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Throwback Thursday: the ups and downs of running DCResource

by on Nov.23, 2017, under Reviews


My friends would (hopefully) say that I’m not one to toot my own horn, but since this weekend marks the 20th anniversary of my foray into the world of digital photography websites, I’m taking the liberty. Over Thanksgiving weekend in 1997 I founded the Digital Camera Resource Page, aka DCResource. The site is no longer updated (that probably wouldn’t go over well with my current employer), so it remains as a sort of time capsule to days past.

In this Throwback Thursday I’m going to share my story of how I stumbled into the world of digital photography and the rollercoaster ride that followed.

I’m fortunate to have been an early adopter of many technologies. Prior to my first year of college I spent a summer working in a research lab at UC San Francisco, where we had a computer connected to this Internet thing. On it were copies of NCSA Mosaic 0.86, TurboGopher and Eudora (for e-mail). When I started college at UC San Diego in Fall of 1994 I was selected to test out a “cable modem,” which back then was larger than a VCR and had a five figure price tag. Goodbye 28.8kbps dial-up, hello sort-of-high-speed Internet.

The combination of three different thing resulted in the creation of DCResource. First and foremost, thanks to my job at the UCSD Bookstore, I was able to get my hands on early consumer cameras from Kodak, Apple and Casio that were up for sale. Second, I had already dipped my feet into running my own website, in the form of PowerWatch, which covered Mac ‘clones’ made by Power Computing, which (after the return of Steve Jobs) eventually closed down. Using the successful model of PowerWatch and noticing the lack of any sites covering digital cameras, in November 1997, in my college dorm, the Digital Camera Resource Page was born.

The original site design by Delane Barrus, who was involved in the website for the first few years.

The goal of DCResource wasn’t to be the most technical site out there (Imaging Resource and DPReview would arrive a year later to handle that), but to be the most accessible to the average person. Even now, I still get feedback from folks who thought that the site succeeded at doing that.

The early years of DCResource were pretty busy, with more and more companies entering the market with their plasticky, VGA-resolution cameras. In addition to the big names, companies such as Agfa, Sanyo, Sharp and Toshiba were all in the market at the time. If you ever owned any of those, consider yourself old. At the time, your camera either used SmartMedia (ugh), CompactFlash or floppy disk. I wrote about new ‘4X’ speed CF cards and troubles getting the FlashPath SmartMedia-to-floppy adapter to work on Macs.

Back then there was no content management system to hold reviews, so everything sat in static HTML files. Users e-mailed their camera reviews to me, which were often cross-posted on rec.photo.digital on Usenet.

In the first couple of years it felt like the site just wasn’t taking off. I considered closing it down, but kept it going, working on it in my spare time in and after college. As people started to gravitate away from film and toward digital, I realized that I was just a little early.

The purple version of DCResource launched in 2000. I made a mobile version of the site around then, designed for Palm VII PDAs. I still think that’s pretty awesome.

When it came to camera reviews, I quickly established a standard that lasted for the entire life of the site. Besides being accessible, I wanted to be as consistent as possible. The layout was always the same: intro, what’s in the box, software, look & feel, how many photos fit on a memory card, menu options, photo tests and conclusion. (I always use the term ‘tests’ loosely, since there was never any DPReview-level science involved.)

In every sample gallery I included the same set of photos taken in SF’s Chinatown as well as at Stanford University about 40 minutes to the south. I’d take out groups of cameras at a time (my record was 10 at once) since the weather in SF is so unpredictable. I’d do my best to arrive at the same time on each visit.

$(document).ready(function() { SampleGalleryV2({“containerId”:”embeddedSampleGallery_8792388608″,”galleryId”:”8792388608″,”isEmbeddedWidget”:true,”standalone”:false,”selectedImageIndex”:0,”startInCommentsView”:false,”isMobile”:false}) });

Around 2001, I realized that keeping my site open was a good idea. Digital cameras were selling, and traffic was going up. I finally had good access to cameras to review, and back then, you could have a full review published on launch day. In the early days, it felt like the cameras manufacturers needed websites like mine (and others) a lot more than they do now. I quit my day job and started to run DCResource full-time.

The year 2004 was the beginning of what I (and probably many of my peers) called the glory days. Technology moved so quickly that some photographers were upgrading cameras every year, and that’s in addition to first-time buyers. Business was booming.

You know what they say about ‘all good things,’ right?

Unique visitors over time, minus the actual data. Traffic peaked during the 2006 holidays.

On June 29th, 2007, consumer digital photography changed forever. That’s when the original iPhone was announced, and for most of us in the publishing world, it was all downhill from there, though I didn’t know it at the time. Manufacturers didn’t either, because in January 2008 they collectively released 80 cameras at CES, again, most of them being compacts, with little to differentiate them. They still hadn’t gotten the memo a year later, with 75 cameras announced.

While DCResource’s traffic was slowly slipping, it didn’t really hit home until after the 2009 holiday season, when I saw that my unique visitors were 60% of what they had been two years prior. It wasn’t panic time yet – I kept going without worrying too much about it, because as long as I was still making a good living, everything would be fine…

The ‘orange’ version of the DCRP website launched in 2004. I still think it looks great today.

2011 was panic time. The time to sell the site for anything except peanuts had long since passed (DPReview was acquired by Amazon four years earlier), and regret set in. I remember thinking “if only I had hired a salesperson while times were good,” – not that it would’ve made a difference at that point. While I still took most of my photos with my DSLRs, I was reaching for my smartphone more and more often.

The next year, manufacturers announced 55 cameras at CES. The problem was, nobody was buying them, and since DCResource leaned toward the consumer end of the spectrum, it was starting to hurt. I starting tapping into my savings (gotta pay the mortgage) so it became obvious that it was time to get back into the workforce and resume running my website on the side. While Silicon Valley had tons of tech companies to choose from, running a digital camera website for almost 15 years was an unusual thing to have on your resume.

The sheer ridiculousness of the number of point-and-shoot cameras on the market inspired me to make a family tree of Canon’s ELPH ultra-compacts.

Around that time I was in touch with none other than Simon Joinson, who, along with Phil Askey, I’d known for several years as friendly competitors. Simon had expressed an interest in adding me to the DPReview team for a while, which was both a good opportunity for me and an excuse to move to Seattle, one of my favorite cities. Later that year, I accepted a position at DPReview, took a 3+ week trip to South America and Antarctica, and then drove myself and two partially sedated cats to Seattle. Since then, my brain has been stuffed with technical details (thanks Rishi and Richard), and my photography has improved as well (my old ‘work’ now makes me cringe).

Naturally, I feel very fortunate for the opportunity that I had to leave the corporate world behind and build one of the original, and for a time one of the biggest photography websites from the ground up, almost entirely on my own. Sure, in retrospect I would’ve done a few things differently, but it was a good ride while it lasted.

As 2017 comes to an end, I’m concerned that smartphones are following the same path as compact digital cameras, since they’re so good now that there’s less need to upgrade every year. That said, there is still a lot of innovation in this space, and smartphone photography is a lot more advanced than it was just a few years ago. While I don’t know (yet) whether computational photography is the next big thing, I’m, strapped in, ready for another ride.



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Top 10 sample galleries of the year #3: the Fujifilm X100F

by on Nov.22, 2017, under Reviews


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We’re counting down our top 10 most popular sample galleries of 2017 and at long last we’ve reached our top 3 galleries. Holding it down with the bronze medal is the Fujifilm X100F.

What do you say about a camera like the X100F? It’s a staff favorite for sure – we gave it a gold award in our review. Even after publishing that, we found ourselves taking it on road trips and using it to photograph Seattle’s famous cherry blossoms. We were even fortunate enough to get our hands on an early version of the X100F prior to its release and shot a beta sample gallery as well. Check that out below:

$(document).ready(function() { SampleGalleryV2({“containerId”:”embeddedSampleGallery_7972459793″,”galleryId”:”7972459793″,”isEmbeddedWidget”:true,”standalone”:false,”selectedImageIndex”:0,”startInCommentsView”:false,”isMobile”:false}) });


Top 10 most popular sample galleries of 2017:

#10: Sigma 14mm F1.8 Art
#9: Fujifilm GFX 50S
#8: Nikon D7500
#7: Olympus Tough TG-5
#6: Sigma 85mm F1.4
#5: Fujifilm X-T20
#4: Leica M10
#3: Fujifilm X100F
#2: To be revealed on 11/23
#1: To be revealed on 11/24



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The Leica CL is (almost) what the TL should have been

by on Nov.21, 2017, under Reviews


Hands-on with Leica CL

‘What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.’

If you know your Bible (which I must admit I don’t – I had to look this phrase up to get the exact wording) you’ll know that this oft-quoted proverb comes from Ecclesiastes 1:9. In a year that saw the commercial release of new versions of the Summaron 28mm F5.6 and Thambar 90mm F2.2, it may appear that that Leica’s product planners have been a bit stuck on this passage of late.

With the release of the CL, a casual observer with a decently long memory might assume that the company’s retro obsession has struck again, but not so fast…

Hands-on with Leica CL

While it shares a name with one of Leica’s most popular and affordable cameras of the 1970s, the new CL is separated from its namesake by more than just years. It’s digital for starters, and shares a lot of its core specification with the 24MP TL2, while offering a more conventional handling experience and a built-in viewfinder, in a body similar in size to the X2 (or depending on your era and preferred frames of reference, the IIIG).

We’ve been using Leica’s newest mirrorless interchangeable lens camera for a little while now – click through for our first impressions and a deeper look at the CL’s feature set.

Control Interface

The T/L and TL2 are beautiful cameras, but their touchscreen-focused user interfaces take some getting used to, and to be completely honest I never got used to them. The CL offers a more conventional handling experience which after extended use, I’d describe as being a hybrid of the TL2 and the Leica M10.

The twin control dials on the top of the camera serve as the main controls for exposure adjustment, and each has a switch at its center, which enables the dial function to be modified. Whether or not you get on with these dials is probably down to personal preference, but I really wish that one of them was on the front of the camera, for operation with my index finger (rather than my thumb).

Top LCD screen

Nestled between the twin control dials is the tiniest LCD I’ve seen since the Ricoh GR1. At 128 x 58px it serves as a basic status display for current exposure settings, and it automatically illuminates in low light (very handy).

Electronic viewfinder

Another very welcome addition to the CL compared to the T-series is a built-in viewfinder. Adding an accessory finder to the TL/2 is entirely possible, and makes the cameras more versatile, but it also makes them a lot bulkier. Plus the black Visoflex finder isn’t a good aesthetic match for the brushed aluminum cameras, and Leica owners care about that sort of thing.

Electronic viewfinder

The CL’s viewfinder isn’t completely flush with the top of the camera, but the slight bump (rather reminiscent of the Olympus PEN-F) doesn’t add much bulk, and the high resolution (2.36MP) and good magnification (0.74X equiv.) provide a crisp, clear view. Eye-relief is a sunglasses-friendly 20mm and a poppable-lockable +/-4 diopter is on hand for wearers of prescription eyeglasses.

Rear touch screen

The CL’s 3″, 1.04 million-dot rear LCD is fixed, and touch-sensitive. Unlike the TL2 however, the CL’s conventional button and dial interface means that the touchscreen is by and large an optional, rather than integral part of the handling experience.

I say ‘by and large’ because I have had cause to curse the CL’s touchscreen on several occasions since I’ve been using the camera. In touch AF mode, the CL works as you’d expect it to. You hold the camera out in front of you and touch the screen, and the AF point is positioned at the spot you just touched. But if you then raise the camera to your eye, especially if you’re shooting vertically, it is more or less guaranteed that your nose will reposition the AF point to the very top of the image. This is the kind of operational quirk that I associate with earlier, more primitive touch implementations, and it is hugely annoying.

While it is easy to steer clear of touch-AF and touch-shutter modes through the AF mode menu settings, there is unfortunately no way to disable swipe gestures and image review scrolling and zooming touch features. More than a few times I have found myself accidentally ‘swiping’ (read: lightly brushing) the screen from the right which switches the CL into movie mode.

Swipe gestures

The trouble is that once you’re in movie standby mode: a) you might not actually realize at first, which is confusing and b), assuming you got there accidentally, it is far from obvious how to get back to normal stills mode. The first couple of times I encountered this issue (bear in mind that I didn’t have access to a user manual) I actually gave up and did a hard reset to factory settings just to get back to the business of taking pictures.

When I raised the issue with our contact at Leica, he informed me that a long touch followed by a swipe on the left of the screen switches back to stills mode. He also reminded me that the button in the center of the leftmost control dial can be used to switch between exposure modes (including movie).

This is all well and good, but I really wish it was possible to disable the swipe gestures altogether.

24MP sensor

The CL’s sensor is a 24MP APS-C Bayer-type, without an AA filter. Leica claims 14 stops of dynamic range, which seems about right given the ~40MB Raw files (bearing in mind that we’re not allowed to lab test this early production sample). JPEG image quality is exactly what I’d expect after using the TL2, and compares well to competitive 24MP APS-C cameras.

Alongside Ricoh (and Samsung, RIP) Leica is one of the few companies to offer Raw shooting in the .DNG format, which is always good to see – and makes shooting pre-production sample galleries for DPReview much easier. Perhaps as an indication of its enthusiast/semi-pro pretensions, when you reset the CL to factory settings (which as previously noted I have done, more than once) it defaults to RAW + JPEG capture.

Disappointingly, but not surprisingly at this point, the CL offers neither in-camera stabilization nor automatic sensor cleaning. Since like many mirrorless cameras the CL’s sensor is fully exposed when the lens is removed from the camera, dust can (and in my experience does) get into your pictures unless you’re very careful.

Mechanical + E-shutter

The CL’s shutter is a hybrid mechanical/electronic type. It is fully mechanical to 1/8000sec, and fully electronic up to an equivalent shutter duration of 1/25,000sec. A full-time ‘silent’ E-shutter mode is also available, but interestingly, electronic first-curtain shutter is not an option. I haven’t seen any evidence of noticeable shutter-shock during my shooting so far, but we’ll be sure to test this in the lab once we receive a reviewable camera.

The CL’s maximum shooting rate is a respectable 10fps, with focus locked. Leica claims that this performance is thanks to the new shutter, in combination with the CL’s Maestro II image processor – the same generation processor (though not necessarily the same chip) that we’ve seen used in the TL2 and M10.

4K / 30p, 1080/60p

The CL is the second camera in the L-mount lineup (after the TL2) to offer 4K video capture, at 30p. Overall, despite the headline 4K mode the CL’s video feature set is pretty unremarkable. 4K/24p capture is not possible, and with no microphone socket, videographers are limited to in-camera microphones for audio recording. The microphones are visible in this image, just forward of the CL’s hotshoe.

Battery

The CL uses the same Panasonic-manufactured BP-DC12 battery as the Q, and offers an unremarkable CIPA rating of between 220-240 shots per charge. In normal use I’ve found that (unsurprisingly) this rating is conservative, but for people who regularly shoot a lot of video, I’d definitely recommending bringing a spare – especially if you’re planning on being away from a charger for a while.

Part of the reason I say this is that the CL does not feature a USB socket and as such, there’s no option for USB charging, which is a shame.

New 18mm pancake lens

The L-series lens lineup is still relatively small, but it grows slightly with the addition of the Elmarit 18mm F2.8 pancake prime – the lens that was mostly attached to the front of the CL during my time with the camera.

New 18mm pancake lens

The Japanese-manufacturered Elmarit is tiny at only 20.5mm (0.8in) in length and lightweight at only 80g (2.8oz), but makes up for its skinny dimensions with a big fat price-tag. The 18mm F2.8 will be available in black or silver, either on its own for $1295 or in a kit with the CL.

M-Adapter L

The Leica CL is also fully compatible with the M-Adapter L, which enables virtually any M-mount (and most L-mount, via an additional adapter) lenses to be used with a 1.5X crop. Modern M-mount lenses with 6-bit coding can be ‘read’ by the CL, allowing for in-camera profile corrections to be applied.

This is my battered old 5cm F1.5 Summarit, which becomes a battered old 7.5cm equiv., when mounted on the CL.

Final thoughts (for now)

On balance, the Leica CL is a nicely-designed camera that is pleasant to use. It’s not perfect, but compared to the T/L and TL2 that came before it, it’s more practical for everyday photography and easier to get to grips with. The built-in viewfinder is excellent, and I appreciate the more or less conventional button-and-dial interface, and the straightforward, M10-inspired menu. Less convincing is the touchscreen implementation. While the ability to set focus by touch in some AF modes, and scroll through / zoom into images in playback is really handy, the frequent problem of the AF point being repositioned by my nose, and the ‘always on’ swipe functionality did frustrate me.

Image quality from the CL’s 24MP sensor seems excellent, although I’m not wholly convinced by the 18mm lens. During my time with the CL I’ve used it almost exclusively with the new 18mm F2.8 pancake, and I can’t deny that it’s a pretty powerful combination – as well as being truly pocketable. Unfortunately, off-center sharpness isn’t as good as I would hope from a $1200+ prime, and the ~F4 aperture (in 35mm terms) limits its usefulness for low light photography, or anything where you might want a modicum of foreground/background separation.

That said, there are other, very good quality lenses in Leica’s T-mount lineup, and the CL will play very well with all of them, albeit at the expense of some pocketability.

What do you think of the new Leica CL? Let us know in the comments.



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