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 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.

Parcel Farce Part Deux: One Camera’s Journey

English: Lagan Viking Irish Sea The Lagan Viki...

English: Lagan Viking Irish Sea The Lagan Viking one hour and forty minutes after leaving Belfast Harbour is photographed passing the Isle of Man heading for Liverpool. Image made from Portavogie Harbour. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I often find that I see interesting photos while I don’t have my DSLR with me and while my compact camera does a good job when I saw the chance of an even better compact for half price (£60) on Amazon I decided to treat myself.  I no longer have Amazon Prime so didn’t expect to have to deal with couriers any more but this week I was proved wrong.

My camera was dispatched on Monday from Swansea and was meant to be delivered on Wednesday, some drivers for the courier it was being sent by (Hermes) have a habit of leaving packages outside our building so I was a little apprehensive when I arrived home to find nothing, not even a card to say they hadn’t delivered.  I checked on Amazon and the tracking information said “Possible delay in delivery due to arrival at incorrect carrier facility” – current location of my camera: Belfast.  It had taken the advice to “go west” instead of heading for me over here on the east coast.  Possible delay?  It had crossed the Irish Sea and was on its way to Tipperary for all I knew (which is a long way).

Thursday evening, it still hadn’t arrived.  It was in Warrington, having presumably briefly visited Liverpool.  I know not where it will go next but I am a little annoyed that it’s visiting more cities than I have time to do.

Update:  Saturday morning.  I suddenly thought to check where it was, went to Amazon, the tracking now said it had visited Peteborough and was out for delivery.  At last!  I looked out of my front window a few minutes later and down on the road outside was the Hermes driver just getting my box out of his car.  Perfect timing.