[REVIEW—APPLE iPHONE 6]

iPhone6Price: From $869
Bigger and better

THE LOW-DOWN: The new iPhone 6 and 6+ have 8 megapixel sensors, and in the 6+ with optical image stabilisation. Autofocus is faster and the larger screens (11.75 and 13.75cm) make for better preview and review. Exposure compensation is now applied with a finger swipe. The new editing modules, available direct from the review screen, include clever tone and colour controls that work like continuously variable curves or levels – hard to describe but easy to use. The black and white conversion also has a sliding tone control. Editing video in the phone with iMovie is a breeze. The brilliant auto panorama can produce images up to 43 megapixels, and there is a time-lapse function.

LIKE: The exposure compensation control – a sun symbol on a thin line – is welcome. The integration of the new controls won’t disturb the point and shooters but will delight the serious photographer. Video quality is superb and there is slow motion available.

DISLIKE: Skin colour in bright sunlight is too ruddy, with a general tendency to over-saturate reds. RAW capture would be the icing on the cake.

VERDICT: The new iPhones’ obvious difference is in screen size – bringing them into line with the competition. Bigger – at least to 11.75cm – is better, and because it is thinner it is still the camera you will have with you. However, the elegant photo and movie editing functions that make the iPhone a joy to use are in the iOS8 operating system and can be accessed with all iPhones from 4s and iPads from 2. You might say Apple is giving away the best features of the new iPhones, but when you see the big screens you might find them irresistible.

 

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[NZ SETS PLEASANT TEST]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The late, great Keith Dunstan once advised us, with some vehemence, to go to New Zealand. “It’s just like Switzerland, only cheaper.” He might have added that it is closer, they drive on the correct side of the road and they speak a language almost like English. The natives are friendly and the scenery is “spictecular”.

If the budget allows you must take the helicopter from Queenstown to Milford Sound, stopping off at the occasional lake or glacier on the way. It is one of life’s great experiences and provides more photo opps than you have room for on your memory card.

As we mingled with the other tourists we took a rough survey of the gear being used to photograph the snow-capped mountains reflected in the placid waters of the great lakes. (All the Spouse could say was: “Poor Kodak! All this was once theirs.” She is a sentimentalist.) We noted a gender divide in preferred camera type.

The young chaps were sporting entry level DSLRs with kit zooms. We saw only one serious Nikon D800 in the hands of an Asian gentleman. And apart from one Pentax the DSLRs were all Nikon or Canon.

The women were using phones, and most of the phones were iPhones. Some were using iPads, the most cumbersome camera form of them all. One woman had a Nikon compact.

We spotted four tourists with compact mirrorless cameras and one of them was us. For the grand adventure into Lord of the Rings country we took the Olympus OMD EM10 with three lenses, covering a focal length range of 18 to 300mm (or, in micro four thirds talk, 9 to 150.) The whole kit, plus phones, TicTacs, passport, memory cards etc fitted into one small Crumpler bag.

We also had two phones, a Nokia Lumia 1020 and an iPhone 5s, which we used when we wanted to be quick and inconspicuous. In an iCloud Photostream of 39 photos, with the phone and camera pictures mixed up, it is not possible to tell which was used. We conclude that using a phone – the camera you always have with you – makes sense when travelling.

However, when it came to printing the pictures at A3+ size the camera wins. We had been set a challenge, to come back with black and white landscapes in the Ansel Adams style. For that we used the Olympus RAW files, processed in DxO Optics Pro 9 and converted to black and white in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

Mr Dunstan was right. Switzerland is just three hours away.

*

 

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[REVIEW—SAMSUNG GALAXY K ZOOM]

Galaxy K zoom


Price: $749
Two for the price of one

THE LOW-DOWN: This is the latest Samsung camera-with-phone-attached, rather than the other way around. This 20 megapixel camera, with a 10x optical zoom, has an Android phone attached. The 12.2cm Super Amoled display is sharp and clear and touch sensitive – the camera can be focused, exposure set and the shutter fired by touching the critical spot on the screen. This is supplemented with a physical shutter release button. There is 4G, Bluetooth, WiFi and NFC connectivity. The 8GB of internal storage can be boosted with a 64GB MicroSD memory card. The K Zoom is heavier than a phone and about the same weight as a basic compact.

LIKE: Image quality is good, albeit with visible noise reduction effects. Dynamic range and auto white balance are excellent. Good editing apps are built in to the system. And the Android OS is the best, with the promise in the near future of RAW capture of images.

DISLIKE: The big question here is the size and weight of the K Zoom. It is a little too large and heavy to be carried in a pocket.

VERDICT: And that is the marketing problem for Samsung: is the picture quality so much better than that from a conventional smartphone that the extra bulk is an acceptable trade-off? In our comparison with the iPhone 5s and Nokia Lumia 1020 we could not see an image difference in the K Zoom to justify the bulk.The pictures produced by Samsung’s own Galaxy S5, as well as by the other top phones, are so good that it is hard to see a significant difference in the K Zoom output. DxO labs rank the Galaxy S5 as joint best phone camera and that would be our choice.

Sammy01

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[HIGH DEFINITION REDEFINED]

KoganTV

The latest ruse of the gadget makers to separate us from our hard earned is the Ultra High Definition television. No sooner do we embrace HD than they want us to go Ultra – aka 4K.

High definition digital television has 1920 by 1080 dots or picture elements on the screen, which we thought was pretty impressive when we first welcomed it into the house. But Ultra (4K) goes four times better with a screen resolution of 3840 by 2160 dots. You have to put your nose on the screen to discern the individual pixels, even with a set as big as the 137cm Kogan Ultra HD television that we have sitting here at the moment.

The great deterrent to purchase is the dearth of source material in native 4K format. Broadcast and disc video has to be upscaled for the Ultra display.

Here’s the good news. Anybody who owns a digital camera has 4K material to hand. Every digital camera produces images that far surpass the pixel dimensions of a 4K image. And that being the case we were anxious to see what our photos would look like in Ultra HD.

Kogan offered us their very low priced ($999) set for review. Keep in mind that we were only using it as a display device for still images. We have no 4K video, and broadcast, DVD and BluRay is beyond our brief.

In still image mode, straight from the box, the Kogan has excellent colour, tonality and resolution. Black and white photos look splendid, with true black and white, with luminous shadows and detailed highlights. Skin tones are beautifully natural with no over-saturation or sharpening.

We played still images from a USB stick, hard drive and also straight from a Sony camera using the camera’s setting for display of 4K still images via an HDMI connector. We also played back 1080p video from the Sony through the HDMI input. Video doesn’t look quite as good as on a 1080 HD display, but it is better than acceptable. There is a “dot for dot” screen size option that shows camera video at its best.

How good is it? Think giant iPad.

A word of caution for MacPixies: photos loaded from the Mac onto a Mac-formatted USB create annoying empty files between the image files. Windows: perfect. Mac: irritating. The “smart” features of the TV are controlled by a version of Android which is an operating system for touchscreen phones and tablets. It does not work so well on a TV unless you buy the optional Kogan keyboard and mouse to assist navigation and selection.

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