Compact Camera Alienation?

Are compact and cellphone cameras fundamentally unsuited to a significant subset of the population?

I am short sighted. With an SLR I look through the viewfinder at an image focused at the optical equivalent of about 1m, maybe a bit less with “diopter adjustment” applied, so I can view it fairly easily regardless of whether I need my glasses for the scene or not. With a compact camera I hold it at my natural reading distance of about 40cm (a bit less than 18″), which is both optically comfortable and a good distance at which to hold and operate the camera. The same will be true for those with normal sight.

This is not true for those who are long sighted, which includes a majority of those in middle age or older. These people will be comfortable looking at longer-range subjects without glasses, but will need them for shorter-range subjects.

The SLR, or even an “electronic viewfinder” camera with diopter adjustment, should be fine. As long as the effective optical distance of the focusing screen is 1m or more it should be viewable with glasses off if that’s correct for the target scene, and because it’s viewed inside a dark “tunnel” the effective distance is not an issue.

But a compact camera can be a real challenge. The user has to either hold it inside their comfortable viewing distance, and accept a blurred image and other display data, or hold it so far away that both camera shake and incident light become issues, or try switching between glasses to view the camera and none for the scene itself. None of these is a good option. The result is a camera which is effectively unusable by that person.

I saw this in action myself yesterday. I was sitting in a restaurant with Frances, and she had a good view of a potential photo, but I didn’t. Thinking it would be easiest, I handed her my little Canon Powershot S95. Useless. Eventually I rummaged under the table for the “big lump” (Canon 7D and 15-85 lens, all 1.6kg of it ;)). No problem.

I do wonder if the move to fewer and fewer small cameras having optical viewfinders is a wise one, or if it will alienate a significant proportion of potential photographers.

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2 Responses to Compact Camera Alienation?

  1. John Banks says:

    You are so right. We the long sighted are a huge market segment (pretty much every person over 50) and we have been abandoned by camera manufacturers. The promise of convenience offered by compact digitals has evaporated for us, but who can we complain to? Do they even know this at Canon, Nikon, etc? How do we get through to the CEO? Start a protest movement? I am doubly annoyed because I take a lot of snow photos. LCD screens are next to useless in bright sunlight anyway and the last thing you want to do on a ski trip is fumble about with (frosted up) spectacles.Sure an optical viewfinder gives a less than perfect indication of the image boundaries but it is infinitely better than just guessing what is in the frame which is what I often have to do.

    • Andrew says:

      I think the answer is the emergence of small cameras with electronic viewfinders. I’m very enamoured of my Panasonic GH2, and looking seriously at the LF1 as the successor to the Canon S95, just because of its EVF.

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