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."