Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Camera with the lowest noise? Check out this shocking discovery...

Also in this issue:

* Monster Adapter Update
* Geeking with Gary - Un-Throttling Unlimited Hotspot Data

[Editor's Note: I'm on the road this week - we're selling our lovely home in Southern California and moving to Boston.  We're traveling in a motor home, exiting the vehicle only to refuel because so many are not taking the pandemic seriously.  We have to get there before our furniture does so no time for sightseeing or doing vacation-y things.  So this blog post will be necessarily short.]

The Camera with the Lowest Noise?

I'm actually writing e-books on both the Sony A7S III and the Sony A7C cameras at the same time.  And of course, as I always do when I write books about cameras, I wonder about things.  "I wonder if a high ISO shot taken with the 24 megapixel A7C has noticeably more noise compared to the 12 megapixel low-noise king, the Sony A7S III?"

So I took a couple of informal test shots at ISO 10,000, and zoomed into the shadow areas where the noise is most likely to show up.  The noise looked the same to me.  (Click on any image to view larger).  (You can also download the original RAW files from here.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

What's worth keeping?

We're moving to Boston.  Long story.

As with any move, we're going through and weeding out material possessions we don't need anymore.  And that goes for the archives as well.  When I was younger I felt that old images, like fine wine, might become more valuable over time, and therefore it was imprudent to throw old pictures away, even when they didn't "make the cut".  You never know about the future.  That's a foundational principle of stock photography.

I benefitted from this philosophy a few times.  

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Three Tricks

Me, doing my best Orson Welles impersonation
Also in this issue:
  • Articles That Didn't Make it to Cameracraft Magazine
  • Sony's new Webcam software - comparison
  • Being a Virtual Speaker at your Photo Club
  • Giving Back with the Virtual Reading Project
  • In the Pipeline

Articles That Never Made It to Cameracraft

I pitch a lot of ideas for articles for Cameracraft magazine; most get accepted but some do not for various reasons.  The subjects still fascinate me, though.  Here are a couple that didn't make it (and I wish I had permission to show you some of their examples.  But you can click on the links below to see some remarkable works):
  • Photographer Esther Honig did a fascinating experiment - she took a picture of a model and sent it to photo retouchers in 27 different countries and asked them to "enhance" the image according to their cultural preferences.  Beauty is a subjective thing but it amazes me how entire cultures can buy into a certain ideal.
  • Seth Casteel takes pictures of dogs underwater and cats in mid-air.  I have no idea how he got the cat shots - they are super sharp (no autofocus works that fast), extraordinarily well-lit, and the cat is often looking directly at the camera.  I was hoping to do an article about him to learn how he did it; alas my emails and instagram messages were never answered.
  • Haruhiko Kawaguchi is a Japanese photographer who approaches people on the street and convinces them to come to his studio, get naked, get into a vacuum-sealed bag, and have their pictures taken.  To me the images are the least interesting part; what's amazing is how he convinces total strangers to do this.  (Warning: Probably Not Safe For Work.) (On the other hand, you're probably working from home right now. :-) )
Cameracraft is a substantial read with superb images and repro. It’s not an obscure art fest either. Every two months it’s a shot of inspiration, with solid technical content, and it’s written by experts, not interns.  Subscribe today and experience the last "proper" photo magazine standing!

The Three Tricks

There are three projects I've been getting a lot of questions on regarding how they were done.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Topaz AI - As good as they claim?

Also in this Issue:

  • Monster Adapter Update
  • A Virtual Zoom Lecture for your Photo Club
  • In the Pipeline

Topaz AI - As Good as They Claim?

[Editor's note: This is an expanded version of an article which appeared in a recent edition of Cameracraft magazine.]

AI has been the buzzword in the technology industry for the last 30 years.  But when Topaz used it as a branding for their latest collection of image enhancement tools, the phrase they should have used is “deep learning”; a technique in which a learning algorithm is trained with thousands of before & after images to allow the computer to slowly learn what a good cleanup looks like.  Most people who have spent years learning how to do these things by hand in Lightroom and Photoshop may not think these new tools are anything special; for they can’t possibly improve upon a skilled retoucher.  I thought I would spend a few days testing that theory.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

A New Hope for A-Mount Lenses...

Also in this issue:
  • A new way to stabilize video
  • A new Camera Problem-Solving Guide by Mark Galer and Gary Friedman
  • Wireless Flash on a camera that doesn't support it
  • ZV-1 Discoveries
  • In the Pipeline
A Free Sony Camera Problem-Solving Guide 

Let's start with something free.  Australian Sony Digital Imaging Ambassador Mark Galer and I have teamed up to create this free Sony Camera Problem-solving Guide, a compilation of all the email queries we get from users trying to find out why their camera is not behaving as expected.  You can download this free resource (did I mention it was free?) from Mark's website.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Ten of the Smartest People I Know

  • He testified before Congress about the dangers Near-Earth Asteroids pose to humanity.
  • He was Executive Vice President and director of research for the Space Studies Institute in Princeton, NJ.
  • He was Vice President of Publications of the Aerospace and Electronics Systems Society of IEEE.
  • He was the chairman of the Planetary Defense Committee of AIAA
  • He served as a consultant to the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board and the NATO Industrial Advisory Board.
  • He was co-founder and 3rd president of the National Council of Systems Engineering.
  • He taught graduate-level engineering courses at USC for over 20 years.
  • He rubbed elbows with high-profile physicists like Freeman Dyson and Neil DeGras Tyson
  • He wrote a Chapter in the seminal work “The High Frontier” by Gerry O’Neil
  • He was an elected fellow of the IEEE, INCOSE and IAE engineering societies.
And all that was AFTER he retired from Northrop corp. as a Senior Vice President!

[Editor's note: My dad died on May 31, 2020.  I'm setting up this blog post as a tribute and a shrine to one of the smartest and humblest people I've ever met.  Even most of his co-workers were unaware of his level of accomplishment.  This post has nothing at all to do with photography, but read on and get to know a most remarkable person.  -GF]

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Photo that Got Me In Trouble...

Hammock Swinging

Also In This Issue:
  • The Increasing Value of Crappy Shots
  • Video of Hearts for Hue
  • Schedule time with me - I'll undercut Sony's price
  • In the Pipeline

[Special note: I had lofty goals for this blog post.  I was going to share my tests of Sony's new video stabilization phone app for the newer cameras.  My plans got cut short by a life event.  Read to the end for more info. -GF]

The Shot That Got Me in Trouble With My Physicist Friends

The shot at the top of this page is a shot I took in Hawaii back in the 1990's (with film).  The hammock was swinging, and I took my Minolta Maxxum 9xi (hated that camera), set it to a "slow" shutter speed (I think it was about 1/8th or 1/4 of a second).  When you use a slow shutter speed, anything that moves relative to the camera looks blurry.  So placing the camera on my chest and with the self-timer invoked, I got this clever little shot.

"You clearly Photoshopped that!", said one of my know-it-all physicist friends.  Of course I hadn't; and I had a negative to prove it.  Didn't matter.  "Look at the roof!  It's nice and sharp whereas you clearly only blurred the vegetation!"

Hmmm... And I have to tell you that had me scratching my head for awhile.  

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Turning Your Camera into a High-Quality Webcam

[Updated February 9, 2022]

So I've been spending my pandemic downtime learning the ins and outs of livestreaming and how to conduct webinars.  The learning curve wasn't that bad (Photoshop is worse, but that's not nearly as bad as Unix internals, and both of those combined pale in comparison to Torah, which literally takes a lifetime to decipher.  But I digress...)

I think nothing kills online credibility like bad light, bad framing and bad sound, all of which characterize about 99.99% of all Zoom participants.  If you want to be taken seriously as an online educator in photography, you need to employ the techniques of the Hollywood cinematographers and the more successful Twitch streamers.

Let's start with that awful webcam that's built into your laptop.  It just won't do.  Let me share with you a test I did (this was also a high-level test involving live streaming to both Facebook and Youtube - more about that later.)

Monday, March 30, 2020

$1K "G" Lens vs. $100 "Kit" lens (Don't laugh...)

Sony offers two lenses considered to be “general purpose” or “walkaround” lenses for their APS-C E-mount cameras like the A6000 series:

The 16-50 f3.5 – 5.6 power zoom lens which is tiny and compact and offers a motorized zoom ideal for shooting video.  This lens sells for $100 when purchased as a bundle.

A high-end 16-55 constant f/2.8 “G” lens that sells for over $1000 USD.

So one lens is 10x the cost of the other.  Is the expensive one 10x better?  Let’s do a quick test: I took two pictures of the really cute subject under ideal conditions; one with each lens.  100% crops from both appear below (click on image to view larger and sharper):

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

I invented a camera whose output could be authenticated. Nikon and Canon stole the idea. What happened next will shock you.

"Deepfakes" have been around for years, like this Coca-Cola commercial mixing living and dead celebrities.  But how can you prove if a video hasn't been manipulated?

(Note: This is an expanded version of the article I wrote for Cameracraft magazine.  I'm sharing it now because the idea needs to be out there.  Plus, I was on tap to give a TEDx talk about this subject in April 2020, but of course it was cancelled due to pandemic concerns.  So I'm putting it out there.  The world needs this invention!)

Once upon a time there was a saying: “The photograph doesn’t lie”.  While mostly true, you could still lie in the old days by attaching false captions or using a forced perspective.  Lying by manipulation came much later -- it was used heavily by the Soviets during the time of Stalin, and then by the advertising industry (which is synonymous with lying, really) with the invention of the Scitex imaging workstation in the 1970’s.  But the ability to really lie via manipulation didn’t reach the masses until Photoshop came along. 

1989.  US Ambassador Vernon Walters presents photographic evidence at the United Nations Security Council, supporting his claim that a Libyan MiG-23 shot down by US fighters had been armed.  “It is untrue!” exclaimed the Libyan ambassador.  “The pictures were fabricated; they were directed in the Hollywood manner!”
People (journalists and academia, mostly) started to sound the alarm in the 1970s about how you can’t rely on the photograph for evidentiary purposes anymore.  And I started to collect examples of famous photo manipulations in history which made a difference (good and bad).  Some historic examples are sprinkled throughout this article.

Back in my NASA days I identified this as a problem that needed solving – in my view, society was relying too heavily on the image whose sanctity was eroding, and I made it my mission to restore it.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Geeking with Gary

In this issue:
  • The Indignities of Coach Class
  • A Better USB Connector
  • The Best Screen Saver for Photographers
  • Further Praise for Google Photos
  • Star Trek Web Serieses (that's a word! It's plural for 'series')

Thursday, January 30, 2020

How to increase the impact of your images using this one weird trick...

Also in this issue:

  • More features nobody's talking about
  • Upcoming books and seminars
  • Boxing! 

The Importance of Pre-Visualizing Your Image

In my seminars I give examples of how pre-visualizing your images before you even pick up your camera is the single best thing you can do that will result in high-impact photos.  It helps you solidify in your mind the rules of composition you're employing, and increases your awareness of your lighting and your backgrounds.  If your goal is to have people say "Wow!" to your images, this technique gets you there faster than, say, buying more gear.

Going further, to help me in this regard I'll sometimes sketch out my compositions first.  To wit:

The sketch (left), and the final product (right).
I also use this technique at the beginning of a photo session so I can get my idea across to my subjects.  It also comes in handy in studio sessions, where I can get the equivalent of "writer's block" when deciding what pose to go for next.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Prints that Match Your Screen Every Time

Two years ago I profiled a photographer for Cameracraft magazine named Cheryl Walsh; she took these wonderful fantasy underwater portraits in her backyard swimming pool.  (Click on any image to view larger.)  She has won multiple awards for her work, but back when she was just beginning she had a huge, seemingly insurmountable problem:  Her prints didn't look nearly as good as they looked on her screen.  From the article: