Photography

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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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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Canon takes on Fuji with new instant-print CLIQ cameras

Posted by | Canon, Gadgets, hardware, instant photos, Photography, TC | No Comments

Instant print cameras have been popular for a long, long time, but they’re seeing a renaissance now — led by Fujifilm, whose Instax mini-films and cameras lead the pack. But Canon wants in, and has debuted a pair of new cameras to challenge Fuji’s dominance — but their reliance on digital printing may hold them back.

The cameras have confusing, nonsensical names in both the U.S. and Europe: Here, they’re the IVY CLIQ and CLIQ+, while across the pond it’s the Zoemini C and S. Really now, Canon! But the devices themselves are extremely simple, especially if you ignore the cheaper one, which you absolutely should do.

The compact CLIQ+ has a whole 8 megapixels on its tiny sensor, but that’s more than enough to send to the 2×3″ Zink printer built into the camera. The printer can store up to ten sheets of paper at once, and spits them out in seconds if you’re in a hurry, or whenever you feel like it if you want to tweak them, add borders, crop or do duplicates, and so on. That’s all done in a companion app.

And herein lies the problem: Zink prints just aren’t that good. They cost less than half of what Instax Mini do per shot (think a quarter or so if you buy a lot) — but the difference in quality is visible. They’ve gotten better since the early days when they were truly bad, but the resolution and color reproduction just isn’t up to instant film standards. Instax may not be perfect, but a good shot will get very nice color and very natural-looking (if not tack-sharp) details.

The trend towards instant printing is also at least partly a trend towards the purely mechanical and analog. People tired of taking a dozen shots on their phone and then never looking at them again are excited by the idea that you can leave your phone in your bag and get a fun photographic keepsake, no apps or wireless connections necessary.

A digital camera with a digital printer that connects wirelessly to an app on your smartphone may not be capable of capitalizing on this trend. But then again, they could be a great cheap option for the younger digital-native set and kids who don’t care about image quality, have no affinity for analog tech, and just want to print stickers for their friends or add memes to their shots.

Oh, we do have fun, don’t we, fellow kids?

The $160 CLIQ+, or Zoemini S, has a ring flash as well as the higher megapixel count of the two (8 vs 5), and the lower-end $100 model doesn’t support the app, either. Given the limitations of the sensor and printer, you’re going to want as much flash as you can get. That’s too bad, because the cheap one comes in a dandy yellow color that is by far the most appealing to me.

The cameras should be available in a month or two at your local retailer or online shop.

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Leica’s Q2 is a beautiful camera that I want and will never have

Posted by | cameras, Gadgets, hardware, leica, leica q2, Photography | No Comments

Leica is a brand I respect and appreciate but don’t support. Or rather, can’t, because I’m not fabulously rich. But if I did have $5,000 to spend on a fixed-lens camera, I’d probably get the new Q2, a significant improvement over 2015’s Q — which tempted me back then.

The Q2 keeps much of what made the Q great: a full-frame sensor, a fabulous 28mm F/1.7 Summilux lens, and straightforward operation focused on getting the shot. But it also makes some major changes that make the Q2 a far more competitive camera.

The sensor has jumped from 24 to 47 megapixels, and while we’re well out of the megapixel race, that creates the opportunity for a very useful cropped shooting mode that lets you shoot at 35, 50, and 75mm equivalents while still capturing huge pixel counts. It keeps the full frame exposure as well so you can tweak the crop later. The new sensor also has a super low native ISO of 50, which should help with dynamic range and in certain exposure conditions.

Autofocus has been redone as well (as you might expect with a new sensor) and it should be quicker and more accurate now. Ther’s also an optical stabilization mode that kicks in when you are shooting at under 1/60s. Both features that need a little testing to verify they’re as good as they sound, but I don’t expect they’re fraudulent or anything.

The body, already a handsome minimal design in keeping with Leica’s impeccable (if expensive) taste, is now weather sealed, making this a viable walk-around camera in all conditions. Imagine paying five grand for a camera and being afraid to take it out in the rain! Well, many people did that and perhaps will feel foolish now that the Q2 has arrived.

Inside is an electronic viewfinder, but the 2015 Q had a sequential-field display — meaning it flashes rapidly through the red, green, and blue components of the image — which made it prone to color artifacts in high-motion scenes or when panning. The Q2, however, has a shiny new OLED display with the same resolution but better performance. OLEDs are great for EVFs for a lot of reasons, but I like that you get really nice blacks, like in an optical viewfinder.

The button layout has been simplified as well (or rather synchronized with the CL, another Leica model), with a new customizable button on the top plate, reflecting the trend of personalization we’ve seen in high-end cameras. A considerably larger battery and redesigned battery and card door rounds out the new features.

As DPReview points out in its hands-on preview of the camera, the Q2 is significantly heavier than the high-end fixed-lens competition (namely the Sony RX1R II and Fuji X100F, both excellent cameras), and also significantly more expensive. But unlike many Leica offerings, it actually outperforms them in important ways: the lens, the weather sealing, the burst speed — it may be expensive, but you actually get something for your money. That can’t always be said of this brand.

The Leica Q2 typifies the type of camera I’d like to own: no real accessories, nothing to swap in or out, great image quality and straightforward operation. I’m far more likely to get an X100F (and even then it’d be a huge splurge) but all that time I’ll be looking at the Q2 with envious eyes. Maybe I’ll get to touch one some day.

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This custom ‘hyperfisheye’ lens can see behind itself

Posted by | Gadgets, hardware, lens, Lenses, Photography | No Comments

If you’re doing ordinary photography and videography, there’s rarely any need to go beyond extreme wide-angle lenses — but why be ordinary? This absurd custom fisheye lens has a 270-degree field of view, meaning it can see behind the camera it’s mounted on — or rather the camera mounted on it.

It’s certainly a bit of fun from Lens Rentals, the outfit that put it together, but it’s definitely real and might even be useful. Their detailed documentation of how they put it together piece by piece is fascinating (at least I found it so) and gives an idea of how complex lens assemblies can be. Of course, this one’s not exactly standard, but still.

The C-4 Optics 4.9mm f/3.5 Hyperfisheye Prototype, as they call it (hereafter “the lens”) first appeared as what seemed at the time to be an April Fools’ joke, at best half-serious. “The Flying Saucer,” as they called it, AKA the Light Bender, AKA the Mother of all Fisheye Lenses, included a vaguely plausible optical diagram showing the path of light traveling from the far edge of its view, from about 45 degrees rearward of the camera.

Sure, why not? Because it’s ridiculous, that’s why not!

But the beautiful bastards did it anyway, and the results are as ridiculous as you’d imagine. There are lenses out there that produce past-180-degree images, but 270 is really quite beyond them. Here’s what the output looks like, raw on top and corrected below:

Naturally you wouldn’t want this for snapshots. It would be for very specific shots in high resolution that you would massage to get back to something resembling an ordinary field of view, or somehow incorporate into a VR or AR experience.

The camera has to mount in between the legs that support the lens, which is probably a rather fiddly process to undertake. The enormous lens cap, or “lens helmet,” doubles as an upside-down stand to ease the task.

It’s a fun project and adds one more weird thing (two, technically, since they built a second) to the world, so I support it wholeheartedly. Unfortunately because it’s a “passion project” it won’t be available for rent, so you’ll be stuck with something like the Nikon 6mm f/2.8, with its paltry 220-degree field of view. What’s even the point?

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Leica releases the CL Street Kit for all of your decisive moments

Posted by | cameras, Gadgets, leica, optics, Photography, TC | No Comments

Leica’s pricey — but sexy — CL camera is the closest thing you can get to an original portable luxury shooter without spending more than a used Toyota Corolla. The CL, which launched last year, is essentially a pared-down M series camera that has gotten rave reviews over the past year. Now, in time for Noel, Leica is offering a Street Kit that includes the CL along with a Leica Summicron-TL 23 mm f/2 lens. This flat pancake lens gives you a “tried and true 35 mm equivalent focal length for the quintessential reportage style of shooting” and should suffice for street shots taken on the wing while wandering the darkened alleyways of certain Central European cities.

Now for the bad news. Leica is traditionally some of the most expensive and best-made camera gear on the market, and this is no different. While you get a camera that should last you well into the next millennium, you’ll pay a mere $4,195 for the privilege, making it considerably less than the M series but considerably more than the camera on your phone. The package saves you a little over $800 if you purchased each item separately.

That said, it’s nice to see a bundle like this still exists for a solid, beautifully wrought camera, a nice lens and even a leather carrying strap. Besides, isn’t the creation of photographic art worth the price of admission? As noted Leica lover Henri Cartier-Bresson said, “Au fond, ce n’est pas la photo en soi qui m’interesse. Ce que je veux c’est de capter une fraction de seconde du reel.” Preach, brother.

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