Channel Islands VAT dodge to end in 2012

The story below may not seem very important to photographers, but actually, it affects suppliers including 7DayShop, MyMemory, and indeed all the digital and photo processing companies who have used the Channel Islands VAT loopholes.

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The group of retailers campaigning against an industrial-scale offshore VAT avoidance scheme that has destroyed scores of viable, job-creating businesses and cost the UK taxpayer over a billion pounds, is winding down its campaign, having accomplished its mission.

From the 1st of April 2012, Low Value Consignment Relief (LVCR) will no longer be applicable to Channel Island goods entering the UK. LVCR – the exemption from VAT of goods valued below £18 (now £15) originating outside of the EU – had started life in 1983 as an innocuous administrative measure to relieve governments from the expense of collecting incidental amounts of VAT. But from the late 90s it mushroomed into a huge VAT avoidance ruse. Major retailers deliberately circulated UK goods via the Channel Islands – which happen to be outside of the EU for tax purposes – in order to take advantage of the import relief.

The result was a huge competitive distortion, creating a market where the major, even sole, determinant of success became not quality or customer service but ability to route via the Channel Islands and avoid tax.

The exploitation of LVCR also saw the rise of giant online retailers including Play.com and theHut, leading to the demise of UK high street chains like Zavvi and Fopp, but the storm hit the online sector in the UK the hardest.

RAVAS founder Richard Allen explained: “By 2010 there were no online retailers of CDs left on the mainland. Some of the high-street guys could survive because they offered an in-store experience that the offshore websites didn’t, but purely online folk like me who had to pay VAT didn’t have a prayer.”

The impetus for RAVAS began in 2005 when online retailer Mr Allen became concerned at the impact of the abuse of LVCR on his specialist mail order music company, which had been very successful up to that point. By 2006, with the move of HMV’s online operation to Guernsey to compete with Play.com, it became apparent that the level of LVCR use was about to escalate. By 2007 only VAT avoiding businesses could compete in online music retail.

Having been forced, like many other UK music retailers, to close his business and lay off UK staff, Allen began a campaign to end the abuse of LVCR. With help from the Forum of Private Business, including its former Brussels representative Martin Smith, Mr Allen submitted a complaint to the European Commission, focusing on wording in the original LVCR Directive showing that member states had a duty to crack down on avoidance or abuse resulting from LVCR. He was supported by retailers from many different sectors affected by LVCR abuse, including horticulture, cosmetics, computer peripherals, and gifts.

The website www.vatloophole.co.uk became a focus for the group, who eventually managed to make the EU and the new coalition Government realise the true scale of the abuse of LVCR in The Channel Islands. Whilst the Labour administration had completely ignored his campaign, George Osborne responded sympathetically to Mr Allen’s case.

In the UK Budget for 2011 Osborne announced that the government would work with the European Commission to find a way to halt the abuse of LVCR via the Channel Islands. The final instalment of these measures is the complete removal of LVCR from all goods entering the UK from the Channel Islands as of the 1st of April 2012.

Richard Allen said: “When we first initiated the complaint the odds were not exactly stacked in our favour. Many of the people affected had already gone out of business and so we were not a strong voice. We had no money to put into hiring expensive consultants or lawyers, but we argued our case directly with the conviction that we were in the right.

“After four years of communication with the commission, the submission of large amounts of factual data on the ongoing LVCR trade and a meeting with officials, the EU finally ruled that this practice was an abuse of the relief and a barrier to trade. We understand that the Commission has had lengthy discussions with the UK Government to put in place legal measures to prevent the abuse. Whilst it took a long time and huge amount of work the success of RAVAS is living proof not only that the EU complaints system works, but also that anybody can overcome the odds and overturn an injustice if they have a fundamentally sound case and the persistence to argue it thoroughly. ”

Mr Allen and Mr Smith are now encouraging any individuals or businesses affected by faulty policy or anti-competitive behaviour to get in touch and share in the secrets of their success.

Phil McCabe, Senior Policy Adviser at the Forum of Private Business, said: “This VAT loophole has been routinely abused by most of the UK’s large retailers for far too long and the Government’s decision to finally end it is good news for the vast majority of small traders across the UK.

“Allowing these large companies to have a significant price advantage on a range of goods for decades has caused a great deal of damage to high street shops and small online outlets. Many have closed – but others that are left have now been a fighting chance.

“An industry owing its existence to a tax avoidance scheme that is anti-competitive and classed as tax abuse under EU law because it is being exploited for reasons utterly different from its original purpose as an administrative relief, is simply unsustainable. Good riddance to it.

“RAVAS should be applauded for its continued courage, commitment and determination in bringing this damaging trade to an end, particularly by taking the complaint to the EU.”

Pentax 645D Japan announced

Hasselblad has their Ferrari edition, Leica has the Ti and other special editions – and now Pentax, already making a veritable rainbow of K-r colours, are adorning their flagship 645D Medium Format system with a classical Japanese finish. The 645D is pretty much what happens when you approach medium format without any preconceptions and with a lot of experience in the consumer digital market; get a K DSLR and a medium-format digital sensor, and you get DSLR usability and medium-format images.

Produced to celebrate Pentax’s win of the 2011 Camera GP – with the 645D crowned “Camera of the Year” – the 645D has a hand finished lacquer body treatment and is available strictly to order for a two month period; delivery could take four months.

The release also confirms support for the O-GPS1 module, though the star tracking will not be applicable to this fixed sensor camera.

Official release after the break.

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Top ten most photographed buildings

Independent stock photo agency, Alamy, has the largest collection of images online. Here, the company provides its inaugural list of the top ten most photographed buildings across the world[1]. And, there are some surprising results.

Eiffel Tower (Paris) – currently 15,536 images on the Alamy website. No visit to Paris is complete without a trip to the world-famous Eiffel Tower and every visual of France is likely to include an image of the monument. The Eiffel Tower also has romantic connotations – from proposals to romantic weekends away. Unsurprisingly it is top of the list.

Big Ben (London) – currently 14,896 images on the Alamy website. From the world’s most visited city, Big Ben is sure to appear on nearly every London tourist postcard.

Empire State Building (New York) – currently 13,637 images on the Alamy website. The world’s second most visited city’s famous building, stands at 1454ft. Getting a close up just isn’t possible!

London Eye (London) – currently 12,734 images on the Alamy website. A surprisingly high entry on the list, which is dominated by traditional buildings. The London Eye opened in 1999, but already its image is embedded in the London skyline.

Statue of Liberty (New York) – currently 9,573 images on the Alamy website. We can all recall images of this monument standing tall where the East and Hudson rivers converge, with the famous New York skyline as its backdrop.

Great Wall of China (China) – currently 8,907 images on the Alamy website. Given China’s growing strength as a world economy and an increasingly popular tourist destination, are we going to see this creep up the list again next year?

Taj Mahal (India) – currently 8,544 images on the Alamy website. The finest example of Mughal architecture, the Taj Mahal became a World Heritage Site in 1983. We suspect it will follow in the footsteps of the Great Wall of China and become an even more popular building to photograph in the years to come.  India is growing as an accessible destination and the structure of the buildings and composition of the landscape  is a godsend to photographers

Notre Dame Cathedral (Paris) – currently 8,185 images on the Alamy website. Another famous monument of the Paris skyline, and widely considered as one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture.

Brooklyn Bridge (New York) – currently 7,990 images on the Alamy website. One of the oldest suspension brides in the United States, which was completed in 1883, and spans the East River. However, a surprising entry on this list.

Sydney Opera House (Sydney) – currently 7,848 images on the Alamy website. No image of Australia is complete without a picture of its world-famous opera house, which was conceived and built by a Danish architect in 1973. One would have thought this would appear higher on the list.

Commenting on the top ten most photographed buildings, Alan Capel, Head of Content at Alamy, said: “As you would suspect, many of the buildings listed are predictable, particularly when we look at the world’s most visited cities and tourist destinations. However, there are a number of entries which came as a surprise – The London Eye, for example, is now hot-on-the-heels of Big Ben. Also would your average man in the street be able to name the Brooklyn Bridge, but it’s so popular because almost every image of it has the distinctive New York skyline in the background.

“And, when it comes to monuments you would expect to be most photographed, I was surprised not to see The Pyramids featuring. On reflection, their desert location and the consistent climate of Egypt may provide the answer to this – there are only a certain number of photographs you can take.

“This list clearly indicates that photographers should not be afraid of clichés. They are clichés for a good reason; they are iconic and instantly symbolic of a country or city. When photographers visit a tourist destination, it goes without saying they should take a photo of the most photographed monuments – no matter the time of day, or the weather. Today, people are more widely travelled and more adventurous, travel photography has grown in breadth and diversity to reflect that. Remember, next time you take a shot of the Eiffel Tower, why not take one of the ticket guard at the bottom too, or the person selling souvenirs and ice creams. This will capture the essence of Paris without disregarding the world’s most photographed monument.”

A representative from Lonely Planet Images which supplies Alamy added: “Digital photography and high quality cameras have revolutionised our attitude to taking photographs.  Where once we would send a postcard (with a picture of an iconic building on), now we’re creating our own postcards.

“The world is becoming more accessible and with it more visual, as we share our photographs with the online communities.  You don’t need to leave your house in order to see exotic landscapes, festivals, and insights into other cultures.

“Professional travel photographers have had to step up their game, and now work even harder to get unique imagery.”

Fuji use Backlit CMOS in raw G12-beater

The FujiFilm FinePix F550 EXR is the first serious competitor to the Canon G-series for professional backup shooting and travel, with 16 megapixels of back-illuminated (Sony but Fujifilm diagonally aligned matrix?) CMOS and raw shooting along with a massive zoom range, stabilisation, high ISO sensitivity, full HD at 30fps in a user-friendly .MOV format, GPS data recording, and various multishot modes including HDR. It’s also very favourably priced.

The FinePix F550 is available today from leading photographic retailers nationwide, with a list price of £329. Note to readers: our links to B&H lead to far more detailed specifications and feature lists than Fuji’s own press info.

New Backside Illuminated CMOS
Thanks to the hybrid sensor, the FinePix F550 EXR delivers fast, high-quality results in a wide range of lighting conditions. The EXR processing engine uses a combination of a bespoke 16-megapixel Back Side Illuminated CMOS sensor (BSI-CMOS) and Fujifilm’s new triple-core EXR processor, to deliver superior results, particularly in low light conditions – plus high-speed shooting facilities and Full HD movie capture. The sensitivity range is from 100-3200 EI, and the filesize options include 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9 aspect ratios in three pixel densities.

Users can still select from three different EXR shooting modes, or can allow the FinePix F550 EXR to choose the best option by selecting Auto EXR (it’s an orange setting not green on that dial, too).

  • EXR High Resolution mode utilises the full 16-megapixel resolution of the sensor for high quality results that can be printed out at A3-size, and without the need for any re-sizing by software.
  • EXR Dynamic Range mode employs dual capture-technology to provide a dynamic range of up to 1600% – almost a full stop wider than any other camera. Two images are captured at different exposures and are then merged to produce superb results on high-contrast scenes.
  • EXR Signal to Noise mode utilises Pixel Fusion, pairing pixels to increase sensitivity. Coupled with the BSI sensor technology, this mode delivers superb images in low lighting conditions.

RAW image capture
With the ability to shoot in RAW or JPEG format (or both simultaneously), the F550 EXR has appeal for stock photography, wedding candids and professional backup generally. It remains to be seen whether Alamy puts it on the approved or rejected list – bear in mind the Canon S90 type models are blacklisted when nearly identical G-series models are accepted. Both shoot raw and have similar sensors. Will the Fuji lens be up to the mark?

GPS embedding
Regardless of where you are in the world, the FinePix F550 EXR will recognise your location and display it either as longitude and latitude co-ordinates or by place name – thanks to the camera’s embedded list of locations. A tag is placed on the image which can then be easily searched for, allowing shots of a specific location or point of interest to be found quickly and by name.

Additional functionality is also provided by the Photo Navigation mode, allowing users to find their way back to where a particular photo was taken. The FinePix F550 EXR can store location data every 10 minutes* and, once the images are downloaded to a PC, a map of the route along with the pictures taken along the way can be created using Google Maps.
* Anytime On or Only Power On must be selected for data to be logged.

Keep up with the action
At the full 16-megapixel resolution, the FinePix F550 EXR is capable of delivering up to 8 frames per second for up to 8 frames – and without compromising picture quality (note: some websites state 3 frames and 3 fps). Select the Best Frame Capture mode and the FinePix F550 EXR automatically starts recording images the moment the shutter release is half-pressed and focus locked. Once the picture has been taken, the F550 EXR records the seven frames before or after the shutter was fully released to allow the choice of at least one shot that’s (hopefully, as in our experience both rarely coincide) pin sharp and perfectly framed.

Huge zoom range, tiny camera
Despite having a body that measures only 22.9mm deep, the f/3.5-5.3 zoom lens range extends from a wide-angle setting of 24mm through to 360mm (35mm equivalents) giving users a huge range of shooting options. Image quality and sharpness is also assured thanks to the combination of a high quality Fujinon lens and the new triple core EXR processing engine that automatically reduces colour fringing and boosts corner resolution for uniform image sharpness.

Triple Stabilisation tactics
Using longer focal lengths can cause camera shake, but the FinePix F550 EXR has its bases covered on three fronts. First, the sensor moves to counter any hand movements. Second, sensitivity is boosted using Pixel Fusion to allow faster shutter speeds, and third, users can select Advanced Anti-blur when in EXR Auto mode giving a sequence of four images which are then combined to provide one, shake-free result.

Full HD video
The FinePix F550 EXR records videos in Full HD (1080p) at 30 frames per second, with stereo sound, and outputs the files in H.264 (MOV) format. Fuji’s EXR Signal to Noise mode is now also available when shooting Full HD videos, using Pixel Fusion Movie technology to fuse pixels together for extra sensitivity, and therefore much crisper low-light videos with lower levels of noise.

The F550 EXR also offers a class-leading selection of high-speed video capture options including a class-leading 320 frames per second capture at 320 x 100 pixels.

Fujifilm also offers a second model, the F500 EXR with a similar specification – excluding the GPS and RAW capture capabilities – and in the same super slim design but in a range of five stylish colours.

The Fujifilm FinePix F550 is available now for £329 in black.
The Fujifilm FinePix F500 is available now in a choice of five colours for £279.

Fujifilm FinePix F550 EXR key features:
•        All-new 16 megapixel EXR CMOS sensor
•        15x optical zoom covering 24-360mm (35mm equivalent)
•        3.0 inch rear LCD with 460,000 pixel and new Rich User Interface using Vector fonts and graphics
•        GPS functionality
•        RAW shooting
•        Advanced Anti-blur technologies
•        1600% wide dynamic range
•        Full resolution high speed shooting at 8fps
•        Full HD movie capture (H.264 MOV file format)
•        Advanced 27 scene mode EXR Auto
•        Film simulation modes
•        360° Motion Panorama mode
•        Photobook Assist function

60 millionth Nikon lens made

Nikon celebrates a significant milestone this month, with the production of its 60 millionth NIKKOR interchangeable lens. The landmark figure is the culmination of over 50 years of Nikon’s commitment to supplying professional and amateur photographers alike with the best possible equipment.

Five million lenses have been produced in the last seven months alone, after total production of NIKKOR lenses reached 55 million in August 2010. Since then Continue reading

UK court makes website operators liable for linked content

LONDON, ENGLAND – Newzbin Ltd., a website that helps subscribers to
illegally download movies and other entertainment, has been held liable for
copyright infringement by the High Court of Justice in London today.

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Lightroom Beta 3 v2 available now

Adobe today released an update to its Photoshop Lightroom 3 beta software, available immediately through Adobe Labs. Building on the success of the first Lightroom 3 beta, which was downloaded by more than 350,000 photographers, Lightroom 3 beta 2 incorporates feedback from the first iteration of the beta while offering users several new features and greatly improved performance throughout the application.

Though new camera support is not listed, we can confirm that Beta v2 will process Canon EOS 550D (Ti2) raw files.

New features in this release include tethered shooting support for select Nikon and Canon cameras, the ability to import and manage video files from DSLR cameras for a streamlined workflow and additional behind-the-scenes architecture enhancements for faster importing and loading of images. The addition of luminance noise reduction to the color noise reduction options already available in the beta helps photographers achieve overall exceptional image quality from high ISO images. The import experience and watermarking functionality have also been modified to reflect feedback received from the Lightroom community during the first beta period.

The input from the photography community has been extremely valuable and Adobe would like to thank everyone who has participated in the beta program. Adobe encourages photographers to test this new selection of features and provide the product team with feedback so they can produce the highest quality final product.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
Adobe Lightroom is the essential digital photography workflow solution, helping serious amateur and professional photographers quickly import, manage, perfect and showcase all their images in one intuitive application.

Pricing and Availability
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 beta 2 is available as a free download to anyone on a Macintosh or Windows platform and is available in 12 languages. Visit http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/lightroom3/ to learn more and download the second beta. Feedback can be submitted on the Lightroom forums: http://forums.adobe.com/community/labs/lightroom3/.

Reach out to us on the Lightroom Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/lightroom or on Twitter www.twitter.com/lightroom.

Ricoh seal the future of interchangeable lenses

Tokyo, Japan, November 10, 2009—Ricoh Co., Ltd. (president and CEO: Shiro Kondo) today announced the development and release of the GXR interchangeable unit camera system featuring the world’s smallest and lightest* digital camera with the ability to change lenses.

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The new GXR is an interchangeable unit camera system in which lenses are changed by using a slide-in mount system to attach camera units to the body. The lens, image sensor, and image processing engine are integrated into the camera units so the body itself does not contain an image sensor.

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With world-leading small size and low weight* enabling easy carrying, the GXR interchangeable unit camera system features a highly rigid magnesium alloy body and multiple camera units that can be changed to best fit the scene to be photographed. You can enjoy easy lens changes as well as amazing image quality and shooting flexibility. Concealing infinite possibilities in its small body, the GXR is a revolutionary camera system that pioneers a new realm of photography.

Distinctive characteristics:
1.    Lens, image sensor, and image processing engine comprise an integrated unit which can be changed to match the scene being photographed.
2.    World’s smallest and lightest* digital camera with interchangeable lenses
3.    System potential expanded through use of interchangeable units

Comment from David Kilpatrick:

Though the Ricoh system as revealed through this press release appears to show only a GR-size body with a zoom lens module suitable for a 2/3rds or slightly smaller imaging sensor, Ricoh has said that sensors right up to the size of APS-C will be built in to further lens modules. The ultra-wide angle version would have an APS-C sensor making similar to the Sigma DP-1. For similar reasons, high ISO and fast lens may be combined with a different size of sensor.

This is not the first time a digital camera has been designed with lens-sensor modules that could be changed. The Minolta Dimage EX 1500 accepted either a standard zoom module, or a wide-angle module. These included viewfinders (missing from the Ricoh concept, which relies entirely on the rear screen or electronic viewfinders) and had the unique ability to be removed from the camera on a 1.5m long Cable EX. This allowed users to position the wide-angle module inside scale models, doll’s houses and similar subjects to obtain realistic human-scale perspectives. It was only a 1.5 megapixel camera, and Minolta abandoned the concept before they had a chance to develop it further, whatever dPreview said ten years ago:

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/minolta1500/

The technology behind the Ricoh is not all that different from the way consumer digital cameras are constructed anyway. Lenses are already sold sealed to CCD/CMOS sensors, as a single unit. That is how the OEM sources of the lens-sensor modules market them. At photokina, you can see (every two years) a new crop of such modules with both the technical resolution specs of the optical unit and the megapixel count of the sensor, identifiable to this non-Chinese/Japanese reader in the middle of a description which is usually inb Chinese. In 2006, I tracked such a module from its maker to the first camera I could find which used it – a compact branded as Vivitar. The customisation consisted of building any body the maker chose to design, and putting a ring on the lens front labelling it is a high resolution Vivitar lens; actually, it was just a generic lens-sensor assembly from China.

Ricoh has also pioneered unusual digital designs in the past, including rotatable or detachable lens modules and one of the first viewfinder-less designs, where the viewing screen was intended to be used at waist-level rather than today’s habit of waving the camera in front of your face.

This differs from anything previously done in the power of the CPU unit in each lens, and control module with screen display and card interface in the host body. It should allow any reasonable pixel count and sensor size to be built in to future optical modules. If the accessories do eventually include dedicated APS-C lens-sensor sealed modules, ‘dust on sensor’ will be one clear benefit (or the lack of it will). A supertelephoto module is also planned which will use a sensor smaller than APS-C.

Adobe Lightroom 3 Beta now available

London. — October 22, 2009 — Adobe Systems Incorporated (Nasdaq:ADBE) today introduced Adobe® Photoshop® Lightroom® 3 beta software for Macintosh and Windows®, a public preview of new and improved functionality to be delivered in the next major release. Lightroom is the essential digital photography workflow solution, helping serious amateur and professional photographers quickly import, manage, enhance, and showcase all their images from one application. Available as a free download on Adobe Labs, Lightroom 3 beta delivers a preview of new tools that will be in Lightroom 3, including more intuitive importing, unparalleled noise reduction and sharpening tools and enhanced slideshow capabilities.. Adobe encourages photographers to test this early selection of new features and provide the product team with their feedback.

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Spot the deliberate mistake!

Received today from Nikon:

TOTAL PRODUCTION OF NIKKOR LENSES REACHES FIFTY MILLION

Nikon Corporation is pleased to announce that its production of NIKKOR lenses (interchangeable lenses for Nikon SLR cameras) reached a total of fifty million units last month.

Nikon released the first NIKKOR lens, the NIKKOR-S Auto 5cm f/2 in 1959, along with Nikon’s first digital SLR camera, the Nikon F. In the fifty years since the launch, NIKKOR lenses have been extremely well received by a great number of photo enthusiasts and professional photographers.

Nikon’s current product line-up includes more than sixty NIKKOR lenses for Nikon SLR cameras, from fisheye lenses, super wide-angle to super telephoto lenses and micro lenses.

For more information about the range of lenses and cameras please visit www.nikon.co.uk

(no prizes of 50-year-old digital camera will be offered for correct answers!)