(First published at “yet another blog” on 14th September 2007)
When I was a kid my mum bought me a small, plastic, Kodak Brownie camera. It was great. Point it at something and press the button and bingo, I’d taken a photograph. And the only thing I had to remember was to keep the sun behind me. I even managed to master the art of changing the rolls of film!
When I wasn’t a kid I ran, for quite a few years, my own relatively successful graphics studio. A significant part of its success was due to the fact that, although I was working virtually as a one-man-band, I was always extremely reluctant to outsource anything.
Which meant that, as time passed, I managed to acquire quite extensive specialised equipment and skills (and also worked 18-hours days!).
Almost inevitably photography began to play an increasing part in my workload so, sticking to my already established working practice, I invested fairly heavily in quite a bit of pro photographic equipment.
Bad mistake! I rapidly discovered I was absolutely useless at it – the gear I’d bought was simply far too sophisticated. Shutter speeds, f-stops, ISO numbers… all double-dutch to me.
Discovered I was really good at darkroom skills. Could process rolls of film without any trouble at all. Pity all the resulting pics were absolutely crap.
Just couldn’t sus out how the whole photography thing worked, and couldn’t really be asked to spend time trying to memorise the various manuals I’d picked up.
Y’see, I’m not really a “manual person”. Much prefer the “hands on” approach, fumblingly finding out how things work simply by doing it. But for some reason that didn’t seem to work very well with cameras, so eventually I just gave up, vowing to never again be tempted into this photography caper.
Well, time passed and the “digital revolution” occurred. Being something of a gadget freak I fairly quickly got into computers and found my tried and tested “hands on” approach worked a treat. In next to no time I was messing around with programming, developing database apps, and having a great time… well addicted.
Then digital photography appeared on the scene. Hmm. “So how difficult can it be?” I asked myself. With the ability to almost infinitely manipulate the end product until some sort of satisfactory end result is achieved, I felt the temptation to dip my toe in again bubbling to the surface.
But I successfully resisted the urge, still smarting from my previous encounter with the art… until other activities of mine rendered photography the next logical step to take. And until a mate maliciously encouraged me to try my hand at it again.
So got my first digital camera (a Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z6) and began to experiment.
Ok, the results weren’t spectacular, but at least I could once again take photos with an ease approaching that of my childhood experiences.
Sufficient in fact to encourage me to go up-market a little bit, and acquire a Canon EOS 400D.
Great bit of kit! Forget all the twiddly bits and the “if you know what you’re doing you can change all the settings” sort of stuff. Simply switch it to auto and click away. I actually began to enjoy using it.
So the other day (Tuesday to be precise) off trots I down to the Disarm DSEi protest in London, armed with camera gear in the role that had led me to acquire it in the first place.
All starts off fine, busily clicking away taking loads of photos (that’s the beauty of digital – you can take as many pics as you like and simply delete the ones that haven’t worked, wasting nothing other than a bit of battery life)… for a couple of hours or so.
So there was I, rapidly walking backwards taking loads of shots of the oncoming protest marchers, flicking between one camera mode and another as various elements kept changing (lighting, distance, etc) when suddenly, dammit, the camera stopped working!
Well, not exactly stopped, but sort of slowed down. I’d press the button then have to wait for ages for the shutter to make its little clicky noise.
So I looked at it. Switched it off. Switched it on. Checked the battery was ok. Made sure the lens was working all right. Fiddled with the knobs and buttons. Switched it off and on again. All to no avail. It simply wasn’t having any of it.
Hmm… perhaps its overheated, I thought. After all, it was a really hot day and I’d been out in the sun all the time. Switch it off and let it cool down a bit maybe.
Fortunately I’d been prescient enough to bring the Konica with me, so used that to carry on with the task of documenting events. But lurking in the back of my mind was the constant thought that I’d broken the Canon, and with that my enthusiasm seemed to wane quite substantially.
On returning home I fiddled with it again. Surely it must have cooled down by now. Turned it on, off, and on again. Changed the lens. Did a few test shots (of the floor as it happens, cos that’s where it was pointed throughout my fiddling). Looked at it. It looked back at me. Not very informative.
I find it difficult to believe now how depressed I felt. Inexplicable. Its just a bit of electronic gadgetry.
Yet somehow I’d managed to sort of “bond” with it. Hell. Its just a camera. And I’d broken it. I felt lost, forlorn, disheartened. So I went to bed.
Following morning kept putting off the job of looking at the Canon again. I knew I had to at some stage, but wanted to delay having my worst fears confirmed – that it was definitely broken and I’d either have to get it repaired or get a replacement. Or, worst scenario possible, read the manual and see if I could sort out the problem myself (hell, its digital isn’t it – there must be a reset button somewhere!).
So that’s what I ended up (eventually) doing. First off, see if the manual mentions a reset button. No such luck. Next, turn to the troubleshooting guide at the back.
But nothing listed there even remotely resembles the fault I’m experiencing. Ah well, just read through the manual cover to cover and see if I can find anything that might be useful (for which read informative).
Well, the fault seemed to occur when I was fiddling around trying to disable flash mode (after all, who needs flash enabled when it was a brilliantly sunny day, and that little flash thingy keeps annoyingly popping up whenever you click the button?).
Hmm… and what’s this, here on page 49, about the “self-timer”. That sounds suspiciously like the fault I’m experiencing. Apparently there’s this special icon thing that shows on the LCD display when the camera’s in self-timer mode.
Switch camera on. Check display. Hey, sure enough, there’s that icon thing. I must’ve inadvertently pressed the “enable” button when I was feverishly changing modes. So how the hell do I disable it? Once more unto the manual, and click… click… its gone.
Heart in mouth, hesitantly try another test shot (of the floor). And bloody hell, its back to normal again. So it wasn’t a fault after all – its a feature!
(Just as well I’d decided to invest some time in trying to sort it myself rather than take it to the local Canon stockist straight away.)
And suddenly my whole mood lightens. To say ecstatic would perhaps be a tad over the top, but not too far short of the truth. And so, once again (for the umpteenth time – I forget precisely how many) I have to remind myself of the acronym RTBM!
I find it difficult to believe how stupid I can be sometimes. The only saving grace is that my semi-permanent state of stupidity is a constant reminder to me never to take myself too seriously.
(For those who don’t know: RTBM = Read The Bloody Manual)