Android Looking More Like a Good Platform to Develop For (or Has Apple Crossed to the Darkside)

An article from today on Fast Company presents some really interesting information about smart phone takeup rates and market penetration, so I recommend you go to the article and look it over. It has me thinking about many things to do with the iPhone and iPad.

What it shows is that while smart phones are still a small 19% of the total phone market, Android-based smart phones are doing very well in the market. Specifically, since third quarter 2009 the % of smartphones that use the Android platform has been rising smartly at exactly the same time that the % of smart phones from RIM (Blackberry) and Apple have dropped. Of course that does not mean that their overall numbers have dropped, or even stopped growing, but rather that as a % of all smart phones they have dropped slightly.

What this means for developers of applications is that they should not simply focus on Blackberry and iPhone development, but need to get behind Android too.

It would be speculation to discuss why the rapid rise of Android, and that is exactly what we will do. While I love my iPhone 3Gs, what I really love is the ability to easily use my phone to hold my music collection, apps that let me do productive work on the phone and the nice way it plays with my Apple computers and their software. There are things I do not like about my iPhone, such as only being able to put Apps on it that Apple has censored and approved, unless I am willing to jail break it. This seems too much like Stalinist Russia for my tastes.

Up until now Android phones have not been something I have paid much attention to, rather I’ve been concentrating on the iPhone and iPad and getting my head around app development for those and website compatibility with the iPad browser. That changes as of today.

While like everyone else in Australia I am awaiting my iPad arrival, I am considering my future relationship with Apple. I’ve been an Apple user since the Apple II, indeed I made some money writing games for it, and I love the present generation of Apple laptops and desktops. Mac OS is a joy to use. But I am worried about the direction Apple is taking with the iPad. Whilst I can understand major restrictions on apps on a phone, since in the end it is primarily a phone and so I really don’t want any apps to screw things up when I need to make a call, the iPad is more like a laptop, only better. Apple seem to be shaping up to treat the iPad the same way as the iPhone, and I do not believe this is appropriate. I don’t believe it is appropriate because I can see the iPad in future iterations taking over from the laptop. My wife, for example, could do all she needs to do on a computer on an iPad-like device. No problems.

Why, for God’s sake, should:

  • I only be able to add applications to it from the Apple store?
  • Apple get to be the sole arbiter of what applications I can run?
  • I not be able to use my iPhone to provide Internet access to my iPad when away from a Wi-Fi hotspot?
  • I not be able to view Flash websites if I choose to? SUre if it is so bad given me a way to turn Flash off but leave the decision up to me if I am willing to suffer shorter battery life, etc.
  • I have to break the license agreement and jailbreak the iPad to do some or all of the above?

If the iPad were given away and Apple made its money solely off the services I would have no issue with the above constraints. But when I am paying an amount of money that would buy me a full fledged and open laptop, then it is different matter.

I am very concerned about the censorship issue inherent in Apple’s sole control over apps. While many Americans seem to have an issue with nipples (which is their right), this is not a mental illness that affects the whole world or even all Americans. If apps contains content you don’t like, don’t load it and use it. Surely it is that simple. And if Apple want to look after the young kid market put in an app rating system and let parents (or schools) set a level lock on content. The problem with censorship is that one person’s send them to hell pornography is another person’s healthy content. Sure, there is consensus among anyone with a brain that child pornography is bad news, but even there as the fairly recent controversy here in Australia over the photographer Bill Henson shows, there is not universal agreement about where the line is to be drawn. Censorship is a dangerous and steep slope, as Australia is finding over the government’s net censorship approach. And so Apple would do well to step away from this dangerous area and treat its customers as grown ups who are capable of making their own decisions.

It was an American, I believe, who said I may hate what you have to say, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it. As long as Apple is the only way to legally put apps on an iPhone or iPad, surely they are violating the 1st Amendment right to free speech? One of the few things I envy the Americans for is their constitution that is also a great aspirational document.

Apologies for the long, wandering post. Perhaps my current reading of Stephen King’s Under the Dome has made me cautious of what too much power in a few hands can do.

Economic Pressures and Your Photography Business

With all the doom and gloom around about the economy it is a good time to reflect on its potential impact, strategies to work with it and make it a positive for your photography or related business.
When an economic crisis hits, the natural reaction is for business to rein in its expenditures and that usually means a drop in marketing and advertising budgets, reduced spending on new equipment and software and, if one is not careful, a self-fulfilling depression. Yet a careful read of the literature shows that there is a bright side.

There is lots of experience with downturns, recessions and even depressions. It is not clear just how bad this one will be. But in all prior ones there have been businesses that have, from a sound base, expanded during the negative times. These businesses know that when everyone else is pulling back from marketing that it makes their own marketing efforts even more noticeable and they get a bigger impact from a given dollar spend.

The key is having a sound business to start with. If you have the right systems in place, a decent cash flow, control over costs and some money in the bank, then you can do well. Business still happens in the worse of times and the issue is whether you can exploit it. Now you may have to be a bit creative, but isn’t that what our business is all about?

There are things you can put in place to help:

  • Have a careful look at your costs and look for ways to trim any, such as find better phone or Internet plans;
  • Seek ways to expand your market reach;
  • Look to diversify your sources of income, such as moving into stock;
  • Maximize PR opportunities, by doing a competition, charity work, donated services, a strong personal project with good PR potential, etc;
  • Make sure your website is up to date exciting, and keep it so;
  • Seek to increase your marketing activities in smart ways.

Also be open to interesting solutions. As one example, as well as publishing Digital ImageMaker, we also design websites for people, especially photographers and other creatives. With the fall in the Australian dollar against the Greenback, a website done by us is now about 40% cheaper. That means a full content management system based, complex website is amazingly cheap to do, and you get to deal with people who speak English, well our version of it. We are working on one such site for an American photographer as I write this. This is but one example of finding a positive out of something that could be seen as a negative, the relative fall of the Aussie dollar. For Australians reading this, we are still very reasonably priced, since we don’t charge the 10’s of thousands of dollars that many do for a complex site. We got the development of those well worked out in doing DIMi and the 100 or so similar sites we have done for ourselves and others. I’ve written elsewhere about website strategies. Whenever things have been a bit slow we have used this time to work on our own websites or develop new ones. A website will not automatically bring you a lot of business, but it is a key part of an overall approach to doing so.

As an economic slowdown starts to bite, you may find you have more time on your hands as the work slows. This slack time is not a time to be idle, as this is more likely to make you depressed. Rather it is a time to dust off that equipment you haven’t used for some time and try something new, work on that personal body of work and do some planning about upcoming work or the future work you want to do. In other words, keep busy. There are always more things for a creative person to do than they have time to do, so now is the time to dust off some of those tasks you have not had time for. To borrow an analogy from nature, an economic downturn is like winter. It is not the end, since we know spring will always come. Rather it is a time to recharge, to sharpen our tools, create new life, and get ready for the spring.

Remember something that is key: economic downturns upset the status quo. This means that if a strong competitor has dominated your local market, for example, a downturn can actually apply pressure that you may be better prepared for than them. Part of this is psychology: a successful competitor may feel too comfortable and thus just pull back their efforts, feeling safe to do so. But part can also be economic: you don’t know how much they have borrowed to finance their growth in the past, to pick one example, and thus how much room they have to cope with reduced cash flow. As we have all seen recently, businesses that look great from the outside can be on quite shaky ground.

Don’t get this wrong: the economic downturn can certainly be very bad for your photography business, but it need not be. Much depends on you, your approach and the foundations you have to build on. A low overhead home-based business, for example, may be in a much better position to cope than a heavily financed street front operation and a street front business with multiple sources of work can do much better than a more tightly defined one.

Put a good team of people around you, such as your accountant and lawyer. Keep your chin up and look for opportunities. They are everywhere.

Computational Photography: The Future Has Just Begun

Photography has been benefiting from the computational capabilities of computers for many years. But so far we have only scratched the surface of what is possible.
Computational photography is the application of computer algorithms and processing to the art and science of photography. It is not new but even today we have only just begun to see the potential. It is time to put your seat belt on.

We have been benefiting from the influence of computers in our photography for a very long time. Optical design was revolutionized by computer ray tracing. It was responsible for the blossoming of more and more complex but quality lens designs of the last 40 years. More recently the development of sophisticated matrix-type light metering was a product of the ability to embed a simple but for the day quite powerful computer within a camera.

If we jump forward to today we have significant in-camera processing capability to handle color profiles, sharpening and more. Software is available that can process images post-shoot to reduce image noise (Noise Ninja ad the like), expand the dynamic range (HDR Imaging) and even expand the depth of field of an image (Photoshop CS4). But this is only the start and many of these solutions do not work as well as we would like.

The problem, at present, is that there is little or no in-camera support for these processes. Sure cameras may offer exposure bracketing that can help with doing HDR, but most cameras still only offer a three-frame bracket, rather than the five to nine that we might want for HDR. Focus bracketing does not exist at all and so far in-camera noise reduction often makes the situation worse. Sadly most camera manufacturers assume that their customers are either people shooting their kids or pros shooting sport or portrait. For many of us the biggest use we get of burst mode is coupled with exposure bracketing to shoot a sequence of exposures in very rapid succession.

Now imagine what is possible. We could have a camera that can shoot a nine-exposure bracket at VERY high speed so that HDR of moving subjects becomes possible. The camera could do the HDR combination in camera and at high speed, so only one file gets written to the memory card (although a large one), or it can be left for processing off camera. A version of this can also be used to address image noise, since HDR does a good job of eliminating shadow noise. Focus bracketing can be supported in camera, as an addition to the in-camera exposure, ISO or white balance bracketing we have now. Again in-camera processing of the focus bracket images could be done, but is not essential. Even without in-camera full processing, if the camera placed multiple images from bracketing into an image stack structure on the memory card it would make life a bit easier later. A new approach to lens and sensor design could allow infinite depth of field and post-shoot selectable focus points and dof without having to take more than one shot. Or we can use the existing approach of merging different focus point shots. We could (and at least one camera already does) capture images before and after we press the shutter to allow us to choose the magic moment after the shot. We could even extract depth information along with the color and brightness data, allowing at least some ability to change viewpoint post-shoot. Multispectral imaging could move out of spy satellites and aerial photography and into your camera, allowing post-shoot choice of infrared, UV or mixed spectrum images. Integration of the camera with accessory robotic panorama heads will make for painless panoramas.

All the above is possible now and has been demonstrated in one form or another. So now we can picture an amazing camera. It shoots 30 frames per second at full resolution for short bursts. This allows for HDRI infinite depth of field shooting of moving subjects. Some degree of processing is done in camera, even if it is just creating image stacks. Focus bracketing is built in. You select the two focal limits before the shot is taken and the camera works out the required steps in between. Because of the high-speed capture you can choose over what time frame the images are saved for later choice, choosing to save five frames before and after the shot, for example. More than just RGB is captured. Depth information is also stored with each pixel for later processing or s extracted later from the focus bracket data. This coupled with automatic GPS recording aids the later production of 3D virtual versions of the location provided we shoot from at least three viewpoints sometime during the time on location.  A port allows connection to the motorized tripod head for panorama shooting and the camera will store the images in one image stack ready for processing. This camera could be built today. You are not going to need this for shooting your kids at their ballet class, but there are many professional and serious amateur photographers who would kill for a camera like this. I know I would.

To implement the above fully you would want a sensor that was capable of being read at somewhere between thirty and sixty frames per second. The sensor could be mounted into a two stage mount that as well as providing the in-body image stabilization and anti-dust systems also can micro move the sensor relative to the Bayer filter for higher resolution and genuine full color sampling at each pixel site. The motors used for AF would now have an additional use for focus bracketing and depth extraction. The processor power of the camera would be greatly enhanced by the used of multiple image processing chips to distribute the process load and handle the vast amount of information being produced. A second sensor in the optical path would assist with depth extraction that mainly makes use of the information gained from the focus bracketing process. The processors would need very high-speed buffer memory to hold all the information produced while it is being written to storage cards. Early versions would leave most of the fancy processing to post-shoot work on your desktop or laptop using a sort of super-RAW file. Over time you would have the option to have more processing done in camera.

Such a camera as above would be fantastic for architectural as well as landscape photography, fine art, still life and many other types. These types of photography are characterized by careful setup and low shooting rates, so it really doesn’t matter if, with all these features turned on, the camera can only shoot one image every two to five seconds. In the future this time can shrink massively but it wouldn’t really be essential so long as the actual capture time was short.

But all the above still only represents a start on what computation photography can do. We can see the above from where we are now, but the real potential we have not yet clued into. You can be assured of one thing: photography will always remain photography, but the potential for creative expression will be even greater.

Canon’s Latest Camera Offerings

We consider Canon’s latest camera offerings and just what it means.
Well it has been a long time coming but the replacement to the 5D is announced and it is not called the 6D. The 5D Mark II seems to be a mix of the new DiGIC 4 sensor combined with the sensor resolution off the 1Ds Mark III (21.1 Mpixels). That combination seems to raise some more questions. It also brings HD video recording to the Canon range, just as the A900 has to Sony’s. This is a feature we will see spreading to many more models.

Canon has had issues with the DiGIC 3 chipset, at least in the top end models, and it would seem elsewhere from the rapid replacement of the 40D with the 50D, unless it was just prompted by the increased competition from Nikon and others. Now we have the 5D Mark II. Can a replacement for the 1Ds Mark III be far away at all? I would not be surprised if Canon launched its replacement as a show stealer at Photokina. It would make perfect sense as a counter to all the good press Nikon has achieved lately and would mean that they have diced the troublesome DiGIC 3 chipset across the attention getting models. We will have to wait and see.

A replacement for the 1Ds Mark III has to now come, and come quickly because the 5D Mark II looks like a much cheaper and far more capable alternative. Canon cannot leave that situation for long, as I am sure that all discretionary 1Ds Mark III purchases will now have stopped. The only ones still selling will be when people have no choice but to replace a camera or at the end of the market where price is really no option.

Canon 5D Mark II digital camera

So what should a 1Ds Mark IV look like? Well, a conservative model would boast a 24 or 25Mpixel sensor but a much more likely model would be a 30Mpixel or so sensor with one or two DiGIC 4 processors and perhaps even full 16-bit A/D converters.

What is interesting is the substantial delay between this announcement of the 5D Mark II and availability. If you compare this to the latest Sony announcement with stock available one month later then it is a hefty lead time.

Of course the 5D Mark II was not the only announcement today. Also announced were the G10, also a DiGIC 4 upgrade (do we see a pattern yet?), some new compacts and the 24mm f1.4 L Mark II lens. Sadly Canon did not take the opportunity to put a decent sized sensor, like an APS-C one, in a G model. Now that would really be a special compact.

5D Mark II press release follows:

Key Features:
*         35mm full-frame CMOS sensor with 21.1 megapixels
*         Live View movies in Full High Definition (industry first)
*         Live View shooting (AF mode: Quick, Live, Live Face Detection)
*         DiG!C 4 Image Processor
*         ISO speed range 100-6400 (expandable to 50-25600) (Canon first)
*         3.9 frames per second (fps) with continuous shooting up to 78 shots in a single burst
*         Newly designed, high-performance viewfinder (viewfinder coverage 98%)
*         3-inch, fine detail LCD monitor (920,000 dots, VGA)

Sydney, 17 September 2008: Canon Australia today announced the highly-anticipated EOS 5D Mark II Digital SLR camera, successor to Canon’s acclaimed EOS 5D. The new model sets the benchmark in full-frame Digital SLR cameras and is perfect for enthusiasts and professional photographers seeking unrivalled image quality and high performance.

The EOS 5D Mark II boasts a range of new features, enabling users to take their photography to unprecedented levels, including Live View movies in Full High Definition (HD) and increased ISO capabilities to an incredible range of 50-25600.

Packed with Canon’s core technologies, the EOS 5D Mark II ensures Canon users continue to achieve the superior quality and creative control that they have become accustomed to with the popular predecessor model.

“Canon is pleased to announce the new EOS 5D Mark II, developed to push the boundaries of creative photography even further,” states Chris Macleod, Brand Manager – EOS, Consumer Imaging Products Group, Canon Australia. “Canon’s impressive 21.1 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor, coupled with Live View Movies in Full HD and wider ISO capabilities, enables Canon to continually bring incredible performance to photographers.”

Full Frame for Fine Detail and High Image Quality
Central to the EOS 5D Mark II’s outstanding image quality is its high resolution 35mm full-frame, 21.1 megapixel CMOS sensor. In addition, 14-bit A/D conversion results in finer tonal gradation.

The EOS 5D Mark II offers the widest ISO speed range of any EOS digital camera, with a standard range of 100-6400, which can be extended to an incredible 50-25600 with ISO expansion (three stops more than its predecessor). Like never before, photographers are now able to capture incredible subject detail in extremely low light conditions. In addition, precise, low noise images can be achieved using the low ISO speeds – a must for professionals and high end enthusiasts who are producing large detailed images.

The EOS 5D Mark II also features Canon’s newly developed DiG!C 4 Image Processor, recently announced in Canon’s new EOS 50D. Building on DiG!C III’s high-speed rendering of fine detail and natural colour reproduction, DiG!C 4 provides even faster signal processing. This detailed processing of large-volume data at extremely high speed satisfies professional demands for exceptional image quality and responsiveness in any shooting situation.

New Features to Expand Shooting Possibilities
The EOS 5D Mark II features Live View movies and boasts an industry first with Full HD recording quality. Canon incorporated this feature in response to photographer’s demands for a camera that could shoot both stills and video in High Definition. In any shooting mode users can capture still photos and movies in Full HD quality or standard TV quality (VGA), making this the ideal camera for photographers who need to efficiently capture stills and movies without compromising on quality.

Like other Canon DSLR models, the EOS 5D Mark II features Live View shooting with Auto Focus capabilities. This allows photographers to preview images in real time on the 3.0-inch VGA LCD monitor with 920,000 dots for greater flexibility and creative composition. Similar to the recently announced EOS 50D, the EOS 5D Mark II also features live Face Detection mode in Live View shooting. By distinguishing human faces in each shot and adjusting the focus and exposure accordingly, Live Face Detection allows photographers to ensure their subjects are captured clearly and accurately.

Compatible with Canon’s range of EF lenses (excluding EF-S lenses), the EOS 5D Mark II is the camera for serious enthusiasts and professional photographers who to take their photography further with no limitations.

Canon Launches New High-Performance Wide Angle Lens
To support its extensive EOS system, Canon has also announced a new high-grade, fast, wide angle lens for professional photographers, the EF24mm f/1.4L II USM (successor to the EF24mm f/1.4L USM). The new lens is the brightest large diameter f/1.4 high-performance wide-angle L lens in the 24mm class. Improvements have been made in the periphery area of the lens, a requirement brought about from the rapid advancement of high resolution sensors available in EOS DSLRs. The circular aperture in the new EF24mm f/1.4L II USM produces beautiful blur effects and the also offers high resistance to dust and water droplets.

The Perfect DSLR Companion – the PowerShot G10
Canon also welcomed the PowerShot G10 to its second half 2008
line-up. Incorporating DSLR capabilities into a compact body, the PowerShot G10 makes the ideal companion to the EOS 5D Mark II. An upgrade from the highly acclaimed G9, the PowerShot G10 features Canon’s new DiG!C 4 Image Processor, new 28mm wide lens and increased megapixels while retaining the prized RAW format mode. Canon’s PowerShot G10 will impress professionals or photo enthusiasts looking to support their DSLR gear with a more portable option.

The EOS 5D Mark II body will be available in Body Only (RRP TBC), and as a Premium Kit with the EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens (RRP $TBC). These kits will all be available from December 2008 through Canon dealers nationally. For more information customers can contact Canon on 1800 021 167, or visit the website at canon.com.au.

About Canon
Canon Australia is a leading provider of advanced, simple-to-use imaging solutions for businesses and consumers. Canon’s Australian R&D company, CiSRA, develops customised solutions for local customers, and exports digital imaging technologies for use in Canon products worldwide. Canon has ranked among the top-three US patent recipients for the past 16 years, and had global revenues of around $US39 billion in 2007. Canon Australia also operates Canon Finance Australia, which offers one-stop shopping for customers wanting leasing or finance services. For more information, visit canon.com.au

It is Time for DSLR Manufacturers with Courage

The dSLR market is maturing and so it is time for camera manufacturers to develop some courage and dare to be different.
While there are lots of lovely things happening in the dSLR market, with excellent new models rolling out, there is a need for change as so many of these models just seem to be slight variations on the same.

It is time for manufacturers of courage to emerge who will bring out specialist dSLR models that can better meet the needs of particular, niche market segments. Now some manufacturers have done just this, with things like the Canon astrophotography dSLR (now withdrawn), the Nikon aimed at forensic work and the Fuji for infrared photography. But there are much larger niches than these.

The niche market of particular passion to me is black and white photography, and particularly infrared photography. Imagine a mono model. It would have no Bayer color filter, so there is no color interpolation to do, speeding up image processing and reducing the RAW file size. It would also have no IR blocking filter and perhaps no anti-moiré filter, so the images will be sharper straight from the camera. Ideally it would have selectable infrared blocking and visible blocking filters that move into and out of the light path and influence both the image taking sensor and the AF/AE sensors so that focus and exposure will be correct no matter which mode it is used in. Such a camera would be widely applicable to most segments of photography, if they shoot enough mono to want a dedicated body.

Another possible niche, and one related to the above would be multi-spectrum imaging. Since a Bayer filter most naturally used four pixels to cover the color range, image a camera where the Bayer filter is cell filters for RGB and IR, perhaps, or four visible light filters that allow for greater color accuracy and dynamic range. Such a filter could allow, with processing, for either more accurate natural color rendition or false color images, depending on how it is processed.

There are also camera features from the past that have gone out of fashion that perhaps could be brought back. The most obvious is the interchangeable viewfinder from cameras like the Canon F1 or the Nikon F2, etc. This way you could work with an optical waist-level finder when you wanted to and an eye-level viewfinder at other times. There is no technical reason why a dSLR could not have one. Waist level finders have immense use in so many areas of photography, from macro to careful landscape photography.

Since cameras are really computers highly dedicated to one purpose, a courageous manufacturer would open a model up at the software level and allow users to extend the functionality and indeed create completely new ways of using the camera. Afterall, computer manufacturers don’t lock their models up, rather they from a suitable applications programming interface (API) so that others can write applications to make the computer do useful things. Imagine a camera where you could do this. Perhaps have a Reset button or an Original Mode button that switches back to the manufacturer’s setup for those times when a bug arrives. CHDK exists for many Canon compact camera models, but this does not have Canon’s sanction and is rather a hacking exercise. The fact that this works proves that such a scheme is possible.

Sadly most camera manufacturers, or perhaps it is just the marketing types who manage them, are not very imaginative. They are risk averse and so we end up with a lot of similar models. New features, the most recent example of which is Live Preview, crop up and then everyone has to adopt them out of fear of being left behind. But no one, or perhaps few, are willing to stand out from the crowd. We need some risk takers in the photography industry.

There are plenty of niche camera makers and products for niche markets. The problem is that the mainstream manufacturers, Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony and Olympus, all are not so used to thinking about niche markets. The fact is there can be a tidy market in niche areas, and of course you can also leverage the exposure 🙂 to assist your marketing in other areas. There have to be as many B&W and even IR photographers out there as there are, say, people who will buy a Leica rangefinder. If you can make money (presumably) on a special camera like that then there must be a better business case for a camera that would be mostly identical to an existing model, with slight (relatively) component and assembly differences and different firmware.

I think it is time for the mainstream manufacturers to start looking outside the box a bit and thinking differently. Imagine a version of the upcoming Sony 24MP or the likely Canon 6D that could do BW and IR. At the likely resolution of the 6D and certainly of the Sony there will be less urgency to revise the BW model as frequently, so they could likely get a much longer life from the model before updating it.

There is, I believe, an opportunity. Let us see if anyone has the guts to take it up.

Some Thoughts on dSLR Camera Live Preview

With most manufacturers in a mad rush to add live preview to their newest dSLR cameras, it is worth considering its value for serious photographers.
Many manufacturers see live preview as an important component in helping to migrate compact camera users over onto dSLRs. Frankly I find this very scary. While live preview is very handy on small, light compact cameras in many picture taking situations, it worries me thinking of people holding a much heavier SLR at arm’s length. Thankfully there are some serious uses for live preview.

Many come to photography later in life and with an aging population there are more photographers than ever with eyesight issues. There are times when an SLR viewfinder, wonderful and bright as they are, can be hard to use for some people. What live preview does in such situations is provide an alternative way of shooting that may work better for the particular person’s eyesight.

Many of us miss the days of waist-level viewfinders. There is something wonderful and transcendental from using a waist-level finder. It slows you down and can make your photography more considered. Of course many cameras would benefit from having a folding light-shading hood fitted to the LCD and it really helps if the LCD is a tilting, rotating kind.

Shooting at low level, in difficult positions or shooting over your head in a crowd all benefit from live preview. Too often it is so much easier to just shoot the world from your eye level. Changing this perspective can be a great aid to getting the right shot. Trouble is you often don’t want to get your clothes dirty, get wet or muddy, just to get the shot you want. There will be times when, to fit photography into your life, you will go out shooting in good clothes. Plus with aging many of us have trouble getting into some positions so that you can see through the viewfinder.

Macro photography is one area where many of the above factors can come into play. Here live preview is very helpful. On some cameras live preview with manual focus offers a hugely magnified view that makes focusing easy. On some cameras, such as the Olympus E-3 I am testing at present, even depth of field preview works in live preview. DOF preview is a useful tool but has always been somewhat limited by the fact that the viewfinders goes so dark when you are working quite stopped down. On the E-3, and probably some other live preview cameras, you can press the dof preview button and all that changes on the LCD is which areas are sharp and which are blurred. It is amazing and for those who have struggled with dof preview in the past is something you really have to try. For the first time it really allows precise dof preview judgment.

Other specialist areas, such as astrophotography and using the camera with a microscope, and even underwater photography, also benefit from live preview. With some cameras live previews gives you a working view even with an infrared filter in place for IR shooting.

Live preview is great for dof judgment
Here I show you how live preview works with depth of field preview (stop down) on an Olympus E-3. We go from wide open at the top to f22 at the bottom.

It is very important to note that not all live preview cameras are the same and offer the same ease of use and capabilities. The update rate of the live capture display, for example, can greatly affect how useful it is, as are things like whether auto-focus works or not. Olympus does seem to be further along in making all camera functions still work in live preview. Sony also seems to be heading the right way with the new A350. So pay very careful attention to what you are getting if making a camera purchase decision and live preview is important.

Sony’s New dSLR Models

A couple of days ago I attended a press event by Sony where there were many interesting discussions about Sony’s cameras and future.
Sony’s current dSLR line-up is the A700, A350 and A200. There is also an A300 in some markets.

The A700 is the oldest model in the range and the first all Sony model. The older A100 was a mix of Konica-Minolta and Sony technology. It was clear from the discussions that Sony, while happy to purchase the entire KM manufacturing plant, was not entirely happy with Minolta technology and so was very keen with the A700 to raise manufacturing tolerances and change some of the mechanisms to improve reliability and longevity. The A700 is Sony’s current top model and is aimed at the serious amateur and perhaps the semi-professional. It is a 12Mpixel model and it is interesting that the A700 is likely to stay in the lineup for some time.

Sony Alpha 700 digital SLR

The A350 is their first model using the new 14Mpixel chip and is also their first model with Liveview. For Sony’s Liveview implementation they put a Cybershot sensor in the pentaprism with a mirror that flips into the lightpath to feed the chip. This gives them a Liveview that continues to work at up to two frames per second of shooting.

Sony Alpha 350 digital SLR

The A200 is Sony’s new entry level model and does not feature Liveview.

Sony Alpha 200 digital SLR

We’ll be reviewing these models shortly, along with having a god test of the Carl Zeiss lenses.

Beyond discussion of the current camera models, the discussion of Sony’s future plans was most interesting. Sony have two lines of lenses for their dSLRs: their own and the Carl Zeiss lenses. All the Carl Zeiss lenses and many of Sony’s are designed to cover the full 35mm frame, not just the APS-C size of Sony’s current models. Sony will be rolling out more Carl Zeiss models later this year. They would not be doing this if they did not intend to go full-frame soon.

Sony’s product cycle will bring the next dSLR models in the August/September timeframe. Sony did let slip that now that they felt they had great models for the amateur that their next target was the professional market.  It was pointed out that since their full frame 24Mpixel sensor was now in full production that it might not be unreasonable to expect an announcement at Photokina in September 2008 related to this in a camera. I’d say the fact that they are rolling out lots of high-end full frame Carl Zeiss lenses provides some extra support to this belief. So I am expecting a full frame, 24Mpixel professional dSLR to be announced at Photokina.

Sony has a huge professional support network worldwide for their broadcast video products, a market that they completely dominate. It was pointed out by Sony that this network is, in fact, much larger than both Canon and Nikon’s similar systems because of the massive number of television stations and other pro video users they support and that this network could readily provide support for Sony pro still cameras as soon as Sony felt they had a serious enough offering to make it worthwhile.

Another topic of discussion will re-assure Minolta users: Sony has no intention to make any changes to either the lens mount or the inclusion in the camera body of the autofocus motor, thus ensuring ongoing support for Minolta AF lenses.

In other news, Sony Australia has launched a dSLR section of their site with forums and how-to articles for alpha users: http://dslr.sony.com.au/SonyAlpha/

I came out of the meeting convinced that we are about to see some significant moves from Sony and some most interesting products. Certainly the A200, A350 and A700 look the part and offer a great selection of features. Competition is good and with a Nikon that seems to have recently got their act together again, Olympus pushing forward, Pentax delivering an impressive camera with the K20D and a Canon 5D replacement expected at Photokina, the dSLR market is looking most interesting.

Technology Futures’ Top 19 Technology Trends for 2008

For the fourth year running, Technology Futures, Inc. (TFI) provides a list of forward-looking trends for the coming year that will have great consequence to those involved with global business, technology business process, science and universities, government agencies, federal labs, corporate labs, and technology savvy consumers.
Press Release

 Commenting on the list, author David Smith (Vice President, TFI) states, “2005 and 2006 were periods spent building capacity and capabilities. 2007 and 2008 are years of transition. We saw tipping points in 2007 in several technology areas, such as broadband penetration and the death of single core processing chips.” He continues, “2008 will be a dynamic year impacted by possible actions such as the potential financial instability including the threat of recession, changes in the geopolitical environment, and further changes to the landscape of business.”

For the fourth year running, Technology Futures, Inc. (TFI) provides a list of forward-looking trends for the coming year that will have significant impact on companies that use technology for competitive advantage. These predictions differ from our normal activities where TFI traditionally looks further out into the future. Commenting on the list, author David Smith (Vice President, TFI) states, “2005 and 2006 were periods spent building capacity and capabilities. 2007 and 2008 are years of transition. We saw tipping points in 2007 in several technology areas, such as broadband penetration and the death of single core processing chips.” He continues, “2008 will be a dynamic year impacted by possible actions such as the potential financial instability including the threat of recession, changes in the geopolitical environment, and further changes to the landscape of business.”

The list below provides more information on these trends and others that will be of great consequence to those involved with global business, technology business process, science and universities, government agencies, federal labs, corporate labs, and technology savvy consumers.

Top 19 Technology Trends for 2008

1. Green, Green, Green–during 2008, every thing turns green.

The greening of information technology (IT) started in 2007, but will pick up speed and spread to all parts of both the corporate and consumer domains. This includes efforts at conserving power, more efficient procedures, less travel, and many other activities to save resources. Some companies will step up to the challenge, but look for major shifts in R&D budgets and collaborative
partnerships to reflect this trend.

2. Peer-to-peer (P2P) rebrands itself and becomes an ad-supported connection between consumers, business, and content producers.

This connection is an extension to the pace of adoption of Reed’s Law, the law of increasing global enterprises arising from group-group connections. Video and collaborative applications will be the driver. The drive toward ad hoc, multi-party collaboration will increase because of the P2P nature and its impact on trust.

3. The IT industry’s key players dramatically increase the migration of core offerings.

Applications, business intelligence, storage, imaging, CRM, etc. will migrate to online delivery models as a key method for profitably serving high-growth markets, particularly small and medium-sized businesses. Web mashups that combine data from more than one source into one integrated tool will be the dominant model for the creation of composite enterprise applications and will peak around 2012. Mashup technologies will evolve significantly over the next five years, and application leaders must take this evolution into account when evaluating the impact of mashups and in formulating an enterprise mashup strategy.

4. The fabric of the enterprise computing and data center begins to change considerably.

New definitions of what a server is, new definitions of bladed workstations, and even a massive change in storage will occur. As server virtualization use continues to expand to a wider range of users and industries, a growing number of companies will opt to use iSCSI as the supporting SAN fabric for the servers being consolidated.

5. Flash memory hits the mainstream in a big way.

Against popular opinion, last year we accurately predicted the mainstreaming of flash with several fabs being put into production, and the vast majority of these fabs producing flash chips. We saw major technology companies introducing computers without disk drives, with flash being considerably faster and more durable than current disk drives. Those predictions have proven true, with 64GB now available, affordable, smaller solid-state disks will be hitting the mainstream in a big way, leading to more crash-resistant and faster laptops. Flash-based storage makes a move toward the datacenter both as a green and a faster access option. Flash-based storage, whose cost/GB is rapidly approaching magnetic disks, offers the additional benefits of 10 times the performance, higher storage densities, and much lower power consumption. Flash also makes handheld devices more competitive to laptop PCs.

6. Voice no longer drives communications.

It is more than just voice. The march toward digital convergence and unified communications picks up steam. In the business enterprise, IP telephony has reached about 25% of the global market, with most organizations testing the waters for wider deployment. The movement of Microsoft and others into this space will enhance its uptake. The growth of presence information and collaborative tools will move from the consumer space into the enterprise with the goal of integrating business communication with workflows and common business applications.

7. Significant growth driven by WiFi is apparent across communications hardware providers and carriers.

2008 will be the year to watch for significant growth across communication hardware providers and carriers in the number of users with WiFi-enabled cell phones, and even the takeoff of WiFi on airplanes. Carriers who embrace WiFi will deliver significant value-add to their subscribers through a full browsing experience and easy access to Web services and other communications options. One-to-one cell conferencing appears and new location-centric collaboration emerges.

8. A new paradigm arrives in the wireless markets.

As the precursor appeared in 2007, 2008 will see increased transformation as mobile network operators open up their networks. Look for a new paradigm in pricing, equipment, and services. This change is based on mounting pressure from Web gadgets and open development efforts such as Google’s Android and the Open Handset Alliance. Mobile network operators will have to begrudgingly open up their networks to any device and any application. Mobile networks will not only open up to outside handsets, devices, and applications, but media content, search, social networks, conferencing, shopping, and a variety of services will all be standard parts of the mobile network experience.

9. WiMAX continues its consolidation and makes many changes during the year.

The market will consolidate around both device makers and chip companies, but the industry will grow especially in fixed access and sensor applications. M-Taiwan will become the showplace for future applications.

10. Internet video of all types increases.

From flash-centric social media to enterprise video application to IP HD video these will all be taking market share away from satellite and will begin to impact cable.

11. Digital convergence enters a new stage of growth, finally beginning to exploit the benefits of horizontal digital convergence.

The need for higher profits, value partnering, and time compression forces traditional companies to look for solutions and capabilities outside of their traditional vertical industries. An example is the health industry looking at the new Nintendo Wii game console, with its motion sensitive controllers, as a way to motivate exercise and physical therapy.

12. Advertising revenue increases as new applications emerge and as tens of millions of users use
immersive worlds and play massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs).

With broadband penetration well
up the curve globally (wireline and wireless), the movement of advertising will increase as new applications emerge and as huge numbers of users increasingly use immersive worlds and MMOGs. These new worlds and game sites are some of the stickiest on the Web, resulting in some of the highest levels of time spent per month online. This indicates they are becoming a primary form of online communication for some users. Look for the launch of asynchronous multiplayer games. The income from advertising will justify free market sustainable residential broadband. The net neutrality issue will be resolved in 2009 -2011.

13. Outsourcing transitions to smart sourcing. Horizontal convergence will further build upon the transitioning of outsourcing to smart sourcing.

Smart sourcing is when organizations utilize the Reed’s law approach of self forming groups to help identify, jointly design, and jointly produce products that are not in the organization’s core competencies. This is particularly important as the design and product life-cycles continue to compress, and new convergence products reach beyond traditional product lines. With the growth of broadband Internet, smart phones and devices, and various always-on products and tools, the timing is right to exploit these new capabilities.

14. The corporate and governmental business models move toward ones more dominated by Reed’s law of self-forming groups.

Innovation, collaboration, and transformation will be at the top of every leader’s list during 2008. Companies are demanding new tools and methods to execute that change within their existing organizations, as well as for the kind of design thinking that transforms cultures. The next change is to stop competing against your competitors. Traditional rivals aren’t the biggest worry. Disruptive innovation is hitting corporations from outside their businesses and from outside their traditional industries. The impacts of horizontal digital convergence will bring new white space industries that will be disruptors to traditional industries.

15. Global warming and the energy crisis continue to have major impacts.

Even with the data centers going green, these impacts will be increasingly felt. With oil production peaking in the next five years and new sources coming online slowly, look for many point solutions that will have little impact. China and India will become leaders in solar power, and the movement to biofuels will create ecological and food challenges for many. 2008 will be the year where LEDs become common for lighting, and new forms of energy storage will leave the labs. Look for new players to emerge, from Brazil with their new oil fields to Google, which is pouring tens of millions of dollars into funding wind, solar, and geothermal power.

16. Global stability continues to become even more high risk.

China will continue to have its way with other nations’ critical information. In 2007, we learned that electronic attacks emanating from the Chinese military had penetrated the German Chancellery, England’s Whitehall, and the Pentagon. 2008 will see a continuance of such attacks by China on Western governments and industry. More penetrations of government agencies and labs will be uncovered and publicized. The likelihood of superpower conflict with China, Russia, or both increases, which will make the war on terrorism seem like it’s not such a big deal. The likelihood of a regional nuclear exchange increases considerably during the next 10 years.

17. The worldwide economy will be volatile during the next few years.

Water will become a driver much like oil was in the 20th century. The movement to a cashless society will increase, as digital imaging will progress to the point it will defeat most anti-counterfeiting systems. China will exchange its U.S. currencies for Euros and other currencies, which will cause the dollar to decrease in value and adversely impact the stock market. The U.S. consumer economy will slow, maybe into recession, with a resulting impact on the world’s economy. Specifically, this will weaken the business models based on consumer and internet advertising. Advertisers, entrepreneurs, and investors will switch their attention to B2B business.

18. The age of bio continues to grow in importance.

New products from the industry consolidations of 2006/2007 begin coming to market in 2008/2009. Digital convergence also impacts the age of bio with evidence-based medicine being enabled by the horizontal convergence of multiple industries.

19. Social applications come into prominence built around the growth of pervasive communications and computing.

The growth of all the elements above will make 2008 the toughest year ever for CIOs. The same elements that are driving consumers to the social networking and social media sites will enter the enterprise marketplace and CIOs will lose control because of their business impact.
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Mr. Smith has been actively involved in technology management and forecasting for more than 30 years. Since joining TFI in 1996, he has assisted in creating and implementing plans for such organizations as Bank of America, Boeing, CIA, Coca-Cola, Department of Defense, Embraer, Hughes, Intel, Kodak, Kyocera, Lockheed Martin, National Security Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and Sun Microsystems. He is also a popular speaker and is regularly quoted. Mr. Smith’s views on technology trends have been prominently featured in Business Week and American Demographics, among other publications. Many of his citations and activities can be found under TFI News.

For 29 years, Technology Futures has helped organizations plan for the future by offering outstanding technology forecasting, strategic planning, trend analysis, and strategic market research services in high-technology and telecom technologies. TFI excels at relating emerging trends to the specific interests of clients and media, and providing a future-focused analysis of what developments and opportunities can be expected in the near and more distant future in a particular industry or organization. Drawing on proven, quantifiable forecasting methods and strategic applications, we combine the vision of the futurist with the down-to-earth judgment of the technologist. Let us be “Your Bridge to the Future.”