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Still ill

So here's a tourist snap. As the man said, the best camera is the one you're carrying at the time; this was taken on a humble iPhone 4.



That's a beautiful photo, taken from the Manly Ferry, I'd say. I've seen that view quite a few times. Some see it every day. Mind you, those poor bastards have to live in Sydney, so it's a tradeoff.


Close: it was taken from Circular Quay. The firmware on the phone predates Apple's HDR fix for the camera, and the sun was about 5-10 degrees above the direction I was shooting in, hence the lovely contrast-darkening effect -- purely accidental, I should add.


You sure it wasn't from Mrs McQuarries Chair? It's only that that looks suspiciously like the Opera House in front of the bridge.


Can't be Circular Quay as that is between the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. If you're on land, then you're likely at Lady Macquarie's Chair at the tip of the Botanic Gardens.

The water in front of you is Farm Cove, because that is precisely where the first white settlement was after the Fleet arrived in 1788.

Says your expert who was born about a kilometre from there, and had at least one half-dead ancestor wash up on shore there in 1790.


D'oh! Mrs not Lady Macquarie. And officially the apostrophe has been removed from all state geographical entities, so Mrs Macquaries Chair.


My geography's crap; yes, the botanic gardens were behind me at the time.


Oops, I'll have to apologise for my spelling at #3 too.

It is a fine vista from there. Lots of runners pounding down to the end of the point and back making us feel totally lazy.


Incidentally, is there any software that can look at a photo like this and figure out (with the help of an initial rough location) exactly where it was taken? Knowing that this was taken in Sydney I could browse around in Google Street View and work out roughly what position it was taken from -- is there software that can do the same?


Beautiful. I hope to go there again soon.


Haven't tried it myself but a recent app that claims to do what you're asking for was listed last month in the App Store. It's called PocketScout.


There's probably a way that someone clever could figure out a photo location from a well-photographed area using Photosynth technology; the Piazza San Marco photosynth is impressive tech - they scraped photos from Flickr tagged as the Piazza and then processed the pictures into a 3D patchwork covering nearly the whole area (and you can in fact drop the photo data out of the picture and just see the 3d control point cloud as a servicable 3d model).

The 2007 TED talk (skip to 2:40) demoing the early version of Photosynth is a must-watch :)

It's possible to see the triangulated position of the picture taker in the Photosynth software once there are enough pics to figure what shape the location is and how the photos all interrelate - see 4:05 in the talk above.


Addendum to the above: If your pics are from out in the back of beyond you have two options:

1) Turk it and put the pic out to a group of real human eyeballs, geographically defined as narrow as you can manage (or global if you're not short of cash / don't have any clue as to where the image originates); see the first posts in this thread as a small free demo :)

2) Hope the camera has sneakily geotagged the pic with lat/long/heading metadata without telling the user :p


Mountain@12: Hope the camera has sneakily geotagged the pic with lat/long/heading metadata without telling the user

The iPhone 4 does do that automatically. Not sure how or even if it can be turned off.


Not sure how or even if it can be turned off

It asks the first (first couple?) of times. You can disable it by going into Settings > Location Services, and turn on the permission for "Camera."

This should work for any iOS 4.x device, I think.


Apart from being from the back camera there seems to be no significant metadata on the picture as published. Was that deliberate, Charlie? Does your workflow explicitly remove metadata or did you just happen to use a resizing tool or something which did it? I suspect the former in your case.


I don't believe in granting apps permission to use my location without good reason.


You're in Sydney? There's no chance you're coming north to Brisbane, is there?

Never mind all that pesky water, of course. Water's good for one, no?


The snap was taken last August. Right now I'm home in Scotland.


Having just become the owner of my first smartphone 2 weeks ago I find all the possibilities such as automated geotagging and all the marvellously synergistic options that I keep discovering quite amazing (Google goggles boggles!) but I probably will eventually start rescinding privileges.

Photosynth is quite impressive too, I seem to recall playing with a downloadable version of it a few months ago. The nice thing about this here computer revolution is how soon the cutting edge lands on your doorstep, so to speak.


Anyone else think The Sydney Opera House resembles a convention of nuns?


Doesn't "so all my photos will be geotagged" count as a good reason?

Or to put it another way - I don't believe in throwing away potentially interesting data without a good reason. There's nothing stopping you from removing the location metadata from the photos later, and if you are paranoid that Apple are recording your location for nefarious purposes then, well, you probably shouldn't use an iPhone.


Seeing the pic reminded me of aussiecon4, even though its not Melbourne, I suspect that you don’t come to oz very often. First con I have ever been to and where I discovered your work. I have been enjoying the laundry series over the last couple of weeks. I reside in Perth Western Australia, staying in Melbourne for aussicon4 was a fortieth birthday present. Best event I have ever been to.


That is a nice photo - and it does look like being one step away from being ruined by the sun in the camera's eye.


It's a good picture, I'd like to see more.

In the hope of stirring up your competitive artistic drive without being too annoying: Comparing your blog to Rudy Rucker's, as far as the text goes you tend to have a smoother, more coherent style while he often has wilder ideas, but in photography there's no comparison - he's a pro using pro gear - plus he has the unfair advantage of California light.

Sure, "the best camera is the one you're carrying at the time" - but to me that just implies that you need to carry a better camera, particularly traveling as often as you do. When you carry a real, dedicated-purpose camera you'll take more pictures, and when you take more pictures, you end up with more good pictures. It doesn't have to cost a fortune, either. (Besides, last year's resolution has expired and you deserve an extra-shiny new gadget.)

The most camera for the money currently is the Pentax K-r, at £428 with a good lens, it's better than anything costing up to twice as much. It has anti-shake built in the body, a large sensor, superb image quality and the low-light performance needed in pubs and Edinburgh winters; it's reasonably light (~545g) and even potentially pocketable with a pancake lens and sufficiently baggy clothing. (The standard 18-55mm really is enough for most situations. If you want a telephoto get the 2-lens kit with the 300mm. The better reach and image quality is worth the extra money over the 200mm. A low-profile lens is extra, but a fast 50mm prime is relatively cheap and can't be beat.)

For twice the money, plus extra costs to get the anti-shake built into the lenses, the Nikon D-7000 is a little better, but it's a pretty minor difference compared to stepping up from a phone cam to a K-r.


How on earth did you find a humble iPhone 4? All the ones I've seen have been very smug indeed.


it's reasonably light (~545g)

No, that's not reasonably light. Not for all day, every day wandering about. Remember, Charlie is looking at shaving grammes off his shoulder load when travelling.


Welcome to the Land of OZ Mr Stross.


On a photo such as this, I think it would be a bit tricky, because everything is so silhouetted. You can maybe extract more detail, but, in the general case, you can't even rely on knowledge of the lens used, because the image might be cropped. Assuming a full-frame image from a camera with a known focal length of lens, you can start getting size information from the image and comparing it with known objects.

In this case, the vertical heights should be reliable, such as bridge-deck to the top of the arch. So you have a discoverable real-world measurement which can be combined with the angle, derived from image size and lens angle-of-view, to give a distance from the bridge.

With two objects at different distances, you might also be able to infer the apparent focal length because of the known distance between them.

Luckily, a clearly-distinguishable part of the bridge seems to line up with a similar clear element of the Opera House roof, pretty well centre of picture, so that would give you a bearing line. And that would suggest that there was an open air cinema to your left, if Google Earth can be trusted.

Looking a little more closely, so the relief info starts to show, I'm going to guess that you were at least part-way up the ridge, possibly on the loop of road, but you could have been at the shoreline and it not show in the camera. Your altitude above sea level could be calculated from the vertical relationship between the Opera House and the bridge. The horizon line seems more consistent with a bit of altitude, rather than the camera tilted upward, though the same effect could be done with cropping of a larger image.

I don't think I've done anything that a local couldn't do. But it's a pretty distinctive scene, even from half a world away, and the combination of that one bearing line with the geography is better than some GPS fixes I've had.


I was indeed in Sydney for a couple of weeks before Aussiecon 4; that's when I took that shot. Aussiecon 4 was fun, but a rather atypical convention (and an atypical worldcon, as well, and worldcons are Not Normal conventions!).


I am not a photography pro and I will never be a photography pro: my eyeballs aren't up to it. Not only do I have myopia, astigmatism and presbyopia, I also have interesting and exciting retinal damage that's different in each eye! Dormant and non-progressive, I hasten to add, but it means one eyeball can't frame a shot and the other can't focus a shot, so a viewfinder or DSLR is probably not going to be much use to me. So I've got the iPhone, a Canon S90 for snapping away on vacation, and if I'm feeling like playing at real photography, an Olympus E-PL1. (Which would be a damn sight more use to me if the lumps of glass didn't cost twice as much as their DSLR equivalents -- that's the penalty for picking up the photographic equivalent of Z-gauge model railways, I guess.)


Speaking of Z-gauge, was it a Z-gauge you picked up that time on Camden street in Dublin? Or was that N-gauge?


The price I first saw makes me wince a bit, but consider getting a Leica-M to Micro-4/3 adaptor from eBay. No auto-focus though. For really cheap lenses (which can be a bit of a gamble) there are also adaptors for Leica screw-thread mounting, which can take the Russian-made lenses as well as really old Leica. If you want to try a long focal-length, something such as the Jupiter 8 f2/85mm is pretty good, while a Jupiter 3 f1.5/50mm is another classic design which might be let down by Eastern Bloc quality control.

On second thoughts, the focusing would be a problem, both your eyes and your camera. It appears to have manual focus, but no indicator of the image being in-focus.


I pretty much can't take photographs at all without auto-focus and a digital back. (See eyeballs, above.)


Charlie @ 30: I suppose an easel and watercolours are out of the question?


Ah, he'd probably be great at that. When I take my glasses off, there is no difference between what I see and what Van Gogh saw! Given Charlie's amazing creative ability, it might be good occupational therapy when he gets stuck on a plot (not that I've ever seen a problem there).

Get well, Charlie. I hope you are sleeping better now.


Oooh, pretty.


Possibly a convention of nuns hatching.


Sorry for suggesting something perhaps unsuitable - I thought one of your eyes was OK except for needing a bit of focus adjustment/viewfinder eye relief.

OTOH, live view on the latest SLRs such as the K-r may actually be better than most finderless cameras. The K-r has four times the PL-1's LCD pixels, which may make focusing easier. Together with the live-view visible, joystick-designated auto-focus point and the flash-zoom of the live view to 1:1 on shutter half-press to verify fine focusing, the K-r might actually be more usable for you than the PL1, albeit bulkier.

The Olympus is a very nice camera. Low noise at high ISO, at least for a 4/3. Great glass, though sure it ought to be for the price. Going by the DPR review, The PL1 default color is a bit muted for my taste, although with iEnhance set to "low" it's pretty good.

APS-C cameras are bigger and heavier than the 4/3s, but the good ones do much better at high ISO and have less expensive glass. Hell, even the medium-format Pentax 645D, (cheaper than many cars and lighter than some barbells) has cheaper glass than the Olympus 4/3 system, though it's admittedly mostly 20+ years old. If an APS-C has a fast live view on a sharper screen and isn't too bulky to actually get used, it might be worth selling the PL1 while it's still fairly fresh and buying an APS-C plus two or three lenses. OTOH any camera plus two or three lenses is going to be bulky enough to need its own bag.

Going at it from the other side, your Canon S90 is capable of producing excellent pictures, better than you really need for web use, even more appealing than the PL1 defaults in terms of saturation. If its live view isn't too slow and the focus works well enough, why tie up money in more expensive gear? So either way it might make sense to sell the PL1 if it isn't getting much use.

On the whole, I'd say ditch the fancy stuff and stick with the S90. It hardly matters what you have if you aren't carrying it when you go out, shooting anything that catches your eye. Unfocused or otherwise spoiled shots can be weeded out on the computer later, and since the S90 has a lot more resolution than you need, framing can always be corrected with cropping and rotation. I think the digital darkroom work is more than half the fun, anyway.


Used an OM-1 for years. Still got it, though I use it little now. Lenses from 21-135mm. Use an OM-small on-belt most of time ... may get a "PEN" if money-supply improves. ( I sold my Om-4, but kept the "1" )


I have been thinking that I might have done better to split the difference and go for something like the Canon G11 or G12; much more portable than the E-PL1, never mind a DSLR (see also: "the best camera is the one in your hand") while offering some significant improvements over the S90 (not least, an optical viewfinder for those occasions when I want to play at being a photographer).

I'd normally be loath to offload a camera after 8 months, and I bought the Olympus with the idea of adding lenses and using it for several years. However, I've found the 14-42 lens it came with a little limiting, and the eye-watering cost of extra glass has given me second thoughts. Ideally I'd buy a 9-18 wide-angle lens and a 14-150 telephoto: but the combined cost of buying them in the UK is around a grand -- pounds, not dollars. Plus, it drives up the weight of the camera kit to around a kilogram (including the bag), all of which has to fit in my hand luggage when flying in addition to my mobile office. Upshot -- I'd have to be a lot more serious about photography than I am in order to justify doing that.

I guess I will mostly carry the S90 everywhere until it breaks, then replace it with a G12 or G13 or whatever the equivalent is by then. What I should focus on is finding a Photoshop or Aperture or Gimp tutorial I can work with ...


FWIW I'd go with Aperture or Lightroom. Photoshop is great but does things you don't need and costs more, Gimp will do bad things to your blood pressure.

Lightroom is generally the easiest to use, usually less waiting, and has better denoising and lens correction algorithms than Aperture. Aperture tends to give more contrasty and saturated images, which I like, but obviously this is more how the programs interfaces and RAW conversion settings influence the user than hard features of the programs themselves. Aperture file organization is a bit better than Lightroom. Lightroom has about 3x the Mac market share of Aperture. Overall, I think Lightroom is the one to go with. There is a recent 9-hour video course on Lightroom 3 taught by Michael Reichmann and Jeff Schewe available on the Luminous Landscape site.

It really helps in photo editing to have a wide gamut, color-accurate monitor, which rules out all the cheap TN stuff. OTOH, what are you going to spend more time looking at than your monitor? Even an expensive one is only a few pence more per hour. I favor the NEC SpectraView line.

BTW The G11 is nice - my dad got one for autopsies. :)


What are you going to spend more time looking at than your monitor?

I have drunk the Apple kool-aid, and am staring (right this instant) into the depths of a 24" Apple Cinema Display.


Ooooh... I mean yes, rather adequate.


It's on my desk. I write at my desk. I surf the web at my desk. I'm probably in front of the damn' thing for 60-70 hours a week, most weeks. I can replace my monitor; I can't replace my eyeballs. QED.

The only reason it's not a 27" cinema display is that my desk isn't big enough. (And I am rather attached to my desk, because rather than being a boring table-shaped piece of furniture with a pedestal unit for hanging files in, it's a whacky piece of 1970s Scandinavian design that folds away and has lots of weird niches for storing junk. I spotted it in a charity shop 15-20 years ago and I'll probably still be using it long after any given PC is landfill or recycled scrap.)

45: 45 - I spy spammers!!



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on January 10, 2011 12:46 PM.

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