Wednesday, 30 December 2015

I hate landscape competitions...

I really,really hate landscape competitions.

Just when I thought I was getting the hang of competitions in general, along came the local societies Tom Tivey trophy for landscape and natural history photographs

This is a competition for the best natural history subjects. This sounds very specialist, but in fact coves a wide range of subjects. In fact it is easier to state which ones it does not cover than what it does, namely indor shots, domestic animals, portraits and errr, that it really.

This year I felt quite confident in my entries. Apart from some animal photos I had my infra-red photos from my converted camera that I was quite pleased with. This would be the first time I would be showing them in competition so I was interested to see the reaction, but I thought they looked great in print form.

However it was not to be. None of my entries got into the second pick.

I don't like to complain about the judging  (really!) and there is no doubt that judging is is not an easy gig. This time the judge did a good job of contrasting various images and showing how they could be improved, but one thing I did notice was that their picks were very conservative. Anything that was a bit left of center did not get far, while your standard landscape shots did well.

It was not only my shots that suffered in this way. A colleague had put in a great multiple exposure shot, but it got as far as my shots.

So maybe another day, another judge things might of gone better.

But that is not why I hate landscape competitions so much.

Unlike most other competitions, landscape and wildlife ones are skewed towards those who travel to the best locations and can afford the best equipment. While in other competitions you can offset these advantages with imagination, in this case it is difficult to compete against people who travel to far flung destinations or who can buy the fastest glass and have the time to use it.

Anyway below are my entries for you to judge yourself















Sunday, 27 December 2015

10 ways that you know your partner is a photographer



Is your partner disappearing out early in the morning without a word? Do they arrive late without explanation just after sunset? Do they disappear into their office regularly and spend long periods on the internet?

OK, maybe they are having an an affair. But more worryingly, maybe your partner is turning into a photographer.

Here are the key signs.....

1. You come home to find flowers. However you realise they are not for you, but for a photo project they have in mind.

2. On holiday they suggest going for a walk... 1 hour before sunrise.

3. Taking a family snapshot takes ages as they try different poses, angles and insist you wait because the light is just not right

4. You come back from holiday to find that they have not taken a single photo with you in it. Instead every photo is of the landscape and buildings, normally at weird angles.

5. A quick photo involves 30 minutes of manipulation via photoshop and lightroom.

6. A significant corner of the house consists of lenses, camera bodies, reflectors, hoods. Many of these have been used once, if at all.

7. You dread friends showing them holiday snapshots due to the unsolicited advice they will get about cropping, angles, artifacts  to be cloned out etc.

8. You lend them your simple camera to take a shot and when it is returned it is setup in some weird mode which means every other image comes out blurred or over-exposed.

 9. Family holidays will be based on photographic opportunities rather than beach access.

10. When going on holiday, half the airport luggage weight allowance is  taken up with tripods and lenses, most of which will return unused.

The Sony A6000 - A review

Disclaimer

This review has taken over 6 months. Partly I underestimated the time required to do a review full justice, but mainly each time I have used the camera, my opinion has changed. Of course I am aware that the longer time that I have spent writing this, the less relevant it has become, butt hey,ho.

However the A6000 is still sold and therefore some relevance. Also some of the points below also apply to the A6300.

So here finally is my review.....

The Review




To say that I vacillated about getting a new camera would be a major understatement.

My present Sony A-37 camera is a bit like an old Labrador, it's been a faithful companion, but nowadays it sometimes struggles to go where I want it to go, and its weight means that I don't take it out as much as I should.

While I initially considered an upgrade to another DSLR such as the  A77mkII, my experiments and fun with IR photography had convinced me my next camera would be of the mirrorless variety.

And as always  there is the budget to consider. While I would of loved a A7RII (or even a A7SII), the body cost and more importantly the cost of the type of lenses that would  do the camera justice meant that this was not an option.

I therefore considered a number of options, including cameras by Olympus, Fuji and Panasonic. The Fuji X-E2 was very tempting and I have seen people get great results, but Fuji's retro for retro sake styling I find off putting.

So finally in a moment of weakness, I pulled the trigger just before Christmas and got myself the A6000, which came with the standard kit lens

Of course as usually happens when I buy a camera, a month down the line and Sony announced the A6300. Fortunately however  (in terms of temptation) it is about twice the price of the A6000, so I did not feel I lost out.

This does mean however that I am now reviewing 'old' technology. However since Sony seem to be determined to keep the A6000 around as the budget option, I feel this review is still valid.

First Impressions

 

The first thing you notice when you pick up the A6000 is it's size.

My DSLR is not the largest in its canon(sic), but it still feels huge compared to the A6000. While The size and weight difference is small, I really noticed how much easier it was to carry around. Also unlike a DSLR, you do not feel like you stand out in a crowd and is more discreet at social occasions.



It also feels nice and solid, and that it could take a few bumps or scrapes. Despite its small size however, its feels secure in hand. However I can also see when mated to a large lens, it could feel unbalanced and unwieldy.

The battery and SD card are placed together on the left of the camera. The SD card is fiddly to get in and out, and could of been better placed. One bonus is that the battery is the same type as my other Sony camera, so allowing me to use my spare batteries and the same external charger. This is just as well, since no external charger is provided, although the camera can be charged via a USB socket.

However my usual routine is to to have one battery always on charge, so I find a external charger essential. This is even more essential for the A6000 due to its battery life.

My original plan was to have this camera in the car, enabling me to take all those great pictures that I have been missing on my  way to work (both real and imagined ). However when I first tried this the battery was totally flat even though the camera had been off in the meantime. Other people have noticed this as well and it appears that the camera can consume battery charge even when in the off position.

This means that I now carry at least one spare battery at all times. More frustratingly the power drain appears to be unpredictable. Sometimes I have turned the camera on to see 90% charge left, then next turn it on to find the camera dead. My DSLR also has a EVF, but I find I with the kind of usage that means the DSLR battery will last a whole week, the A6000 will only last 2 day, so basically it uis a bit of a power hog.

The EVF is on the left hand side of the camera, rather than the center like my DSLR. There are plus and minuses here. As long as your right eye is OK, its a good location and I had no issues adapting to it. While it may not be  the sharpest EVF out there, it is perfectly clear and provides all the information you need. I especially like the 'dancing dots' in continuous auto focus mode. I have had no chance to test what the lag is between the view in the EVF and the real world.

The LCD screen, while not fully articulated, can be pulled out for low and high shots and is certainly a lot clearer than my A-37(but then again so is a muddy pond)

However It does not have a touch screen functionality. Why Sony, makers of mobiles and tablets, seem to have such an aversion to touchscreens on their cameras is baffling. While I do not believe that touchscreens are the  panacea to all user interface ills, there are still some situations where it makes a lot of sense. Not only that, but touch screen technology is mature and would add little cost to the camera

The instruction manual is typical Sony affair. You do not get a much more than a simple book in about 30 languages that tell you how to install the battery and memory card and little else. For a more complete manual you need to download a PDF and, if like me, you struggle to read electronic documents, you will need to print it off which will take a while.

The manual however provides little more than how to find and use the functionality, and you would be forgiven in thinking the authors were describing the controls for an air conditioning system rather than a camera. If you want to have a better understanding of the camera, i would recommend buying one of the books by Gary Friedman or Gary Fong. In fact I don't know why Sony bothers with the manuals at all. They should just provide a discount voucher for the books on Amazon or even better give the book away free with the camera.

The Kit and other lenses

 

The standard kit lens (16-50mm 3.5-5.6) has, let us say, mixed reviews. Some say its fine while others have complained about its poor optical quality.

I can see both points of view

Its size when the camera is off means that the cameras is very portable. However while it is fine for landscapes or portraits, I found the maximum zoom a little limiting.

While in good light it fine, it is not a particularly fast lens with a maximum aperture of f3.5. This is par for the course for kit lenses, but you feel that the camera is being held back by the lens, a bit like putting a tractor engine in a Ferrari.

The lens is also a power zoom, which means that zoom is controlled electronically rather than manually twisting the lens. The last time I had a power zoom was on my old Minolta film camera and personally I am not a great fan because it feels like you have lost that direct connection between you and the camera.

It also means that you have to use a electronic focus control in manual focus mode. This is equally fiddly and is slower and harder  to control than a manual control. While power zoom is no doubt a boon for video photography, I don't feel the extra cost and complication of power zoom has any advantage for still photography and would of preferred manual controls.

So what about the quality of lens itself?

One should not expect too much from a kit lens, however when used in RAW mode, I don't think I have ever seen a lens with so much vignetting in the corner. While this can be corrected in RAW processing or in camera when taking JPEGs, it does not give you an lot of confidence in the lens.

One more thing about the lens. It has the smallest lens cap I have ever seen on a camera. It is so small that when I stick it in my pocket I often mistake it for a £2 coin. It is a lens cap begging to be lost and it is a pity that Sony could not have made it with a permanently attached lens cap.

After using the kit lens for a while you will be certain to want to add to your lens collection. After all this is one of the important advantages over a fixed lens camera.

My 1st new lens was the Sony 55-210mm zoom at the NEC photography show(word of advice, always leave your credit card at home for this reason). It is reasonable priced and is just about compliments the kit lens. However for a while i struggled with it. Again it is not the fastest lens, at a maximum aperture of F4.5 and is a bit short for wildlife work. Carrying it reduces the portability benefits of the camera. However I did find a niche where it worked very well and that was street photography where you wanted to take shots of your subject without disturbing them.

My only other lens is a 30mm sigma prime, which was a steal 2nd hand. This is relatively fast at F2.8 and at a equivalent  APC-C focal length of 45mm is a good portrait lens. In truth however I would like a wider prime and may well get the equivalent 19mm if possible.

Unfortunately however this is where the issues begin. The choice of native lenses for the Sony E-Mount is not good. For example there is no obvious extra wide angle choice, macro lenses are rare. Even a well priced super-zoom is difficult to find. Yes you can get an adapter to fit A-Series glass, but this in no real substitute for native glass.

Yes there are some great lenses for E-Mount, but there are not many and will cost as much as the camera plus kit lens itself.  Compare this to the huge range of Olympus and Fuji lenses and its not hard to feel a little inadequate and constrained


Ergonomics

 

The ergonomics of a camera defines how easy it is to pick up and use. It is what you notice first when you pick a camera up, and can make a huge difference in your level of enjoyment.

The A6000 ergonomics can only be rated as adequate, and could  of been so much better in a number of ways. Unfortunately this appears to be a common Sony trait with their cameras.

Menus

 

A lot of people complain about the Sony menu system. I have little to compare it with, but because they are very similar to my DSLR, I find them logically laid out and found my way around pretty quickly.

However 'logically' laid out is a bit of a back-handed compliment.Cameras should confirm to a photographers needs, not the system designer and I often wonder at what point Sony actually involves actual photographers in their design process.

90% of users will use only 10% of the functions, so these should be prioritized. However this would not be so bad if there was some way  to customize the menus allowing the most useful functions to be placed on one page. However Sony designers don't seem to understand why you would want to do that,

The other problem with Sony user interface is that using it you are too often forced to break the control cycle. The control cycle consists of the actions people do when they are trying to do an operation. This consists of working out what how to achieve, doing it and then assessing the feedback to see if they have achieved it. Any break in that cycle is frustrating, and Sony unfortunately does that a lot

For example, if you take a bracketed shot, the camera will lock you out of changing the shot mode until it has finished processing the images. What would be better would be for the camera to accept the change in mode, but only allow you to retake images when the processing is complete. The way Sony have implemented it means you have to keep going back to the menu to see if you can change modes.

There are also some weird decisions however. For example, Eye detect is hidden in a weird custom menu rather than adding it to the face detect menu.
 
Also a lot of functionality found in other similar cameras is missing. For example you cannot set minimum exposure and maximum exposure for Auto ISO. The camera has a tendency to go to maximum (and noisy) ISO far too readily, when a reduction in shutter speed would be more appropriate.

One other issue that has often frustrated me is that there seems to be no option to only allow you to take a photo only when focus is locked. This is especially important when  close to a subject, meaning you need to watch the green focus lines rather than relying on the camera to stop you taking blurry images.

Many of these faults could be fixed with relative minor software changes. However Sony don't seem to like to add new functionality into firmware releases, preferring to bundle new features into paid for apps. This compares poorly to other manufacturers such as Fuji, who seem far more willing to support legacy cameras by adding new and improved features.

Controls


The A6000 provides two types of physical controls for user input. There is the main control dial for mode selection, then a thumb wheel to select things like speed and aperture, depending what mode you are in. Additionally there is a 4 way switch/rotating dial to select other things such as ISO. The usage of this dial is customisable. Additionally there are two buttons that again can be customized.

Finding the thumb wheel tales a little getting used to. It is smooth and recessed. I would of preferred the dial to be on the front like  DSLR. Additionally two such dials , one on either side of the camera would of made more sense and improved usability.

Also 2 customisable buttons does not feel enough. I would of liked to see at least 4(Focus type, Exposure, App Selection, EVF selection).

This lack of customization is not helped by the lack of any other types of control on the camera. Probably the most annoying is the lack of a dedicated manual focus button. To get manual focus you have to dig into the menu. In most situations you will want to switch between manual and auto focus when trying top lock onto difficult subjects and this makes it particularly difficult.

Compared to the controls on a Fuji or Olympus camera, the physical controls feel parsimonious. Add the lack of a touch screen and you will find yourself hunting via menus far more than you would like.

Apps

 

One of the things that attracted me to the A6000 was the ability to extend the camera via apps.

There a number available, some free and some for purchase. I downloaded Smooth reflection, Bracket Pro and multiple exposure.  Of those I have used Smooth reflection and multiple exposure to various levels of success.

Smooth reflection takes multiple shots and merges them to smooth out running water, etc. This works well enough, but you need to be mounted on a tripod and as with the majority of apps only works in JPEG.

Taken using smooth reflection


Multiple exposure allows you to combine two shots in a number of ways. This is a mode I have missed on my other camera and being impressed by the work of artists like Christoffer Relander I was looking forward to trying it.

However it is poorly implemented. One problem is that the images must be taken in succession, so you cannot combine a present image with one taken earlier in the day and so restricts its usefulness. Another annoying omission is the ability to create horizontal reflections. It will also only merge with one image, and does not work in RAW made.

While the use of apps is useful in allowing the camera functionality to be extended like your mobile phone, some of the features should of really been provided by the manufacturer as standard rather than make you pay for it after. For example the focus bracketing mode of bracket pro.

However the biggest issue is the way apps have been implemented. They are stored in a separate menu section,  meaning to use them you have to break your control flow. Just as bad is that once you have to remember to disable them via the same method. It would of been better the app extended the control or menus so they seamlessly added functionality.

In consequence while the theory of apps is good, Sony's implementation is lacking. The user interface is clunky and inconsistent. You lose a lot of control over the image such as ISO, etc and they only work in JPEG. Some of the features, such as double exposure are provided for free in other camera makes in a neater way.

The worse criticism however is that it  shows how many things Sony could add with a simple firmware change,  but refuse to do so, forcing users instead to pay for additional features.



Performance

 

At the end of the day, a camera stands and falls by the images it takes.

To be honest it has taken me a little while to get to grips with the camera. Even now it does not feel comfortable in my hands.

One of my hopes with the camera was that it would be more capable in low light than my DSLR.

It does,  to certain extent, but perhaps not to the level I had hoped. While the noise with my DSLR starts becoming noticible at 400 ISO, the A6000 I can push to 800 before it gets too bad. Unfortunately the slowness of the kit lens mean that indoors I have to push it more than I would like. Again we are not helped by an over eager Auto ISO which will push the ISO all the way to 3600 rather than reduce the speed a bit.

One of the advertised features of the camera is the speed of the focus.

While it is undoubtedly fast, I did find that I could not always be confident of where it was focusing. This means you always need to be aware of the focus indications in the range finder. One really big annoyance is that it will take an images even when not in focus. This is particularly onerous when taking close ups. If you get too close and do not watch the focus indicator you will end up with a lot of blurred images. Also I found I could not always be confident of achieving focus lock of what I wanted, with a few blurred images from when the camera had focused on god knows what.

Certainly when it gets it right the images can be great, but this is a camera that you have to work harder than you should  to ensure you get the best results.

One feature that is great however is the bracketing. It is easy to fire off 3 or 5 bracketed shots in the blink of an eye. This means that you can then generate HDR images post processing, even hand held in most situations.(The camera has a HDR function, but again that only works in JPEG mode)

The extra resolution of the sensor also means that I can crop far more than my DSLR and still retain some sharpness. That combined the the greater noise in-variance mans it can be more forgiving a camera in tough lighting such as indoors.

Conclusion


So what is my overall opinion of this camera?

Each time I come back to this blog post, my conclusion has changed based on how I have used the camera and come to terms with its strengths and weaknesses. Ask me tomorrow and I will probably give you another opinion. One I have noticed since I bought the camera is that generally it is my "goto" camera when I am go out, unless I am doing birding or require a large wide angle lens.  Its size and weight make carrying it a breeze.

Let us also state that for this price point there is nothing  really that will touch this camera. The equivalent Fuji is about the same price, but you only get the body. Sony new A6300 in contrast is over 50% more expensive. Others cameras at this price point come without key features such as a viewfinder.

So if you want a compact camera with interchangeable lenses and a viewfinder at a bargain price this is the only game in town. No surprise then that it is one of Sony's best sellers.

It also provides a great package in a small size.  It is a camera that will, with a bit of effort, get you great images in most conditions. It is especially good in situations where a DSLR is just too bulky or obvious. For example I found it a great camera to take images at social events where a DSLR would just be too obvious.

If you are already a Sony DSLR owner. the case for it is even stronger with the ability to re-use A-series lenses (via an adapter).

But( and there is always a but)....

While this is a camera that deserves respect,it will probably never garner the same level of love and loyalty in the same way that Olympus and Fuji owners lover their cameras.

This is due, in part,  to Sony being primarily a technology company. Unlike the aforementioned camera companies, Sony designers just don't seem to get the psychology of photographers.  Cameras can be a very personal object, however Sony treats camera design like any other technology item such as a TV.

The most frustrating thing however is that this could of been, with a few additions and changes, a great camera rather than just very good.

So whats the difference between good and great devices?

All great designs allow you to interact with them in a natural way such that they almost becomes a extension of your body. The controls and menus of the A6000 just don't do that and get in the way at regular intervals. Still now I not felt really comfortable using the camera. Too often has the user interface got in the way of what I'm trying to do. These are little things but they add up  and will consistently frustrate you.

That is not to say that I feel the retro feel of Sony and Olympus camera are the way to design cameras, but I feel Sony have pushed to far in the other direction by giving too few physical controls, poor menu layout and lack of customization.

Also the controls that do exist, are not always placed in the best position. Controls like the main control dial feels in the wrong place and too often I mistake it for the main mode wheel. This is also a camera that could do with  a second dedicated control wheel

The control I really miss however is the manual focus switch. Having to go through 3 button presses to enable manual focus is ludicrous. I could program a button to do this, but with only two custom buttons to play with, I have quickly run out of options (the A6300 does sport a manual focus button meaning Sony does sometimes learn from its users)

Sony could also help themselves by allowing the customization  of menus to allow users to pare down the menu system to the critical items.

Then there is the lack of touch screen.

Why Sony, maker of tablets and mobile phones, do not provide touch screen functionality is one of the enduring mysteries in camera design and are now probably the only major camera manufacturer who do not provide touch screens on at least some of there camera line up. .

Apps

 

One of the big selling points for me with this camera was the ability to add functionality via apps.
However the implementation by Sony is poor, making them clunky and less useful than they should be.

Also a lot of the functionality should of been by rights part of the standard  camera. You get the impression that Sony have deliberately left some of these features out, so they can extract money from you later via paid applications.

For example, In Camera MultiExposure or ICM is one area that Sony cameras fall well behind equivalent Nikons. Apps could of narrowed the gap, but the fact it does not and in fact emphasizes the lack of functionality is a damning indictment of Sony's app system. All this at extra cost too!

This highlights another issue that Sony just don't support older cameras as well as other manufacturers. For example Fuji will update firmware to add and extend functionality. Sony only do it to add lens support and fix bugs.

Lenses

 

All lens design is compromise.  For example a fast lens, needs larger glass, which makes it heavier.

Therefore you should not expect too much from a kit lens, which was clearly designed by Sony to create a zoom lens with a small a footprint as possible. This makes the camera look more akin to a bridge camera than one which has interchangeable lens. However such design compromises has a effect on the lens quality.

In good light it will do a decent job, but it doesn't really do the camera justice. On the plus side it does make the camera portable, but I would be willing to sacrifice some of that portability for longer zoom and a wider aperture.

Sony have a bigger issue with there overall lens range. It is only after when you start looking for a something that will replace the kit lens with something with greater reach and/or a little faster that you realise the paucity of reasonable priced choices.

What I would really like is reasonable priced super zoom to replace the kit lens with something of longer range. However there is little choice in this type of lens. The SELP18105G is the closest you will get, but will cost as much as the camera.

Final thoughts

 

In the DPReview review of the new A6300, the reviewer cited 2 major concerns of a otherwise fantastic camera which are the  user interface and lens choice.

Unsurprisingly the Sony A6000 suffers from those as well. While lens choice is something that may get fixed in time, the user interface is totally under Sony control.

It is strange then, that Sony seem to be blind to the issues.

Sony really need to take a step back and reconsider how people interact with cameras. The lack of a touch screen these days is an amazing omission and makes the camera stand out like a sore thumb. Why Sony, makers of tablets and mobile phones, find it so hard to see this is frankly a symptom of the malaise in Sony's design process.

What was most disappointing was the apps. The way they are implemented means that rather than extending the camera functionality, they often inhibit it.

This is disappointing, because there is a lot to admire about this camera, but it could of been so much better.

Some example images taken with my A6000...










Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Nostradamus returneth...



In December 2014, a bit like Nostradamus (but without the world ending predictions), I stuck my neck out and made my predictions on how camera technology will evolve over the next 12 months.

12 months on it is time to pay the piper and see how well my predictions compared to reality.

So here is my review of last years predictions.

1. Mirror-less cameras will continue to make in-roads into the professional market, taking market share from DSLR's, even at the top end.

Score: 8/10

This year we saw a never ending stream of high-end mirrorless cameras from Fujifilm, Panasonic, Sony, and Leica (of all people). It would seem at first glance therefore that I was spot on with this prediction.

For example, lets take the Sony A7R II.

 It is hard to remember another camera for which there had been so much hype about before it came out.  As a result, it was perhaps not surprising that in the end the camera could not meet all those inflated expectations.

Despite gap between the hype and the reality, there is no doubt that the A7R II  is a fine camera, and may well point the way forward in future camera design. On the other hand it still suffers from some of the issues seen in most mirrorless cameras. For example, while auto-focus technology has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, in some areas it still cannot compete with a DSLR. Take fast moving objects coming toward the camera. Even the best mirrorless cameras still struggle to keep up with the best DSLR's. However saying that in virtually all other photo tasks the A7RII  matches or beats comparable DSLR's, while doing so in a smaller, lighter and more convenient package.

So why only 8/10?

Well, the one thing I forgot to factor in, was that professionals are not the typical demographic who will pick up this kind of camera. They are not generally interested in the latest and greatest camera technology. For them what they want is 100% dependability, reliability and conformity. After all if their camera fails at the critical moment, they don't eat. Therefore they are a lot more conservative in what they use, sticking with the tried and trusted Canikon products.

Also to a pro, the quality and range of the glass is as important as the cameras bells and whistles. At the moment mirrorless is playing catch up with DSLR's in this respect. After all DSLR's have had 30 years or more to get the glass right.

However from purely anecdotal evidence I have seen, is the mirrorless cameras has been taken up by a lot of Pro-am photographers i.e people who take and sell photos, but it is not there main job. I have been to a number of lectures where they have said they have moved to mirrorless, if not for any other reason, than the size and weight convenience.

These kind of people can afford the risk of being early adopters and can reap the rewards of any new technology, without worrying if things do not work out.

So what needs to happen for mirrorless to take over the rest of the world?

Firstly the range of lenses need to be increased. A lot of lenses for DSLR's have their roots all the way back to the film days, so it is perhaps not a great surprise that the range for mirrorless lenses do not have the same range of lenses. Sony made a smart move by providing adapters to for Canon lenses on the A7 range, but people still prefer native lenses if they can.

Secondly, they need to add more pro features such as dual SD slots. These are things taht matter little to occasional photographers, but are essential in ensuring the clients shot are not lost.

Finally revolutions do not happen overnight. They are gradual processes until a tipping point is reached, when suddenly everything changes quickly. The technology compared to DSLR's is still in it's infancy, but is evolving fast. After all the DSLR format has been around for a long time and any adoption of new technology always has a inherent inertia. However as more photographers grow up using with mirrorless cameras that will change.

Not only that, but I feel the smart phone generation want something different from their cameras. They are not so interested in EVF vs OVF debates. They use a EVF all the time from their phones. What they want is camera that is flexible and connected to the outside world.

So the world is changing, but we still a little way from the mirrorless future.



2. Nikon and Canon will produce their 1st full frame mirror-less cameras. Nikon's especially will not gain much market share due to commercially driven design compromises.

Score: 0/10

I was sure this would be the year that Canikon would try and compete against Sony in the FF mirrorless arena. To do nothing would mean watching Sony eat their lunch, and surely the two camera market leaders could not allow that to happen.

But Canon and Nikon have done little to react this year, apart from hinting more to come in the future.

What was more worrying for Canikon fans is that the they did little even with their non-FF mirrorless offerings to show much hope that they were taking the challenge seriously.

Canon produced the M3, which was so outstanding, that for a while they could not be bothered to sell it in the majority of the world; almost as if they were embarrassed to show it. Nikon have persisted with the J1 range. While this has some nice features, it size of sensor precludes it use in low light situations.

So what's going on?

Well maybe Canon and Nikon are keeping their powder dry till they can produce something world beating. However Sony's aggressive release cycle has shown that this is a fast moving target and there is a danger that in doing so they will just fall further behind in this area, while at the same time spending billions in development.

It has been interesting to see some of the Canikon fan-boys trying to justify their favourites inertia. Some have suggested that there is a Sony killer in the wings just waiting to be unleashed on the world like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat. Personally I believe if making a FF mirrorless camera was easy, both Canon and Nikon would of done it by now. Instead I think the problem may be that both companies are having to learn new design skills.One of the challenges will be creating a suitable range of glass offerings for a new camera format. But surely if Sony can provide adaptors for Canon glass, Nikon/Canon could do the same, but more easily for their native lenses.

One thing seems certain however, Unless Canon and Nikon do something in the next year they risk becoming a Polaroid or Kodak.



3.There will not be much increase in maximum pixel counts in cameras. Instead efforts will be made to increase the sensitivity of existing sensors by going full frame with fewer pixels on mid-range cameras

Score: 1/10

I hoped this would be the year that we pulled back from the mega-pixel wars and started concentrating on what is for me, the more important aspects of photography. i.e. low ISO noise and higher dynamic range.

 Unfortunately with the Canon 5DS and the Sony A7R pushing 45 MPixels and with bigger sensors hinted at in the new year, this does not look like it is stopping any time soon.

For me just adding more MPixels to a camera introduces more problems than it solves. It introduces higher demands on your glass, making them more expensive. Files are bigger, and processing them takes longer and is more memory intensive.

On the other hand, fewer pixels on larger sensors allow you to have better noise control and better dynamic range. This means your camera becomes almost ISO insensitive, allowing you to use slower lenses more effectively. OK you may lose some detail, but the chances are unless you are planning to blow up your photo to the size a house or use magnifying glasses, you are unlikely to see that extra resolution. For example recently I have been using an old 7 MP camera and often I am as happy with those results as with my 18 MP main camera.

The only camera that came close to my prediction was the A7 S II.  I think until the camera buying public get better educated on camera physics, we will be stuck in the playing top trumps with the  world of camera specifications.Mores the pity.




4. Sony will continue to indicate their continued support of the Alpha series  DSLR's, while doing bugger all to actually back up the claim by filling out the product range with a model between the A57 and A77II. In the meantime they will produce 2 new mirrorless cameras, the A7S II and the A7R II.

Score: 6/10

Sony surprised the world (i.e me) by announcing their 1st new A-Series DSLR for almost 2 years, the A68.

So at first glance it would appear that I am totally wrong here. It would look like Sony are fully intending in maintaining their investment in the A-Series DSLR range and SLT technology in general.

Well lets be too hasty. Lets look more closely at the A68 and see if it heralds new dawn in SLT camera design....

Firstly compared to the A7 range, this camera was not so much announced with a fanfare, but more a corporate memo.

Secondly they are not exactly prioritizing its production. It will not be available till March, a full three months after it's announcement, so Sony do not seem to be in much hurry to get it onto the general market. It will also be interesting to see it's availability. I also predict finding a Sony DSLR in general camera shops can be a dispiriting experience. Sony have already pulled there DSLR's from a number of markets such as Australia.

Then there is the camera itself. Rather than something containing Sony's cutting edge technology, it is instead a mongrel of a camera made up of bits of kit from things like the A6000 and the A77ii, at the same time leaving out features such as Wi-Fi access. In truth there is nothing in this camera that could not of been brought out 18 months ago.

So why now?

Some have argued that the camera stacks up well with equivalent Nikon and Canon cameras in this price range, and they may well be right, but those camera are at least 18 months old, so you would assume Canon/Nikon have replacements lined up which will make this camera look poor value. Bringing out a camera on the downward slope of the release cycle makes little sense.

Finally why this camera? What a lot of people were hoping for was a replacement for the A99. This is getting very long in the tooth, but would be a perfect vehicle for the new Sony sensor technology seen in latest the A7 range (which is not going in the A68). It would also herald a new release cycle of Sony DSLR cycles, allowing them to re-generate the entire line from top to bottom.

So what's going on?

I have a theory. I believe there is a faction in Sony camera division that do not like the A-Series DSLR's. Let's call them the young Turks. They feel that this is hang over from old technology inherited from Minolta and the way forward is mirrorless. Considering the amount of investment in new mirrorless models over the last year it is clear that they are winning the argument.

But that leaves Sony with a quandary. The A-series DSLR's consist not only the bodies, but the lenses and other gubbins that go to make up a DSLR system. There is a lot of investment there, which cannot be just canned without serious losses. So Sony needed a way of keeping the DSLR users on-board and buying lenses until they can get the mirrorless technology down to a point when most users can switch. However corporate Sony refuses to make serious investment in what they consider yesterdays technology.

So what to do?

This is where the A-68 comes in. A camera that fills a hole in the product range, but using off the shelf components which can be put together with minimal investment.

So rather than heralding a new range of the A-Series DSLR's. I think this camera shows that Sony thinks the technology has little future.

I know all in all it sounds like some sort of conspiracy theory, but if anyone has any better ideas, then I would love to hear them....


5. High end cameras to use more smart phone technology in their OS. Not only the ability to upload photos via mobile networks, but also download apps to add new functionality to the camera. Also it would be great if cameras opened up their SDK so allowed programming of new functionality. Why limit yourself to 5 stop HDR where you could expand your camera to do 10 stops and focus stacking at the same time. Preferably using some sort of graphical programming environment. (This was not mine originally but borrowed from Mark Abeln, but was too good not to include )

Score:1/10

Again if seemed such a no brainer that camera manufacturers would start taking design cues from the mobile world and creating interfaces which adapted to what the user was wanting to do and could be extended to add new functions and new modes to their cameras.

However it seems that this year was not the one it happens. In many ways we appear to have taken a backward step with the glorification of the retro look.

To be honest, camera user interfaces are pretty awful. While there have been some advances such as better ways to set focus points, most cameras use the same layouts and controls they did in the film days.

A modern camera is now more about the software than hardware. We have seen a number of manufacturers adding extra function post production such as Panasonic's focus stacking and Sony's uncompressed RAW modes. This shows there is a lot you can do in the modern camera just in software. All it needs is the effort and desire by manufacturers to open up those API's to allow 3rd part developers to create extensions to the standard camera functionality.

As well as adding extra functions, it would be great to be able to create your own workflow in camera. For example "take 10 bracketed shots, all at different ISO's". There is no reason why this cannot be done apart from the willingness of camera manufacturers to give us the control.

To do so will take a new mindset from a camera manufacturer. Unfortunately it does not look like this will happen soon.

In Summary


So that's this years predictions dissected.

It has been a year that promised much in terms of camera technology, but some how failed to fully fulfil it. Next year some big decisions need to made with falling DSLR and compact sales, and mirrorless coming more and more prevalent. Prediction is a tricky game to play, but fortunately unless Nikon/Vanon/Sony/etc my future doesn't depend in getting it right.


Saturday, 14 November 2015

Making an event of it

One way to expand the boundaries of your photography is to photograph events. The challenges of taking photographs in public takes you out of your comfort zone, and tests how you work under pressure. Specifically getting the best shot with minimum of setup and access. Recently I have gone to 3 events and these are my experiences

The  Dukeries Rally


It's may seem weird that since I live close to a international motor racing circuit that I don't take more photos there. Even weirder that I actually like motor racing and cars.

However there is a simple reason that I don't go more and that is it is a pretty awful place to get decent photos.

You may think that you can go to a circuit like this and get the kind of shots you see at F1 racing, but you quickly realise that those sort of shots can only be obtained by those with the accreditation to stand on the other side of the safety barrier. More mortals like me have to put up with whatever scraps are left.

I don't know what other circuits are like, but Donington Park suffers more than most from being surrounded by high wire safety fences most the way around the circuit. This means the areas of uninterrupted view are few and far between. My previous outings have had various levels of success, but generally it is a frustrating experience.

However I decided to give another go at the Dukeries rally. I have fond memories of rallying when I used to watch the RAC rally in Sutton Park when I was a youth. I well remember the unfettered access and I had high hopes of the same here.

It was not to be. Most of the rally was on the race track, with only a small part off road. while I got a few shots, generally it was a disappointing day.






The Local Fair

Every year the local fun fair comes to town. The wakes fair, as it is called, is part of the much larger and more famous Nottingham goose fair, which breaks up and spreads itself around rural Leicester and Nottinghamshire.

Obviously this is a much smaller fair, but I have always wanted to take long exposure shots of some of the bigger rides.

Two problem however. Firstly generally we go as a family, which means I have the usual problems of balancing mu desire to take photos and my family desire to enjoy the fair. As such in the past I have not taken many images.

This year I decided to be a little more assertive and take my tripod with me. AAt the end I stayed around to try and take more images.

My results were mixed.There were actually only a few rides that would provide the shots I wanted. Finding a location in which I could get a good view without prople getting in the way was difficult. I did manage to get a few images, but in hindsight I realise my angles were all wring. The side view is  not that interesting, and what I needed were shots fom 30 to 45 degrees.

Still this is something I can work on next year...


This one would of been better if the shot had moved further to the left or right

Fireworks

The last event was fireworks display. In the UK we celebrate every year Guy Fawkes night or as I call it "we burnt a catholic" night. Again I had wanted to take photos for years of fireworks, but the kind of event we usually end up going to made this difficult.

This year we went to a much smaller event, which allowed greater access. So I took my tripod along in the hope i might get some shots.

As it was I had far less time to setup than I would of liked due to me being sent to get drinks for my daughter and the slow bar lines and as such I was less prepared than I wanted to be by the time the fireworks started.

I was also unsure how long an exposure to use. As it was I used a varity of exposure with various success.

Unfortunately my 1st images turned out poorly focussed because I had manually set the focus, but were too close. It got better when I latter moved the camera back.

What also worked well was putting teh camera on 'B' setting and using a piece of black card to put in front of the camera to generate multiple exposures. This way I could capture more explosions on one photo.

However next year I will go with my wide angle instead. Not only will it allow me to capture better the fireworks due to the larger area, it has a far greater hyperfocal distance so focussing should be easier


This is a bit of a cheat. It is several images layered on top of each other with the layer set to screen. Due to the darkness of the sky this is pretty effective

Friday, 6 November 2015

The Sony A-68. A kick in the proverbials




When you were a kid, can you remember a time when you wanted some toy or item so badly that you pestered your parents night and day to get it? And when Christmas day arrived, you were first down the stairs to find under the tree a parcel of the right size and shape. But when you opened it, rather than finding the item you wanted, you found it was a cheap knock off which despite your parents assurances you knew it would make you the laughing stock of the school and neighborhood.

If so, you will understand how I feel today after the announcement of the new Sony DSLR, the  A-68.

If you are a Canikon user, you may not appreciate that being a Sony DSLR owner has not been an easy time over the last 18 months.

When you buy a SLR camera, you are not just buying the camera, but committing to an eco-system. As you become more experienced, you commit more to it by buying myriad accessories and lenses. At the same time, you are looking to upgrade your system  as you get better and you reach limits with your present camera.

Canon and Nikon users never have an issue here. The respective companies are fully committed to the SLR line and users can be assured of a continual replacement/upgrade path.

It is not so easy with Sony.

Since the last DSLR Alpha camera release (the A-77 Mk ii), their have been mixed messages by Sony's on its long term commitment to the A-series DSLR line. These have swung between ambiguous to totally negative. At the same time Sony has embarked on an almost continual release cycle of its A7 mirrorless cameras.

To say as a Sony DSLR owner that we have felt unloved is to put it mildly. Many (including  me) felt that Sony wanted to having nothing more to do with the DSLR market and were happy to leave us in the lurch.

So you would think that we would all be letting out a huge sigh of relief  now that Sony have just announced the release of a new A-Series camera, the A-68.

Unfortunately, nothing in Sony world is ever that simple.

Maybe it is because we have been used to Sony pushing the camera technology boundaries recently with their mirrorless cameras range, but I had high hopes for this camera. This would be a chance for Sony to do in the DSLR market, what they have been doing in the mirrorless world and producing a world beating  quantum leap in DSLR camera design.

It was not to be.

What we got instead was a mis-mash of old technologies flung into a oversized camera. At the same time Sony left out key features to differentiate it from the A77 Mkii.

Basically this is what we got
  • The EVF from a A6000
  • The (poor) rear screen from the A-58
  • The plastic lens mount from the A-58
  • The sensor and (and by all accounts rather good )the AF system from the A77 mkII
This was all flung together into a plastic body, not much different in size to the rather large and hefty A77 mkII

To add to that, the camera does not support wi-fi (so no remote tethering) and its frame rate has been severely diminished from the A-58

Of these decisions, the two that really hurt is the rear screen and the wi-fi. As I have stated before, I really hate the rear screen on my present camera, and with the cost of good LCD screens continually dropping, it seemed a no brainer to get a half decent screen on it.  However someone in Sony felt we could manage with a screen that would of looked tardy on a 10 year old smart phone.

As for the wi-fi, the ability to remotely access and control a camera via wi-fi is a fantastic capability. It seems incredible that any camera produced today would not have it. But Sony in their wisdom thought otherwise.

I really had high hopes for this camera, both as a potential upgrade path to my present kit and as a sign of  commitment by Sony to the A-series DSLR family. 

This does neither. 

It produces a camera without enough advantages to upgrade to, or to attract new users to the system. At the same time, it again raises questions on whether Sony is really committed to DSLR's or would like to quietly move us to their more profitable professional mirrorless line.  If this camera had been brought out a couple of years ago, it would of been acceptable, but now it looks poor compared to competitor cameras at the same price point.

In many ways I wish Sony had never produced this camera. I would of been happier if they had just said they were killing off any more development and then we could move on to some other camera system. By producing this camera, they again shown that the company thinks more about it's bottom line than it's customers and for me again raises the question whether I want to commit my long term photographic future to such a company.

Not a good day to be a Sony user


Saturday, 24 October 2015

Every thing you wanted to know about photo sharing sites, but were afraid to ask...

Unlike some out there I have always had the opinion that criticism of your photos (constructive or otherwise) is an essential aspect of improving as a photographer.

One way of the best ways of doing this is to join a photographic society and enter competitions. However there will be periods in which you have a photo you like and you are desperate for some feedback.

An alternative is to make use of the plethora of photo sharing and comparison websites available. While there is nothing stopping you from joining as many as you want, you run the risk of spending all your time juggling sites rather than photographing (plus there is a potential cost). So really you need to choose one or two sites to share your best photos on.

This begs the question however, which ones are the best to use?

As a public service therefore I am going to look at some of the more popular sites and rank them. Specifically I will be looking at how good the sites are at giving feedback from your images. So I will be comparing features such as access to competitions, the ratings and critiques system and other features which provide an indication of the quality of your images.

The judging process

So what makes a good photography critique site?

The first important factor is the user interface. It must be easy to use or you will not return. This includes how easy it is to upload your photos and how easy is it for others find your pictures

Also there needs to be a community feel. So there needs to be a way to link to other photographers you like and allow them to link to you.

Additionally there must be some sort of rating or review system. This can be as simple as a score, a commenting system or just a ranking against other photos. What is important is that you can gain some indication of the relative quality of your image. Bonus points if you actually get some critique on failed photos on how to improve your image.

Price is always going to a factor. While it is fine for there to be costs to access some features, there is a danger that these costs will quickly escalate if you subscribe to too many of these sites. Obviously free is preferred, but if there are costs, they need to be justified by what extra features are provided.

A good site needs to be more than just about photo critique.To encourage me to keep coming back to the site, it needs other features for example forums, competitions etc. A site should be an celebration of photography and not just a photograph repository.

Today we live in a mobile world, so access through mobile phone via an app is useful(preferable supporting more than just Apple products)

Finally the site needs to have that X factor. In this case it needs to make you feel at home and encourage you to share your work and not feel like a out of town stranger in a locals pub.

So to rate these sites I am going to use the following criteria.

  • How easy is it to upload your pictures and get them noticed?
  • What feedback do they provide and how useful is it?
  • Price
  • The site qualities as a general photographic site
  • X Factor - the un-quantifiable look and feel score
  • Bonus features - anything else that stands out from the crowd
These go on to make an overall score

So onto the sites....




500px

 












500px was the first photo review site I ever used and until recently it has been my go to site

 As a photo rating site it has a number of good points
  • A clean and clear website design which shows images at their best
  • The relatively simple rating system.
  • A freemium model that allows the upload of a certain number of images a month
  • An android/IOS app that allows you to monitor the site
The rating system itself consists of a score or pulse that is based on factors such as the number of views a photo gets, the number of times a viewer presses the like button and (if they really like it), the favorite button.

All these interactions go to make up a pulse score which is also time based, so it degrades after no activity. As the score goes up the photo moves from a number of categories

When the photo is is first presented it starts out with a rating of fresh. With enough activity, it status raises to upcoming and eventually, if it has a high enough pulse is achieved,  it becomes popular.

There is in addition the  Editor pick rating, for images that the 500px editors particularly like (these can be quite 'arty').

It is not documented how the pulse system works and what level of score triggers an increment of its category. For example I have had photos get a score of 69 and still remain as fresh.

It is also possible to sell your photos through 500px, although how successful that is, I don't know. (I for one have never sold one)

In the free mode you are restricted to 20 uploads a month. I have found this is quite adequate. You can however pay more to have what are called a "plus" or "awesome" account .

The plus account costs about $2 a month
The awesome account costs about $6, plus there is a $12 a month option that  includes a Adobe CC option, which is not bad value if you want to go that way.

The plus account allows you unlimited uploads, while awesome is the same plus better analytics on who is looking at your images

The site also has groups or forums, a blog, and offer a pretty good free app for Android and IOS. However I have found the forums a bit bland and rarely visit them.

Like I said at the beginning I used 500px for quite a while, but recently I have fallen out with it a bit. First I was not happy with the site redesign, but mainly I found it harder to get high ratings on my photos(is that the sites fault? - Ed).

There have also been some complaints that it is harder for newcomers to be noticed, because the way photos are presented and discovered means that things can get a bit cliquey.

You can follow photographers, and their photos. The photographers you are following, likes and favorites become the first thing you see when you go to the 500px home page. This also means that these are the photos that are more likely to get noticed, meaning the more followers you have the more likely you are to get noticed, so introducing a like feedback cycle.

However  the bigger problem with 500px is that apart from likes and favorites, there is little other feedback. Yes you can add comments, but generally these are not the same as critiques and normally consist of 'good' photo and pleas to visit the commentators page.

There is a feeling that  the rating system encourages conformity in the pictures and punishes some genres.. As a  test I tried an experiment and chose a photo that I thought would do well in 500px, but to me  anything special.

The photo I chose came popular with a 86.4% rating, while others that I thought were superior got lower scores. The 1st photo was bright and eye catching. This is because most people only glance over the fresh photos page so in my experience black and white images do not do well


Scores

How easy is it to upload your pictures and get them noticed?7/10
What feedback do they provide and how useful is it?>6/10
Price?8/10
Photographic site features ?4/10
X Factor?6/10
Any bonus features?2 (Apps)
Total33




dpReview


DpReview is known better as a photographic news, forum and review site.

However it also provides what it calls challenges, where photographers can submit photos (normally based on a theme) and which are then voted on by other dpReview members.

The challenges area announced 14 days before the cutoff date, and after the 1st 7 days image can be uploaded. There then follows 7 days of voting.

There are no prizes for winning entries apart from the kudos of winning.

The vote consists of setting a score between 1 and 5(half marks are also allowed). the winner being those with highest average over the voting period.

The themes can range from very open (Best photo of the week) to very specific.You are limited to a fixed number of photos however there is no cost to entry and you can enter as many challenges as you like.

By entering the competition it does allow you to compare a photo in a given theme against others. However generally there is little direct feedback apart from the ratings.

DpReview itself has a massive set of forums, reviews and articles and is always a great place for camera and photography information.

Scores
How easy is it to upload your pictures and get them noticed?3/10
What feedback do they provide and how useful is it?3/10
Price?10/10
Photographic site features ?10/10
X Factor?4/10
Any bonus features?0
Total30




Flickr



This is the very much the old lady of the photo sharing world and is more a photo storage/sharing site than a review site.  However it does have some review features in that it allows you to favorite photos you like and add comments. However apart from that and a Flickr app it provides very little.

On the good side, you have virtually unlimited upload limits(1TB by default), although you can buy more.

But while it is no doubt a good storage site, Flickr does not really provide much in the way of features for getting feedback from your photos. It does what it does, but to be honest it feels a little bit old fashioned and behind the times now.

Scores

How easy is it to upload your pictures and get them noticed?4/10
What feedback do they provide and how useful is it?1/10
Price? 9/10
Photographic site features ? 2/10
X Factor? 1/10
Any bonus features? 2 (Apps)
Total19







YouPic




Youpic in many ways similar to 500px in that it is a photo sharing website that allows people to rate images. However it has some interesting quirkes of its own.

Like 500px you have 3 levels of photos, Newest, Inspiration, and Hot. However unlike 500px, users have a rating as well. You start at level 1 and as your photos are viewed, favorited or repic'd( what you pic calls sending images to your followers) you get points and at a certain point level your rating also rises (up to a maximum of 20). Each level is harder to obtain as the points needed rises at each level. Saying that I obtained level 6 with relative ease.

In theory as your levels rise, you get get prizes and special functions. However it is not clear what these functions and special prizes are. Also as you hit certain milestones, such as 100 followers, you get what they call medals.

All in all, it does a good job of providing incentives for you to put images on the site and review others in a way that 500px fails to do. It also does a good job of encouraging you to return, if for nothing else to see how your score is doing.

The site is nicely laid out and there is a good article section and the learn page has some good features. At present there appears top be no cost associated with putting photos on or limits and there is also a good app for both IOS and android phones.

Update

Playing around with youpic I have had the opportunity to rise through the levels. Level 1 to 6 are not hard to acheive, with level 6 requiring about 850 points. Level 7 however requires an additional 20,000 points !!!!!. This seems a hell of a jump. God knows how many points will be required by the time when (and if) we get to level 20

Scores

How easy is it to upload your pictures and get them noticed?9/10
What feedback do they provide and how useful is it8/10
Price? 10/10
Photographic site features ? 6/10
X Factor? 8/10
Any bonus features? 2 (apps)
Total 45






1x



1x is unashamedly elitist.  It makes a big thing about the number of photos it rejects and the main page reflects this with the photos shown certainly being a higher standard than most such sites

The pricing also reflect this policy. Unlike a lot of sites you are restricted to one photo a week for free, $5 a month for 5 per week, $9 for 10 and $20 for unlimited.

Also you don't upload your photos, you submit them for curation. Basically photos submitted are reviewed by 1x experts and members to see if they are worthy of joining the community

At first glance, 1X feels quite intimidating for up and coming photographer. However there are some features that make it worth persevering.

Firstly you can submit your photo for critique. This is quite a useful exercise that provides really good feedback from users who by the design of the system are forced to add more than the bland 'great photo'.

Secondly you to can "curate" photos. This is where you judge peoples photos and provide decent comments i.e much more than "good". This is a great exercise in in analyzing photos and looking as to what you like and don't like about images. Great practice if you suffer from masochistic tendencies and want someday to become a photographic judge.

There is no doubt that 1X is the place to go for some of the best photographer and photographs, however its very elitism feels like a barrier and in the end may intimidate and discourage many from returning.

It is not clear whether there is an app for 1x. There are unofficial ones for IOS, but little support for android phones

Scores

How easy is it to upload your pictures and get them noticed? 5/10
What feedback do they provide and how useful is it? 8/10
Price? 4/10
Photographic site features ? 6/10
X Factor? 7/10
Any bonus features? 1 (Curation)
Total 31






Kujaja



Probably winning the award for the hardest to remember web name,  Kujaja is a bit of an oddity. Its about box suggest that it was originally setup to support charities by crowd sourcing photo books, but it has grown to quite a comprehensive website with interviews and competitions.

It has all the usual features such as upload site, with new, popular and recommended photos sections. You can like, favorite and recommend photos  and follow other photographers. There are some other interesting features like the ability to associate photos with music.

The site provides weekly themed competitions, however the most interesting bit is the photo books. You can submit images which if selected are then put into photo books that are sold and the proceeds go to charity.

Kujaja is an interesting departure from the normal photo sharing site and it is nice to see a site that allow the possibility of your photos being used for good causes.

Scores
How easy is it to upload your pictures and get them noticed?4/10
What feedback do they provide and how useful is it? 6/10
Price? 10/10
Photographic site features ? 7/10
X Factor? 7/10
Any bonus features? 0
Total 34




Photocrowd



This site is primarily about competitions. Photos can be uploaded and entered into competitions or challenges. These are then marked from 1 to 3 stars , the highest winning prizes ranging from equipment to publication.

Unusually the entry and voting happen concurrently and over a long period of time, 30 days or more. As well as community voting, photos are also judged by experts.

One criticism is that unless your photo is in the top 100, it will not show its ranking. Also the voting system seems to favor the images with already high scores.

Still it is an interesting concept and the owners seem to be very keen to get feedback and improve the site, so it is one to watch.

Scores

How easy is it to upload your pictures and get them noticed?5/10
What feedback do they provide and how useful is it? 5/10
Price? 10/10
Photographic site features ? 4/10
X Factor? 5/10
Any bonus features? 0
Total 29





72dpi




72dpi is another photosharing website in the vein of 500px. Like the aforementioned it offers the ability to upload photos, ass likes, favorites and share.

It has a  a few nice features, like the ability to show where photos have been taken on a map and filter by how long a photographer has been on the site. However the website is a bit clunky compared to 500px and youpic. On the other hand there are no costs to uploading the images.

Scores
How easy is it to upload your pictures and get them noticed?7/10
What feedback do they provide and how useful is it? 7/10
Price? 10/10
Photographic site features ? 6/10
X Factor? 4/10
Any bonus features? 0
Total 34







Pixoto



At first glance Pixoto looks quite complex, however its concept is actually quite simple. You present images and then they are compared against images of a similar genre  in something called a image duel. This carries on and your photos rise up the tree, a bit like a round robin squash league.

As you win or lose duels, your photo score increases and rises in the category.

There are also a large number of competitions that can be entered, some with cash prizes.

The downside of the site is that it is relatively expensive. For free, you are limited to a small number of uploads based on your credit score. This can be raised by doing things like voting. However to do that you must link it to your Facebook account (which I must admit I am not  keen to do).

 The alternative is to buy a pro upgrade. This allows a lot more feedback on how well you images have done in duels etc but is relatively expensive at $8 per month or $15 for one month.

The site also allows people to buy images, although like 500px there is no indication on how successful that is.

The site also has a large number of contests running at any one time, most for cash or equipment prizes.

The concept of pixoto is interesting and worth checking out. However the user interface is a confusing and it sometimes feels like a photo selling site with added features rather than the other way round.

Scores

How easy is it to upload your pictures and get them noticed?5/10
What feedback do they provide and how useful is it? 7/10
Price? 6/10
Photographic site features ? 4/10
X Factor? 6/10
Any bonus features? 1 (Photo Duel)
Total 29






Viewbug




This site has a bit for everyone. Firstly it is a photosharing site with the usual features of uploading, favorites and loves. The former has the additional feature that you can specify from a number of categories such as composition what you like about the photo. 

The site also provides a large number of competitions that can be entered, most with prizes for the winner.

The site has a system of points. You get points for various activities such as uploading, favoring a photo etc. As the points rise you get extra features. 

Also you can win badges for various activities such as favoring 5 photos. The badges have kooky names such as the friendly badge for following 10 people or more.

You can quickly gain points by linking the site to various social media such as facebook etc. Also the number of points you gain for an activity is based on your level of membership. 

There are 3 levels of membership


  • Lite is free and allows you 10 uploads a month. 
  • Premium costs $7 a month and allows unlimited uploads plus access to more competitions,
  • Pro which costs $14 a month and allows access to all competitions

Viewbug combines some of the best features of photo comparison sites such as 500px and photo competition sites such as Pixoto. Plus it has a clean user interface(but not quite as good as Viewpic's). It also has a learn page with some good articles.

The range of badges and scoring system means that it is a site that encourages you to return and rewards your involvement.

Scores
How easy is it to upload your pictures and get them noticed? 8/10
What feedback do they provide and how useful is it? 8/10
Price? 7/10
Photographic site features ? 7/10
X Factor? 8/10
Any bonus features? 0
Total 38

 

 Conclusion

What makes a good photo sharing and review site? Obviously the answer to that will depend on your requirements and experience.

To me however, the most important thing is engagement with your fellow photographers. To do that you need to encourage people to return and take part in the process, either by adding images, or taking part in the review process.

 Most of these sites here have an element of that, but some do it better than others. Unfortunately in the end the difficulties of trying to manage multiple sites means generally you want one site that does it all


My award of best site goes to the site which does that the best. That my award to the best photo sharing site goes to (drum roll)....

YouPic


With it good interface, and its system of points and medals, it provides the best elements of a good photo and review site.

Highly commended was Viewbug, which provided many of the same features, but whos extra cost and lack of an app counted against it. 72dpi had a nice community feel to it, but its lack of features in the end counted against it,

Another special mention goes to Kujaja, which is more a photo community, than a photo comparson site, but is one of the more interesting sites on offer.

As for the others, they all had there positives. Photocrowd and pixoto are a good place if you are looking for competition entry, and dpReview will always the place to go for discussions.

The losers here (if you can say that) is 500px and Flickr. While 500px is in many ways a good site, it feels like it has fallen behind the time in terms of features. Flickr on the other hand, the site that revolutionized photo sharing, now feels really old fashioned. Yes, it is still a good place to store and share images, but has little else to help you improve as a photographer.

So what about 1x? In many ways this should be the go to site for those of you wishing to improve your image making. However unless you have pretensions of being a top photographer, I think it's very elitism counts against it. It feels like an exclusive club, where you have to justify your inclusion. For me photography should be about enjoyment, not having to justify why you should be part of a club.

Result Summary
YouPic 45Winner
ViewBug38Commended
Kujaja 34Commended
72dpi34 
500px 33 
1X 31 
DpReview 30 
Pixoto 29 
Photocrowd29 
Flickr 19