Just some stuff about photography


Digital mania

, Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Oh dear, my contribution rate has already dropped off... but since nobody is actually reading this it doesn't really matter!

The photography world has been abuzz with talk about the latest Canon digital SLR, the 300D. This could be what the world (well ok, photographers) has been waiting for - a (relatively) cheap and very high quality, changeable lens digital SLR camera, devolved from the more expensive but highly rate 10D. Seems like it should clean up, or at least kill off a lot of the more expensive all-in-one cameras, with their small sensors, awful viewfinders, and crazy shelf-life. It might even kill the new Olympus E-1 and Pentax *ist Digital before they get into the shops. But the gadget factor on the 300D is pretty low. No movie mode! Heavens. (although why not, finally...) No image manipulation gimmicks! No sepia mode! Just a solid little camera with a sensor that delivers results as good as the best 35mm film. Will I get one ? Probably not. I've already got good 35mm film equipment, so in terms of absolute quality it isn't much of a step up. And whilst the camera is cheap (ok, "cheap"), the better lenses certainly are not. For me, a step up would be a medium format 645 system, which, one day, I might be able to afford a digital back for. It seems to be becoming an interesting choice. Unless of course next month Canon releases a full frame DSLR at $1000... they will one day. So, time to take a step back and think, what will make my photos better ? The unwelcome answer is of course, hard work and dedication. Not shopping :-)

Photography Magazines (part 2)

in General Rants , Wednesday, August 06, 2003

I couldn't resist a quick extra rant on the topic of poor reviews in magazines when I saw the latest issue of Practical Photography (UK).
This issue reviews the Kodak DCS Pro 14n, a camera that has had mixed reviews in general (and I'm being polite). PP do not appear to particularly mind that a camera listed at £4224 has a viewfinder you can't even get your eye up to - the "Handling" score, with the comment "The main camera controls are there, but there are plenty of niggles", is 86%! How many "niggles" do you need to reach 70% - or even 50% ? How bad a camera would plumb such depths ? At least the main controls are there - hey, for £4000+ I would tend to expect them to pretty well glued on too! Image Quality..."Superb from the RAW files at low ISOs, less impressive from the JPEGs" - this is worth 93%! I suppose a Canon EOS 1Ds would get 150% then ? I could go on (and on), but the total score for a camera which is generally reckoned by informed experts to be just a few feathers short of a turkey is 88%. One note though: the article repeatedly states that the 14n was designed for portrait and wedding photographers (good thing they don't need viewfinders..do they?). This seemed suspicious, so I checked on Kodak's web site. Indeed, Kodak do say this (actually they say exactly what PP say, demonstrating PP's skill with Cut & Paste). I digged further and found that they were saying this back before launch too. So, in this context, scathing comments in certain wildlife / landscape oriented reviews were maybe a bit unfair too.
However, as for PP - I could get over it if it was an isolated case, but in the very same issue we are presented with a two page review of the Rollei 35MF rangefinder. Not once -despite picking on the price as a weak point - do they point out the fundamental fact that this overpriced vanity object is nothing other than a badged engineered Cosina, er, sorry, Voigtlander.

Frankly I find this reporting irresponsible at best and dishonest at worst. Practical Photography is actually one of the best photographer magazines in the English language, with great columnists such as David Noton and Andy Rouse, but their so-called reviews do them a serious discredit and are cynically disregarding of their readers.

Mental photography

A couple of days ago we went for a late afternoon walk in the mountains, in the San Gottardo area. Usually, I would take a camera or two. This time I didn't. And strangely I came back with some very strong images. Not having a camera meant that I was not always looking around for an opportunity to justify carrying it. In fact I was noticing things more. One particular location, which we came across quite late, turned out to be a dream spot. I actually find it quite difficult to photograph in the Alps, or at least to end up with anything that isn't just a postcard. The light is harsh, the foliage is generally dark and quite uniform in colour, and the rocks are pale and reflective. When the right light comes it's usually behind an adjacent peak... So finding locations can be hard. In fact apart from this location, the last good one I found was also on a non-camera trip, but this time by accident as my tripod failed to follow in a last minute car swap. Coming back to the original location - it is actually relatively difficult to get too, and requires quite a strenuous climb. If I had been spending time taking photographs on the way up, we wouldn't have made it so far. So I now have these images in my head, and I can visualise at will until I find the time to go back with some film to capture them on. But I'm beginning to get the sense that good photography is not so much "f8 & be there", but more "work out where and when you want to go, and don't take a camera with you until it keeps you awake at night".

camera phones

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Monday, July 28, 2003

For some time I've been wondering when the worlds of consumer digital cameras and camera phones will collide. When will consumers realise that (a) it's quite nice to send photos from where ever you are, immediately, but (b) the quality they'll get at present is awful. Camera phones basically ship with very poor quality VGA (at most) sensors, which are pretty much useless for anything other than MMS. However, at some point resolution improvements will become a driver for boosting upgrade desirability, and resolution will creep into the low end digicam range (1 - 2 Megapixel). At this point will we see "name" camera manufacturers such as Nikon, Fuji and Canon appearing in the cellphone market ? Actually one company is already there - Sony - but Sony has a lot of irons in the fire (and another - Panasonic... maybe a vanity camera phone with a Leica badge ?). The camera and Bluetooth equipped Sony Clie PDAs, associated with a small but well designed Bluetooth cellphone, would in my opinion make a nice combination. Then again SonyEricsson have the P800 ... a phone which manages to pack a lot of average to poor functionality in a fragile and clumsy form factor. Any what about adding Bluetooth and a TCP/IP stack to a Sony digicam (actually I though this had been promised long ago...) ? Modularity seems way out of fashion at the moment. And at the consumer level at least, there doesn't seem to be any truly satisfying way (yet) to send photos on the move.

Ink costs

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Monday, July 21, 2003

The Register today notes that a Dutch consumer group has been forced to reverse it's public position on boycotting Epson printers () due to to so-called deceptive chipped ink cartridges. Elsewhere, The Register has an article which claims that inkjet ink is 7 times more expensive than Dom Perignon. Well so what ? You can't make very good prints with Dom Perignon. I could also compare with the cost of Coca Cola - the point is that it is completely irrelevant. I have to say I've seen little to zero complaint from serious photographers about the running costs of Epson photo quality printers. Sure they're expensive - but they are much more practical and cheaper than any previous method of printing archival-quality colour photographs. So it's really not so clear why all these bystanders are making such a fuss...
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