#1231. My Latest Lens

By Steve Mallett | How-To

Sep 26

Yesterday I had a cataract op to my right eye and here I am, wearing sunglasses, writing about it already.  Miraculous really.

Blurry One

To backtrack, twelve months or so ago I went for a routine eye test and complained to my optician about my “rubbish glasses”.  This has always been my stance since first having to wear glasses twenty years ago; I’ve never been satisfied.  What we all want from glasses is perfect vision, which in my case is a return to resolution allowing me to read roadsigns from miles away or focus on detail an inch or two from my nose and everything in between.  Sadly such optics don’t yet exist so we make do with whatever the optometrist and our budget can come up with.  In my case I have varifocals that I’m supposed to wear all the time but don’t because I can’t get on with them, even after years of trying, reading glasses which are fine and a pair of intermediates for desktop work in front of my large screen.

Blurry Two

To return to the test.  My optometrist has all kinds of really fancy scanning and imaging tools that display the inside of the eye in glorious Technicolor, hi-res detail and as a result he points to an area of the lens where there’s the beginnings of a cataract. Bugger, thinks I.

Blurry Three

Cataracts occur when cloudy patches develop in the clear lens inside the eye, stopping light from reaching the retina and causing blurred or misty vision. In most people cataracts simply develop as they age, with most cases developing after the age of 65.  Yep, I’m right there in the target demographic.  The good news is that it’s early stages and the cataract may develop slowly but eventually it will need dealing with but the rest of the eye is in rude health with no sign of macular degeneration. No biggie then.

Wind forward to July this year.  Now even my reading glasses are rubbish!  I mainly read with just my left eye, covering my right eye as it just gets so tired constantly trying to focus.  As a result I read much less than before.  Interestingly I am able to focus my recently acquired rangefinder Leica M10, most of the time.  Sometimes there’s a bit bit of guesswork involved and it’s slow.  No bad thing, slow.

Blurry Four

So at the end of July I’m with the optometrist again.  Ah, the cataract has advanced rather more quickly than anticipated and changing glasses is not going to help so it’s probably time to do something about it.  Yes, I can get it done on the NHS but not any time soon.  Another dip into the “rainy day pot” then. 

And so to yesterday’s op, or to give its correct title – phacoemulsification.

Phacoemulsification is described thus:  “During this type of cataract surgery, the surgeon inserts a tiny ultrasound probe into the eye through a small incision. The probe helps soften and break up the cloudy lens, which is then removed by suction. Once the surgeon has removed the cataract, an artificial lens is inserted which will allow light to pass through to the retina, restoring vision.”

I have to confess that I was anxious about this. Quietly terrified would be more accurate.  He’s going to come at me with a scalpel, cut open my eye and use a hoover to suck the lens out!  Any rational human being should be terrified of this and I’ve had to have several stern words with myself over the last few weeks.

Not So Blurry

Before setting off for the hospital I dose myself with Diazepam (as advised) but not enough as it turns out.  On arrival I am whisked away to check that I am who I say I am and that we agree on which eye is to be worked on etc. Of course my blood pressure is taken;  212/119! Bloody hell!  I’m going to die before I get to the theatre. Gill, the nurse looks kindly at me and asks, “Pure terror?  Take some deep breaths in through your nose and out your mouth and we’ll take it again in a few minutes.  Would you like the nurse to hold your hand during the procedure?”  God, yes.  The next reading is within permitted tolerances for the op to proceed.

Blurry Five

I lie on the bed with a sheet of some sort over my face with a hole cut out for my right eye that is stuck down around the eye.  Anaesthetic drops are put in, more drops.  Are you sure that’s enough?  Maybe a few more to be safe.  Everything is blurry, all I can see is a light source which I am instructed to keep watching.  The nurse squeezes my fingers reassuringly.  Thank God for such folk.  Don’t think about the knife or the hoover; watch the lights.  And what lights.  Spectra, patterns, whizzy things.  Has he made the incision? Is he in there?  Don’t think, watch the lights.  That noise must be the ultrasound probe. Watch the bloody lights.  The light source is moving to the right.  That must be the lens being sucked out by the hoover.  Watch the lights will you, breathe. Ah, here comes the new lens, slowly from the right.  The lights change again, extraordinary snowflake-like patterns, amoebae swimming around, more colours.  The light source has stopped moving but it’s not central.  Oh no, he hasn’t pushed it in far enough, I’ll have a wonky eye.  Should I say something?  No, it’s on the move again, he knows what he’s doing.  Now it’s central.  Watch the lights.

Suddenly it’s all over.  You can sit up now.  It went very well. Just another day at the office for them.  Into the recovery room and the best cup of tea and biscuits I’ve ever had.

Blurry Six

24 hours later.

The new lens is interesting.  It’s a prime lens with a fixed focal length (don’t know what) and I’m told once it’s settled down and the brain has recalibrated mid to far distance should all be in focus but I’ll still need reading glasses.  At present right eye vision is still blurry and will take a few days to sharpen up but what is already obvious is the colour shift.  The blurry world looks brighter and cooler.  Skies are noticeably bluer as are the greens and the whole thing is brighter and it begs the question, which eye is “correct”, the warm left or the cool right?  It clearly illustrates that we all see the world differently.  I can’t be the first ’tog to experience this but I’ve never read anything about it.  How do you do colour correction if there are two different versions.  I am assuming the brain will produce a composite in time but is that then “correct”?

In the images below I have tried to approximately show how the two eyes see differently. This is the original image taken with my phone.

This is the adjusted attempt at how the right eye sees. The adjustments were made viewing the screen with just my left eye! It’s not accurate but you’ll get my drift…..

Now I just wait for things to settle down and visit the optometrist again in a month’s time to get new specs. If I ever need the left eye doing I won’t be quite so anxious; hopefully.


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  • Jeffrey D. Mathias says:

    yep, I got implants in both eyes. The time between was really informative as to how much the natural lens changes color over time (like a variable yellow filter getting more and more yellow.)

    But the lesson here is when coloring an image for some intent one might consider the age of those intended to view such. Or… one can always play it safe with black and white.

    • Steve Mallett says:

      Ha, deciding who’s going to view step too far for me! Actually it’s only mainly me anyway that sees most of my images, so I should be able get right. Pascal R’s comment below about over saturating mad e me laugh.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Thanks for your take on cataract surgery, something I’ll be facing in the next couple of years. I’ll definitely remember to take enough of the “drugs” beforehand! Glad to hear you’re on the mend and are looking forward to better vision in the future. Love the sailboat image, by the way. Cheers!

    • Steve Mallett says:

      Thanks Nancee. Definitely double up (or would you say double down?) on the pre-meds! The sailboat was taken with the rangefinder and 90mm Elmarit which requires some effort to nail the focus but I blame my eye. In a rather unkind, I thought, email to me Paul P suggested I’ve always taken blurry pics anyway. Friends eh?

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        The sail boat shot is just fine, as is.

        The past two decades have seen incredible strides towards creating tack sharp images.

        But the “greats” of photography turned more of their attention to get the “perfect” image – the perfect composition, in other words – and chucked “tack sharp” aside as a minor consideration.

        One of my own personal favourite shots is one which was merely intended as an experimental shot, taken in preparation for lugging the tripod and the main gear down to the site – which, regrettably, I’ve never quite managed to find again! Like PJ mentioned recently, over a shot in a gorge. But although it is NOT “tack sharp”, I’m actually perfectly happy with it “as is”. And I do sometimes think that some of today’s “tack sharp” image really overdo it. That extra sharpness spoils some images – rather than adding to them.

        Quite apart from which – as I’ve mentioned before, I was privileged last year to have a private viewing of a dozen photos by two local professionals, who teamed up together to go on a shoot at Lake Eyre, in the middle of Australia, where Sir Donald Campbell broke a world speed record some years ago. And practically everything in practically all of those 12 photo was blurry. Yet those images were so compelling that I would have found it impossible to find one that was “the best” – half of them were!! ! And those images haunted me for MONTHS after I saw them. I can’t think of any other photos that have ever had that effect on me!

        Just pat him on the head, and keep doing your own thing, Steve.

        • Steve Mallett says:

          Pete I agree that “sharp” is over-rated, but it obviously it has its place. I went through a brief period where I got sucked into the belief that sharpness was all. That was when I was still learning the basics of this craft, now though it’s the feel of the image that matters more to me. I feel much the same way about noise; I’d rather have a vibey, noisy image than no image.

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Welcome to the club, Steve!
    I had an accident age 18 months, and been trough eyes surgery since then; around a dozen times, for different things, without clear success.
    I was so sick of it that I postponed for years (!) a much needed cataract surgery beyond what’s reasonable; a year ago I was basically living in a super dark, colourless world. No night driving, nada.
    I took the plunge last Winter (November 2021), accepted to consider a private surgeon in a highly regarded clinic in Montreal to avoid waiting another year and because I just trusted her.
    The hardest for me was this icy feeling in the eyes during the phako… and my heart beating so strong in both fear and hope (would this last surgery be “the good one”?) that my tension raised 180… I had to convince them to proceed!
    But I must say… welcome to the new life!
    Being 64, I now see better in the dark than people of the same age with no surgery… it is quite spectacular, and gave me a feeling of “life gives me a new chance” 🙂
    As I told Pascal J. once, I also realized I over-saturated all my photos for a decade… but that’s another topic 🙂 Curious to see the impact for you on your photography, though 🙂
    Oh, and BTW, I really like your blurred pictures !

    • Steve Mallett says:

      Pascal, heck that’s quite a story. And the over saturating comment had me laughing out loud! And glad you liked the blurry ones, some of my favourite images are blurry ones, intentional or otherwise.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    1 – Only 65? You’re still young, young’un – start collecting health care professionals, of all descriptions – you might need the lot of them, if you live long enough. And no, I’m NOT going to spoil the surprise by telling you any more, just yet.
    2 – “phacoemulsification” – you should have stuck with the tag – the definition was DEFINITELY “too much information”. For a “Doc Martin” type like me, anyway.
    3 – Can’t stand bifocals and graduated lenses. So after I passed half my present age, I gradually started a collection of spectacles. These days, I insist on glasses with Carl Zeiss lenses. Infinitely better than the lenses from lesser mortals! So now I have two pairs for reading – one for reading as i “reading”, the other for working on the computer or playing the piano. Another for watching TV – an old pair of reading glasses to decipher the reading on my weighing machine, when I stand on the thing. Oh – and another pair for driving – that’s because I couldn’t resist, when they asked how I get on driving – how do I read the signs? – and smart arse (me) promptly quipped – oh, that’s easy – the triangular ones mean “give way” and the octagonal ones mean “stop”. The response was blistering – I was told to take a prescription for driving glasses, or I wouldn’t be able to make it to my car before they rang the Traffic Branch & had my licence cancelled!
    You’re not doing that badly – yet – but with age, the cornea (lens – in your eye) becomes slowly less and less elastic, till eventually it’s “fixed focus”, and you’ll want all the help you can get.
    Don’t worry – yet! Worse things happen – and not just to eyeballs, either! Learn to smile more! It helps!
    4 – Your eyes don’t color match? Don’t worry – two eyes are still better than one!
    5 – Stiff corneas and removing cataracts are all quite normal. Next up, glaucoma – my opto kept telling me every year I was “pre-glaucoma” and never said what he meant. Then one day he flicked me to an ophthalmologist (they spell titles like that so you know they must be worth more money!), who had a zoo full of toys, and you work through them all till you finally make it from reception to the great guy himself. Then you get told you’re “pre-glaucoma” and ordered to put drops in your eyes – both of ’em – without fail, every night, for the rest of your life. After 3 years of that, and regular checkups, I’ now told “it’s steady – it hasn’t deteriorated – you’re doing fine”. What? The drops haven’t made it better? No – it’s a one way street – they can’t make it better – they can only stop it from getting worse!
    6 – Did I tell you to brush up on your sense of humour? You’re going to need it! One of the prospective new members of my team of professionals, when I was ushered into his office, looked up from the papers my GP had sent him and said “reading all this stuff from your GP, I am astounded to see that you’re still alive, at the age of 79!” All I could do was laugh! See how easy it easy to deal with these guys?

    Keep well Steve!

    • Steve Mallett says:

      Pete, I’m not 65 but not quite 70! And yes I seem to be collecting specialists year by year. And humour is always a let out, it’s what enables us humans to continue in the face of the damn universe and its suffering. I had a great pal who at the end of her life was bent and wizened and in a lot of pain and she maintained the best way to cope was not take it personally! She had a sparkle in her eye right to the end.

  • The best news I received from my optometrist when i was 75 was that my cataracts had advanced to the point that my insurance would cover the cost of their removal. I had taken a road trip a few months before and discovered that I had to have my wife read the road signs so I wouldn’t miss a turn… and I was towing a 24-ft camper. Then I discovered that I absolutely could not drive after dark. A 20 minute trip took 45 minutes. So, I went through all the emotional rollercoaster that you described so vividly (and hilariously to me since I had already been there). In short, I had cataracts removed from both eyes (a month apart) and over time my vision settled in at near perfect and I could actually see colors. Bright, clear, vivid colors with both eyes. I have been so happy with the results. Now, I’m 80 and just discovered that I have age related macular degeneration in my right eye (my master eye; my camera eye). You wouldn’t believe the distortion (like looking through a Coke bottle sideways). Google an Alan Street painting and you’ll get the idea. And I also lost about 2 f/stops of light in a big orb just off center starting at about 7 o’clock. Wreaked havoc with my BIF photography when the duck disappeared from view at the center of focus. By now, I have had two shots with a needle in my right eyeball about 6 weeks apart (remember when we were kids, “Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye?) and the good news is that I am seeing positive results. The vision is some brighter, the distortion is less but the blur is very bad. The bad news is that the doc says it will never be a full recovery. The good news is that my left eye is still 20/20. I can use the camera with my left eye but I end up sticking my thumb knuckle in my right eye sometimes when I’m trying to chase a humming bird. Now, with the vision improvement the little focus square is beginning to look square enough to use my right eye. Thank goodness for autofocus, right? The improvement has been in infinitesimal bits and very slow, but that’s the first thing I look for every morning when I get up… do I see some improvement today. What can I say? Stuff happens sometimes when you get old. You probably won’t ever have to worry about it, Pascal.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      ROTFL etc
      Clifton, this is getting bad! God knows what the “normal” folk in this group are thinking about us. It’s almost like last February, when I was convalescing from an op, and they kept dragging me out of my room, making me have morning tea (something I NEVER drink!) with all these other “old” people. I couldn’t get myself discharged & sent home fast enough!

      • Steve Mallett says:

        Yes, I seem to have reached the same age as “old people”. Am I now part of the “elderly”?

        • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

          That’s what petrified me, in their blasted “tea room” – they were all much the same age as I am. Physically, at least.
          But I’m FAR from being ready to be as old as they were, otherwise! Over 3 weeks, out of about a hundred other patients, I only found one that you could possibly have a conversation with! The rest were all vague quavery voices talking about toenails, digestive issues, physical disabilities – in disjointed, incomprehensible, broken sentences.
          I’m still trying to enjoy what’s left of my life!

          • Couldn’t agree more, Pete. I hate hanging around “old” people. One thing I’ve learned is not to ever ask an old person “how are you”. They’ll tell you…. in great detail. 🙂

            • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

              Yes – doubling up laughing! “How are you today?” has become one of my most deep-seated aversions. I’d rather discuss something more interesting. And I much prefer NOT to focus on “how am I?”

    • Steve Mallett says:

      So much humour! If I had to choose between needles in the eye and giving up BIF pics it would be a very quick decision. If we have any passing readers they must wonder what on earth they’ve stumbled upon – a blog for a bunch of old, semi-blind, male photographers!

  • Lad Sessions says:


    Welcome to the club, with my sympathies. I’m perhaps a decade older than you, but no wiser. I had cataract surgery on both eyes a few years back, but didn’t experience much pain, either in surgery or later. The operations did improve my vision, but only slightly. The culprit, they determined, was another eye condition called Fuchs Dystrophy, where the pump cells on the back of the cornea don’t work as they should and the cornea swells up, producing blurring and distortion. So last year I had cornea transplant surgery on the worse eye (replacing the back layer of tissue with the pump cells)–and now I can see more clearly in that eye than the other (20/25 v. 20/40). Now I can actually read as well as take photos! I can’t wait for the second surgery, although the recuperation was no fun (flat on my back for a week, while the transplant adhered); but the doctor says “not yet.”

    So there’s hope for us mature people, and I wish you well in your recovery. Cheers!

    • Steve Mallett says:

      Thanks Lad. I seem to have really stirred up the pond with this one! So many different eye problems. The good news is that I can’t possibly afford needles in the eye, cornea transplants etc. so I’ll never have to agonise over the decision.

    • Lad, my mother had cornea transplant surgery when she was in her 80s. Her vision went from “can’t see anything but blur” to 20/20 in both eyes. Never needed glasses again. I guess the point of all this discussion is that things do happen to our most important photographic resource as we get older, but there is always hope for a remedy so don’t ever give up.

  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    Hi Steve,

    Best of luck with the ongoing recovery and future procedures. Thanks for sharing your experience in a constructive and informative way.

    My erstwhile editor once told me “Focus is so overrated and last year. Embrace the creative blur.”

    More recently I have seen advice that seems to keep cropping up from time to time “Squint and blur the scene to improve your composition”

    On the basis of that my question to you now becomes – has your photography now reached its peak and it is all downward from here ? LOL 🙂 Perhaps the more sage amongst us can enlighten me.

    Now that you have joined the Borg collective with all its high tech modern implants and seen a new light will you abandon the creative abstract blur or not ?



    • Steve Mallett says:

      Ian, I certainly hope my photography has not reached its peak, I feel like I’m still stumbling around in the foothills so there is hope for the future! Think I might try the “squint and blur approach” and see what appears.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    “Focus is so overrated and last year. Embrace the creative blur.”
    Sometimes – just as many of Steve’s photos show us all.
    Then there’s another phase – where we MIGHT be able to go “tack sharp” – but stopping just a little way back from there gives a more pleasing image. Some of this gear is now SO good, that at times it’s TOO good. Backing off a bit can be better!

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