Engineers

I have always been a good teacher because I am, at heart, very simple. I think intelligence means “making complex things simple” – not the other way around. Ask any consultant. The consultant who uses obfuscatory language (complicated words) is the wrong consultant. The one who explains complex things in simple words is the one you use.

And as an engineer, I think sometimes other engineers make things seem too complex.

So, an example. Somewhere deep in its menu, my Canon 1D MkIV camera has (among many other settings) four possible settings for how it achieves focus when you are shooting a burst of shots. Here’s how Canon explains it is an explanatory document (and remember this is meant to clarify!):

The Engineers’ Version…:

C.Fn III-3: (AI Servo 1st/2nd image priority) has had the optional [3: Release/Tracking priority] setting added. Shutter-release priority (rather than focus priority) is given to the first shot. During continuous shooting (from the second shot onward), stable focus-tracking of the subject is given priority. This new setting, which was the only option for AI Servo AF release/tracking priority with the original EOS-1D, EOS-1D Mark II and EOS-1D Mark II N, was conspicuously absent on the EOS-1D Mark III. Now, EOS-1D Mark IV users will have the best of both worlds together with the new improvements to AF hardware and software.

Now the detail:

(Michael’s note: Four options in the C.Fn III focus customization setup menu are explained here. Each one defines “First frame during continuous shooting/All subsequent frames in burst”.)

  • 0 AF priority/Tracking priority: Shutter is released once subject is in focus. There may be a delay when image is blurred./Focus is prioritized. Continuous shooting speed may slow down depending on amount of blur , contrast and brightness.
  • 1  AF priority/Drive speed priority: Shutter is released once subject is in focus. There may be a delay when image is blurred/Continuous shooting speed is prioritized. Continuous shooting may slow down. (depending on amount of blur , contrast and brightness) but is faster than for tracking priority.
  • 2 Release/Drive speed priority: Shutter is released even if subject is out of focus/Continuous shooting speed is prioritized. Subject tracking may not be active depending on amount of blur , contrast and brightness.
  • 3 Release/ Tracking priority: Shutter is released even if subject is out of focus/Focus is prioritized. Release timing may be delayed depending on amount of blur, contrast and brightness.

All clear? I did not think so: I have spent time deciphering this. So now let’s look at…

Michael’s Version:

The camera focus system has the following options for “burst shooting”:

  • It can either start shooting only when good focus is achieved, or it can start shooting as soon as possible, even if focus may not be perfect yet.
  • And that decision can be different for the first shot versus for all subsequent shots.

There are therefore four different setup possibilities:

  1. First shot: shoot only when focused. Subsequent shots: shoot only when focused.
  2. First shot: shoot only when focused. Subsequent shots: shoot as quickly as possible, even if focus may not yet be perfect.
  3. First shot: shoot as quickly as possible, even if focus may not yet be perfect. Subsequent shots: shoot as quickly as possible, even if focus may not yet be perfect.
  4. First shot: shoot as quickly as possible, even if focus may not yet be perfect. Subsequent shots: shoot only when focused.

Another, simpler way to explain this would be:

  1. First shot: shoot accurately. Subsequent shots: shoot accurately.
  2. First shot: shoot accurately. Subsequent shots: shoot quickly.
  3. First shot: shoot quickly. Subsequent shots: shoot quickly.
  4. First shot: shoot quickly. Subsequent shots: shoot accurately.

When do you use these modes? If “getting the shot” is more important, in developing news events, for instance, then you should probably shoot quickly. If quality is more important, and if events repeat, as in some sports, then you should shoot accurately.

The default is to always shoot accurately. We recommend that you leave it like that, unless you are shooting events where you simply must get the shot, even if it may not be quite as well focused.

——–

And you realize, that is just one of the many options and settings on the 1D MkIV camera. I would love to produce a plain English “how to”-guide, including a “recipe book” of all the recommended starting settings for various situations and sports (Canon, if you are interested, do let me know).

5 thoughts on “Engineers

  1. I’m testing out the Sony NEX-5 right now, and it presents a cacophony of confusing weirdness for its in-camera menus (I can imagine any documents explaining them would only cloud the issue). It’s a nice camera, but fairly hard to shoot because its menu system and button layout are confounding. Clearly photographers were not consulted, or at least not taken seriously, during the design phase…just as copywriters were not hired to write documents for your camera.

  2. When younger and more naïve, I was under the impression that technical writers were technical people who understood the product they were writing about. Having been through a few product development cycles, I hold a different view. Of course it may be different in other industries. Usually the technical writers ask the engineers to provide suitable text, and the technical writer looks after getting it into the right page in the document with occasional questions about abbreviations, punctuation and grammar. It is a good argument for increasing the English classes at engineering schools.

    My second observation is that the ones who developed a product are not the best ones to write the how to use it book, they are much better at doing the how it works and how to fix it books. This stems from their being too close to the product and usually still being in developer mode when the books are done.

    My final thought here is: The higher the quality of design, the less requirement there is to read the manual.

  3. Michael

    I’m a lurker on your site for quite a while now and enjoy all your posts. For me its a daily read.

    Your thread on the 1D Mk4 focus settings grabbed my attention immediately. I’m enjoying this camera for about three months now apart from my 7D and 5D Mk2.

    As you mentioned the manual is difficult to understand and I wish someone would clarify all those focus settings and where and how to use it. If you are thinking about doing a series (?) or posts on this camera settings you will surely make my day. I’m sure a lot of people struggle with this.

    Regards
    Charles

    • I shall definitely do some more, Charles; and meanwhile, welcome and I am glad you are enjoying the blog. Tell all your friends, and link to my posts ioften, that’s my only request! 🙂

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