XS Computation

Oh, hello! How about we take a moment today to talk about the state of mobile photography as it pertains to the iPhone XS because it seems like its on the tip of everyones tongue as of late. Advances in computational, machine learning, super HDR, photography have certainly been blowing a lot of smoke as Apple and other mobile phone companies are trying to mimic, lets call them, full bodied, cameras using technology to overcome very clear and obvious limitations in size and physical ability.

First off, it’s worth noting, as of this writing I have only had a few days behind this camera, though what I’m going to discuss here I feel confident in my initial takes on the tech, I did want to mention this. Also, let me say up front, it’s nothing short of incredible how far these tiny sensored cameras have come through the years. Using technology and tricks to mimic and in some cases enhance the behavior and capabilities of full bodied cameras is brilliant and one can take truly delightful photographs with an iPhone, yet, and heres a key point I’m poking my head in today to address, under the right conditions.

After finally jumping in with the rest of you lot and moving to an iPhone with two lenses I am able to try and see what all this fuss is about.

I knew what to expect going in and figured I could simply take a few straightforward portraits right off the bat just to see how things faired with this selective virtual “aperture” post photo, so while at the park with my daughter I set off with my natural instincts behind a camera and went to work as though I had a 5D in hand. This is where things quickly fell apart and I had a firm realization that I had maybe slightly overestimated its abilities.

As we approached the playground little Milla was super excited to head straight for the swing and as luck would have it the afternoon sun was giving us its last several minutes of lovely golden backlight, my favorite! I knelt down low to capture the first scattered fallen leaves of the fall as she darted across to the swing set and upon an initial cursory glance at the results I thought to myself, cool! This could be pretty fun.

Next up she was loaded up on her swing and was kind of patient enough for me to snap a couple of shots before it was time to start pushing her along so I popped the phone into portrait mode and had at it. Again, at first glance, results seemed kind of nice but quickly I realized what felt so off about the shot, the chains in the swing had vanished into the backgrounds emulated blur. This and the lovely lens flare I chose to try and incorporate into the shot was totally lost to the effect.

At this point I gave her a push or two and purposefully pushed my luck trying to capture her in portrait mode while she was in motion swinging but that was far and away beyond possible. The phone made some weird attempts at capturing something but it automatically cropped it in strange ways to make the best of what I was trying to push it into and I quickly decided to give up forcing portrait mode to work with a moving subject.

A short while later she had made her way up to the top of the slide platform, another chance to have a little creative fun by framing her face using the safety bars around the top of the slide but again was quickly denied as my attempts and curiosity lead to a confused and messy algorithmic mask attempt, even with a relatively still subject, because of the shots vaguely complex nature. (See photos above and notice the confusing “focus” on the bars.)

I did this because I was curious if I could use objects in the foreground to frame my subject but because the technology is simply masking out what it thinks is in the foreground I was left in the cold as the bars and Milla’s face were sort of awkwardly stitched together into what it thought was the subject.

So then I figured I would move on to more of a softball shot, she was at the top of the slide hanging about, being as cute as ever, and i simply snapped a few shots that I figured it could handle easily. Still again the masking attempts were confused by the busy leafy green background and the bars which left a number of weird looking spots the mask didn’t quite cut out properly (on the right below). This was compounded by the failure of this tech to fully measure the distance from the camera lens to different parts of the frame leaving bits of the playground bars in and out of focus in seemingly random fashion (also seen above) as the software simply made its beat guess at what it should do. There was also one shot that left strange artifacts on her face from what I assume was mismatched layers from the auto HDR attempt (on the left).

So I gave up taking photos and simply enjoyed taking orders from a giggling Milla as she pushed me down a slide I was way to big for and left the shots to check back on later.

Using the new camera in portrait mode during this short time in a park was a pretty quick and clear reminder that while it’s a cool idea at its heart, it is a marketing gimmick and in a way a more advanced set of the same concepts brought on since the dawn of apps being on the app store which layered effects and post processing onto photos to hide and enhance the shortcomings of the cameras physical limitations. I also tried to use a couple of simple objects on my desk at work, again to see what I could accomplish with this mode or not and if you look at the corners of the book and the area around the glasses you may notice what I would call a failure. Close… but not really.

All that said, I don’t honestly think there is anything at all wrong with these results. It’s a ton of fun to shoot with the device you always have in your pocket and the more tricks they add to make it more enjoyable the better. It’s just that, like with any camera and lens ever made, there are compromises to be made in the way they can be used to the best of their ability and in this case there are a few takeaways I have from my early experience shooting with this camera that I will leave you with today as well as a few more of my attempts at finding ways to utilize the portrait mode in ways that weren’t as jarringly meh.

In general, I think its best to stick with the standard photo mode using one lens or the other, you won’t get to play with that aperture placebo slider but you will have a more stable image to work with in post work. On their own, depending on the distance from the focused subject, etcetera, there is some genuine potential for taking great photos with this alone. The way I see it (and a lot of others out there from what I’ve seen online), the smart HDR features really are the most clever and useful part of the newest advancements, not the portrait mode. Also, Live Photo’s after the fact are a really charming way to go back and revisit passing memories.

The portrait mode is really quite fun but to use the effect in a natural, realistic way its best to use it in places where the subject is in fact the singular visual focus of the photograph meaning, don’t place anything between the subject and the camera and keep a good healthy distance from the background of the subject as well for the best results. Minimizing other details and objects surrounding your subject helps quite a bit too and it’s also worth noting that the more visual contrast between your focus point and the background the better. If you have a light object or light edge on your subject and the background is also white or brightly lit, chances are that masking algorithm is going to get confused. Contrast is key here. In essence, put your subject front at center without anything else to distract at the closest distance away from the camera before the phone starts bugging you to back off and snap away.

Coming from years behind the prime lenses this technique emulates, it’s pretty easy to spot impossible depth added into photos using this kind of faked approach by looking at surrounding objects such as tables, chairs and the like but, does that really matter? Sometimes, when its really obviously wrong but usually its just a side effect that most will never notice is off. I do wonder though why they bothered to try and label the depth effect as aperture settings because its so far from being anywhere close to accurate, why not just have a slider with “more” on one end and “less” on the other?

Last but not least, it’s important to remember which mode suits the circumstance best! Don’t miss a great opportunity for a shot fiddling with portrait mode! Keep that ready for when its best use case scenarios line up and the modes namesake need is in play, a simple, well lit portrait.

Was I expecting the iPhone XS to match a full bodied camera? No, of course not, but even still, I was hopeful it could be used in quick, fun, creative ways while out and about in day to day life. Their marketing hyperbole would love you to believe otherwise but as I have been reminded here today, no matter which camera you shoot with there will always be compromises to be made and the value you extract from your camera of choice will depend on the balance between fitting your needs and the cameras ability to embody them.

I have a feeling that down the line, after a couple more years of this tech developing, we will start to see smarter and smarter realization of the portrait masking concept and the lines between full bodied cameras and mobile ones will continue to (pardon my pun) blur. For now, I for one know that I’m going to have a lot of fun playing around with a new set of tricks available but keep my full bodied cameras close for when I really want to dig in and take full control of a scene.

Also worth noting, all of the above photos were shot on an iPhone XS and edited with the built in photos app which I have never actually used much for editing on iOS and while it’s a little fiddly and limited can generate some nice, quick edits and is worth playing around with if you have not dug into it already. Can come in handy for simple little tonal adjustments on a snapshot. I look forward to seeing what else I can capture with the camera down the line and if your curious to see more mobile photo shots, my instagram feed is usually only fed with images from the iPhone. See you there!

Object No. 16

It’s been quite a while since adding to my brief “object” series of desktops. Looking back I wish I had done more with it. I started the idea as a means to encourage myself to find things to photograph even when inspiration or opportunity to shoot was running low and while wandering around my house with a camera this morning I decided it may be time to bring it out of hiding.
So what do we have today? I pulled this out of our camera cabinet, one of YoungDoo’s old cameras. I could be wrong but I don’t believe it is a functioning camera but I love the art deco like vibes of the body so it seemed like a natural choice for subject matter. I found a spot with a bit of early morning sun and here we are, with a mild tribute to time gone by. I’m thinking I may pick this idea back up and run with it. Could jump start my daily shooting habits again which as you may have noticed around here, I have been trying my best to grab onto. Enjoy!
P.S. – The iPhone download link is suitable for most all mobile devices, including iPads.

I’m Still Here

Note: iPad download link is a universal mobile wallpaper size will work both on iPads as well as iPhones. I’ll get the link text fixed up down the line. Wanting to make it easier to get back to posting desktops so I’m looking to streamline.

Fall Bloom

Note: iPad download link is a universal mobile wallpaper size will work both on iPads as well as iPhones. I’ll get the link text fixed up down the line. Wanting to make it easier to get back to posting desktops so I’m looking to streamline.

Checkers

Note: iPad download link is a universal mobile wallpaper size will work both on iPads as well as iPhones. I’ll get the link text fixed up down the line. Wanting to make it easier to get back to posting desktops so I’m looking to streamline.

50ft Radio Volume Seventeen

I have wanted to get this posted for ages now, pieced together from music found through the past several months that I have been into and wanted to share. I still love squirreling away tracks into my 50ft Radio Playlists and I finally made time to put them all together to share. Music this time around is another eclectic lot spanning electronic, pop, indie, jazz, folk, and a trip to Africa near the end. As always if you like something, take a moment to check to see who it was you enjoyed and listen to the whole album, better yet, buy it! This series is all about discovery and while I know the music world has changed a lot since I’ve started these I still like to think there is value in curation. Thanks for listening, enjoy!

Podcast Feed for your player of choice: http://fiftyfootshadows.net/feed/podcast/

Direct link: http://50ft.me/90xc6Y

Playlist (Try not to peak!): http://50ft.me/t2sVCU

This series is about the love of music and spreading that love with all of you. If you enjoy a song then by all means, look up the artist, buy their music directly from them, go to a show, shake their hand. The closer the better. They can’t keep doing what they love without us.

Max

On one hand I have been nothing but quiet on the internet front lately but in general I have been nothing but. Finalizing details of a new album of music and moving into how to package it as well as writing, and searching for new material for desktop posts it’s just been a lot of behind the scenes work at play lately.

It hit me though that I have a few new wallpapers as well as a new 50ft Radio mix completely ready to go so I thought I would start a few new posts off with this lovely, minimal image shot while on a weekend camping trip with the family. We made a stop at Max Patch which is a famous spot along the Appalachian Trail to soak in the view and Its impossible not to take photos like this while there. The landscape is a unique patch of grassy land at high elevation giving visitors a really lovely 360 degree view of the mountains around the space. Links below for a wallpaper, enjoy!

Core, A Keyboard Story

It has been ages since writing about any new gear on these pages. At one point I realized I probably wasn’t adding much to the bloated conversations on tech and new things in general and slowed my pace to more or less zero. One more opinion just didn’t really seem all that relevant somehow, but today I thought it would be fun to jump back into this space and gush about a new toy that I am excited by and found myself totally in love with at first click. A mechanical keyboard.

I know I am pretty late to the game, and for ages I wrote off the trend as little more than another thing geeks could geek out about, a needless accessory, but this past winter when I was visiting Seoul I made the mistake of casually walking up to a hearty section of mechanical keyboards in the tech section of a bookstore thinking to myself “oh hey, lets see what all the fuss is about,” as I approached the table. It took all of 30 seconds to fall for the charm and addictive feeling of the clicky keys tapping away underneath my fingers. The subtle joy of the experience lingered in my mind for quite some time.

My casual brush with those keyboards planted a seed in the back of my head that slowly grew into enough of a curiosity to poke my head into a few user forums and watch a handful of YouTube videos to listen and learn more about this close knit group of keyboard lovers. Through this I discovered the many different switches, keycaps, build styles, and layouts available. Part of my initial distaste for mechanical keyboards was their size. I move around a lot and rarely have time to sit down in one work space for too long so I wanted something portable so I could put it to use while on the go.

Once I started to pay attention to the different layouts and varieties of keyboards available my interest peaked quite a bit. The 60 percent keyboards seemed small and portable enough for the most part and they do have a layout similar to what I’ve grown used to over the years on MacBooks but overall they were still a little big for a casual every day carry scenario where it would need to live in my backpack most of the time. What really hooked my imagination after learning more about them were the little 40 percent boards which were unique in a way that sucked me right in.

Tiny, adorable, but still fully loaded. The fact that most of the functionality lay behind modifier keys and layers seemed a little confusing at first but the more I thought about it the more I felt OK with it. I use a lot of shortcuts when using my MacBook and I have for years so what would be the big deal in learning a few new ones for less used keys like numbers and some punctuation.

Many keyboard lovers seem to consider these tiny wonders an outlier among the wider cinematic universe of mechanical keyboards, as thought they are maybe more of a novelty or strictly for light usage. While I could see that being true for the type of people that are the core demographic of this world, I myself found a perfect match in these tiny boards.

My needs personally are to have something well suited for writing posts, journal entries, emails, and other longer form writing. I am perfectly happy not having a row for numbers or function keys and the few odd punctuation marks used fairly often like apostrophes, question marks, etc. are not really all that difficult to get to and my fingers have adjusted to finding them when I need them.

Let me take a step back, I should mention which little keyboard I picked up, the Vortex Core. The Taiwanese manufacturer has a glowing base of happy users of their Poker line of 60 percent keyboards and when I stumbled across their adorable and affordable little prebuilt Core I knew I had found a perfect way to jump in, especially with its current cost which is quite a bit lower than they seem to have once been.

So how does it feel to use it? I adore it. Typing with a mechanical keyboard is like taking the side of my brain that needs something to fidget with while I think and feeds it with entertainment while I focus on writing. The feeling makes me want to write more because it’s such a joy to use and I find myself getting lost in the feeling. While reading about these before picking one up I kept seeing reviewers teasing the company for its slogan but I adore it, “enjoy your feeling,” its perfectly apt for a mechanical keyboard product and captures everything I love about it.

I will say this about the 40 percent style layout as it stands on many keyboards, I can’t for the life of me figure out why they could not have designed these one key space wider and included the apostrophe and question mark keys. While I have quickly gotten used to the new shortcuts I still wonder, as creative as this community feels to me why are there not a wider variety of PCB boards from different creators pushing possible layouts in more directions. The closest I have come across to what I would want in a perfect world are in the “ortholinear” keyboards which use an aligned grid of mostly single spaced keys, a layout I am curious about because of its flexibility, but I’m not sure how far down this rabbit hole I want to allow myself to go in.

It’s a hobbyists dream for sure and I completely understand the addiction some people have to having fun with the many different choices out there. Worth noting here also is the programability of the Core which is there, hiding on different user definable layers, but I have not thought of a reason just yet to experiment with this so I can’t offer any comments on this part of its functionality.

Which brings us to the little details about the Core, and perhaps mechanical keyboards in general, that I love so much, starting with the switches. Based on everything I have read what I really wanted was a version of this board that had Cherry MX Clear switches but had to compromise and get Brown switches instead. Both are whats considered a tactile switch meaning there is a second component of the switch aside from the spring which gives it a subtle, tactile bump as a key press is activated. The clears offer a slightly heavier feel and a little more resistance than the browns which is why I wanted them because I like the idea of having a little bit more weight to the keypress.  I like the nuance of the amount of pressure it takes to trigger the key so I am able to clack away quickly or type more gently when I need to be a bit quieter.

The sound of the Browns are just enough to be satisfying and give a nice, almost hypnotic ambience to the typing experience that I quite love. The reason I ended up with browns  because I could not find any Cores in stock with clear switches anywhere, most likely because they seems to be among the most popular switches overall for a lot of people and initial stocks must have run dry.

Then there are the keycaps. I like the vintage looking cream/beige colors and love that they took advantage of this being a prebuilt board with default settings so they could sneak in a cheat sheet for the modifier/fn keys on the front edge of each key. I hear there are versions of this set that also have the third layer of hidden keys labeled with additional punctuation etc. but again, I find myself quickly remembering where things are overall and the more I use it the quicker I get using it. They have a nice solid feel to them and just a slight texture that I like quite a lot.

My favorite part of this board in general though is the size, I am able to store it conveniently inside an old wireless mic bag for safe keeping and keep it around with me everywhere I go. Really, if it weren’t for these tiny bezel-less keyboards that are so easy to travel with I don’t think I would have ended up buying into the idea.

That said, I wouldn’t recommend this keyboard to anyone that does not like shortcuts or has trouble with them. It is almost guaranteed to frustrate if that’s the case, but if your like me and don’t mind this, I can happily give a glowing recommendation for this fun little keyboard. You can find them for under $100 now which is a heck of a deal considering the cost of components in general when building your own keyboard and the quality of its build straight out of the box.

Have any questions? I’m no keyboard aficionado but I would be happy to help if I can, feel free to leave a comment below if that’s the case. At this point I am only still writing because I love using this keyboard so much I don’t want to stop, the gentle clack underneath my fingers is such a weirdly visceral joy. It’s hard to fully explain but it sure does make typing feel good. I love that. Enjoy your feeling and I will see you next time.

To whom it may concern,

IMAGES FOUND WITHIN FIFTYFOOTSHADOWS.NET ARE ©JOHN CAREY AND MAY NOT BE USED FOR ANY COMMERCIAL USE WITHOUT PERMISSION. 

DO:

• Enjoy the images! It’s a labor of love, thanks for your support!
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• Send me a quick mail if you are interested in using an image for commercial or personal use other than wallpaper.

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• Post desktops elsewhere online.
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If you help me out with these I will be able to keep doing what I love to do. Thanks again, really, for your support and understanding. -J

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Thank you for your understanding and support!

John Carey (curator, owner)

fiftyfootshadows.net

fiftyfootshadows@gmail.com