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Ergonomics and the camera.

Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by BigWill, Aug 15, 2006.

  1. BigWill

    BigWill Gorgeous oversensitive Nikon-loving cream puff

    Just in case anyone is unsure of exactly what the term "ergonomics" means here's a reasonable definition:

    The science of people-machine relationships. An ergonomically designed product implies that the device blends smoothly with a person's body or actions.

    So how important is this science to camera design? Can we live without it or are "ergonomics" something which camera designers already pay a lot of attention to anyway?

    For myself, the only "unergonomic" SLR I can ever recall using was a Ricoh KR10 super which I simply couldn't get along with as my hand always felt uncomfortable using it no matter what. Compacts are a different kettle of fish though as I think I have yet to find one that actually was ergonomic but perhaps this is understandable given the limitations the designers have on size.

    How do others feel about "ergonomics" and the camera? Is it vital to the successful use of a camera or can you compromise and live without it?

  2. Hi Will
    Thought I'd have my two pennyworth on this one. Having spent a lot of my working life attempting to design buildings suitable for people to use, I'm interested in the subject.
    Modern cameras are designed to fit into the hand and suit the eye position of the right hander with good right eye vision. I'm not left handed, so I don't know how camera design affects left handed people. What if you have vision problems in your right eye?
    It's only with large and medium format cameras that you can use both eyes.
    Some digital cameras and phones where the image is displayed on a screen require you to hold the camera at viewing distance - pretty difficult to hold the thing still.

    My Leica IIIG has the following positive ergonomic features:
    It's small and comfortably - some would say reassuringly - heavy
    Suits my hands and face, forcing me to adopt a steady elbows tucked in stance - good for reducing the risk of camera shake.
    All parts that need to be adjusted (focus ring, wind on knob, etc) have easily gripped wheels to turn
    The not so good ergonomic features are the tiny viewfinder and focussing window, and you can only comfortably use your right eye. Even more tricky when wearing spectacles.

    I also have a Canon EOS 50E which is heavier then the Leica, especially when I have a long lens fitted. Most of the buttons and things to manipulate are readily to hand when the camera is up to the eye. All the complications of focussing and exposure can be dealt with automatically. I particularly like the facility that winds back the film automatically when it is finished. I have dialled in a custom function that leaves the cassette with the leader projecting - so useful for home developing.
    Got to go, my dinner's ready
  3. BigWill

    BigWill Gorgeous oversensitive Nikon-loving cream puff

    Thanks Brian. Interesting to see you use that custom feature that leaves the film leader out. I used to do that myself when I had an EOS5 with that feature, as you say, very handy for home developers.

    I would welcome some comments from "lefties" as I think left handed people are generally very poorly catered for by camera makers but I'll leave that to the "lefties" to comment specifically on.

    Yes, I agree that an LCD only viewfinder is a very poor substitute for an optical one and very often an LCD is pretty much impossible to see in bright viewing conditions anyway so definitely minus points there for any camera that only has an LCD.

    Some (though sadly not enough!) cameras do have diopter adjustment built into the eyepiece of the camera so again perhaps another negative point for those that don't?

    The ability to hold a camera still must surely be a vitally important area of ergonomics related specifically to a camera and often this is compromised by both the size and weight of a camera as there is a modern school of japanese thought which seems to think that "small is always better" which I think simply doesn't hold true when applied specifically to camera design. It may be more "portable" yes, but better? I don't think so personally!

    Thank you for your thoughts. Very enlightening!

  4. BennyBoy

    BennyBoy Well-Known Member

    I've shot with Canon, Nikon, Hassleblad, Olympus, & others, and although the control layouts are very different, they are all pretty intuitive - do I think that any one cameras ergonomics are enough to sway me to another brand? No.

    For me image quality will always be paramount, and I feel that sometimes people will sacrifice ergonics for that - and also of course for financial reasons.

    I suppose what I'm trying to say is that a human is far more versatile than any camera, and people always cope with what they have as long as the end result is worth it.

    So, although ergonomics is important at the base level - ie it is designed to fit most hands, you can actually look through the viewfinder, I don't think it is the be all and end all.
  5. BennyBoy

    BennyBoy Well-Known Member

    I forgot to mention, that although I'm a righty, I'm left eye dominant, I don't have any problems other than sometimes pressing buttons with my nose :)
  6. Knockmore

    Knockmore Well-Known Member

    Yeah, you see a number of arguments about the ergonomics of certain systems compared to others on some forums, and some people rank ergonomics very highly when it comes to choosing a camera.
    I suppose if you rely on your camera for your living, and if you are say a photojournalist or somesuch, you have to be able to use the thing without thinking about it, without taking it from your eye. The argument that is sometimes put forward that it's better to get the shot, even if the quality is not that good, than not get the shot at all.Which is fair enough i suppose. It is nice to become familiar with whatever photographic tool you use, whether you are an amateur or a pro, but I would have to say like the previous poster that for me image quality would rank somewhat ahead of ease of use, but then I am only an amateur and am prepared to put up with some foibles of handling.
    I can totally understand a working pro, handling the camera for hours every day, ranking ergonomics at or near the top of their list of considerations.

  7. MikeT

    MikeT Well-Known Member

    I'm a lefty and have the same problem especially as I have a sizable nose! :D The biggest problem I find is looking through the viewfinder squarely - this was a much bigger problem with a split screen focussing ring as the ring could sometimes look black if not looked at square on. I don't seem to notice the fact that I'm holding the camera with the "wrong" hand anymore - I guess that's just through years of picking up cameras with shutter releases on the right. If you think about it some might say this arrangement is better suited to the lefty. All the right hand does is hold the camera and press the release. The left hand handles all the intricate stuff like focus (when we had to do it ourselves!), zoom and aperture (again, before it was a button!) I also tend to support the camera underneath using the palm of my left hand - my stronger one - so in terms of support that also works well.

    On reflection, I don't think I'd like a "lefty" camera! ;)
  8. sey

    sey Well-Known Member

    Oh BW, you gonna get me going here :eek: :). I'm an Industrial Designer by profession and my daughter, chip off the old block, has a Masters in Ind. Des. specializing in ERGONOMICS & HUMAN ENGINEERING! :D :D

    Ergonomics are extremely important, first and foremost for health & economic reasons. Badly designed tools and equipment cause serious health risk problems which in turn cost humungous amounts of money in treatments, work days lost & compensation. Economics too, because if the product is uncomfortable to use then nobody's going to use it..

    Ergonomics are vital for the comfortable, efficient, correct, healthy use of all things designed for the use thereof by man or beast. My daughters Masters Thesis was a study in the use of tweezers in an electronic component manufacturers plant. Tiny pins had to be moved from one place to another by means of these tweezers. The health trauma from this seemingly simple operation was costing the company a fortune, besides the permanent health damage to the workers. After doing an in depth study & researching/experimenting/testing, she introduced a few simple modifications to the tweezers. health risks dropped to zero & prduction rates went up 15%, and all because of a little ergonomic & human engineering planning..

    Great examples of this are the badly designed computer work stations where all the elements involved, chairs, tables, keyboards, monitors etc, each cause their own health risk hazards & need to be very carefully planned and 'fitted' to each individual user. They usually aren't of course, because with the usual short-sightedness of management saving the initial costs, it is an unecessary expense.

    As far as cameras go, it is very difficult to design the 'ergonomically' correct camera, simply because the huge range of different people using the end product is so vast. So comprimises are made and an 'average' is arrived at to get to a reasonable solution.

    There are many other parameters involved, such as what the market 'fashion' demands - if small is 'in' & 'smaller is better' then all ergonomics go out the window but the camera will not be easier/more efficient/more comfortable to use, just the opposite.....buttons are too close together so we press two at once, or they're hard to get to etc. the only 'advantage' is it's lighter to carry, but even that to many of us is a disadvantage, the camera is too light to 'sit' comfortably in our hands, camera-shake increases etc. Other parameters are technical such as te amount of 'guts' that has to be sardined into the shell, capabilities of production machine tools & materiasls used, etc. etc.

    How many times here have we told 'newbies' who've asked advice on whether to buy Ca***/Ni***/or whatever, to try all the different options & see which one they feel most comfortable with. In reality what we're telling them is to find the camera that suits them ERGONOMICALLY best.

    Ergonomics in camera design is very important, but unfortunately good ergonomics for all the different reasons are extremely difficult to achieve, so the fact of the matter is we HAVE to live without it, because that's the nature of the beast.
  9. Following on from Mike T's comments, I note that the user manual for the Hasselbad 500C/M recommends that you hold it with your left hand and press the shutter button with your left index finger.
    Takes a bit of getting used to but it certainly makes focussing and film winding easier.
  10. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    There aren't many cameras I don't get on with - some Nikons being the prime examples.

    I think for me the best camera ergonomically is the EOS 100 - the camera which most digital SLRs owe their control layout to.
  11. T_Sargeant

    T_Sargeant Well-Known Member

    Ok, agreeing with Seymour on this one!

    I'd definately say that ergonomics are incredibly important, would it sway my choice in cameras? Probably, yes (esepcially if all other factors are equal)

    Working in Jessops, I get a lot of people who just want a fairly basic compact, no special features needed and capable of producing a nice 7x5. What's the first thing I tell them? "99% of the cameras will suit your needs fine, what do you like the look of, and try actually using it and playing around" At the end of the day, I feel that a consumer compact is even more important to fit the users ergonomics than a pro's kit, or (especially actually!) and enthusiastic amateur. A pro will use what they have to, an amateur might sacrifice a bit of comfort for the nth degree of quality, but a consumer taking pictures of the kids want something comfortable and easy to use.

    After all (aside from style and looks) I'd say that's one of the reasons for there being so much choice in the digi compacts, now manufacturers are no longer having to have a big roll of film that more or less determines the shape of the camera, and having far more buttons, dials, etc, to deal with, cameras are become increasingly varied. What's important? Finding a camera someone "enjoys" using, and *that's* largely ergonomics.
  12. Footloose

    Footloose Well-Known Member

    The ergonomics of a camera are more important than some people are willing to admit, sometimes because they are more 'willing' to accept a particular models failing/s and adapt to compensate for them due to brand loyalty or the 'status' of ownership! On digital cameras, how convenient the menu system employed to access different functions falls into two quite different camps. Some prefer the menus to be a large range of groups with a few settings in each one or navigated through a small number of groups, within which are further sub-menus. Some systems employ logical progression whilst the other seems to be more quickly accessible. Look at the difference between the layout Dynax's use as oposed to that of say, a Canon.

    The changing of the position of dials from the centre of the top-plate to where they 'overhang' the edge of the body, has I suppose been one of the main changes in camera design over the past decade. Buttons used for the lens-lock and DOF have also gradually become larger, a very useful feature if you are using it with thick goves or in the dark, where finding these by feel is another example.

    Intruigingly, one of the reasons some people love 35mm RF cameras, is due to the them having the absolute minimum of functions, even though they may well all be manual! A similar example is that of TLR 6x6 cameras, where everything is positioned so you can access then with the camera cradled in the palms, whilst looking down into the veiwfinder, rather than having to bring the camera up to eye-level.

    Taking the TLR, one of the reasons many photograhers loved these was that it also reduced the impact of taking a photograph, on whoever was being photographed ... it's less intimidating for the photographer as well, which must I suppose be deemed a form of ergonomics relating to the interface between the photographer and the 'Target'.
  13. PentaxManiac

    PentaxManiac Well-Known Member

    In this context, the groundbraking role of the Canon T90 cannot be overlooked. I recently bought one second-hand, despite my handle! The fact is, it now looks and handles like most SLRs, especially Canons. But in 1986 it looked like something from another planet.

    Ergonomics was the key concept here: not just the curves and the balance and the way the right hand side grip fits the hand, the best example is the position of the shutter button. Again, it's where we would now expect it to be, but before then the button would be flat on the top plate. It had to be - it sat at the top of a mechanical system to open the shutter. But by the time of the T90, it just needed to make an electric circuit: it could have been put anywhere on the camera body. Of course, it wasn't. It was put where your finger falls most naturally. Ergonomics!
  14. spikeblue

    spikeblue Well-Known Member

    Reading this a few thoughts crossed my mind.
    The traditional 35mm slr shape could well dissappear. Part of the reason for it was the camera had to hold a roll of film, have it pass across a shutter mechanism behind a lens & then store it somewhere without putting the film itself under physical stress with sharp bends etc.(BTWI do vaguely remember a Rollei that was like a baby medium format slr)
    With digital, the ccd must be behind the lens other than that, all the other bits could go anywhere.
    Being the owner of a 5d which I bought partly because it had a full frame 35mm type chip - why do I need that? A smaller chip may well be fine once manufacturers bring out all the appropriate lenses eg I still use a housed nikon f65 with a 28mm lens for underwater stuff. The 28 is great for small sharks, rays etc,& at about £150 - £200 not an expensive lens, if I want to shoot the same with a nikon digital I would have to get a 20mm lens - £600?? I would be paying an extra £400 for lens coverage I dont need.
    The distinction between 35mm & medium format is already blurring with both "medium format" & "35mm" digital cameras offering similar file sizes eg Hasselblad 16mp digital back & the Canon 17mp slr.
    All I do know is my 5x4 wentup in the loft a year ago & the meduim format kit may well be joining it soon to become the antiques of the future, as all my clients want digital.
  15. mjc7uk

    mjc7uk Well-Known Member

    Interesting but I still think the manufacture will still adopt the traditional SLR design despise the demise of the "Film" sector of photography as the camera would still need to feel right with the hand.

    I for one wouldn't want for the digital SLR to adopt the like of Lecia M1 where you wouldn't have a firm handling of the camera.

    Just a thought....
  16. Nod

    Nod Well-Known Member

    Right handed, right eyed!

    When I came back to photography several years ago, I was after an A/F, modern camera (mew), with a budget of £300 (I think). Down to the shops with a shortlist of cameras withinj budget and with the features I wanted. The man behind the desk suggested a couple of other cameras that met my needs and I "tried them all on".

    Since then, I have been a Nikon man, going from the F65 which was the best fit for my hands up through an F80 and now a D70, all of which fit me better than the Canon equivalents. So my original choice was certainly influenced bt ergonomics and apart from system continuity, they have also played a part in my choices of other cameras.

    In other spheres, comfort and function have always been more important to me than style etc as well, hence the LandRover Defender, Rohan trousers and Scarpa walking shoes.
  17. TimF

    TimF With as stony a stare as ever Lord Reith could hav

    Huh??????? :D
  18. mjc7uk

    mjc7uk Well-Known Member


    Lecia M1 is an oblong camera with no firm handling so you would have to hold it like an old ladies with a Kodak Instamatic...
  19. Hotblack

    Hotblack Dead Horse Flogger

    Ergonomics certainly played a part in which DSLR I went for. I tried out several in the shop including the Minolta Dynax, Pentax *IST, Canon 350D and Nikon D50 models. I plumped for the Nikon as it just felt 'right'. This also had something to do with the feel of the build quality and the size in my hand. Ergonomically it suited me more than the others which would all have given comparatively similar results image-wise.

    Prior to that I had an Olympus C2000-Z which I couldn't get on with. Ergonomically it was too fiddly. I stopped using it because it handled so badly.

    I can't put my D200 down at the moment. It's a joy to use. Everything is laid out really well for my purposes.
  20. Fen

    Fen Well-Known Member

    The only ergonomics I find of any use these days is how good is it to throw ;)

    Serious, I think you have a point Will. It's the very reason I switched from Minolta to Canon. Minolta changed the body design after I bought my Dynax 7xi (1989) and I could never get on with the newer body designs.

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