Apple’s big Retina pleasing to the i

It is easy for any photographer to describe the ideal computer monitor for reviewing, editing and displaying photos. It should render blacks and whites without colour cast or other impurities; colour, brightness and contrast should be accurate and matched to the printer output; and the pixel grid should be invisible.

Easy! Perhaps.

Last week Apple announced a new incarnation of the 27 inch iMac with what they call the Retina display – their word for very high resolution. The high resolution display was first seen on the iPhone, then was incorporated into the iPad design. The Macbook Pro laptops were next to get Retina, and now it has come to the big desktop.

How good is it? Let’s just say that it comes close to the photographer’s ideal. We have had enough time with the new iMac to be able to compare it with the model it replaces and we are impressed.

Like its predecessor it comes with the Fusion Drive setup that marries a small solid state hard drive to a conventional 1TB mechanical disc. The computer learns which applications should be given priority to speed up opening so that boot up and opening Photoshop and Lightroom are almost as fast as flicking a switch and turning on the light. The new iMac starts at $2999 which makes it competitive with any Windows system with similar specifications – and as far as we know there is no Windows equivalent of the stunning 5120×2880 dot display. (The previous iMac’s display is 2560X1440.)

When viewing photos on the new iMac the pixel grid is invisible to the naked eye, so looking at a picture is like viewing the subject through a clean window. The resolved detail from a properly exposed and focused RAW file is breathtaking, but this has consequences. Images prepared for internet distribution through Flickr or Picasa, for instance, need to be created in a higher resolution form than we are accustomed to or, as we have seen, they can look shabby on the iMac screen which shows up and emphasises any defects.

Photo editing in Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture is made especially pleasurable because you not only see more detail but you see more picture. On the previous iMac a RAW image from a micro four thirds camera (2592X4608 pixels) at full size, overflows the work area, necessitating scrolling for editing. On the new iMac the same image zoomed to 100 per cent nicely fills the work-top rectangle – you see it all. It sounds like a small thing but it changes the editing experience.

With Final Cut Pro X installed we will try true 4K video editing as soon as we can get a suitable camera. In the meantime we can report that 1080 video looks splendid.

Although every iMac is individually calibrated at the factory we found that out of the box the display looked a little warm, adding a sepia tinge to black and white photos. We let the computer run for three hours, spooling a full screen video, and then calibrated it and the cooler white balance suited us better.

Viewing angles are very wide and there is no backlight edge bleed which has been a distraction for us on the previous model. Apple has put a lot of R and D into reducing reflections and it has paid off.

Because the outer form of the computer has not changed we still must cope with all the ports for externals, such as USB, Thunderbolt, Ethernet and SD cards, being on the back where they are accessed by feel. There is no optical disc drive, so factor in the cost of an add-on because, whatever Apple says, you will need one.

However, notwithstanding the triumph of form over function, Apple has raised the bar yet again for photographers. It’s the cat’s pyjamas, as they say in the classics.


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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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