photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

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 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...

Photography Magazines


{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, July 18, 2003

I'm a photography magazine addict. Actually I'm a magazine addict full stop. But I read a lot of photography magazines, especially Chasseur d'Images (France), R?ponses Photo (France), Practical Photography (UK), Outdoor Photography (UK), and sometimes Outdoor Photography (USA), and if I'm really desperate, Popular Photography (USA) (and I always regret it). Generally these have interesting and sometimes very good articles on the art, craft and science of photography. But the reviews.... Reviews can easily be split into three categories: (a) totally useless press release rewrites (b) sycophantic superficial junk (c) honest appraisals remarkably this maps quite well onto: (a) USA (b) UK (c) France A particular case was a recent US magazine which featured a "first look feature at the Hasselblad H1" (or similar). In any jurisdiction with a trading standards body this would have been called "full page advert by Hasselblad". Actually Hasselblad would have done it better and with 200% more class, but whatever. Then we get the UK magazines. I'll focus on Practical Photography, because this is otherwise a pretty good magazine. ALL their reviews are skimpy, utterly basic, and always award, at an absolute minimum, 75 points out of 100. I'm being generous here - I don't think they ever go below 80. This from a publication that appears to understand digital capture - and hence should understand that using 20% of available bandwidth means that your capturing a lot of noise. Obviously they should recalibrate: if everything is rated between 80 & 100, then after a certain amount of time mean will tend towards 90. Which means an average, just about good enough piece of equipment gets 90%.... But I suppose the manufactures (a.k.a advertisers) would not be very happy to see an average result be (fairly) awarded 50%. Which leaves us with the French, who have absolutely no problem with giving a piece of junk "nul points", and frequently do so (especially C d'I). They also refuse to play the game of press embargos. They prioritise their main customers - their readers - who in turn reward them with remarkably high circulation figures. And when you read a 5 star review here, you can be sure it is deserved.
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