The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 53: Focus Stacking

You can control depth of field in a photo using narrow apertures, but what do you do when that’s not enough to get everything in focus? For macro and some landscape photography, the answer is focus stacking, a technique that blends several images shot at different focal lengths. Kirk and Jeff talk about how it works and when you’d want to use it.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The PhotoActive on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.

The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 52: iPhones 11 and Semantic Rendering

Kirk and Jeff both bought the latest models of Apple’s digital camera – sorry, we mean the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro. Does adding a third camera make a difference? Is the ultra-wide camera just a gimmick? And what is “semantic rendering” anyway? We explain why nothing is really real, and yet these might be the best-looking photos people create.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The PhotoActive on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.

The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 51: Questions, Answers, and Geotagged Flowers

We solicited photography questions from the great folks in the PhotoActive Facebook group, and now we have answers! All the answers. Or maybe just the most interesting ones. But definitely some answers. Panoramas, shooting photos in public places, revealing edits, and more.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The PhotoActive on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.

Are Camera Sales Really Falling Off a Cliff?

Analyst Om Malik recently published an article saying Camera sales are falling sharply (or, as his first sentence says, “falling off a cliff”). He has charts to prove it. For example:

Chart1

This chart shows the sales of cameras with built-in lenses versus those with interchangeable lenses. The former category is being eaten up by smartphones, which, when you think about it, is normal. If you have a smartphone with a good enough camera, then a fixed-lens camera won’t do much more for you (unless you want a good zoom lens). This said, there are very good fixed lens cameras, such as the Fujifilm X100F, a number of Ricoh cameras, and full-sized bridge cameras; I’m not sure in which category they are included.

Even interchangeable camera sales are seeing a drop, from a peak in 2012 at 20 million units to only 11 million last year. However, in another chart in the article, which takes a longer view, it doesn’t look quite so bad.

Chart2

Interchangeable camera sales plummeted in the early 1990s, but took off in the mid-2000s, when digital cameras started having good enough resolution at affordable prices. If you look at the rise from 2003 to 2012, this is a phenomenal level of growth, one that would be hard to sustain. Yet interchangeable camera sales are still much higher than they were at their previous peak in 1981. It actually looks a lot like a chart of music sales showing the introduction of CDs, to replace vinyl records, then the falloff as people had replaced their music libraries. (I know, it’s not exactly the same, but looking at a short-lived peak thinking it is normal is always a mistake.)

But also look at lens sales in the above chart. They rose steadily in the mid-2000s, and haven’t dropped much since 2012. This suggests that there is still a core group of camera buyers who continue to buy additional lenses, as camera companies improve the quality of their optics.

There are two ways to look at this landscape, and I think it’s pretty similar to the music business. Let’s say that 80% of people just listen to music as wallpaper; and that 20% of people provide the real music sales revenue. With cameras, it’s 80% of people (perhaps even 90%) that just take photos now and then, shooting selfies, photographing meals, and posting to Instagram. They are well served by smartphones. But the other 10 or 20%, either pros or enthusiasts, continue to buy cameras, and especially lenses, and will continue to do so.

There are a few points to consider, however. The first is the fact that camera technology is plateauing as it confronts the laws of physics. You can’t easily but a larger sensor in a camera without needing different lenses. And even then, new features in cameras are incremental, with improvements in, perhaps, auto-focus, video capture, etc., but many of these features are not enough to get people to replace their existing cameras.

When people do replace cameras, the second-hand market is thriving, so it’s relatively easy to buy a used unit of last year’s model at a deep discount. There are many companies that specialize in buying and selling used camera gear, and you can generally trust that what you buy is in good condition.

Of course, the well known malady known as gear-acquisition syndrome (GAS) is prevalent in the photo world, and this is keeping camera companies afloat. If enthusiast photographers all decided to not buy any new gear for a year, the industry would probably fail, so it’s important for these companies to continue to cater to a market where a lot of their income is derived from people buying gear they don’t use very much. That’s probably why lens sales remain so high.

It’s obvious that no smartphone will ever replace a good DSLR or mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses. But they’re not intended to. I think the market is going to shake itself out soon, with perhaps some of the smaller companies giving up on camera sales. But you also need to remember that hardly any of these companies only make cameras. The big four – Sony, Fuji, Canon, and Nikon – all make many other products, notably high-end optical gear, among others. Canon has about $32 billion in sales, Fujifilm has dozens of subsidiaries making everything from cameras to medical imaging equipment. And Sony is, well, Sony; they sell pretty much everything that uses electricity. So none of these companies are necessarily dependent on selling these cameras.

If anything, it’s Leica, the company that makes the camera that Om Malik loves so much, that is teetering on the brink. While Leica’s are excellent cameras – and I still lust after the Leica M Monochrom – they are status symbols. The company caters to collectors, issuing limited editions of their camera regularly. With revenue of only about $400 million, they are a luxury brand, not a real camera brand. But Leica is making a lot of money through their partnerships with other companies, supplying lenses to Huawei, Panasonic, and others. And the company’s biggest growth market is China, which makes their future somewhat risky, given the fickleness of the Chinese toward foreign brands, especially after the company released this ad.

So, as often, it’s not easy to say that a specific market is “falling off a cliff,” but it is interesting to look deeper into statistics. There is a downward trend from an artificial peak, but it may be leveling off.

Apple Removes Black and White Photo Conversion Tool in iOS

Black and white photography has a long history, and black and white conversion is one of the powerful tools available to photographers to create striking photos. Monochrome photos have a great deal of meaning, and offer a way of showing a reality that is present, but that we do not see.

In the beta versions of Apple’s iOS 13 – and we are nearing release, so the current versions are nearly finished – the Photos app has a new set of editing tools, but there is no black and white tool. Currently in iOS, if you select a photo, tap Edit, then tap the adjust button, you have access to a black and white adjustment tool, as you can see below.

Ios bw

The slider below the photo lets you choose how Photos converts the photo to black and white, making certain tones in the photo darker or lighter.

In iOS 13, the only option you will have is to fully desaturate your photo, then work with adjustments such as shadows, highlights, contrast, and black point. While I sometimes use these adjustments to create monochrome versions of my photos, the color-based conversion is a standard tool, and is often ideal to find the appropriate contrast.

iOS 13 has also removed the global Light adjustment, which lets you change the appearance of a photo by dragging one slider, which then affects the brilliance, brightness, exposure, shadows, highlights, and more. This uses an algorithm that ensures that when you want a photo to be “brighter,” that brightness is balanced, because, for example, more exposure in a photo often requires more contrast to compensate for the additional light. That one-drag adjustment is very easy, and ideal for those who don’t understand the more arcane adjustments available.

It is surprising that Apple has removed these two adjustment tools. For the first, because black and white photos are an essential type of photo, and for the second, because the simplicity of this single slider makes it very easy for anyone to make adjustments to the brightness of their photos. Both of these tools remain in the Mac version of Photos, and, while Apple has added more adjustment tools to Photos for iOS, it’s odd that they would remove these two.

Again, iOS 13 is still a beta, and it’s possible that these tools will be restored, but given that it is nearly ready to ship, I doubt they will be. This is a big loss for those who want to edit their photos on iPhones or iPads.

The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 50 – Creative Black and White Photography with Harold Davis

Artist, photographer, and writer Harold Davis joins us to discuss his new book Creative Black & White, 2nd Edition, and we talk about the photographer as artist, and how to see the world in monochrome.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The PhotoActive on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.

The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 49: Creating Panoramas

You want to capture a wide-angle shot, but what if your widest lens isn’t wide enough? In this episode, Jeff and Kirk talk about creating panoramas, from the ingenious Pano mode in the iPhone’s Camera app to stitching many images from traditional cameras or drones.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The PhotoActive on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.

The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 48: Adventures with Dan Bailey

Photographer Dan Bailey is our guest this week to talk about his book FUJIFILM X Series Unlimited: Mastering Techniques and Maximizing Creativity with Your FUJIFILM Camera — though we’re not focusing on Fujifilm cameras. We’re more interested in questions such as how many of your camera’s features you should understand, whether technical details really matter, and how Dan became a pro photographer and expert in the first place.

Check out other episodes at the PhotoActive website, subscribe to PhotoActive on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Overcast. Follow PhotoActive on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.

Pixelmator Pro Brings Powerful Editing Tools to Apple’s Photos App

You have long been able to use external photo editors with Apple Photos, but the release yesterday of Pixelmator Pro has made Apple Photos a much more powerful photo editing tool. When you open a photo in other external photo editors via Photos, make changes to the photo, then the finished photo is saved back to your Photos library. If you want to go back and tweak your changes – say you want to adjust your exposure a bit more, or change the saturation – you either work on the edited photo or you start over from your original.

Pixelmator1

With the new Pixelmator Pro, your edit history is saved, and when you re-open a photo you edited with it as an external editor, you can go back and tweak any of the adjustments you have made. This is a game-changer for Apple Photos, and it now provides the best of both worlds: simple photo library management, including in the cloud, and powerful editing capabilities. (To access a photo editing extension, select a photo and press Return to open it in Edit mode, then click the little circle with ellipsis icon and choose Pixelmator Pro.)

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Pixelmator Pro’s ML Enhance (ML for machine learning) is an interesting tool that can automatically optimize your photos. Similar to clicking the magic wand in Apple Photos, or other automatic adjustments in various photo editing apps, I find that it is sometimes a bit heavy handed, but for many people, this is an excellent way to enhance photos. I found it especially good at correcting the white balance and skin tone in this photo, which I shot with my iPhone the other day.

Pixelmator2

However, I wish Pixelmator Pro had automatic adjustment options for individual adjustments. For example, in Apple Photos, I can click Auto buttons for Light, Color, Black & White, White Balance, and more. Each group of tools has an Auto button. With Pixelmator Pro, there are “ML” buttons for some tools – the ones that display by default – but not all. For example, I recently learned how the Curves tool in Apple Photos can help improve the contrast and dynamic range in my photos; I now often use the Auto button to see how this looks. In Pixelmator Pro, there is no such option for Curves, Levels, or even Black & White.

While Pixelmator Pro’s auto-adjustments are useful, the real power comes in the wide range of editing tools available. You need to take some time to explore the interface.

Pixelmator3In the photos above, I’m in the Color Adjustments section, which is where you will probably make most edits to your photos. By default, only a few adjustments are displayed, but if you click Add at the top right, you discover a menu with more than 15 tools. And when in the Add Effects tool, clicking Add displays ten menus with dozens of options (including vignette, which is one I use often, though subtly).

If, like me, you appreciate Apple Photos as a way of managing your photo library, and making it available across devices, but still want more powerful photo editing, then Pixelmator Pro used as an extension is a great addition to this app. The ability to return to your photos and adjust your edits is powerful, and I would expect other photo editing tools to try to emulate this as well.

For more on photo editing apps for Mac – Pixelmator Pro, Luminar, Affinity Photo, RAW Power, Capture One, and others, check out this episode of the PhotoActive podcast, where my co-host Jeff Carlson and I discuss the many options available. I wish this version of Pixelmator Pro had been available when we recorded the episode; our discussion would have been quite different.

The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 47: Jeff Becomes an Event Photographer

Photoactive 400Recently, Jeff was the event photographer for the CreativePro Week 2019 conference in Seattle, a task that requires a different approach to making photos. You’ve probably been asked to shoot some type of event, so we talk a little about specific gear to deal with low-light situations and catching candid shots in a crowded setting.

Listen to PhotoActive, Episode 47: Jeff Becomes an Event Photographer.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.