Engineers… sigh.

An old one:

  • Q: What does an engineer use for birth control?
  • A: His personality.

I am constantly amazed when I see how engineers fail to communicate. They assume that ordinary people know or understand things that the engineers take for granted. If I know it, so must others, right?

Wrong. Here are just a few of the constant stream of things that make photography difficult for mortals.

  • Nikon menu spaghetti: The vertical menu tabs in Nikon cameras. And the navigation: “left, up/down, right, up/down, select, up/down, Set”. And then if you forget the final “up, set, press OK”, you lose the setting you have just done.
  • Nikon menus: in addition, most users do not understand that the menus are longer than the screen. The scroll bar is small and unintuitive. So if the vertical menu displays 8 functions but contains 18, most users will never know about those additional 10.
  • Nikon hidden auto ISO. Hide the Nikon auto ISO setting in a custom function, and users wonder why their pictures get all grainy (and their studio pictures fail completely) when they have clearly set ISO to just 200 in the main ISO screen. D’oh!
  • Wakey wakey – that fact that you need to wake up your camera by briefly pressing the shutter before you can set anything. I cannot tell you the number of times I hear “my camera isn’t working: it’s on but when I turn that dial, nothing happens”.
  • 1/1. When I set my flash to full power manual, a Canon flash displays “1/1”. In a world where only one in ten Canadians can tell me that 1,000 times 1,000 equals one million (most think 10,ooo), why do you think that people know that one divided by one is one? And even if they do, that “one” means “full power”?
  • Lens terminology. “ZOOM LENS EF 70-200mm 1:2.8 L USM IS”: need I say more? Instead of “1:3.5-5.6”, why not say f/3.5 to f/5.6, so beginners understand it? Look at that string: one colon three dot five dash five dot six. Clear, not.
  • Auto-focus terminology – We have AF mode and AF point selection, but AF point selection is not called anything like “AF”. So when people look for the word “AF” to select where the camera focuses, they get how it focuses instead.
  • Colour: why call “white balance” after “white”, which is not a colour? If they called it “colour balance” it would be sooo much clearer! Yeah guys, I know. Don’t think science; just think customer!
  • Terminology. Why call it “3D Color Matrix Metering” or “Evaluative metering” when “Smart Metering” would work a whole lot better?
  • Alonzo the Clever Mexican. I have had several people ask me who Alonzo is. Al, that is. Namely Al Servo, the Mexican who invented continuous autofocus. I mean really, do you know how few people know that “AI” means “Artificial Intelligence” (I estimate fewer than one perfect of Canadians)? And that a Servo Motor is a closely controlled electrical motor with negative feedback loop?

The list goes on, and on.

Don’t these companies do any UI testing? Head in the sand! The GTA Nikon rep recently looked at me baffled, and says “but no-one else ever told me this is confusing” – like it’s my fault.  Yeah buddy, that’s because I teach this to ordinary users, day in day out, and you just sell it.

Camera people always get defensive. “But everyone else understands it!”, they say. Um… look up “survivor bias” on Wikipedia, guys.

So if you find yourself confused: it’s not you. It’s the camera and the manual. It is time Apple designed an SLR. But do not despair: take some training and in spite of the camera companies’ engineers’ best efforts to avoid clear communication, you will learn this stuff.

And yeah, I am an engineer.

0 thoughts on “Engineers… sigh.

  1. …all of which illustrates why, although an engineer, you are a fantastic teacher for those of us “Apple ” people who get very frustrated by the tech stuff. I have never known you to make anyone feel stupid
    (even me!) for not getting it. Thanks for this list.

    • Thanks, Jaxx. I think that is probably because I have never met anyone stupid! The interfaces can be very unintuitive, but once they are explained properly, they are easily understood. And I like to keep things simple because I too am very simple at heart. Explaining is about making complicated things simple – not about making simple things complicated.

  2. If Apple designed an SLR:

    1) It would be the most expensive camera but it would come in the nicest box.

    2) The battery would not be user-replaceable. So remember to carry the charger with you all the time.

    Once the battery fails to hold a charge, you’d have to take the camera back to an Apple Store (remember to make an appointment first), and Apple would replace your camera with a refurbished one of same or similar style.

    3) No third-party memory cards would work because the camera would have a proprietary card slot.

    4) No jpeg, but a new proprietary format which Apple claims is better.

    5) The camera would use the proprietary iMount lens system. The world-standard hotshoe would be replaced by Apple’s proprietary MiniDigitalShoe.

    Any company that tried to make an Apple-compatible photo accessory would be sued by Apple.

    6) You would be able to photograph only subjects deemed suitable by Apple, eg. no nudity, no swimwear, no violence, no drug use ….

    7) If you held the camera too tightly, it would cease to function properly.

    8) Operating system updates would be downloaded through iTunes.

    9) No USB port, but ports for iPod, iPad and iPhone.

    Yes, the camera would be shiny, extra-thin and have a super glossy LCD screen.

    Be careful what you wish for.

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