My wife saves her photos on an Apple Macbook. Unfortunately, the Macbook doesn’t have an SD memory card slot, so she has to use a USB memory card reader to transfer photos to the Macbook. A little while ago, I bought her an Eye-Fi wireless 4GB memory card, so that she could transfer her photos without having to use the USB memory card reader.
While the Eye-Fi card is convenient, it does have some drawbacks. Unfortunately, transferring photos is a bit slow. Maybe it’s our wireless router that’s part of the problem; we only have a 802.11g router. Transferring movies can take forever. It’s not big deal; just leave the camera on, walk away, and let the files transfer over. The problem is that transferring files with the Eye-Fi card also drains the camera’s battery. Another issue is that you can’t automatically delete photos that have been transferred, so you have to go back and delete the photos on the SD card after the transfer. To me, this is a major inconvenience. Keep in mind that I purchased the low-end Eye-Fi, so some of the pricier Eye-Fi cards definitely have better features.
I really like Flickr, but I feel the site has become somewhat dated. There’s so much amazing content on Flickr, but the interface is so clunky. Scrolling through pages of small thumbnails is archaic. I’ve tried Cooliris, a plugin that definitely improves the photo browsing experience, but I still think the interface can further be improved. For example, rollover magnification, similar to that seen on the Apple launch dock, is a nice feature that makes a lot of sense when applied to photo browsing. Thumbnails should automatically magnify if you scroll over them.
To be fair, it’s not just Flickr that needs a makeover; Picasa, Smugmug, Lightroom, etc. can all improve their interfaces. My friend at Douzen is developing fast, dynamic user interfaces that incorporate such features into websites, as well as mobile devices.
Flickr designer, Timoni West, recently posted a nice critique of Flickr’s user interface. I really hope Flickr can quickly adapt to the rapidly changing online photography ecosystem. If not, Flickr may become the next Friendster, Myspace, etc. I guess being owned by Yahoo! is probably dragging down Flickr.
If you’re new to SLR photography and want to know how different settings (e.g. aperture, ISO, shutter speed, etc.) impact your photos, check out CameraSim. CameraSim is an online SLR simulator; just adjust the settings, hit the snap photo button, and you’ll see the results.
A good friend of mine started working at SugarSync a little while ago and suggested that I check the cloud storage service out. SugarSync is similar to Dropbox; both services allow you to save files online or “in the cloud” and share them. How are SugarSync and Dropbox different from Flickr and Picasa, which also allow you to upload photos and share them?
First, SugarSync and Dropbox don’t limit you to just photos. You can store any type of files online, including music. Second, the storage limits are much greater for users with free SugarSync and Dropbox accounts. SugarSync gives users 5 Gb and Dropbox gives you 2 Gb of free online storage. Compare that to Picasa, which only gives users 1 Gb of storage for free. Flickr only lets you see your most recent 200 photos. Lastly, SugarSync and Dropbox are geared towards sharing your photo (or files) with a small number of people (e.g. family and close friends), similar to Path. While Flickr and Picasa are much more socially driven.
Will SugarSync and Dropbox eventually replace Flickr and Picasa? Maybe in the future, but I don’t think so for now. The services really address different functions. Actually, I think the new cloud services really complement Flickr and Picasa. For example, you can sync some of your photos with Flickr or Facebook and share them with the world, while keeping the remaining ones on Dropbox for personal use. For a better comparison of the different services see Fairhead Creative.
So I decided to sell my Canon XSi and upgrade to a Sony NEX-3. I was able to get $440 for the XSi and kit lens on Craigslist. I used the cash to purchase a Sony NEX-3 twin lens kit on sale from DigitalRev for $662 (after shipping; no tax was charged since the store is located in Hong Kong). The two Sony lenses retail for $299 and $249, individually; so the dual lens kit seemed like a good deal. Sony has stopped manufacturing the NEX-3, so I guess that’s why it’s on sale.
As I mentioned previously, I was thinking about getting a smaller camera to lighten my load while traveling. While the NEX-3 is much smaller than the XSi, the Sony camera is loaded with features. The NEX-3 has a better slightly better sensor according to Snapsort and also has video capabilities, which the XSi does not. Unfortunately, there are few lenses available to the Sony; although that should improve over time. My friend had the Sony NEX-5 and convinced me to go with Sony. I won’t bore you with all the details about the camera. You can read in-depth reviews at DPReview and Cameralabs.
Sometimes you have to turn up the ISO in low light situations. Unfortunately at high ISOs, noise often becomes a problem. Commercial photography-editing software packages, such as Adobe’s Lightroom or Apple’s iPhoto, are capable of reducing noise. But if you can’t afford commercial software, consider downloading Neat Image. Neat Image is a plug-in for Photoshop, but a stand-alone application is also available. The demo version of the stand-alone application is free to use but has some limitations (e.g. save in JPG only).
I used Neat Image to reduce the high ISO noise on the following picture of our dinner at Quince Restaurant. As with many restaurants, the mood lighting made it hard to take a decent photo with with my wife’s Canon S95. The resulting image after noise reduction is still flawed. As one might expect, reducing noise also reduces detail. Nonetheless, the photo is still a little better than without noise reduction. Neat Image is relatively easy and quick to use and you can’t beat the price.
After finally upgrading my desktop PC, I’ve decided to revisit Adobe Lightroom. When I first tried Lightroom on my old PC, it was way too slow. So, I’m hoping that my new PC will resolve the performance issues.
As you may already know, I like using Picasa; it’s fast, simple, and free. I wanted to see how much better Lightroom is for post-processing vs. Picasa. I realize that comparing Lightroom to Picasa is akin to comparing a Porche 911 to a Volkswagen Beetle. That being said, Picasa is a reference point for me.
I used Picasa’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” button on the photo of Angkor Wat below (left). Then, I used Lightroom to adjust the same photo (right). Not surprisingly, the Lightroom photo looks better; there’s a lot more detail in the sky and in the shadows of the temple. Having control of Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light, Brightness, Contrast, etc. in Lightroom really makes a difference. You can adjust Fill Light, Highlights, Shadows, and Color Temperature in Picasa, but Lightroom gives you much more control, and its clipping indicators are very helpful. Unfortunately, it takes a lot more time to make adjustments to photos with Lightroom. A number of YouTube videos that teach you how to use Lightroom are available. AdobeTV and KelbyTV also have several tutorial videos online.
I know I’m just scratching the surface of Lightroom. I’m scared to think how much time it will take to learn all of the features and how to use them. Nonetheless, it’s hard to argue that the end result isn’t worth it.