500px, Color Profiles, File Formats and You – 500px ISO

“Color profile support has long been a tough technical challenge — and doubly so, it would seem, in the world (wide web) of browsers. There have been several advances that have made the team at 500px re-evaluate how we handle color profiles on the site.

In the past, to be the most consistent, the most widely supported, and the most space efficient, we did two things:

1. Convert any image not using an sRGB color profile to sRGB
2. Strip the color profile from the image

Why did we do these things?

The first step is fairly obvious. Until recently, most screens were sRGB calibrated, or weren’t calibrated, but were close enough to sRGB for most purposes. This meant people with wide gamut displays wouldn’t get to see the images uploaded in wide gamut profiles (Adobe RGB, ProPhoto RGB, Display-P3, etc) in their full glory, but it also meant the most people would see something close to what the photographer intended.

The second step is a little more subtle. The default sRGB color profile is about 3KB when attached to an image (we’ve also seen non-standard profiles take 20KB). For a 5KB thumbnail, that needlessly increases the file size by more than 50%. The W3C consortium states that an image without a color profile should be assumed to be sRGB, so all should be good when an sRGB image is stripped of its profile. Stripping the color profile from the image turned out to be a pretty big deal, as it saved 25-30% in data transferred, which translated into tens of thousands of dollars in bandwidth savings per month and — most importantly — drastically sped up image downloads (especially the thumbnails). Life was good… but as we know, it’s rarely easy.”

Fascinating stuff about color profiles and how they are supported (or not) in different browsers and on different platforms. I knew this stuff was confusing, but this article does make a lot of it more understandable.

FYI, I use 500px to display my photos.

Source: 500px ISO » Beautiful Photography, Incredible Stories…500px, Color Profiles, File Formats and You – 500px ISO

Tips for Using Auto and Manual Focus on the Fujifilm X100F Camera

(This article is a follow-up to one I wrote yesterday about my other camera, the Olympus Pen-F, where I explained how to get precise focus using both auto and manual focusing.)

Auto-focus on modern cameras is great. It is often very precise, and makes it a lot easier to shoot photos quickly. However, it’s not always perfect, especially if you’re trying to focus on something with a lot of different elements that are at slightly different distances. If you’re using a wide aperture, with less depth of field, it’s possible that part of your shot may be out of focus. You may even see this on portraits, where part of a face may be sharp, and other parts soft.

Most good modern cameras also offer a manual focus option. You won’t find this on a point-and-shoot camera, but any camera with interchangeable lenses, and some without, give you the possibility to focus manually. One of my two cameras is the Fujifilm X100F, which offers manual focus, and has some “Focus Assist” features which are really useful.

First, you want to set the camera to use both auto and manual focus. Go to the AF MF Menu and turn AF+MF On. This means that the camera will use auto-focus when you press the shutter halfway. But if you want, you can also use the focus ring on your lens to adjust focus; just start turning it while you’re holding down the shutter. When everything is ready, press the shutter the rest of the way to shoot a picture. (Note that on this camera you also have to set the switch on the left side of the body to S to have it perform single auto-focus.)

Fuji1

What’s really useful with this camera, however, is the fact that you can press the rear dial to zoom in on your subject, making it easier to see if you’re precisely in focus. This looks like a 10x zoom, and, as you’ll see, gives you a very good close-up allowing you to make sure that your subject is sharp.

Fuji2

And if you move the wheel to either side, it switches to what looks like a 5x zoom, which, for some subjects, is a lot more helpful. (I don’t shoot portraits, but I can imagine that zooming to 5x would make it easier to ensure that an entire face is in focus.)

Fuji3

Another option in the MF Assist menu – just below the AF+MF menu – lets you use Standard assistance or Focus Peak Highlight. This second option displays white lines that highlight the areas in focus. You can adjust the color and intensity of these lines in the Focus Peake Highlight sub-menu. In that menu is also a third option, Digital Split Image, which is only available when you’re in full manual mode (the side switch set to M). This recalls old film cameras, where you had a circle in the center of the viewfinder that was darker, and you aligned the two halves of the circle to ensure that your subject was in focus. I used to like those circles, but I find the split image here – which is a pair of rectangles – is hard to use. But you can zoom in the same way as above using the rear dial, so you can get good focus with this tool as well.

So learn how to use these tools to get all your photos in perfect focus.

Tips for Using Auto and Manual Focus on the Olympus Pen-F Camera

(I’ve also written another article about auto and manual focus in my other camera, the Fujifilm X100F.)

Auto-focus on modern cameras is great. It is often very precise, and makes it a lot easier to shoot photos quickly. However, it’s not always perfect, especially if you’re trying to focus on something with a lot of different elements that are at slightly different distances. If you’re using a wide aperture, with less depth of field, it’s possible that part of your shot may be out of focus. You may even see this on portraits, where part of a face may be sharp, and other parts soft.

Most good modern cameras also offer a manual focus option. You won’t find this on a point-and-shoot camera, but any camera with interchangeable lenses, and some without, give you the possibility to focus manually. One of my two cameras is the Olympus Pen-F, which offers manual focus, and has some “Focus Assist” features which are really useful.

First, you want to set the camera to use both auto and manual focus. Go to the Custom Menu > AF/MF > AF Mode > Still Picture, and select S-AF+MF. This means that the camera will use single auto-focus when you press the shutter halfway. But if you want, you can also use the focus ring on your lens to adjust focus; just start turning it while you’re holding down the shutter. When everything is ready, press the shutter the rest of the way to shoot a picture.

What’s really useful with this camera, however, is the MF Assist settings (at Custom Menu > AF/MF). You have two options: Magnify and Peaking. If you select Magnify, the viewfinder or back LCD zooms in on your focus point, making it easier to see if you’re precisely in focus. This is a 10x zoom, and, as you’ll see, gives you a very good close-up allowing you to make sure that your subject is sharp.

The second option, Peaking, displays white lines that highlight the areas in focus. You can adjust the color and intensity of these lines in Custom Menu > Disp/PC > Peaking. You can change the intensity and color of these lines.

Here’s a shot of the Pen-F focusing on a pen holder a few feet away:

Focus1

When I start moving the focus ring in the lens, here’s how it looks at 10x zoom:

Focus

Remember, the camera zooms in on your focus point, so if it’s not centered, you won’t see the zoom at the center of the image.

I find that the Magnify setting is much more useful than Peaking. I don’t like the intrusive lines, though they may be useful for certain types of photos (such as macro photography). But with the Magnify feature turned on, I can make sure that I’m always in focus.

You can also use this in pure manual focus mode. As soon as you start moving the focus ring on your lens, the camera zooms in. I find this a bit more distracting, since it’s harder to compose images, but if you’re shooting on a tripod, this is a lot easier to use, since you’ll first compose your image in the LCD, then focus; you won’t need to worry about holding down the shutter half way then shooting.

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:

VM19XXW03458 12 MC

VM1956W03408 10 MC

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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