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Apple continues its tradition of improving the photography capabilities of consumer devices with today’s announcement of the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro, available on September 24.
Last year’s iPhone 12 had two rear camera lenses, while the iPhone 12 Pro had three; the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro follow suit. The iPhone 13 features a wide (f/1.6 aperture) and an ultra wide (f/2.4 aperture) lens, which are the same specs as the iPhone 12. But the iPhone 13 Pro unveils an entirely new camera system.
Compared to the iPhone 12 Pro, the iPhone 13 Pro improves low-light performance by allowing for apertures as wide as f/1.5 on the main lens, compared to f/1.6 on the previous model. The ultra wide lens follows the same trend, boasting f/1.8, improved from f/2.4 on the iPhone 12 Pro. These wide apertures should collect more light in darker settings like bars and concerts, hopefully leading to improved image quality. Apple claims that the ultra wide lens will have “up to 92% improvement in low light,” but… we’ll just have to test that ourselves.
Perhaps the most notable lens upgrade is the improvement to the telephoto lens. Though this lens has a smaller aperture than its predecessor (f/2.8 compared to f/2.0), the new telephoto lens is 77mm-equivalent, while the iPhone 12 Pro’s telephoto was 52mm. This allows users to zoom closer in on far-away scenes without sacrificing image quality. The telephoto lens also now supports night mode, which it didn’t previously.
Apple also announced Macro mode, which will be available on the iPhone 13 Pro. The ultra wide lens and autofocus system work together to magnify subjects as close as 2 centimeters away. These shots are challenging to pull off even on professional, non-phone cameras. Users can also record video and even slow-mo at this scale, which should open up some interesting options.
Apple also announced Photographic Styles and Cinematic Mode, new features available on both the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro.
Photographic Styles applies local edits to an image in real time as the photo is rendered, so photographers can compose their shots using one of four presets and see what their end product will look like before they click the shutter button. Of course even point-and-shoots have had real-time filters for a decade, but Apple claims these Photographic Styles are more technologically sophisticated than those, using machine learning to understand how to intelligently apply edits without compromising a subject’s skin tone.
Cinematic Mode allows users to shoot video, but then change the background blur and virtual focus of the clip later. This feature seems more catered toward professional filmmakers — Apple brought in Kathryn Bigelow and Greig Fraizer to demonstrate the functionality. Still, Canon and Nikon need not worry — there will always be advantages of a camera that’s a camera, as opposed to a camera that’s a phone — but hey, it’s not as though smartphone films have never made a splash in the Academy.
The iPhone 13 will start at $799 (which, for the record, is more expensive than an entry-level DSLR camera and a decent lens). The iPhone 13 Pro — telephoto lens, macro photography and all — starts at $999.
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Twitter is exploring ways to build a more visually immersive experience with its latest test, which brings edge-to-edge tweets to the app on iOS.
Full-width images and videos track for the direction the company has shown some interest in going lately. Twitter introduced bigger images with improved cropping controls for its pair of mobile apps earlier this year, making plenty of photographers and other visual artists happy that the social network was suddenly a much friendlier platform for sharing their work.
In the current test, tweets fill the full frame from left to right instead of being offset by a pretty large margin on the left. The changes result in much larger images and videos that look better in the feed and a cleaner, more modern design that doesn’t unnecessarily squish tweets to the right of users’ profile pictures.
In testing the feature, Twitter says that it wants to encourage users to have conversations across photos and videos, rather than focusing solely on text like the platform traditionally has. While the result looks like a win to us, any change to Twitter’s design is likely to inspire a vocal subset of users to hate-tweet about it for a day or so before forgetting the changes altogether.
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Instagram made headlines (including this one) when product head Adam Mosseri said in June that the app is “no longer just a square photo-sharing app,” since it’s pivoting its focus to shopping and video. But where does that leave photographers who want a social photo-sharing experience?
According to Tom Watson, a former product designer at Facebook and Pinterest, photographers have lacked a social network for a while. That’s why, with co-founder Stefan Borsje, Watson built Glass, a subscription-based iOS app designed to be a home for photographers.
“I’ve always loved photography, and when Flickr got bought by Yahoo, it was a sad moment for me. I love that kind of nerdy photography community,” Watson told TechCrunch. “Then you started to see it pick up with Instagram to take the torch into the mobile space. But I was at Facebook when Facebook purchased Instagram, and you could kind of see that it would inevitably be where it is today.”
For those of us accustomed to free, ad-supported social media, it might feel unfamiliar to pay a monthly fee for an app. Glass costs $4.99 a month (or $29.99 a year) to use, but you can try it without charge for 14 days. Still, the app takes your App Store payment info right away, so it could be a barrier to entry for people who worry they won’t remember to delete Glass before the trial period ends, should they not want to continue with it. But this model is intentional. Watson and Borsje are specifically trying to build their app — which only has five team members — without any venture funding or ad revenue. They only want to have to answer to their community of photographers.
“I wanted to do something different and start with a social subscription model and to bootstrap without venture capital,” said Watson. “We’ve seen in the past what happens when you take on venture capital and go for the moon. You keep pivoting away from your photographer community in order to become more broad.”
From the moment you open the Glass app, it’s clear that the emphasis is on the photography itself. When you follow photographers, their posts will appear in a feed of images designed to minimize distractions. The photos take up the entire screen, and you can only see who posted them if you drag them to the right. When you click on an image, you can see its caption and other information about how the photograph was shot. You can engage socially through comments, but there aren’t likes on photos — this is an intentional design choice, though Watson says some users are asking for a like button, even if it just helps them bookmark images for later browsing. In the coming weeks, Glass will launch discovery features, like categories for photographs. Glass also has a feedback board, which allows users to request features and upvote or downvote other users’ ideas. If Glass chooses to develop a suggestion, it is noted as “in progress” on the board.
Though it’s only in its beginning stages, Glass already sets itself apart from Instagram or VSCO by offering EXIF data, which is like candy for the “photography nerds” that Glass hopes to attract. EXIF data shows what camera a photographer used, as well as the photo’s ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and focal length. This data and sense of community was what drew people to Flickr in its early days, but when Yahoo gave free users up to one terrabyte of data, it became more of a personal archive than a community. Then, when SmugMug bought Flickr from Yahoo in 2018, it tried to backpedal by only allowing free users to have 1000 photos, warning that they could delete free users’ photos if they didn’t upgrade to a paid plan.
Glass also appeals to photographers by allowing for a wider variety of image sizes on the app — the maximum aspect ratio is 16 x 9, which accommodates the size of standard camera photos. But on Instagram, even after the platform moved away from its square image motif, it’s not possible to post vertical photographs from most cameras without cropping them. Like VSCO, Glass doesn’t show how many followers each user has, though you can see comments. While you can’t see how many followers someone else has, you can see who is following your own account.
“We thought that was important for safety. If someone follows you, you need to know who that is, and to be able to block them,” Watson said. “We really wanted to build blocking and reporting features from day one.”
Watson declined to share how many users have downloaded the app so far, but Watson said he’s “extremely happy with the response” to Glass. It launched with a waitlist in August, and Wednesday the app opened up to all iOS users. The goal of the waitlist wasn’t to generate hype, but rather, to make sure that the user experience remained smooth, and that the app wouldn’t get overloaded. At the time of the app’s waitlist launch in August, Watson told TechCrunch that Glass was sending hundreds of invites out every day.
“I’ve been on the internet a long time, and I used to feel like there was a cozier, safer space,” Watson said. “I hope that by having this subscription model, these spaces can feel that way a little bit more again.”
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