samsung nx mini

Price: $450
A tiny gem

THE LOW-DOWN: This 21 megapixel 2.5cm sensor, interchangeable lens camera is one of the smallest of its type. With the kit lens fitted (24—73mm film equivalent) it is slightly too large for a pocket, but still petite. Most controls are accessible through the 7.5cm touch screen which is well designed for intuitive use. The LCD itself is of modest resolution and swivels into front-facing “selfie” position. The camera comes with two flashes – one built in and one external. Connectivity includes WiFi and NFC, at least for Android devices. RAW capture is provided and Adobe Lightroom 5 is included in the software. Construction quality is excellent with a couple of nice brushed metal touches on the top body plate and the lens barrel.

LIKE: Image quality is very good in JPEG and outstanding in RAW. Video is excellent. The general concept of a camera that bridges the point and shooter and the serious amateur is well executed. The touch screen control set, including one-touch focus, expose and fire, is responsive and easy to use.

DISLIKE: The absence of a proper viewfinder, even as an option, makes shooting in bright sunlight a hit and miss affair. The relatively low resolution and brightness of the LCD tends to blackout in sunlight.

VERDICT: This is a lovely little camera. And the inclusion of Adobe’s Lightroom 5 makes it an absolute bargain. In some ways it is a curious product – inexpensive, small, few buttons and no thumbwheels, front facing LCD, optimised for instant photo sharing on the one hand; and yet capturing RAW, using Lightroom for conversion and image editing, with P,A,S and M modes – for whom is it intended? Who cares? If you are in the market for a competent, small, inconspicuous camera you should definitely put this on the list.

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Way back in 2010, when we bought our first iPad, we flew headlong into the Cloud – to wit, Dropbox, the quickest and easiest way to network the new pad with our computers and phones. Transferring files from one device to another was a doddle. We loved it. And it was free – the whole 2GB of storage space.

Dropbox could also be used to send large files and to create photo albums to bore friends and family with minimum effort. When travelling it was the storage and transfer service that is always with you, and by somehow our available space expanded miraculously to 75GB. Sadly it turned out that most of this space was for a fixed time and now we are back to 25GB.

In 2014 Dropbox is looking a tad old-fashioned and over-priced. On sign-up you get 2GB and if you want more you have to upgrade to Pro at $11 per month, for which you get 1TB of space. Compared with Microsoft’s OneDrive that looks positively stingy. For $12 per month OneDrive gives 1TB of space plus a subscription to Office 365.

OneDrive and Google Drive both give 15GB free at sign-up and if you have a phone or tablet with automatic camera roll upload enabled OneDrive ups the space to 30GB. Both OneDrive and Google Drive give 100GB for about $2 a month.

Apple’s iCloud comes with 5GB which can be quickly used up with data synching from your iDevices, and Apple sells 20GB for $1.29pm.

Microsoft’s deal is the most attractive in pricing, but we were interested in how each of the Cloud services handles the creation and distribution of photo albums. Here we must consider price, ease of use and aesthetics as parts of the deal.

Apple’s iCloud Photostream is a little cumbersome to use because you need to start the process in iPhoto or Aperture. You select the photos, then choose Share/iCloud, and then address and name the album. Make sure to check the “Public Website” box, which is unchecked by default. If you don’t do this some recipients may not be able to view the photos. Where iCloud wins is with the most elegant display.

With Google Drive you put your photos in a folder and then share the folder. The display opens on a grid of photos and selected photos are displayed enlarged with the grid still faintly visible in the background. Not so nice!

OneDrive is easy to use, sends an elegant email with thumbnails, and has an interface almost as attractive as iCloud. Considering price, ease of use and aesthetics OneDrive is the best. If you own a Windows phone then it is a no-brainer.


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apps screenshot

Price: $1.29 and $1.49
Manual control for iGadgets

THE LOW-DOWN: Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS8, has opened access to the camera module on iPhones and iPads to app developers, and two to get smartly into the App Store are Reflex Camera and the plain-named Manual. Both apps add manual controls to the camera, including white balance, ISO, shutter speed and focus. Reflex Camera provides for P (Program) and M (Manual) operation. The Manual app has a sort of histogram. They both have exposure compensation controls, although that is already available in the iOS8 camera control. Both apps are optimised for iPhone 5 and later.

LIKE: We have installed both apps on an iPhone 6 and an iPhone 6+. They work well and both interfaces are well designed and intuitive. One of the most useful controls is for focus because it makes selective focus more precise than with the camera’s auto focus.

DISLIKE: Using these manual controls slows down the camera operation and has a greater impact on flexible snapping than similar controls have on a discrete camera.

VERDICT: We suspect that these apps will only appeal to the serious photographer determined to wring the last pixel of performance from the phone camera. After all, the attraction of the camera in the phone is that it is the ultimate iteration of the box camera philosophy of “you press the button, we do the rest” – “we” in this case being the phone. However, we can imagine a point-and-shooter appreciating the macro focusing controls in Reflex and Manual, and at the price why quibble? Keep it on the phone for just in case.

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Richard White book

Last month we went on an excursion to New Zealand with a bunch of chaps intending to do landscapes in the Ansel Adams mode. And New Zealand is the ideal place to do it because, just like Mr Adams in Yosemite, it is shooting fish in a barrel.

Every corner you turn there is another snow-capped mountain reflected in another vast, tranquil lake. Then, when you tire of that, get in a helicopter and tootle across the mountains and glaciers to Milford Sound, and if you don’t come back with at least fourteen black and white masterpieces you should have your Nikon taken away.

When you get back home, and look around for something to photograph in this flat and barren land the experience can be a tad depressing. Australia is not a flashy country, and there really isn’t anything left to say, photographically, about Uluru or the Twelve (?) Apostles, so where will a chap focus his Canon? Or, in Richard White’s case, his 5×4 film camera?

You can see the answer in Richard White’s new book, The High Country. He acknowledges that we “cannot boast of colossal mountains…like New Zealand.” But, he says, “What we do have in our High Country is equally as breathtaking and the vast range of material on offer to the camera is astonishing, and it is this offering that I love and am continually drawn to.”

With four wheel drive and robust wellies White carries his heavy gear into the places where the hills yield up their hidden charms. And it must be said that there is no more enchanting tree than a snow gum, particularly when it is a gum actually in the snow.

The High Country contains seventy-five superbly reproduced examples of White’s black and white images, all captured on medium and large format film cameras. The book is also a compact tutorial in the art of photography. Everything anyone needs to know about light, composition and perceiving the picture possibility is here in the photographs and the words.

If you want to know the difference between a “photographer” and a camera owner it is summed up in White’s advice: “We kid ourselves if we think we can pick up a camera every so often and then hope that our images will improve. Photography can be compared to music, if you play an instrument, then practice is simply something you do to get better at it. It is not an option. It is a given.”

The High Country can be ordered from www.richardwhite.com.au ($95 inc p&h). It’s an ideal Christmas present for the Beloved Photographer looking for inspiration.

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