The Time Of The App-Expandable Camera Has Arrived

Long-time readers of DImageMaker and of my contributions to HP Professional Photography blog may remember me talking of the need for cameras to become expandable in the same ways that phones are. We needed to be able to expand their functionality or just configure the existing capabilities in a way that better suited us, personally.

Finally the App capable camera seems to be arriving. Samsung has announced their Samsung Galaxy Camera EK-GC100, an Android powered compact camera. This is an important step. It has compact camera image quality, rather than that of smartphones and it has all the connectivity and App options of a Galaxy phone, without the ability to make cellular phonecalls. I suspect that Samsung have screwed up by not having the phone call making capability in the camera, but we will have to wait and see. It certainly has most of the capability there, with 3G and 4G network connectivity, just not the ability to place cellular phonecalls, though you can through Skype. Gizmag has posted a decent review of the camera.

samsung

Users have really voted with their feet on this issue, as reflected in the falling sales of compact cameras and the wide takeup of people using their phones for photography, despite all the limitations this entails. Obviously the convenience of having a camera with you at all times and the instant sharing/modify capability more than offset the poor image quality, lack of optical zoom capability, etc. Which is why I think Samsung should have included the phone capability.

Now we need to see this App-centric approach expanded to dSLRs, where they can leave the phone capability out.

Coupling great optics, a large sensor and full customisability in a dSLR is a winner and I can’t wait for manufacturers to do this. What we do need is a standard phone API (applications programming interface) for Android for all the advanced features that high end compacts and dSLRs offer, so that app developers can concentrate on creativity rather than having to support all sorts of non-standard interfaces.

Where Is Photography Going?

Since it is the start of the New Year and also, for me, very much about new beginnings in my photography, it is time to consider where things are going.

Photography is in the process of undergoing changes every bit as large as those of the switch from film to digital. In fact, I would argue that we are still going through that process and the changes that are happening now and will in future are still part of moving from a film-oriented to a digital-oriented way of thinking.

Compact cameras are disappearing and being replaced by smartphones, which not only take great images, but have the massive benefits of always being with you and allowing you to process and modify your shots at or near the time of shooting via apps. Any camera you have with you takes better shots than the one you left at home, and so many of us, me included, who would not usually use a compact camera now do so all the time. And you see more and more well known photographers posting iPhone images online, and wonderful images they are too. The benefit of being able to throw apps at our shots is not to be underrated and in fact the mainstream camera makers need to pay heed to – photographers want to be able to customise their cameras.

Another major equipment shift is in the area of still vs. video. Where we are at right now is that video and still cameras shoot both video and stills. When you choose one over the other what you are doing is choosing where the emphasis is placed with regard to controls and functionality. The fact that cameras like the Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800 are being used to shoot motion pictures shows just how capable they are. It gives filmmakers access to all the great still photography lenses, from macro to extreme telephoto, lensbabies and more. And we can see how this capability has already revolutionised filmmaking and commercial areas of photography, like wedding photography. It means that many of us who saw ourselves as still photographers are shooting more and more video. This is an exciting time for photographers, as it is opening up new markets, new services we can offer and new creative possibilities.

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There are major changes afoot with printing/display. The spread of full HD large TVs meant that more and more images were being shown electronically rather than printed. The beginnings of the home 4k TV market will advance this further, as the resolution and size of these TVs is actually allowing more people to see far more detail in their photography than they ever did before, remembering that most people do not print their images large. It is my hope that this might start to get people used to the idea of bigger images hanging on their walls, extending the market for large prints. But they may just decide to use their TVs as image displays. Could there be a market for selling high-resolution images to big TV owners, but how do we avoid piracy?

Camera makers are continuing the decline of the human race by perpetrating the idea that dSLRs will give people better pictures without requiring that they actually engage their brains. They will continue this as all that matters is selling more cameras. Thankfully that creates more opportunities for photographers to run workshops on how to take better pictures.

So what is coming up? Expect better and better video capabilities and more of us to make use of it. Expect someone to integrate apps into a dSLR. I would be great if someone would pair up with Apple and make this iOS but I suspect we’ll be stuck with Android and so have to worry about malware and viruses on our cameras. GPS will become a feature of all cameras (yeah). There will continue to be room for new, niche equipment makers to fill accessory gaps that vastly expand the usefulness of our cameras. Full frame will continue to move down market (yeah).

For me personally, 2013 is a year for a deeper engagement with video and pushing my still photography in new directions and to greater depths. This includes pushing my art further and experimenting with new (to me) techniques, like extreme macro.

 

When Photography Crosses Into Art

Photography is sometimes art and art sometimes uses photography. But what is the determining factor?

The answer is that photography is art when it mirrors contemporary art concerns. So just what do I mean by that? Well tough as it might sound, contemporary art moved beyond just being beautiful or representational back with surrealism, futurism, and all the other ‘isms’ of the modern age. Now of course we are past modern art and into post-modern and post-post-modern. But a common thread in all the modern+ art movements has been to move beyond beauty and representation. What matters is meaning, having something to say, going beyond appearance to some deeper levels.

An image from my Time and Space series

Now that doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with beauty and representation. In fact contemporary art practice would certainly be all the better for some interest in beauty (IMHO). But it does mean that a work that is mostly concerned with beauty and representation is not contemporary in an art sense.

Another characteristic of contemporary art practice is a lack of interest in process. It doesn’t matter how you do something, all that matters is the final result and the meaning conveyed by it. This is another problem for a lot of photography to get past – much photography has an overwhelming concern with process. This is perhaps exemplified most by the alternate process people – those using gum bichromate or gumoil or some other long surpassed process. These processes appeal because of the beauty of the resulting prints and perhaps a sense of nostalgia for the believed simplicities of the past.

And I have to say that the absurdity of much of this alternate process work should be obvious to all. Not only can the look of most of them be reproduced quite well using the latest inkjets but so much emphasis is put on wonderful papers that are then matted and hidden behind glass for exhibition so it can never be really appreciated. It is what I would call process masturbation at its worse.

Does that mean that I would argue that you should not make beautiful images? No, of course not. Just don’t think you are making contemporary art necessarily. I make two completely different types of images – my contemporary art work which does not have a primary aim of beauty (though I do aim to make it so) and my landscape photography work, which is primarily produced to be beautiful but that I don’t fool myself is art.

This is what it all comes down to – what pleases you and what your priorities are. But don’t fool yourself that it is more than it is.

The Microsoft Surface for Photographers and Artists

The just announced Microsoft Surface looks to be a good device for photographers and digital artists.

One of the commonly skipped over features of the new Microsoft Surface is the inclusion of a pressure sensitive pen in addition to the finger touch interface. Now while there are many pens for the iPad and even one pressure sensitive option that uses Bluetooth to transmit the pressure information to specially written software, it is not the same as having pressure sensitivity integrated into the operating system and so more likely to be supported by a wide range of apps.

Real details on the Surface are few and far between, so we don’t know how many levels of pressure sensitivity are supported. But any number will be a big help and I can’t see any reason why it would be less than 256 levels, which is going to be more than enough more interesting photographic retouching and digital art applications. Note that the pressure sensitive pen appears to only be on the more expensive full Windows 8 device, not on the cheaper one.

Other features look positive for us too. USB 3 as well as a microSDXC port will make connecting cameras easy. In this way the 128GB option model may be ideal as an in-the-field image viewer and storage device, with the ability to do some reasonable preliminary editing as well.

We live in interesting times and not all of that is negative stuff. The Surface just might provide the long awaited competition for the iPad. Competition helps us, the consumer, and if Microsoft gets it right then we may all be better off.

Microsoft can do hardware right. I’ve always preferred their mice over everyone else’s, especially Apple’s, for example. So let’s give them a chance and see what they deliver when the Surface actually ships. I know I’ll be extremely keen to try one out.

 

 

Graphicdesign.com Analyses Pricing On Adobe Monthly Membership Options

Graphicdesign.com breaks down Adobe Creative Cloud’s new pricing plan. Rafiq Elmansy discusses the pros and cons – is the Creative Cloud membership worth it? Or should consumers continue to pay one-time fees?

Dallas, TX (PRWEB) June 05, 2012

Members of the graphic design community may know about the rollout of Adobe Creative Cloud. With monthly and annual purchase plans available, Creative Cloud has puzzled several members of the industry. Is either the $49.99 per month annual plan or the $74.99 month-to-month plan worth it? And what are the pros and cons?

Enter Rafiq Elmansy, a featured writer on GraphicDesign.com and an official Adobe Community Professional. He’s in touch with new Adobe products as an expert and has published “Photoshop 3D for Animators.” Elmansy gave GraphicDesign.com readers an inside scoop on the cost-effectiveness and benefits of Adobe Creative Cloud in an exclusive article published on Monday.

The Cloud membership includes access to titles applications like Photoshop Extended, Illustrator, Flash, Dreamweaver, and Muse. As Elmansy pointed out, the application checks for membership status through an internet connection.

“When you get an Adobe Creative Cloud Membership,” wrote Elmansy, “with the monthly activation scheme, you will be able to download any of the Adobe applications and its updates. However, many people including myself prefer to work without being restricted to the monthly activation process”.

Members of Adobe’s Cloud service can also take advantage of cloud storage. Rather than use applications like Dropbox, Adobe simplifies the sharing process. Elmansy explained, “This is one of the greatest features of the Creative Cloud membership because many users need to work on different computers and share projects on their various devices and with other team members. The Cloud storage gives you a central location where you can save and retrieve your work easily from anywhere with flexibility.”

The traditional Adobe purchasing process necessitates delivery of a DVD, whereas Creative Cloud allows instantaneous downloads and updates. The author asserted, “Many users, like me, cannot wait a week or two to receive a DVD and prefer to download the software from the Adobe server directly without any further delay.”

Is a Creative Cloud membership worth it? Or should consumers continue to pay one-time fees? Elmansy concluded that the answer ultimately depends on the end user: “Choosing between them only depends on your own needs and requirements. The Adobe Creative Cloud membership is one of Adobe’s brand new services that may or may not meet your requirements, but it will surely be enhanced with time and according to your feedback.”

At the end of the article, GraphicDesign.com readers can answer several interactive poll questions. With an ever-growing desire to engage its membership, GraphicDesign.com editors ask readers whether they would consider buying the Cloud membership, whether its pricing is on point, and what the most alluring features are.

Visit GraphicDesign.com for more information and to get the dish on Adobe Creative Cloud. The article and poll can be found HERE.

ABOUT GRAPHICDESIGN.COM

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The Trouble With The Suppliers of Software For Digital Publishing of eBooks and Apps

The digital publishing of ebooks and apps is still very much in its infancy, as is the provision of software to make this easier. Yet there is a major problem already obvious, the costing models for production software.

 

iBooks Author is free software for the creation of interactive books for the iPad

Publishers are used to a buy and use model for the software we use. We are very used to buying the Adobe Creative Suite or Quark Xpress and then, once we have bought it, the only cost is when we want to upgrade to the latest model. Nobody pays a fee per print magazine published or per book published. And frankly I doubt if any publisher would do so. Software is like office furniture; you buy it once and then keep using it.

But too many of the producers of software for digital publishing, whether it is Adobe, Quark or one of the myriad smaller companies, have a different model in mind. They want to either charge you per book design or magazine issue, per issue or book sold or a combination of both. For them it makes great sense – they create an on-going revenue stream. But for a publisher this is a disaster. It means that the production costs of a title may no longer be fixed, it may continue to grow as long as it is available for purchase. This could make publishing a back catalogue of titles that may sell little but, if you have enough of them out there, might provide a reasonable revenue stream. Not so if there is a yearly cost of continuing to offer each title. Now of course they’ll probably justify this in terms of the provision of server space for things like in-app purchase, or such like. But we all know that server space is now ludicrously cheap, or even free. When two to seven gigabytes of online file sharing storage is available for nothing from many sources it becomes very hard to justify on-going fees. And in many situations there is no need to providing hosting since they are hosted by the Apple Store or Amazon.

Until the developers of these tools realise that there is going to be on-going resistance from publishers to anything other than an outright buy the software and use it as you will model there will be continued resistance to these tools. Sure iBooks Author only outputs to the Apple Store, but it is free. Let’s hope Amazon provide something similar for interactive books on the Kindle Fire. We can hope that some enlightened company will produce something that is cross platform and can just be bought outright, and used at will.

No sensible person minds paying for upgrades, any sensible businessman resists bringing in a silent partner who requires paying all the time.

 

Copyright and the Artist in a Digital Age

Let’s be honest, copyright is a complete mess. There are differences in law from country to country and, in a day when putting an image on Facebook or your blog makes it vulnerable to attack under any copyright jurisdiction in the world, the risks are considerable.

The largest problem for artists is that techniques and approaches that they have grown up with do not apply in the digital. So I can legally take a magazine, cut out a photo and glue it onto a canvas to make a physical collage, but if I copy the same image off the magazine’s website and paste it into Photoshop I have breached copyright if I publish the result. It makes no sense, but unfortunately that is not a defence under the law.

Until the law catches up with the realities of the modern world we all need to be careful.

So what do I do when I need source images that I do not have in my own image library? Well, I do one of three things:

  • Buy them from a stock library, like iStockPhoto for a few dollars
  • Go out and shoot them myself
  • Google for open source or public domain images

My own image library is, of course, large. But it doesn’t cover everything. I have supplemented that with a number of collections of images on CD and DVD that I have bought the right to use. But what about when I can’t find what I want there either?

My preferred solution is iStockPhoto and the other micro stock libraries. I know I have the right to use and I have supported another artist in their activities. Everyone wins. This is the approach I use in designing book covers and also occasionally in artwork, though in my own artwork I prefer the integrity of using all my own imagery if at all possible.

Googling for open source, free or public domain images can be tricky. When you Google, what Google is doing is looking for pages where all those words occur. That means the words public and domain may occur on a page but not mean that the images are explicitly released into the public domain. To stand a better chance you need to enclose the phrases in quotes, as in “public domain’ or “open source” so that Google will only return pages where these expressions occur as is. Still what you then need to do is to then check the page the image occurs on to see if there is an explicit statement that the images are public domain.

Many government agencies make images available for use, such as US Government agencies like NASA. But you should always check the terms and conditions of use on the websites. They will be there somewhere.

In education it is common to take a more relaxed view over copyright when allowing students to experiment and develop experience and techniques. Note that while there are general exemptions under copyright law for educational uses, it is a grey area when it comes to then putting such images up on the Internet, which is effectively publishing. So students should be careful about publishing assignment work to Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc. While it may be acceptable to a teacher for a particular purpose, like a skill building exercise, that does not make it legal.

Photographers protect their work in many ways. There are encoding techniques that embed within an image traceable information that is capable for surviving extensive cropping and modification in Photoshop. This is a very effective way of identifying images on the net that have incorporated your work. Many professional photographers do this and it makes sense when your living is your images.

There is also the danger of urban myths. The main one relevant here is the idea that you can use a certain percentage of an image. This is just plain wrong. There is no percentage use figure in copyright law regarding images.

A complication is that copyright laws are constantly changing. Not only is there the general copyright law, which differs from country to country although there is general agreement on some aspects, as agreed by international conventions. Individual countries are also active with special legislation that covers certain areas of copyright. The US in particular is one country that has special digital laws and one where new laws are being proposed frequently in response to lobbying be areas of industry with particular interests.

All the above makes it a nightmare for digital artists. My advice is to be very conservative.

As is obvious, I am not a lawyer and this article does not constitute or substitute for legal advise. Seek the advice of a lawyer over your particular circumstances.

 

Simplicity vs Simple – The Confusion of Many Photographers

Simplicity vs Simple – these are two words that are so similar, but are also so different in meaning. And they trip photographers up every day.

Simplicity, elegance and purity are words that are associated with the best photographs. They talk to an image that wastes nothing on superfluous detail, on content that is not central to what the photograph is about. Many photographers, from Minor White and Ansel Adams to more modern masters like John Paul Caponigro, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Idris Khan all, in very different ways and with very different subject matter, bring simplicity to their work. Some have been directly inspired by ideas of simplicity inherent in Zen Buddhism, others with ideas of minimalism and abstraction from modern and contemporary art practice, and yet others from a desire to create an image that is coherent and whole.

Such an image is true to itself, the photographer who made it and the ideas the photographer was trying to capture. In fact, we sometimes think of them as honest images, and this is very close to the mark.

The process of creating such images is far from simple. The complexity in creating images with simplicity may lie in the actual equipment used, the photographic processes required to produce the final image or in the thought processes the photographer has needed to go through to get to that moment in time when it all comes together and the image is made, or in all of these.

Any photographic process is complex. Whether it is film in a pinhole that must be processed, dried, examined and then printed using more chemical processes and decisions at every step of the way or a completely digital one used the latest gear, complexity lies at every turn.

And this is where photographers are often confused – they believe that to create images with simplicity and elegance that they must use a simple process. The truth is there are no simple processes in photography. Chemical developing is complex, it only seems simple because of familiarity. Inkjet printing is likewise complex. And so it goes.

Processes do not have simplicity, elegance or purity. There is nothing pure about gum bichromate or film. People confuse processes from a more simple world with more simple processes. It is not true.

What a photographer should seek is a process or set of processes that allow them to express themselves most effectively. What those processes are does not matter in any way beyond the photographer. What matters is the resulting image. How the photographer got there may be interesting from a number of perspectives but is only a tiny part of the whole journey the photographer went on to produce that image. The most important process, what was going on in the photographer’s head, heart and soul generally lies hidden, only to be revealed by a careful contemplation of the image, consideration of the photographer’s other work, any writings they have provided about their thinking and perhaps some biographical study of the photographer’s life.

This is the real beauty of an image with simplicity – beneath that simplicity is a great and wonderful complexity of life, love and thought that brought the photographer to that point.

Where is your journey going to take you?

 

Thoughts on the Nikon D800

The Nikon D800 seems to be generating far more buzz and interest than other cameras released recently. Why is this?

On first sight it can be pure technological lust – here is a camera with a MUCH higher resolution than anything with a 35mm camera price tag. You need to go to medium format to find anything that competes on resolution. Is this all the interest is – size matters? I think the answer is partly yes, but only partly.

I think a lot of photographers are craving more flexibility in their cameras. This is one reason why so many of us accept the limitations but use our iPhones for a lot of photography. It is convenient and also flexible because of the enhancement of the shooting experience that apps bring us. One key part of flexibility is the ability to crop and crop savagely. With a digital camera this requires resolution and guess which camera is top of the heap on that regard at present? The D800.

Life is complex, we have so many competing demands on our time and there seems to be less time available to actually shoot. Think about the implications of having so much resolution available. I can go out with a 70-200, say, and crop to get the shot I might have taken if I had a 400, 600 or even higher focal length lens with me, without the hassle of paying for and carrying the damn thing, let along the time and possibly missed shots spent changing lenses, and still end up with an image with more resolution than I actually need for the end uses I have in mind. Yes I can use cropping as a substitute for swapping lenses or even having such a lens in the first place. This allows me to move the decision making to later, when I am sitting in front of a nice, large computer screen. It gives me flexibility in how I use my images later. I can really afford to not crop so tightly in camera and choose later whether I want a landscape, portrait or square shaped image.

Frankly, right now, if I had the spare cash I would get a D800 and a good lens or two even though I own Canon gear. It would make some of my landscape photography trips much easier. Even when going on holiday it would mean one camera and one lens could do it all, because I could crop the hell out of images to produce the shots I would have needed a telephoto lens for. One of the most common questions I get asked in my workshops is whether people can get away with just one lens when going on international holidays. The answer has always been that to get the range of focal lengths you need in one lens produces compromises in image quality. If you can get by with a much shorter focal length range and then crop to get the long end it becomes feasible at a higher image quality.

Photography should be fun and let’s be honest, it is not fun carrying a lot of heavy lenses around and having to swap them all the time. Having more resolution than you need gives you options. Use them.

 

What The Fuck Is Wrong With HP (and Everyone Else)

HP is a company I have always loved, whose products are well engineered and who have some of the brightest minds in Silicon Valley. So just what has got into HP and all the other computer makers, except Apple?

The recent news that HP has dropped the TouchPad a month after the US release and four days after the Australian one, the effective dropping of WebOS and the plans to follow IBM into a software and service future by offloading their PC business has amazed so many, me included.

If you believe the commentary going on, part of the blame is that companies like HP have very low profit margins on PC gear, whereas Apple does much better. And this might be the reason, but, if it is, no one has learned the proper lesson from this. I even read an article today saying that the right price for a tablet was US$300. And HP has sold well when dumping the TouchPad at very low prices. Now at this time the cheapest iPad 2 is US$499 and $579 here in Australia, and they seem to be selling all they can make. So something doesn’t add up here.

Historically Apple gear has always been more expensive than the competition. The iPod was more expensive than other MP3 players, the iPhone is more expensive than most other smartphones and the iPad is also more expensive than most tablets, including the HP one. The Macbook Air is likewise not overly cheap, and Macbook Pros, iMacs and PowerMacs are more expensive than superficially equivalent systems. Yet people buy them.

Apple has shown that people will pay more for superb design and excellent functionality. Apple has also shown a willingness to stick it out until products get accepted, as has happened with the Air. It was not always popular.

Yes, there is a very large part of the computer market that is extremely price sensitive, as shown by the run on TouchPads at $100 or so, but Apple’s experience has shown that there is a large segment that is not so price sensitive. Perhaps it would be better to say that there are customers for whom price is at or near the top of their priority list, and other customers for whom price is less critical and other factors count more.

Apple is not very reactive: it creates and makes other companies react to it. And any student of military history knows that you don’t win by giving your enemy the initiative. You must seize the initiative and make them react to you, and keep them doing so.

Oh what you could do with a company like HP and all that engineering experience. Rather than creating iPad wannabees, no matter how well they may be made, and undercutting on price, what about taking the opportunity to ‘Think Differently’ and do something unique, even if it takes several years for it to really catch on? Surely both shareholders and employees of HP should get the opportunity for some real benefit from the $1.2 billion spent all too recently on Palm?

We know that even an overpriced item will, due to Moore’s Law, come down in price as you get economies of scale and improvements in technology. So what about creating a truly drool-worthy tablet, laptop or some new category of device, even if the initial price will be US$1,000? Even if the production yields are quite low to start with it may not matter, as demand will be slow to start with. But as demand grows in line with better yields and lowering prices you have taken the initiative and others now have to react to you.

And beyond HP, what about all the other computer makers, phone makers and consumer electronics companies? All seem happy to innovate in little ways, a tweak here; a new feature there. Who is innovating anymore? Has the computer industry gone the way of Hollywood and will only rework old concepts or crank out more of the same in working franchises?

Apple has shown that you do not have to be the first in an area to win big. Apple didn’t release the first MP3 player or the first tablet. But they did release the best when they did. Let us be honest: the iPod is the best MP3 player, the iPhone is the best smartphone and the iPad is the best tablet, at present. Don’t let the annoyances that everyone feels with some of Apple’s policies and decisions get in the way of that realisation. Apple is the only real player in town and everyone else is following them.

How has Apple done what they have done? Two things. Stunning design for one. Secondly, they have taken all concepts to the extreme. The iPod eliminated almost all the buttons. The iPhone eliminated the keyboard and elevated the app to front and centre. The iPad also eliminated the keyboard completely, something many other tablet makers had tried to hang onto.

Apple has done some other things right too. Controlling both the hardware and software is a huge advantage. Though the gatekeeper role is annoying when apps that you really should be able to get are not approved, the controlled app environment for iPods, iPhones and iPads means that all the fear around malware is gone. And among less tech happy people fear is a BIG factor that holds them back from adopting new technology. I know many people who would never have bought another device, but have gone out and bought an iPhone or iPad and are buying and installing apps happily. Those same people would never have done that with Windows or Android.

It saddens me greatly to see an amazing company like HP walking away from an industry it helped found. Maybe the problem for HP is they have too many engineers and not enough dreamers. Because that is exactly what we need: dreamers in companies with the size and expertise to turn those dreams into reality.