41Mp compact – from Nokia!

Once, Nokia were the largest camera manufacturer in the world. Pioneering the combined camera and smartphone market with for the time, sophisticated Symbian-based phones with Zeiss lenses. Such a short time ago, relatively, is an epoch in the technology industry and Android, combined with the sales success of Apple’s iPhone, has eroded the early gains made by Nokia and Sony with their camera-focused models. As such, in recent years Nokia has struggled to find a clear identity and sales – losing the iconic Communicator ranges, seemingly sidelining their own Symbian OS, and diversifying to the point where selecting a clear Nokia device can be hard.

This is set to change, with a pioneering new cameraphone. The 808 PureView carries a digital-camera threatening 41Mp sensor.

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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.”

Image Data Converter v4 – download now

Sony’s Image Data Converter latest version – 4.0 – will handle all Alpha raw files from A100 to A77, and all NEX raw files. It offers improvements in performance and stability, but it also eliminates the need for the Lightbox application (found in v3) as a separate item. You simply browse for a folder of images, and IDC now shows a regular thumbnail browser with image information not unlike Adobe Bridge.

Double-clicking the thumb opens the image as expected in the raw editor. This has all the features of v3 are a bit more, but at least on a latest MacBook Pro with 2GB memory it seemed to crash and quit (normally after processing the file) rather too often.

One new feature, found when you save the file and not in the main processing controls, is a crop with Inclination Control and a grid:

Testing Alpha 77 raw files on the new software, the Bayer conversion seemed to be incredibly noisy and the noise reduction left fine detail heavily smeared much the same as for in-camera JPEGs, but the colour styles, DRO settings and some other aspects read from camera EXIF data are retained. It can not be recommended as a main choice for raw conversion, and certainly not for high ISO images, but it’s available and is a fairly small application to install on laptops or less powerful machines.

Download links:

Mac OSX .dmg installer

PC/Windows .exe installer

– DK

Master Photography Awards – merits video

You can now watch a low resolution, 33-minute video of the original HD1080p movie slide show produced from all the 550-plus merits awarded for the 2011 Master Photography Awards.

From these merits, the Awards of Excellence and the category winners, the International Master Photographer of the Year, the UK/European/World Portfolio winners, and the UK and Overseas Best Image of the Year have been chosen and will be unveiled at the awards dinner on Sunday October 9th.

The dinner takes place at the Hilton Newcastle-Gateshead hotel on the south bank of the Tyne. To attend the event, call MPA on (+44)(0)1325 356555 – dinner tickets are still available. There will be a Hasselblad Broncolor studio for hands-on demonstration during the day, and the awards will be shown as an exhibition of over 40 large display panels.

The music for the video is from the two CDs of royalty-free soundtrack for use by professional photographers in their own client presentations and DVD delivery, commissioned from an independent composer-producer and available from the MPA shop.

Summer Photoworld – our final quarterly

The Summer edition of Photoworld magazine is now available on-line in two forms – through our YUDU subscription, and through the Photoclubalpha website membership subscription. This will be our last quarterly, as over the last few years the website had taken over as a more practical vehicle for news and comment.

In place of the quarterly, our printed edition subscribers will receive in summer 2012 the first ALPHA ANNUAL, with 100+ pages and superior production quality. It will showcase good and innovative work and provide a summary of developments in the Alpha system, along with other features, just as MINOLTA MIRROR once did for Minolta owners.

To read (subscrition required) the on-line YUDU page turn version:

Just follow the instructions above!
To download a simple PDF which can be copied to your iTunes Bookstore for iPad reading, or transferred to any suitable eBook, Android tablet, PC, Mac, Unix netbook or similar PDF-compatible device, you will need to be a subscriber to this website (a member), and use this link – Subscription Content. All our back issues are also provided to subscribers.

Mapping the planes

Samsung has a patent and a plan for using two lenses with triangulation (image offset) depth detection between two images in what is roughly a stereo pair. Here’s a link:

http://www.photographybay.com/2011/07/19/samsung-working-on-dslr-like-bokeh-for-compact-cameras/

Pentax also have a system on the new Q range which takes more than one exposure, changes the focus point between them, and uses this to evaluate the focus map and create bokeh-like effects. Or so the pre-launch claims for this system indicate, though the process is not described. It’s almost certain to be a rapid multishot method, and it could equally well involve blending a sharp image with a defocused one.

In theory, the sweep panorama function of Sony and some other cameras can be used to do exactly the same thing – instead of creating a 3D 16:9 shot it could create a depth mapped focus effect in a single shot. 3D is possible with sweep pans by simply taking two frames from the multi-shot pan separated by a certain amount, so the lens positions for the frames are separated enough to be stereographic. 3D ‘moving’ pans (scrolling on the TV screen) can be compared to delaying the playback of the left eye view and shifting the position of subject detail to match the right. But like 16:9 pans, they are just two JPEGs.

All these methods including the Samsung concept can do something else which is not yet common – they can alter any other parameter, not just focus blur. They could for example change the colour balance or saturation so that the focused subject stands out against a monochrome scene, or so the background to a shot is made darker or lighter than the focused plane, or warmer in tone or cooler – etc. Blur is just a filter, in digital image terms. Think of all the filters available from watercolour or scraperboard effects to noise reduction, sharpening, blurring, tone mapping, masking – digital camera makers have already shown that the processors in their tiny cameras can handle such things pretty well.

Once a depth map exists there’s almost no limit to the manipulation possible. Samsung only scratches the surface by proposing this is used for the esoteric and popular bokeh enhancement (a peculiarly Japanese obsession which ended up going viral and infecting the entire world of images). I can easily image a distance-mapped filter turning your background scene into a Monet or a van Gogh, while applying a portrait skin smoothing process to your subjects.

Any camera with two lenses in stereo configuration should also, in theory, be able to focus using a completely different method to existing off-sensor AF – using the two lenses exactly like a rangefinder with two windows. So far this has not been implemented.

Way back – 40 years ago – I devised a rangefinder optical design under which you can see nothing at all at the focus point unless the lens was correctly focused. It works well enough for a single spot, the image detail being the usual double coincident effect when widely out of focus, but blacking out when nearly in focus and suddenly becoming visible only when focus is perfect. I had the idea of making a chequerboard pattern covering an entire image, so that the viewfinder would reveal the focused subject and blank out the rest of the scene, but a little work with a pencil and paper quickly shows why it wouldn’t work like that. The subject plane would have integrity, other planes would not all black out, they’d create an interestingly chaotic mess with phase-related black holes.

Samsung’s concept, in contrast, could isolate the subject entirely – almost as effectively as green screen techniques. It would be able to map the outline of a foreground subject like a newsreader by distance, instead of relying on the colour matte effect of green or blue screen technology. This would free film makers and TV studios from the restraints of chroma-keyed matting (not that you really want the newsreader wearing a green tie).

The sensitivity of the masking could be controlled by detecting the degree of matched image detail offset and its direction (the basic principle of stereographic 3D) – or perhaps more easily by detecting exactly coincident detail, in the focused plane. Photoshop’s snap-to for layers works by detecting a match and so do the stitching functions used for sweep and multi shot in-camera panorama assembly. Snap-to alignment of image data is a very mature function.

Just when you think digital photography has rung all the bells and blown all the whistles, the tones of an approaching caliope can be heard rolling down the river…

– David Kilpatrick

 

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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Pentax Q's up mirrorless system…

With their 645D offering a revolutionary balance of cost, features and usability for the medium format world, and the K-5 16Mp DSLR offering a flexible blend of enthusiast and professional features, Pentax is already blurring the distinctions between the genres traditional camera manufacturers exploit. The new Q system announced today further moves the boundaries, by offering that rare package of a compact sensor with interchangeable lenses. The new Q mount is served by a range of five lenses at launch, and this initial camera sports a 1/2.33″ Backlit CMOS sensor delivering 12.4Mp resolution and specced for a maximum ISO 6400. At 200g it’s undoubtedly a light body, yet that small sensor could well be offputting in a camera that’s likely to exceed a £500 list price.

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