Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pentax K-7 Designer's Notes: Takeharu Shin, Development Dept. User Interface Designer

Here is the second of the "designer's notes" from Pentax's team that built the K-7. These notes come from Pentax Japan and are reproduced here as translated by Pentax (I've touched it up a bit where the translation was a little problematic). Using the K-m as inspiration for button locations, customizing the use of the OK button to quickly change ISO (in addition to the new ISO button), and making digital filters easier to combine were all a part of the strategy for the Pentax K-7.


Mr. Takeharu Shin
In charge of User Interface of K-7, 1st Development Team
Pentax Imaging System Division, Development Department

Single-handed operation


Once the basic camera body design was completed, the user-interface designers turned their attention to the K-7’s operation system. Again, the downsized body and the incorporation of a large three-inch LCD panel on the back were major challenges, and the designers soon realized that they could not use the controller layout employed in the K20D and other models.

The solution was found rather easily, in the single-handed operation system featured in the K-m, an entry-class model that went through drastic downsizing. After discussing the feasibility with the camera body designers and mechanical engineers, it was confirmed that they were working in the same direction. Soon, the user-interface designers started designing for the ideal positions to install two electronic dials, so that they could adopt the two-dial configuration used in Pentax’s medium-class models to accommodate single-handed operation.

In fact, a medium-class model requires more controllers than an entry-class model, so it was physically impossible to place all of them on the grip side. Even if they could fit within a limited space, they would be placed so close together that they would be impractical to use. The decision was made to classify the controllers into two groups: those for shooting, and those for playback. The former group would be placed on the grip side of the camera’s back panel, while the latter would be positioned at the left shoulder of the back panel. This layout successfully allowed single-handed control of all shooting modes.

New independent ISO button, added to complete the direct-access exposure control system

One Pentax concept is to promote the active use of ISO sensitivity as a parameter for deciding exposure in digital photography. To support this, we created the innovative Sv and TAv exposure modes for the K10D. This concept has been inherited by every Pentax digital SLR camera marketed since.

However, the conventional operations for setting sensitivity were somewhat troublesome, because they were classified only as one of the settings controllable via the Fn (function) button. That's why we have incorporated more efficient controls through firmware updates: the desired ISO sensitivity can now be selected manually by rotating the front electronic dial while depressing the OK button; the auto-sensitivity control mode can be set by pushing the green button while depressing the OK button.

To further facilitate sensitivity setting operations, a new ISO button was added to the K-7, positioned side-by-side with the ± (exposure compensation) button just behind the shutter release button. This layout gives the user direct access to all essential exposure parameters — aperture, shutter speed, sensitivity and exposure compensation.


Newly equipped ISO button. All the necessary settings for exposure can now be accessed directly by one push of the button.

To make user customization of the Pentax-original two-dial control system easier, the K-7’s status screen is programmed to display aperture, shutter-speed, sensitivity and exposure-compensation settings as its main data. As a result, the user can check the customization status of the two electronic dials with just a quick glance.

More versatile four-way controller

Following the thorough review of controller layout, several shooting functions are now assigned to the K-7’s four-way controller keys, with each of the four keys featuring an icon representing the function assigned to it for easy, at-a-glance recognition. These keys also give direct access to the desired functions to facilitate setting changes, further enhancing the camera’s operability.

Print icons of each function on the 4 way controller, making it easy to use and easy to understand.

One setback, however, was that these controller keys are also used to shift the AF sensor point during shooting.* To solve this problem, the four-way controller keys can be switched back and forth to perform two different functions: either to recall shooting functions, or to shift the AF sensor point. The user-selected function can then be easily confirmed on the status screen and in the viewfinder. One benefit of this double-function system is that the user can lock the AF sensor point, after it is shifted to the desired position.

(*This issue caused a lot of consternation when the camera was released, and was subsequently refined with firmware release 1.01 - Michael)

The making of a true multi-function camera that satisfies diversified different user requirements

In addition to the drastic layout change of the controller system, a wide range of user-interfaces had to be newly developed for the K-7, including start-up, control and ending steps of different modes and display steps of various information — especially to handle real-time live-view shooting and movie recording. Along with the new design and upgraded hardware, many of the camera’s software programs had to be reviewed and reprogrammed as well to handle the new or upgraded functions. Since the K-7’s controllers have a different layout than previous models, a great deal of time and effort was needed to synchronize them and make them user-friendly.

For instance, the digital filter function — very well received with the K-m — had to be revised, because the user could not review which filters had been used after the image was processed. The K-7’s digital filter function was designed to be far more user-friendly and practical, including new features such as the history function of digital filters applied, a review function for multiple filter application steps, and a quick search function for an original image before any application of digital filters. This should encourage users to make more aggressive use of the digital filter function and create more dramatic, personalized images. And, thanks to the incorporation of the Pentax-original SR (Shake Reduction) mechanism, the K-7 features new fine image-composition adjustment and auto level compensation functions. Add to these such sophisticated functions as digital level, HDR (High Dynamic Range) and lens optical characteristics compensation, it’s easy to understand just how much the K-7 design and development team had to pack everything into the camera’s compact body!

Now you can see the history of the digital filters applied to a given image.

A wide range of user customization is available with the K-7, giving it the flexibility to meet nearly every user requirements. With so much to choose from, the photographer will be able to find the exact combination of settings to meet their specific visual goals and operational preferences.

Pentax paid very close attention even to the most minute elements of camera design, because we believe that even the smallest feature could affect the K-7’s operability and maneuverability. For instance, the front electronic dial is slightly slanted for easier access by the index finder, and both electronic dials are completely coated by a rubber material to prevent slippage. The design of the wing — the hollow finger hook area to accept the photographer’s left-hand fingers — was redesigned to provide a firmer, more comfortable hold of the camera.

The meaning of the single-digit

The K-7 is the first Pentax K-series digital SLR camera with a single-digit product name — and there’s a good reason for this. The strength of a single number signifies Pentax’s pride and confidence in this new camera, and once you start shooting pictures with the K-7, you’ll immediately understand why.


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

How different things would have been, if in this sublime - excellent body, they had inserted a Full Frame sensor..
That would have been Pentax's "changing the game" marketing move of the year!
br
s.

Yvon Bourque said...

Michael,

That's good stuff you posted. Gongrats

任天堂DSi R4 said...

I had owned a Pentax K10d and have been wanting to upgrade for a while. I did extensive research on the Canon T1I, Canon Xsi, Nikon D90, and Nikon D5000.

Pentax K7 won out in the end. I was willing to change systems, but the K7 is simply superior to everything at and below its price range. Even surpasses the ones that are a few hundred more as well.

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