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NAB 2017: Hot products and trends

28 Apr

NAB 2017

Yesterday marked the end of NAB 2017, the annual convention of the National Association of Broadcasters. NAB isn’t really a consumer-oriented event, but we like to go because it gives us some insight into trends and technology that will trickle down to prosumer and consumer products within a few years, as well as new products designed for these users.

With over 100,000 people in attendance, and almost 2,000 companies exhibiting, it’s a safe bet that we can’t share everything from NAB with you. (And really, do you want to hear about things like the latest advances in rack-mount news van hardware?) That said, let’s take a look at some of the things that did catch our eye at NAB 2017.

Atomos rocks the house

An afternoon trip to the Atomos booth is like the NAB equivalent of trying to get into a U2 concert. Things got so crazy in recent years (thanks in part to daily equipment giveaways), that for 2017 Atomos built a booth where CEO Jeromy Young could hold court and do live demos for the masses from an elevated perch. I almost expected him to start singing ‘Don’t cry for me, Argentina’ as he leaned over the balcony.

But the masses had good reason to be excited, because Atomos showed off a couple very cool products… 

Atomos Ninja Inferno

Although it was announced about a month ago, this was the first chance many people had to get their hands on the new Ninja Inferno off-camera monitor and recorder. The Ninja Inferno is basically a non-SDI version of the company’s flagship Shogun Inferno, and Atomos is specifically targeting Panasonic GH5 users with support for 4K/60p recording via HDMI-out. For $ 995 it seems like a pretty compelling package, and apparently the masses agreed.

We have a Ninja Inferno we’ve been testing with the GH5, so we’ll be bringing you an in-depth look at this combination in the near future.

Atomos Sumo

While Shoguns and Ninjas drew people into the Atomos booth, what really got their attention was the new Sumo. Imagine an oversized, 19″ Shogun recorder and you’ll have a pretty good mental image of what it is. It can record 4K 12-bit Raw, 10-bit ProRes/NNxHR.

But the Sumo isn’t just for on-set monitoring and recording. It’s also designed to be an HDR color grading monitor, either in the field or in your edit suite. With a brightness of 1200 nits and a claimed 10+ stops of dynamic range, the Sumo can accept Log, PQ, or HLG signals from your editing software and display color accurate HDR footage with 10-bit quality.

This thing is a beast. If you want a sense of scale, look at the lower right hand corner of the picture above. See that little thing next to it? That’s a 7″ Shogun recorder. And with a price tag of $ 2,495, it’s surprisingly affordable. I want one of these things!

Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro

Blackmagicdesign is another company on fire with useful products for emerging filmmakers and even consumers. At NAB the company showed off its recently released URSA Mini Pro 4.6K camera. It offers a user-swappable lens mount, with support for EF, PL, and B4 mounts, and the company promises a Nikon mount later this year. Its Super 35 sensor captures 15 stops of dynamic range, and the camera includes built-in ND filters for optimal exposure. 

the URSA Mini Pro feels like a very solid piece of equipment, and with a price tag of $ 5,995 it offers a lot of bang for the buck.

DaVinci Resolve: More features, lower price

Blackmagic also announced upgrades to its industry standard DaVinci Resolve software.

Branded as DaVinci Resolve 14, the new version promises to revolutionize the Resolve experience. In addition to a fully integrated NLE and industry leading color grading tools, Resolve 14 now includes pro-level audio tools, the result of a 2016 acquisition of Fairlight, a manufacturer of audio hardware and software for motion picture production. The addition of Fairlight audio tools means that users have access to professional editing, color correction, and audio tools in a single piece of software. Blackmagic claims that Resolve 14 also improves playback performance by a factor of 10.

What’s possibly just as interesting as the new features is the new price. While the basic version of Resolve will remain free, the full DaVinci Resolve Studio 14 will cost $ 299, a significant decrease from the previous price of $ 995. This is a shot across the bow of Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro X, and should attract a lot more new users to the system. A beta of Resolve 14 is available now.

Blackmagic Mini and Micro Panels

One of the important features of the DaVinci Resolve experience has been integration with the DaVinci Resolve Advanced Panel, a $ 30,000 piece of hardware used by professional colorists, but out of reach to users with smaller budgets.

A few weeks ago, Blackmagic introduced two smaller panels, the Resolve Mini Panel ($ 2,995) and the Resolve Micro panel ($ 995). These smaller panels would be useful for a pro to use in the field, or in a smaller home studio, however they also represent a very affordable way for smaller production companies, or even enthusiasts, to access pro-level editing equipment at an affordable cost. I found both panels to be very easy to use: the trackballs and dials are very smooth and well-weighted, and the panels actually feel a lot more solid than they appear in pictures (at least to me). I think this is a great addition to the Resolve family of products, and I hope to do an extended test at some point.

Blackmagic Web Presenter

I know, I’ve covered a lot of Blackmagic products already, but I’m going to throw in one more. The Blackmagic Web Presenter is a box that does one basic thing, but does it really well. It takes output from any camera via HDMI or SDI, and converts the signal to a high quality 720p stream that gets sent to a computer through USB so that it appears as a standard webcam.

What that means is that you an use virtually any camera as a high quality webcam for applications like Skype, YouTube Live, or anything else that uses a webcam as a video source. So, if you’re tired of using your cheap built-in camera or mobile phone for your guest appearances on CNN, plug your GH5, 5D IV, or E-M1 II into the Web Presenter and Anderson Cooper will have no idea you’re coming to him live from your living room.

DJI meets Hasselblad: 100MP aerial photos ensue

Remember that time when DJI took an ownership stake in Hasselblad? Remember how we all joked that DJI would put a medium format camera on a drone? We all got some good laughs out of that, didn’t we?

Well, they went and did it, pairing a DJI M600 Pro hexacopter and a Hasselblad H6D-100c 100MP camera mounted on a Ronin-MX gimbal. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but the good news is that you can get the M600 Pro for only $ 5,000. Of course, you’ll still need a $ 30,000 H6D-100c to complete the package. (Though I hear free shipping is common…)

Curiously, there were a couple Hasselblad X1Ds sitting next to the drone as well, a camera whose size and weight might be more amenable to flight. I asked a Hasselblad representative if there were plans to release a similar combination using the X1D instead, but he wouldn’t confirm if that were the case. Of course, he didn’t deny it either.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality, or VR, has been trying to get traction in the market for several years. Although it has gained some success in the gaming community, adoption of VR technology for photos and video has been slower. However, that certainly isn’t keeping people from trying to find the magic formula, and there’s a lot of investment from companies trying to do just that. Let’s take a look at a few VR products that grabbed our attention.

New Ricoh Theta

By now, everyone has probably heard of the Ricoh Theta. In fact, it’s one of the few VR cameras that has seen fairly wide adoption, thanks to its compact size and ease of use. However, the current Theta S still suffers from relatively low 1080p video quality and a lack of spatial audio.

The new Theta prototype on display at NAB addresses both of those issues, with 4K capture, four microphones, and also live 4K streaming capability. What really stands out to me here is the directional audio. Even at 4K, your VR viewing experience is still somewhat limited by the relatively low resolution of most viewing hardware, however in a demo the spatial audio was immediately noticeable. Instead of guessing where sound is coming from and trying to correlate it with what’s in front of your eyes, directional sound allows you to tell where the sound is coming from, providing a more immersive experience. No word on when the next Theta will be released.

Ricoh Theta R Development Kit

We first saw the Ricoh Theta R development kit at CES, but it was on full working display at NAB. The Ricoh R is based on the same overall design as the Theta, but has a very different purpose: it’s designed to provide 24-hour 360º live streaming. As such, there are a few differences in the product.

The most obvious one is a ribbed surface on the camera, which we’re guessing is to assist with heat dissipation. Also, unlike the upcoming version of the Theta, the Ricoh R still uses 1080p resolution, which should reduce data usage while streaming 24/7. Additionally, all image stitching is done in-camera, which makes it easy to feed out VR video for streaming. There’s no internal battery either, which probably makes sense for a device designed to run 24 hours a day.

What will the Ricoh R be used for? Well, pretty much anything you want, ranging from a security camera to placing it in the middle of a falcon’s nest. Ricoh wants you to develop unique applications. It will be available in June, and you can pre-order it now for $ 499.

YI Halo VR camera

YI Technology arrived in town with the new YI Halo, a VR camera built around Google’s Jump platform. The Halo utilizes 17 synchronized 4K YI cameras to record 8K stereoscopic video. At first glance, it appears that the cameras in the Halo are just standard YI 4K action cameras, but that’s not the case. While similar in size and shape, YI has actually made special cameras optimized for easy swapping and improved heat management.

After watching some sample videos from the Halo I have to admit I was pretty impressed. It’s some of the better VR footage I’ve seen. What particularly stood out were outdoor scenes with bright clouds. Clouds tend to be blown out on most VR cameras due to limited dynamic range, but on the Halo footage you could still see quite a bit of detail without darker areas on the ground being crushed to black. 

The Halo is expected to be available this summer for a cool price of $ 17,000.

Insta360 Pro

The new Insta360 Pro is an impressive VR camera that captures 8K video, or 6K stereoscopic video, in a small, spherical package. It emphasizes the ability to get very high quality footage straight out of camera that can be streamed or posted online quickly, for example by a reporter in the field. In addition to six fish eye lenses, the Insta360 Pro includes four integrated microphones for spatial audio, but also supports external audio and power for extended use. All stitching is done in-camera, making it easy to stream out content live during an event.

Video quality was surprisingly good, though I still noticed obvious stitching artifacts in places. Also, whenever I looked at the camera, I couldn’t get over the feeling that it was smiling and staring back at me. Kind of like an evil clown. But if you can get past that, it’s possible to order one now for $ 3,500, with units expected to ship in mid-May.

The VR camera we all want

Of course, if you really want to do VR right, you build a spherical rig for 10 Arri Alexas. It’s the perfect solution if you have ten Alexas sitting around. 

Just sayin’.

Sony still makes video tapes

Yes, Sony still makes video tapes. And yes, there’s still a market for them.

Fujinon MK50-135mm T2.9 cine lens

In the past year we’ve seen a lot of new cine lenses aimed at emerging filmmakers who want the quality of cine lenses without spending $ 20,000 and up for the privilege. In fact, just a couple months ago, Fujifilm announced its new MK series of cine lenses aimed at this market. We tested the first of these, the Fujinon MK18-55mm T2.9, and found it too be an outstanding lens, both in terms of image quality and build.

At NAB, Fujifilm displayed the second lens in the series, the MK 50-135mm T2.9 lens. It shares the same weight and dimensions as the 18-55mm lens, as well as its parfocal design and E-mount for use on Sony cameras. The lens is expected to be available in July, and while pricing has not been announced, we expect it to be in the same ballpark as the 18-55mm model, or around $ 3,799.

Fujifilm MK lenses in X-mount

When Fujifilm announced the MK series of Fujinon lenses, there was initially some confusion about the fact that Fujifilm was releasing them for Sony E-mount. This actually made a lot of sense, considering how many Sony Super 35 cameras are in use professionally. However, the company made clear it would eventually release the MK lenses in Fujifilm’s own X-mount as well.

At NAB, we got our first look at one of these X-mount lenses, the MK18-55mm T2.9, attached to a Fujifilm X-T2 body. Pricing and release date remain unannounced, but earlier this year Fujifilm told us the X-mount versions would be available ‘near the end’ of 2017.

Zeiss CP.2 Primes get artsy

Zeiss says that its Compact Prime CP.2 series of lenses are the most popular cine lenses it has ever produced. To commemorate this success, the company was busy creating a series of ‘art’ lenses (pardon me if that sounds a bit familiar…) by artist Joseph Ari Aloi. In fact, Aloi was in the Zeiss booth painting lenses in all shapes, colors and patterns.

C’mon. You know you want it.

Sigma Cine lenses

Not to be left out of the cine lens game, Sigma was showing off the newest members of its Cine Prime line of lenses, the Cine FF High Speed 14mm T2 and the  Cine FF High Speed 135mm T2, which join five existing prime lenses in Sigma’s Cine Prime product line.

The Sigma Cine Primes are based on existing Sigma lens designs, but are redesigned into cinema-friendly hardware, including high quality mechanical barrels with integrated gearing. In use, the new lenses feel very solid and should produce beautiful video. If you don’t like seeing your distances in feet, you can opt for a metric version. The lens markings even glow in the dark for low light use.

Illuminati light and color meter

The Illuminati light and color meter, from Illuminati Instruments Corporation, is a clever little device that provides all the functionality of a traditional meter, but uses Bluetooth communication and a mobile phone (or smartwatch) app as a user interface. This means it’s much smaller than traditional meters that have displays and controls integrated into a single unit.

What’s even more helpful is that a phone can be paired with multiple meters, meaning they can be placed around a scene and accessed from a single app. The meter can continuously monitor both ambient exposure and color, and warn a photographer if any changes in brightness or color temperature occur. What’s more, additional software functionality can be added in the future through a simple app update.

The Illuminati light meter is available for pre-order through a Kickstarter campaign with about three weeks remaining. This is an impressive little device, so I’m rooting for them.

Manfrotto Nitrotech tripod head

Manrotto’s new Nitrotech N8 tripod head uses an innovative design to provide good balance and smooth motion with a minimum of fuss. Where the horizontal axis of the head would usually be, the Nitrotech head uses what Manfrotto calls a ‘nitrogen piston mechanism’ to push up against the bottom of the mounting surface. It claims this will counteract movement of the head and the pull of gravity to product fluid and controlled motions.

I was impressed at how well the Nitrotech head worked. With a large camera and lens mounted on it, it did an excellent job of maintaining balance no matter where I placed the center of gravity of the camera. Even with the weight moved forward on the tripod, the Nitrotech head stopped moving wherever I left it, with no downward creep. It also produced relatively smooth motion when panning and tilting, though it wasn’t as smooth as a very high quality fluid head. I suspect it would work nicely for still photography as well, particularly when using long telephoto lenses.

Sennheiser MKE 2 Elements mic for GoPro Hero 4

One of the downsides of using action cameras in waterproof cases is that audio can be truly horrible, with muffled sounds and rattles transmitted from equipment like bikes or snowboards.To solve this problem, Sennheiser designed the MKE 2 elements microphone for the GoPro Hero 4. As its name implies, the elements mic is built around Sennheiser’s very well-regarded MKE 2 lavalier microphone, but in a design created to be tough and withstand the elements, be it snow, water, or dust. The flexible stem of the mic also isolates it from vibrations for a rattle-free recording.

After watching and listening to several videos show with the MKE 2 elements mic, I have to say that it seems like the real deal. Sound was noticeably better than I’m used to hearing through waterproof cases on action cams, and was very clear and realistic. The sound of water was particularly impressive, and added to the immersive sense of being right there in the waves with a surfer. Sennheiser even had a unit sitting in a tank of water to illustrate how elements-proof it actually is.

HDR video

For the last decade, improvements in video generally had to do with resolution, resolution, 3D (oops, not so much), and more resolution. Over the past couple years, however, there has been increased focus on dynamic range, and it seemed like everyone at NAB this year was talking about HDR video, which promises brighter brights, blacker blacks, and more realistic renditions of real world scenes.

We’ll be exploring HDR video in more detail in future articles as it’s directly relevant to photographers as well. However, watching HDR demos illustrated that content creators are still learning how to use the technology. For example, while viewing some HDR film clips behind the sign in the above photo, I quickly discovered that in a dark environment, extremely bright specular highlights could be so bright as to make you squint. This is a technology that will only get better, though there’s still room for everyone to start speaking the same language and agree upon some conventions and standards. Stay tuned.

8K/120p

OK, you knew we’d get to it eventually. 8K video has been a hot topic at NAB for the past couple years, and of course that continued in 2017 as well. 8K holds great potential for content creators, but it’s clear the industry is pushing hard to move 8K into the living room as well. 

I’m not convinced that consumers are quite ready to begin moving to 8K TVs yet, especially since most of them haven’t even gone 4K. However, the one 8K demo that absolutely blew my mind was watching a hockey game in 8K/120p. If you think 60p looks lifelike, 120p is even more so. And at 8K resolution it’s borderline amazing. In fact, if broadcasters can figure out how to deliver 8K/120p, it may be the thing that does convince people they need to upgrade once again, particularly if they’re sports fans.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Trends to watch at NAB 2017

21 Apr

Trends to watch at NAB 2017

Next week is the annual National Association of Broadcasters show, or NAB, in Las Vegas, Nevada. NAB is primarily an industry conference, and isn’t generally focused on consumer products, but we go to NAB because it often gives us a window into the future. Tools and technologies created for Hollywood or the broadcast industry have a funny way of tricking down to everyman products over the next few years, and that’s usually a good thing (3D television being a notable exception, in my opinion).

So, let’s take a look at a few of the product categories we’ll be watching at NAB next week that have the potential to impact us not-named-Spielberg types in the coming years.

Tools for Emerging Filmmakers

The filmmaking industry has changed a lot in the past few years: technology has become better, costs have come down, and tools suitable for serious content creation are now accessible to anyone with a dream of producing films and the passion to make it happen. This transformation has ushered in an explosion of what are often referred to as ’emerging filmmakers.’

These are people who often started making films with DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, but have grown their skills or businesses to the point where they need better, dedicated tools. They include independent filmmakers, small businesses working for commercial clients, or any number of other filmmaking roles. Some things they have in common are that they care about creating high quality content, have high expectations for production value, and they don’t have upwards of $ 20,000 to buy a single cinema lens.

This category has grown large enough that we’re seeing more companies which have historically catered to the high end cinema market now looking to meet emerging filmmakers’ needs. Whether it’s to drive revenue or create brand loyalists, we’re seeing more tools designed and priced for these users. By way of example, in the past year we’ve seen cinema lenses such as Cookes and Fujinons with sub-$ 5,000 price points. We expect to see even more products aimed at emerging filmmakers at NAB. 

Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual reality is a technology that everyone, from manufacturers to content creators, seems to want to succeed, but which hasn’t quite managed to do so. There’s clearly a lot of unrealized promise, and even Hollywood executives will tell you they’re spending a lot of money trying to figure out how to make it work. Will this be the year VR makes the leap?

NAB will once again feature a dedicated Virtual and Augmented Reality Pavillion where the VR community can show off its latest technology. And there are clearly a lot of businesses betting big money on it, ranging from consumer-focused companies like Yi Technologies, which plans to announce VR capture devices at the show, to the likes of 360 Designs, whose Flying EYE drone system will livestream 360º 6K content from miles away for a cool $ 75,000. 

The big question is whether any of the VR products or technologies we see at NAB this year will be enough to get significant traction in the market, or collectively move the needle toward wider adoption of VR by consumers, but the industry isn’t giving up on this one yet.

8K Technology

We actually saw 8K display technology for the first time at NAB a couple years ago. And yes, it’s good bleeping amazing. Last year, Canon had an 8K reference display in its booth with a magnifying glass next to it, teasing you to try to see the pixels. After all, with 8K you’re collecting about the same number of pixels as a Nikon D810. In bursts of 24 or 30 frames. Every second. Think of the memory cards you’re going to need… but I digress…

What does 8K mean for photographers, videographers, and emerging filmmakers? Right now, not a lot. In fact, it’s unlikely we’ll even see 8K TVs being widely marketed to consumers for a number of years. But on the content creation side, there’s a lot to be said for 8K. With 4K quickly moving in the direction of becoming a standard for viewing content, 8K will give content creators the same advantages that 4K acquisition has for creating 1080p content. Right now we’re still talking about very expensive, high end pro cinema and broadcast equipment, but what we see at NAB is often a preview to what we’ll see in less expensive gear a few years down the road.

And 8K technology may come faster than we expect. We’ve seen 4K gain fairly wide adoption very quickly, and most of the industry seems hell-bent on a collision course between full 8K broadcast and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (having already demonstrated it at London 2012 and run test broadcasts from Rio 2016). Some of this 8K goodness (or massive data storage overhead, if you’re the glass-half-empty type) may start filtering its way into our cameras in the next few years.

HDR Video

HDR video is pretty much what it sounds like: high dynamic range video that lets us see brighter brights, darker darks, and more shades in between. It’s like HDR photos, but with motion, and done well it can look pretty amazing. From a consumer perspective, most talk about HDR video these days relates to TVs, but the market is still sorting itself out. As the old adage goes, ‘The great thing about standards is that we have so many to choose from.’ Between HDR10, Dolby Vision, and Hybrid Log-Gamma, there’s plenty of room for the marketers to fight it out and educate consumers on the jargon.

But what we’re most interested in is content creation, or HDR video capture. Admittedly, there’s not a lot here for the enthusiast or prosumer at the moment. But… (and you know there’s always a ‘but’) Panasonic has already told us to expect Hybrid Log-Gamma to be included in the mother of all firmware updates – or, as we affectionately know it, MOAFU (really rolls off your tongue, doesn’t it) – that’s coming for the Panasonic GH5 in summer 2017. We look forward to testing it. Once we figure out how to test it.

Drones

Love ’em or hate ’em, people are going to use drones for all kinds of things. (At least until Skynet, and we all know how that ends.) Of course, what we care about at DPReview is aerial imaging, whether it’s still photography or video. The drone industry has exploded in the past few years, with tools ranging from octocopters that nonchalantly ferry around RED and Arri cameras to consumer products you can buy off the shelf and use to make your own movies.

As with other video categories, what started out as technology available only to well-funded production studios has quickly started to filter down to the emerging filmmaker or prosumer level. In fact, less than six months ago DJI introduced the Inspire 2 drone and Zenmuse X5S camera. That combo uses a Micro Four Thirds camera to shoot 5.2K CinemaDNG Raw video with a bit rate of 4.2Gbps. All for the price of a Canon 1D X II. This is Hollywood-level stuff. They even got cinematographer Claudio Miranda, ASC (Life of Pi) to make a film with it, though he had to carry it around in his hands for some shots.

Why do I bring up a product that was announced a few months ago? First, because it’s an indication of where the technology is going, and competitors will need to find a way to respond. We’ll be watching to see if that happens at NAB. And second, because for the love of God, DJI, can you please put this combination of tech into a regular camera? I don’t care if it’s a Micro Four Thirds camera the size of a Canon 1D X II, I will write you a check tomorrow.

Such is my plea.

Live Streaming

It used to be that we recorded home movies which we then forced our friends and family to watch over Thanksgiving. Later came the internet, so we could just send aunt Mabel a Vimeo link, or start a YouTube channel about cats with millions of followers.

Today that’s no longer adequate. Things must be on the internet, and they must be on now! Whether it’s Vloggers broadcasting live from a tradeshow floor using their iPhones, or sites like DPReview doing live webcasts from a studio, live streaming has gained a lot of momentum, and viewers are demanding higher quality live streams as time goes on.

We’ve already seen products to meet this need at a consumer level, whether it’s a DJI Osmo that uses your phone to broadcast on Facebook Live, or the Blackmagic Web Presenter, which allows you to turn virtually any high quality camera into a streaming broadcast camera. We’ll be on the watch for other products and technologies that will fuel our live streaming future. Though we can’t promise to stream them to you live.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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The future is bright: technology trends in mobile photography

01 Nov

The future is bright: technology trends in mobile photography

Smartphones have long overtaken the trusted digital compact camera as the most popular imaging device among consumers. So it’s no surprise that for some time now the mobile industry has been a major driving force of innovation in imaging. 2016 is slowly yet surely coming to an end, and has been a fruitful year in terms of innovation in mobile imaging. What better time to look back at the most important technology trends that have emerged over the past few months?

Multi-lens-cameras

Dual-cameras have been around for some time now, but this year we’ve seen the introduction of two new types of this camera category with real potential to have a lasting impact on mobile imaging. The dual-camera modules in the Huawei P9 and Honor 8 capture images on a color and a monochrome sensor at the same time. Thanks to the lack of a color array filter, the latter can record better detail, higher contrast and a wider dynamic range than its color counterpart. After capture, the image information from both sensors is combined, resulting in better overall image quality than on a conventional camera.

 The dual-cam in the Huawei P9 combines images from color and monochrome sensors.

Both the LG G5 and Apple’s new iPhone 7 Plus use dual-cameras for optical zooming. However, there is an important difference. On the LG the standard wide-angle lens is accompanied by a super-wide-angle. The Apple’s secondary lens offers an equivalent of 56mm, double that of the 28mm standard lens.

 Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus uses a dual-camera setup for digital zooming.

Lack of optical zoom is one of the key limitations of conventional smartphone cameras. The digital zoom functions implemented in most smartphones lead to a deterioration of image quality and can’t really be considered an alternative. This is why the solutions from LG and Apple represent a real step forward that can help expand the creative potential of smartphone photography. The concept of dual-cameras is still in its infancy and it’s probably only a question of time before we’ll see smartphones with more than two camera/lens combinations – the very approach that the the Light L16 camera development team is taking.

Raw-capture on smartphone cameras

Raw-capture on smartphones is not a totally new topic either. It was first introduced to the high-end models in Nokia’s Lumia line and came to Android devices with version 5.0 of the Google OS, which was introduced in 2014. Since then many high-end devices from Samsung, Huawei, LG and other manufacturers have supported the feature. However, with the introduction of the seventh iPhone generation and iOS 10, Raw capture is now finally available on the other major mobile platform, iOS, massively expanding its potential user base. 

 The Huawei P9’s DNG files can be edited in Adobe Camera Raw or other Raw converters.

The advantages of the Raw file format are the same on a smartphone camera as they are on a DSLR or mirrorless system camera. Instead of leaving the conversion of the captured image data to the algorithms of the camera’s JPEG-engine, the photographer can adjust many image parameters after capture, without any loss of image quality, by processing manually in a Raw-converter such as Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom or Capture One.

With the small image sensors in smartphone cameras digital exposure compensation can only be applied within narrow limits, but white balance, sharpness, contrast, noise reduction and many other parameters can all be modified. Especially in difficult lighting situations shooting Raw can be a lifesaver. However, it can also help achieve more natural image results when the camera’s default settings produce too vibrant images, as is often the case with smartphone cameras, or to create different versions of the same image – for example one for large-scale printing and one for viewing on the web.

There is no doubt that the conversion of Raw image files can improve the quality of an image, or at least adjust it for specific requirements. However, the crucial question is if this all makes sense on a smartphone. Here, opinions are mixed. On one hand it can be argued that photographers who are willing to put time and effort into Raw conversion would typically shoot with their DSLR or system camera to start with. On the other hand, you never know when you encounter a great photo opportunity. If the only camera you’ve got is the smartphone in your pocket, Raw conversion can make the difference between a good and a great image.

Modular solutions

For many users an elegant and thin smartphone body is an important buying criterion. Unfortunately those characteristics stand in direct contrast to camera performance. Larger sensors offer lower noise levels and better dynamic range. Bigger lenses provide for brighter apertures or offer zoom capability. A powerful xenon flash also requires space. One of the solutions to this dilemma is a modular approach: for general everyday day use you carry the slim smartphone in the pocket. When better image quality and camera features are required, for example while visiting an event or when traveling, an external camera module is attached to the smartphone.

Previous approaches, for example Sony’s QX-models or the Kodak Pixpro SL modules, which are compatible with most smartphones and connect to the device via Wi-Fi, were unfortunately cumbersome to operate. Connection to the smartphone was often slow and occasionally unstable, leading to laggy image transmission and operation.

However, this year Lenovo has revived the camera module concept by introducing the Hasselblad True Zoom. The TrueZoom is so far only compatible with the smartphones of Lenovo’s Moto Z series but, on the upside, attaching and operating the device work much more seamlessly than anything else we’ve seen before. The TrueZoom attaches to the smartphone magnetically and, with a 10x zoom lens and xenon flash, instantly transforms it into a connected travel zoom camera, without any rebooting or other configuration steps.

The Hasselblad True Zoom camera module attaches magnetically to smartphones of the Lenovo Moto Z series.

The fact that the True Zoom is only compatible with a handful of phones won’t contribute to a wide distribution of the device. However, it is showing what is currently technologically feasible in terms of smartphones and external modules working together. Things could get even more interesting if market leaders Apple or Samsung show an interest in camera modules and make them popular with the masses.

Algorithms trump hardware

As mentioned above, your standard smartphone doesn’t provide enough space for large image sensors, zoom lenses or powerful flash units. However, mobile devices have one definite advantage over conventional cameras: computing power.

Thanks to powerful chipsets modern smartphone cameras can record and digitally merge several image frames in a split-second. This process, called image stacking, captures more image information than a single frame. The resulting JPEG files show better detail, lower noise levels and a wider dynamic range than standard exposures. In very dark scenes this method can also achieve a brighter exposure than conventional capture. In addition, camera shake and blur in low light are less of an issue, as the individual frames of the image stack can use faster shutter speeds than a single standard exposure.

 The HDR+ mode in the Google Camera app uses frame stacking for improved image results.

Apple offers such high dynamic range and night modes in its iPhone cameras and Google has implemented them into the HDR+ function of its Google Camera app, which is also used as the stock camera app on the new Pixel and Pixel XL phones. Again, development of such technologies is still in relatively early stages. Over the coming years more powerful processor hardware and better algorithms will likely further improve smartphone image quality, without a need for larger sensors or faster lenses.

Outlook

It’s probably fair to say that in the conventional digital camera sector the rate of innovation has noticeably slowed down over the last few years. In contrast, many of the new concepts that are currently being applied in mobile imaging are still in their infancy. It remains to be seen which ones will be here to stay and which ones will be forgotten in the nearer future. However, there’s no doubt that mobile photographers have a lot to look forward to. 

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Logos for Photography Business: 5 Trends to Use

25 Jul

A well-designed logo is a must-have tool for any photographer and studio wants to be seen on the market. According to many analysts, a logo plays an important role in entrepreneur’s success. Especially, if it’s a part of a brand identity. Use the following trends and ideas to create a powerful logo for your photography business and grab the attention Continue Reading

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Logos for Photography Business: 5 Trends to Use

30 May

A well-designed logo is a must-have tool for any photographer and studio wants to be seen on the market. According to many analysts, a logo plays an important role in entrepreneur’s success. Especially, if it’s a part of a brand identity. Use the following trends and ideas to create a powerful logo for your photography business and grab the attention Continue Reading

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Highlight reel: top video trends from NAB 2016

26 Apr

NAB 2016

Last week Las Vegas once again hosted the annual National Association of Broadcasters Show. Although many of the products and technologies seen at NAB won’t be of direct interest our audience (think satellite trucks and news studios), the explosion of high quality, affordable tools aimed at filmmakers and videographers make it a good place to watch industry trends and new product categories. Perhaps more importantly, NAB can provide insight into what technologies we might expect to filter down to prosumer and consumer products in a few years time.

Take a look at a few trends and products from NAB 2016 that caught our eye and got us excited.

Virtual Reality (VR)

VR was everywhere at NAB, with multiple sessions focused on VR technology, storytelling and distribution that were packed to standing room only. A top destination was the VR Showcase sponsored by Kaleidoscope VR, a VR studio, and Jaunt, a maker of VR cinema cameras. With dozens of stations featuring headsets from Samsung, Oculus and HTC, visitors could experience cinematic VR experiences in person.

These weren’t just your standard ‘park-a-camera-in-an-iconic-spot-and-look-around’ videos, but actual films created with a VR audience in mind. Imagine watching a film about the 7/7 London Tube bombings, except you’re sitting on the train while the story plays out. It creates an immersive, visceral experience that simply wouldn’t work with conventional filmmaking.

We’re very excited about the creative possibilities that VR can provide to photographers and filmmakers, so we’re planning a follow-up report to tell you more about VR and our experiences at NAB.

Nokia OZO: Impressive VR for a price

The Nokia OZO includes eight cameras and eight microphones to create immersive VR footage. You can pick one up for a cool $ 60,000.

If you still equate the name Nokia with mobile phones, it’s time to change your thinking. The company has made a big push into VR, making a big splash at NAB with its $ 60,000 OZO 360-degree spherical VR camera. The OZO features 8 cameras, each with 195-degree field of view and global shutter, as well as the ability to capture stereo video for 3D effect. To add additional realism, the OZO also features 8 microphones in order to provide 360 sound, something that’s important for creating immersive VR experiences.

Although the quality of the footage from the OZO still isn’t up to the resolution and dynamic range standards we’re accustomed to seeing in digital still cameras, the VR experiences created by the OZO were impressive and compelling. The directional sound had a huge impact on the realism of footage shot with the camera, and it captured some of the best VR footage we’ve seen. Count us in for a test unit!

GoPro Omni

Not to be left out the the VR extravaganza, GoPro showed off its new Omni camera, a cube-shaped cage that holds six GoPro Hero 4 cameras. Although rigs holding multiple GoPro cameras aren’t new in the VR world, GoPro has embedded useful features to improve the experience of a multi-GoPro setup. Primarily, all cameras in the rig are synchronized and act as a single camera. 

This may not seem like a big deal, but if you’ve ever tried to set up, sync, and use multiple cameras at one time you’ll appreciate the convenience. Making a mistake on just one camera ruins your entire shoot. The Omni solves this problem and syncs everything, right down to the rolling shutter, between all the cameras at once. 

GoPro is selling the Omni for $ 1,499 (rig only) or $ 4,999 for the full kit.

4K? No thanks, I think I’ll take 8K instead.

Although many consumers are still learning about 4K video technology, the broadcast industry is already beginning to think about 8K video, with companies such as NHK, Canon, Panasonic, Ikegami and Planar showing off 8K cameras and displays.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way right up front: 8K IS AMAZING! (Yes, we meant to scream that.)

OK, let’s put 8K this into some context. None of these companies really expect 8K technology to come to your living room any time soon, though that’s likely to occur in some form by the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which seems to be a common target in the industry.

The real interest in 8K technology right now is for content acquisition, and it’s the same reason producers of HD content like to shoot in 4K: additional post-processing options and better quality footage when downsized. Display manufacturers are also excited about 8K for applications where size really does matter, such as cinema screens, displays at amusement parks, and giant stadium screens.

Trust us, though. Once you’ve seen 8K displays you’ll never look at a 4K screen the same again…

8K Displays

It’s almost impossible to see the pixels on Canon’s prototype 8K reference display – even with a magnifying glass.

Speaking of 8K displays, one of the most impressive examples was Canon’s prototype 8K reference display. To fully appreciate just how sharp this display is, consider that each frame of 8K video is just over 35MP of resolution – the rough equivalent of a full resolution Nikon D810 image. Pack that into a relatively small screen and for all practical purposes it looks like a backlit fine art print.

Quite simply, this redefines what a video screen is. Once you remove any noticeable pixelation, it’s essentially indistinguishable from a nicely backlit, printed image. We could easily imagine these being used for museum exhibits, but we suspect content creators will come up with interesting ways to use them that we haven’t even envisioned yet.

Almost as a tease, Canon tethered a magnifying glass to the display so you could look at the pixels up close. While it’s possible to see them you have to look really hard – certainly much closer than you ever would in real world conditions – and even then you have to convince yourself that you’re really seeing them.

8K Prints

Prints in Canon’s 8K print gallery were stunning and looked as good as what we would expect from even the best still cameras.

This is why still photographers should care about 8K video.

Each frame of 8K video is a 35MP image, meaning that as long as you use settings to avoid motion blur it’s possible to make some spectacular prints.

Canon illustrated this potential with an 8K print gallery, exhibiting prints made from individual frames of 8K video. The results were spectacular, with vivid colors and sharp edges. Really, if they had told us the photos were shot by a Canon 5DS or a Nikon D810 we would have believed them. If this is the future, bring it on.

Atomos Shogun Flame and Ninja Flame

The new Atomos Shogun Flame (top) and the original Shogun (bottom). The new Flame includes an HDR screen and AtomHDR technology, which allows videographers to see a live approximation of what graded footage will look like when shooting in Log.

Atomos has become a favorite of video shooters thanks to its excellent off-camera displays and recorders. At NAB the company showcased its newest line of ‘Flame’ products, which add significant new features to its Shogun and Ninja recorders.

The biggest improvement most users will notice are the displays: the screens are now 10-bit HDR displays that are up to four times brighter than previous models, meaning they can even be used outdoors without a hood.

Atomos also introduced a technology called AtomHDR to help videographers who shoot in Log format. Log video typically looks very flat until it’s color graded; AtomHDR allows you to record in Log while displaying accurate contrast and colors on-screen, giving a good approximation of what graded footage will look like. We use the original Shogun here in our studio and we were really impressed the AtomHDR technology. In the photo above you can see a comparison of the new Shogun Flame using AtomHDR (top) and the old Shogun without AtomHDR, but to be honest the photo doesn’t fully capture how much better the Shogun Flame looks.

The Shogun Flame lists for $ 1,695, and the Ninja Flame (which lacks some features such as SDI and XLR inputs) lists for $ 1,295.

Blackmagic Video Assist 4K

Videographers also flocked to the Blackmagicdesign booth to try out the Blackmagic Video Assist 4K, an updated version of its Video Assist monitor and recorder. The Video Assist 4K is built around a 7-inch display and includes HDMI and SDI plugs, dual SD card slots for continuous UHD recording, LANC connection for remote control, and XLR microphone inputs. Footage can be recorded in 10-bit 4:2:2 video in either ProRes or DNxHD for easy downstream editing. The Video Assist 4K looks to be a great option for people who need off-camera recording, especially those shooting events that may require long, continuous recording.

The Video Assist 4K lists for $ 895.

Sennheiser Microphones

The Sennheiser MKE 440.

Cameras tend to get a lot of attention, but videographers know that sound can be just as important as a good picture when capturing video.

Last year Sennheiser introduced the ClipMic digital and MKE 2 digital, lavalier microphones that plug directly into the Lighting port of an iOS device to record high quality sound, turning iPhones into great off-camera recorders. This year, the company followed up with additional Lightning-compatible microphones: The HandMic digital, a handheld microphone designed for mobile journalism, and the MK 4 digital, a studio microphone. We’ve actually been using one of the MKE 2 digital mics with an iPhone to record a lot of interviews over the past year and it works great, so we’re really excited to see Sennheiser expanding this line of products.

Sennheiser also introduced the MKE 440 stereo microphone for DSLRs (see photo). Designed to mount on a camera’s hot shoe, the MKE 400 provides high quality stereo recording as opposed to the mono recording provided by most DSLR microphones, and should prove useful when recording an immersive soundscape with an on-camera mic is important.

Lytro Cinema Camera

The Lytro Cinema camera promises to change the way films are made, though at the moment it’s about the length of a VW minibus.

Lytro was the clear winner of the ‘Well, that was bigger than we expected…’ award at NAB. 

The company, which recently announced its exit from the consumer photography business, literally pulled the cover off its new prototype Cinema camera to a standing room only crowd. Featuring a 755MP imaging sensor that appears to be about a foot wide, the Cinema camera has the potential to change the way some films are shot. 

Lytro’s Jon Karafin gave a live demo illustrating the camera’s unique ability to alter creative choices in post-processing, such as plane of focus, depth of field and depth-based keying. And because all of the computational work is done by thousands of CPUs in Google’s cloud, he was able to run the entire demo off a laptop computer.

The prototype camera is huge (about the same length as a VW minibus, to our eye), but company representatives told us that smaller versions will follow. We think this technology has a lot of potential and look forward to seeing how it evolves. You can read our analysis of the Lytro announcement here.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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5 Trends to Take Your Photography Business to the Future

04 Oct

As an owner of a photography business, you need to have the ability to wear many different hats; you need to be a marketer to promote your brand, a designer to create and update your site, and a tech-savvy person to understand the innovation and new products that are constantly appearing on the market.

In this article you’ll learn some of the trends in digital marketing, web design, and mobile technologies that any smart photographer needs to be familiar with.

Sergey Galyonkin

By Sergey Galyonkin

Digital Marketing

In the following years we can expect a growing number of desktop and online software solutions geared at photographers. Tough competition in this market constantly gives birth to many interesting offerings.

For instance, Defrozo is looking to be a one-stop, free platform for photographers to update their website and blog, proof images and sell prints online, as well as manage their client base in a built-in CRM (customer relations management). Snapizzi is another interesting tool which uses a smart QR-code scanning technology to enable photographers to automatically upload and sort out event photos for online sales, literally in minutes. And if you’re looking for an album proofing tool that could be integrated with your existing website AlbumParrot is here to help.

These are just a few of the new apps and services worth your attention, you can discover more photography startups on Betalist.

Dickson Phua

By Dickson Phua

With advertising coming to Instagram, and Facebook limiting its organic reach in favor of paid-for posts, email marketing becomes even more attractive for small business, and photographers are no exception. Some of the major trends in this area are personalization and automation, with most services like MailChimp and MadMimi extending and improving their functionality in this area. As a result, it gets quite easy to create a sequence of emails that will be triggered when someone subscribes for your updates, or send out your special offers to small segments of your contact list in order to maximize relevancy and click-throughs.

The popularity of visual storytelling will continue to grow which is obviously great news for photographers. Big companies will be employing professional photography to communicate their brand philosophy and aesthetics. So consider adjusting your proposition to accommodate corporate clients.

Web Design

Talking about web design, there are a few standards you might want to take into account while updating your photography portfolio.

Image-focused design featuring clean typography and ghost buttons is going to be a winner, just like last year. Sticking to the storytelling trend in content marketing, full-size videos and images will take the world by storm contributing to a website’s interactivity, and increasing return visits.

David Joyce

By David Joyce

Moreover, custom photo galleries and slideshows available for mobile viewing will become more and more popular. Don’t forget to make your site mobile-friendly this year, if you have not done it yet. In 2016 a mobile version of your portfolio will rock, otherwise you run the risk of losing over 40% of your potential clients.

Mobile

While there’s a lot of buzz around the revolutionary potential of mobile payments, it’s unlikely that the photography industry is going to adopt this trend too soon. However, mobile payments are definitely something to keep your eye on since mobile is conquering nearly every sphere of our life.

Mobile usage is going to increase even more. For example, the latest data shows that the U.S. users spend 51% of their media time on mobile compared to 42% on desktop.

Byronv2

By byronv2

This means mobile Internet users should be kept at the forefront, whenever you start a marketing campaign. Planning to print a solid pack of flyers for an upcoming tradeshow? Consider putting a QR code on it. Do you know image editing inside out? Think about creating your own mobile app, or figure out a mutually beneficial arrangement with app developers. Smartphones and tablets will keep their leading position in the coming years, so make the most out of this growing trend.

Technology

Wearable devices are by far one of the most exciting trends to follow. With the competition fuelled by Apple Watch, this market is about to bring photographers a lot of neat capabilities via wearables.

Sdu7cb

By Sdu7cb

Drones are another major trend in the tech field. A lot of models with features ranging from built-in cameras shooting 12 megapixel RAW, to smartphone app remote control, were on display at this year’s CES.

CES 2015 also brought a few interesting solutions to the ever-increasing problem of image storage. Thus, Canon has introduced Canon Connect Station CS100 that connects wirelessly to phones and Wi-Fi enabled cameras, and uploads images to be displayed on a TV. Another potentially interesting technology was presented by Toshiba. The new memory cards from this manufacturer can be read with a NFC-enabled Android phone. This invention is rather raw at the moment, but it hints at advancing possibilities in the near future.

Printing

A printer about the size of a smartphone, that doesn’t require ink, and is controlled via your smartphone? Any event or wedding photographer could utilize a thing like that. Well, it’s actually a reality now. Meet Polaroid Zip. Presented at the CES 2015, this neat device is a glance into the future of compact printers which definitely moves towards compactness, wireless connection, and fast work.

Son Of Groucho

By Son of Groucho

3D printing is becoming more accessible for end consumers and opens new opportunities for photographers. For instance, Amanda Ghassaei created amazing 3D prints that feature subtle texture and high precision, when backlit with a diffused light. If you’d like to utilize this one-of-a-kind method before it hits the mainstream, the artist shared the instructions on how to do it.

Interior Design

The meeting room climate can make or break your deal, so knowing what design elements get people hooked these days is a must for a savvy photographer, no matter whether you meet clients in your studio or apartment.

Paulisson Miura

By paulisson miura

In 2015 electric modern vibe and unexpected textures are finding their way out. More sophisticated looks featuring natural textures, gold hardware, and mid-century modern undertone are the latest fashion. For example, one sophisticated idea of the kind is a cowhide rug, which would be a perfect decoration for your meeting room.

Wallpapers with natural flowers and textures have come back this year too. Blue seems to be one of the most popular colors for interior decorations. Taking into account the latest trends, you can create a cool, impressive look for your office or spice up your home interior.

Bottom Line

Staying informed about the modern novelties and trends in different areas of our life can be a great way to single out your photography brand, and differentiate you from the competition while taking your career to the next level.

What recent trends do you find most exciting and promising? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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The Future of Photography Websites – Understanding and Adapting to Trends Continued

31 May

In an earlier article (The Future of Photography Websites – Understanding and Adapting to Trends) on this topic, you can read about a couple of major trends in the web-design industry (as they relate to photo websites). Here’s a quick review:

  • The huge number of new websites being built and ways to rise above the noise including: Choosing a photography niche (specializing); Differentiating yourself as a photographer; Using quality platforms and website templates; Simplifying and prioritizing elements on your site; Understanding and focusing on your target audience.
  • New website performance standards and their effect on browsing habits: Why and how to make your website faster; Editing down your content and creating a smooth browsing experience; Having clear website navigation.

Now we’re going to continue exploring many other important aspects you should take into consideration when building your photography website (whether it’s an online portfolio, a stock website, or centred around a photo blog). All combined, these notes should give you a more clear picture of how to build your photography website and steer towards a more successful photo business.

3. Mobile devices are omnipresent and powerful

This is fairly obvious to see in the world around us, but what implications does it have on photography websites?

a. The old adage: stop using flash on your site

No need for me to dwell on this, but it’s hard to write an article on photography websites without mentioning Flash, and with good reason. I hope you’re in the position to skip this paragraph, but if you’re still using Flash, continue reading and consider making some changes soon.

Besides the well-known SEO limitations, Flash websites are slower, not compatible with Apple devices, harder to update, and can be almost entirely replaced today using modern HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript components (and surely surpassed in many aspects).

b. Make your website mobile-friendly (responsive)

Many photographers are reporting that almost half of their website traffic comes from mobile users (smartphones and tablets), and we can expect this number to rise further.

So you can no longer afford not to have a mobile-friendly website. Google confirmed this by announcing they will now penalize non mobile-friendly sites. While this is just one of the many factors Google uses to rank websites, it’s a strong signal to take note of this issue.

This is especially important for photography websites where users interact with the site more (using slideshows, doing searches, buying images etc.) Slideshows and static images (along with the entire layout, of course) should automatically resize and adapt to any screen size.

Example 7a responsive

To emphasize the importance of a mobile-friendly browsing experience, Google provides a free testing tool for your site and rewards responsive websites in mobile search results:

Example 7b mobile friendly badge

c. Once again, make your website fast

You can read about website performance in the first article, however, it’s worth mentioning here again. The load times of a website are even more important to mobile users (with mobile networks being somewhat slower and less reliable than home broadband connections).

4. Content-consumption rates are increasing (a lot)

Not only are more users coming online (and using more devices than ever before), but they’re also consuming a lot more content. This should come as no surprise, and it’s worth considering for its web-design implications. Since users want more content, here are some ways to help them out:

a. Make your site easily shareable

That means leveraging social media buttons on your website (even when you don’t have your own profiles on those specific social media sites), making it easy for people to recommend your images and pages.

Example 8 social shares

Don’t neglect tweaking your site to display pretty permalinks: a page URL like this www.johndoe.com/?p=789 is much uglier than something like www.johndoe.com/gallery/great-description-here/. Besides the SEO implications, pretty permalinks are also important for people sharing your content: if a URL is more inviting, it will naturally get more shares and visits.

b. Keep the content fresh

Example 9 yannickdixon blog

While everybody knows that blogs should frequently be updated, you need to refresh the rest of your website once in a while too.

  • Make sure your contact information is up to date.
  • Have some featured galleries on the homepage? Change or rotate them from time to time.
  • Have a slideshow? Rearrange some of its images, or add new ones. Returning visitors will notice that.
  • Recently worked on a project or received an award? Make sure it’s there on your site.
  • Consider keeping a Recently Updated gallery or section on your site’s homepage, depending on your layout.
  • Schedule and do such a site review regularly.

You’re not making a good impression if your site is becoming stale after months of inactivity, and let’s not even talk about Google (who values fresh content as much as users do).

c. Consider offering an email newsletter

Email marketing is becoming huge these days. While everybody hates inbox clutter, getting unique and valuable content via email is always good. This is especially important if you have a photography blog. Sure, people can come to your site to check for new content (or subscribe to an RSS feed), but sending them content directly via email can be very effective.

Example 10 kenkaminesky newsletter

The people who subscribe to your mailing list are already targeted; they’re interested in your content to start with,
and want to see more of it. You can look into tools like MailChimp (free for up to 2000 subscribers) and follow their best practices for creating, and managing your mailing list.

5. People are searching more, not just exploring

Remember we mentioned impatience. With things happening so fast online, people expect to be able to search for content if they can’t find what they’re looking for in a few clicks. It comes down (again) to how you organize your site structure (and having clear site navigation), but it’s also about providing metadata and search options where appropriate:

a. Don’t ignore text content

Okay, you have a photography site, so it’s supposed to be image-heavy and visually impressive. The homepage is sometimes a good place to do that, but throughout the site, you need to also have quality text content to provide context.

Example 11 rosafrei metadata

We’re not even attacking this point from an SEO perspective. It’s important to your users that you describe every piece of content you have:

  • What are these images about? (IPTC captions and keywords displayed on the page).
  • What is this entire gallery about? (Gallery descriptions).
  • What is this page about? (On-page intro paragraphs, SEO titles and meta descriptions to help users when seeing search results).
  • What is this blog post about? (Text inside blog posts too, not just one image per post).
  • What is this entire site about? (Titles and descriptions once again, text on the About page, text on other pages describing your work/services).

b. Allow (and track) image searches on your site

Once again, this comes down to properly captioning and keywording your images, along with having an easy-to-find search functionality. This entire process is time-consuming, for sure, but you’ll reap the benefits in the long run. How you add all this searchable image IPTC metadata is also important and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Nobody will do a search on your site for “DSC0023”, so you need to provide real value to users that need to search, by describing your images for:

  • Abstract meanings.
  • Scientific names where appropriate.
  • Actual persons/locations/objects depicted in them< ./li>
  • More creative captions describing your process, experience, gear, etc.

Example 12 analytics site search

You can obviously write unlimited keywords for your images (sometimes overdoing it with all the possible synonyms), but it’s usually recommended to go for 10-20 keywords per image depending on the type of photography you do.

Once images are on your site and people are searching for them, be sure to also track those searches in Google Analytics to learn more about popular search queries (informing you about content demands). There are exceptions to this: simple portfolio websites (with just a small selection of best-of images) don’t really need a search functionality. For larger stock archives or anybody selling prints/licenses though, it’s a must.

If you have a popular blog on your site, a blog search option also comes in handy. Just make sure it doesn’t get into a fight for attention with the image search box – they need to be clearly separated. Choose whichever is most important to make prominent (like having an image search box in the header throughout the site, and a discreet blog search option in the blog sidebar only).

6. Search engines are looking at user satisfaction as a huge ranking factor

There’s obviously a huge buzz around SEO and how to rank higher for certain keywords. Google is always one step ahead, continually changing their algorithms to prevent any dishonest or spammy tactics. How do they do that? They constantly figure out how people make browsing choices, and turn those into ranking factors.

When writing SEO titles and meta descriptions, think about how they would look in search results, how to best encourage users to give you their clicks. Don’t just stuff them with keywords for Google’s sake.

Example 13 mariankraus

For every main page on your website, ask yourself:

  • What do people come to this page for?
  • Can users quickly find the information they’re after?
  • What would you want to see on this page if you came here for the first time?
  • Where should visitors go to after viewing this page?
  • What elements on the page are probably not useful to people?

This change in mindset is the one thing that can set you apart and differentiate your photo website. Sure, there are many SEO-specific actions you need to take care of, but you should always go above and beyond in providing value to people. Do that, and it will be impossible not to rank well in search engines.

7. Social media websites come and go

You probably can no longer build a successful business without some sort of social media presence. But you would be taking too many risks to only setup camp there, without building your own website. Social media companies can always get sold or shut down (acquisitions, natural life cycles, new competitors etc.), so you don’t really own your profiles there.

Whereas a website is an asset you can control, that you have copyright over. You’re interested in buying instead of just renting online real-estate. Social media sites are excellent marketing hubs, and they’ll always be there to drive business forward in one shape or another. But building your strong personal website should be the core of your focus.

With this in mind, it’s obviously important to leverage all the social media tools you have (by placing profile links and sharing buttons on your site). Use them as much as you want, just don’t rely solely on them, it’s more important to build your own online presence.

8. Web platforms and tools are maturing, and eCommerce is exploding

A lot of photographers these days are looking for hybrid solutions instead of having multiple separate sites. They want a place where they can blog, and showcase and sell their photos if they want. So it makes sense that some platforms are starting to offer that, and the days of having separate portfolio and blog sites are coming to an end.

Current established companies (like PhotoShelter or SmugMug) are getting strong competition from WordPress plugins like NextGen Gallery (with its Pro version) or WooCommerce (with its new Photography extension).

Example 14 scenicnh products

If you want to start selling prints/products, now is a good time. Since online sales keep growing, it’s natural to see many photographers shift (at least partially) from services to products, basically trying to build a passive income from their photography business. They do that through books, prints, courses, workshops, etc.

9. Design aesthetics are changing

Change is the only constant. I won’t recommend you use any particular flat design elements, any colors or layouts because those are just like fashion trends. They come and go.

What is here to stay is simplicity. I can’t imagine a time when having a cluttered header area (with 10-12 menu items, six social media links, a search box and a subscribe box, all crowded together) will be in fashion. A clean website is not about using big fonts or a lot of white. It’s about prioritizing your business goals and the elements on your site.

Applying this mindset to the number of galleries you feature on your homepage or the products and services you offer is important. When visitors have fewer and more clear choices to make, they have a better browsing experience and are more likely to trust your website and keep coming back for more.
Example 15 sebastienmerion

Conclusion

Along with part one of this article, this was an overview of the important web-design trends you should be aware of as a photographer.

Constant improvement is the only way to be successful with an online photography business. You know this to be true for your photo technique and composition skills (since you’re reading this on dPS, after all). The mindset can be applied to your online presence as well; it’s a continuous effort to get better and adapt to the industry.

Success does not depend on cool slideshows and flat designs. Sure, you have to make your photography website beautiful, and, therefore comply with the latest web design fashion trends sometimes, but not at the expense of helpfulness and clarity.

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The Future of Photography Websites – Understanding and Adapting to Trends

03 May

Right off the bat, this is not an article about what background colors to use, what plugins to install, or other shallow web design fashion trends. Focusing blindly on bells and whistles (flat design, parallax scrolling, full-width page layouts) won’t actually make your photo website better. Sure, it might make it pretty, but it won’t necessarily be effective.

Getting the bigger picture and understanding the WHY behind web design trends will make you better equipped to build a successful photography business.

Having worked on over two hundred photography websites in the past few years, I’ve developed an eye for all the details that make up a great photo website and have recognized some important mindset shifts. My aim with this article is to give you a good overview of where the web design industry is heading (as it relates to photography websites), and how you can stay ahead of the curve.

Focusing on trends that truly matter allows you to then provide real value to your audience.

Change is inevitable

Web design trends are just a result of an ever-changing landscape. That’s why building your photography website should not be considered a one-time effort. It’s your responsibility to keep an eye on the industry and adapt as you go along.

So, what is driving all the web design changes in the photography industry, and what can you do about it?

#1 – The sheer number of online users

The web design world is rapidly evolving in order to manage the Internet boom:

There were more than 3 billion (with a “b”) Internet users in 2014, representing 43% of the world’s population.

So if you think the Internet has grown in recent years, we have yet to reach the tipping point. Not to mention how fast and easy it is to create a new basic photo website these days, instead of just being a content consumer. Everybody is getting online, which is the obvious cause of many web design changes.

Let’s explore some strategies to differentiate your photo website and rise above the surface:

a) Choose a niche

When the market becomes over-saturated, you’re somewhat forced to specialize in a smaller niche and become an expert in it. Your target audience will be smaller, but you’ll also be a better fit for their needs.

Example 1 wildscenics

Niching down can usually be done through:

  • The type of photography you specialize in (instead of being a jack-of-all-trades).
  • The physical area you cover (only accepting clients from a certain city).
  • How you promote yourself online (blogging, publications, events etc.)

This also has a great impact on how you structure your website. Having a clear target audience in mind, allows you to craft your message and tailor your site’s landing pages better.

If a first-time visitor comes to your site and is greeted with 10+ galleries from completely separate photography domains, (s)he might start exploring some of them, but will surely be a little confused and ask “What is this photographer actually good at?”.

b) Differentiate yourself and show your personality

Besides having great images (which should be a constant focus in your career), your website is an important way to showcase your personality. Just like you’re trying to craft a unique style in your photos, you should also infuse your style into the way you build your website.

How do you do that?

Your words have a lot of power. What you write (and the tone you write in) can make a lot of difference:

  • Using your sense of humor in blog posts and your About page (within reason).
  • Having a good self-portrait (did you nail the right facial expression?).
  • Describe your work/services in a friendly manner.
  • Write about your experiences in your own words, as if you’re talking to a friend using natural language. Forget about SEO for now.

Example 2 patitucciphoto

Furthermore, it’s obviously not enough to use a great website template, thousands of other photographers might use the same one. The branding and design of your website are also important differentiators:

  • Defining who/what your audience is (to inform what site structure, colors and fonts to use).
  • Choosing whether to brand the site under your personal name or a business name.
  • The general mood created by the site (minimalist, strict and professional, very joyful, retro, dark and intriguing etc.)

To dive deeper into how you can infuse personality into your website, look no further than this excellent article from Smashing Magazine: The Personality Layer.

c) Use quality platforms and themes/templates

Using free blogging platforms like blogger.com or wordpress.com (not to be confused with the self-hosted software from wordpress.org), you get what you pay for. I don’t want to sound harsh, because they’re useful to many people, but they’re targeted at beginners, so you also let out that impression when using them.

Using the right platform (like wordpress.org for your blog and/or PhotoShelter, Smugmug, or Zenfolio for your portfolio or archive, to give a few examples) allows you to build your site under your own terms, with SEO advantages and more design flexibility. But then you also have to pay attention to the theme or template you’re using on these platforms. Choosing a weak one (and not even customizing it in any way) makes your site very similar to many other ones out there.

Even if you’re not in the position to hire a professional web designer or developer, or you’re just starting out, it’s important to do a little research first and choose a strong theme as the foundation for your site.

Example 3 ginamilicia

Website of our own Gina Milica – dPS writer and ebook author

If using WordPress, one of the best places to look for quality themes is ThemeForest (this link automatically filters for the term “photography” in the WordPress category, sorted by bestsellers and does not use any referral code).

Once you have a theme, it’s worth browsing the theme demo, reading its documentation, and getting acquainted with all the various layouts and options it has – they’re building blocks from which you can build your own WordPress-based website.

d) Learn to prioritize and simplify your website

You can tell a lot about a photographer’s personality from his website layout. Cluttered headers and overwhelming navigation can leave users confused and make them abandon the site (or at least browse to less important pages).
By letting go of clutter and focusing on quality over quantity, you can provide a better browsing experience for your users:

  • Provide simpler (and fewer) navigation options. Try to keep menu items around five to seven choice at most.
  • Any new piece of content should replace an older one, instead of just being crammed in there with all the existing content.
  • Leave the header area distraction free (that means: no big blocks of text, client logos or obtrusive subscribe boxes). Just your logo (linking to the homepage), main navigation items and maybe a couple of social media links.
  • Forget about only placing content above the fold (in the first few hundred pixels from the top). People scroll a lot these days (if the content is worth it). So leave some breathing room (whitespace) between elements – it adds legibility and creates a more modern and elegant look.
  • Choose one or two accent colors for the site and go with them, consistently, throughout the site.
  • Question the purpose of every element on your site: Is it distracting people from the main content? Would it be better placed somewhere else? Do you enjoy seeing/using similar elements on other websites?

Notice I did not mention minimalism in particular, or using the now-popular flat design elements. Prioritizing your content and focusing on a clean design are key ingredients to being more successful with your site.

e) Focus on your audience

Your photo website should obviously showcase your work and let your personality shine, but it shouldn’t be built around what YOU like (as the website owner). Instead, you should embark on the long process of defining your target audience and figuring out their likes and needs:

  • Read industry blogs (What shifts are there in the industry? What tools are popular these days?).
  • Get inspiration from other successful sites in your niche (How are other photographers writing to their audience?)
  • Continually get feedback from your readers/clients (Can you see some patterns in the contact messages you get from readers? Can you ask a few clients why they chose you?)
  • Understand the process a client goes through to find a photographer like you, and draw conclusions to inform your website copy and marketing efforts (Where do my target clients go looking for photographers? What are their most common questions and concerns?).
  • Think about what visitors on a page are most likely looking for, and make sure that’s front and center (Does a reader come to your About page to vaguely see if you’re passionate about photography, or in fact to quickly view your experience and location?)

Answering questions like this should, in time, create a strong new mindset for building a site that’s useful and appealing to your audience. What a great place to mention this quote from marketing expert Seth Godin:

“The only reason to build a website is to change someone. If you can’t tell me the change and you can’t tell me the someone, then you’re wasting your time.” – Seth Godin

Example 4 jasonmyers

2. High-speed internet is becoming the norm

The spread of broadband connections and mobile networks are changing the way we browse websites. No longer are people expecting to wait too long for a page to load, or to sit and read very long texts (except maybe for long-form articles like this one).

High-speed connections bring many benefits, but also impatience and superficiality (users not staying long enough on a site to dive deeper into a topic). This has a few important affects on the way you should build your online presence:

a) Make your website fast, people expect that

Google expects that too. Photography websites usually have a problem with site speed, due to the nature of the image-heavy pages which require more bandwidth and are slower to load. While using a quality hosting provider is obviously important, the three main performance factors are:

  • The quality of your theme or template (see notes above on this topic).
  • The content you add to the site – unless you’re selling prints or licenses, you should only upload lower-resolution images (at the size displayed by the template, usually no more than 800-1000 pixels on the longest side, maybe larger for home pages or slideshows). With some exceptions, JPG files at a 60-70% quality level is a good compromise (in order to keep file sizes low while maintaining acceptable image quality).
  • Page caching – using performance plugins like W3 Total Cache (and integrating with a CDN (Content Delivery Network) or enabling similar caching features on your platform) can greatly improve your site’s load speed.

Quality content comes first, but a big chunk of users leave your site if it takes too long to load. As technologies advance, this performance expectation will only get stronger.

Example 5 fineearthphotography

b) Make your pages easy to skim through

Make no mistake – with faster websites, users’ patience is also stretched thin. In this era of distractions and (false) multi-tasking, rarely do people sit for long periods of time on a single page. Even if they’re fond of your work, the social media feed in the other browser tab pulls them away from your site and back to their notifications. It is, therefore, important to create a smooth browsing experience:

  • Be brief – when writing blog posts or your biography text, try to stick to what matters and get to the point. Quality over quantity, again.
  • Showcase only your best images – having tens or hundreds of images in a slideshow will only dilute the visual impact, and you can’t really expect people to sit through all of it. Especially annoying are very similar variations of certain images. Unless it’s for a client project, show visitors a different thing, not the same subject shot from three different angles.
  • If you have many galleries, try grouping them into collections/categories. A user is more likely to choose from five categories and dive deeper into sub-galleries, instead of choosing from 30 galleries right from the start. It’s the jam experiment all over again.
  • Properly format your text – you can increase legibility by breaking texts into paragraphs with spacing, highlighting important sentences/words and using headlines and sub-headlines. Notice how this article is quite long, yet (hopefully) easy to skim through with all the sub-headlines and bullet points.

c) Have a clear site navigation, people want to quickly jump from one thing to another

Since people are so distracted these days, you might be thinking of grabbing their attention and making them stay on your site longer. But this can be done in both good and bad ways. You can either use annoying pop-ups and write bombastic words to trick them into staying, or you can instead create a clean and simple website that’s a joy to use.

When you visit a website and can quickly find what you’re looking for, you’re a happy reader and more likely to go there again. Don’t you also feel the same way when shopping in a neatly organized store? Whereas on websites where you’re wasting time searching or navigating, your frustration level might prevent you from ever going there again.

What are the main ways to create a great website experience, you ask?

  • Once again, simplify your navigation – I’m not saying to just have three or four menu items, because that might actually create even more work for the reader to dig out your other pages. Just try to place your important site areas in the navigation, and remove the rest. You can always link to your other less-important pages in other places.
  • Position the navigation consistently – people expect to find the menu in the same spot throughout the site. This is especially important for people with multiple/separate websites. When a visitor reaches your blog, can (s)he see the same menu items and in the same position? Or do they have to learn a new layout again? It’s not difficult, but it’s a hindrance.
  • Provide clear calls-to-action – when users reach the end of the page, where should they go next? Depending on the page, you can let them explore the main menu on their own, or you can guide their actions by having buttons linking to where you want them to browse next (or subscribe to something, or leave you a contact message).

Example 6 paleyphoto

Conclusion

The web design industry is evolving. It’s heading towards clarity and simplification, forced by the expanding number of websites out there.

There are many other aspects to take into consideration (the rise of mobile devices, higher content consumption rates, new browsing habits, SEO and social media implications, and many more), but they’re the topic of a future article here on dPS.

If you closely read all the points above, you’ll spot the common thread; helping your readers and always asking yourself how to make things better for them.

Focusing more on the quality of your work and on providing an honest and friendly browsing experience to your readers can go a long way.

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Maternity Photography: Hot Pregnancy Trends

30 Apr

Isn’t it a wonder to see a new life being created inside you? It’s a miraculous tiny little being living in your belly for nine months, must be a terrific feeling to be living with! Many women say, pregnancy is a wonderful time that every woman must go through, and these days capturing this priceless time in good photos has Continue Reading

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