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Taking hip shots at HIPA

March 19th, 2014

Today a great debate broke out on internet about the Grand winner of the HIPA awards, following the release of the $120,000-winning image by Chinese photographer Fuyang Zhou. Zhou, who does not read or write English according to our good friend ‘on the ground’ in Dubai Martin Grahame-Dunn, may be unaware of the accusations levelled at him.

Update March 21st: see comments. The controversy over whether the image has been Photoshopped has been added to as it turns out the image is from a staged ‘classroom’ set up for visiting photographers, and well-known to the Chinese photo community. However, charges are made and the funds raised do genuinely support eduction in the village involved. HIPA has subsequently issued a statement confirming examination of the raw files for the contest winners, and supporting the judges’ choice.

See this page: http://fangzhouzi.baijia.baidu.com/article/8259

The HIPA Awards like most today outlaw manipulation and alteration of images, though they seem quite happy with images showing powerfully manipulated structure and tones. What you are not supposed to do is Photoshop an image to add or remove elements.

Fuyang Zhou received his award on March 17th. By March 18th, versions of the winning image were appearing on-line, and on March 19th PetaPixel published a blog page about the possible Photoshop work apparently visible on the right arm of the teacher.

With prize money totaling $389,000, HIPA is the richest photography competition in the world, the Hamdan International Photography Awards (HIPA) were launched in 2011 by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai. Clearly they don’t want to fall into this kind of mess, along with criticism of the judging panel and random snipes at the photographer or the entire concept of the image.

The competition received more than 26,000 entries from 156 countries, including India, Indonesia, Brazil, Malaysia and the Russian Federation, as well as countries in the United Arab Emirates – but only one Grand Prize could be given of $120,000. The sheer level of this prize makes the controversy quite heated.

Grand_665_up21082-c5-p43638-19775-940x629

Here is the winning image.

Here is a clip from the 2000 x 3000 size original repro file issued by the awards press office:

hipa-winner-original

The claim is that the teacher’s chalking arm is Photoshopped in, and it’s true that the arm looks pretty odd. The teacher seems to have a brown cloth draped over his loose khaki coloured shirt sleeve, and we think this could be a rag or cloth used for erasing the chalk writing on the mud wall. It’s got a colour which matched the idea of rubbing that wall. After all, he must have a rag or eraser to be able to use the wall as a blackboard.

However, all kinds of experts have emerged to claim that the arm is anatomically impossible, the wrong position, the wrong angle, the wrong length, that the hand is the wrong size and so on. Photography is an odd art and the camera lens is not the human eye. It can catch actions and positions from angles we do not usually see.

In this case, the 24mm lens of Zhou’s Canon EOS 1D-X camera is clearly positioned just above the height of the table on the left, which appears to be waist height or a kneeling or squatting view. The teacher is being seen from below, not from eye level; the camera has been taken down to the height of these kids, who look to be five or six years old, when sitting. That’s one of the merits of the picture; the photographer has placed the camera at pupil height, so we see the classroom just as they do. The 24mm lens actually has the same focal length as the human eye, so regardless of its angle of view or format used, this lens always conveys a visual perspective matching our ‘live’ experience. From child height, the kids look big, the teacher looks tall but distant.

So, is the arm a physical impossibility?

To test this, I did the only thing I could. I set up a camera at what seems to be the right height, and stood (too close if anything) and shot with a 16mm lens on APS-C, draping some background over my shoulder and copying the teacher’s pose. I took a few shots with my hand holding the camera’s remote control in different positions (some were much too high, though it never seemed I was raising my hand above my head, in the shots it was well above head height due to the angle). I got one shot which was a very good match for the position of the hand on the body, the position of the writing arm, head and torso.

ghostwriter

All I wante to show was what I suspected – that the hand is not in an impossible position, the arm is not growing out of the wrong part of the body, and even if the sleeve and drapes in the original look decidedly strange once someone makes you look hard at them, they could actually be just a straight shot. I reserve judgment as I see some signs in the very poor quality press file of possible retouching. But by dropping my shot over the competition winner and ghosting the layer, it was easy enough to see what given the normal variations of human posture and build along with camera angle and lighting the original image is not necessary proven to be a Photoshopped composite with an arm added in the wrong place.

This is not my argument; unlike some, I like the picture. I like the tones, the light, and the story told. I can persuade myself to see it with an Eastern eye, and read it from my right to my left, even though the teacher is showing the children Western roman-based letters. We tend to forget that in Europe even the greatest Renaissance painters tended to put their light to the left of the picture, as we view it, and to compose allowing our eyes to start at the top left and wander across and down the image. They did this, as painters and photographers still do, because that is how we learn to read and how we scan a page. Arabic readers scan a page in the precisely the reverse direction left to right, and Chinese language-group readers may also be more used to reading in downward scans from the top.

The spread of English and other Western languages worldwide has made non-American, non-European photographers far more flexible in how they compose pictures, with a greater ability to ‘read’ from different directions across the frame. This picture brings the eye in from our right hand side to rest in the left hand darker area but naturally move back to the brighter subjects, and tends to keep you studying it as a result.

The theme of the competition was ‘Creating the Future’ and no-one can argue with the fit of this image to that theme.

Until a proper high-quality file larger than the 6 megapixel version issued is seen, it’s impossible to come to any conclusions. It is a fairly noisy ISO 3200 shot taken at 1/30th and f/4 with the 24mm Canon f/1.4 USM II lens. If retouching was used, there’s no apparent effect on the noise structure. Other may analyse the image and conclude either way.

blackchannel

This is the black (K) channel only from the released CMYK file. You can see the edge of the cloak or blanket, and the form of the cloth draped round outside the sleeve on the teacher’s arm. You can see the enlarged patten of the noise and other artefacts. Let’s hope the outcome of this debate is not skewed by knee-jerk reactions.

- David Kilpatrick

Nikon’s AW1 is set to make a splash…

September 19th, 2013

AW1SplashLogoVisible
How many outlets will use that original headline, I wonder, and what inspiration leads to it…

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Nikon’s D600 – FX goes Prosumer

September 13th, 2012

D600 with 24-85

Nikon announced the D600 at 5am today, confirming rumours which were beaten only by Apple’s iPhone 5 leaks for accuracy.

The 24Mp entrant seems to be part of ‘full-frame fever’ undoubtedly driven by Sony’s CMOS sensor development, pricing and more crucially, packaging the definitive 35mm format to appeal to mainstream consumers.

Despite a D3X matching resolution, the D600 is a very different sensor and package. Will this be the camera to push Nikon’s DSLR market share to over 50%?

The current DLSR line up at Nikon is quite striking, not only for capability but also the positioning, with a substantial gap between the highly-specified DX-crop D7000 and the 36Mp professional D800 bodies. The middle ground retains the D300s, almost identical in price to the D7000 but qualifying for Nikon Pro User status and now one of Nikon’s oldest DSLR bodies. The D600 fits at the upper end of that gap, with an SRP of £1955.99 in the UK for the body.

For that price, you get a tightly controlled feature set, a compact, lightweight body and sensor capabilities that exceed the state of the art just 2 years ago, when the D3X was in demand, in short supply, and retailing at over twice the D600′s figure. A quick launch-venue play suggests that the specified ISO range – peaking at 6400, rather than the D3X’s 1600 – is very usable. The body weighs only 760g, using a magnesium upper and rear body and offering similar weathersealing to the D800.

Advances in processing, video and OS make themselves felt instantly. FX and DX crop HD video recording with HDMI output for uncompressed streams and sophisticated audio monitoring, a base ISO range from 100 to 6400 extendable to 50 to 25,600, and in-body raw editing are all very compelling features regardless of resolution. The D600 manages 5.5-6fps in full-frame mode, and shoots to two UHS-1 SDHC cards.

The 100% viewfinder is bright and despite using the square, without blanking filter, window rather than the round type used on previous FX bodies seems very similar to the D800. The eyepoint may be a further slight reduction, but without detailed specifications that’s a hard one to call.

A true pentaprism is used – expected, perhaps, in a full-frame high-end body but fighting an increasing trend for electronic viewfinders.

A compact body presents a few ergonomic challenges, and Nikon have tackled the control interface with the experience you’d hope for after the clear new direction shown in the D4. Gentle slopes define the shutter release area, with joystick, function buttons and the standard buttons beside the 3.2″ screen (which features a clip-on protector). A mode wheel/drive wheel combination provides consumer-style selection of scene modes, with a drive wheel below including selection of the IR remote mode, which is supported by receivers on both the front and rear of the body as per the D7000.


Nevertheless the D600 is a consumer package. It’s a high-end one, but it carries a 1/4000th shutter, horizontal axis level only, consumer interface sockets (the compact remote/GPS port rather than the screw-in port of the pro bodies, and no PC-sync socket). Unlike the D800, the D600 has USB 2. At launch, it seemed that the WT4 wireless tethering solution was not supported, but some of the launch material suggests that it is supported, alongside the low cost WU-1b introduced specifically fort he D600.

The Android remote control application for the WU-1b (below) is already available; an iOS version will follow before the end of September 2012. It offers rather less control than Camera Control Pro, but does provide a live-view relay and release function.

That WU designation has been seen before, on the similar accessory for the determinedly consumer (and best-selling) D3200. It’s a wireless broadcast unit slightly more sophisticated than using an Eye-Fi card, and at £64 is almost a tenth of the SRP of the WT4. It sacrifices many of the camera control functions (though triggering is possible), and is mainly intended to transmit and share images via Android or iOS devices. It’s a shame that this split exists in Nikon’s line, as the WT4′s full-fat networking and storage solution is a lot for many studio photographers who would probably find the basic transfer/triggering of the WU-style units very useful on the pro bodies.

Cameracraft magazine

September 5th, 2012

One year ago we took the difficult decision to end the publication of Photoworld, though Photoclubalpha continues as an active and well supported site. dPhotoexpert, though a quiet site by comparison, was originally intended to be the companion website for a magazine called dPhotoexpert for which we did designs and content plans. But then along came literally dozens of how-to-Photoshop titles sitting on the supermarket magazine shelves, and we realised it just wouldn’t be much fun.

I’ve been missing making magazines with true editorial freedom for some time. So, a new quarterly – like Photoworld in quality, starting out with 44 pages and no advertising - is about to appear. The name is Cameracraft, harking back to the West Coast American title  (written as two words) which was published in the first half of the 20th century. That was Ansel Adams’s favourite mag. Maybe we will find the next Ansel Adams!

Cameracraft is an international magazine. Gary Friedman in Los Angeles is our US Associate Editor with a regular feature article. We’re looking for work of international interest, we have a small open picture gallery in each issue, and we are printing portfolios in classic style as an 8-page central section on heavier silk paper.

The first issue is scheduled for mailing before September 14th and has now gone to press. We will have a subscriber card, we plan a passworded private forum, and we offer optional magazine binders (fitting three years each). We plan to develop exclusive benefits for our readers in future. The subscriber card will be issued late 2012 and sent out with Issue 2 in December, once we’ve worked out a good way to ensure the right cards go to the right people…

        

Please take a look at the subscription page here:

http://www.iconpublications.com/cameracraft

On this page you will find a link to a downloadable PDF application form if you are interesting in subscribing and prefer not to use the Paypal payment method. At present the 3-year, 12-issue Cordex bookshelf binder is only offered on the webpage, but the address carrier sheet for the first issue has a form on the reverse for ordering. We expect to ship the binders mid to late October.

I hope you can join me on this new journey.

We’ve had comments along the lines that a 44-page magazine is too slim for a quarterly. Photoworld/Image was 36 pages, and in the last year or two, only 28. I have counted the editorial pages in magazines with 76 or 84 overall and find that most only have 44 (or so) with all the rest being advertising. We think it’s good value and if the readership grows we will take it as far as the printing and postage costs allow.

Best wishes - 

David Kilpatrick
Publisher and Editor, Icon Publications Ltd and Photoclubalpha 

Nikon D4 and Canon 5D MkIII video test clip

April 15th, 2012

These short clips are not intended to test all aspects of the cameras, of course. They are taken from a number of tests made with the cameras, and show some reasonable comparisons of quality.

41Mp compact – from Nokia!

February 27th, 2012

Once, Nokia were the largest camera manufacturer in the world. Pioneering the combined camera and smartphone market with for the time, sophisticated Symbian-based phones with Zeiss lenses. Such a short time ago, relatively, is an epoch in the technology industry and Android, combined with the sales success of Apple’s iPhone, has eroded the early gains made by Nokia and Sony with their camera-focused models. As such, in recent years Nokia has struggled to find a clear identity and sales – losing the iconic Communicator ranges, seemingly sidelining their own Symbian OS, and diversifying to the point where selecting a clear Nokia device can be hard.

This is set to change, with a pioneering new cameraphone. The 808 PureView carries a digital-camera threatening 41Mp sensor.

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Channel Islands VAT dodge to end in 2012

November 17th, 2011

The story below may not seem very important to photographers, but actually, it affects suppliers including 7DayShop, MyMemory, and indeed all the digital and photo processing companies who have used the Channel Islands VAT loopholes.

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The group of retailers campaigning against an industrial-scale offshore VAT avoidance scheme that has destroyed scores of viable, job-creating businesses and cost the UK taxpayer over a billion pounds, is winding down its campaign, having accomplished its mission.

From the 1st of April 2012, Low Value Consignment Relief (LVCR) will no longer be applicable to Channel Island goods entering the UK. LVCR – the exemption from VAT of goods valued below £18 (now £15) originating outside of the EU – had started life in 1983 as an innocuous administrative measure to relieve governments from the expense of collecting incidental amounts of VAT. But from the late 90s it mushroomed into a huge VAT avoidance ruse. Major retailers deliberately circulated UK goods via the Channel Islands – which happen to be outside of the EU for tax purposes – in order to take advantage of the import relief.

The result was a huge competitive distortion, creating a market where the major, even sole, determinant of success became not quality or customer service but ability to route via the Channel Islands and avoid tax.

The exploitation of LVCR also saw the rise of giant online retailers including Play.com and theHut, leading to the demise of UK high street chains like Zavvi and Fopp, but the storm hit the online sector in the UK the hardest.

RAVAS founder Richard Allen explained: “By 2010 there were no online retailers of CDs left on the mainland. Some of the high-street guys could survive because they offered an in-store experience that the offshore websites didn’t, but purely online folk like me who had to pay VAT didn’t have a prayer.”

The impetus for RAVAS began in 2005 when online retailer Mr Allen became concerned at the impact of the abuse of LVCR on his specialist mail order music company, which had been very successful up to that point. By 2006, with the move of HMV’s online operation to Guernsey to compete with Play.com, it became apparent that the level of LVCR use was about to escalate. By 2007 only VAT avoiding businesses could compete in online music retail.

Having been forced, like many other UK music retailers, to close his business and lay off UK staff, Allen began a campaign to end the abuse of LVCR. With help from the Forum of Private Business, including its former Brussels representative Martin Smith, Mr Allen submitted a complaint to the European Commission, focusing on wording in the original LVCR Directive showing that member states had a duty to crack down on avoidance or abuse resulting from LVCR. He was supported by retailers from many different sectors affected by LVCR abuse, including horticulture, cosmetics, computer peripherals, and gifts.

The website www.vatloophole.co.uk became a focus for the group, who eventually managed to make the EU and the new coalition Government realise the true scale of the abuse of LVCR in The Channel Islands. Whilst the Labour administration had completely ignored his campaign, George Osborne responded sympathetically to Mr Allen’s case.

In the UK Budget for 2011 Osborne announced that the government would work with the European Commission to find a way to halt the abuse of LVCR via the Channel Islands. The final instalment of these measures is the complete removal of LVCR from all goods entering the UK from the Channel Islands as of the 1st of April 2012.

Richard Allen said: “When we first initiated the complaint the odds were not exactly stacked in our favour. Many of the people affected had already gone out of business and so we were not a strong voice. We had no money to put into hiring expensive consultants or lawyers, but we argued our case directly with the conviction that we were in the right.

“After four years of communication with the commission, the submission of large amounts of factual data on the ongoing LVCR trade and a meeting with officials, the EU finally ruled that this practice was an abuse of the relief and a barrier to trade. We understand that the Commission has had lengthy discussions with the UK Government to put in place legal measures to prevent the abuse. Whilst it took a long time and huge amount of work the success of RAVAS is living proof not only that the EU complaints system works, but also that anybody can overcome the odds and overturn an injustice if they have a fundamentally sound case and the persistence to argue it thoroughly. ”

Mr Allen and Mr Smith are now encouraging any individuals or businesses affected by faulty policy or anti-competitive behaviour to get in touch and share in the secrets of their success.

Phil McCabe, Senior Policy Adviser at the Forum of Private Business, said: “This VAT loophole has been routinely abused by most of the UK’s large retailers for far too long and the Government’s decision to finally end it is good news for the vast majority of small traders across the UK.

“Allowing these large companies to have a significant price advantage on a range of goods for decades has caused a great deal of damage to high street shops and small online outlets. Many have closed – but others that are left have now been a fighting chance.

“An industry owing its existence to a tax avoidance scheme that is anti-competitive and classed as tax abuse under EU law because it is being exploited for reasons utterly different from its original purpose as an administrative relief, is simply unsustainable. Good riddance to it.

“RAVAS should be applauded for its continued courage, commitment and determination in bringing this damaging trade to an end, particularly by taking the complaint to the EU.”

Master Photography Awards – merits video

October 5th, 2011

You can now watch a low resolution, 33-minute video of the original HD1080p movie slide show produced from all the 550-plus merits awarded for the 2011 Master Photography Awards.

From these merits, the Awards of Excellence and the category winners, the International Master Photographer of the Year, the UK/European/World Portfolio winners, and the UK and Overseas Best Image of the Year have been chosen and will be unveiled at the awards dinner on Sunday October 9th.

The dinner takes place at the Hilton Newcastle-Gateshead hotel on the south bank of the Tyne. To attend the event, call MPA on (+44)(0)1325 356555 – dinner tickets are still available. There will be a Hasselblad Broncolor studio for hands-on demonstration during the day, and the awards will be shown as an exhibition of over 40 large display panels.

The music for the video is from the two CDs of royalty-free soundtrack for use by professional photographers in their own client presentations and DVD delivery, commissioned from an independent composer-producer and available from the MPA shop.

EISA Awards 2011-2012

August 15th, 2011

So far three photographic products have been announced for EISA Awards – as announcements continue to come in, we’ll update this post.

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Mapping the planes

July 20th, 2011

Samsung has a patent and a plan for using two lenses with triangulation (image offset) depth detection between two images in what is roughly a stereo pair. Here’s a link:

http://www.photographybay.com/2011/07/19/samsung-working-on-dslr-like-bokeh-for-compact-cameras/

Pentax also have a system on the new Q range which takes more than one exposure, changes the focus point between them, and uses this to evaluate the focus map and create bokeh-like effects. Or so the pre-launch claims for this system indicate, though the process is not described. It’s almost certain to be a rapid multishot method, and it could equally well involve blending a sharp image with a defocused one.

In theory, the sweep panorama function of Sony and some other cameras can be used to do exactly the same thing – instead of creating a 3D 16:9 shot it could create a depth mapped focus effect in a single shot. 3D is possible with sweep pans by simply taking two frames from the multi-shot pan separated by a certain amount, so the lens positions for the frames are separated enough to be stereographic. 3D ‘moving’ pans (scrolling on the TV screen) can be compared to delaying the playback of the left eye view and shifting the position of subject detail to match the right. But like 16:9 pans, they are just two JPEGs.

All these methods including the Samsung concept can do something else which is not yet common – they can alter any other parameter, not just focus blur. They could for example change the colour balance or saturation so that the focused subject stands out against a monochrome scene, or so the background to a shot is made darker or lighter than the focused plane, or warmer in tone or cooler – etc. Blur is just a filter, in digital image terms. Think of all the filters available from watercolour or scraperboard effects to noise reduction, sharpening, blurring, tone mapping, masking – digital camera makers have already shown that the processors in their tiny cameras can handle such things pretty well.

Once a depth map exists there’s almost no limit to the manipulation possible. Samsung only scratches the surface by proposing this is used for the esoteric and popular bokeh enhancement (a peculiarly Japanese obsession which ended up going viral and infecting the entire world of images). I can easily image a distance-mapped filter turning your background scene into a Monet or a van Gogh, while applying a portrait skin smoothing process to your subjects.

Any camera with two lenses in stereo configuration should also, in theory, be able to focus using a completely different method to existing off-sensor AF – using the two lenses exactly like a rangefinder with two windows. So far this has not been implemented.

Way back – 40 years ago – I devised a rangefinder optical design under which you can see nothing at all at the focus point unless the lens was correctly focused. It works well enough for a single spot, the image detail being the usual double coincident effect when widely out of focus, but blacking out when nearly in focus and suddenly becoming visible only when focus is perfect. I had the idea of making a chequerboard pattern covering an entire image, so that the viewfinder would reveal the focused subject and blank out the rest of the scene, but a little work with a pencil and paper quickly shows why it wouldn’t work like that. The subject plane would have integrity, other planes would not all black out, they’d create an interestingly chaotic mess with phase-related black holes.

Samsung’s concept, in contrast, could isolate the subject entirely – almost as effectively as green screen techniques. It would be able to map the outline of a foreground subject like a newsreader by distance, instead of relying on the colour matte effect of green or blue screen technology. This would free film makers and TV studios from the restraints of chroma-keyed matting (not that you really want the newsreader wearing a green tie).

The sensitivity of the masking could be controlled by detecting the degree of matched image detail offset and its direction (the basic principle of stereographic 3D) – or perhaps more easily by detecting exactly coincident detail, in the focused plane. Photoshop’s snap-to for layers works by detecting a match and so do the stitching functions used for sweep and multi shot in-camera panorama assembly. Snap-to alignment of image data is a very mature function.

Just when you think digital photography has rung all the bells and blown all the whistles, the tones of an approaching caliope can be heard rolling down the river…

- David Kilpatrick