Photography

Gift Guide: Photography accessories for the shutterbug in your life

Posted by | camera+, digital photography, equipment, ethernet, Fuji, Fujifilm, Gadgets, Gift Guide 2019, hardware, kingston, photographer, Photography, SanDisk, smartphone, smartphones, TC, tripod | No Comments

Looking for some gift ideas for the photographer in your life? Look no further. Though shooters amateur and professional tend to take care of their own needs pretty well, there are plenty of things you can given them that they’ll appreciate. But you might have to be ready to spend a bit — people don’t pick up this hobby because it’s so cheap.

USB-C Hub – $40-$60

A lot of the latest laptops are eschewing a variety of ports for more or only USB-C. Some like this trend, and some hate it, but one way or another you’ve got to deal with it. Photographers especially. This Vava hub has pretty much everything your average shooter needs, including old-type USB ports for legacy gear, an SD card reader, and a headphone jack for reviewing video. This one is $60 but there are bigger and smaller ones if you happen to know they use Ethernet, microSD, and so on. Just stay away from the bargain bin ones — you don’t want to mess around when it comes to carrying lots of power.

Hand strap – $10-$40

Everyone has a neck strap for their camera because they always come with one. But not everyone wants to use them — the included ones are cheap and even good ones can be annoying. A hand strap is a good alternative that adds a lot of security very simply. For a smaller camera like a mirrorless, a simple, high quality strap like Gordy’s is a good option. And for heavier bodies like DSLRs with big lenses, Peak Design’s Clutch is a solid one that works across many brands. Many camera manufacturers make their own as well, but we’ve found that Peak often makes meaningful improvements on suchstandard models.

Extra SD cards and a carry case – $30-40

A photographer can never have too many cards, and a good case never goes amiss, either. You can’t go wrong with Pelican when it comes to cases, even if $30 seems a lot to spend on a little plastic clamshell with foam inside. As for SD cards, 32 gigabytes is a nice safe number. Just make sure you stick to known brands like Sandisk and Kingston, and make sure it’s a “Class 10” card — lower numbers mean slower transfer speeds.

A year of Adobe – $120

This is a tough one. Lots of photographers use Lightroom and Photoshop, and it would be nice to be able to gift them a few months or a year’s worth of subscription to Adobe’s platform. But Adobe makes this so hard to do that we can’t actually figure out a good way to do it. Nevertheless, if you can figure out a creative way to go about this, your photographer friend will appreciate it. Adobe, if you’re reading this, make this work!

Microfiber wipes – $10-15

One thing you can never have too many of as a photographer is lens wipes. Some prefer the disposable type and/or a little air puff, but a pack of small microfiber ones will also be welcome, as they can be used for glasses, laptop screens, and everything else as well. They’re all pretty much the same and you can get a dozen small ones for less than ten bucks.

A decent bag – $100-400

waxed messengers 28

It’s amazing how often a photographer will spend a thousand bucks on a lens but have their gear sloshing around in some old backpack. A good bag helps keep your gear safe but also makes you a better shooter by making you organize, inventory, and keep things accessible. There are a lot of great bags to choose from out there, which is why we have Bag Week, but I’m partial to Ona for waxed and vintage style camera bags and Peak Design for a more modern, synthetic style.

Soft shutter release – $25

A soft shutter release is definitely a niche gift, but if you have someone on the list who shoots one of Fujifilm’s rangefinder-style cameras, or a Leica if they’re really fancy, a soft shutter release is an awesome, inexpensive stocking stuffer. The Match Technical Boop-O pictured above on an X-T3 camera adds a very nice, easy-to-squeeze ergonomic shutter control to the existing flat button. It screws into a hole that’s already built in to Fuji cameras that support this, including the X100-series and the X-T series cameras, to name just a few popular options. Stick-on soft shutter releases are also available for cameras that don’t have this mount built-in.

Portable lighting – $70-$500

If you think photographic lighting is just about on-camera flash, then you probably haven’t done enough experimenting with the variety of smart lightening accessories out there. Two great options are the Lume Cube line of products (Lume Cube Air pictured, left above) and the Profoto C1 and C1+. These serve different needs, but can both be used to help you do really fun stuff with both smartphone and dedicated camera-based photography. The price ranges vary, but Profoto’s offering is aimed more at pros who want portable lighting that approaches what you can get out of much more expensive studio setups, while Lume Cube is better suited to the action and drone photography set.

Gnarbox – $500-$900

Gnarbox 2.0 6This is definitely a gift reserved only for the people who merit big ticket purchases on your list, given its price. It’s also designed specifically to suit the needs of creative professionals, so it’s probably too much gear for most people. That said, if there is a pro photographer or videographer in your life who you really care deeply about, this is likely to be a gift that they’ll value – even if they already have one, since it’s the kind of gear where more = better. The Gnarbox provides easy SD backup and file management for photos and videos, so that you can keep shooting longer in the field and work with the files on the go. The 2.0 version is finally shipping, which offers SSD-based storage for much faster transfer and working speeds.

Mini tripod – $12 – $35

A mini tripod is a great addition to any photography kit, and there are a range of options available to suit different sizes and types of cameras, from smartphones all the way up to big DSLRs. The best value for money just might be the Manfrotto PIXI lineup, however, which itself comes in a range of options. The basic PIXI Mini Tripod is probably plenty enough for most, and can really help make sure that you get great travel shots and selfies while keeping your pack light. The PIXI EVO gives you a bit more flexibility with extendable legs for a bit more money.

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The GoPro MAX is the ultimate pocketable travel vlogging camera

Posted by | 3D imaging, action camera, Camcorders, equipment, Gadgets, GoPro, hardware, Photography, Reviews, TC | No Comments

GoPro’s first foray into the 360-degree action was the GoPro Fusion, and while it was a strong first offering, the new GoPro MAX ($499) is a very different — and much improved — immersive action camera that has a lot to offer experienced videographers and voices alike. To be sure, the MAX has trade-offs, but taken together, it presents arguably the best overall combination of features and value for travel and adventure vloggers who don’t want to break the bank or haul a huge amount of kit while they get out and explore.

It’s hip to be square

The new GoPro MAX’s form factor is both familiar and different for fans of the company’s Hero line. It’s almost like you stacked two Heros on top of each other, with a square box instead of a small rectangle as a result. The design helps accommodate both the dual optics that GoPro uses to achieve its 360-degree capture, as well as the built-in touchscreen display that can be used as a selfie viewfinder, too, when operating in Hero mode.

The ruggedized case can survive submersion in water up to 16 feet deep, and it’s splash-proof as well. There are additional protective lenses for the two dome-shamed cameras in the box, as well, which GoPro advises you use in potentially messy environments to protect the optics. Both front and back sides of the camera also feature grills for microphones, which can capture 360 immersive audio when the camera is operating in 360 mode, or act as truly impressive directional shotgun mics when vlogging or working in Hero mode.

GoPro MAX 3Like the new Hero 8, the MAX has built-in GoPro accessory mounts that fold out of the body on the bottom. This ensure you won’t have to pack the MAX in an external cage to attach it to the wide range of available GoPro mounts that exist out there, cutting down on bulk and the amount of stuff you need to pack when you take it out on the road.

The rubberized coating ensures you can keep a firm grip on the camera when you’re using it without any accessories, and GoPro’s easy to access and prominently placed external buttons mean you can control shutter and power while you’re using it in even the messiest circumstances. Removable batteries mean you can charge and keep a few on hand to ensure you don’t miss an opportunity to get some great footage.

360 or not to 360

The MAX is a very capable 360-degree camera, on par with some of the best in the market. It handles stitching automatically, and when paired with the MAX Grip + Tripod, it’ll even get rid of any awkward stitch lines where you’re gripping the camera. Using their software, you can then use the 360 footage to create a lot of compelling effects during edits, including panning and transitioning between views, zooming in and out and basically pulling off final edits that you wouldn’t even be able to get with a few different cameras and shooters all going at once.

That said, there are some limits to the 360 shooting: You can see where GoPro’s software has stitched together its two wide-angle captures to achieve the effect, for instance, even if only slightly. And while the tools that GoPro provides for stringing together edits are surprisingly user-friendly, you will need to spend some time with it in order to make the most of the tools available — novices can easily create somewhat disorienting cuts before they get their bearings.

The beauty of the MAX, however, is that 360 is just one of the capabilities it offers — and in fact, that provides the basis for much more interesting things that most users will get plenty more value out of. Foremost among these is HyperSmooth, which, when combined with MAX’s exclusive horizon-leveling feature, makes for some of the smoothest, best-quality stabilized video footage you can get with any camera without a gimbal.

By default, horizon-leveling on the MAX will work in both landscape and portrait modes, and switch between those orientations when you turn the camera 90 degrees. But if you lock the orientation to landscape, you can rotate the MAX freely and the horizon stays level, with footage staying smooth and stable — to an almost spooky degree.

There can sometimes be a slightly noticeable fuzziness when you pivot from one orientation to the other in captured footage, but it’s barely detectable, and it only happens if you rotate fully 90 degrees. Otherwise, the horizon stays and footage stays smooth, regardless of how much movement, bounce or jitters you have holding the camera. It’s amazing, and should be experienced in person to truly appreciate how much tech went into this.

The perfect run-and-gun mix

That is one reason this is the camera you want with you when you’re out and about. But it’s not all the MAX offers in this regard. GoPro has made use of the 360 capture to implement so-called “Digital Lenses,” which change the field of view, and adjust distortion to get at final results that can really change the look and feel of the video you capture. There’s a new “Narrow”‘ mode that’s even more constrained than the typical “Linear” mode GoPro offers, and a new Max SuperView mode that pushes wide beyond previous limits for a really dramatic look.

Because the camera is capturing 360 content at 6K, you don’t get 4K resolution when it’s cropped down to Hero mode. But you do get up to 1440p as well as 1080p options, which are plenty for most vlogging and travel log purposes. This is one area where there’s a compromise to be made in exchange for some of the flexibility and convenience you get from the MAX, but in my opinion it’s a worthwhile trade-off.

As mentioned, you also get a ruggedized camera that can even snorkel with you, as well as a selfie screen and highly capable microphones built-in (in the video above you’ll notice that there is some deterioration in sound when it detects water). It really seems like GoPro did everything they could to ensure that if you wanted to, you could easily just grab the MAX and get out there, without worrying about packing any accessories beyond maybe their Shorty tripod or that MAX grip I mentioned.

GoPro MAX 2Bottom line

GoPro’s Fusion was a compelling camera for a specific set of users, but the MAX feels like it might be flipping the script on the whole GoPro lineup. In short, the MAX seems like a great default option for anyone new to action cameras or looking for a comprehensive all-arounder that’s easy to learn, but becomes more powerful in time.

The MAX’s amazing stabilization is also probably better suited to vlogging and social video than it is to the actual action camera set, because it’s so smooth and refined. You can alter to what extent it triggers, of course, but overall MAX just seems like a device that can do magic with its built-in software for aspiring content creators who would rather leave the DSLR and the gimbal at home — or who never thought to pick one up in the first place.

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Sony’s new A9 II mirrorless full-frame camera has the speed sports photographers need

Posted by | cameras, digital photography, equipment, Gadgets, hardware, imaging, Photography, Sony, TC | No Comments

Sony today announced a successor to its popular A9 mirrorless interchangeable lens full-frame camera. The A9 II carries over some of the specs and stats of its predecessor, like the 24.2 megapixel stacked imaging sensor, but adds an upgraded BIONZ X image processor, which powers the much more powerful autofocus capabilities in the new camera.

Sony debuted a number of improved AF features on its A6400 APS-C camera earlier this year, and it brought those and more to the A7R IV it launched at the beginning of September, and on this new iteration of the A9. There’s real-time eye autofocus for both people and animals, with right and left eye selection for animals, along with real-time eye AF during movie shooting, and the company’s real-time object tracking, which basically sticks your focus point to whatever you want to point it at remarkably well, based on my experience with it in other modern Sony cameras.

Other new features to the camera include a body with upgraded dust and moisture resistance, which Sony also brought to the A7R IV, as well as a beefier design with a deeper grip that should be a welcome change in terms of ergonomics, especially for photographers with bigger hands. And while it uses the same battery, it also is rated for slightly more shots.

Sony also brought its new digital audio interface to the hotshoe on the camera, again something it first introduced in the A7R IV. That will let you use their new shotgun mic and XLR adapter to pipe audio from external sources into the camera when recording video.

This camera is really intended to meet the needs of photographers who need high-speed capture capabilities, and Sony has bumped things up there, too. You get blackout-free, silent continuous shooting at up to 20fps, with a buffer size capable of capturing 361 JPGs or 239 of Sony’s “compressed” RAW files in one continuous go – it can also calculate AF and auto exposure at up to 60 times per second, so each of these should be in focus and properly exposed even in changing lighting conditions.

The new A9 II goes on sale in November, and will be priced at $4,500 for the body only.

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Fujifilm’s upcoming X-Pro3 camera has a unique design sure to appeal to film photographers

Posted by | digital photography, equipment, Fujifilm, Gadgets, hardware, oled, optics, photographer, Photography, TC, viewfinder | No Comments

Fujifilm is teasing its forthcoming X-Pro3, the successor to its popular digital rangefinder mirrorless camera, ahead of its official full introduction on October 23. During its X Summit event going on today, the company showed off the X-Pro3 in detailed images (via Fujirumors), revealing for the first time its innovative new rear-display design.

The X-Pro3 has an LCD on the back, as do most modern digital interchangeable-lens cameras, but it’s definitely unique: The screen is hidden in normal use, facing inward toward the camera back while the outward side of the rear door instead offers the photographer a small OLED “mini screen” that contains only basic info about shooting settings.

The rear display will show details like shutter speed, f-stop, ISO and film simulation and file size settings, and if you want to actually see a preview of the virtual viewfinder image, you’ll need to flip down the screen to reveal the color LCD. The downward flipping display is therefore ideal for doing things like shooting from a low angle, with the photographer looking down to check framing — just like you could do on classic film cameras with waist-level viewfinders.

The X-Pro3 still offers an electronic viewfinder, but that’s also more akin to film photography versus digital, since photographers using the camera will be much more likely to either use the viewfinder or shoot waist-level with the flip down screen — while also being able to check their various settings at a glance by quickly pulling the camera away from their eye and looking at the back.

Fujifilm’s lineup of APS-C digital interchangeable-lens cameras have already won many fans thanks to their film simulations, which mimic types of film the company offered previously. The X-Pro3 will focus even more on replicating a film-inspired experience backed by modern digital photographic technology, and will also include a new film simulation called “Classic Negative.”

Classic Negative

Other details about the camera include titanium construction, which is going to make it a super durable but lightweight camera, and three different color options.

New X Pro3 colorsNo pricing or availability info is out yet, but we’ll find that out, along with full details, on October 23.

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Ricoh’s Theta Z1 is the first truly premium consumer 360 camera

Posted by | adobe lightroom, camera+, computer graphics, digital photography, Gadgets, hardware, image stabilization, oled, Photography, Reviews, ricoh, smartphone, Sony, TC, tokyo, z1 | No Comments

Ricoh has a well-earned good reputation when it comes to building smart, technically excellent photographic equipment — including the almost legendary Ricoh GR series of pocketable APS-C cameras, which are a favorite among street photographers everywhere. Earlier this year, the company released the Ricoh Theta Z1, which builds on its success with its pioneering Theta line of 360-degree cameras and delivers a step-up in terms of image quality and build that will feel at home in the hands of enthusiasts and pro photographers.

The Theta Z1 is what happens when you push the limits of what’s possible in a portable form factor 360 camera, both in terms of build materials and what’s going on on the inside. Like its more affordable, older sibling, the Theta V, it shoots both stills and video in 360 degrees — but unlike the V, it does so using two 1-inch sensors — unprecedented for a 360 camera in this category. Sony’s celebrated RX100 series was pushing boundaries with its own 1-inch sensor in a traditional compact camera, and the Ricoh is similarly expanding the boundaries of 360 photography by including not just one, but two such sensors in its Z1. That translates to unmatched image quality for 360 photographers — provided you’re willing to pay a premium price to get it.

Design and build

The Ricoh Theta Z1 feels a lot like previous iterations of the Theta line — it’s essentially a handle with two big lenses on top, which is a pretty optimal design overall for a device you’re mostly going to be holding up to take 360 photos and video. It’s a bit bulkier than previous generations, and heavier, too, but it’s still a very portable device despite the increased size.

Ricoh Theta Z1 7

With the bulkier build, you also get a magnesium outer case, which is textured and feels fantastic when held. If you’ve ever held a pro DSLR or mirrorless camera, then the feel will be familiar, and that says a lot about Ricoh’s target audience with this $1,000 device. The magnesium alloy shell isn’t only for making it feel like it’s worth what it costs, however; you also get big durability benefits, which is important on a device that you’re probably going to want to use in remote locales and off the beaten path.

The build quality also feels incredibly solid, and the button layout is simple and easy to understand. There’s a single shutter button on the front of the camera, just above an OLED display that provides basic info about remaining space for images or video, battery life and connection status. A single LED indicates both mode and capture status information, and four buttons on the side control power on/off, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections, photo and video mode switching and enabling basic functions like a shutter countdown timer.

Using the hardware buttons to control the Theta Z1 independent of your smartphone, where you can remotely control all aspects of the camera when connected via Wi-Fi and using the app, is intuitive and easy, and probably the way you’ll use the Z1 more often than not when you’re actually out and about. There’s little to worry about when it comes to framing, for instance, because it captures a full 360 image, and you can handle all of that after the fact with Ricoh’s editing tools prior to sharing.

On the bottom, there’s a USB-C port for charging and wired data transfer, and a 1/4″ standard tripod mount for attaching the Z1 to tripods or other accessories. This is useful, because if you use a small handle you’ll get a better overall image, as the Z1’s software automatically edits out the camera, and, to some extent, the thing that’s supporting it. There’s also a small lug for attaching a wrist strap, but what you won’t find is a flap or door for a micro SD card — the Theta Z1 relies entirely on built-in storage, and offers just under 20GB of usable storage.

Ricoh Theta Z1 9

Still images

Ricoh’s Theta Z1 has two 1-inch sensors on board, as mentioned, and those combine to provide an image resolution of 670×3360. The camera captures two 180-degree fields of view from each lens, and automatically stitches them together in software to produce the final image. The result is the sharpest, most color-accurate still photos I’ve ever seen from a 360-degree camera, short of the kind of content shot by professionals on equipment costing at least 10x more.

The resulting images do incredibly well when viewed through VR headsets, for instance, or when you use Theta’s own 360 viewer for web in full-screen mode on high-resolution displays. They also make it possible to export flat images that still look sharp, which you can crop and edit in the Theta+ app. You can create some truly amazing images with interesting perspective that would be hard to get using a traditional camera.

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Indoors in low-light situations, the Ricoh Theta Z1 still performs pretty well, especially compared to its competitors, thanks to those big 1-inch sensors. Especially in well-lit indoor environments, like in the restaurant example below, details are sharp and crisp across the frame and colors come out great.

In settings where a lot of the frame is dark or unevenly lit, as in the example at the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo below, the results aren’t nearly as good when operating in full automatic mode. You can see that there is some blur in the parts of the scene with motion, and there’s more grain apparent in parts of the frame, too. Overall though, the audience is pretty well captured and the colors still look accurate and good despite the many different tones from different sources.

The Ricoh Theta Z1 still does its best work in bright outdoor settings, however — which is true for any camera, but especially for cameras with sensors smaller than full-frame or APS-C. It’s still definitely capable enough to capture images you can work with, and that provide a great way to revisit great events or memories in a more immersive way than standard 2D images can accomplish.

You can adjust settings, including aperture to optimize your photo capture, as well as choosing between f/2.1, f/3.5 and f/5.6, with higher apertures offering higher-resolution images. The built-in lens has been designed to reduce ghosting, purple fringe artifacts and flare, and it does an outstanding job at this. RAW capture allows you to edit DNG files using Lightroom, and it works amazingly well with Lightroom mobile for advanced tweaks right on the same device.

Video

The Ricoh Theta Z1 does video, too — though the specs for the video it produces are essentially unchanged from the Theta V on paper. It can capture 4K video at 30 fps/56 mbps or 2K video at 30fps/16mbps, and live stream in both 4K and 2K. There’s a four-channel built-in microphone for immersive audio recording, and it can record as much as 40 minutes of 4K or 130 minutes of 2K footage, though each individual recording session is capped at 5 minutes and 25 minutes for 4K and 2K, respectively.

Ricoh has tougher competition when it comes to video in the 360 camera game — Insta 360’s One X has been a clear winner in this category, and has led to this camera even finding some fans when compared to action cameras like the GoPro Hero 7 and the DJI Osmo Action, thanks in large part to its fantastic built-in image stabilization.

The Ricoh Theta Z1 just frankly doesn’t impress in this regard. The sensors do allow for potentially better image quality overall, but the image stabilization is definitely lacking, as you can see, and overall quality just isn’t there when measured against the Insta360 One X. For a fixed installation for real-time live-streaming, the Ricoh probably makes more sense, but video isn’t the device’s strength, and it’s a little disappointing given its still shooting prowess.

Features and sharing

The range of editing options available either via Theta+ or using the DNG files in both mobile and desktop photo editing software for the Theta Z1 is outstanding. You can really create and compose images in a wide variety of ways, including applying stickers and text that stick to the frame as a viewer navigates around the image. Sharing from the Theta app directly works with a number of platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and theta360.com, where you can get embeddable 360 images like those found in this post above.

Ricoh has done a great job making sure you can not only capture the best possible 360 images with this camera, but also share them with others. It’s also leading the pack when it comes to the range of options you have for getting creative with slicing up those 7K spherical images in a variety of ways for traditional flat image output, which is not surprising, given the company’s heritage.

Bottom line

Simply put, the Ricoh Theta Z1 is the best 360 camera for still photos that you can buy for less than $1,000 – even if just squeaks under that line. It’s the best still photo 360 camera you can pick up for considerably more than that, too, given its sensor arrangement and other technical aspects of the device, including its selectable aperture settings and RAW output.

The $999.95 asking price is definitely on the high end for this category — the Theta V retails for less than half that, as does the Insta360 One X. But I mentioned the Sony RX100 above, and the pricing is similar: You can get a compact camera for much less money, including very good ones, but the latest RX100 always commands a premium price, which people are willing to pay for the very best-in-class device.

If what you want is the best still photography 360 camera on the market, the Ricoh Theta Z1 is easily it, and if that’s the specific thing you’re looking for, then Ricoh has packed a lot of cutting-edge tech into a small package with the Z1.

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Why does the new iPhone 11 Pro have 3 cameras?

Posted by | Apple, Apple Hardware Event 2019, Gadgets, hardware, iPhone, iPhone 11 Pro, Photography, TC | No Comments

On the back of the iPhone 11 Pro can be found three cameras. Why? Because the more light you collect, the better your picture can be. And we pretty much reached the limit of what one camera can do a little while back. Two, three, even a dozen cameras can be put to work creating a single photo — the only limitation is the code that makes them work.

Earlier in today’s announcements, Apple showed the base-level iPhone 11 with two cameras, but it ditched the telephoto for an ultra-wide lens. But the iPhone Pro has the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto, its optical options covering an approximate 35mm equivalent of 13mm, 52mm and 26mm.

threecams

“With these three cameras you have incredible creative control,” said Apple’s Phil Schiller during the stage presentation. “It is so pro, you’re going to love using it.”

Previously the telephoto lens worked with the wide-angle camera to produce portrait mode effects or take over when the user zooms in a lot. By combining the info from both those cameras, which have a slightly different perspective, the device can determine depth data, allowing it to blur the background past a certain point, among other things.

The ultra-wide lens provides even more information, which should improve the accuracy of portrait mode and other features. One nice thing about a wide angle on a dedicated sensor and camera system is the creators can build in lots of corrections so you don’t get crazy distortion at the corners or center. Fundamentally you’ll still want to back off a bit, because using an ultra-wide lens on a face gives it a weird look.

While we’re all used to the pinch-to-zoom-in gesture, what you’re usually doing when you do that is a digital zoom, just looking closer at the pixels you already have. With an optical zoom, however, you’re switching between different pieces of glass and, in this case, different sensors, getting you closer to the action without degrading the image.

One nice thing about these three lenses is that they’ve been carefully chosen to work together well. You may have noticed that the ultra-wide is 13mm, the wide is twice that at 26mm and the telephoto is twice that at 52mm.

wide1

The simple 2x factor makes it easy for users to understand, sure, but it also makes the image-processing math of switching between these lenses easier. And as Schiller mentioned onstage, “we actually pair the three cameras right at the factory, calibrating for focus and color.”

Not only that, but when you’re shooting with the wide camera, it’s sharing information with the other two cameras, so when you switch to them, they’re already focused on the same point, shooting at the same speed and exposure, white balance and so on. That makes switching between them mostly seamless, even while shooting video (just be aware that you will shake the device when you tap it).

Apple’s improvements to the iPhone camera system this year are nowhere near as crazy as the switch from one to two cameras made by much of the industry a couple years back. But a wide, tele and ultra-wide setup is a common one for photographers, and no doubt will prove a useful one for everyone who buys into this rather expensive single-device solution.

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This charming little camera prints instantly to receipt paper

Posted by | cameras, Crowdfunding, Gadgets, hardware, Kickstarter, Photography, TC | No Comments

I’m a big instant camera fan, but the film is expensive and the digital printers just aren’t very good. So I was delighted to see this alternative seeking funds on Kickstarter: the Alulu camera, which prints photos in black and white on receipt paper. Why did no one do this before?

The idea is so simple that you’ve already gotten it — no explanation necessary. But because explaining things is my job I am going to do so anyway.

The Alulu is an idea incubated by three friends as they left college, each heading their separate directions but looking to take a shot at making this cool gadget a reality before doing so. Right now it only exists in prototype form (they only thought it up in May), but it works more or less as intended, and it’s as silly and fun as I wanted it to be; I got to test one out, as it happened that one of the team members happened to live in my neighborhood.

The camera is a little box about the size of a fat point-and-shoot, with charming little dials on the top to select exposure mode or a 10-second timer if you want it, and a shutter button that’s hard to miss. On the side is the charge port and a button to advance the paper. And the back has a little frame that flips out and helps you set up your shot — very loosely, I hardly need add.

viewfinderbrtr

Inside the 3D-printed, acrylic-plated exterior, the guts of the camera are simple. An off-the-shelf camera stack that does all the hard work of actually taking a picture — but don’t worry about the megapixels, because they don’t matter here. The camera sends its signal to a custom board that prepares and optimizes the image for black-and-white printing.

To be clear, we’re talking black and white, not shades of grey. The printer inside the camera is a standard receipt printer, which uses heat-activated ink that’s either transparent or black and nothing in between. You feed paper in via a little chamber on the bottom.

alulu

Thankfully creating the appearance of shading in 1-bit imagery is old hat for computer graphics, and an algorithm dithers and tweaks the picture so that more or fewer dots in various patterns create the illusion of a wider palette.

The results are… well, photos printed on receipt paper. Let’s keep our expectations in line. But they’re instantly printed (with a little stutter like a dot matrix printer) and charming little artifacts indeed. You can even use receipts you’re given at stores or restaurants, if they fit, and you can always fold it over a bit if it’s too large.

receiptrow4receiptrow2

(By the way, if you’re worried about being poisoned by receipt paper, don’t be. The stuff with high BPA content was generally phased out a while back, and you can order non-poisonous rolls of paper easily and cheaply.)

I think this thing is great, though I’m afraid that the projected $99 retail price might be too high for what amounts to a novelty. The idea, I was told, was to drive the price down with mass manufacturing, but until they do so they want to be honest about the cost of the parts (the printer itself is the most expensive piece, but like everything else the price goes down when you order a thousand or more).

Whether it makes it to the factory or not, I think the Alulu is a great idea. We need more weird, one-off devices in this world of ours where every function seems to devolve to the smartphone — and I’m tired of my phone! Plus, it can’t print on receipt paper.

The Alulu is currently looking for backers on Kickstarter. Go give it a pledge.

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Oppo shows first under-screen camera in bid to eliminated the hated notch

Posted by | cameras, Gadgets, hardware, Mobile, oppo, Photography, TC | No Comments

Ever since the notch was first added to smartphones, everyone in the world except the deeply deluded and my editor have wished it gone. Oppo has done it — or at least shown that it can be done — with a demonstration unit at Mobile World Congress in Shanghai. iPhone users can console themselves that Oppo kind of sounds like Apple.

Oppo and Xiaomi both teased their upcoming under-screen cameras in recent weeks, but it’s one thing to put out a video and quite another to show a working model to the public. And Oppo’s device was unmistakably present in Shanghai.

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Unfortunately, if you were hoping that the first device would knock it out of the park… not quite. Eyes-on photos and impressions from Engadget China show that the transparent LCD used to cover the camera assembly is, or can be, noticeably different from its surroundings. Of course the team there was trying to capture it, and from straight on when you’re not looking for it this effect may not be particularly pronounced. But it’s there.

The camera itself, since it loses a lot of incoming light to the LCD layer, has a larger sensor with bigger pixels on it to better capture that light. This suggests a lower resolution for the unit than other front-facing cameras, and obviously shooting through an extra layer will reduce sharpness and increase artifacting. Oppo says it is working on reducing these in software, but there’s only so much you can do. The sample photos don’t look so hot.

It’s not going to set the world on fire, but Oppo’s less visible camera is a step towards a notchless future, and that I can support. No word on when it’ll actually be available for purchase, or in what models — perhaps Xiaomi will take the opportunity to announce its under-screen camera with a few more of the relevant details.

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At last, a camera app that automatically removes all people from your photos

Posted by | Apps, Art, artificial intelligence, machine learning, Mobile, Photography | No Comments

As a misanthrope living in a vibrant city, I’m never short of things to complain about. And in particular the problem of people crowding into my photos, whatever I happen to shoot, is a persistent one. That won’t be an issue any more with Bye Bye Camera, an app that simply removes any humans from photos you take. Finally!

It’s an art project, though a practical one (art can be practical!), by Do Something Good. The collective, in particular the artist damjanski, has worked on a variety of playful takes on the digital era, such as a CAPTCHA that excludes humans, and setting up a dialogue between two Google conversational agents.

The new app, damjanski told Artnome, is “an app for the post-human era… The app takes out the vanity of any selfie and also the person.” Fortunately, it leaves dogs intact.

Of course it’s all done in a self-conscious, arty way — are humans necessary? What defines one? What will the world be like without us? You can ponder those questions or not; fortunately, the app doesn’t require it of you.

Bye Bye Camera works using some of the AI tools that are already out there for the taking in the world of research. It uses YOLO (You Only Look Once), a very efficient object classifier that can quickly denote the outline of a person, and then a separate tool that performs what Adobe has called “context-aware fill.” Between the two of them a person is reliably — if a bit crudely — deleted from any picture you take and credibly filled in by background.

It’s a fun project (though the results are a mixed bag) and it speaks not only to the issues it supposedly raises about the nature of humanity, but also the accessibility of tools under the broad category of “AI” and what they can and should be used for.

You can download Bye Bye Camera for $3 on the iOS App Store.

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Hasselblad’s new medium format camera is a tiny, beautiful nod to history

Posted by | cameras, Gadgets, hardware, hasselblad, medium format, Photography | No Comments

While mirrorless cameras accelerate into the future, medium format models are hearkening unto the past — and Hasselblad is chief among them. Its new digital back fits lenses going back to the ’50s, and the tiny 907X camera body is about as lovely a throwback as one can imagine.

The new set of systems, announced today, are somewhat different from what most people are used to. Most interchangeable-lens systems, like Canon and Nikon’s DSLRs and Olympus and Fujifilm’s mirrorless cameras, generally have two parts: a lens and a body, in the latter of which is found the image sensor.

Hasselblad does make cameras like that, and in fact introduced a dandy-looking new one today, the X1D II 50C (just try to keep track of these names). But the more interesting item by far to me is the CFV II digital back and 907X camera body.

Unlike a traditional DSLR, digital backs are essentially just giant sensors; they fit where the medium format film would have gone and collect light in its place. But they also need a camera unit to do the heavy lifting of parsing all those pixels — about 50 million of them in this case.

What’s nice about this is that you can attach a modern back and camera unit to a lens decades old — you could also attach a modern one, but why? Part of the fun of medium format is using equipment from the distant past, and shooting in some ways the same way someone might have shot a century ago.

The system Hasselblad introduced today is one of the most compact you’ll find, packing all the processing power needed into an enclosure that’s hardly bigger than the lens itself. On the back of it is a high-resolution touchscreen that flips out to 45 and 90 degree angles, letting you shoot top-down or from an angle, like the old days.

It may seem a mere nostalgia bid, but it’s an interesting way to shoot and is more focused on careful composition than spontaneous captures. And brother, is it handsome, as you can see above. (The top picture shows the camera rotated so you can see the screen — normally it would face away from the lens.)

Pricing and availability are to be announced, but this won’t be cheap — think in the $4,000-$6,000 range for the two pieces.

I probably will never own one, but I’m satisfied to know that there is a shooting experience out there that emulates the old medium format style so closely, and not just superficially. It’s a lovely piece of hardware and if Hasselblad’s record is any indication, it’ll take lovely photos.

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