Tuesday, January 29, 2013

More than ‘Simple Lens Reflex’ - “mirror or mirrorless” - Demystifying DSLR

 A well trained monkey can take snaps. Gift yourself a DSLR before someone gifts you one. Go for a short trip to historical monument, weekend getaway, busy tourist spot, you will find yourself surrounded by DSLR strutting crowd. A few days back in a cultural get together, I was lectured upon how Canon is different that Nikon as either of them (I can’t remember which one though) have better shutter speed making one of them better for wildlife photography. I forgot to ask, the wildlife photography was for hare or a tortoise. But the truth is more people aspire to have more ‘likes’ on their snaps on ‘Facebook’, some braving enough to open a fan page, all because ‘Canon’ and ‘Nikon’ believes you can be one, much to the chagrin of the professional shutterbugs. They call it a prosumer product. DSLR dumbed down to point and shoot crowd. Why? How? And if its a well thought plan, we will figure out soon.

But more importantly, let’s understand these little monsters. Without falling prey to the latest Online offer to teach you photography in 4 hours, take some effort to self-learn. Here it starts:

Let me start with some bare statistics - According to a recent Reuters article sales of digital cameras (and particularly DSLRs) have actually increased; Japan shipped close to three times more cameras in January of 2012 that it did 9 years ago. The difference is in the types of cameras that people are buying.

Agreed, your smartphone has more ‘muscle power=pixels’ than usual, but under a situation of special moments, you are forced to take the big boy out - the suddenly affordable instrument under discussion here - Digital SLR or if you find it embarrassing when prodded further - ‘What DSLR stands for?” - Digital Single Lens Reflex.

And if you want to flaunt it further - Like you know something - DSLR has a mirror inside - Yes, a mirror!! Here’s an inside look into a DSLR from alpha tutorials. The image on the left is where you can see the mirror reflecting the view from outside to the viewfinder on to the back. when you press the ‘shutter button’ or ‘click to take a photo’, the mirror lifts and exposes the image to the sensor as seen on the image right.

Most of the time, these days DSLR’s are designed by folks who were designing computers, so you are saddled with design options you don’t need or at least not in the right places. For example, never purchase the one where you have to frame every picture using the back panel LCD, which will wash out in bring sunlight, and almost forces you to hold the camera at arm’s length. This makes sure, your camera has a image stabilization feature, thus forcing it to have one.

Now, the image is formed when the mirror lifts itself up - exposing the ‘sensor’ of the DSLR. When the light photons are focused on the sensor by the DSLR’s, and when enough of them accumulate, it’s translated into a digital form to produce an image map you can view on the camera’s LCD and then transfer for editing.

A lot depends upon the sensor, not the Megapixel. Same Camera, same megapixel will produce different photos owing mainly to the sensor along its optics. There are mainly two types of sensors: CCD (Charged Coupled Device) and CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide semiconductor). Earlier CCD was far superior to CMOS. But now, hardly any difference persists today. So, just don’t bother what the salesman behind the counter brandishes with these acronyms.

Size does matter, when it comes to sensor size. You will often hear the professional swear by “Full Frame” cameras. They are referring to the sensor size similar to the yesteryear’s 35 mm film format - 24mm X 36mm. Now, these are becoming more common and affordable. Sony, Nikon and Canon are all offering cameras with the “full frame” sensor size. We will need an another session entirely on “full frame”, which If you give me company, we will do it later.

Does more megapixel (resolution) are worth paying for? Vendors keeps increasing the resolution as a motivation for you to spend again with them. Let me put in simply, lower resolution cameras creates superior image at higher ISO setting. Taking a leaf out from “Digital Photography School”: In traditional (film) photography ISO (or ASA) was the indication of how sensitive a film was to light. It was measured in numbers (you’ve probably seen them on films – 100, 200, 400, 800 etc). The lower the number the lower the sensitivity of the film and the finer the grain in the shots you’re taking. In Digital Photography ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor. The same principles apply as in film photography – the lower the number the less sensitive your camera is to light and the finer the grain. Larger and more sensitive pixels mean improved
performance at high ISO settings.

Larger Sensor size also increased the dynamic range in the photographs - the brighter(highlights), darker (shadow) & every tone in between. Canon is working on a 120 Megapixel with an humongous 205mm X 205mm sensor. So, coming back to the earlier discussion on Resolution relation to Quality. There’s another variable as well - “Pixel Density”. Pixel density is closely related to the pixel size – larger pixels equal lower pixel density, smaller pixels equal higher pixel density.

Here’s an example: Two identical sized sensors, A - is with small pixels meaning higher pixel density. B - is with larger pixels meaning lower pixel density. Everything remaining the same. Now, A will produce low quality image when put to test with low lighting conditions meaning higher ISO conditions producing more noise. So, a camera with larger pixel size performs better at higher ISOs than a camera with more pixels and smaller pixel size. Camera - with everything same but with different needs. So, more resolution is not where the answer lies - pixel size and pixel density equally matters.

Hope this simplifies your dilemma and may be you can make the salesman stutter when he’s giving you the sales pitch on investing with more pixels. Ahem!! More Pixels!! smaller pixels or larger pixels and how does it affect its pixel density? Excuse me...Let me call my supervisor!!

There is a lot more twist to the story - but we will need a different feature to accommodate all of them.

Happy Shopping!! Now that Dubai is calling out to you with Dubai Shopping Festival.

Find more readings on photography on the links below:

Sabir Haque @ideaminefield

Make the 'Smart' Choice

Consider yourself to be rich - someone who can buy gadgets may be every three months. Live with it!   -  It’s the definition of this century. According to BMI forcast, Sales will be dominated by the replacement market and revenues will be driven by demand for smartphones and 3G handsets. Rising handset replacement rates will be driven by an array of new releases.

Retailers report that, in the high-tier market, the replacement rate is much higher, with consumers upgrading as often as every few months to obtain the latest features. This is a century Asimov & Clarke spoke incessantly in their web deprived world. A world where smart devices are smarter to do more than talking.

If a 'Siri' can kill you to borrow someone's wildest dreams, it can also land you in the middle of the sea if you have just downgraded yourself into Apple iMaps. We live in that world of fantasy, irrespective of your bank balances and belief.

Often Non-Believers who fashionably keep themselves 'off air' or considers mobile phones to make calls or rather ‘just calls’, will one day fall prey to an Angel in the frightful face of losing contacts. And where does the Angel appear from after all?   -  'in a cloud' with either a 5 GB Google Drive or a 2 GB Dropbox cloud. Either way, a non-believer will falls prey to the Cloud Hymn.

And when he decides to join the wave, he finds the world divided: Android or iOs or rather Google or Apple or rather Samsung or Apple. I am not talking about electronic products here. All are the same or sooner will be. Internet - Phone Call - TV - Music - Photography - Video Camera - everything is bundled today in one case in what we call as a 'Smart Phone'. 

It’s smart, which means you can do smart things with it. Things you can accomplish more efficiently. Let’s understand what Operating System means in the context of a Smart Phone. It simply doesn't matter how loaded your phone be in terms of plain hardware - processing power, brighter screen, more resolution or more pixel loaded camera. Everything boils down to the software which makes each of them work in tandem. That's the Operating System for you. In your Nokia heydays, you would hardly bother to question what ‘Symbian’ meant. But now, that’s where the debate rages on.

And Phones are not like computers; in a computer you can load multiple operating systems.  A mobile OS is more like a lifestyle choice. Your choice of various applications and phone functionality will define your life, whether it's used to choose a restaurant in your neighbourhood or downloading a music track from an online store. 

Microsoft, who recently launched their Windows Phone 8, hopes to bridge the gap between Apple and Google with their offerings in the same space. Microsoft was doing just okay but for a while.  They had Microsoft Mobile, which was fairly successful, amongst the Geeks=corporate honchos. Geeks bought it, as they could read mails from their Exchange Servers and soon companies were trying to standardize it as most companies were running Windows in their servers. But Windows wanted to play sport with Consumers rather than Enterprise Users. From 38 percent in 2008 in peak market share, by the time Apple launched its iPhone, it lost its steam. Fast Forward now, its market share is around 3.5%. For the longest time you can remember, we have always felt rather saddled with Windows Everything - Desktop, Laptop & now smartphone/tablets. It’s never been a masterpiece of reliability, innovation and functionality. Their biggest false start to beat Apple in the game was the 'Pink Project', when they announced their acquiring Danger (it paid a
reported $500 million to acquire Danger), a Java based smartphone platform that pioneered messaging-oriented phones targeted at younger people. It was disaster from the beginning and could never integrate itself or decide whether they will stick to Java based platform or their own Windows CE Kernel. It is important to note here, that manufacturers like Apple or Microsoft or Google not only sell you smartphones, it’s a bundle which includes - maps, online stores, hardware accessories, development tools and third party software options. 

So, Apple is all about the bundle, isn't it? It is actually almost impossible to believe how Apple positioned itself as the an ultra-cool company (it began with iPod undoubtedly) and managed to push forward iPhone, when it was in its initial offering one the worst phones ever as compared to its contemporary at that time like Palm OS, Symbian and even Blackberry which were pretty established name in early 2007. Remember, iPhone came in mid-2007. iPhone didn't support 3G, no multi-tasking, no support for 3rd Party Apps, you can't copy and paste (although it’s still a pain), no attachment possible in emails, no support for MMS, no exchange push email, non-customizable home screen, no support for tethering, a user can't see the file system, you can' edit office documents, no voice dialling and locked up from hackers and developers. How the hell did it even work? It banked its success on the 'coolness' factor - its flagship 'iTunes' superstore, new widescreen experience a much better keyboard experience. All in all, it seemingly bought in a fresh new outlook towards smartphones instantly building up a strong user base. Although, there is one philosophy that's inherent with Apple - distrust? How? Knowing the cute green genie will throw up more light - Android. 

Feeling suffocated by the scare of the word ‘Copyright’. The recent cockfight between Apple Vs Samsung brings us to the scary world of litigation and endless patents impeding creativity.  Feel free to walk into the world of ‘Copyleft’. The simplest way to make a program available for free in the the public domain, uncopyrighted. This allows people to share the program and their improvements, if they are so minded. That’s another word for ‘Copyleft’ is ‘Open Source’. That’s a software being developed to escape from software’s that don’t allow provide freedom to its users. Android is not ‘Open’ it rather allows its users to be free.

Android is a mashup of Linux (Travold’s Kernel), some libraries, a JAVA Platform and some applications. Although most device models where Android finds itself are ‘tyrants’; they are designed so users cannot install and run their own modified software, only versions approved by the company – thus impeding ‘freedom’. That’s where ‘Rooting’ comes into play.

Now, most will argue, thus is similar to ‘Jailbreaking’ in iOs (Apple). The answer lies in its root. Well, yes, quite literally. Apple’s OS is not ‘open source’ to begin with. What jailbreaking can allow you is already included as basic functionality within Android. Rooting allows you to gain privileged control of your device. You can become a ‘superuser’ – a ‘Neo’ break the system and set all the users free. Pretty Utopian to break the ‘matrix’ rather, but in essence that’s the freedom the green genie promises.

The reason we believe in innovation and technology is because of those geeks out there. It needs to be incubated without any corporate’s vested interest. Internet was born free but it’s no longer free. The power in our hands is this ‘smart phone’. Keep it free while it can last. 

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