Everything HDR

A natural consequence of the convergence of video and still photography is that everything is going HDR (high dynamic range). Examples:

HDR was possible before video/still photography converged, but it was a hassle. You had to fix your camera in position, usually on a tripod, for multiple shots, and that alone is too much work for the vast majority of photographers.

But many still cameras can now shoot video at the same resolution as stills, and many digital video cameras have sensors that shoot each frame at resolutions previously reserved for still cameras, and following both those trends to the horizon point leads to the same HDR method: shoot two or more frames in rapid succession at different exposures, then blend them to produce a single HDR still. If the frame rate is high enough and the camera decently stable, you no longer need to lock the camera down. With convenience comes more use.

The Red HDRx mode takes that principle one step further and extends it to shooting video. Of course, with motion, consecutive frames of video won't match exactly, and so a new requirement is a software algorithm to blend the two frames. An unexpected benefit of this frame blending, according to early testers, is that motion in digital video now looks more film-like. If that's the case, and the HDR can extend the dynamic range of digital video 1 or more stops, that's a significant breakthrough.

The increased flexibility is great, it allows usable photographs in situations that were formerly kryptonite for digital cameras. I traded in my Nikon D3 body for a D3s for its increased light sensitivity. At my sister's wedding recently I put the D3s through its paces. It doesn't have an HDR mode, but it has am improved sensor that can see into the dark without introducing eye-bleeding digital noise. Though my sister held her wedding in a dark vintage furniture store with lots of hard lighting, I never used my flash once, and the results were astonishing.

Of course, as with most tools, higher dynamic range is just a tool, and not a universal positive. I ended up going into Lightroom for most of the photos and taking all that the camera saw in the shadows and removing a lot of it, crushing the blacks and reintroducing the high contrast that a higher dynamic range photo lacks. The irony is that just because you can see everything doesn't mean you should. High contrast often heightens emotional response to a photo, and that, more than resolution or dynamic range or any number of other factors, is what matters.

Nikon 85mm AF-S f1.4

Ryan Brenizer reviews the new AF-S Nikon 85mm F/1.4G, which replaces the legendary 85mm f/1.4 AF-D, which is maybe my favorite Nikon lens ever. With the latter, I just open it up wide, walk around, and I always seem to find an interesting photo in the viewfinder. The 85mm length just feels like my preferred focal length for so many situations.

The new lens looks like a more than worthy replacement, though at $1,699, I can't justify it now. If I had some more free time for travel and photography, it would be at the top of my list.

This new 85mm lens, along with the recently released AF-S 24mm f/1.4G, AF-S 50mm f/1.4G, and the newly announced AF-S 35mm f1.4G, Nikon finally has a modern, updated, world-class lineup of primes at all the focal ranges I use the most.

Real photographers shoot prime.

Nikon glass was what first swayed me to Nikon over Canon, but for a couple years I was not an exception among Nikon people for wondering why the lens lineup wasn't being updated more quickly. Thankfully those days are past, and the only area where I have some Canon envy is on digital video, though in that space I'd just rather shoot with a dedicated video camera.

Pros versus Joes

[One month since my last post. That may be a record, but it's a sincere measure of the dearth of my free time.]

Apple announced a refresh of its Mac Pros recently, and the response from the professional community was, for the most part, one of weary disappointment. Brook Willard's post titled "The State of Apple's Professional Line" became the unofficial lament around which the pro community rallied.

My old G5 desktop, nearly a decade old, happens to be on its deathbed, and so I happen to be in the market for a desktop. I was waiting for the Mac Pro refresh announcement with some excitement, and it was somewhat of a letdown that so many anticipated upgrades failed to come to pass (more PCI slots was the one I really wanted). I'm a prosumer more than a pro, but my video editing needs are pro-level, as are those of my production team.

When fans lament that a band has sold out, it's often seems like some selfish reflex on the part of fans who'd prefer to feel that their tastes are distinguished by being in the minority. That seems illogical and spiteful if the band hasn't evolved its sound to be more mainstream in nature.

In this case, though, I have empathy for the pro community because their beloved enthusiast brand has shifted its attention to the mainstream. Shareholders won't mind, it's the logical financial moves in this case to address the broadest market possible, especially when even the mainstream products command such healthy margins (often the margin/sales volume disparity between the pro and consumer markets are sharper, but Apple's hardware/software design edge has allowed it to keep high margins on its hardware across the board). I'd love to see continued focus on taking products like Final Cut Pro to the next level, but I'm not hopeful.

Can a company of that size be the brand of choice for both the pro and consumer market? Will there be impacts down the road if there isn't a pro line from which technology can trickle down to more mainstream models?

The fact that Macs could be found in the offices of professionals in the video business always added a certain mystique to the brand, serving as aspirational brand markers the same way runway show outfits that never hit the actual market serve as prestige signals in the fashion world. Will that change?


All the press mentions of Swype have me intrigued. Is this method of data entry on touch screen mobile phones, in which you drag your finger around a QWERTY keyboard from letter to letter, really the fastest way to type on a mobile phone?

Swype isn't available for the iPhone, but a similar alternative called Shapewriter was in the iPhone App Store, at least until recently when they were purchased by Nuance Communications. I haven't tried any of these options, and it looks like I'll have to wait a while longer.

New apps for the iPhone

Two great apps for the iPhone dropped today. One is Tweetie 2, the second version of my favorite iPhone Twitter client. The original Tweetie cost $2.99 and was well worth it. When it was announced that Tweetie 2 would also cost $2.99 for all users, regardless of whether or not they had purchased the previous version, there were plenty of complaints.

I covered this in a Facebook discussion, but the $2.99 price for Tweetie 2 is well worth it for me. A few points for the grumblers:

  • The iPhone app store does not support upgrade pricing, so the developer can't charge one price to owners of the original Tweetie and another price for everyone else. That's Apple's fault, not the developer's.

  • One thing there is no shortage of is Twitter clients for the iPhone (or in general). If you don't feel $2.99 is worth it after reading the feature set, you have plenty of alternatives.

  • I'm not sure you can buy a single drink for $2.99 at Starbucks.

Interact with customers of any product these days, especially a web-based product, and one realizes that among the industries the internet revolutionized was whining. You can build a product for free with your own sweat and tears, donate blood to raise money to help children with cancer, rescue some elderly people and puppies from a burning building, and someone will still write in complaining that you haven't cured world hunger and oh, why can't they choose f!@$face as a username because damn it, this is America and how dare you censor me!

Tweetie 2 is great. Full persistence and offline mode alone would've been worth the $2.99 for me. If you're a power Twitter user, it's the best client for the iPhone and one of the best iPhone apps period.

Also arriving today in the iPhone app store was Adobe's Photoshop.com app. Cheapskates can't complain about the price of free.

Anyone who has shot any photos with the iPhone knows they don't usually come out of the camera show ready. To date Apple hasn't added in basic photo touchup tools but plenty of apps have filled the void.* The Photoshop.com app with its basic transform and color/exposure adjustment tools is a very worthy addition.

Remember, friends don't subject friends to long pages of unedited crappy photos.

* Some other photo apps for the iPhone that are worthwhile, if not free, are Chase Jarvis' Best Camera and CameraBag.


Google Reader asked some notable folks what their top picks were for Google Reader. Good idea, but I find it a bit offputting that so many folks chose their own website as one of their short list? Their sites are already listed and linked under their names, are we to believe they really spend time reading their own writing in Google Reader?


This past weekend, I was driving home on the 405 and saw a massive, odd-looking cloud standing alone in a clear blue sky, like a single head of cauliflower poking its head up through a bed of smog. Then I realized it was smoke from the fires in the San Gabriel mountains. It looked like a scene from 24, as if someone had dropped a nuclear bomb on LA. Here's one tightly-cropped time-lapse video of the smoke from the fires.

To truly appreciate how terrifying it looks, watch this wider-framed time-lapse which will give you a sense of the magnitude of this latest SoCal conflagration.


Hitchcock is a storyboarding app for the iPhone that can use photos. You're limited to the fixed focal length lens of the iPhone, but I could see it being a handy tool on set. We were shooting our Alec Baldwin Super Bowl commercial earlier this year in NYC, and the director Peter Berg grabbed my iPhone at one point and used the camera to help us visualize a shot he envisioned. He mentioned offhand that he wouldn't mind having a simple tool on the iPhone for quick previz.

It's $19.99, but there are more specialty tools coming to the iPhone that aren't intended for mass audiences, and those can justify higher prices.

Incidentally, I wish the iPhone app store had a way to put apps on a wishlist, or save them for later view. I often see apps that I think I might want to buy later, and I never have a way to remember them. Like this one cool app I saw last week, what did it do again, it was something about...oh, forget it.


A BMW concept diesel-hybrid. As with all concept cars, it looks absurdly futuristic, but it's heartening to see higher end manufacturers committing to the sustainability movement. Design can lift up the mundane and make it desirable, and having manufacturers like BMW or Tesla pushing the high end of this market can only help.


On Japanese simplicity.

In just over 30 years Hello Kitty has become a multibillion-dollar model of resourceful minimalism within the global juggernaut of Japanese pop culture. From Tokyo to Tehran, her expressionless, barely sketched visage adorns key chains, backpacks, toiletries and even a Hello Kitty-themed airline jet. Late last year an entire maternity hospital with Hello Kitty imagery adorning bedspreads and birth certificates opened to great fanfare in Taiwan.

But why is she mouthless? Because when you look at Hello Kitty, or “Kitty-chan,

Low light digital cameras

Ryan Brenizer and David Pogue highlight new compact cameras meant to perform better in low light situations. These manufacturers have done this by moving down in megapixels rather than up for the first time. This is a good sign. For far too long digital camera manufacturers have continued to release new models that increase megapixels when what most photographers needed was not more "resolution" but more "effective resolution".

The Panasonic LX3 earned a following last year among serious photographers as one of the first compacts focused not on increased megapixels but improved low light performance. I bought one and still use it as my carry-around, though it is not quite as slim as the ultra-compacts many people favor these days.

Of the new cameras announced, the Canon S90 sounds most attractive. It has some great features:

- an f2 lens at the wide end like the LX3, great for those really dim environments, which seem to be most of the ones I'm in when I find myself reaching for a carry around camera.

- a sizeable 3" diagonal LCD screen in back.

- two programmable control rings. I'm old school this way but I hate having to press buttons on compact cameras to select functions, I far far prefer physical controls that can be switched quickly. I switch ISO and aperture constantly on my cameras, even my LX3, and on the LX3 that requires using a little joystick.

- thin profile, small enough that I'd consider it pocketable.

It's smaller than the LX3 in body size, and if I didn't own an LX3 and an iPhone I might buy one of these. I might still get one (it pays to be in my family, you inherit lots of good trickle-down electronics as I succumb to gadget lust or early adopter syndrome).

Nikon 24-70mm f2.8

Ryan Brenizer lauds the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 zoom lens. I agree as it has become my go-to everyday lens on my SLR.

It's not light, in fact it's a bit of a beast, but then again when I bring out my SLR I'm usually not optimizing around weight but around picture quality. If I want a light carry-around camera I either use my phone or my Panasonic LX3.

The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED AF-S Nikkor Zoom Lens is not cheap at about $1,800 each right now, but most beginning photographers make the mistake of spending too much on the camera body and too little on lenses. Two reasons this makes little sense:

  • The lens, much more than any of the modern SLR bodies you're likely to buy from Canon or Nikon, is responsible for image quality. SLR bodies from Nikon and Canon have reached a point where you really can't go wrong. But there are still shots you just can't get without the right lens. Now, at the margins, and for specialized uses, for example if you're a professional sports photographer, the SLR body makes a difference. But even there, the most important piece of equipment they own are their fast, top-grade lenses.

  • Great lenses, or "good glass" as photographers refer to them, retain or increase in market value, camera bodies start losing resale value the moment they hit the market. Whereas Nikon and Canon will replace an SLR every year or two, roughly, the great lenses in their lines are often around for many years. Some lenses have never been replaced with a suitable equivalent and become highly coveted collectors items selling for thousands of dollars on eBay (for example, try to find a Nikon 58mm f1.2 on eBay, and if you do, it's likely selling for $3K).

Kindle book pricing, and the Kindle DX

Short article in Wired a few weeks back about Kindle users protesting prices higher than $9.99 for digital books. It's as if users are valuing the books as just pure digital bits. When you buy books at a bookstore, you have some visual justification for why some books are more expensive than others. The book may be thicker, with more pages, or with glossy heavy stock paper with beautiful photographs, or an expensive leather binding. The varying form factor for books has allowed that industry to get away with much more pricing variation than, say, the music industry, where most CDs and LPs are shaped exactly the same, or the theatrical exhibition industry, where going to the movies costs the same regardless of what movie you're seeing and how much it cost to make (on an absolute basis, the cost variance for producing one movie versus another is much larger than in books and music). To the viewer, many elements of the moviegoing experience are the same regardless of which movie you're seeing: they are about the same length, shown in theaters that are shaped, for the most part, the same, with screens of roughly comparable size. That along with years of uniform pricing have pretty much ensured that the only theaters that can get away with varied pricing are ones offering a unique experience (e.g. a price premium for the massive curved screens of IMAX, or a price discount for the really old movies offered at second-run theaters).

With books for the Kindle, you have few visual cues to distinguish the value of one book from the other. And so it's understandable that users might be inclined to think every digital book should cost the same. In one sense, they're right, as the digital cost of storing one book versus another will not vary by much at all.

What is missing, of course, is the understanding of all that has gone into the production and marketing of that work, or a linkage between the quality of the book and the price. The uniform price that Apple placed on songs in the iTunes music store at launch ($0.99 per track) removed price variance as an element of the shopping decision, for better or worse. That is now a mental anchor, and any deviation seems, well, deviant.

As a retailer, Amazon and Apple have roughly the same costs for whichever digital book or song they sell, so I can understand their interest in standardizing the pricing and encouraging impulse buying with the simplified decision structure. I can also understand why a publisher or music label would prefer pricing variance, to better account for their costs in acquiring and marketing the different books in question.

As for my Kindle 2 , I have owned and used it just about long enough that I am ready to share an overall assessment soon (quick summary is that it's solid but with lots of room for improvement), but not long enough to avoid the disappointment of hearing Amazon announce the Kindle DX today. I've barely had my Kindle 2 for 3 months, and already a replacement has been announced?

I can understand and accept product obsolescence and early adopter risk in technology, in fact I'm well-versed in it what with iPods and iPhones and digital SLRs and laptops getting replaced by newer, higher-performance models every half year to a year, but the Kindle 2 barely started shipping 3 months ago. I feel like Kindle 2 buyers should have either received a heads up that the Kindle DX would be coming or that we should be offered an option for trading in our Kindle 2 for the DX. The Kindle DX seems a bit pricey to me at $489, not a slamdunk purchase, but one of my biggest issues with the current Kindle 2 is its screen size, and I would have liked to have known the DX was coming at this price point back when I was making my Kindle-buying decision back in February.

Amazon rarely disappoints me, but today it did.

Visible remains

Tyler Cowen:

One advantage of Kindle is that it provides a new tool for mental accounting. Call me irrational but formerly I could not read more than seven or eight books at a time without abandoning some of them midway. Kindle (like Netflix, I might add) gives me a new queue and allows me to have more "hanging," partially unread books at any point in time, yet without disrupting my mental equilibrium.

I have just one book on my Kindle so far, so I have not yet been able to gauge whether Cowen's assessment fits my experience. But it sounds like a reasonable hypothesis, especially considering I have to hurdle a metropolis of partially-read books on the scale of the trash-built apocolypse in Wall-E just to climb into bed.


Sportswriter Jim Murray once wrote about Rickey Henderson, whose excessive batting crouch helped him to draw lots of walks:

Rickey Henderson's strike zone is smaller than Hitler's heart.


A recent New Yorker article in the Food Issue examined the knife-making industry and profiled Kramer Knives of Seattle. Bob Kramer is one of a select group of Master Bladesmiths in America (as credentialed by the American Bladesmith Society); there are only about a hundred. To pass the test, one's knife must undergo a grueling series of tests, from rope cutting to wood chopping to shaving hair.

There is a multi-year waitlist to buy one of Kramer's knives, used by the likes of super chefs like Thomas Keller (I myself am on that waiting list). He has collaborated on a more widely available series of knives that are sold exclusively by Sur La Table. The Chef's Knife from that series is a beauty (if you're looking for a last-minute gift idea that will just dazzle a loved one who loves to cook, that's a great way to go, though my mother always shunned giving knives as gifts because of the Chinese superstition that giving such a gift foretold the severing of that relationship).

Upgrading the dull chef's knife is one of the best investments a home cook can make. Dull knives make cooking a lot of work and leads to injuries when a knife slips. Proper knife technique is the other simple lesson a chef should learn. To properly capitalize on your knife's edge, the blade should be moving horizontally across the food being cut. Too many people just press down, and that's not how a knife is designed to work. Doing so exerts a lot of needless effort and is slow. Think of your arm and knife moving in a continuous elliptical motion, like the horizontal metallic bar on the outside of a train engine car's wheels.


I don't recall what things were like four years ago, but it feels to me like there are many more "letters to the President-Elect" in the media this time around, on topics from bailouts and reviving the economy to drugs, food policy, and education. I suspect this is the consequence of having a President we regard as well-read and thoughtful.


An old article from The Morning News, as seen back on Reddit today: How do you know if a girl loves you?

If you’re Gael Garcia Bernal: She loves you.

Red announcement

UPDATE: Here's the news. A lot to absorb, but basically, Red is going to turn their entire product line into a modularized model so you can slowly upgrade over time rather than having to buy entirely new cameras over time. The number of sensors from the company is growing like rabbits and will include a 617-sized sensor in the future! Lastly, they're building a Red 3D camera which looks unbelievably cool.


Tomorrow, Red, the digital cinema company, is announcing something big about their upcoming 3K and 5K cameras, Scarlet and Epic. They've posted a countdown timer on their homepage.

Jim Jannard, company founder, has been building up the announcements in the Red user forums.

We will announce the new Scarlet and Epic programs on Thursday Nov. 13th.

I want to say that no one has any idea how incredible this announcement will be. Call this hype... please. I am quite sure that the announcement will be called a "scam". Should be a lot of fun to hear the reactions. I can't wait.


Not many companies do a better job of publicizing themselves with no PR department than Red. Jannard's honesty and participation in user forums is refreshing.

It's not the tool, it's the craftsman

Alex Majoli is a Magnum photographer who has shot in China, the Congo, and Iraq, and he has won honors like U.S. National Press Photographers Association's Best of Photojournalism Magazine Photographer of the Year Award (boy do they need an acronym).

His tool of choice? A simple Olympus digital point and shoot.

Some of his photos and some elaboration on his techniques here.

The new Macbook Pro

It's hot. I want one.

Apple has posted a video about the creation of the 13" Macbook that features some footage of the elusive Jonathan Ive ("Jony"), one of the current pantheon of design deities. Can't help but love the way the Brits pronounce aluminum, and watching those machines carve the unibody out of a solid 2.5 pound block of aluminum is engineering porn. Someday I would love to work on the design of a physical product.

I was back at Stanford recruiting last week, and I assign Apple all credit and blame for the dozens of product design majors who visited our table.

New Macbook Pros

Daring Fireball has, via Engadget, details on the new Macbook Pros to be announced today (which, to be fair, includes some speculation). I'd be surprised if his report was far off from the truth. Most of the updates are minor and/or cosmetic, like the switch to the Macbook Air-style keyboard, a new single-piece aluminum chassis, and a clickable glass trackpad. The biggest deal, to me, is the inclusion of two Nvidia GPUs, the 9400M and the 9600M GT.

Selfishly, the more people out there with computers with modern, high-powered GPU's, the smoother Hulu videos will play. Some users write in complaining about videos that stutter, and in most cases it's either a computer that can't keep up or problems in the network. The videos, I can assure you, play fine--it's an easy thing for us to test in-house to remove the variable of the network and the computer from the equation to test the underlying video.

HD video from DSLRs

The Nikon D90 and the Canon EOS 5D Mark II (Canon's SLR names are way too convoluted) both shoot HD video in addition to serving as DSLRs.

But one problem of shooting HD video with a CMOS is that since there is no real shutter like on a motion picture camera, each "frame" is captured by simply capturing lots of images per second with that CMOS. If you read it 24 times a second, you get 24 frames.

But if the CMOS doesn't refresh fast enough and the camera moves while the CMOS is refreshing, the bottom of the CMOS might be reading part of the image from a different time than the top of the CMOS, and that rolling shutter produces a bad motion wobble or skew (what Jim Jannard calls "jelly movement") as in this sample video footage from the D90.

Here are some sample unmodified Quicktime movie files from the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Suffice it to say no serious filmmaker will be throwing away a camcorder after purchasing either of these DSLRs (unless that child you're filming doesn't move much; what, little kids run around?).

I'm sure they're fine still cameras, though. So few people make large prints anymore, so digital SLR resolution has been sufficient for their primary purposes: web galleries, 4x6 prints.