Photography

On moving from iPhone photography back to DSLR photography

In recent years my photography habits have changed, from mostly using my Canon EOS 400D digital SLR camera, to simply using the excellent and handy camera in my mobile phone (currently an iPhone 4S). With a high quality, highly mobile, camera in my pocket all day every day, it became much easier to use the iPhone 4S for taking everyday photos than having to carry around my digital SLR camera all the time. The change from a dedicated camera to my iPhone camera also seemed to have the effect of making me take fewer photos, and go out on fewer specific photo walks around the city.

At 10.1-megapixels the EOS 400D has only a slightly better sensor than the 8-megapixel iPhone, but it is less practical to carry around, and it doesn't automatically geotag my photos and it doesn't let me post them instantly to online services like Flickr, Twitter or Facebook (depending on what the photo is). For posting photos online, you often can't tell the difference between the two cameras, though there is a noticeable difference if you ever look at the full size versions, or want to print out larger copies.

One advantage the DSLR has is that it can zoom in further on details (the iPhone doesn't have an optical zoom, so any zooming means poorer quality photos), and I can switch to a dedicated zoom lens to go even further, though that obviously means carrying more kit around. In 2010 I was organising a mapping party on the Isle of Man and needed to be able to take photos quickly - with a good zoom to be able to pick up street signs and other details - so I started using a point-and-shoot camera (Fujifilm FinePix JZ510) which was small enough to carry around every day, had a great zoom on it, and produced good enough quality images. Little did I know at the time, but I hardly used my DSLR again after that, and having switched to using a combination of the new smaller camera and the iPhone.

Fast forward a year and a half and I have decided to move back to using a DSLR again. I realised that for it to be worth the effort of carrying around a bigger camera again, the difference in quality between the iPhone and the DSLR would have to be significant. With that in mind, I upgraded from the 400D to the new 18-megapixel, touch-screen, video-capable Canon EOS 650D.

On a recent trip to Germany, I got a chance to test it out. I enjoyed re-learning how to use an SLR (I still need to remind myself somewhat more!), and used it quite a bit while I was away exploring the beautiful Allgaü region of Bavaria. I found the 650D to be great, but I still found myself switching between the 650D and the iPhone in some situations, such as when I wanted to use the iPhone's HDR facility to keep the detail in both dark and light extremes of a photo, or when I wanted to be able to post the photo somewhere online that same day.

The photos below show a similar scene (from slightly different angles, and with slightly different lighting conditions) to give a quick comparison of the two cameras.

Neuschwanstein from the Marienbrücke
Neuschwanstein from the Marienbrücke, taken with iPhone 4S camera
Neuschwanstein from the Marienbrücke
Neuschwanstein from the Marienbrücke, taken with Canon EOS 650D camera

Could you tell them apart at that size? For online use, they're both perfectly fine, but if you take a look at the original version of both (iPhone and 650D) there's quite a difference in the quality of the photo, the iPhone version being much grainier and smaller in terms of pixels (3264x2448 vs 5184x3456). The focus on the 650D version of the photo doesn't look perfect, but that's probably my fault ;)

Keep an eye on my Flickr stream to see more photos from the 650D, and no doubt the iPhone and compact JZ510 cameras, depending on which ones I have with me when the perfect photo opportunities arise.

Why does Amazon punish mobile users?

Sitting on my sofa this evening, reading through some tips and tricks for selling photos for use in magazines, calendars, postcards and the like, my Photos That Sell book made a number of references to the Freelance Photographer's Market Handbook which gives details of publishers and publications that are on the lookout for photos to use.

Curious to find out more about the different ways to crack into the freelance photography market, I reached for my iPod touch and tapped out the address for Amazon into its Safari browser. Amazon had detected I was on an iPod (well, it thought it was an iPhone) and gave me a nice mobile interface to work with.

I found the book with ease and added it to my basket. Wondering what the minimum order was for free shipping, I went into their help section to try and find out. It was then that I noticed that they punish people for using their new mobile interface, stating 'All items ordered from your mobile device will be shipped standard shipping, unless you are an Amazon Prime customer.'

Why make it easier for customers to buy products from you but then not give them the shipping option that must have attracted them so more customers over the years? Admittedly, they do give the option to use their full site instead, but it's not as convenient on a mobile device.

In the end I resorted to using the laptop, so Amazon didn't lose the custom, but it would be nice if they'd give the free shipping option as part of their iPhone/iPod beta site.

Welcome, iPod Touch

iPod TouchLast week I added a new iPod to the family - the iPod Touch. This is not just an iPod in the sense of music, but an iPod in the sense of a truly portable network device with a sexy interface to boot. The iPod is no longer the music player that it was when it was originally released, with music now just playing a much smaller part of the product.

When planning my purchase I was torn between the iPod Touch and the iPhone, the only differentiating factors being the camera and the phone capabilities (and therefore its ubiquitous data connection). At basically the same initial price for both, it didn't make sense for me to go for a mobile phone with an 18 month contract that had a below par camera when I could also go for a free Nokia N95 and its embedded 5 megapixel camera while paying around the same amount of money on a contract. Thanks to my employer I already had a chance to try out Nokia's internet enabled camera and loved its quality and ability to post photos directly to the internet and am looking forward to being able to do that again in the near future.

There's quite a bit of overlap between the iPod Touch and the N95, but the Touch has an interface that's just so much nicer to use than the N95, for mail and web browsing especially. Talking of overlap, at eight gigabytes the device isn't big enough to hold my entire iTunes collection, so I don't think I'll be ditching my 80 gigabyte iPod Classic any time soon.

Despite being very pleased overall with the Touch, there are a few things that I'd really love to see added to the device:

  • Media streaming from other iTunes libraries on the network
  • Wireless syncing with host computer
  • Jabber chat client
  • Video plugins for Safari to allow viewing of RealPlayer content (e.g. from the BBC)
  • Email search in the Mail app (server-side)

Without a cellular data connection, the wifi on the device is very important for those times you want to access the internet when out and about. There are a number of UK companies and organisations starting to provide free wifi in their premises (e.g. Wetherspoons pubs, McDonalds, local libraries and other places) and in public spaces which is great, and the Cloud has dropped their monthly fees for iPod Touch owners to a price that mirrors what you'd pay for a single hour at most wireless hotspots.

It's also amazing how many other venues have wifi available in them thanks to some unknown third party provider. This is a grey area when it comes to the law though, with wifi theft already being punished under the Communications Act 2003 in a number of cases. I say it's a grey area because there is often no easy way of telling if an open wifi hotspot has been intentionally provided free of charge either by a venue or by someone else actively sharing their connection for passers-by.

Art Auction for Age Concern Isle of Man

A group of Applied Business students from St. Ninian's High School in the Isle of Man is holding an art auction on 29th January in aid of Age Concern. Over 40 local artists have donated artwork for sale in the auction which will hopefully produce a nice donation to charity as well as a great thing to put on the organisers' CVs.

The organisation of this event significantly trumps my involvement in a Young Enterprise group as part of a similar scheme when I was at school. We managed to make some novelty items and Christmas decorations as well as coming out with a slight profit for members of the group, but nothing quite on the scale of this.

If you're going to be on the Isle of Man next Tuesday, go and put a bid in for a piece of local artwork, perhaps a photo of the Point of Ayre Lighthouse ;)

Point of Ayre Lighthouse, Isle of Man

Stuttgart Flickr Meetup

Stuttgart Flickr meetup

On Friday 26th October there is going to be a Flickr meetup here in Stuttgart. We'll be meeting at 6pm in the Calwer Eck pub in downtown Stuttgart. All are welcome to come along, just leave a comment or add yourself to the event on upcoming.org if you're interested.

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Am Freitag 26. Oktober kommt ein Flickr treffen in Stuttgart. Treffen wir uns um 18h in Calwer Eck. Jeder ist wilkommen! Kommst du auch? Bitte hier Kommentar einlegen oder unter upcoming.org anmelden.

Maps of Stuttgart

Landkarte von Schwarzwald
Taken at Buechsenstrasse 54, Stuttgart, Baden-Wuerttemberg, 48°46' 45" N, 9°10' 15" E

The state surveying office (Landesvermessungsamt Baden-Wuerttemberg) here in Stuttgart has a display on the outside of their building showing satellite imagery covering the length of the Rhein with a number of examples of maps from the places across the region over time. This old map shows some of the area around the Black Forest, or Schwarzwald, just south of here.

Flickr adds support for geocoding

The popular photo sharing website Flickr introduced native support for geotagging photos on Monday.

Because of the flexibility of the system, there have been a number of options around for a while that have allowed users to geotag their photos. None of them have been quite as simple as Flickr have just made it though. And it's great to see that the guy that built the first geotagging mashup of Flickr and Google Maps - Rev Dan Catt - was actually the person that Yahoo recruited to build up the geotagging functionality within the site itself.

The new geotagging system is really easy to use, it's functional and it's pretty at the same time. It also has a geotagging API that developers can plug into if they wish.

The thing that surprises me is the lack of support for GeoRSS in their feeds. With all this location information flying around (1.2 million photos geotagged within the first day) it would make sense to include that geodata in the RSS feeds from the site. I'd really like to be able to pull geotagged photos from my Flickr stream into my geoblog and photos section over at geodan.org and have their location information automatically assigned based on the information stored against them in Flickr.

You can also see my map of photos on Flickr.

Where to print photos online in Germany?

When I was putting up some photos in my room recently, I realised that I didn't have prints of many recents photos that I've taken. When I was in the UK I tended to use Photobox for printing my shots (and still do when I need to print shots to send to people), but for me to order from a British company and pay higher postage costs to get it delivered to me in Germany seems crazy, when I can presumably do it all through a German company for less money.

A quick Google search tonight for 'foto drucken' (photo printing) came back with a list of a couple of different sites that looked to be useful: Bildpartner, Pixaco and Foto.com. My problem is that I don't know how reliable any of them are. To me, the look of a site gives me an initial impression of the quality of the service and I don't look favourably on sites like Foto.com that don't look right in my Safari browser.

For reference, I'm going to compare pricing of the different sites below.

Site 7x5"
(18x12.5cm)
10x8"
(25x20cm)
A4
(30x20cm)
Postage to
Germany
Bildpartner €0.29 €1.29 €2.65
Pixaco €0.16 €0.58 €2.85
Foto.com €0.18 €0.50 €0.50 €2.49
Photobox Ireland €0.29 €2.99 €3.65 €2.50

It seems like I've been paying too much in recent years for printing my photos at Photobox. Out of the others, Foto.com comes top pricewise, but if anybody has experience of any of the companies, please leave a comment to let me know. In the meantime, I should just try sending some photos to be printed at Foto.com and see how well they come out.

Photography in the world of Web 2.0

In a world where it has become utterly painless to share photos with the world, it has been difficult to justify suffering the time-consuming process of manually processing images, uploading them and then adding them into a database to be proudly presented in the place I've been sharing my photos since 2000.

The photography section of my site started first with just a few of my favourite photos but quickly expanded into a fully fledged, custom-built, gallery system where I could share all of the photos I was taking using both film and - increasingly over the years - digital formats. Putting them into a database allowed more flexibility than hard coding them into pages and simplified the process of sharing them. Unfortunately, I never spent enough time developing the admin interface that runs it all, so it doesn't do anywhere near as much as it could to help me out.

Then, just over a year ago, I tried a photo sharing community out of curiosity. It was getting some great reviews and the community was growing pretty quickly. My usage of Flickr was patchy at first as I experimented and didn't fully see what all the fuss was about. Soon winter started to fade into to spring and I started taking more photos. Tagging the photos with relevant topics and sharing them with groups of like-minded people, strangers started to come in to my corner of Flickr and leave comments as they flicked through my photo book. I was hooked.

Since that point I've added very few new photos to the hundreds on this site, and instead have added over 1,000 photos to my Flickr photo stream.

Hopefully before too long I'll start to pull some of those back into this site, but I'll have to make a decision of either updating my site to talk to Flickr and pull in some photos that way, or completely redesigning the way the galleries work. If I do the latter I'll almost certainly use the Drupal system as a framework to build the new site on top of. That would give me the ability to let people comment on photos, subscribe to latest updates and all sorts of good stuff. Then I'd just need to add the ability to pull in selected photosets from my Flickr account, and I'm set.

Learning about AJAX

Mapping my photosIn order to improve the interactivity of my photo map, I have been learning about different ways of linking the information that comes from my database of photos and the mapping data which comes from the Google Maps API to what the user is doing.

Using a mixture of technologies that are commonly known as AJAX (or Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), I have allowed the list of nearby locations - which shows to the right of the map - to update itself whenever the user moves the map around the screen. It will show a list of 5 places closest to the centre of the map and also the distance they are from the centre.

One next stage of development will be to allow the user to click on one of these name and automatically zoom the map to the right area, along with other features including improving what is actually shown on the map for each place.

Some of these new mapping features will probably require broadband to be able to enjoy them properly because they can be quite data intensive.

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