Open Letter to Satya Nadella – Surface Phone

Mr. Nadella,

As a ‘creative’, I have long known the false beliefs perpetuated by some that “Apple is for creatives” and “Windows is for accountants” is just so much falderal. The two platforms do, essentially, the same things, just in different ways.

That said, the release of the first Windows-based Nokia smartphones a few years ago incorporating the PureView sensor technology was intriguing. So much so that when the 1020 was announced, I made plans to get one. The idea of the large sensor, and ‘lossless zoom’, combined with the ability to capture in RAW mode was very appealing to this photographer. I am not a ‘photography snob’ and as such recognise that very compelling imagery can be made with any type of camera.

There were many positives about the 1020 but also some negatives. I discussed both extensively in my initial review of the phone and in my follow up discussion of the RAW capture capabilities.

Microsoft has made some very interesting product announcements in recent weeks. The new Surface 4 tablet and Surface Pro laptop have specs that are very appealing to a working photographer. In addition, the Surface Studio is quite an interesting device and will be very appealing to many in the creative community, particularly as the Surface Dial is further developed.

The one piece of kit missing from the product lineup is a high quality smartphone with a top end camera. The products that have been released since your purchase of the Nokia phone unit have been, largely, underwhelming.

Rumours have continued to swirl, since the announcement of the other new Surface products, about the possibility of a new Surface phone. One that will have much of the capability of the tablet, or laptop, in a pocketable size. If rumours are to be believed, the phone will be targeted toward the business community, similar to the HP Elite X3.

Given how good the new Surface products seem to be for creatives, I strongly urge you not to forget that cohort of customer if/when a Surface phone comes to market.

Forget the phones that have come out since the purchase of the Nokia phone unit. Go back to the 1020 and use that as the building block for the camera of the new Surface phone.

The 41MP sensor of the 1020 had great promise, but much of that promise went unrealised because of the number of pixels on the sensor. While the sensor was much larger than in other phones, the pixel pitch was the same as the competition because of the density. A 2/3″ sensor with, say, 16-20MP could be a game-changer. Pixel size would be markedly larger than in other high end phones which should produce much better image quality.

Fix the JPEG rendering issues in the 1020, keep RAW capture using the DNG spec, put a better quality display (IPS) on it so there are no unpleasant colour casts and put it in a package with a 5.5″ to 5.7″ screen. Options for more than the 32GB of storage available in the 1020, either via different models, or preferably, a micro-SD card slot would add to the feature set of a Surface phone. The accessory grip with additional battery capacity is something worth considering making available as well. The screen doesn’t need to be 4K, but 4K video capture at a variety of frame rates would be. Allowing users to adjust image capture parameters on in camera JPEGs and video (e.g., saturation, contrast, sharpening) would be very good to include. The ability to adjust contrast, saturation and colour temperature of the screen – even via a few presets for colour temp, although a slider would be better – will only serve to enhance the overall package.

On the app side of things, a very good gallery app, addressing the problems noted in my above-linked write-up on the 1020 is a must. A simple, effective way to transfer photos, with sufficient storage capacity, from the phone to a Surface 4, Pro, or Studio for further editing is also necessary. OneDrive makes perfect sense for this, although a direct wi-fi transfer between devices would also be quite effective. Of course, apps for the various social media platforms – I note that the Instagram app on my 1020 is still listed in Beta – would be a given.

And put it all in a very durable enclosure like the 1020 had.

A robust, feature-rich phone and camera like I have described, building on the foundation of the 1020, and bringing to market a 2017 class-leading device, would very nicely round out the Surface hardware product lineup.

Robert Fisher

Street Photography – Epilogue

Donald Weber wrote an essay in March 2015 on the state of photojournalism today. Weber is a World Press Photo juror and a member of VII Agency. Despite the problems World Press Photo has had in recent years, it remains a very prestigious competition.

In the essay, Weber lamented the death of photojournalism has he knew it and as he learned it. And he is correct. Continue reading

Of Ethics & Ethics – Photographic & Journalistic

The old saying is true. Opinions are like [insert specific anatomical reference], everybody has one. Witness the number of opinion columnists employed by newspapers and the number of pundits who appear regularly on other media outlets to expound at length about this, that, and any other thing. Like most any other endeavour, there are good and bad providers of opinion. What separates the two? Continue reading

Street Photography – Prologue

This man is a roving and impassioned daguerreotype that preserves the least traces, and on which are reproduced, with their changing reflections, the course of things, the movement of the city, the multiple physiognomy of the public spirit, the confessions, antipathies, and admirations of the crowd.

Victor Fournel, on the idea of the flâneur Continue reading

Photo Basics – Perspective

Perspective, optical not philosophical, may be one of the least understood concepts in photography.

Very simply, perspective is the spatial relationship between elements in your picture. What does that mean? It is the way the various parts of the picture are spaced visually in the image. It is a fixed construct and it depends one only one thing: your distance to the subject. Focal length doesn’t play any role. Aperture doesn’t play any role.

Focal length doesn’t play a role? But wide angle lenses make things look further apart. And telephoto lenses compress things together, you might be saying. Do they?

What the idea of telephoto compression and wide angle expansion are getting at is the idea of apparent perspective. What’s that? Apparent perspective is the way things appear to be spaced in the photo as compared to how they actually are spaced.

If you want to get the same image framed with a wide angle lens and a telephoto lens, you need to be at different distances to your subject. As you move closer with the wide angle lens, those parts of the scene that are closer to you will appear larger because of the physical proximity. Those parts of the scene that are further away, while also getting larger will appear not as large. Conversely, as you move further away with the telephoto lens, everything will appear to get smaller. It has to do with relative distances.

Let’s say to frame a scene at 28mm you need to be 10 feet from the subject. If you have a secondary element 2 feet behind your subject, it is 20% further. That’s quite a large distance. With a 70mm lens, you have to move back to 25 feet to get the same image in the frame (all this assumes a full frame sensor, although the same principles apply for other sensor sizes). How do I come up with 25 feet? Simple, a 70mm lens is 2.5X the focal length of the 28mm lens, so you need to be 2.5X as far from the subject. Now, that secondary element that is 2 feet behind your main subject is only 8% further away. A relatively much shorter distance so the two image elements will appear to be closer together, when actually they are not.

Here’s an example. In the shot below, the image on the left was taken with a 28mm lens at a distance of about 12 to 15 feet from the white dog. By the by, these two are my dogs and it’s a minor miracle that I could get them to sit still for this demonstration. The middle shot is the same image from the same spot taken at 70mm. What do we see? The dogs appear to be closer together. Depth of field is different, but depth of field is not a part of perspective. In the shot on the right, the 28mm picture has been cropped an enlarged to be basically equal to the 70mm shot. What do we see? The apparent distance between the two dogs looks the same as in the actual 70mm photo. The true perspective is the same even though the apparent perspective is different.

Comparison of actual & apparent perspective

Does that put things into philosophical perspective for you?

Workflow – What is it good for?

If you read the musings here you’ll know that I like to co-opt song titles and lyrics. So, with a nod to Edwin Starr we’re going to talk about the idea of ‘workflow’.

What is workflow? It’s a term used a lot in photography but is it a term that people generally know what it means? Continue reading

Photography is Like Prostitution

The photography news/blog site PetaPixel shared a post recently that got me to doing some ruminating.

Supposedly a photographer had written to a friend about a ‘situation’ with a potential client. Said friend is described as a ‘photographic satirist’. Aside from forgetting to include the satire – it’s difficult to tell whether the whole post is intended to be satire or just the proposed response – the alleged satirist’s response didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Continue reading

Where Does the ‘Soul’ Come From?

Not too long ago I wrote a short article on the ills of social media for photographers.  Recently I read an article by photographer Ugo Cei that discussed some of the same problems but went a bit further.  He also decried the sameness of much of what is out there today in the world of photography.  He also lamented the lack of soul in much of what he sees. Continue reading