October 2016 - Digital Group - Equipment

Meeting Notes March 2009 to 2018.
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October 2016 - Digital Group - Equipment

Post by spb » Sat Oct 08, 2016 4:40 pm

Sony sensors continue to be in short supply after earthquakes in Japan.

Hasselblad X1D points the future towards mirrorless cameras replacing traditional SLR bodies.

Affinity Photo, an increasingly popular alternative to Photoshop on the Mac (£40) will be available on the PC shortly.

Seagate 60TB SSD in a 3.5” form factor further pushes the boundaries of what is possible – at a price (£unknown, but a lot)

iPhone 7plus (£719 up) has dual lenses and dual 12Mpx sensor for wide (28mm) and tele (56mm) shooting but optical stabilisation is only provided on the wide and not on the tele which would be more useful. Water resistance is handy. The smaller iPhone 7 (£599 up) does not have the tele camera.

Photoshop Elements 15 is out (£80). Adds facial feature editing, collages (from one image!), simple photo painting, improved filter gallery. As usual, not worth upgrading unless you need a fresh copy or you need the latest raw file capability.

Amersham Studio and Training Centre are offering some interesting courses including Photoshop Retouching and Creativity.

EQUIPMENT (Updated Oct 2019)
Cameras - all modern digital cameras from reputable brands are capable of producing acceptable images in good light. The critical factors are the sensor size and pixel count. A full-size A3 top-quality print requires no more than 8Mpx - including some margin for cropping, so pixel counts of 16, 20 or more Mpx are more than adequate. The small sensors in most compact cameras and camera-phones have many pixels crammed into a tiny area which creates noise and poor quality when taking pictures in low light.

I would consider sensor sizes of 1”, 4/3 or APS-C to be in my range for balancing bulk, quality and low light capability. Full frame gives optimum quality at the price of bulk, and compact cameras below 1” suffer in low light. Having said that, RPS distinctions have been achieved with phone cameras and I’ve had terrible results from large SLRs! What’s behind the camera is equally important. Note that cost is not proportional to quality or size. Many good quality dSLRs are cheaper than some compacts and phones. Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras are smaller and lighter than their traditional dSLR counterparts. Tough compact cameras are great companions on activity trips although image quality will be slightly compromised.

Printing is more demanding of quality images than PDI.

Lenses - a fixed focal length lens or a zoom of no more than 3x or 4x will produce the best quality. Even very expensive super-zoom lenses from the big names can produce surprisingly poor quality results, with distortions and aberrations, especially around the edges. Increasingly, built-in software is fixing faults in the lens (eg distortion and aberrations) before you see the results – even with a supposedly unprocessed raw image.
A long telephoto lenses can be essential for subjects such as wildlife, sports and candid portraits. Wide angle can be helpful for some types of landscape photography.

Computers - any mid-spec PC or laptop these days is capable of processing digital images, excepting netbooks. Apple Macs are equally good but ensure that you have people that you can turn to for support as most of us use PCs. Install at least 4GB memory, preferably much more for good responsiveness. There are many good suppliers out there but several members have used Chillblast recently with good results. I would not recommend a tablet for serious imaging - the software is fundamentally lacking - although it is excellent for showing a portfolio. Convertible laptops combine the best of both formats, at a price.

Monitors - buy a good quality branded monitor - it is the window on your images. Do not buy TN screens. IPS/PLS technologies are much better and no longer much dearer. Eizo is the choice of the professionals but Dell, Apple, Viewsonic, NEC, Asus and Samsung are all excellent amongst others. Screens on laptops are usually poor so it would be wise to add an external one when at home. Huge cinema screens are fashionable although a dual screen set-up works particularly well with Photoshop and I have adopted this approach for many years on a desktop PC. You will need a dual-head video card (ie with two independent outputs, not two different sockets for the same output). I have two 24” NEC MultiSync screens, one in landscape and one in portrait mode.

I constructed a sit-stand desk with an Aluforce Pro 270GT legs kit which can raise or lower the desk to a pre-determined height for sitting or standing. This is very beneficial for those who suffer from back problems, as I do. Complete sit-stand desks are also available from the Back In Action shop in Amersham. Since having neck and wrist problems I have changed my mouse to my ‘wrong’ hand without much difficulty (if you swap the buttons too). Precise selections are more challenging.

Storage - conventional spinning HDDs are cheap as chips - buy a couple of 1 TB or bigger. However, bear in mind that they have a limited life of 3 to 5 years on average. Also seriously consider a Solid State Disk SSD for your boot disk containing only your software applications, 128GB minimum. This will speed up any computer by a factor of five or more, especially at start-up. Although SSDs are more reliable, the technology upon which they are based has a finite number of cycles and they are still capable of failure. I would estimate that about half of my HDDs have failed over the years. Of my four SSDs so far, one has failed. Most failures were catastrophic (ie no data could be recovered). An external 2TB portable 2.5” HDD is ridiculously cheap at £70 for periodic back-up purposes – why wouldn’t you?

Memory Cards - buy several, they're cheap. Speed Class 4 (or 30x or 4MB/s) memory cards from the big names; Lexar, SanDisk, Kingston, Integral are good choices. Faster cards are expensive and the speed is only necessary when shooting a burst of many raw images in quick succession, which few of us will do (or shooting 4K video). Always format the card in the camera before re-using it. If you do need a fast card get UHS Class 3 (30MB/s) - but most of us won’t need them.

Printers - A4, A3 or A3+ printers marked 'Photo' will have the important extra ink colours beyond the basic three and black. Look for 6 or more inks. Epson have traditionally been favoured by members but Canon are equally well reviewed and perhaps more reliable. See elsewhere in this forum regarding shockingly poor support by Epson. Dye ink printers are cheaper and are perfectly acceptable but the pigment-ink printers have fade-proof inks and can be more naturalistic. The latter should be chosen if there is any intention to sell your photos. Printers with additional grey inks are recommended for monochrome printing. Use the printer manufacturer's ink and paper initially to minimise colour management issues. The current state-of-the-art A3+ printers against which the others are judged are the Epson SureColor SC-P600 and the Canon Pixma Pro-1 (both around £600). A few members have bought the related A2 models for better ink capacity and, of course, larger prints. A2 models are aimed at the professional market and their maintenance is often more professional too – at a price.

Online printing services are widespread and cheap so long as you can establish a good colour balance and the turn-around is fast enough for you. Popular services include; Photobox, Snapfish, BPD Photech, Simlab. Members have mounted high-quality exhibitions using prints from online suppliers.

Colour Management can often be a struggle but we have a lot of experience in this potential problem area. We have a ColorMunki hardware calibration device available for members to borrow to calibrate their screens (everyone should do this) and optionally, their printers.

Printer Ink – is of course available from the printer manufacturer. For Epson printers, it is also available much more cheaply, from professional photographic suppliers such as Fotospeed, Marrutt and Permajet. This can be installed via re-fillable cartridges or a plumbed-in Continuous Ink System. Our experience with alternative inks in Epson printers is fairly positive. Photographers should certainly avoid cheap ‘compatible’ inks which will not provide consistent colour and may harm the printer – especially pigment printers. As far as I am aware, professional quality third party photographic inks are not available for Canon printers. Epson are expanding their Eco-Tank refillable ink printers which reduce running costs but not fully pigmented, at the moment.

Inkjet Papers – available from many reputable photographic suppliers. Ensure that you obtain and use the colour profile for your paper/ink/printer combination. It’s best to find a paper supplier that you like and stick to their range of papers for consistency.

Photo Processing Software – Adobe Photoshop Elements (£80) is recommended, both for the extensive facilities it provides and for the huge benefit of shared learning. However, if you are a photographer who prides themselves in always taking the picture ‘in-camera’ then you don’t need a Photo Editor at all and you can save yourself the Photoshop learning curve. In this case Adobe Lightroom Classic CC (£120 pa) is the recommended tool for adjusting and presenting your images. The subscription includes Photoshop Lightroom CC (the mobile version of Lightroom) and Photoshop CC the professional version of Photoshop. This is a reasonable deal but don’t assume that Photoshop CC is ‘better’ than Photoshop Elements. It is a professional tool and therefore offers you little or no help or guidance. For most people, Elements is the best choice. You only need Photoshop CC if you know why you need it! There are many similar products out there but you’re on your own with them. See more information on choosing Adobe products in the November 2018 notes.

Viewing & Organising Software - Sophisticated database/organisers such as the Photoshop Elements Organizer or Lightroom provide the capability to compare, select, keyword and present their images but require a high level of commitment. You must also do all of your subsequent organisation and filing from within your chosen program. Simple free image viewers such as Faststone (PC) , XnView (PC/Mac) and Adobe Bridge, allow a more casual browsing approach which can be combined with a simple program-independent folder-based hierarchical filing system. Recently I have been finding XYplorer Free (PC) to be a powerful casual image browser cum Windows Explorer alternative.

Mobile Phone Apps - Apart from numerous alternatives to the native camera app and photo filters, there are a few apps that I have found to be valuable on my iPhone; Photo Manager Pro 5 is a tool to maintain and display folders of images eg for a simple photo portfolio. Slow Shutter Cam offers a feature that is not available on most top-of-the-range cameras; the ability to watch the build-up of a long exposure onscreen in real time. You Gotta See This! (£Free) is a brilliant app which creates David Hockneyesque joiners/collages simply by waving the phone around. Finally, camera manufacturers often offer free remote control and image viewing apps for smartphones.

Security – It’s the Wild West out there and neither the Police, the Banks, or Action on Fraud are much interested or able to help. We are on our own. A couple of years ago I decided that the traditional recommendations of AVG Free or Microsoft Security Essentials were no longer sufficient and I invested in a professional software security suite. Based on documented lab tests, I chose Kaspersky Internet Security (£45 pa for three devices, PC/Mac). I have not regretted it. Respected Austrian test house AV Comparatives rate Bitdefender, Kaspersky, Avira, McAfee and Panda very highly. Everything, of course, needs to be synchronised continually with the latest updates.

I also run Malwarebytes Anti-malware Free (PC/Mac) periodically to remove advertising junk. A member with friends in secure places says that they prefer Windows Defender because of its low impact on system performance plus Malwarebytes. Alternatively, perhaps, McAfee.

1Password ($3 pm PC/Mac/Mobiles) maintains a highly encrypted database of my passwords and distributes it to all family computers and phones.

A new addition to the security arsenal in 2017 has been a Virtual Private Network (VPN). They are typically used to secure sensitive communications in public places eg your bank via public wifi. I had a more prosaic application; to use BBC iPlayer from an apartment abroad. I paid for one month with NordVPN which worked well, but the free browser Opera includes a VPN as does Kaspersky. On the subject of browsers, Chrome and Opera rate highly for security.

Backup - I make a C: image backup periodically (Using Win 10 Backup and Restore (Windows 7) – huh?) and my data folders are also mirrored manually using SyncBack Free. These are done periodically and manually to external HDDs which are always kept unplugged and removed from the vicinity to protect from theft, fire, virus, ransomware etc. Several external HDDs are used in rotation. Duplicating HDDs with RAID, networked storage (NAS), Cloud Storage etc can all be employed to keep extra copies of valuable data but no single solution should be relied upon totally.

A good motto is that a backup is not a backup until you have successfully restored from it.

An uninterruptible power supply gives peace of mind during those vulnerable system updates or periods of file writing when a momentary dip in the power can be fatal.

Cheers, Steve Brabner
Last edited by spb on Fri Oct 04, 2019 12:54 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Posts: 129
Joined: Tue Mar 25, 2008 7:04 pm

Re: October 2016 - Digital Group - Equipment

Post by spb » Sat Oct 06, 2018 12:14 pm

Please see the October 2018 Digital Group notes about choosing the right class of software to process your images - Image Manager/Developer, or Image Editor.

Cheers, Steve B

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