Category: Photography

Nikon recalls their EN-EL15 rechargeable batteries

Bought a Nikon dSLR or Nikon 1 in the last 12 months? You might want to take a closer look at the battery pack that came with it.

Nikon has issued a recall on their EN-EL15 Lithium-Ion rechargeable batteries due to the potential for a short-circuit which could damage the battery, your camera and possibly you.

The batteries shipped with all new  D800, D800E, D7000 cameras and the Nikon 1 V1 advanced camera with interchangeable lens.

The unit is also currently on some store shelves separately listed as Nikon’s model number 27011.

The recall does not affect the actual cameras themselves – just the batteries.

If you suspect your battery is affected by the recall, here’s what you should do:

  • Check if your battery is part of the recalled group by examining the 14-digit lot number located on the underside of the battery
  • If the 9th character of the lot number is E or F, your battery is being recalled – Remove the battery from your camera immediately and don’t use it.
  • If the 9th character is any other letter or number, your battery is not being recalled and you can continue using it

If you do have a recalled battery, you need to contact Nikon to arrange for a free replacement. Check out the process for doing this on Nikon’s recall page. Unfortunately all recalled batteries must be returned to Nikon and can’t be returned to the authorized retailer where the camera/battery was purchased.

Readers, have you been affected by this recall?

Lytro camera debuts to positive reviews

If you haven’t heard about the Lytro, start with our introduction to the camera.

As a refresher, the Lytro is a digital camera like no other. Instead of merely capturing “flat” light – colour and brightness – the camera’s sensors are capable of measuring the trajectory of the light itself. The big advantage to this is that the whole notion of what is in focus at the time you take the photo becomes irrelevant as focal distances can be decided after-the-fact and altered using software to suit your needs.

When the company announced its first product last year, it was clear from the beginning that they were onto something huge. Their demo “living photos” were very impressive displays of what the technology could do, and the cameras themselves were as different in their design when compared to traditional cameras as their photos were.

But as with any new technology, the truest test is how it fares when put through its paces by reviewers out in the real world.

The Lytro seems to have passed the test – though not without a few caveats.

In The Verge’s review, David Pierce notes that “the effect is amazing but the photos aren’t.” His experience with the Lytro shows that while the camera definitely does what is says it can do, it can’t do it reliably under all shooting conditions, with low-light being an especially challenging scenario.

There are some minor quibbles with the overall design of the Lytro itself, but Pierce reserves his biggest criticism for the camera’s screen which he deems too small and “kind of terrible.”

Walt Mossberg over at All Things D, is equally upbeat about the Lytro’s technology but doesn’t seem as concerned as Pierce when it comes to the camera’s physical attributes. He does however make the point that there is a learning curve when it comes to taking good photos with the Lytro – words to remember for those who are eager to get their hands on one.

Both reviewers note that the engineers behind the Lytro plan to release software updates in the future that will further enhance the camera’s capabilities without necessitating a hardware upgrade which should be comforting for those looking to be first in line for the ground-breaking device.

What Lytro’s debut proves more than anything is that the technology is real, it works and it’s the most amazing advance in photography since the beginning of photography itself. And, as with any technology, there is plenty of room for improvement. With any luck, Lytro will succeed in licensing its innovations to major manufacturers and in the future we’ll all be snapping “living photos” regardless which camera we happen to choose.

Lytro has just changed photography forever

One image, two focal distances. An effect that can only be achieved through light field capture. Credit: Lytro Inc.

One image, two focal distances. An effect that can only be achieved through light field capture. Credit: Lytro Inc.

True paradigm shifts don’t happen often, but when they do they have the power to change our entire way of thinking about a given subject.

Today’s story comes from the field of photography.

As any amateur shutter bug will tell you, other than image composition (how you frame up your subjects in the camera’s viewfinder), focus and depth of field are the most powerful tools in a photographer’s creative arsenal.

When you get ready to take a photo, the first thing you need to decide is where your focus will be. For most of us, the habit of depressing the shutter button half-way to initiate the auto-focus before triggering the capture process is second nature: Choose your subject, focus on it, snap!

The combination of focus and the aperture you’ve chosen leads to the effects we’ve all become familiar with: Portraits where the only the subject is in sharp focus and everything else is soft, landscapes where the entire image is in focus letting you see every detail of a mountain or field, and those clever in-between shots where the foreground and background are hazy but the middle distance is sharp.

These creative choices have to be made by the photographer at the time of the shutter-click.

Everything else – colour, contrast, even exposure can be modified after-the-fact in programs like Photoshop.

Until today that is.

Welcome to world, Lytro, a company founded by Stanford University Ph.D. grad, Ren Ng. Ng and his small team have been working quietly for the past few years to develop a technology known as Light Field Capture.

According to Lytro’s website, “the light field is a core concept in imaging science, representing fundamentally more powerful data than in regular photographs.” What this means in practical terms, is that any camera equipped with a light field sensor is capable of capturing much more than colour and intensity which are the two data points acquired by a typical digital camera’s CMOS or CCD sensor. The light field sensor camera “captures the color, intensity and vector direction of the rays of light. [emphasis added]”

When your camera knows this much information about the scene you’ve captured, it can yield astonishing effects – the most immediately thrilling of which is that you can change your focal distance after you take the photo.

It’s a little hard to appreciate what this means until you’ve seen it in action. Thankfully Lytro has provided some sample images for us to play with.

Take a look at the image below. See how the focus is on the toy that the black cat is playing with in the foreground? Okay, now click on the grey cat in the background.

I know, right? It’s kind of mind-blowing. It’s as though we are still in the process of framing up a photo that hasn’t been taken, and we’re adjusting the focus on the camera. It’s not purrfect (sorry couldn’t resist) – the very furthest objects like the couch remain soft even after clicking on them, but you can see the potential this technology has.

When I showed this example to a few colleagues around the office, the reaction was mixed. Some were thrilled, but others bemoaned the technology as a “cheat.” Their premise being that one of the core skills you need to acquire as a photographer is understanding the correct application of focus and depth of field. They’re right. Or at least, they used to be right.

Lytro has fundamentally changed the way we can now approach our images. No longer are their major attributes locked in place when we push the shutter button. They have become dynamic – “Living Pictures”, to use the term that Lytro has adopted. Lytro plans to bring the first light field sensor camera to market later this year.

And like it or not, I suspect that in less than 5 years, every digital camera on the market will be using this technology. You’ll be able to enable or disable it as you see fit, but most people will leave enabled, for the same reason that most people shoot in full colour instead of black and white. You can always switch to black and white later if you want to, and likewise with light field – you can always change your focus later if you want to.

Fujifilm revives the instant camera

Fujifilm-Instax-Mini-7S-Instant-Camera-1Being a parent often means getting to tell your kids crazy stories about what life was like when you were a kid and then watching the expressions of amazement or confusion on their faces.

“That’s right – when I was your age, phones were stuck to the wall and you had to dial phone numbers using this big, er, dial!”

It’s endless fun. One of my favourites is reminding them that there was a time when screaming “let me see!” after someone takes a photo simply wasn’t an option.

Because my kids live with a tech editor father, they aren’t surprised when I come home with yet another shiny new gadget. You might even say they’re blasé about it.  But when I brought home my review copy of Fujifilm’s Instax Mini 7s, I knew I held in my possession the power to amaze. Not because the Instax Mini is the latest and greatest, but precisely because it isn’t.

I sat down at the dining room table and pulled the chunky and somewhat bulbous-looking camera from my bag and beckoned both children to come closer. They’re so used to having a camera in their faces (I confess to being an unrelenting documentarian of our family in both photo and video) that they both instantly pulled their usual photo poses: My daughter dutifully smiled angelically while my son managed to contort his features into a face that, well, kind of makes you want to call a doctor.

fujifilm-printsJust as instantly, I snapped the photo. Then the unthinkable happened. Instead of that frozen moment in time appearing on a screen on the back of the camera, a small rectangular document emerged from the top.

The double-take that both kids executed was priceless. I wish I had had the presence of mind to capture it on video.

30 years ago, this was the quintessential Polaroid moment. Back then, everyone who witnessed what had just happened knew what came next: you grab the white-and-black flexible card and shake it in the air (to this day I still don’t know why we did this) and then wait – often impatiently – for the photo to emerge from the layers of chemicals embedded in the print.

But to a child who has never been photographed with anything other than digital technology, this was a new experience. Realizing I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do a “magic trick”, I asked the kids to step closer, placed the freshly snapped print on the table and proceeded to wave my hand mystically in the air over it. A few nonsensical incantations later and the image appeared.

My daughter rewarded my efforts with a giggle while my son, who was given a photo printer for Christmas this year, said “Cool, make me one too!” He was nonplussed to learn that not only was there no digitally-preserved version of the photo; there was no way to print any more – unless we took the same photo again.

Which brings us to the real question: Why, in this age of digital photography, when we never have to live with a photo that isn’t to our liking, or spend money printing an image we might not want to keep, would we want to bring back the instant-print cameras of days gone by?

The answer is simple: It’s still fun after all these years.

While the uses for an instant camera like the Instax Mini and it’s bigger brother the Instax 210, are limited only by the imagination, parties are the most obvious time to pull one of these cameras out and start shooting.

The memories can be shared immediately and unlike digital photos which can make their way onto the web with ridiculous ease, instant photos tend to stay in the real world where they are enjoyed by a select few – which is kind of the point.

The Instax Mini 7s, ($80.99 at Amazon.ca) when compared to modern point-and-shoots, is laughably big, and possessed of so few buttons and settings you’re tempted to start looking for hidden hatches. Other than the shutter-release button, there is only a small selector switch that lets you choose between 4 shooting modes including indoor, outdoor-cloudy, outdoor-sunny and outdoor-really-sunny. There isn’t even a power button – this is accomplished by pulling the lens out manually from its retracted/closed position.

The built-in flash fires for every shot, regardless of the shooting mode. When indoors, it’s a necessity but like most built-in flashes, its range maxes out at about 4 feet.

fuji-instax-mini-film-twin-packThe prints are a credit-card sized 3.5”x2” with a generous white border that is slightly thicker on one side – just like the classic Polaroid prints you remember. Even the colours and skin-tones plus deep depth of field that kind of flattens the image all feels just like the original. You buy them in 10-print cartridges – which are going for $10 on Amazon.ca.

The Polaroid 300

The Polaroid 300

One thing that you will quickly find if you do a little googling, is that Polaroid themselves markets a camera in the U.S. called the ‘300’, which as far as I’ve been able tell, is a total clone of the Fujifilm Instax Mini 7s. When I called Fujifilm to ask what the story was, they kept the answer short and a little mysterious: Yes, Polaroid and Fujifilm have a partnership but the details are under wraps. Why the cloak and dagger? Who knows. My guess is that they want to keep the two brands very separate, to the point where they don’t sell the two cameras in the same market.  Polaroid owns the U.S. while Fujifilm seems to be everywhere else.

On this note, Fujifilm claims that the Polaroid 300 film will not work in the Fujifilm Instax Mini 7s. But I find that highly unlikely. If you ever find yourself in the U.S. with your Instax and in need of film, I say go ahead and pick up the Polaroid product. It’s probably made my Fujifilm anyway. I mean look at the cameras – they’re identical.

There’s no question, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 7s will draw a crowd – maybe even more so than Apple’s new iPhone 4 – how’s that for $80 worth of entertainment?

Get retro and have some fun. It’s what the Instax was made for.

Picasa 3.5 face recognition is a blast – and addictive

I’ve been a Picasa addict ever since I first used the program a few years ago. Most people who have downloaded and tried the free software will agree: its simple, intuitive interface combined with amazing one-click photo enhancement features makes this a must-have app for any photographer.

Even die-hard Mac fans who use Apple’s iPhoto application, grudgingly admit that Picasa’s feature set is hard to beat, and many of them have become converts since Google recently released Picasa for Mac.

Whether you’ve never used it, or you use it daily, you are going to want to check out the latest release of Picasa: Version 3.5.

It was released about a month ago and it contains a number of improvements over previous releases, but the feature that has my family most excited is the new face recognition function.

On our PC I have well over 5,000 photos, most of which are of family – especially our two kids. If you’re a parent, I’m sure you have just as many if not more.

Not only am I the family photographer, I’m also chief archivist and librarian. Which basically means whenever we need a photo printed or sent to someone, I’m the go-to guy. It also means that whenever my wife goes looking for a photo and can’t find it, I get the blame for my poor cataloging skills.

“Why haven’t you labeled any of these?” is something I get asked a lot.

Now, instead of meekly admitting to my shortcomings in the filing department, I simply point to the laptop and say – “Look! Everyone’s there!”

Now I’ve read a review of the new face recognition feature that was less than glowing. In fact the author didn’t seem very impressed at all. But My experience has been the opposite.

Here’s an example:

picasa-babyHere’s a photo of my daughter at 2 months old. Adorable isn’t she? But there are a lot of adorable babies out there and let’s face it parents, they tend to look alike after a while. So I was amazed when Picasa recognized that this was the same person as…

 

 

 

picasa-girlYes, my daughter again, this time over 4 years later. If you had shown me these two images side by side and had they not been of my own child, I would not have been able to say they were of the same person. Could you?

 

As Picasa gets more and more confirmation from you that its guesses are correct, the better those guesses become. I’ve become a little addicted to the feature that lets you see all of the program’s unconfirmed guesses to see what it’s been able to find since the last time.

As you may have guessed, it ain’t perfect. There are a few drawbacks, namely: you get a LOT of faces that Picasa wants you to label. Faces in the background in crowd scenes, faces on posters, even faces of statues or stuffed animals. You can of course safely ignore these, but they clutter up the process of labeling the people you care about.

Also, sometimes Picasa simply doesn’t recognize the presence of a face in a photo. Here’s what I mean:

picasa-familyIn this photo, only the kids were recognized as faces. The adults didn’t register at all even though these same people were recognized and labeled correctly in dozens of other photos. You can add any missed faces manually, but it’s odd that you would need to.

Despite these quirks and few other minor annoyances, facial recognition is a worthy addition to Google’s already class-leading set of photo management tools, and I think once you try it, you won’t want to go without it. I for one, am very happy to have it around.