The person who never seems to be able to operate, or be happy with, these modern digital cameras. The person who more often says “Oh, I’m so upset, I couldn’t get a picture of that because this damn camera never works right” or the person who goes to take a shot but then quietly puts the camera away realizing it’s full and remembering that one does not quite know what one does when the camera is full. And so on.
I know a number of people who are utterly incapable of using a digital camera, even though those same people are highly intelligent, flexible, and able to easily do things that require significantly more detailed and complex technical knowledge. There are two reasons for this, I think: 1) they don’t use any camera often enough to remember what they learned last time they used it and b) the digital camera is paradimatically different enough from other things in life to make it … well, different. A Kuhnian Fail, as it were.
Digital cameras present some or all of the following difficulties for folks who have a hard time with them (and I speak here of PHS1 cameras, not SLR cameras):
1) That view screen on the back has become a must have, even though it is the reason that the cameras use up their batteries so quickly, but to old schoolers, it is intimidating and very unlike a view finder.
2) To ease the use of the average PHS camera, indecipherable icons have been arranged on a wheel or menu offering more than the optimal number of choices, and thus causing confusion. The optimal number of choices of “mode” is, of course, one. Two may as well be a zillion. Sometimes the wheel or menu either gets set at some unlikely setting, so from then on, forever, the user is in Macro mode, or in the case of some wheels, gets easily stuck in between settings so the camera simply will not work with no obvious explanation until somebody knocks it accidentally and it starts working again.
3) Most PHS cameras have a menu that allows the user to alter dozens and dozens of settings. If a user does not understand that a camera can even have a menu, this means that most PHS cameras have a button that causes the camera to break forever. Or at least until the batteries die of non-use and, on replacement, the camera resets itself.
4) Playback mode. Film cameras didn’t have it. It is unnatural and confusing (but see below).
5) There is no way to get the pictures out of the camera because there is no film to remove and have developed. There is, of course, playback mode so you can see tiny little versions of the pictures. And yes, folks, I’ve known people to pretend that they suddenly hate their PHS camera and need a new one because it got full and they were confused about what to do next.
These problems are exacerbated by the fact that most people who can’t handle a modern digital PHS camera end up owning one that was selected by someone (a relative, or whatever) who can handle it. Thus, the person selecting the camera uses criteria such as “number of pixels” or “memory capacity” or “does it have a zoom” or whatever. These are all irrelevant. The digital PHS camera replacing an old film camera in the hands of a snapshot taker has to produce images that are as good as inappropriately chosen film shot with crappy optics and developed by a stoned teenager using a poorly calibrated automatic printing machine at Walmarts. Anything beyond that is a bonus. Yes, folks, even the zoom is an unnecessary confusing battery-killing feature. (Unfortunately, all known digital PHS cameras have a zoom, which is a shame.)
Our objective, therefore, is to find a digital camera that has one feature: The smallest number of buttons possible. Ideally, there would be one (shoot) but there may have to be two (off/on and shoot). As far as I know there are no such cameras. But, perhaps we can get close. Your suggestions, in the comments, will be appreciated.
I did an Internet search for a simple camera and I found many discussion lists or blog comments that were supposed to explicitly suggest simple cameras. But, as expected, almost every single suggestion is for a camera that is not simple. The person making the suggestion, as a camera geek, was in almost every instance mentally and emotionally incapable of suggesting a simple camera because their brains would not let them. A camera with more pixels or more features or more whatever always caught their attention (“ooh, shiny!”) and ruined any possibility of them answering the simple question: What is the simplest camera, the camera with the fewest buttons and settings????
Even the camera industry is clueless. You would think Kodak would have a simple camera that they sell as THE simple camera (they often have done so in the past). But if we look at the Kodak EasyShare C180 10.2MP Digital Camera with 3x Optical Zoom and 2.4 inch LCD – Red, we find that its specks include:
- Many “scene” settings pre-programmed for different types of shots
- M1033 has a couple extra features (i.e., panoramic stitching)
- No viewfinder
… and one reviewer quips: “I was amazed to find it has so many settings (it has ISO as well as many other settings for the most fun and practicality.) It also takes videos. ”
Nonetheless, this may be one of the simplest cameras out there, and it costs bout 70 bucks.
Maybe if we went even cheaper we’d lose some features. The Go Photo Easy Pix 30 – Digital camera costs 30 bucks and has almost no features. It is essentially a web cam with no easy way to hook it to your monitor. However, it does shoot video (however crappy) and has a maximum resolution less than an old CRT. What we’re really looking for is a camera with a passable lens and reasonable resolution, not this.
It has been claimed that the Cannon Powershot (e.g. Canon PowerShot SD1200IS 10 MP Digital Camera with 3x Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 2.5-inch LCD (Silver)) has fewer settings than other similar cameras. If that turns out to be true, it may be at the only available sweet spot, as it would have good optics and image size, etc.
The simplest Coolpix (Nikon) is my current best choice. The Nikon Coolpix L21. It is a good quality PHS camera with an explicit “Easy Auto Mode.”
There are two other ways besides finding the ideal camera to make this work. Get hold of any reasonable PHS camera that is on sale or that you happen to already own, and do the following.
Find the turn-able dial, pick a setting (“auto” for example) and use some Duco cement to glue the dial in place. Just do it. I know it sounds like a bad idea, but you weren’t using this camera anyway.
Cut tiny pieces out of a plastic bottle (like a bleach bottle) and glue/tape them over any other buttons that are not necessary.
If there remain any additional buttons, use brightly colored nail polish to mark them, and then using the same nail polish, put a key somewhere on the camera (on the bottom?) and write on there what that button means.
The exact way you do this will of course vary with each camera, and with the user you are modding the camera for. Think of it as a DIYPHS.
After all that is taken care of, here is the most important single suggestion I can make to you, and this applies more broadly than your efforts to get grandpa fitted out with the right gear.
Convince the person you are helping that the little Memory Card that goes in the camera is film. When it full, tell them, you take it out and bring it to the film processing place and give it to them and say “I need prints.” That person at the ProEx can certainly make all the pics on that card into prints, or they may even guide the person you are helping over to the self service machine and walk them through picking out what images to print. If the service person does that for your grandma or grandpa, yell at him or her and say “Just print the damn pictures, will you? And don’t let this happen again!” That should work for a while.
Now here’s the important part: When the memory card comes out, one needs to put a clean, new card in. After the old, full card has been “printed” it goes with the negatives that have been stored from the old days. It’s film. It’s used up. Put in a new card and move on.
I know, I know, the images can be deleted, or put on a hard drive, or transferred to CD’s or to Dropbox, or whatever. And if you were thinking that, you’re still not getting it. You’re still judging cameras by the qualities that matter to you, the modern geek, and not to grandpa, who in his own day may have been able to disassemble a Model A with his eyes closed, or grandma who worked for the OSS decoding German messages, but these days just wants the old Brownie to take a few snapshots.
The manufacturer that comes out with the quality one-button camera will sell a lot of them.
1Push Here, Stupid!