Wednesday, March 28, 2012

More From The Phone

There's no doubt in my mind now that 8 Mpix  Phone Cameras are capable of making pictures that are far better than they ought to be, and that I can have confidence that the camera in my phone isn't just a toy. I see great separation of foreground from background, even in the absence of good "bokeh". It is excellent at capturing textures and contrast. Naturally, it is no match for a DSLR, but truthfully, I think it is better than a lot of compact cameras. Case in point - I just purchased a compact a couple of weeks ago, because it was at a great discount. It even has a lens with the name of the famous German camera company whose name begins with "L", and for the life of me, I could not make that camera take a decent picture, although it got some pretty good on-line reviews. Just me maybe, but I ended up giving it to my wife, who wanted a small "fun camera" to put in her purse.

I can't fully understand how such miniaturization can be capable of making good pictures, other than through the recent evolution of "micro-lenses". A normal sized DSLR Sensor actually has millions of microscopic lenses, one located at each pixel-site, all crammed into an area of a few square centimetres. The purpose of these micro-lenses is to assist in sharpening the light that hits each individual pixel. It only stands to reason then, that if lenses can be made so incredibly small and accurate, that the lens on a Camera Phone, as small as it appears, would be gigantic compared to a micro-lens.

Enough said!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Phone Cams - The New Normal?

Here I go again, with musings that must seem to most people to be exactly 55 months behind the times! Why 55 months? Because technology is racing ahead so quickly that one month of new developments now represents what it would take one full year to accomplish not so long ago... and that I'm a retired, semi-technical-illiterate old fart of 55 years who would still rather twist dials than use a touch screen.

So the big news is I finally picked up a decent phone, at my wife's insistence - now that I'm retired she obviously wants to keep tabs on me at all times. So, I thought I might as well get a phone that has a decent camera. I won't come out and say which phone I got, because I'm not in the advertising business here, but you should be able to figure it out from my deliberately blurred picture above.

Already, I hear all you elitists wondering out loud why I didn't pick the iPhone 4S instead. Easy - two reasons 1) Cost - this one was free on my Service Plan, and it's hard to argue with free, and 2) as the owner of two iPods, I'm already familiar with the Apple universe, and immediately wanted to break away from that black hole, and found several great Linux ways to manage my iPods with the music that I alone want to hear. I reasoned, what's true for music management is probably also true for photo management.

Now, if all you know is the iPhone universe, you're probably thinking I'll regret my decision immediately, because I can't have "Instagram". Again, I have two things to say - 1) Wrong! This was just announced today. And 2) Who cares? - The Android Play Store has plenty of photo apps available, free or very cheap, that offer a lot of the same functions as Instagram. Besides, I can still get super creative by using GIMP, which I would be more likely to do anyway.

What about picture quality? I really can't comment on that yet. I know the iPhone camera is excellent, I'll never argue with that. But mine is made by a well known Korean maker of pretty good digital cameras who's name starts with "S". I used it to take that yummy looking Pub-Food picture - straight from the phone, it appears to offer great focus, reasonable colour (a bit on the yellow side perhaps, or was the dill pickle really like that, I don't remember...), and near perfect flash control. I also know that the iPhone is not the be-all for quality - the Finnish company who's name starts with "N" has created a camera phone which is not only the "game changer" for phonography, but I think is going to establish the "new normal" for digital photography! Right now, it's only available in Europe (how come they get all the truly great stuff?) I'm pretty certain however, that when it's time for me to upgrade in 3 years on my Service Plan, it will be the "N" phone I'll go for (wait - that's 36 years from now, right?)

The thing is, all of the premium phones available right now with 8 MP sensors, take far better pictures than you'd think they ought to - does that make sense? As it was with the Olympus Trip-35 from the 1970's, which also took far better pictures than it should have done, we now have available a very low cost and even more convenient way to take really great snapshots, and I'm excited about that - can you tell?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Big Stitch Challenge

I've made a few attempts at this big stitch. I realize that as far as big stitches go, this is nothing close to what some people are accomplishing, like combining horizontal and vertical panels together, or creating full 360 degree cityscapes with an iPhone Camera! The challenge I faced with this one is obvious- how could I get the utility pole out of the foreground? With my first two tries, I stood much closer and used a wider lens (17mm), and on the second try, I also tried making it in two rows, upper and lower as well as left to right, to keep the height of the main steeple. But it never worked - that 17mm focal length was creating so much perspective shift, my software was unable to pick up on the stitching points. So I had to step back and using 28mm, it worked fine with four vertical shots.

I had to make peace with the pole. And I have. The pole actually became useful in establishing perspective, not only as a strong foreground object, but it also forms a line with the other vertical objects leading back from it in parallel with the crosswalk lines on the street, which gives the picture a very strong and welcoming foreground. This is the very reason why I bother to do this - it is the simulation of a "big camera" pixel area I am looking for with these attempts, where the extreme foreground and background detail remains equal - the foreground will strongly invite your eye into the composition.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


As you can see, these are Black and White photos with some colour selectively left in. This is an effect that I really like, but thought it to be difficult and time consuming, normally done with layers and masks  and hours of work in Photoshop (or GIMP). Earlier this year, on New Years Day in fact, I happened across an Open Source Application called "Tintii", which makes this effect real quick and easy. You can read all about it here

OK - so I see it is no longer free; it was when I installed it! But it's good to have. Being just a bit of a purist, I don't like over-using any effect - only when the photo demands it! Yes, the bench really does have "Free Hugs" painted on it in blue, and I didn't add that to the photo myself - I used Tintii to make it stand out. The red and blue logo on the truck and the green on the store fronts were pretty obvious to me too.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Black and White

I've done quite a lot of B&W conversion to pictures that I think "need" to be Black and White, for whatever reason. There are many ways to accomplish this with a digital camera, the first of course being that all digicams ever sold, I think, have a built in black and white setting. I prefer to do it by converting a colour pic using the computer, but to each his own.

This one was interesting to work on. Firstly, it is another of my vertical panoramas taken with my EOS 40D - stitching three vertical shots together to give it a "big camera" look - I really love this trick! The result was a colour picture in which the colour added absolutely nothing - just a faded yellow building and a clear blue sky. It was the shadows that were contributing the most interest to the picture, making it a prime candidate for Black and White.

My usual technique to convert colour to B&W is to use a very cool feature of the GIMP software - the B&W film simulation filter. It offers several different "famous" black and white film brands and types to choose from, along with a choice of colour-gel filters, and various other contrast and saturation adjustments. Now that I'm retired, I have more time to play, so I used GIMP to try out lots of different combinations, then set them up for comparison viewing, to help me decide if GIMP's B&W simulation is just a gimmick, of if I really can see a difference between my choices. I suppose I could put all the choices up here so you can see for yourself, but for now, I'm simply starting with the one I like best. I'm glad to say there are clear differences to be had according to your choice of "film", and "Filter-Gels". Whoever created this B&W Film algorithm definitely knows his stuff! I could easily discern differences in contrast, clarity, and highlight detail between all of my choices.

For this picture, I settled on the "Ilford Delta -400 Pro & 3200" film type with the Yellow Filter-Gel. This gave the best overall emphasis, with a high but still natural looking contrast, and best of all, it most clearly separated the big tree in the foreground from the old building, which is what I was really wanting to happen.

So, in conclusion, when doing Black and White digital, by all means I encourage you to try a number of different things by creating different B&W computer files to compare - including using all of the settings offered by your camera - brightness, contrast and colour saturation (yes, the overall "look" of your final B&W product will be greatly affected by the colour settings of your camera too).

Have fun!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Zorki Rangefinder

I just want to emphasize again how important the Zorki Rangefinder was to me, with this collection from my Flickr Set. This camera was old, it was made in Russia, it was missing the takeup spool, and sometimes the higher shutter speeds didn't work. But there was something about this camera that simply made great pictures- even while I was a complete neophyte- this camera was somehow helping me. I sold it simply because I didn't want to be shooting film anymore. I'm not regretting my decision to not shoot film - I'm just regretting that nobody seems to be able to make a digital camera that will take photos that look like this, (aside perhaps from the Leica M9). It must be the Rangefinder design, because I continued on with film for awhile using a Zenit-11, a Canon T-50, a Practika MTL and a Pentax MV, all of which were SLR's of course, and most of which provided my collection of M42 and PK Mount lenses which I still use on my Canon 40D and 400D.  But none of these SLR cameras, film or digital, is giving me quite what I was accomplishing with this wonderful old Zorki-4.

My belief is that the Rangefinder's internal design, coupled with the unique qualities of the Jupiter LTM lenses was the real magic at work here. In a Rangefinder camera, the relationship between the back of the lens and the image plane is different than that of an SLR, which cannot be helped because of the extra space needed for the SLR's mirror assembly. The resulting design compromise of SLR lenses is explained here:

I think I'm hopefully showing how much of a compromise this really is.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Retinex is a "fun filter" that I use sparingly, because it tends to be quite goofy, I think. But Edwin H. Land, inventor of the Polaroid Camera didn't think so. He came up with a theory to describe "Retinal Cortex" theory - (ref:

So, apparently, this is some means of giving every colour in an image equal intensity and importance - I think this is what Ed was getting at! I tend to have an instinct of when to use the Retinex effect, and it often involves power lines as an element in a photograph. Often, these ugly power lines tend to ruin an otherwise good picture, and many photographers spend hours in Photoshop trying to paint them out.

But I discovered that Retinex can turn ugly power lines into a party! As the application of the effect tends to give an equal emphasis to everything, I like to take it and "crank it up to 11" - doing this gives an emphasis to the power lines, putting them shamelessly into the composition, and at the same time "electrifies" everything else in the picture. All of a sudden, a boring building is put right into Nicola Tesla's laboratory!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Decisive Moments

Is "The Decisive Moment" an overworked cliché, or something that can truly make or break many photographs? I believe the latter, although I don't have any truly great examples from among my own work. I also believe that a truly great D-M photographer works very hard to be in the right place at the right time - something I never do. Any photo I take that might have some magic in it that results from just capturing the right split second is always purely accidental.

In this example, the magic second comes from the birds. Just a few seconds before, it could've been even more spectacular because there was a lot more of the seagulls all hovering on an up-draft above this rustic shed. So what really happened is that I only managed to capture the last few as they were flying away. I stuck around for 15 minutes more, but the gulls did not return!

Without the gulls, this picture is still not very good - the colours stand very well on their own, but the gulls not only add decisive moment excitement, but also provide a great balance, and perfectly explain why I took such a lop-sided partial picture of the shed. Had the gulls not been there, I would have taken the picture of the building from a much different perspective, and it would have been just another boring picture of an old shed. But with the seagulls, this picture is a good example of something that I long to become truly great at.