Help BP learn how to use Photoshop

The two fateful images

As you might have heard in the news, BP further embarrassed themselves with some incompetently Photoshopped images which were released as real. Gizmodo and Americablog do a great job of tearing down these photos and showing just how bad the Photoshopping is.

Where do these edges come from?

And how did that get there?

Now Wired Science is taking it one step further with a competition for users to do take it to the next level – they’ll post some of the best, most interesting, funniest and most skilled images on their site. How good are your Photoshopping skills?

Nikon's weight problem

Nikon, I hate to be so blunt, but you are fat. And no, it’s not just your lens, it’s your body too.

Nikon, as an honest friend, I should tell you something...

The two biggest players in the Digital SLR market are Canon and Nikon. These two giants offer similar equipment ranges. But how do they weigh up against each other… literally? I’ve handled them, and I’ve looked at the numbers. Nikon, you’ve got a weight problem. Shame on you.

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The Olympus PEN E-PL1 vs Nikon D3000 paradox

Petavoxel recently bemoaned the fact that the majority of sensors in recent micro four thirds EVIL cameras (or MILCs, if you prefer) perform poorly compared to contemporary APS-C sized sensors in digital SLRs. The only exception was the Panasonic GH1, which put up quite a respectable showing compared to its μ4/3 stablemates.

Yesterday dpreview posted their review of the E-PL1, and they were very happy with its high ISO performance. I quote:

Overall, the E-PL1’s images are the most natural and convincing here – avoiding the D3000’s overly contrasty, noisier images …  Most impressive is the E-PL1’s ability to produce results comparable with the EOS 500D and Pentax K-x, despite its smaller sensor.

But what does DXO Labs have to say? They disagree, showing that the big three leave the E-PL1 gasping for photons with a lowly 487  points in the low-light ISO stakes.

Hence, the paradox.

How do these two $500-ish cameras weigh up against each other?

How can this be? Is either DXO Labs or dpreview writing nonsense? The keen observer will notice that there are two significant differences in the way these two respected websites measure image quality:

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So, what's so great about "raw" files?

Have you ever heard an enthusiastic photographer saying something like “I shoot everything in raw”? But what is a “raw” file? Sounds like raw meat, doesn’t it? Why do people use these?

Few people think about it twice, but pretty much every photo on the internet is stored as a JPEG file. This also happens to be the kind of file you get out of most digital cameras. In fact, most consumer-grade cameras can give nothing else but JPEG output. This is no coincidence: JPEG’s been around since 1992, and it turns out that it’s a really great file format for photographs. JPEG allows you to store a lot of image information in a reasonably small file, and is quick to decode and write. Unfortunately JPEG is a lossy standard, which means you always lose some image information when creating a JPEG.

Contrary to common belief, this “lossy” property is not the main reason to avoid using JPEG. The JPEG algorithm is actually really clever in the way it loses its information, meaning the human eye often can’t see the difference between a lossy JPEG and its lossless equivalent. Look at the seagull below to see what I mean.

A JPEG file compressed at 95% quality. (click for detail)
File size = 78 KB
Scarcely any degradation artefacts, despite the fact that a losslessly compressed PNG would have required more than 300 KB.
Compressed JPEG at an extremely low 30% quality. (click for detail)
File size = 9 KB.
Compression artefacts are visible (sky, detail in lantern glass), but the image remains perfectly recognizable due to the clever way JPEG works. And this is an extreme example.

No, the reasons why you should be interested in raw files are more subtle…

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Volcanic beauty

I adore excellence in photography, and my breath was taken away by the amazing photographs taken of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano which is currently causing so much havoc in Iceland and Western Europe.

I have long observed that Iceland has a ridiculously high concentration of excellent photographers. This might have been because the (formerly) rich population of this small island nation had nothing else to do with all their krónur than drink and practice hobbies.

But that is only part of the story. With natural beauty such as this, who wouldn’t want to take up photography!?

Lightning and motion-blurred ash captured in a 15-second exposure. Taken at a distance 25 km from the Eyjafjallajokull craters on April 18th, 2010. (© Olivier Vandeginste)