Sunday, January 20, 2008

In Search of Lucidity

Okay, in spite of the familiarity of the subject matter, this is not the same photo that opened the previous post. That picture was a zoom-and-crop job, this picture is a gen-you-wine, macro, closeup, in-your-face photo. Yea, verily I saith unto thee. I will also saith that this happy happenstance owes no thanks to the lucidity of the instruction booklet.

What is it about the instructions that come with our toys? I'm not even talking about the hilarious results of earnest-but-erroneous translations. I'm talking about the regular how-to stuff that is supposedly in our own language in the first place.

You know by now that I have come to adore Canon and I am certainly not bad-mouthing them here. But, boyhowdy, I really do believe Canon -- and other companies -- need skill training in clear communication in the user manuals.

For one thing, it's hard for a novice to understand the instructions when they are laid out in such a stuffy, dull manner, consisting of arcane lingo that reads like Watusi translated from Mandarin. If I were writing up the instructions, I'd make sure they came across like the latest Elmore Leonard or Sue Grafton. Instruction booklets should read like an Idiot's Guide meets Dave Barry. Ideally, they should be patterned after the Douglas Adams concept of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, with the soothing mantra, "Don't Panic."

Take the instructions for macro photography. The Powershot S5 has two macro modes -- the regular one you access by pushing the button on the lens casing and then the Super Macro you get when you hold that button in for more than a second.

I have to tell you the regular macro does not impress me. No. At this point, I don't fault the camera but lay it off to learning how this particular camera likes to do things. I really wanted to check out the Super Macro mode because, as I've stated previously, Nikon's macro ability has spoiled me and I miss it. Pushing in the macro button and holding it for "more than a second" did not, however, take me to that particular Promised Land. What? But they said...

Frustrated, I fired up Mighty Google and began cruising through countless reviews of the camera, paying special attention to each reviewer's take on the macro mode. Out of all I read, only one mentioned that, to reach Super Macro, you have to push the button while in Program Mode. That's the P setting, one notch past Auto. Auto, not surprisingly, is where I had it set for the unsuccessful attempts.

Now, I'm not saying that informative tidbit is not actually in Canon's instruction manuals. I've gone back and checked and still can't find any mention of the need to be in a particular mode for that particular function. It could well be there and I've simply missed it. But I don't think that kind of information should be that elusive, you know?

Ah well. I'm just grateful I've been able to enter Super Macro territory and all the fascinations that entails. Although I haven't used it much yet, I'm pleased at how nicely the shots come out even though, so far, they've all been hand-held. It certainly impresses me that one can focus with the lens right up against the subject. Awesome.

If you happen to be judging quality, I should also point out that I've done nothing to enhance these shots, such as using the sharpen or unsharp settings. All I've done is crop and skinny up the jpeg. I'm in the process of climbing the almighty Learning Curve and sufficient unto the day is that careful little one step at a time. Later with the enhancements.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like you have more patience than me with these things, Dee. Some areas of my cameras I never do manage to explore. Mind you, the use of Google to track down the finer points is a piece of genius... :-)

John B.

Kate said...

Science writing, with the subgenre of instruction manual writing, is apparently an arcane art. I took it at university -- the first assignment was to write instructions for tying a shoelace. Bloody difficult, that was! And certainly pointed out how hard it is to write as though you knew nothing about it, but still get all the cogent facts in.

Not that I'm being Devil's advocate for such poor manual writing. The entire western world could be brought to its knees as we acquire ever more complicated gadgets, and in more quantities. What's the old joke about nobody being able to program their VCRs? And the other day I noticed an ad for one of those new trendy flat panel tvs -- seems you can't set them up by yourself but have to have a geek come do it. Too complicated, or rotten instructions?

Well, it will come to that, won't it, as long as we dumb down reading levels to 6th grade (or less), which is what National Geographic was being written at, last time I knew anything about it.

Well, that could lead me to several other rants, so I'll stop gracefully, while you still think I'm of sound mind ...

The Old Guy said...

Gee, Dee. I found this link which appears to be a fellow blogger who has an S5 and, like you, is struggling up the mountain. Don't tell him I said so, but your cactus is much more to the point.

Gordo said...

So much technical writing could benefit from huge doses of not just humour, but humility. If the people writing these things honestly want their work to be read and used (and why write it if they don't?), then the content must be made accessible. Easy to find the proper information, easy to understand directions. Is this truly so hard?

Dee said...

Hey, everyone, I can see we've tapped a tender nerve, here. I'll climb on that bandwagon again in the next post. Let's top off our coffee mugs and play that tune some more.