Is Technology sometimes too smart?
live in a technological age. Everything from your computer to your TV remote
features ‘drop-down’ menus, through which you scroll and then press the
‘select’ button or whatever. Even resetting the digital clock in the family
car requires an instruction manual. With cameras, the digital revolution has
brought us the dreaded drop-down menu as well, plus other claimed advances.
These claimed advances include super little plastic bits called ‘memory
chips’, onto which you store hundreds of your photos, to download to your
computer when you feel inclined, and print even later. No more need to carry
film canisters that store the negative film with a measly 36 images on each
one. Hooray for technology!
However, is it quite as good as it is cracked up to be? There was a
communication that had been written to the Bangkok Post, in which the letter
writer was pointing out the fact that when he used to travel he would take
12 rolls of print film with him, which gave him a minimum of 432 frames.
This needed the power of one fully charged NiCad battery and he was set up
for the trip.
But technology has arrived, film is old hat, and now he needs three memory
chips to cover the same number of shots, with each chip costing around B.
3,000. He also needs much more than one fully charged battery, so needs to
take additional ones, and a battery charger. If he wished to save on chips
being carried, he could download his single chip to a computer, meaning that
he would have to carry a lap-top as well. The accoutrements of technology
becoming both space consuming, and expensive.
The writer also found that he was now totally dependent upon a source of
electricity, mentioning that sometimes this is not available as in some
places in India, parts of China, and remote areas in Russia, Tibet and Nepal
and many other countries. Suddenly, technology and its drop-down menus is
not so user-friendly as it is claimed, and in fact has some serious
limitations. The battery technology is definitely lagging behind. The writer
states, “It tickles me pink to know it (technology) is so easily defeated
Now it should be pointed out that the writer said he was forced to go
digital as his print film camera was deemed obsolescent after being in his
possession for 12 years. “Just think of the simplistic beauty of a print
film camera. Point, (auto) focus and shoot,” he wrote nostalgically, almost
as if he had been forced at gun-point into the new technology.
Up till then, I felt very sorry for the writer, but what was being glossed
over is that print film, and print film cameras are now completely dead.
When we were all using a print film camera, you had all that simplicity, but
it actually was not as simple as today’s DSLR. “Point, (auto) focus and
shoot” is just the same, other than the fact that it is faster, more
accurate and even simpler, and you have the most fantastic feature of
‘instant’ review. You know immediately whether you got the shot you wanted.
Something print film cameras could never do.
But what camera remains my favorite? The venerable old Nikon FM2N. A totally
mechanical camera with no drop-down menus, but handy rotary buttons on the
top of the camera which I can turn to change shutter speed and the ISO of
the film. A rotating ring on the lens barrel gives me complete (manual)
control of the aperture too. Advance the film by working the lever. How
simple is that? Unlike the letter writer, I do not have to carry spare
Returning to the letter, “My new digital has buttons, bells, lights, menus
to choose from, enough to rival a Boeing 747 cockpit. Who needs it all? Is
it really necessary?” he asks. The simple answer is that it is not really
necessary, but certainly will produce better results.
Simplistic beauty is better served these days than before. Believe, even I
run completely digital these days.
Fungus isn’t really fun
tropical, humid countries such as Thailand, everything grows very easily and
quickly. Including fungi. A while back I had the problem of one of my lenses
growing vegetables for me. A much loved 18 mm wide angle f2.8 Nikon began to
get those tell-tale ‘spidery’ webs on the front element of the lens. I tried
carefully polishing with a soft cloth, but to no avail. The fungus was on
the inside of the lens not the exterior.
Like many photographers, you become adept at not seeing the gradual
degradation of sharpness in your photographs, until one day it was no longer
possible to ignore. Fortunately, my late photographic friend Ernie Kuehnelt
knew of a place in Bangkok that claimed it could clean lenses. He took the
18 mm there and it was ready the next day. Cost? 500 baht and that was all,
and I have a sparkling clean lens again. It was even easier than they had
thought initially, having quoted 800 baht as the estimate.
I am happy to reward good work, so here is the name of the shop (and I hope
it is still there). It was T.K. Camera Repair, 164/1 Sukhumvit Road, Soi 8,
Bangkok, telephone 02 253 3827.
So how do you check for fungus? It is quite simple really. Take the lens off
the camera (provided it is an SLR) and screw the aperture setting round to
its maximum opening (this will generally be 2.8 or 1.4 if you have a super
‘fast’ lens). This allows you to scrutinize as much of the glass lens
elements as possible. Look from both end towards a white background and see
if you can spot the little trails or tendrils of the fungus. A little is
acceptable around the edges, but it will continue to grow, so it will mean a
trip to the camera doctor one day.
I have been asked in the past just how do you check a camera to make sure it
works correctly. The simple answer is that you look critically at
photographs taken through it, but there are some items you should check
first. Take a good look at the camera body, as well as the lenses as
described above. Look for dents and scratches that would indicate that the
camera has been dropped. Rule 1, don’t buy dropped cameras. For the camera
body to be a light-tight box, it has to be completely rectangular. Even a
small distortion will show up problems. The electronics, when they get
shaken up are potential problems. They will always fail at the wrong time.
The next item to check is the battery section. Open it up and peer inside
after removing the battery. If there are signs of corrosion on the
terminals, this means that a battery has been left too long and has leaked.
This is bad news, as the corrosion can get into the camera works and the
electronics. The fumes will also damage the electronics. Rule 2, don’t buy
Now is the time to see just how well the camera does as far as taking
pictures is concerned. Put it on Aperture Priority and take a series of
shots, each one at the ascending aperture values. Now do the same with
Shutter Priority, using the different shutter speed settings. Now take shots
on Auto Mode of different scenes - some dark, some bright. Finally put the
camera into Manual Mode and go through the different shutter speeds and
aperture settings, adjusting for correct exposure each time.
Now here is the tricky bit, which needs you to look at the results. Being
digital you need to hook up to a large screen computer, squinting at the LCD
screen on the back of the camera is not good enough. You should have series
of shots, all with the same density if the modes are working correctly.
Check the sharpness of the images.
If the camera passes all the inspections and dynamic testing, then it is in
good condition and with correct use and regular servicing should stand you
in good stead for at least 18 years. Just look out for the fungus!
Never get another out of focus photograph again
Just when you thought we had seen it all, along comes the Lytro camera. This
technological marvel allows you to focus the photograph, after you have
taken the picture, not before!
Countless articles have been written over the years, including some here, on
how to make sure you get pin-sharp pix, with or without AutoFocus (AF). It
now looks as if you can forget all that with the new Light Field technology
which is being developed by Lytro Inc in the USA.
This technology puts a whole new perspective on the genre of ‘point and
According to the Lytro Press Release, it is developing a “light field”
camera for consumers that will forever change the way people take and
experience pictures. Later this year, Lytro will start selling light field
cameras that can capture all of the light rays in a scene to offer
photographic capabilities never before possible, such as focusing a picture
after it’s taken. Lytro cameras will also create interactive, living
pictures that can be endlessly focused and refocused by both the
photographer and the viewer, bringing new creative possibilities to
Lytro’s light field camera probably represents the most significant shift in
photography since the transition from film to digital in 1988. The light
field fully defines how a scene appears, from the foreground to the
background and everything in between. Unlike conventional cameras, which can
only record a scene in two dimensions, light field cameras can capture all
of the light traveling in every direction through a scene in four
dimensions. A light field picture taken with a Lytro camera can be
manipulated after the fact in ways not possible with editing software.
“This is the next big evolution of the camera,” said CEO and Founder Dr. Ren
Ng. “Lytro is introducing Camera 3.0, a breakthrough that lets you nail your
shot every time and never miss a moment. Now you can snap once and focus
later to get the perfect picture.”
Since the camera doesn’t focus before a photo is taken, people will no
longer miss the decisive moment due to the conventional delay of the lens
autofocusing as you press the shutter button.
Lytro creates interactive, living pictures that will allow viewers to
immerse themselves in a living picture to discover and focus in on new
details by simply clicking on different parts of a picture.
By using all of the available light in a scene, light field cameras can
capture better pictures in remarkably low light environments without the use
of a flash.
Using the full light field, Lytro cameras provide an immersive 3D picture
that goes beyond the conventional stereo 3D by, for example, controlling the
perspective view of a scene.
“Lytro’s breakthrough technology will make conventional digital cameras
obsolete. It has to be seen to be believed,” said investor Marc Andreessen,
general partner at Andreessen Horowitz.
“Humans have a deep desire to capture the experience of their lives and
share it visually with others,” said Emmy-award winning multimedia
journalist Richard Koci Hernandez. “From early man’s cave paintings more
than 30,000 years ago to the first people posing for daguerreotype photos
wearing iron collars to stay still in the 1800s, humans have gone to great
lengths to tell visual stories. Light field cameras are the next step in
that picture revolution.”
The digital still camera market is large and growing with $38.3 billion in
worldwide revenue in 2010 and expectations to increase to $43.5 billion
worldwide by 2015. Visual storytelling is universal, with 60 billion photos
shared on Facebook in 2010, projected to reach 100 billion photos by this
Undoubtedly this computational approach to the reproduction of images is the
way of the future, the way forward. And equally as predictable, will be the
howls of rage from the ‘conventional’ photography bloc throughout the world
- the same group that pooh-poohed the digital camera as giving nowhere near
the same precision and clarity as the now long dead film cameras. However,
this light field technology should mean you will never miss another photo
If you would like to experience what is coming, visit the Lytro Picture
a commercial photographer, much of the work that came along was tabletop
photography. The most usual was for catalogues, and you have all seen those,
just have a look in your letterbox.
These are generally photos of individual items, all placed in the same
positions and all of the same size. This style of catalogue photography is
very easy and not beyond the capabilities of any weekend photographer with a
good camera and some lights, and these do not need to be expensive either.
For this type of commercial photography you will only need three lights -
one on one side of the object, one on the other side and the last one to
light the background.
Now in the professional arena, the main lights will be flash heads, usually
triggered off by an Infra-Red sender from the camera, but for the weekend
photographer, you do not need to go to this expense to start with. You can
buy internal reflector lights - the kind of light often used as a spotlight
in the garden. My first ones were attached to dinner plates with tape, so
they didn’t fall over.
The two front lights (left and right) you should place at around 45 degrees
from the camera axis, and one should be twice as far from the subject as the
other. You are not looking for flat lighting here, as it is necessary to get
some shadow to give the object some form. This is called ‘modeling’, and
expensive flash heads even have tungsten lights built in, and these are
called modeling lights. These two main lights you can play with to get the
effect you want, but once you have the result required, leave them alone, as
you want the lighting to be the same for all the objects.
Because there is a linear relationship between these two lights and the
square of the distance from the object, you can work out what the ratio is
going to be, but at this stage, go on the appearance that your eyes can see.
The background light is also very important as it is needed to give some
visual separation to make the object stand out from the background. I have
found that lighting the background from below gives a good gradual tapering
off of the light and again is left in position once the desired visual
effect has been found.
Now if you are using the cheap tungsten spotlights, you now have to reset
the white balance on your camera, or else you end up with different color
casts which makes the objects look wrong, but once you have done that - fire
One item you will have to decide upon is the lens you are going to use. If
you opt for a wide angle lens, you will have problems with distortion, as
you will be shooting very close to the objects. If you move further away,
the distortion will be less, but you will get all kinds of other images in
the photo. The answer is to use a longer lens, so that you are further from
the objects, and less likely to have light getting into the camera.
This longer lens does produce some other problems, in particular depth of
field. In any catalogue, you cannot have the object going out of focus, so
even though you are using a long lens, which produces a very short depth of
field, this must be overcome. You do this by selecting the smallest aperture
(which is the largest number on the lens) and around f16 is fine.
But this also means you will need a proportionally longer exposure time, so
when shooting still-life objects you will need a tripod. For this type of
photography, you do not need a large expensive tripod, but the small
tabletop variety will be perfect. You can expect a shutter speed of several
So, to successfully carry out tabletop photography, you need three lights, a
long lens and a tripod. It is not too difficult and if you follow the
instructions this week, you will be able to produce good images which could
be used in a catalogue.
Try your hand at it this weekend.
Getting rid of Red Eye and Noise
How many times has a great photo of a subject been ruined by unreal, staring
red eyes in the person? There are a few causes for “red eye”. Ignoring the
obvious ones of late nights with excessive alcohol intake and scratchy
contact lenses, the photographic cause of “red eye” is the flash burst
illuminating the back of the eyeball! This is particularly a problem with
cameras that have their own in-built flash. The startling look of staring
red eyes can certainly spoil an otherwise pleasant portrait.
The reason for this is that the beam of light from the flash is very close
to and parallel with the axis of the lens, so the lens “looks” directly into
the back surface of the eyeball as does the flash beam.
To get around this problem, professional photographers will use a flash gun
mounted off to the side of the camera. In this way the flash actually comes
across the subject’s eyes at an angle and “red eye” is less likely.
Another reason for the prevalence of “red eye” is that in low light
situations (and that’s the times when you have to use flash illumination)
the subject’s pupils are naturally dilated and it becomes even easier to see
into the back of the eye.
Many camera manufacturers have now begun incorporating a “pre-flash” before
the main flash to make the pupil contract, so it is less likely that you
will see inside the eyeball. The only problem here is that many people
imagine that the “pre-flash” going off means the picture has been taken and
move away just as the main flash fires. If you are using a camera with this
facility it is best to warn the subject that there will be two flashes, with
the real one being the last one!
If all else fails, there are computer programs to change the color - or use