Photo Book Review: Los Alamos Revisited, by William Eggleston

There are a handful of photographers who have changed the way the world looks at photographs, and William Eggleston is one of them. Since his first exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 1976, people have understand that photos don’t have to be strictly composed, and that color photography is a valid art form. (Before this, it was considered that only black and white photos could really be art.)

But Eggleston’s vision is hard for some people to accept. Critics complained about that first exhibit, saying it was boring, but over the past four decades, they have come to understand that Eggleston has a unique vision.

The German publisher Steidl has put out a number of books by Eggleston, and Los Alamos Revisited is one of the most interesting. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

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Photo Book Review: Vivian Maier: Street Photographer

Vivian maierStreet photography is increasingly popular as people are able to wander in big cities with small cameras. Many of the great photographers worked in the street, including Eugène Atget, Bernice Abbott, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Saul Leiter, and many others.

One photographer who shot in the street for decades and was unknown was Vivian Maier, a French-American woman who worked as a nanny. In 2007, photographer John Maloof bought a trunk containing negatives and undeveloped rolls of film and found a treasure trove of pictures that can now be seen as embodying the true spirit of this form of photography. He has published some of them in Vivian Maier: Street Photographer. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

This book shows that Maier was either influenced by other photographers, or developed her own style. Since she never published or exhibited her work, and wasn’t involved with other photographers, it’s hard to know how much she was influenced by others.

This book is full of fascinating photos of everyday life, mostly in Chicago. Maier had a true talent for capturing people at the edge, and people in surprising situations. And she took a lot of self-portraits, in windows and mirrors, which show a certain truculence toward the act of taking photos.

Beautifully printed, this book has one problem: most of the photos are sepia toned. Since Maier herself didn’t make these prints, it’s hard to know if that would have been her intention. (She died in 2009.) I don’t see the point of toning the photos like this; they would look fine in plain black and white (as the images below show very well).

This is a very interesting book for those who appreciate street photography. It shows just how much this genre of photography can express, much more than the more or less random images that pass for street photography these days on the photo sharing sites. Anyone who does shoot street photography can learn a lot from the compositions in this book, and anyone who appreciates photos will find a wealth of fascinating pictures.

Here are a few examples:

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769 march 1954

Is the iPhone Camera Good Enough for Most People?

There’s a Facebook post that’s been making the rounds lately, by Vic Gundotra, a former senior vice president for Google. In it, he points out how good the iPhone’s camera is. He starts by saying:

The end of the DSLR for most people has already arrived. I left my professional camera at home and took these shots at dinner with my iPhone 7 using computational photography (portrait mode as Apple calls it). Hard not to call these results (in a restaurant, taken on a mobile phone with no flash) stunning. Great job Apple.

Then, in reply to a comment, he says:

Here is the problem: It’s Android. Android is an open source (mostly) operating system that has to be neutral to all parties. This sounds good until you get into the details. Ever wonder why a Samsung phone has a confused and bewildering array of photo options? Should I use the Samsung Camera? Or the Android Camera? Samsung gallery or Google Photos?

It’s because when Samsung innovates with the underlying hardware (like a better camera) they have to convince Google to allow that innovation to be surfaced to other applications via the appropriate API. That can take YEARS.

Also the greatest innovation isn’t even happening at the hardware level – it’s happening at the computational photography level. (Google was crushing this 5 years ago – they had had “auto awesome” that used AI techniques to automatically remove wrinkles, whiten teeth, add vignetting, etc… but recently Google has fallen back).

Apple doesn’t have all these constraints. They innovate in the underlying hardware, and just simply update the software with their latest innovations (like portrait mode) and ship it.

Bottom line: If you truly care about great photography, you own an iPhone. If you don’t mind being a few years behind, buy an Android.

Now, cue up a few hundred commenters, who go from praising Android to calling iPhone users “sheeple,” to praising the iPhone. Yes, the idiots are out again…

But this brings up a broader question: is the iPhone camera good enough for most people? Yes, certainly. Will it replace the DSLR? Certainly not. The use cases are very different. I think Gundotra has peers who used DSLRs for family photos, which is something they’re not very good at (well, they are, but they’re overkill). What is more correct is that the iPhone camera has killed the point and shoot camera, the compact, fixed lens camera.

Part of the reason for this is its software, as Gundotra points out, but also the hardware. While the iPhone at 12 Mp lags behind many point and shoot cameras – which are often 16 or even 20 Mp – it’s the camera that people have in their pocket, so it’s easy to use. In a way, it’s the ultimate point and shoot camera, because there’s really nothing to set up. Take it out of your pocket, point, and shoot. You may want to tap the display to set a focus point, but even for most people that’s overkill.

But for those interested in photography, the DSLR with larger sensors, more megapixels, better high-ISO shooting, and interchangeable lenses, will remain popular. They just won’t be any more popular than SLRs were back in the days of film. Those of us who remember those days remember that most people had Instamatics or Polaroid cameras; it was very rare to see someone take family or vacation photos with an SLR.

I think a lot of people bought DSLRs because they were cool tech gadgets, but then they realized that they didn’t need them, they were too cumbersome, and the learning curve was too high. Much of the DSLR market won’t renew or upgrade, instead putting their money into iPhones (and, perhaps, other smartphones). And those using advanced cameras will have advanced needs and techniques. As things should be.

Apple has been promoting the cameras on its iPhones in recent years, because there aren’t many new features that speak to average users. Expect them to continue along this route for several years, perhaps even upping the resolution to 16 Mp. However, given the limited space inside the iPhone, it may not be easy to get a larger sensor inside the body far enough away from the lens. (Perhaps they can use a curved sensor…?) But even at 12 Mp, the iPhone takes very good photos that are good enough for most people.

Camera Review: Fujifilm X100F

Shortly after I bought the Olympus Pen-F, I decided to buy a second camera. Having been an Olympus user for many years — in fact, when I shot film some decades ago, I used Olympus cameras — I wanted to try a different company’s system. In addition, I wanted another camera with a different feature set because I’m writing more about photography and I’m working on a book about editing photos.

So I decided to pick up the Fujifilm X100F. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) This is a very different camera from the Olympus; they have many similarities, and they are complementary, because of their differences. Most people won’t want or need two cameras, but comparing these two shows the strengths and weaknesses of each one.

X100f

The Olympus Pen-F is a mirrorless micro four-thirds camera with a resolution of 20 Mp. Like standard DSLRs, it allows you to use a wide range of lenses, making it a versatile camera. The X100F, on the other hand, is a fixed-lens camera. It has a 23mm f2 lens built into the camera body to make it extremely compact. This can obviously be an advantage or disadvantage; I will address that later.

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Camera Notes: Fujifilm X100F and Conversion Lenses vs. Olympus Pen-F

This article is a response to a lot of comments I’ve seen on forums about the Fujifilm X100F. It won’t interest you unless you own are are thinking of buying the X100F. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) I bought this camera a month ago, to complement my Olympus Pen-F. (I’ll post a more thorough review of the X100F soon.)

X100f

It’s important to note that the X100F is a fixed-lens camera; it has a 23mm (35mm equivalent) lens. This limits its usage somewhat, making it an ideal camera for certain types of photography but not for all. In order to extend the use of this camera, Fuji sells two conversion lenses: the TCL-X100 II Tele Conversion Lens (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) and the WCL-X100 II Wide Conversion Lens (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). The former converts the camera to a 50mm equivalent, and the latter a 28mm equivalent; neither of these are a big change. If they converted to, say, 70mm and 20mm, then the difference would be a lot more obvious, and useful. But it’s possible that conversions of that magnitude would require add-on lenses that are even bigger and heavier.

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