I hate wearing glasses. I love wearing glasses. I hate wearing glasses. But I do like to see the camera screen....

The industrial strength prescription. 

It was a day in October about 20 years ago when the whole idea that my vision might not be perfect reared its ugly head and dashed my hopes of immortality. Up until age 40 my eyes had always been perfect. 20/20. I was the only person in my family who never needed to wear glasses. A nice perk if you've chosen photography as your lifelong (a)vocation.

Here's how my vision smugness got shattered....

The mid-1990's were a heady time for commercial photographers; clients needed us and were willing to pay well for our services. I'd had a nice, long stream of jobs with Austin's Motorola divisions and I decided to reward myself with a cool, new camera (some things never change, right?). Hasselblad had just released their electronic 201F body and it worked with my 110mm f2.0 and 50mm f2.8 Zeiss lenses I'd bought for my older FCW2000 focal plane camera. The 201F had built in spot metering and was a very pricey body, for the time. 

The camera was ordered and arrived at Capitol Camera a week or so later. I spent some time getting acquainted with the camera, reading the manual over and over again while testing out every feature. About a week after getting the camera I decided to use it on a location job. We needed to shoot a group of 12 electrical engineers at Motorola's facility on West William Cannon Dr. I decided that this would be the perfect maiden job for the new H-Blad. 

I packed up a camera bag with the new body, three lenses (the 100mm f3.5 Planar, in addition to the above mentioned lenses) and some loaded film backs. My assistant and I arrived on location with our cart full of lighting gear and got to work. We set up a canvas background in one of the wide hallways and lit it with two Profoto 600 monolights with umbrellas. We had brought along a bunch of apple boxes so we would elevate a second row of people to make the group shot work better. 

I put the new camera on a tripod and chose the (well tested) 100mm f3.5 lens on it. Then I popped up the waist level finder and started to focus on the front row of people. No matter which way I turned the focusing ring I couldn't get the image to show sharply on the focusing screen. It just didn't seem to be critically sharp at any setting. Knowing that the lens was in good working order I was certain something was wrong with the new body. I zone focused and we shot at f16. I knew we were getting sharp images because the Polaroid tests looked nice and sharp. But that finder just didn't ever get critically sharp. Boy was I pissed off. I'd spent north of $5,000 for a body that seemed defective. 

I wrote an "aggressive" note to Hasselblad and
had the patient folks at Capitol Camera send it back with the "clearly" defective camera. 

About a week later I got a phone call from a person with a distinct accent. It turns out he was Swedish. He was calling me from Hasselblad. The conversation went something like this:

"Mr. Tuck. We got your camera and your note last week and we've been testing it...thoroughly. We've put it through every quality control test that we have and we can assure you that there is nothing wrong with the camera."

I replied, "Look, I've been shooting for years and I know what I'm doing. I've also owned a bunch of other Hasselblad bodies so I know how to focus them. You sent me a defective camera!"

He responded, "Mr. Tuck, may I ask, how old are you?"

"I'm forty two." 

Then he asked, "When is the last time you have visited your occultist?"

"I don't have an occultist, I have perfect vision!!" 

He said, gently, "You did have perfect vision. I suggest that you might have had a change in your vision and may need some correction to focus the screen exactly. We are going to send your camera back to you, unless you want a refund."

I told him I'd get my vision checked and, if it checked out perfectly I'd be sending the camera back for a refund. Well, my visit to an ophthalmologist burst the balloon I'd been walking around with for most of my adult life. After a thorough exam the doctor suggested that I needed both a distance correction and a close-up correction. In a word, bifocals. Sadly, resigned to joining the rest of society as a mortal subject to the whimsy of age and decay, I got fitted for ..... gulp .... bifocals. 

And guess what? That Hasselblad screen snapped into focus like a champ.

I had last been to see an optometrist back in 2004 and, since then, had more or less slowly given up the bifocals in exchange for generic, off the shelf reading glasses combined with squinting at stuff in the distance. Recently, I had a physical and as part of the exam my doctor's nurse gave me a vision test. My eyes are not so bad that I can't pass the vision test at the DMV without glasses but...we're edging up to the boundaries. 

I got a new prescription from the optometrist last wee and took possession of my new glasses. Two different pairs: A cheap and hardy pair of frames, selected from the racks at my local Costco and then I had a nice pair of Armani titanium frames re-lensed. Once pair for hard duty and one pair for those times when I'm pretty sure that great frames will make me look ten I.Q. points smarter. 

When I put on the new glasses I was shocked to see how much I had been compensating for my distant vision decline. Did you know that there is actually a lot of detail out in the real world? I do now.

So, I've always hated the idea that I have to participate, like almost everyone else, in an inevitable decay  of my vision. I've been wearing my glasses everyday, trying to get used to them, and I'm starting to really enjoy being able to read distant signs as well as the book a foot or so away from my face. Maybe the new gear will even improve my photography. I guess it really can't hurt.

Now I'll look like everyone else in my family when I get together with them for the holidays. Glasses for all.

Sure makes that LCD on the back of the camera a lot easier to see. Still, no excuse for "dirty baby diaper camera hold."


  1. I can relate. People told me for a number of years that I may need glasses. I felt that I was able to see "just fine", especially near and close-up things. One day I went to an optometrist, and he told me that I was slightly near-sighted, but had vision that was more influenced by astigmatism. He handed me some contraption with lenses that would be optically the same as the prescription he was giving me. When I put the contraption on I was absolutely stunned at how much more clearly I was able to see things. I practically ran to a nearby eye-glass makers to get the prescription filled out. I spent the rest of the day marvelling at the details I was able to make out at far distances. It was like I had upgraded from a mediocre kit zoom lens to a top-quality Zeiss or Leica prime.

    One extra benefit of going to see an optometrist or ophthalmologist - they can check the blood vessels at the back of one's eye to see if one is developing diabetes. If poor circulation back there is detected then it could be a sign that one has other things that need to be treated.

    As always, good post!


  2. Kt
    Ah yes that creeping decrepitude. Happily adjustments can be made to minimize the effect (or is that affect can't seem to understand the difference). I remember that day in the car trying to read a paper map- yes in those days no Google maps- and commenting how small and hard to see the map was, ha!

    If you are lucky you will miss out on cataracts. On the other hand it sure is nice- after cataract surgery I can see better than I have in many years.
    cheers and beers,

  3. Cataract surgery this year. I'm surprised to find that the golden hour doesn't last all day, and the white paint on our door jambs and baseboards has not yellowed with age. It's a nice bright world out there.

  4. I couldnt figure out why my Panny GX7 eyepiece was fuzzy even when wearing glasses. Finally remembered the diopter corrector was on the bottom of the eyepiece- which sticks out from the body and is 'hidden" from view. Stupid engineering its all some engineers fault, no wait it was the product manager, no it was the EXECUTIVE, who approved the design. Stupid Executive. Marketing! Ahhhh! Don't get me started....

  5. I have had eye glasses for 60+ years but never has my view been as clear as today. There is such a great difference between eye glasses and eye glasses. I used to wear middle of the price range progressive lenses but recently I splashed out € 300 on (almost) top of the range lenses. Amazing stuff. I used them writing this, I use them cooking, I use them watching TV, I use them driving the car. Well spent euros.

  6. And did you call the nice Swedish man back and apologize? I'm sure he was giggling after your initial conversation with him. You were probably the fifth 40 year old he had to talk to about such things that day.


  7. Cataract surgery offers interesting effects. Normal practice is for one eye to be done, then a few months' wait to confirm full recovery, after which the other eye is sliced and diced. In the interim I have one blue view (the surgical eye) and one yellow. The remaining cataract inserts a scuzzy yellow filter in the vision of my right eye. Gak!

    The brain does an automatic white balance to average the two. But, if a vertical line -- say a door jamb or a window frame -- partially blocks the view of my left eye I see normally except that there is now a yellow stripe paralleling the obstruction. My own chromatic aberration.

  8. Been wearing glasses for 32 of 40 years of my life; glasses thick enough to see into the future. :-)

    One thing about wearing glasses is seeing how bad the eyepoint is on many cameras, Nikon F3HP and D2H an exception.

    Side note, be sure to buy some approved prescription safety glasses for those times you need to safeguard your eyes.

  9. Can totally relate to this! I was short-sighted since my youth, but got so used to glasses and later on contact lenses that I was (mostly) OK. Then in 2003 I did laser surgery to fix the thing forever. It did, but in return I started to feel long-sighted symptoms (was well into my late 40s then), particularly when trying to focus my slrs. Later I also found the laser surgery made my eyes ultra dry and very sensitive to dry atmospheres. Which most air-conditioned offices are...
    One of the ways mirrorless cameras helped me was getting rid of the issues with focusing on that far/too near ground glass. All I have to do now is correct the viewfinder for long-sighted and all falls into place. Need more precision? Zap the focus-confirmation on or twist the focus ring and it zooms in to help me focus.
    Something I simply can't do with the dslrs...

  10. The nothing in focus thing happened to me around 35. I was amazed there were individual leaves on trees. Astigmatism makes it even more fun. And throw in some red green color blindness to add a little twist to editing. Good thing I never tried to make money off photography. F/8 zone focus and monochrome is the happy place. Trifocals rule.

  11. I've been wearing glasses since I was twelve, (now closing in on seventy). I normally use progressives. When I met the young woman who had taken over as my ophthalmologist a year or so back (old one retired), I told her that I was finding it difficult seeing the complete 35mm frame lines in my Leica's viewfinder, (and the 28mm lines were an impossibility) when wearing my glasses. She proposed that I use contacts, where my the one in my right eye is calibrated to the viewfinder of my Leica's while my left eye lens is calibrated for closer vision so I can see the settings; aperture, shutter speed, focus, on the camera. To my surprise, this arrangement works wonderfully! So now my contacts are part of my photography kit!
    Peter Wright.

  12. Ha! That sounds familiar.

    I've worn glasses for reading and working on the computer for 25 years, now. All of that time I've also had a couple pair of "distance" glasses, which I didn't wear. I kept a pair in the car for the rare occasion when I was driving in a strange place at night and really needed to see the street signs.

    Then last Christmas, as I was heading out to see my sister, I decided to put on the distance glasses. OMG! (As they say.) The trees! They have so many little bare branches. And the dead grass in the fields has all of these individual stalks. And there's so much fine texture everywhere. I was laughing at myself the whole way.

    So now I wear my distance glasses whenever I go out walking around to take pictures.

  13. Just wait until your wife starts saying you need hearing aids.

  14. Kirk, l assume your reference to an occultist was deliberate. Made me laugh.


  15. This sounds exactly like me. I got a used Nikon df which did not come with an eye piece, this year. I read that the dk-17m 1.2 magnified eye piece would be great. I installed it and placed my Tamron adaptall 90mm macro lens on and tried to nail some really tight macro focus. Every thing was blurry.
    I asked on the forum if something was wrong.
    Then thought to test with ruler and adjust the eye dopler. I was surprised I needed almost full negative correction. Then grabed one of my other cameras and found the same result!
    I have never needed glasses and this year turning 39.
    I guess never say never.


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