One of the things that really annoys me as a person with disabilities is that reviews of technology and other products I am interested in buying rarely discuss things from a disability perspective. Hence, the introduction of Accessible Tech, an intermittent series at FWD where we’ll be covering the things most reviewers leave out. If you’re interested in submitting a post to Accessible Tech, please email guestposting at disabledfeminists dot com; reviews of all kinds of technology (including technology specifically designed for people with disabilities) are welcome!
After I wrote my post on blind photographers last week, I bought the bullet and bought a new camera, a Digital Rebel T1i (aka the EOS 500D). This is something I’ve been researching and thinking about for a while, and one of the things I was concerned about was how well my camera would play with my hand disabilities. One of the reasons I went with a Canon is because I have been buying Canons for years and I’ve always been very pleased with them and because I’ve had a chance to play with other people’s Canon digital SLRs and I got an idea of how they feel in the hand.
On Monday, I took my new camera out on a little test drive to get familiar with the settings, and along the way, I noticed some things that I thought might be relevant to other people with hand disabilities like tremors and contractures who are contemplating a camera purchase.
The bad: The camera controls are very tightly packed on the body. If you are the kind of person who uses full auto settings, this might not be a big problem for you, but if you prefer full manual control, you may want to consider a larger bodied (and unfortunately much more expensive) camera from the EOS lineup; I personally ended up with hand cramps after about 45 minutes of use, but that was also after a full day of work (think typing about 16,000 words), so my hands were not at their best at that point. If your fine motor skills are not the greatest, I think you may find the T1i really frustrating because it looks easy to mash controls and some of the controls feel like they would be hard to activate if you have significant hand weakness or poor motor control.
Is it enough to make me return the camera? No, but it might be enough to make you think about buying a different camera if you’ve been weighing the Rebel against another option. I’d like to get my hands on cameras in the same class to see if tight controls are just a universal problem, or if the Rebel is particularly bad.
The middle: Changing lenses can be done one handed, with a little bit of practice, and it’s very easy, but the release button is small, and, again, if you have severe tremors or bad coordination, you might find it challenging to hit in a hurry. I do like that there are clear visible guides and a nice audible click so you know you’re not borking your lens change.
The good: Canon’s image stabilisation (IS), which is aces. What the hell is image stabilisation? Short version, from Vincent Bockaert at DP Review:
Image stabilization helps to steady the image projected back into the camera by the use of a “floating” optical element—often connected to a fast spinning gyroscope—which helps to compensate for high frequency vibration (hand shake for example) at these long focal lengths. Canon EF SLR lenses with image stabilization have a IS suffix after their name, Nikon uses the VR “Vibration Reduction” suffix on their image stabilised Nikkor lenses.
One of my concerns with the T1i was that the Rebels have a reputation for not performing so well in low light conditions, where you are typically using a slow shutter speed and hand tremors can become a serious problem. Another issue is that when you are using a telephoto, tremors can also become a significant issue. After testing the camera in a variety of lighting conditions and using the telephoto in an assortment of places, I am pleased to report that the IS came through every time. Some of my pictures came out badly for other reasons, but they were definitely not blurry! This is exciting news, because since I have a telephoto, I would like to be able to use it.
For really low light, I would strongly recommend using a tripod with this camera (or using a convenient hard resting surface). The Rebel does have limitations in dim lighting and you will notice those limitations more quickly if you have tremors, IS or no.
Cognitively, I really like the interface, but your mileage may vary. I found it very intuitive and easy to use, with settings I use a lot easy to access and things I use less frequently buried in submenus. I would like the interface more if it was configurable so that people who want to access buried settings could set them up in a quick launch bar or something. But, overall, the interface seemed to have been designed by someone who thinks a lot like I do in terms of how things should be laid out, what I would want to access, and how I would want to control and represent things.
Once I’ve had a chance to play with the camera a bit more, I will probably be posting a followup review. Alas, the weather has been conspiring against my strong desires to go out shooting.
If you’d like to read a more technical review of the T1i, I’d recommend the very comprehensive evaluation at DP Review.
Here are some photos from my Monday adventures at the trainyard:
This was taken with the telephoto!