I am working on an article about getting out-of-focus backgrounds with smartphone cameras. It’s not easy because of the very wide angle lenses with tiny apertures used in phones, which tend to get everything in focus from here to infinity.

There are both in-camera and software emulations of selective focus, one of which is the Nokia [Windows] Lumia Refocus app for Windows phones. This works by taking a rapid bracket of shots, with the camera adjusting focus from most distant to closest. The individual images are layered in either phone review or, via export, on the computer. As you will see here the plane in focus is selected by clicking on the point in the image that you want to be sharply focused.

The best way to see the effect is to click around in this picture. As you will see, the depth effect is not dramatic, but it is interesting. Incidentally the capture can be done hand-held — the alignment is very good.

Refocus is really a post-capture way of selecting focus rather than a method for blurring backgrounds — still, it’s interesting.

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This being the fourth Thursday in the month there is no Imaging in Livewire or the other Fairfax publications, but this does not mean I am sleeping in! I have stuff for testing. And right now I am up to my bottom in doodads under review.

Two new Apple products are demanding attention – the 27” 5K iMac and the unimaginatively named New Macbook, the 12” laptop with the Retina display.

Neither is new and I have had them on the test bench before, but only for a week because units were in short supply at the time of their release. Now I have them for a longer review period and they are both spectacular devices.

The tiny New Macbook is so slim and light that it occupies a place between the iPad and the Macbook Pro. It really is the go-anywhere laptop. Its one defect is that it has only one port [unless you count the audio socket] for everything, and that means you need adapters for things like memory card or USB stick connection. I can live with that.

The big 5K iMac is the best photo editing computer that I have ever seen. The screen resolution is such that the pixel grid is invisible and images appear for all the world as continuous tone. Compared with my 18 month old iMac, which I have always enjoyed using, this is chalk and cheese.


All of which set me thinking about the Apple mystique and what it is that has made the brand dominant in the field of display-centric devices. I think I know the answer.

Apple makes only one product. The difference between iPhone, iPad, iMac and Macbook is size. There is no difference in quality or functionality. Apple make only premium products and they charge accordingly. Shopping for an Apple product is easy – you decide on the device and how much you are prepared to pay and go into the shop and buy it.

Contrast this with the shopper’s dilemma when buying a Windows-based device. There are many brands and they carry many different prices. The specifications vary widely, and they don’t mean much to the average shopper anyway. What is the difference between a $399 Lenovo and a $1999 HP laptop? How will I judge the display for resolution and colour/tonal accuracy? Does the display show true whites and blacks? Are the keyboard and trackpad any good? Apple answers all these queries in the factory where initial calibration of the displays is as near as dammit to perfect every time, and you can take it straight from the box confident that colour and tone are right.

I have been running the Windows 10 review betas for a couple of months and would like to be able to say that it promises to challenge the Apple operating system. After all we need competition to improve products and control prices. But so far Windows 10 has failed to impress. It has one big advantage over Apple OS and that is in file management, which is simpler, more logical and intuitive, but apart from that it is not looking like much of a challenge to Apple’s dominance. And as things stand, a few weeks before the final release, Windows 10 is ugly. It is hard to believe that the awful aesthetics of the new operating system will persist into the release version, but right now it is looking like it will.

Having been a loyal Windows chap for decades it pains me to see Microsoft failing. I haven’t been able to get hold of a review unit of any of the Microsoft Slate devices so I can’t say if they are a serious challenge to the iPad. I have not seen a Windows laptop that challenges any of the Apple portables.

One furphy needs to be dealt with – Apple computers are not more intuitive and easier to use than Windows computers. All the big programs from Microsoft [Office] and Adobe [Photoshop, Lightroom, InDesign etc] are exactly the same on both systems. It’s just that the Apple OS is a more congenial and pleasant environment in which to use them.


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Price: $880 w 14–42mm kit lens (street price)
The best of both

THE LOW-DOWN: This 16 megapixel micro four thirds mirrorless interchangeable lens camera brings many of the features of the $2500 GH4 to a more affordable form. The G7 incorporates the 4K ultra high definition video mode of the more expensive camera. There is a 4K stills mode that takes a sort of stop motion video of individual 8 megapixel frames to capture action. And the camera can anticipate the decisive moment – it has a “PreBurst” short buffer that begins recording before the shutter is released. You need to see it to understand it. The viewfinder is very high resolution and the LCD is touch sensitive. Panasonic’s WiFi control from phone or tablet is the best in the business. The camera is light and small.

LIKE: The 4K video output is stunning. We were able to edit and display the UHD video on the new 5K iMac, even displaying the 4K picture at the iMac’s full screen mode, and the results are amazing. There is a microphone socket so that the audio quality can match the video.

DISLIKE: Such a refined camera should not have the memory card slot in the battery compartment where it cannot be accessed when the camera is on a tripod.

VERDICT: Some years ago we reviewed one of the first hybrid stills/video cameras – also from Panasonic – and confidently predicted that it was a fiasco that would never fly. It was impossible, we said, to combine the two functions in a single camera without compromising both. OK. We were wrong. It is possible. And it has been done. With the Panasonic G7 you get the best of both at a remarkably reasonable price. And the Australian price is the same as in the US – buy locally!


[Panasonic G7 sample photos, somewhat “treated”>click here]

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Last month, at the launch of Panasonic’s Lumix G7 (reviewed today), the company was pleased to tell us that sales of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras are on the up and up. This time last year the mirrorless share of the interchangeable lens market, which includes DSLRs, was 25 per cent; this year it is 35 per cent.

From the US Sony reports that mirrorless sales are up 16.5 per cent, and the company’s revenue from this camera type increased by 66 per cent over the past year. This is still way short of the global market share of 25 per cent for mirrorless, but it is a big turn around in “bigger-is-better” America. Sony attributes the improvement in US sales to new, young photographers going into the camera shops without the DSLR prejudice of their elders.

Panasonic is now out of the DSLR business altogether and it looks as though Olympus is putting all its eggs in the mirrorless basket. There is no longer a DSLR advertised on the Olympus Australia web site and the recent release of their magnificent m.Zuiko Pro range of lenses suggests that micro four thirds is their future.

Samsung and Fujifilm also appear to have abandoned the DSLR form with the Fujifilm XT-1 and the Samsung NX-1, both mirrorless, now their flagship cameras.

Canon and Nikon continue to dominate the market for interchangeable lens cameras, but they each have mirrorless models in their catalogues; although in the case of Canon they have just one model – the excellent M3 – that they don’t sell in the US.

Sony has launched an advertising blitz for its alpha range of mirrorless cameras that you may have seen on TV. For reasons best known to the advertising agency they set up a huge mirror in the Namibian desert (we don’t have deserts here?) and filmed it being broken. The message may be too subtle for the uninformed and uninterested TV watcher, but hey! This is advertising. You can see the ad here – tinyurl.com/pqcb4mq

Olympus US has produced a mockumentary warning against the misery of DSL-ARM – the embarrassing phenomenon of the elongated arm caused by lugging a heavy DSLR around. Watch poor, stupid Paul trying to adjust to life with a right hand that drags on the ground – watch him here…

So, the figures suggest that Australia is the place to be if you want to be taken seriously with a small, mirrorless camera. We may congratulate ourselves on our good sense.


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