Usability of high performance pocket camera snapping photography
This article analyses the usability requirements of digital pocket cameras for "high performance" snapping (later abbreviated hi-perf snapping). It is a form of photography that combines the ease of use of pocket cameras with a level of excellence of high quality expert photography.
This article approaches the issue from the viewpoint of hi-perf snapping, because usability is really about how well a task is executed. Tools should be in a non-central role in all usability analyses, allowing abstraction of their design elements, features and functions.
Finally, I shortly analyse one digital camera and its shortcomings. Ok, let's begin...The style and task of hi-perf snapping Being ready, being prepared Being fast Low social interference Adaptability to different requirements Low fuzz Environmental robustness An example: The usability of one smalle digital snapper
Lets first take a look at what the task and process of hi-perf snapping is like.
What separates the hi-perf snapping from normal snapping are proactive attitude, the effectiveness of the process and the quality of the results.
A hi-performance snapper is first and foremost always ready. Images are always met suddenly, and the photographer must be always ready to immediately spring into action.
This causes the following requirements
"Drawing the camera" (like drawing a pistol) from the pocket must be fast. The position of camera and its status must be immediately recognisable. There should be no need to check visually which way the camera is in the hand, whether it is turned on, has is booted yet, etc...
Camera should be a natural extension of both hand and eye. This calls for good ergonomics, a good "fit". The viewfinder must be large enough. The camera must be immediately ready for shooting. The boot-up time and recovery time from power conserving mode (sleep) should be very fast (less than a second). But often adjustments are needed. Therefore, the adjustments that are most often made must be easy to carry out. These include:
The requirement for fast action means that often the situation is not optimal for best exposures. One may need to hold the camera with one hand, for example, and the camera must be able to shoot good exposures even then. This means high, adjustable ISO rating and a fast lens.
The photographer needs to be able to shoot many shots in short succession. In an unexpected situation, one can never know what is the best shot, or whether a shot really succeeds or not. Therefore the camera must have short delays between shots. The Achilles' heel of many cameras is flash recharge time, which can be many seconds.
Shooting must be able to be carried out discreetly, without unnecessarily disturbing other people or drawing attention. This calls for, for example, the following camera features:
Different quality requirements:
Like any serious activity, hi-perf snapping should be as trouble free as possible. Especially technical problems with equipment tend to happen when they cause the most harm! These are the most usual problems:
Problems caused by ergonomic "traps"
Loss of battery power
Fear of breaking
Snapping is an all-weather activity. Therefore, the camera needs to be rain proof. In most countries another weather related problem is cold weather. Most cameras are guaranteed to work only at plus zero temperatures. That is simply not good enough especially in northern countries. Actually, many cameras can tolerate low temperatures (but with the owner taking the risk of breakage), the only problem area being batteries. NiMH batteries simply do not deliver their charge well in the cold - and some cameras simply don't work with any other commonly available battery type.
In any country, darkness is a problem. A camera needs to be usable in the dark. This requires:
Two years ago, I bought Olympus C-21 (shown right in its well used state). All magazine tests wrote about how good it is: small size (smallest on the market at that time), fast operation, low energy consumption and good image quality. As often, the reality turned out to be just a little different. Was this camera targeted for hi-perf snapping? When it was introduced, it had quite high specification, but the lack of a zoom reveals that this was not aimed for the very serious shooter. But the small size made this camera one of the very few pocket cameras that really would fit in a pocket practically no matter what you might be wearing. I'll present just a few main points of interest, using the previous headings as an outline.
Being ready, being prepared
When it was introduced, this camera had one of the very fastest boot-up speeds in its class. Still it is quite fast, except for the two common flaws:
Also, changing all settings is done in the screen menu, making for example switching the flash off too slow an operation.
Low social interference
Due to its small size and very simple design, this camera looks almost like a disposable camera, not turning attention. When held in hand while walking, nobody notices and cares that you have a camera.
This camera has a selection of the worst problem inducing features of any model I have ever used.
The camera's power system seem to be designed for a special lithium battery, which a) is not available except in some Olympus stores and b) is very expensive. Therefore, most people naturally use NiMH batteries. This causes the following problems:
The lens cover is exceptionally badly designed. It needs to be moved just a few millimeters, to turn the power off, and the cover slides very easily with almost no resistance. Therefore, the camera turns itself too easily off when held normally in one's palm. (I managed to improve matters just a bit with some drops of glue under the lens cover. See the photo, on the right bottom corner. They keep the cover better in place, pulled down into the power on-position).
The body seems to be very fragile. The first time I dropped the camera, a part of the battery compartment locking system broke. All small devices should take a dropping from waist level to a floor.
Adaptability to different requirements
This camera is best suited to low quality snapping. It has adjustable ISO setting up to 400, but the photos shot using this sensitivity setting are too noisy for any serious publication. It also doesn't have manual exposure controls. It does not provide for screw-on lenses, making the non-zoomable standard lens the only choice.
As it has been noted already a couple of times, this camera doesn't work very well in the dark. It is not weather resistant and according to the manufacturer, works only in plus zero temperature. In any case, the battery power restrictions make its cold weather use cumbersome.
Like too many pocket cameras, this on shows serious lack of attention to the user needs. The camera can perform well, but only in ideal conditions when the sun shines and the situation is such that the factory settings work okay. It has been claimed (at around 1999) that Olympus' designers do not listen to users. This may have changed, but this camera clearly shows a designer-, not user oriented attitude. What could have been one of the greatest snappers of all time turns in actual use to be just mediocre.