, design the system to support fragmentary configurations. That is, you could have only 1 or a few configuration options and only those will be updated when loaded. That way, I, another photographer, or even Canon themselves, could distribute settings files along with tutorial articles. This is how Mr. Smith professional car race photographer sets up his AF system when shooting a car race.

Admittedly, this isn’t the kind of thing that will sell cameras. And because of that there’s a reasonable argument to be made that it shouldn’t be done then. On the other hand, the 30 minutes I spend setting up a new camera is 30 minutes of my life I can’t get back.

Just a thought.

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