Tag Archives: photos

Character

Brisbane Treasury Casino and Hotel, as viewed from Reddacliff Place

Cameras in phones are probably a little too good these days. I can pull out my iPhone, snap a pic of whatever I’m looking at, and know that every detail will be captured, timestamped, and geo-tagged. I’ll even get a few seconds of video to go along with my photo, all in less time than I spent thinking about taking the photo in the first place.

Film, by comparison, has none of those benefits.

With film, I have to think about what I’m taking a photo of. Not because I’m worried about using one of my 36 exposures on whatever roll of film I’m using — although I am limited by the total number of exposures I have available to me at any one time, that typically isn’t a concern — but because it forces me to think about composition and framing, even focus, more than digital does. Digital might have ever-increasing megapixel counts which make cropping an easy way out if you didn’t get your framing right the first time, but there’s no such advantage with film, where your negatives will betray your imperfect framing every time.

When you’ve shot with film for a while, and particularly when you put the same speed and type of film through your camera dozens of times, you notice that your photos get a certain look about them that you don’t see with photos from your iPhone. It’s film grain, sure, but it’s more than that. It’s the way certain colours are more noticeable than others, the limited dymanic range of film, and the contrast between the light and dark parts of the image that work together to make the whole thing the slice of life that you captured at the time. Some parts might be out of focus, intentionally or otherwise, but all of it contributes to something that digital photos just don’t have these days.

Character.

When I’m taking a photo, if I want everything to be in focus, if I want every pixel to be perfect, even if I want everything to be HDR’d to the n-th degree, then I’ll pull out my iPhone and snap away. I know that when I take photos with my phone, the photos I take are as good as it gets, at least within the limits of camera technology that we have in phones these days, short of spending thousands on a pro-level camera and lens. And obviously, if I want to take video, I’ll pull out my iPhone. But if I want to capture an interesting perspective, or convey what the scene looks like to me, as opposed to what it actually is, that’s a job for my film camera, and an exposure of Ektar 100. If I want the sky to be overexposed, if I want shadows and highlights in equal measure, if I want colours to pop without being overbearing, then film is the only choice.

Obviously, there are a plethora of advantages to digital that film just doesn’t have, otherwise we’d all still be shooting film. But there have been so many advances in computational photography that it has pushed digital photography to the point where it’s more or less boring — perfect, life-like photos every time? Who wants that? Perfect photos might be all well and good for most people, most of the time. But the other times, I want my photos to have some imperfections.

I want my photos to have character.

Which makes film the perfect medium to be shooting on. And if I’m shooting film, there’s nothing more fun that shooting with a film rangefinder.

Selective photo permissions in iOS sucks, actually

A couple of years ago, Apple introduced the idea of selective Photos access. The idea was so that if you let an app have access to specific photos, then the app couldn’t do something like steal all your photo metadata straight out of your camera roll, including location. Great for apps that you didn’t necessarily trust to abuse that access, given that there’s was no way for you to tell if an app had collected all the metadata from all your photos and uploaded it into a database somewhere.

Apple’s solution, introduced with iOS 14 in 2020, was to allow you to select which photos an app has access to, which sounds great in theory, but has become a bit of a usability nightmare.

The problem is that by only selectively allowing an app to access your photos, you’re effectively choosing between two, kinda sucky options.

If you selectively allow access to photos, it means that every time you want to share a new photo to the app, you have to take the photo (using whatever camera app you want, whether that’s the stock camera or something like Halide), jump into the app, hope it has a deep link to the Settings page that allows you to change which photos it has access to (not all apps do, and the implementation to select photos can differ between apps), select the new photos that you just took, and then finally send them using the app. This three-step dance of taking, selecting, and sending happens every single time you want to send a photo using an app that only has selective access to your photos, which adds a huge amount of friction to a process that should be as few steps as possible.

But what’s the alternative?

The other way you can get around this taking/selecting/sending process is by using whatever app you’re sending the photos with, to take the photos with in the first place. Most apps have an integrated camera option that allows you to take a new photo right from within the app, then send that directly. And while this is a much simpler, more streamlined process than the snap-select-send dance, it comes with its own caveats. Firstly, there’s no guarantee that these photos taken directly within apps will be saved to your camera roll by default. While some apps offer to save taken photos to your camera roll automatically, apps like Snapchat make you tap a button before the photo you’ve taken is saved to your camera roll. But when you do, these photos taken from within apps seem to miss out on some normal photo metadata, like camera/lens info, exposure, focal length, location, and they don’t seem to be able to be Live Photos or be recorded in different image formats, either.

Screenshot of two comparison photos, taken using the Steam Chat app on the left, and using the stock camera on the right.

Note differences in metadata between these two photos. Photo on the right taken using the Steam Chat app on the left, and using the stock camera on the right.

Without looking too closely at the technical details, photos taken within apps might also be missing out on some of the technical features afforded to the stock camera app, like being able to automatically switch to the ultra wide lens for the macro mode on recent Pro-model iPhones, for example, nor do you seem to get access to the camera modes and effects of the stock camera app. This means your photos when taken using apps aren’t necessarily going to be the same as ones when you take them using the stock camera app. All of this is still probably fine, if all you’re doing is taking photos for the purposes of sharing to others, but you might miss that data months or years later. There does seem to be exceptions to this, as clearly third party camera apps like Halide can capture in different formats, but I think Live Photos are a stock camera app exclusive.

So when you want to share a photo to an app that doesn’t have access to your entire location history from all the photos in your camera roll, you can either:
– do a snap-select-send dance every time you want to send a new photo using that app, keeping your photo metadata intact and ensuring the best possible photos
– take and send the photo directly from within the app, which is a much more simplified process, but results in photos with no metadata and other features that you might want later, like Live Photos, and maybe even things like depth information.

And obviously, this is only for photos. For screenshots, the situation is even worse, and you have to do the snap-select-send dance every time.

What’s the fix?

Unless I’m overlooking something here, isn’t it as simple as letting apps only access photos taken in the past one or two hours? If you’re sending a photo that you just took, it seems unlikely that you would be doing it more than say two hours after it was taken, and while a higher number would give more leeway for this, I’d be concerned about an app having a rolling 12 or 24 hour access to your photos, because then we’d just end up with the same problem that we had originally if apps have access to all your photos, but one or two hours hopefully means that apps you haven’t recently used, won’t be able to take a rolling 1-2 hour peek at your photos.

Maybe the better solution is to prevent apps from having access to photos metadata in the first place. Then none of this would be an issue, and we could go back to the time when apps had access to all photos, all the time. Selective photos metadata might not be technically possible, but that would be the ideal.

xkcd: Photos

via xkcd: Photos.

Remember when I used to be heaps into photography? Yeah, me neither.

I still kind of am, but not as much as I used to be. I don’t know about you, but photography was always a “make an effort” thing for me, for the kind of photography I wanted to do (i.e. mostly street photography). I still want to take photos of random people or things on the street in order to tell a particular story, but that involves actually leaving the house — something that doesn’t happen every day because I’m a hermit used to the comforts of working from home most days.

Take today, for example. There was an elderly couple standing outside my work today, looking up at the construction across the road. I glanced up, and the way our glass sliding doors framed them, just gazing up at the construction work going on, was kind of nice. For a brief moment I considered taking a photo, but decided not to because it would have been a little strange.

I’m drawn to couple photography particularly, which probably says plenty about me personally. There’s stories to be told for inanimate objects and individuals, but couple photography fascinates me. One of the best shots I’ve ever taken was a quick spur of the moment thing, like most street photography, depicting a young girl in a school uniform sitting with a guy, also in school uniform, on a bench in the Hobart mall. You don’t know what they’re talking about, or why they’re sitting there, and you kind of feel like an intruder on their private time, but it’s a nice photo. At least, I think so.

It reminded me of the times when I carried my film rangefinder as an every day carry kind of thing. Some people lug around DSLRs, but my Bessa R2A is compact enough to not get completely in the way or be too much of a burden. I mean, sure, I always have my iPhone 6 with me and that takes some seriously good photos, but digital photography has always felt kind of cheap, like it’s too easy to achieve good results without even trying. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but when you can fire off a single-shot HDR photo just by tapping a button, it kind of cheapens the experience a little.

On the above XKCD: I’ve never understood people who criticise other people for taking photos of things that mean something to them. Why does it matter how other people choose to enjoy a particular sunset, or a bunch of fireworks going off? Just looking is nice, but there are some that want to capture the moment so they can come back to it later and then there are some who recognise the technical challenges of capturing multi-coloured explosions in the sky. Either way, that’s their prerogative. Who are you to say otherwise?

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

Tweets from the road: drafted, but not posted

 Thanks to a lack of a constant internet connection, I wrote a lot of tweets that didn’t get published. A few were thanks to frequent trips to Starbucks, but many, many others didn’t. Without further ado, I present: tweets from the road: stuff that didn’t get posted during my time away from the constantly connected web (note that some are actually longer than 140 characters). There’s a backstory to most of them, but I’ll leave it up to your imagination to fill in the blanks. In some kind of chronological order…

If you look closely, you can see the AMP tower or whatever it's called.

If you look closely, you can see the AMP tower or whatever it’s called.

What most people don’t know is there’s a game you play on intl flights called “respect other people’s personal space as much as possible”.

This guy next to me lost very badly, as did the woman in front who had her chair reclined almost the entire flight.

Travelled something like 6000 kilometres yesterday, but Fitbit reports a mere 5500 steps taken. Technology, hey?

Think my Comply foam tips worked just as well as a pair of noise-cancelling headphones would have on that flight, at a fraction of the cost.

Day two of my overseas trip and my sister already has Wi-Fi. Me? I can wait a few more days to sync my Fitbit, check email, etc.

Kinda disappointed in myself. Only lasted just over a day without Wi-Fi before I succumbed to the mistress of TCP.

Saw the first Hunger Games on the plane over. It was OK, I guess, if you’re willing to overlook the entire dystopian future aspect.

Riddick, on the other hand, was kind of stupid. Did not enjoy.

Worst thing about travelling, by far, is the sub-quality showers. I can deal with everything else, but showers with no water pressure, no.

Can you tell I slept in these pants? Because I totes did.

My sister just revealed to me she turned off autocorrect on her iPod touch. The shame.

Always amazes me how great iPhone battery life is in airplane mode.

…which is exactly what I need on long bus rides from KLIA to my father’s remote hometown. Just me and Miley, or Kilometrey as she’s known here

I seem to be catching a lot of buses in Malaysia. It’s like I never left Hobart!

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The Workhorse

Canon 60D

In the world of cameras, only Sony are doing anything that really interests me right now. By putting big(er) sensors into small(er) cameras, they’re improving image quality without sacrificing portability. They’re improving low-light and noise performance without having to go to ridiculously high ISOs or invest precious R&D into new noise-reduction algorithms. They’re doing the right thing, or at very least, moving in the right direction.

It all started with the RX100, released just last year, a compact camera with a non-detachable zoom lens and a comparatively massive 1-inch sensor, the largest in its class. It was the first camera to put a big sensor in a body that was still extremely pocketable, and it was the first camera that offered anything close to the low-light performance of cameras with much larger sensors.

Not surprisingly, the RX100 received rave reviews despite the slightly higher price point — it was decidedly an “enthusiast compact” camera, and the price reflected its status, but it was still on the expensive side for people looking for an alternative to similar cameras such as the Canon S100 or S110, both of which retail around the $300 mark — by comparison, the RX100 is easily twice that price.

Regardless, the RX100 was a big hit with the wider photographic community. Someone at Sony must have decided this was a worthwhile path to pursue, because half a year later we saw the introduction of the RX1, the first camera to put a full-frame digital sensor in a compact camera. Not much bigger than the RX100, the RX1 is stil a hell of a lot more compact than any other camera with a large sensor, let alone a full-frame DSLR.

Like the RX100, the RX1 comes with a non-detachable lens, but unlike the RX100, the lens on the RX1 is a fixed-focal length lens (commonly referred to as a prime). The lens permanently attached to the RX1 is a 35mm f/2 Zeiss, and I for one am glad Sony chose to go with something decent for their choice of lens. Thanks to the combination of quality glass and a full-frame sensor, image quality, low-light image quality and noise performance all improved markedly.

The only real downside for consumers was the price: at close to what you might pay for a comparable full-frame DSLR, the RX1 is out of reach for anyone who actually wants a full-frame sensor in a compact body without the convenience of interchangeable lenses. You’d have to be a serious enthusiast (or flushed with cash) to fork out for a camera you bought for its size alone, especially when you can get a professional DSLR for around the same kind of money.

Nevertheless, like the RX100 before it, the RX1 was heralded as a breakthrough in digital camera technology simply because it was the first camera to include a full-frame sensor in a compact-like body. It, too, received rave reviews, despite its expensive price tag.

By this time, Sony had caught onto what consumers really wanted: DSLR-like image quality from compact cameras. The RX100 II followed with improvements to the general formula, including a new image processing chip for even better noise performance, coupled with the same big sensor in a compact body. Around the same time, Sony also released the RX1 R, a variant on the original that removed the anti-aliasing filter in favour of more effective resolution and slightly sharper images at the cost of possible moire when capturing certain lined patters.

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PAX Australia 2013 Photos and the Sony RX100 II

RX100 II

I really enjoy film photography, but there are certain aspects which make me pine for something a little more 21st century.

Take ISO and noise performance, for example. With film, you load a roll of film, and that’s your ISO set for the next 36 shots. You can’t chop and change ISOs whenever you want, and you can all but forget shooting at an ISO above 800 as it gets pretty grainy at high film speeds.

On the other hand, digital cameras let you change the ISO whenever you want, and with advances in sensor technology and noise-reduction algorithms, noise is less of a concern than it is with film. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to shoot at ISO 12800, but the very fact you can is a feat in and of itself.

I’ve been eyeing off a great compact camera for a little while now, and the only thing that has really caught my eye has been the Sony RX100. It’s perhaps a smidgen pricier than what you might normally pay for a good compact camera, but it does have semi-good reason to be: it has a large sensor paired with some decent optics, which usually translates to decent photos. When I say it has a “large sensor”, it’s big, but in relative terms: it’s still smaller than the sensor in your DSLR, and smaller still than the sensor used in the four-thirds system, but it’s one of the biggest sensors available in what can still be called a compact camera. The RX100 is the pocketable, every-day carry size I’ve been looking for.

Sensor size aside, I’ve wanted to play with an RX100 for a little while now, and PAX was a great opportunity to give one a good workout. Then Sony announced and released its successor-of-sorts, the RX100 II. There’s not even that much different between the two models: a back-side illuminated sensor for even better low-light performance, Wi-Fi and NFC, and a display that tilts, but it still makes sense to get the updated model, right?

Long story short, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get one in time for PAX as the release dates meant that I was cutting it fine. But one phone call later, I secured a RX100 II to call my own. And just in time for PAX Australia!

I used the RX100 to take all the pictures you see below. There’s not that much to say about the camera itself, but there are a few points worth mentioning.

While the camera does have an auto-ISO option, it seems to favour slower shutter speeds instead of using higher ISOs. Normally that wouldn’t be an issue, but there’s no option to set a minimum shutter speed, meaning you can get motion blur if you’re not careful. Because of this, I felt as if I had to shoot the majority of my photos in shutter priority to avoid motion blur in photos.

Low-light and noise performance is excellent, as expected. If you’re a pixel-peeper like me, you’ll probably find it’s a fraction soft in the details, but that’s par for the course for any compact camera. I’m generally pretty happy with the images I took during PAX (they’re certainly better than what my iPhone 5 managed to do), but I’d really only consider them “happy snaps” as opposed to images I would deliver to a client. Read into that what you will. That said, the photos turned out totally fine when resized down, and provided you’re not peeping at the pixels of the full-size images, they’re more than adequate for web usage.

I’ll let the photos do the talking in just a moment, but shooting with the RX100 II at PAX made me wonder how I might have fared with a DSLR. There are obvious size and convenience advantages to a compact, of course, but the photos I took just seemed to reiterate the fact that the DSLR is the workhorse, the one that gets the job done. I hardly use my DSLR these days unless I need to produce extremely high quality images, but I’m consistently impressed by the photos it takes, whenever I’ve done everything I can to make the photo as good as it can possibly be (focus and exposure, in that order).

Taking photos of cosplayers was way more fun than it should have been. Having to ask people for photos took a little getting used to at first (street shooters, represent), but it was cool since it meant they looking into the camera — well, most of the time, anyway. There was heaps of great cosplay on display, but half the time I had issues recognising who people were cosplaying as. Either I need to be exposed to more games or their interpretations of certain characters was just too far off the mark for me. And besides, people in Melbourne dress so weirdly anyway it was hard to tell if they were cosplaying or whether they were just hipsters, but I digress.

The lighting was generally terrible in the expo hall and even worse in the theaters, but here are a few shots I gathered during my time at PAX. There’s probably a million things I missed capturing due to just taking it all in, and I’d love to do PAX with a more serious camera and focus on photography, but hey, I think I did OK.

Photos from PAX Aus 2013 after the jump