Thoughts On The iPhone X: iPhone Overload?

“Anticipation Over” 2016. Apple iPhone 6s Plus

The wait is over. This week Apple announced its highly anticipated iPhone 8 and the iPhone X, the tenth anniversary model of the now legendary iPhone series. Head over to Apple’s website if you are interested in all the technical details. Let’s face it some of you gadgeteers are interested!

While everything sounds good, I don’t think I’m getting one. Well, not until the next round of phones come out and the 8 and X go on sale haha. The key technological selling points…Face ID, Augmented Reality, and moving emojis? What the heck are these things?!

Come on man, I just got used to the Touch ID and it’s good enough for me, and I didn’t even know I needed it! I don’t need my phone to recognize my face. Or maybe I do? 🙂

Apple is very good on selling us technology we never knew we needed or even wanted. The Augmented Reality feature sounds like something that will transform my world into a fantasy/cartoon experience. Let me tell you something Apple, my world is already a cartoonish fantasy! Why would we need or want this? Yes, I’m sure once we see how cool it is, we won’t live without it.

No disrespect to Apple, I think they are a great company and I don’t really blame them for trying to enhance our virtual experience. It just seems to me that we are experiencing technology overload. Electronics have gotten so good, on our phones, our cameras, our gadgets that now companies are just coming up with things that we never needed to “wow” us into buying. And it’s not just Apple, it’s everyone!

Camera companies are doing the same thing, overloading these cameras with stuff we never knew we needed. Today’s high end digital cameras are really super computers that just happen to take pictures.

The best thing about the iPhone X? I think it’s the “X.” I mean, come one, everyone knows adding an “X” to your product always makes it like a hundred times cooler and more desirable! That “X” sells baby! Just look at the Fuji “X” series. Or the Nikon D1X, D2X, D3X. Or how about a Hasselblad X-Pan? Or a Panasonic LX? Or a Canon G1X? You get the drift?

Finally, the moving emojis? Come on man! A talking poop emoji? Ok, maybe this I need 🙂

 

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Time Machine Part I: Portraits Then & Now

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From left, Zoe in 2008 vs Zay in 2016.

For your Throwback Thursday, we take a ride in the Time Machine.

First we go back to 2008. At the time I was smitten by the Leica 50mm f/2 Summar, an old Leica ltm mount lens. I had just gotten it off ebay for under $100. The glass was advertised as having some light haze, but otherwise ok.

When I received it, I was not expecting much as the Summar is known to be a “soft” lens in the Leica lineage. I know Leicaphiles are a passionate bunch and I can hear some say, “Oh no, my Summar is not soft, it is very sharp!”

Hey, I am not debating you. When I say the Summar is “soft” I say that in relative terms. It may be sharper than other lenses of that era or it may be sharp stopped down, but that’s not the point. In general use, wide open or shot near a strong light source, the lens does not have modern coatings/corrections that would prevent abberations from showing up. And as a Leica fan myself, I actually like the fact that it’s a “soft” lens.

But the fact that it was a near seventy year old lens at the time I got it, I had realistic expectations. However, when I tried it on my Epson R-D1, I was awestruck by the beauty of the images it provided.

Sure, if you’re not careful, the lens can flare and produce a soft veil of haze around your subjects, but if some care is taken with regards to your light source, it can produce images that I would say had that distinct but undefinable Leica “glow.”

Since that time, I have come to rely on a 50mm f/2 Summicron as my go to lens for Leica. However, I will pop the Summar every now and then for portraits.

Flash-Forward to eight years later, 2016…

The photo of Zay was taken with…an iPhone 6s Plus! The baby smiles instinctively, unaware of any camera, regardless of brand or type, and even unaware of the Gerber baby food all over her mouth 🙂

While I will admit that the iPhone 6s is perfectly capable of much better images than this one, nonetheless, I will stand by what I’ve told people for a long time. If you want to make nice portraits, and you want to do it cheap, all you need is a good 6mp camera and a 50mm lens. It doesn’t have to be a rangefinder like the R-D1. Just get a Nikon D70 or Canon Rebel and a 50mm f/1.8 and you will have a very fine portrait machine.

So what have we learned in eight years? Well, for one, the phone cameras today are amazingly capable. In 2008, I don’t think I’d rely on my first generation iPhone for anything but snaps. Heck even today, I just use my 6s for snaps, but I do know if I needed better than snaps I can do it with this phone. But my main use of the iPhone today is to take HD videos for my own records.

So many wonderful things you can do with today’s phone cameras! However, the one thing they can’t do well, due to the laws of optics, is they can’t produce a lot of good bokeh, simply due to the smaller sensors inside. However, it seems the new iPhone 7 aims to change this by “creating” Bokeh in their “Portrait” mode. I’ve seen some samples and some look great, some so-so. I’m not sure though if I really like the concept of fake bokeh. Not that it wouldn’t be useful to some, but for me I think that once you have fake bokeh as a norm, what’s next? Fake backgrounds? Fake locations? You get my drift? Soon the whole photo will become fake and what’s the point then?

Anyway back to the topic at hand, I’ve also learned that I still love my old school gear such as the R-D1, which today would be considered “Classic Digital” and of course a Camera Legend.

I’m fascinated with time, time travel, “Time Machine” and anything else having to do with our perceptions of time, so look out for more “Time Machine” installments.

I’ve also learned that two babies can definitely be very different from each other! Sure we all know that as kids grow up, they become their own people with unique personalities. What I didn’t think of was that even at the baby stage, my two girls are as different as night and day, but at the same time, beautiful and similarly sweet.

Have a great Thursday folks, the week is almost over. If you’ve gotten something for your tax returns, maybe time for some new toys 🙂

King Power: Tribute To The King

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His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej could almost always be seen with a camera in hand or around his neck.

On October 13, 2016, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, also known as King Rama IX, passed away at age 88. He was the longest reigning living monarch up until the time of his death.

Normally, that would not be a topic on a camera blog, but the King had three things going for him in this respect to this particular blog; He was Thai, he was a photographer, and he seemingly loved cameras! Today, I remember him from this aspect.

Before he passed away, I had been searching for photos of the King with a camera because I had a couple of film EOS Rebel cameras and I wanted to pin down which one the King used. I found many photos online, but the best one I found was right in the place where I was staying in Thailand, as shown in the photo above.

The King, especially before the final years of his life, can be seen almost always with a camera around his neck or in his hand. His camera brand of choice seemed to be Canon. I remember seeing him in pictures with what appeared to be an EOS 1000 (Rebel) in the 1990s. Later on, he moved on with the times with a digital EOS Rebel. I do remember seeing photos of him with other cameras, such as a Yashica T series, but it was rare. It was almost always a Canon.

I don’t know if it was a calculated choice or not, but I’ve always admired the fact that this man, a King, and according to Wiki, the richest monarch in the world would be seen with the lowest model Canon SLR or DSLR. He could’ve used any camera he wanted, but he was always seen with the most affordable, low budget, entry level camera.

The King was a man of the people. Perhaps that’s why his camera of choice was something the everyday man could relate too. He had a deep affection for the Thai people and in return he was and is revered in an almost god like manner. When love is given, love is returned. Even now, the country has gone into one year of mourning. Not just one week or one month. One year.

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Images of King Bhumibol Adulyadej can be seen everywhere that Thai people dwell. This image was taken in 2007 in Chinatown, NYC. Nikon D70s, 45mm f/2.8 Nikkor P.

My late Dad was an old school Thai man born in 1932. He came from an era where Thai people were not encouraged to “show off” as it was frowned upon. I always remember Dad saying “Don’t show off. Don’t show off.”

The King, born five years earlier in 1927, probably came from the same mind frame. This could have been the reason we saw him with what I could only call “the people’s camera” as opposed to carrying the latest and greatest high end cameras which he certainly could have had at his disposal.

Strangely, while searching online, I could not find much about the King’s photography itself. We knew he always had a camera with him, but what of his photos? Perhaps, like many good folks I know, he just preferred to keep his shots to himself. I know some phenomenal photographers whose work has never been seen by the public, only from the photos they send me via email 🙂

As I said, when love is given, love is returned. Since it was well known that the King loved photography and cameras, the camera companies honored him with commemorative or special edition cameras such as the 1996 gold Leica M6 “His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand 50th Anniversary of His Coronation” edition with matching gold 50mm f/2 Summicon. I believe there were also Hasselblad and Contax special edition cameras for the King of Thailand as well.

King Bhumibol was a very special monarch and truly beloved by his people. He was the only King many Thais ever knew. His image can be seen everywhere throughout the country. It seemed like he would always be here forever, but he has moved on to that great palace in the sky.

I loved him for all the same reasons most Thai people do. Quite, humble, engaging, caring and giving. But he also has a special place in my heart because he was a photographer and a camera lover. There has been no King or Queen that connected to us camera nuts more in that respect. Rest in Peace King Bhumibol. You will always be a Camera Legend.

 

 

The Extended Trip

 

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“Sisters Sa Kaeo” 2016. iPhone 6s Plus. The girls found themselves on a lovely, but lonely local unpopulated, undeveloped beach in the tiny village of Ban Sa Kaeo in the province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand.

Where the heck in the world are we?! I’m not sure many out there care, but based on the stats there are at least some who do. And I do appreciate that. I know we have been away for long periods before, but this is by far the worst and I do apologize. Some of you have left comments and messages and I promise to get back to all of you.

I have been away vacationing as well as visiting elderly relatives in SE Asia. While the trip is primarily to pay homage to relatives who are not in the best of health, any trip to SE Asia is a potential gold mine for photography. Not to mention a chance to actually use the gear I review here 🙂

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“The Mean Lady” 2016. Olympus OM-D EM-5, Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand.

One thing while overseas is that I always get minimal use of my phone and the internet due to lack of good wifi access and the high roaming charges I incur from my provider. As such I was barely on the internet, but the good thing is I finally know what it feels like to get a good night’s sleep 🙂

On this trip, as opposed to previous trips, I kept my camera gear at a minimal. I kept it light. Two digital cameras, two film cameras and a phone camera. While it may still seem like a lot for some, it’s not for me as I’ve lugged medium format gear and large lenses on my overseas trips in the past. Not this time. A sign that I’m getting old? Perhaps. Or maybe I’ve just learned to maximize from minimal gear? Maybe a combination of both.

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“Cool Blue Pool” 2016. Kids enjoying a splash in a small but cool, blue pool. Olympus OM-D EM-5, Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 in Paranaque, Philippines.

Above are just a few shots from the trip. I haven’t developed the film yet so we’ll see how those came out, fingers crossed. Anyway, just saying Hi! and thanks to all who still visit this site, I appreciate you, I really do!

Best, Sam

 

The Instagram Society And The Age Of The Ugly

Did you take a perfectly good photo or even a bad photo and “funk it up” using one of those cool Instagram filters? Come on, admit it…Yes, we’ve all done it! 🙂

In the past few years, there has been a resurgence of what I’d like to call “ugly” photographs. No disrespect intended to any one photographer, I myself have posted many “ugly” photos!

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The Diana F+ “Toy Camera” by Lomography. Worn out and missing its plastic lens.

So what do I mean by “ugly” photos? Well, I’m talking about photos that are blurry, have lots of digital grain or noise, vignetting, fake scratches, funky colors, HDR, and a myriad of other things that try to accentuate the actual photograph.

When I started taking an interest in photography in the early 80’s, we’d always send out our film for developing and prints. The “good” photos were sharp, clear, and well exposed. The “ugly” photos were blurred, under/over exposed, and the colors were funky. The ugly photos were relegated to the trash bin, or for me, the bottom of the stack since I never throw away photos.

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“Family Classic 1985” Minolta X-700, 50mm f/1.7 MD lens. What a “real” vintage print from nearly thirty years ago looks like. Dirty, scratchy, colors getting funky, but wonderfully nostalgic…to me anyway 🙂

In the film days, I don’t remember many people looking at a blurry print with wonky colors and thinking it was beautiful. Yes, you had the occasional odd print that was technically horrible, but looked pleasing to the eyes. However, there weren’t many of them.

Today though, people relish in these things! Why? Well, I’m sure a lot of it has to do with today’s Instagram society. Of course, Instagram provided an easy way to “funk up” your photos by making them look old, faded, blurred, etc, etc, basically all the stuff I listed above.

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The Yashica EZ F521 “Digital Holga” Toy Camera.

The main reason I believe for today’s interest in “ugly” photos and probably one of the reasons why Instagram and “Instagram-like” filters are so popular these days is simply due to one fact…

As digital cameras get better and better, the images look cleaner and cleaner. They look “perfect” at times, and as such the images begin to look homogenized, pasteurized, and sterilized. A technically perfect image begins to look bland because of how clean it is.

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“The Hydrant” Yashica EZ F521. A perfectly bland, unremarkable image from the Yashica digital toy camera. Something that could only be appreciated by the “Age Of The Ugly” society 🙂

And with so many people into photography these days, some try to stay above the crowd by using these filters or techniques that will give that extra “oomph” to their images.

There’s also a bit of nostalgia for that film-like look. Many youngsters today are actually shooting film. Some actually love it, and some are hipsters riding on what they believe is retro cool. I suspect most are in between.

I ran into a teenager recently in Central Park shooting with a Polaroid One Step, and I thought “Dude, seriously?!” 🙂

Anyway, I was happy to see such a young person with a Polaroid, it can only be a good thing.

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The iconic Polaroid SX-70. Apologies for the poor quality of this photo. It was a quickie done for my Instagram stream.

Speaking of Polaroids, this is probably where it all began. Let’s face it, Polaroids were never about high technical quality. They were originally intended for quick prints and proofs. The resolution was never really high on small Polaroid prints, except for some of the oldest instant films which have not been made in years.

The Polaroid’s best distinction was the ability to give a unique “look” due to the soft prints, the unpredictable color shifts, and the best of user error. And each and every Polaroid instant print is unique because each print represents that very moment the shot was taken.

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“Speed Graphic” 2011. A Polaroid print, shot with the Polaroid SX-70 and Impossible instant color film.

The most ironic thing to all of this “ugliness?” Well, since I started shooting film in the 80’s I have seen 35mm film improve year after year with super-sharp films like Fuji Velvia, Kodak Ektar, and a few others. Then you needed to step up to medium format to get even better, sharper images with even less noise. And then, if you wanted to take it further, you had large format film with its superior sharpness, detail, resolution and lack of grain.

All of a sudden, digital photography comes of age in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The cameras and lenses got progressively better and sharper. The images had less and less digital noise, distortion, and we get to cameras and lenses that can take near perfect images in almost any situation, which is where we are at today.

So as a “backlash” to all this progress, we are back to wanting “ugly” 🙂

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“Underdog” 2011. Shot with the Yashica EZ F521 “Digital Holga.” Toy cameras with all their “ugliness” can be lots of fun to use and can produce unique images.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? It can be neither or both. It can be a good thing for creativity, for something different. However, it can be a bad thing because it gives everyone a perfectly good excuse to be a sloppy photographer.

Again, I’m not knocking anybody, but trying to understand the evolution of what I’m seeing in photography today. I’m guilty as sin of posting many, many ugly photos! Personally, if an “ugly” photo is done well, it can be a beautiful thing. Some people do it really well. I am not one of them though, but I try 🙂

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“GPS” 2010. Shot with the original 2mp iPhone and Hipstamatic.

But to understand why people would throw all this photographic and technical progress away and funk up their photos with beautiful ugliness, there is no answer. All I can think of is that line of the Michael Jackson song…”If they say why, why? Tell ’em that it’s human nature” 🙂

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“Smoke Daddy” 2011. Shot with the original 2mp iPhone and Hipstamatic.

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“SX” 2011. Shot with the original 2mp iPhone and Hipstamatic.

Note: This is just one man’s view and commentary. I do realize that art is highly subjective. In fact, I used to say myself, “One man’s art is another man’s junk.” 🙂

However, this is about photography more so than art and when “art” begins taking over your photographs, then you’ve got something different from photography. Thanks for stopping by! I do appreciate the time you spent. Thank you.