MY BLOG & SOAPBOX

To help order and sort some of the things in my mind, it often helps me to write them down. And this is the place I do just that. Not always related to photography. Not always in English. Manchmal auch auf Deutsch.
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my new blog:
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my old blog:

MEIN BLOG & SEIFENKISTE

Die Dinge niederschreiben hilft mir, sie zu ordnen und einzuordnen. Hier ist der richtige Platz dafür. Nicht immer geht es um die Fotografie und nicht immer schreibe ich auf Deutsch. Manchmal auf Englisch.
Ich habe kürzlich die Blog-Plattform gewechselt. Hier ist mein neues Blog:
Ich habe kürzlich die Blog-Plattform gewechselt. Hier ist mein altes Blog:

PocketChris Fun Fact #8: How much is enough?

iPhone4AppIcon.pngHow much information is enough? And how much is too much?

In the context of PocketChris this was a question that I spent a lot of time trying to figure out.

If you have ever been on one of the workshops, you know that getting me to talk about photography is a lot easier than getting me to stop talking.

After having built several test versions with different chapter lengths and after carrying them around on my iPhone for a while, about 1000 words per chapter felt about right. Short enough to provide for a quick five-minute information snack, but long enough to feel like you got your money's worth.

This is actually a huge problem that a lot of writers face. Writing a lot of text is easy. Expressing an idea in many words is simple. Simple for the writer that is. It places most of the strain on the reader, who has to sift through more text to pick out the good information.

So less words in a PocketChris article does not mean that I was too lazy to write more. It means that more time has gone into making the chapter contain all the important information in an as easy to digest way and in as little writing as necessary. One thousand words to be precise.

There are audiobooks that cost a lot more in their abridged form just for that reason. Time is a valuable good in today's world as much as I don't want my own time to be wasted, I don't want to waste anybody else's time.

I didn't always manage to hit the 1000-word mark. Some of the articles are over 1200 words long, but I still feel comfortable that I've managed to boil things down enough to give you your money's worth.

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Best app for writers. But the logo...

scrivenerlogo.pngI write. Articles, chapters for PocketChris, notes for podcasts. A lot of this writing needs to be managed, some chapters for PocketChris are in draft, some in review, some at the editor, some ready for testing. It has a tendency to turn into a real mess.

Things have been a lot easier since I found Scrivener. It helps me structure the work and it helps me track status. It helps me output my work into a clean format. It is not a word processor, it's a writing tool.

There's just one thing that keeps bugging me, one thing that I keep tripping over again and again, several times a day, and it happens while I'm not even using the application.

It's the icon.

Or rather a side-effect of it. It's not that I don't like it. This is about the way it interacts with the OSX dock.

The dock has been designed among other things to give you one important piece of information at a glance: if an application is running or not. For a while now, OSX has been doing that by placing a bright dot below the icon.

Here's the Lightroom icon with the app not running:

Dock.png

And here it is while Lightroom is on.

LR_on.png

Here is the Scrivener icon with the application not running:

Dock-1.png

And here it is with Scrivener running:

Dock-2.png

Do you see the difference? The reflection of the white dot/apostrophe/comma of the Scrivener icon almost looks like the dot OSX adds when the app is running. The placement of the reflection is almost exactly where the dot is. And it's bright enough that almost every time I look at the dock I do a double take to see if Scrivener is running or not.

It's a minor thing. It's small. It's really not important. Most people will never notice it.

It drives me nuts.

(I still love you Scrivener)

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Fujifilm X100: The digital camera I might actually get really excited about

Wait a minute, excited about a digital camera? After all the analog journey you've seen me take?

That journey is still in full swing, and I still have quite a few things to learn in the analog realm. But I'm also a digital photographer, I use the 5D Mark II, I've got the older 5D Mark I as a backup, the Panasonic LX3 is my main point-and-shoot camera and of course there's the iPhone that I use most often simply because I always have it with me.

I have a soft spot for rangefinder cameras. They are smaller than DSLRs, they are quite inconspicuous, they have an optical viewfinder that shows more than the actual picture, so you get lots of context when composing an image, you frame the image by using a bright frame inside the viewfinder, the viewfinder is all the way to the left of the camera, so you can compose without squeezing your nose against the back of the camera and with your left eye unblocked, so you can get even more context of the scene when composing.

All that together makes an ideal street photography setup, as demonstrated by innumerable street photographers over the years.

Epson of all companies tried with a digital rangefinder and stopped the experiment after a while. Leica came out with the M8 and now the M9, but those are not really on the affordable side. Then Leica released the X1 in the rangefinder form factor, using an APS-C size sensor with a fixed focus f/2.8 36mm equivalent lens.

The concept of the X1 appealed to me. The form factor is great, the rangefinder concept in general is pretty much up my alley, but after a short while it started to become apparent that the camera apparently wasn't without its issues. Slow AF, no video feature, no built-in optical viewfinder (you can get an optional one) and the list doesn't seem to stop there.

Then I heard about the upcoming Fujifilm X100. It's supposed to be out in March. It's supposed to cost around 1000€/$1200. And it has gotten me very excited even though I still have to see a single test shot or review.

A few of the things that got me interested:

1. Control: direct access to shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation through wheels. Aperture ring is on the lens where I want it. Manual focus ring is on the lens where I want it. OVF/EVF switch is a real hardware switch. Automatic modes: shutter priority, aperture priority, program, manual. Scene modes: none (Yey, no "baby's first steps" or "fireplace in the log cabin" or "group of three people in front of sunset" scene modes. Thank you thank you thank you!). Dioptre correction for the viewfinder.

2. Viewfinder: Optical. Wait, electronic. Wait, both! The hybrid viewfinder gives you an optical picture that shows more than the actual picture will show, so you get the context. It will give you a bright frame inside the viewfinder so you know where the image ends. Nothing too spectacular so far, cameras had that fifty years ago. But this bright frame and the surrounding information such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and quite a bit more comes from a 1.4 megapixel LCD panel and is an overlay to the optical view you have. It's like a fighter jet heads-up display providing you with accurate information but it won't obscure your fast and precise optical view. It could be a dream come true. Nice tidbit #1: the switch on the front of the camera will switch between the hybrid and an electronic viewfinder, so you can also use an electronic picture inside the viewfinder if you prefer. Nice tidbit #2: the bright frame will give you an automatically parallax corrected placement depending on your focus. Someone's been doing some serious thinking here, and I like it.

3. Lens & Sensor: Apparently the first thing Fuji started to work on was the lens in conjunction with the sensor. The sensor is an old friend, I've read that it is the same 12 megapixel APS-C sensor used in the Nikon D90. The lens is a completely new construction. Actually Fuji says they had to start from scratch a few times to incorporate all the wish list items without compromising on image quality. The sensor has received a new micro lens array and the back element of the lens is about the size of the sensor, helping to keep the incidence of incoming light in check. They also say that image quality was always their highest concern. They are clearly competing with Leica here.

4. Build & Design: The camera hits a nerve with me. Its retro design gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling, and if the build quality is as solid as I've been told, I am going to feel right at home with it. I've seen enough plastic cameras lately.

Here are some interesting bonus features in no particular order:

The X100 features a RAW button. My understanding is that it lets you shoot JPG and if you decide to shoot the next picture in RAW mode, that's when you press it. Supposedly it will also be used to do in-camera RAW to JPG processing of individual pictures.

The camera also features a 3-stop ND filter that you can engage. I've had enough sunny days where I wished to have an ND filter, just to be able to open the aperture a bit further or to get a shutter speed a bit longer. Now it's built right into the camera the same way you find it in many professional video cameras. If you don't use it, it's completely removed from the optical path and out of the way.

The shutter button features a nice retro touch that made me smile: it allows you to use a screw-in remote release.

The X100 is also said to feature a 720p24 video mode with stereo sound. Did I mention video is important to me?

The autofocus is supposed to be super fast, the official FAQ states that the shutter lag is extremely short, I actually find it hard to believe that they expect it to be only 0.01 seconds. Of course I so want that to be true!

The shutter is built into the lens, which will allow the X100 to offer high speed flash sync, something photographers love outdoors on sunny days.

If you shoot JPG, the X100 offers you PROVIA, Velvia and ASTIA film simulation modes. I know I know, I'd rather shoot those actual films, have them developed and scan them, but hey, it's Fuji. Adding simulations for the dynamic and color characteristics of some of their signature films into this camera is actually a nice touch.

It will use the pretty standard NP-95 battery which is readily available and not as overpriced as many other camera manufacturer's batteries are.

The X100 features a 49mm filter thread, a fairly standard size that should make it easy to get high quality filters at decent prices.

I could go on and on with this list, there is plenty of official information out there, but I have still to find the one thing that would make me go meh. I find it hard to believe what a prefect match this feature list is for what I wish in a camera this size.

But of course no matter how much a feature list makes me smile, the real test will be in using the camera, spending time with it, and looking at the pictures that it will produce. Until then I will say a little prayer to the photography gods each night before I go to sleep and really hope I will never have to write a disappointed follow-up post to this one. Ever.

Is it March yet?


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PocketChris Fun Fact #7: Many Apps vs. In-App Purchase

iPhone4AppIcon.pngI have often been asked why I don't just add new chapters as in-app purchases instead of doing several apps in parallel.

Here's my reasoning behind that:

Size vs. Ad-Hoc Download

I want to keep the purchase hurdle for PocketChris as low as possible. If an app is over 20 MB in size, you can only download it over WiFi or through your Mac that the iOS device syncs with. I have often ended up at a point where I wanted to impulse-buy an app, but couldn't because I was on 3G or EDGE. In some of these cases I forgot about it again and didn't buy it once I was back home.

Infrastructure

There are several ways to provide in-app purchases. One is to deliver the content with the app, but only making it accessible to the user once they paid. This could easily drive the app over the 20 MB limit. See above. An alternative way is to download content from a server after purchase, but that would mean to maintain server infrastructure, and potentially a lot of it, depending on how successful the app will be.

Psychology

Maybe it's just me, but I kind of like to buy something and know that I own the whole thing. The freemium model where you get the app for free and then buy advanced features as in-app purchase never really appealed to me, because it always tends to give me the feeling that I'm being cheated. I'd much rather deliver individual apps that are complete entities, and where you know what you'll get before you buy. The PocketChris model is very traditional: you can try it out because the first app is free (but still gives you great value), and if want more of it, there are other packages in the series that you can purchase.

Collectability

The collector's instinct is strong. A lot of People want things to be complete. The greater plan is to make PocketChris into its own little universe of apps that complement each other. iOS folders facilitate this with ease, and my hope is that PocketChris owners will have a PocketChris folder on their iPhone that they fill with good content over time.

» more PocketChris fun facts

» PocketChris website

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New And Noteworthy

Wahoo, look, PocketChris made it into the New & Noteworthy section in the Photography section of the US iTunes store (Update: and of the German one), right on the first place in the left top!

pocketchris.jpg

That's YOU who did that!! Thanks to all who left comments and who bought the app in the first place, you wonderful people you!

If you're still on the fence, have a closer look here.

Addendum: I also really liked this search results page in the German iTunes store when searching for the term photography. No, liked is the wrong term, I'm actually mighty proud of it!

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It's the lizard's fault...

STOPI love reading Seth Godin's blog. He often puts up one of those little pieces of wisdom that make me go "oh, right, I knew that..."

This one is about the lizard brain and how it gets in the way of shipping stuff.

With shipping Seth means about anything that you produce, anything that gets out there and that can be criticized. By you, by others. It goes even beyond that, but we'll stick with this for the sake of this article.

Several years ago I underwent an important transition. I began to allow myself to not be perfect. To ship stuff that my lizard brain would've not be happy about. This lead to a lot of good things. I got more practice in shipping stuff and thus got better at it. With practice I became better at judging when things were ready enough to be shipped. And as a result I gained more experience in dealing with the things that frightened me.

I learned that people will accept it even if it's not perfect. People will even appreciate to see that you are a human being with flaws like theirs. You will not be ripped to pieces when making a mistake. As long as you own up to it and fix it.

Case in point: Today I got an email from my friend Andres in Argentina. He has an old iPod touch that is caught in iOS 3.1.3. No update possible. I though it was a good choice to release PocketChris Advanced with a minimum requirement of iOS 4.0. What I didn't account for was that iTunes on a computer will allow you to download any version of an app, no matter if your device supports it or not.

So here's a case where people potentially can spend a couple of bucks on something and then find out they won't be able to use it. Not a lot of people, but still too many.

Instead of spending a lot of time trying to think up each and every corner case that might happen, and in the process losing a lot of time, I decided to take a decision that felt right and go with it. As a result we now have a problem. But we also have an app out there that works for 99% of iOS device owners out there.

A quick conversation with Johannes who does the software dev on PocketChris and I knew we had a way to fix it.

So the fix is now in the app store, PocketChris Advanced Photography will be available on devices as low as iOS 3.1 and we'll work around the potential issues with that inside the app.

So there, lizard brain!

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Put It To The Test.

The other week I got hold of several rolls of Kodak Ektachrome E200.

Expired Kodak Ektachrome. Very very expired.

But I thought I'd have some fun with it. So I shot a roll in the Pentacon Six and went on to develop it.

Wait, Chris. You don't do color development. And Ektachrome is not even a color negative film, it's a color slide film that requires an even different process. What are you up to?

No, I haven't gone crazy, this is my curious side trying to learn more about film. (my motto has actually quite nicely been portrayed by They Might Be Giants in this little song)

And what better could I do than get everything wrong that I possily could...

20110105-img454.jpg

Let me get a few assumptions out, based on what I have learned about film so far:

  1. The film is eight years expired. The date on the packaging is 06/2002. We should expect quite a bit of grain, if anything at all. This could be messy.
  2. The E-6 process is a reversal process, e.g. it makes a negative into a positive. I don't have any reversal chemistry. Only negative chemistry. But I have read that you can process color negative film in black-and-white chemistry. Actually there's no good reason why you shouldn't be able to do it, it's basically based on the same kind of silver halide crystals.
  3. The main difference between color negative film and color positive (e.g. slide) film is the missing orange mask. Other than that, the negative vs. positive outcome is determined by the process. C-41 is negative, E-6 is positive. So if anything at all, the development should make this into some sort of negative, and the missing orange mask should help with getting better results when scanning.

So far the assumptions.

Wait, one more thing: most black-and-white films have one silver layer. Color films have three layers with filter layers in between. I'm not sure my developer will be able to penetrate all of them, so the outcome is likely to be on the weird side.

20110105-img456.jpg

On to the development. If you've followed my film developing, you'll know that I'm a fan of stand development. It's pretty safe in most cases, you don't really have to time anything and it has never really let me down, even in experimental situations like when I pushed Efke R100 by three stops.

So it was Rodinal 1:100, 20 degrees Celsius, 60 minutes stand development, 20 seconds of slight agitation at the beginning, 5 seconds of slight agitation at the 30-minute-mark.

When I finally pulled the negatives out of the fixer, they were almost black. So black that I thought the fixer was exhausted and made a new batch. I still watered the film, and when I finally pulled it out, I was surprised to actually see something on the negatives. Not much, but hopefully enough to be scanned.

A first preview round on the scanner revealed my greatest fears: almost no information available. Look at the histogram, it's very very thin.

ektachromehistorgram.jpg

I'd hate for such a histogram to happen to any of my regular pictures, but in this case I was pretty happy that it was this wide and not thinner. I know my scanner can make something out of that. Nothing great, but something workable. It's going to be far from ideal, but hey, this is what extreme experiments are for: to test the waters of what is possible.

So I'm happy to say that yes, it is possible to get something on eight year old slide film. It is possible to develop said slide film into a black-and-white negative using a black-and-white developer like Rodinal. It is possible to scan the developed film. And it is possible to play with the thin dynamic range in order to get something that works.

Actually the scanner did such a good job, that the resulting histogram didn't look too painful anymore:

Lightroom.jpg

What surprised me most is the grain though. I know Ektachrome 200 uses the modern T-crystals, that can also be found in the T-Max black-and-white films, so I was very curious about how the grain would look like, especially on an 8 year old film developed in the wrong chemistry.

Here it is at 100%

20110105-img456-1.jpg

Not too shabby if you ask me.

And what have I learned from this? Color film is a not that different from black-and-white film, from now on I won't be paranoid about expired film anymore, and this is proof to methat film is a lot more forgiving than most people think.

I also had a ton of fun while doing this experiment and feeding my curiosity!


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PocketChris: a note on versions and devices

Update: We found a way to work around the technical issues and I submitted a new version of PocketChris Advanced Photography the other day. It will install and run on devices as low as iOS 3.1, so you will be able to run it even on your old iPod Touch!

I'm receiving lots of questions with regards to PocketChris and what devices it is for.

In short: it's an iPhone app. It was written for the iPhone form factor. It will also run just fine on the iPod Touch, with one caveat (see below).

PocketChris is not an iPad app. However, it will run on the iPad, and it will even look pretty good on the iPad if you run it in 2x mode. That's because we included high resolution images and parts of the UI are high resolution, so you will get the best possible experience, given it was not written specifically on the iPad.

This is important: PocketChris requires iOS 4.0 or higher. An iOS device that is not on 4.0 or higher will not allow you to download and install PocketChris. Unfortunately Apple does not keep you from downloading the app on your Mac, but at least it makes a clear note in writing on the iTunes screen that the minimum required iOS is version 4.0.

iTunes doesn't know what devices you might want to sync with. If you have a device that is below 4.0, you will then run into the issue of this app not being able to install.

So please make sure that if you download the app using iTunes on your Mac, you have a device that allows to run it. This is an issue inherent with the concept of the iTunes store.

You will not run into this issue if you download the app right from your device.

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New. Version. Released. Phew.

PocketChris Advanced Photography I for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad on the iTunes App Store.pngMay I introduce a new member to the family?

His name is PocketChris Advanced Photography I (and yes, that's a long name, I know, but there are reasons).

Several months in the making, and we are proud of him!

He's bringing you eight (!) new chapters of information for your photographic advancement, and he is planned to have several little siblings who each know a lot about a different area of photography.

You can get a copy of PocketChris Advanced Photography I on your device from an App Store near you.

» go to the App Store

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Downside Up - Story Of A Picture

Every picture has a story.

This is one of them.

I used to make the distinction between going out to shoot in a conceptual way vs. shooting in a more opportunistic fashion.

The conceptual way would include going out with a vision, already having a very good idea about the result you would return with. The vision would be the guiding goal, the principle that determined the path that needed to be taken to reach that goal.

The opportunistic way would be very situational. The photographer would have the camera with them and just go with the flow, shooting things that presented themselves right at that moment, making the best of what he came across.

I used to make that distinction.

I would find myself more in the second camp, but was slowly moving more and more into the first and more conceptual one. I often replaced vision with location, going to special places and see what I could make out of them, ending up with pictures that had an overarching look and theme. Nothing wrong with that. It's still my preferred way of working. I guess I'm more of a hunter.

And I'd sometimes look up to some of the conceptual photographers, the ones who have that big idea, then scout for the right location, get the right models, props, light, and in the end return with the perfect picture after three days of work. Also nothing wrong with that.

Then I realized that the two are not that different. I noticed that even while I am on my photo hunts, there is always a conceptual phase involved, it is just a lot more compressed.

First I keep my eyes open. I take a lot in. Then I see a subject, and I start thinking about what it is that I want to say with the picture. Not in words, but maybe in terms of a visual story. Sometimes it's just that I want to make something look nice and give it the space, focus, contrast and visual importance in the frame that it deserves.

Downside Up

But then sometimes it's that story that unfolds right in front of your eyes, it ambushes you and you have to react as fast as you can to not miss it. This often happens in street photography.

It also can happen while you're at a car museum, sitting down for a quick rest.

But it still starts with a vision. In case of Downside Up I saw the person walking into the frame from the right. I didn't really have to think, the vision just was there, maybe it's experience, maybe it's one of those lucky coincidences. In front of my inner eye I saw the legs exactly where they are on the picture now. From the speed of the walking person I knew I had about eight seconds to get ready and then take one single shot.

Then I realized that the analog medium format Pentacon Six in my hands was still set to an exposure and focus that suited the Cadillac fins I had shot just minutes before.

And this is the moment I go on autopilot. Seven seconds left. No time to get the meter out and take a reading. Trusting the experience kicking in. Outside is overcast, inside is dimly lit. The rest of the film is exposed to ISO 800. Should work with some adjustment in exposure. Five seconds left. Aperture is set to f/4 and shutter speed is at 1/50s. Definitely too bright to expose the outside, especially with the uniform light gray sky and the snow. Four seconds. Aperture will be okay for this shot, I don't care if the window beams in the front go out of focus, might actually help guide some attention to what's going on between them. Three. Quick guess: two to three stops slower should do. The rest will be caught by the latitude of the film. It's pretty elastic when it comes to exposure. Throwing a lot of trust at the medium. ,kjh Two. Set shutter speed to 1/250s. Raise camera to eyes. Manual focus.

One.

Wait.

Klick.

Hope.

This all happened within a few seconds, without much fuss, and Monika sitting next to me probably didn't even notice what I did. It was all an inner monologue on my side and from her perspective, the only thing that I did was lift the camera to my eye, focus and take a shot out the window.

Being able to turn experience and that quick version of a vision into something that more resembles a reflex is a very lucky thing to happen. What's even more lucky is to be in the right place at the right time. Had I not been sitting down, I wouldn't have seen the reflection. Had I not had the camera in my hands, time wouldn't have permitted to take it out. Had I not had the right focal length for the shot, it wouldn't have worked this way.

Things like this are not something you can force, and and they don't happen often, but when they do, I feel infinitely grateful to have received such a gift.

But at this point the story wasn't over. Upon returning home I developed the film, having almost forgotten about that picture. When I saw it on the negative, the snow part was overexposed. More than I liked. Should've used 1/500s or shorter. But then I also noticed how the legs and the path came out just fine. The scan finally confirmed that there was enough detail in both the highlights and the ground for the picture to work. In fact the exposure was spot on, exposed for the shadows, exactly the way black-and-white film likes to be treated. I had intuitively done the right thing, and that simple fact turned into my personal highlight of the entire trip. Because it means that some of what I learned made its way into that special part of my brain that I can tap into without having to think much. And finding that out makes me very very happy.

The last decision that I had to make about this picture was how to crop it. The Pentacon Six does a 6x6 square crop, which perfectly fit the bill, but the question was if I should leave some of the black around the frame in the shot or if I should crop it tight to only see the picture.

I took a bit of time to play with it, and then it dawned on me that by including an ample amount of black frame, that would turn the picture into something even more graphical, repeating the inner frames of the window.

I got incredibly lucky with this picture.

I got even more lucky if I take into account that this was shot on an ISO100 film, and pushed in development by three entire stops (details here), which should according to some experts have killed a lot of the shadow detail.

I guess it's time to make a few more deposits into that Karma bank.

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