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Interfaces Make a Difference

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The Royal Vista PDA versus the Olympus E-10 Digital Camera: This is a tale of two neat pieces of hardware, one completely spoiled and one considerably enhanced by their respective interfaces.
Jef Raskin is the inventor of the Apple Macintosh and author of The Humane Interface: New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems (Addison-Wesley, 2000, ISBN 0-201-37937-6).
From the author of

Olympus E-10

When I was first offered a chance to try the Olympus E-10—a top-of-the-line, complex digital camera, I declined. I hate learning yet another gadget. But Olympus was persistent, they got me to try one, and, to my surprise, the E-10 turns out to be easier to use than many simpler cameras (see Figure 1). This paradox comes about because the camera makers have finally realized that they had an excellent model to go on: the mechanical cameras of yesteryear. Mechanical devices have to be simple. You just can't use levers and gears to display elaborate menus. The E-10 gets back to some of this simplicity. You can turn a knob and set the f-stop, turn another and set the shutter speed, or leave one or the other or all up to the camera. Of course, you still have to look at a display or in the viewfinder to see just what f-stop you're getting, but eventually they'll figure out that you can just put numbers directly on a dial, just as they used to. Having a readout of the settings in the display was, and still is, a good idea.

The problem is that many digital cameras try to clone the look and feel of personal computer software. Is this a good exemplar? Most cameras barrage you with an endless array of mindless menus, operated by anonymous pushbuttons (or buttons with cryptic icons it would take an Egyptologist to understand). By the time you've got the camera set for the family picture, the kids are crying, the dog's off chasing a rabbit, and the sun has set. I could rave about the E-10's picture quality, but I'll leave that for the camera magazines. As a sometimes professional photographer, though, I'm ready to ditch my stable of Nikons, except for one old F-1, and my Sekonic light meter, neither of which require batteries. They will probably be as ready as ever to go 50 years from now, when today's crop of digitals will seem as antiquated as a square-rigged ship (and not nearly as pretty).

I used the E-10 for the photos for this article (thanks, Olympus).

Figure 1 The Olympus E-10.

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