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Wednesday
Dec182013

Why "Big Cameras" will be with us for a while...

Yes, cell phone cameras are great.

But here are a some things that they can't do (yet): 

  1. They can't take great pictures of things that are far away
  2. They don't do a very good job with sports or things that move
  3. They don't handle challenging lighting situations well
  4. Any combination of the above.  And these situations usually occur in conjunction (a sports with fast moving kids/ball, on the other side of the field, in poor lighting conditions).

That's where the heavy, bulky, DSLR cameras shine.  I happen to have the Canon 6D.  And, honestly, although I own a mirrorless camera (SONY NEX 6), I don't find it very useful anymore, as it's too big and awkward to compete with the cell phone, and not nearly fast enough in operation or with good ("fast") enough lenses and multiple flash options to handle the situations above.

Note on Sony cameras and color:  Ken Rockwell, on his very fine website, has been pointing out the problems with color rendition that manufacturers other than Canon and Nikon seem to have for a long time.  I didn't pay all that much attention, but he is right: the Sony cameras that I own (NEX 6 and RX-100) take beautiful, vivid landscaps, but poor pictures of people and kids.  Faces have a greenish cast.  And, as he also notes, although this can be fixed, it's way, way too much work to do for each image of people.  You might think that you could correct this by changing the color balance on the camera, but I have not been able to fix the problem completely.  By contrast, almost every picture that I take with my Canon D6, even in terrible light, comes out with perfect colors.

Here are things that I found are worth having and paying for in a camera:

  1. Bigger sensor.  There's no substitute.  The larger the sensor, the more light is collected, and the better the pictures.  Especially in low/dim light, for moving things or sports, or with a flash.
  2. Great lenses that are fast (low F number = lets in lots of light).  Make or break for fast moving things.
  3. Always with you.

I can't figure out a way to have all three.  Numbers 1 and 2 are the province of the DSLR, especailly a full-frame model.  Number 3 is the cell phone camera.  That's why I've now gone to using pretty much only the camera phone, or breaking out the "big rig."  The Sony RX-100 and NEX system are underutalized, and will probably be traded-in or find their way to Ebay in the future.

Goal for the spring-summer:  take a class on photographic composition so I can stop taking technically great pictures with no message or content!

 

--Tiron

 

 

 

Thursday
Oct182012

Cell Phone as Camera

In the last post I mentioned that I thought there were four main reasons why the cell phone was in the process of making the dedicated camera obsolete for all but the photo hobbiest.

 

  1. They are always with us
  2. The cameras in cell phones are getting very good
  3. They are connected
  4. They have apps

 

I'm a pretty recent convert to cell phone photography, but I'm rapidly leaving the "good camera" snobbery behind.  For one thing, the iPhone is incredibly fun to take pictures with, in part because of the large variety of really cool, fun apps that are available to take photos, do really cool effects and modifications to those photos, and share the photos.

Photo apps have been a revalation for me.  So much so that, for a while, I wondered if there was any hope for survival of the dedicated camera, either DSLR or compact, unless they somehow get into the app ecosystem.  Apple isn't going to get into the camera buisness.  However, Android cameras have already been released by Samsung.  I am not sure how companies like Canon and Nikon are going to keep their market share from eroding (more like crumbling) without connectivity and the panopoly of 3rd party applications that are fueling iPhone and Android based photography.

And I am in my infancy in terms of applications for sure.  For the record, here are the ones that I'm currently using, though they are in flux as I write this:

 

  1. General Camera Apps
    1. Camera!
    2. Camera+
    3. Hipstamatic
    4. PS Express
  2. HDR Apps (High Dynamic Range photography -- subject of a future post)
    1. HDR FX
    2. Pro HDR
    3. Dynamic Light
  3. Panoramic Apps
    1. Photosynth
    2. Sphere (used to be TourWrist)
    3. Cycloramic
  4. Editing and Effects
    1. Snapseed

Wow.  I can't do any of the cool stuff with my big, heavy, expensive, and somewhat complex Canon system that I can do with my iPhone and a few apps totalling less than $20.

On the other hand, I can't take great photos and video of my son's gymanstic's competitions either...

 

--Tiron

Thursday
Oct182012

Camera Connected

Taking great pictures is wonderful.  But increasingly it's what you do with them right after you take them that's the focus of attention and enjoyment.  It's one of four main reasons why cell phones, particularly the iPhone and Android phones, have become by far the most popular phones in the world. They are connected both by the increasingly high-speed cellular networks (4G/LTE), and by WiFi.  So your pictures arrive on Facebook, Flicker, your blog, or your favorite photo site (mine is SmugMug) almost as soon as you've pressed the shutter button.

Unless you are using a "good" camera, that is.  And that's why companies like Canon and Nikon are scared.  And they should be.  If they don't innovate, and very fast, they may well go the way of the dinosaur.

A little overview and history.  The past few decades have been dominated by SLR-type cameras from Canon, Nikon, and a few other manufacturers at the high end of the market -- in other words "good" cameras.  (SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex, and denotes that the camera has an internal mirror that sends the light to the viewfinder to frame and focus the image, and then moves out of the way so light can get to the film.)  If you replace the film with a solid-state image sensor you have a Digital SLR, or DSLR.  DSLRs account for the vast majority of high-end cameras sold today.  These are big and bulky, have interchangeable lenses, and take great pictures.  If you know what you're doing.  And you've managed to lug the thing to the site of the great photo opportunity.

Then there are Pocket or Compact Cameras which are much smaller than DSLRs, generally fit in a pocket or purse, and take surprisingly great photos as well.  They tend to demand less of the photographer in terms of technical skill, but just as much skill in knowing what will make a great image.  

There's a wannabe category in the middle that we will talk about as well, sometimes called Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera (MILC).  Other names are Compact System Camera (CSC) or Mirrorless System Camera (MCS).  As I said, a category still carving out a name and a space.  Entrants in this category are positioned between DSLR and compact cameras.  They tend to attract folks who would like to have all the flexibility and features of a real DSLR in a more portable format.

ALL the different digital camera categories are going gung-ho for connectivity in an attempt to retain interest in dedicated cameras and stem the hemorrhage of users going cell-phone only.  It's going to be a hard task, as cell phone cameras are getting really good.  And they are always with us.

And they have apps.

 

--Tiron

Saturday
Sep012012

How long, how strong?  

This is a nice tool from Steve Gibson to assess how difficult a password is crack by brute-force.  Please note that passwords that might be very obvious for a human to guess might be take a while brute force (like Password1), so don't confuse these different requirements of a good password!

Assuming that the attacker can guess 100 trillion guesses per second (easily attainable with GPUs) and you want to be safe for 1 year:

  • Numbers Only:  Length of 22 = 3.5 years to guess; 21 is about 4 months
  • Lower case only15 characters is about 6 months
  • Upper and lower13 is 6.6 years, 12 is 1.5 months
  • Upper, lower and number12 is 1.4 years
  • Upper, lower, number, and symbol11 is 1.8 years

So, numbers only is bad.  Upper or lowercase only is much better and combining them gets you down to about 13 characters.  At this point, it’s either length or adding a number.  Note that if you start with lower case, rule of thumb is that you can use one less character in overall length for each different type of character (upper case, number, symbol) you add.  Which is easier -- it’s up to you!


Saturday
Sep012012

PASSWORDS -- Part II

In Part I we looked at the top 5 real passwords chosen by real LinkedIn users, about 1 in 75 of whom chose the password “link”.  While I’m pretty sure that you’re more imaginative than that, let me put forth some suggestions for your consideration.  Caveat:    These are my suggestions and have not been vetted by security experts! 

First, some vocabulary.  Let’s first talk about a “strong” password.  Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

Password strength is a measure of the effectiveness of a password in resisting guessing and brute-force attacks. In its usual form, it estimates how many trials an attacker who does not have direct access to the password would need, on average, to guess it correctly. The strength of a password is a function of length, complexity, and unpredictability.

A brute-force attack refers to breaking or cracking the password by systematically trying all possible combinations of characters.  It is important to note that you will sometimes see password strength being used exclusively to mean the resistance of a password to brute force attack, and not to intelligent guessing by a human.  An example would be any word found in the dictionary, such as “password.”  Note that it might take a while to try every combination of lower case letters to guess “password”, but it won’t take a hacker more than a few guesses, and every word in a dictionary can be tried in a fraction of a second.

 

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