Wake up call

To Canon and Nikon.

Canon and Nikon, in their adherence to their DSLR flapping mirror upper-end camera bodies, are comparable to Kodak during its last decade.

Kodak, let us recall, invented consumer digital imaging but put it on the back burner as there would always be film. It had made them, all of Rochester NY and their many shareholders rich for a century. Why change now? The comparison with the head-in-the-sand behavior of Canon & Nikon with regard to upper end cameras is apt. Canon & Nikon know how to make mirrorless cameras but refuse to permit the technology to permeate to their top end offerings. Much more of this and their DSLRs will be to their future what film was to Kodak’s.

Now let us turn our attention to Apple. Miserable as some of their software efforts are – Photos (see yesterday’s column) or the incessant dumbing down of OS X with useless bells and whistles – no such accusations can be leveled at their hardware efforts. The MacBook is the best laptop on the planet, the Mac Pro is a high end workhorse and the iPhone is the touchstone for quality and performance in the cell phone world. And the iPhone’s camera is simply spectacular, improving significantly with every new iPhone.

Unlike Canon and Nikon and the Kodak of yore, Apple refuses to rest on its laurels. Recall a while back that Olympus emulated Hasselblad’s earlier efforts in multi-image digital photography, with the sensor shifted a pixel or two between images which are then superimposed for better quality. The Olympus camera, as my review here disclosed, the EM5 Mark II, is an ergonomic disaster and I returned mine 24 hours after receipt. But that in no way invalidates the concept.


Click the image for the article.

Well, Apple has gone one better and acquired an Israeli company named LinX which adopts a like concept but takes advantage of the very small sensor size required by the iPhone and instead of using one sensor and multiple shots with pixel shifting uses multiple sensors with but one snap. Immediately the disabling aspect of the Hasselblad and Olympus designs goes away, namely that neither maker’s camera is suitable for photographing moving subjects, be it sports, people in motion or those swaying branches in the trillionth imitation of Ansel’s birches in Yosemite. Once the images are simultaneously recorded on the multiple sensors, they can be combined in software later. Brilliant and kudos to Apple for thinking well down the road and investing shareholders’ capital accordingly. Add folded zoom lenses, which use a mirror to avoid the depth demands of moving lens elements, and you have the death knell for the tired offerings of yesteryear from Canon and Nikon.

Will the annuitants wake up in time and change their ways? I think it’s already too late. The lead time and capital required to catch up with hardware leaders like Apple are too great. It’s all over bar the writing. Behemoths take a long time to die …. but in the digital world that is far less time than ever before. Just ask around in Rochester.

Apple Photos for OS X

Another failure.


Another purported solution looking for a problem. Apple Watch, anyone?

Once upon a time – many years ago – iPhoto was a sweet application. Import of images was easy, addition of text always worked with no frustration and creation of customized web pages using either the built in code or aftermarket plugins was easy, fast and elegant.

Apple tried to get serious about still photo processing with Aperture but it was flawed software which never had the company’s full attention. The design was chaotic, with no logical work flow (the description ‘scatterbrained’ comes to mind), the machine demands were very high so you had to have the latest Apple hardware to make it run at half decent speeds (shock news there) and the application only worked with OS X.

The best thing I ever did with Aperture was to migrate to Lightroom which, even in its early versions, ran fast, was logical and far easier to use. Adobe has always done a great job of keeping current with the myriad of RAW formats coming to the market seemingly weekly, updates coming soon after new cameras are released. LR is now so capable that round trips to Photoshop for regular work are rare. Lightroom remains fast, compact and as useful on OS X as it is in Windows, the files readable in either. Adobe’s greatest challenge is likely in deciding where to draw the line in not cannibalizing its Photoshop cash cow any further.

I migrated to Lightroom in 2008 and frankly the signs for Aperture’s demise were already on the wall, with increasingly infrequent updates and interminable RAW delays, interspersed with constant bugs. It took many years for Aperture to die, however, the product finally being put out of its misery last year, but not before Apple cynically offered cheap/free versions for reasons I cannot fathom. Those who delayed conversion to the superior Adobe application(s) merely increased their conversion problem, which they are struggling with right now. Loyalty to software in a fast changing world is futile.

Now Apple has added Photos to OS 10.10.3 (Yosemite) and a like app to iOS. I downloaded OS 10.10.3 – mostly to see what else it would break – and toyed some with Photos. (If you use Trim Enabler for your SSD management and a ‘made for Apple’ Nvidia GTX680 GPU in your Mac Pro as I do, be sure to disable Trim Enabler as the chances are you will lose all video when moving to 10.10.3).

I wish I had not wasted my time with Photos. I use iPhoto for quick snaps which have no place in my ‘serious’ Lightroom catalog and generate occasional web pages for our family albums. The conversion process from the iPhoto catalog was seamless, and the iPhoto catalog remains accessible. Thank goodness.

Much of the sorting capabilities of iPhotos remains – Photos, Albums, Projects – to the point where you really wonder what has changed. Then you realize that there is no Web page output – you can create bulky ‘m4v’ slideshows, but not traditional thumbnail/big image web pages. The decent processing controls in iPhoto have been dumbed down for the iOS generation – people with poor visual sense and undemanding presentation standards.

You can find (normally hidden) adjusters for Sharpening, Definition, Vignetting, White Balance and Levels, and like these the excellent Highlights and Shadows adjusters are hidden, the assumption being that anything other than a slider is too much for the pea brained iOS mentality of the user. Stupefying. Yes, you can still print from Photos, but I recommend exporting the original to Lightroom or Photoshop and doing the job properly where you will see a professional and familiar User Interface.


The controls are there if you can find them.
The dumbing down of the UI continues apace in Cupertino.

Annotating images with text is a joke. It has gone from buggy in the last version of iPhoto to near useless in Photos. The only available choice is for the text to appear on the image itself and there’s no way that I can find of using a neutral background for the text, meaning it inevitably gets lost in the image. Sorry, but EXIF data alone do not cut it for family albums.

Of course, iPhoto, while still usable, is dead. New RAW formats will doubtless not be supported so unless you propose to stick with your existing gear, it will be curtains as soon as you upgrade. And given the modern 2 year life of digital cameras ….

You have to wonder why Apple even bothered here. Or maybe not. Given the shallow mind set of the typical iOS consumer (‘selfies’, for goodness’ sake), it’s what he deserves.

King’s Canyon and Sequoia National Parks

Towering might.

The giant sequoia that grow here at elevations of 5-7,000 feet are the oldest known living things, with ages up to 3,200 years. A half-day drive from San Francisco, these adjacent national parks are less favored by tourists than Yosemite, which is all the better. However, quite why many parents see fit to bring their infants remains a mystery – their children would be safer at home and certainly cannot comprehend what is on view here. And their incessant screaming hardly helps with the spirit of place.

I spent a couple of days there with my son, staying at the only game in town – the Wuksachi Lodge – and we had a great time in the 50F daytime crisp weather. At this time of the year several roads remain closed but the major throughway – The Generals’ Highway – was clear with no snow in sight.


Winston atop the 6,725 ft Moro Rock overlooking the Great Western Divide.
The thin air at this altitude makes for a solid workout on the way up.


Sunning among the giants.


Fallen giant. Beetles have created an abstract art form.


The General Sherman tree showing fire damage to the bark from hundreds of years ago.
A youngster at 2,200 years or so, the Sherman in Sequoia NP is 25 feet in diameter and weighs over 2,000 tons.


We enjoyed picture perfect weather.


Many sequoias grow in close proximity to one another.


Thick bark confers fire resistance and high tannin content prevents disease.


Siamese twins.


The Generals’ Highway runs through the parks – a miracle of roadbuilding.


The light snow cover on the peaks testifies to California’s drought.
Instead of building a water pipeline from nearby Canada, our politicians – devoid of imagination or business acumen – are enforcing conservation.


Death from toppling over is the major cause of the giants’ demise, owing to the shallow root structure.


The 1,700 year old General Grant tree in King’s Canyon – sequoias routinely shed branches as they grow.

All snaps taken by my son Winston on his Panasonic LX100 except for the first, taken by me on an iPhone 6.

Big boys:

Local roads:

If you enjoy a nice drive the route below is recommended – it goes through both parks and skirts their west side along Dry Creek Drive (a B road, but drivable) via Three Rivers in the south-west corner, as beautiful a loop as you could hope for, and mostly deserted on the weekday we did it. The pointer denotes the Wuksachi Lodge – maybe the most overpriced motel in America:


Click the image for route details.

Bikers should check out The Mountain House in a lovely location where Dry Creek Drive and Highway 245 meet.

Coulterville

Magic.

Coulterville, on the west side of Yosemite, is best approached, on two wheels or four, from Mariposa, the site of California’s oldest operating courthouse. No, there are no cops as they have no place to hide while trying to raise the donut and coffee fund.

I have done this trip several times on two and four wheels but it is now very special indeed as the road has been newly resurfaced and is glass smooth. Who the bureaucrat who spent all this taxpayer money on a road used by a dozen cars daily was, I do not know, but all us petrol heads are glad to know that the squares who do not appreciate internal combustion are subsidizing us in this effort. Heck, looking at the magic strip of tarmac that is the Mariposa-Coulterville road, aforesaid apparatchik is likely a petrol head too!

The trip may exceed the destination, yet Coulterville is very special indeed. Just look:

All snapped on the Panasonic LX100 at ISO400.

Shadi Gadirian and Boushra Almutawakel

Iranian woman photographers.

Ordinarily gender is irrelevant when it comes to good photography. All that matters is the image. But when the photographer is a member of one of the most ill treated subsets of humanity then gender becomes supremely relevant.


Click the image for Gadirian’s web site.

Iranian Shadi Gadirian’s work is a slap in the face, illustrated with gorgeously lit and composed still lives each with an instrument of death incongruously placed in the image, that same violent death which is an ever present factor in much of Middle Eastern and Northern African life.

I came across Gadirian’s work in what at first seemed a pretty unprepossessingly titled show at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University: “She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World”. The exhibition – not large but mostly comprised of very large prints – turned out to be absolutely gripping.


Click the image for more details.

Another rivetting image is one by Yemeni female photographer Boushra Almutawakel which shows women with their faces progressively more covered by the veils they are forced to wear in what is an ultimate statement of cruelty – denying beauty its rightful exposure to sunlight:


Click the image for Almutawakel’s web site.

Here’s another stunner from Almutawakel, titled “What If…?”:

If ever a picture were worth a thousand (angry) words, this is it.

There’s lots more to enjoy and wonder at in this fine show, which runs thorugh May 4, 2015; Stanford U and the Cantor Arts Center are in Palo Alto, CA. Encomiums to Stanford for putting on this fearless exhibition.