Thursday, 27 October 2016

on-phone photo editing

For a long time (since about 1999) photo editing has been the domain of my PC and its (relatively) only recently that my phone has even been a photographic tool for me let alone an editing platform.

Things have changed recently with:

  1. me getting a tablet
  2. me getting a more powerful quad core phone that has a good screen size

To me it wasn't that long ago that I used a 1024 x 768 monitor and only much more recently went to 1600 x 1200 screens (like a couple of years back). Lots of things have changed recently and to my mind there has been a confluence of software as well as hardware that has made it not only actually possible but in some specific cases preferable to edit on my phone / tablet.

Photo Editor & Snapseed

These two apps on my (Android) device give me great capacity to edit and in some ways even make some tasks easier than (say) Photoshop on my PC

Photo Editor has the "usual" range of things I like to use in editing:
  • levels & curves
  • full unsharp masking (no, not just "sharpening")
  • perspective adjustment
  • cropping and resizing (I'm still inclined to resize smaller when sending by email or posting to FB)
  • a bunch of other stuff
that set pretty much gets me by to enable me to send out an image that I'm happy with (because its pretty common that an image needs something to make it how I saw it), but as my phone supports RAW (as a DNG file) I needed to add something to get that. 

Of course that is: Snapseed

Snapseed (which is also free and better yet is not Adware) is my go to tool for "demosiacing" a RAW file on my phone (processing it) and while my old PC fav of DCRAW exists the interface on Snapseed is simply stunning. If you're a PC based editor it may at first seem strange, but with a screen only interface I believe their design is just top notch.

As well as RAW processing Snapseed has its own editing system which is complimentary to (with some overlap) what you can do in Photo Editor. As well as adjustments used in "tuning" your picture there are so called "Art Filters" which normally I don't like much (very Instagram). Having said that the layer approach to Snapseed is fantastic (you can go back in your workflow and tune something or remove it), and its HDR system gives me the ability to apply HDR sorts of tone mapping to a JPG image (which can really help).

This post isn't intended to be a tutorial (as plenty good ones exist on youtube on the Snapseed channel already), more just a quick post of the sorts of things I can get done.

So, some examples:

The classic sort of look that a digital camera will give you on an overcast and dull day:

despite how it looks to our eyes (which automatically contrast mask in our brains) the sky looks washed out and the colours dull. So (in a rock and roll sort of manner) I wanted to see what I could do quickly in Snapseed:

so a slighly heavy handed HDR-esque tone map brought a great brooding image, and then a bit more with a heavy application of "grunge filter" 

Just to see what that looked like.

I did this to see rather what the processing looked like in so much as to produce "great works" ... love it or hate it its quite powerful.

So I'll leave you with some other before / after images, but if this has tweaked your interests / opened your eyes to tools you didn't know existed then that's great (and exactly my intention).


Tuesday, 25 October 2016

have phones killed digital cameras?

Recently a site put together an article on this subject (here) and published a thought provoking graph:

which perhaps may even have been presented specifically to make their own thesis more QED.

None the less I thought it was a reasonable question and as one who has a number of digital cameras (and a phone with a decent digital camera too) I thought it was an interesting question.

First off the bat, to me digital cameras do need to be classified entirely differently in my view, the author of the Statista article doesn't seem to draw as hard a line as me (which is perhaps fair enough in some ways), but then perhaps he's not a photographer.

Skipping my definitions for a moment I think that this graph shows something which I've discussed for some time now; and that is that since about 2009 the digital cameras in mobile phones (lets just call them phones from now on) have overtaken and totally decimated the capacity of the category of digital camera called "compact" ... hell even the old term Prosumer (professional level consumer camera) died out years ago with only a few dinosaurs (hello Canon) valiantly trying to keep that market segment alive with cameras like their PowerShot G series.

Don't get me wrong, back in 2006 I was right down this path, when DSLR cameras were good but not compact and not cheap. I used cameras like the Nikon Coolpix 5000 (which was about the first prosumer camera to include a cludgy RAW).

After about 2006 there was little doubt in anyones mind that a DSLR exceeded a prosumer (although until then it had been close) for image quality. While there were a few notable good efforts (like the Canon G series and indeed cameras like the Panasonic FX series) DSLR's were the pinnacle of image quality.

quick history lesson

Even the term DSLR had become a pointless term, with DSLR being Digital Single Lens Reflex. The idea of a Single Lens camera comes from the days when (of course) all cameras were single lens.  People wished to see what they were focusing on and (I believe it was Rolleiflex) invented a camera with two lenses (one for focus and one for taking) mounted together and the Twin Lens Reflex camera was born. It had a second lens (for the viewfinder system) mounted along side of the taking lens and a mirror (thus reflex) to allow you to look at the image you were taking. Eventually the idea was extended to include the mirror behind the actual taking lens, which flipped up during image capture or "exposure meaning it only needed a Single Lens making the entire system more compact.

Thus the SLR was born.

Eventually film replaced digital and so where there was once film there became a sensor and the DSLR was born.

In 2008 something changed in the DSLR area and Panasonic did what compact digital cameras had been doing all along - live view on the rear screen plus an electronic view finder of very high quality. This allowed them to take the R out of that making the first fully Digital Single Lens camera, which was still an interchangable lens system, called micro four thirds (m43).

These cameras slowly grew in acceptance as the (incredibly poor) understanding of the general public grew to understand just how good these cameras were (and why). I would argue that to this day most don't grasp the difference between APS-C DSLR and (what is now called) mirrorless cameras VS the "prosumer" cameras like the Canon G series. All most people can grasp is the simple number of "megapixels".

Phones on the uptake

I would say that the iPhone is probably the biggest factor in popularising phones as digital cameras, as their big screens allowed people to see their digital images better than before (often needing to wait till back at a computer to really see them), and perhaps most importantly to share these images quickly and easily.

Back in 2009 Nokia released the E-72 phone, and I had one. I was impressed just how good the camera was on this phone, it was better than the iPhone of the day and compared it to a low end compact camera as late as 2012 (here) finding it giving better image detail than a compact.
(sample from that post, Nokia on left Panasonic compact on right)

The caveat to the above statement is that this only applies to "wide angle" as phones (in the main) lacked "optical zoom" and so essentially any "zooming" degraded image quality. So pulling in pictures with telephoto is really the only place where the compact had any advantage.

But in the main people seem quite fine (me included) with a slightly more wide angle of view, its somehow more handy for scenery, pictures of friends and almost all "daily" photographic tasks. Indeed one of the most successful film cameras ever made was the Olympus Trip 35, which had a fixed (non zoom) wide angle lens (in fact a 35mm focal length nearly that of my Nokia above).

My Nokia E-72 has been the "camera I have with me" for some years now, and has taken some great shots. I didn't mind that it was slightly inferior to my m43 camera because it was compact, always in my pocket and pretty darn good. In fact since I've owned it I've not even used a compact digital camera since.

I've used that phone for snaps, photographs for eBay ads, pictures of items to send to technicians ... general run of the mill documentation. It means that I don't really pull out my compact camera camera as much as I once did, which was also less soon after I got my m43 camera (cos it was compact as well as higher quality).

The general population has generally discovered this too, and have therefore left their compact ditigal cameras at home and just taken their phones.

So its little wonder that the graph above shows a sharp decline in the Blue (compact camera) sales, with prices of high quality phone cameras coming down from 2011 onwards (and well just massive penetration of high quality phones) its hardly a surprise really ... unless you live on an island somewhere.

So what's my point then?

Well if we remove the Blue bar and just show the Red bar we get an interesting picture, the interchangable lens camera market has just continued to grow. this is obvious in the first part of the graph, but if you just slice out the Blue you can really see it more clearly that there was actual continual growth in the interchangable lens camera market which peaked in about 2012.

I have doubled the 2016 bar as the data does not represent a year (their own note). The data seems to have had a strong peak at about 2012, but at worst seems to be quite steady after that (perhaps market saturation?).

Perhaps an alternative view (to phones killing digital cameras) is that phones introduced more people to the benefits of a camera with an interchangable lens and they started buying them too. To me this indicates an abandonment of compacts and an adoption of phones for those photographers who don't need telephoto lenses (and to me that's really a smaller market anyway). Perhaps using their phones more made some people actually take more pictures and then discover (like a friend of mine) that they want a better camera for stuff kids school sporting events. So interchangable lens cameras appeal to folks who enjoy wildlife (birds) and sporting (soccer mum's n dads) photography as well as those just bitten by the photography bug.

Indeed my current phone does so well that at wide angles in daylight its almost impossible to tell which was which (see here) in terms of image. Actually I wish that I'd had a digital camera as good as even my 2009 Nokia E-72 back when I lived in Japan in 2000, as back then digital cameras were rudimentary (and scanning film just as rudimentary).

where to?

Well some of the camera makers are really now becoming suppliers of camera modules for use in the manufacture of phones (Sony and even Leica getting their name in there again), and those makers still holding a candle for compact digital camera I think the news will only be grim (and can you believe Kodak has tried to get into the game late again with a "phone cam" which is hardly as good as my Oppo which cost half that).

Myself (as a photographer) I really love the capacity to include quite satisfactory camera into my phone as well as key features like RAW recording (capturing the full sensor data) and allowing me to edit that in a device that is a quad core computer with a substantial screen.

Paired with RAW development software and (basically free) high quality editing software enables me to use my pone capture and produce clean or edited images which I can distribute on social media or print if I wish.

Even this image (taken with my Nokia) benefited more from the on phone image processing to make it more what I saw:

.. and yes I side loaded it onto my Oppo and used snapseed as I took it with my Nokia in 2013.

Then I've got my m43 camera which I can use specialist lenses that are unavailable to phones (like shallow depth of field normals, ultra wide angle or telephoto) to achieve the looks I want to get that a smaller sensor phone just can't do.

Where telephoto can bring its advantages of getting you in closer ...

or just to provide subject isolation with shallow Depth of Field both in foreground with a less agressive telephoto:

and background

even in challenging lighting.

So the demise of "digital cameras" is in my view much exaggerated, but the demise of compacts for the rise of phones is very much the case. Especially given how compacts became larger (attempting to give more telephoto) making the case for cameras like the micro43 even stronger; or became smaller to fit in your pocked (with even smaller sensors) making the case even stronger for phones.

So no, smart phones aren't killing digital cameras, only sweeping the floor of a format which is past its due date (compacts), and perhaps even helped along the mirrorless (like micro43 cameras such as my GF-1 with its 20mm f1.7) which are increasingly as compact as compacts were.

To allow me to have a camera with me all the time, and also have a small but powerful photographic tool that's a pleasure to use and allows me to capture great moments on special occasions or just portraits of my friends doing stuff they enjoy

Something I could never get with a compact nor my phone...

Win Win I say

Sunday, 23 October 2016

The Mote in God's Eye (not quite a book review)

As it happens I grew up reading SciFi and Larry Niven was one of my favs (as indeed was Arthur C Clarke, Asimov and some others.

For one reason or another I never got around to reading this book until recently (like on the flight over to Finland).

I think it was Arthur C Clarke who said that futurist writers often fail by making predictions too wild or too conservative.

Living as we do in the period leading up to 2019 its hard to imagine that we'll have anything like the technology that is explored in Blade Runner.

The Mote in God's Eye sets itself far into the future after the rise and fall of an empire of humanity and into a time where humans are living across parts of the galaxy connected together by "tramlines" (or wormholes by another name).

They sidestep faster than light travel neatly by using this "time space" effect which is kept (wisely) nebulous in nature, but related to stars (and presumably their gravity distortions).

What I found most interesting was not so much the story (which isn't bad, but typical to Niven the character development is poor) but the concepts that occur in the book. Indeed I'm not entirely sure if some of these were accidental or intentional.

The first that stood out to me was the "pocket computers" and the descriptions of how they would actually reference material stored on the central computer, although it wasn't stated how, it was implied by radio. Quite interesting when you consider that  this was written in 1974 and the earliest computers which were considerable as "pocket" came out 10 years later (like the Sharp PC-1401)

The Sharp was only programmable in BASIC and had a puny amount of memory and certainly nothing like WiFi or 4G connectivity. Even WiFi as a protocol would not emerge for decades later, but Jerry Pournelle would surely have been exposed to Packet Radio protocols where data (at drearly slow rates) was sent by Radio.
What I liked even more of his imagination touch (I assume it was Jerry) was the addition of a touch screen on the device (thinkfully not described clearly) and the whole thing came out as reminding me very much of current emerging devices such as the current Android devices like the Galaxy Note series.

This sort of stuff would have been barely imaginable to most back even 20 years ago when exposure to technology was much lower. Heck even my Palm Pilot (which I bought in 1997) was barley understandable to many around me and it wasn't even the first such device I'd used (which was an Apple Newton pictured here beside an iPhone released nearly 20 years later).

Clearly these guys were not only visionary but also well acquainted with what was actually happening in the world. Yet (as Clarke observed) this sort of thing is a failure in imagination, and in some ways dates the book to a modern reader. Its both nice and at the same time quaint.

Imagine where computing and portable computing will actually be in a thousand years? It makes me think that for the general public you can't be too imaginative because they just won't grasp it.

The next thing that I found interesting was the Moties themselves. If you haven't read the book and intend to, stop reading this now, if you want a quick summary try the Wikipedia entry about the book here.

After reading the book it occured to me that the Moties were actually not the original species of their "solar system" but may indeed have been just the ultimate expression of technology of their creators. I don't know of Jerry or Larry intened this, but there are enough pointers through out the book to make is a possibility that the original Moties were all dead and just their genetically engineered creations remained (a bit like the story by Ray Bradbury).

The original "Moties" (presented briefly in one small paragraph in a museum) seem to have vanished. Perhaps they developed genetic engineering and electronic technology to such a level as to have made biological robots (not unlike the Replicants in Blade Runner) which were able to do tasks with an effectiveness that modern robotics can only dream of (in stories such as I Robot). Indeed I'd go as far as saying could never attain, because when you consider how fuel efficient a biological creature is you would have to agree that making a mechanical machine VS making a genetically engineered living creature would of course be ineffective , power hungry and be clumsy.

Now this is not to say that these Moties didn't use machines, but its clear reading the book that they not only did but they were themselves the compters which drove them. The inclusion of a "Brown" with almost every machine is very suggestive of this.

The specialisation of the "current" Moties (much like insects or even humans within Aldous Huxleys' Brave New World) was also a further que to me that these were a bunch of biological robots (or may I call them biobots to coin my own term) intended to perform specific functions. These then took over doing things entirely after their "masters" became extinct.

Its a tantalising question if the original Moties were wiped out in their own nuclear wars, or if indeed their own biobots were responsible for their over throw (in much the same way as the machines in the Terminator series).

Lots of good material for the imagination in the discussion of what's implied in this book, more so than just whats written.

Lastly I wanted to mention that the allusion of the fate of actual Humanity is touched upon in the contrast (and parallels) between real human history (us being stuck on this planet in this solar system) and the Humanity which is discussed in the book (that of the space faring race able to move between solar systems via wormholes and having survived for another milennia (and the book is set in 3017 sot its timely) look at the Motie who have survived for (perhaps) hundreds of thousand of years (certainly 40 or 50 thousand) in an unending cycle of growth and collapse ... or boom and bust.

Reminds me of the works of John Calhoun in his work "Mortality-Inhibiting Environment for Mice: a practical utopia built in the laboratory"

Makes one think about what will happen for us.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Oppo F1 vs iPhone 7p on GSMArena compare tool

so, with the data up on GSMArena, I thought I'd look at the iPhone 7p and see how it does against the Oppo F1.

well ... given my other posts showing how crummy the Oppo JPG engine is and how much better it can do by using DNG (here, here), that the iPhone 7 is this close to the Oppo it will take a comparison using DNG to sort out the sheep from the goats

just a little bit of contrast tweaking (of only the Oppo segment) makes them look even closer ...

Folks, I think that phone cam's have hit the physics wall ... they're already diffraction limited (which is why they don't have aperture contols) and with the amount of light (read, the lack of light) reaching each pixel its a tibute to modern manufacture and physics that they work as well as they do...

I suppose the iPhone lovers will find some reasons to justify spending 4 times as much