Loving the iPhone 11 Pro Max camera; struggling with the case

I finally managed to carve out 20 minutes to go over to the Verizon store and swap my iPhone X for an iPhone 11 Pro Max (20 minutes turned into more than one hour thanks to Verizon’s 9 Mbit in-store WiFi).

I’m in love with the camera so far. Here are a couple of challenging scenes with the standard camera…

(mostly backlit; note the bearded hipster behind the 3-month-old Corgi)
(tough job watching Head of the Charles)

Verizon sold me a Gear4 Battersea case. It might be tough, but it makes the already huge phone a little too big for a blue jeans pocket. The case buttons are super stiff and make it tough to turn the phone off from the top side button. An Amazon reader says “after using it for a week I noticed that it has extremely scratched up all four sides of my iPhone”. It is so rigid that I am skeptical that it would protect the screen from shock in the event of a drop. The soft silicone cases seem much more likely to be helpful for a drop on concrete. One good feature: The case is thick enough to keep the lenses of the cameras off whatever surface the phone is resting on.

Readers: Do you carry an iPhone 11 Pro Max in a front pocket? If so, what case works well? What about the Apple silicone case? The Verizon sales guy scared me off by saying that it lacked a bezel to protect the screen from a face-down drop.

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Samsung Galaxy Note 10: phone for landscape photographers

The latest Samsung Galaxy Note is now the top-scoring smartphone at DxOMark. It has a 7-point lead over the Apple XS Max, for example, but what’s more interesting is that the phone offers a 13mm-equivalent super wide-angle lens, useful for landscape and perhaps real estate (make an apartment look much larger!). No optical image stabilization on that super wide lens, unfortunately, so it will be best for daytime use.

As with Apple, Samsung calls a normal perspective lens (52mm equivalent) a “telephoto”.

The comparison images at DxOMark show a surprising amount of improvement over Apple, despite not having what you’d think would be required (much bigger sensor and, consequently, thicker phone).

Are we going to be entering a golden age of smartphone photography?

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What is happening with the iPhone 2019 camera?

“Apple Suddenly Abandons Massive New iPhone Camera Upgrade” (Forbes):

Major UK newspaper The Telegraph has revealed that Apple has pulled cutting edge camera technology from its upcoming iPhone 11 line-up and the company has nothing comparable to replace it. With Apple (controversially) redesigning the iPhone 11 around its massive camera upgrade, the news is a shock.

Where does that leave photographers who want the best possible images from a Smartphone? All of the top-ranked cameraphones on DxOMark are Android (Huawei and Samsung topping the list). What has kept me on iOS, though, is that the Apple software is great at wringing the best out of the sensor, e.g., with color balance or intelligent focus point selection.

What’s the next big cycle for Android? Not until spring 2020 for the new Samsungs? Nobody is doing my dream phone with extra thickness for a substantial battery, a bigger sensor, and a bigger lens, right?

What will Apple have? A three-lens system like Android phones have already had for a while? (history)

My iPhone X is less than one year old (required replacement under warranty), but it already seems a little weak in terms of battery life. If I can hang on until September will there be a world of photographic improvement from the next generation of iPhones?

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Less than a month to go before Google breaks hundreds of thousands of links all over the Internet

Google purchased Picasa, a super efficient photo editor that offered seamless integration with online publishing (e.g., you add a photo to an album on your desktop computer and it automatically gets pushed to the online version of the album). When they were pushing their Facebook competitor, Google+, they set it up so that Picasa created Google+ albums.

They wasted a huge amount of humanity’s time and effort by shutting down Picasa (previous post on the subject).

Now they’re going to waste millions of additional hours worldwide by breaking links to all of the Google+ albums that they had Picasa create. People will either have to edit a ton of links and/or, having arrived at a broken link, will have to start searching to see if they can find the content elsewhere.

Example: my review of an Antarctica cruise on the Ocean Diamond. It was so easy to publish the photos via Picasa that I just linked to the photo album from the HTML page. Now I will have to move the photos somewhere else, edit the HTML file, git push, git pull, etc. Then repeat for every other blog posting and web page that links to a Picasa-created album.

Maybe this is why Google has a corporate mission of making the world’s information accessible? They’re the primary force now in making information inaccessible?


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Literally born to be a digital photographer

From “Women of Color Organize for Access and Accountability in Photojournalism” (nytimes, Feb 5, 2019):

Tara Pixley often felt isolated in the newsrooms where she worked as a photographer or photo editor. As a “black woman who was the child of immigrants, raised by a single mom, and also a first-generation college student,” she struggled for a decade to fit in. She was the only woman of color in the photo departments where she worked and was ignored or treated dismissively.


[The article goes on to explore the question of how a person who fits into multiple victim categories might start determining the reason that he or she was “ignored or treated dismissively”:

“There is a three-prong gender/race/class identity space, and the bias and marginalization that it brings down on a visual journalist is very real and makes it difficult for women of color to succeed in this industry,” Ms. Pixley said. “Add to that being gender nonconforming, non-binary or trans, then you’re just this kind of oddity that no one seems to know how to engage.”

So it is either three dimensions or four dimensions.]

Related: Sony Alpha Female program (identify as female as Step 1 towards picking up a $25,000 grant, $5,000 in gear, mentorship, networking, and exhibitions), which Tara Pixley and company complained about in a letter:

one of the awarded portfolios included a prominently featured wedding photo that uses an apparent wildfire as a backdrop for a bride and groom. This was an egregiously tone deaf choice as wildfires destroyed thousands of California homes and lives in the same week as Sony’s announcement. Another portfolio featured images of black and brown people from impoverished nations that exoticized those individuals and communities, rather than telling complex and compelling stories from their perspective.

(Is a wildfire image inappropriate for a California wedding? A lot of California marriages end up in scorched earth litigation that consumes all available fuel (cash) to pay the lawyers.)

Any photo of a non-white subject is risky:

By relying on tropes of people of color, honed and employed over hundreds of years of colonization and dehumanization of black and brown people, you fail to convey a holistic narrative. That is the damning imperialistic photographic tradition being upheld by these images, their photographers and therefore the camera companies that reward, employ, fund, mentor, highlight and support such work.

But what if a bunch of white photographers take pictures of white subjects? Wouldn’t they then be accused of ignoring people of color? The letter goes on to say that Sony, et al., should “hire inclusion consultants.” Maybe the answer is that cameras should have a real-time feed to a second electronic viewfinder. Whenever a person of color is in the frame, the inclusion consultant can check the second viewfinder and approve the shutter release.

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A new film camera system introduced in 2001

Digging through some old content I found this article on the Contax N1 system, a film SLR system to compete with Canon EOS and Nikon. It was introduced in 2001! (The Kodak (/Nikon) DCS digital SLR came out in 1991. The Canon D30 came out in May 2000; the professional EOS 1D in 2001)

There were a lot of bright people at Kyocera and Zeiss behind this. Let’s forgive ourselves next time we miss a trend that seems obvious in retrospect!

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Experiments with a new camera mount system for aircraft

One of the best things that I saw at Oshkosh was Flight Flix, a vibration-isolation system for mounting an action camera on an airplane or helicopter. I purchased mounts for the Cirrus SR20’s tie-down ring and the tow ball underneath the R44 and have begun testing these with the Drift action camera that the company favors due to its long battery life and easily rotated lens for proper “horizon up” orientation. I’m wondering if readers can help with critiques on a couple of tests from the SR20 under-wing mount:

Which one seems better? (“better” = “more stable”) Thanks in advance!

(It was a slightly challenging day for a “stable video” test, with winds gusting up to 18 knots and bumpy air through about 3,000′.)

Dream #1 is to get footage from a $199/hour airplane that looks as good as footage from a $199 drone. Dream #2 will be to get footage from a $369/hour helicopter that looks as good as footage from a $369 drone!

[So far I am not loving the Drift camera. The connection between the camera and the Drift app on an iPhone X is tenuous and I have found it tough to make the settings stick or even start and stop the camera reliably. By contrast, the integration between a phone and the DJI Osmo camera is so tight that feels like using a regular camera’s electronic viewfinder. Support from Flight Flix has been excellent, on the other hand, and they seem to have thought of almost everything. Flight Flix has produced some inspiring sample videos with the Drift, so I know that it can be done even if not by me! And the four-hour battery life (Wi-Fi off; bigger battery option) seems realistic.]

One thing that strikes me as odd is that airframe manufacturers haven’t added mounts for action cameras, both inside and outside, on their latest versions. Wouldn’t most people who spend $800,000+ on a new Cirrus want the option of making a recording without hanging something off a tie-down ring?

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Sony continues to crush Canon and Nikon

This press release from Sony says that they are now #1 in sales of full-frame digital cameras in the U.S. The Alpha mirrorless system was launched only in 2010 (photography history timeline). The first Nikon-brand camera was produced in 1948. The first Canons go back to the mid-1930s (dpreview).

Sony is not all that gracious when it comes to their competition:

As DSLRs fade into the history books of photography,

but maybe that’s because the competition was not sufficiently diverse to survive?

The “Be Alpha” campaign will also feature programs that are designed to foster growth in both the current and next generations of imaging professionals, the most notable of which being the flagship “Alpha Female” program. This multi-tiered, female exclusive program is Sony’s thoughtful response to the imaging industry’s well-documented diversity challenges. It will include a variety of grants and mentorship opportunities for female photographers and videographers, as well as the production of several large-scale industry events.

[If the program is “female exclusive” and the opportunities are limited to “female photographers and videographers”, does it exclude the gender non-conforming? (see UC Berkeley list of terms)]

How did Canon and Nikon let this market get away from them? Ford and GM were eventually able to bounce back and meet the new competition (okay, it took $70 billion in taxpayer funds to prop up GM, but Ford didn’t get a bailout).

Can it be that these companies were locked into obsolete technology? The Nikon F lens mount (1959?) has some well-known deficiencies (so they scrapped it for their own late-to-the-market mirrorless effort), but Canon’s EOS mount was new in 1987. What does it lack compared to the Sony E-mount other than the short flange focal distance? What would have stopped Canon from making a mirrorless mount (they already did a half-assed APS-C one, EF-M) and throwing in a bunch of adapters for legacy lenses?

It can’t be that these companies lacked the ability to engineer a “mirrorless” digital system. They were making “mirrorless” rangefinder cameras with interchangeable lenses back in the 1950s. The compact digital cameras that they’ve been making for nearly 20 years are essentially the same as a Sony mirrorless body plus lens, but without mount/unmount capability.

It can’t be that making high quality sensors is impossible for anyone but Sony. Toshiba makes some excellent high-dynamic range sensors. Nikon was able to buy sensors from both Sony and Toshiba. I think that Samsung makes its own sensors for cameras such as the NX500 and DxOMark testing shows that these have excellent dynamic range. Presumably Canon could have partnered with Samsung if they couldn’t figure out how to tune up their own sensor design.

Readers: What’s the answer? How does Sony walk away with it all?

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