Don’t Take My Buttons Away

English: The Nikon D7000 is a 16.2 megapixel d...

English: The Nikon D7000 is a 16.2 megapixel digital single-lens reflex camera. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not alluding to the fact that my trousers would fall down or even that I’m addicted to little discs of chocolate, I’m becoming concerned at the proliferation of touchscreens and the like.

In computers, smartphones, cars and cameras it seems that push buttons and switches are seen as old-fashioned, not versatile enough, not eager to change colour or function at the drop of a hat, they’re so last century but wait a second, they still have value.

Some devices like a digital SLR camera have functions that you need to change quickly attached to a button, you instinctively reach for it with a finger tip, press it, twiddle the input dial and viola you’ve dialed in some exposure compensation.  The process of just knowing where the control is is called muscle memory and it’s very useful, so much so we often don’t realise we’re using it.  I’m using it now, I’m typing this without looking at the keyboard.  Now it’s true that’s possible with a touchscreen but only if you have a physical reference to start from and the display doesn’t change – with an actual button you only need to know it’s near your index finger, you just fish around for a second and know what the right one feels like, on a screen there’s, at the moment, no tactile cues.

The other problem with touchscreens is also that they tend to group all the controls on the back or front of the device so for example on the Samsung Galaxy NX camera, and other touchy-feely controlled cameras you have to take your eye from the viewfinder in order to fit your fingers between the screen and your nose.

So speed and practicality are on the single-minded, independent buttons’ side but what about safety?

Huh? you ask.  I’ve mentioned before how the same principle reduces the amount of time you’re looking away from the road when driving a car with physical controls rather than touchscreens or joystick-driven menus.  Until voice control gets to the KITT-level conversation style I’m not happy giving up my in-car knobs and dials.

As for voice control of phones and cameras, it’s fine until you find yourself trying to adjust a setting on your camera while not wanting to look away from the viewfinder but also being aware that asking your camera nicely if it wouldn’t mind changing the aperture to f/8 might be inappropriate to the setting.

Fashion seems to be pushing tech companies and car makers towards more minimalist devices, their faces just a screen of morphing, interactive controls, often for the sake of it, but good design shouldn’t compromise usability and sometimes the most usable control is the humble physical button.

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The Time Traveller’s Camera

Sunday

Sunday (Photo credit: ex.libris)

This would no doubt be a more interesting title than article really but here goes.  With so many devices around me telling me that this is 2013, and that 2012 is constantly receding into the past how did I still manage to set the date wrong on my new, well-travelled compact camera?

I only discovered this when I needed the timestamp to say March 2nd 2013 to enter a photography challenge and I noticed that the pictures I’d taken were appearing amongst photos I took last year in the date-order view.  The camera had apparently taken pictures in March 2012, before it had been manufactured, while it was still a pile of chips in China.

Yet it was so easy to miss, I’m used to computers and phones auto-updating their date and time now.  But it shows how easy it is to fake the date and time a picture was taken.  The camera can certainly lie these days if not actually time-travel.

The Fears of Street Photography

Asian Woman photographing with her digital cam...

Asian Woman photographing with her digital camera in the historic streets of Prague. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A good photo will often tell a story, convey a message, and to do that you need some kind of context whether it’s the weather, movement, light or people.  Street photographers are very good at images of the latter as by definition they are the subject and the context.  For many photographers, myself very much included people are a difficult subject because of a modern fear.

I stopped going out with my old film cameras around 1998 because I was getting more and more suspicious and almost angry looks from passers-by even when I had the Ricoh SLR on a tripod in an otherwise empty park shooting a landscape, there just seemed to be an atmosphere of people thinking there was something strange about photographers – this was shortly after the furore about the paparazzi in the late 90s.  Maybe it was just me but I felt uncomfortable being seen with my camera.

Having started again I still feel the same.  In my camera kit holdall I have a card that outlines the current law in this country which was given away with a magazine last year because of the number of photographers who were being, sometimes angrily, confronted by members of the public telling them that they were actually breaking the law by photographing people or even buildings – in fact if you’re in a public place you can photograph most things and people, including the police or armed forces, as long as you’re not photographing someone inside a private building where they would have an expectation of privacy.  There are today many people who do fear the motives of people with cameras.

I bought my new high-res and well-travelled compact camera last month so I could carry that with me in case I saw a picture and didn’t have my DSLR.  Yesterday I saw a lovely view down a shopping street where I live, the late afternoon sun lighting buildings in the distance, ominous grey clouds on the horizon by contrast, people doing their shopping.  I didn’t take my shiny new camera out of my pocket, I chickened out, all because I was afraid that some of those shoppers would think I was some kind of weirdo and confront me about it.  Ten minutes later I saw a group of tourists taking photos round the corner and nobody seemed to be making anything of them.

The subjects of many street photos probably didn’t even notice they were being photographed, while photographers will often even ask permission to take shots, especially close-up, non-candid shots.

The thing is that I know I’m not alone in feeling uneasy, of being afraid of the public’s potential reactions to photographers, even though I’m sure that most people wouldn’t even think twice about a chap with a camera.

The Patience of the Landscape Photographer

English: Ashness Bridge, Borrowdale, English L...

I’m in the English Lake District and I’m here to get away from work and relax but also to take some more landscape photos. As any good landscape photographer will tell you patience is something that is as important as a neutral density grey grad filter.  Sometimes you have to revisit the same spot day-in-day-out, or even week-in-week-out until the weather and lighting are just right as a landscape’s appearance can be completely altered by cloud, the angle of the sunlight and the time of year.

Patience is something that can be lacking these days as I witnessed yesterday when walking past a place called Ashness Bridge.  As I approached the bridge, coming down from the fell above, I saw a small group of men stood in the flowing stream beneath the bridge, expensive cameras on tripods, the aforementioned neutral density grey grads in place (the sky was a combination of sunshine and cloud so the grad helps to avoid underexposing the foreground or overexposing the sky).

One of the group wanted a “picture-perfect” image of the apparently famous bridge and was becoming increasingly annoyed at the other tourists and car drivers that were intruding into his shot and rather than be patient and wait he began gesticulating at a car driver, shouting at walkers and generally being a bit of a tit to put it politely.

The attitude of “I’ve got an expensive camera here, I’m a real photographer, get out of my way” was evident and it is one that gives photographers a bad name – as pretentious and inconsiderate.  No doubt the group had to press on to the next photo opportunity but this is no excuse, if they had prepared properly then all they would need to do was wait patiently for the right moment and fire the shutter, as I did later after they had gone.  I don’t mind having people in my photos as they add scale and context but if I’d waited a few seconds I could have taken a shot free of humanity altogether. I had considered pointing my own camera at the camera club when the man had started shouting, perhaps shouting back “could you get out of my way too please, I want a shot of those trees” but I didn’t as I felt the irony would have been lost on them.

As for my own patience, well put it this way I’ve waited one year, two weeks and three days approximately to reshoot two images I took last year on the summit of Walla Crag near Keswick that last year I messed up due to forgetting my neutral density grey grad filter.

This year I got the shots and I now only have to tweak them a bit when I return home before uploading them to Flickr.

Old is the New… New

Alfa Romeo Duetto

Alfa Romeo Duetto (Photo credit: lewong2000)

It seems that the more we step forward into the blinding light of our techno future the more people seem to be looking back.  Retro is still with us and is increasingly seen as a mainstream design choice.  As I see it the reasons are varied and often depend on the product.

For some the appeal of retro design comes from the feeling that designs from the fifties and sixties were crafted with more care and solidity, with metal rather than plastic, with levers and cranks that moved with a reassuring smoothness, clicked and whirred precisely giving a sense that they’d last forever and that you were getting what you paid for.  Such is the case with cameras such as Digital Leica rangefinders that remain true to their film predecessors’ styling and construction; Fujifilm’s X100, X1 and X-Pro1 cameras which are also built from metals and leather patterned plastic; and my favourite the Olympus OM-D E-M5 digital system camera which from most angles looks as solid, sleek and minimalist as the old OM series cameras – it’s only round the back that you see the array of buttons and the large screen that betray it’s 21st Century innards.  It is true that these cameras are relatively expensive and for many that will be the reason they’ll buy them but there is also another reason for products like these: to look longingly at what is often perceived as a better time in society as well as manufacturing.

Many retro products aim squarely at a time before bling when cool meant understated presence, celebrities and celebrity photographers used Leicas, drove E-type Jags and Alfa Duettos – the latter cars also currently being reborn with new century tech and tweaked, sharper lines to again bridge the gap between the past and the future.  There are hints of the rejection of overt showiness and loud celeb culture beginning to emerge.  In fashion and advertising the likes of TV shows such as Mad Men are having an effect for the same reason.  Stella Artois’ current campaigns have an obvious fifties-sixties style to associate the brand with what is seen as classic cool.

Instagram and Hipstamatic photos flood daily into Facebook and while the low-fi style of these is fun and interesting too many of the people taking the shots take the whole thing too seriously telling people that their pictures are more “authentic” because they look like old photos taken with film cameras, this kind of retro though is not strictly accurate though as film hasn’t had the kind of graininess and vignetting applied by these apps for most of the last fifty years, unless you had a really cheap camera, like the ones that you can now buy imitations of to deliberately get the poor quality – because it looks cool, of course.

So retro is either a desire to emulate a seemingly better time before our throwaway society and our transient carbon-copy celebrities, or it’s a fad to show how unconventional you are, or it’s a way to say how well off and tasteful you are, or it’s a case of designers taking cues from a time where form and function both mattered and subtlety had more impact than in-your-face showiness to create something truly stylish and often beautiful.

To create the future it is often useful to reference the past, both for its mistakes and its triumphs.

Bag Fiend – Confessions of a Bag Addict

Lowepro Terraclime 50

Ok, here and now I admit that I have a thing about portable storage.  There, I’ve said it.

I have over the years needed bags for carrying my lunch to work, computers, cameras and clothes but also many smaller bags and pouches to keep things organised and safe when in other bags or drawers.  Often though I’ve had a couple of bags before I’ve found The One for a particular task.  Sometimes I’ll get a new bag simply because I’m bored with the colour or style of the old one, or it’s becoming a bit tatty.

I do insist on quality of materials and construction and what does get my attention are good features such as  good internal storage and maybe some innovative pocket or pouch like the little slide-out memory card holder on my Lowepro compact camera and SLR holster cases.  The bag also has to look good too, colourful if possible.

The thing is though that I am patient and I generally only buy a new bag when I can get a good deal on it.  Like today’s new bag.  A local camping shop is closing down unfortunately but they were selling off lots of Lowepro Terraclime camera pouches for a couple of quid each.  I have a use for one so I added it to my collection and an excellent bag it is too.  Good looking, colourful and made from quality, sturdy, recycled materials and featuring a retainer that slides into a loop to hold it closed along with being designed so that the top opening folds over to close it fully and keep the elements out it’s a really nicely made bag.  The interior has a soft lining and pockets for memory cards and the like.

Now to find somewhere to store it.

(Lowepro)