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Apple Sept. 2019 announcements

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Every iPhone I've ever used has been cursed by a camera lens that records too-wide a field of view. I was eager to replace my iPhone 7 Plus (no face recognition, decreasing battery life) with the Xr replacement, thinking its second camera would be the "mild" telephoto (52 mm equivalent is pretty damn "mild"), but instead, they add a second ultra-wide lens. I don't spend a lot of time taking pictures of the sky at night, although I guess now I could do so to find the constellations. Don't people take far more pictures of people they know than pictures of places that they could more easily obtain from an enormous number of online sources? The absence of that portrait lens and true optical background blur in the least expensive iPhone 11 is a huge mistake, I think.
What's "wide", and what's "normal" or "telephoto" or "too wide", is more than a matter of personal preference or semantics — it's cultural, and the perception of those values has shifted, thanks to iPhone popularization of photography, especially selfies and group shots. Once upon a time, 50mm (effective 35mm focal length) was "normal", 35mm was "wide" and 85mm and up was "tele." But now it's more like 28mm is "normal" and 58mm really is more of a portrait lens for the kind of photography that iPhones are best at. And for superwide, 18mm (effective) and even wider is no longer an expensive optic, with its style of extreme perspective creating a whole new genre of popular photography.
 



I assume Apple figures that scratches will generate "characteristic noise" that can automatically be removed in preprocessing.
The algorithms may be able to “work around” scratches, much like the 35mm negative scanner I use, but with a important caveat: the lenses in these cameras are tiny and not in the same location.

Any optical imperfection is going to affect these individual lenses more than a similarly sized scratch on a much larger lens like for a 35mm DSLR. Simply put, more of the light will get scattered / blocked rather than put on the right sensor pixels.

Whether that can be fixed in software is debatable. My film scanner detects scratches to the negative using a separate IR sensor, then allows software to blur the scratch out of existence. However, that interpolation is not perfect - the software may very well erase an important detail in the process. But it’s a compromise I’m willing to make, rather than hand-detail every scratch out of existence.

The “mad science” behind the iPhone camera system is impressive. I look forward to independent labs verifying whether the built-in lenses actually manage to resolve 12MP, even under ideal circumstances; or how they deal with common lens issues like distortion, chromatic aberration, and so on.

I doubt many folk attempt to use a phone camera for high-resolution photography. Rather, the smartphone cameras are impressive tools for the small platforms they are built into, offering quick access to reliably memorializing events even under difficult lighting conditions.

It’s the prime reason that far more pictures are taken now with smartphones than actual cameras: lots of people have smartphones and most everyone is attached to their digital babysitter on a near constant basis.
 



I'm as cynical and uninspired about Apple as the next old-timer, but I don't have any particular outrage about the new iPhone models.

Apple has always had a single lens on their "standard" iPhones, with a 2x lens only available on Plus models [prior to the iPhone X], which at the time were the "deluxe" models. It is true that the deluxe model now costs $300 more instead of $100 more, but for that you also get an OLED screen (which, sure, is susceptible to burn-in like all OLED screens, but... black is black, which I'll take every day of the week), and what sounds like excellent battery life and sturdier case construction.

With the new phones, Apple has added a 0.5x [ultra-wide] lens to all models, but they haven't taken away anything from what they already offered forever. I know some people would prefer a 2x lens instead on the "standard" iPhone, but other people (myself included) would rather have the 0.5x. Those who want both have that option, for a premium price, and if they go for it, they also get an OLED screen, better battery life, and better case materials.

I can see people being unhappy that at the "standard" price point, Apple has given them something but not the thing they wanted. But... the worst that's happened is you now have to pay more for a 2x lens than you used to; but that was just as true last year, too, and this year's models are clearly better. And if you really want a 2x lens on the cheap [in a big phone], an 8 Plus is still waiting for you.
 


Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Camera
One of the very first things I do with any device is review the Location Services settings. The potential issues with revealing dates and locations around photos are pretty obvious, and now we have facial recognition issues to consider, too. If an app allows disabling face detection, I always do so.

I also try to check the general metadata attached to files before sending to third parties, especially if in a business context, whether it's JPEG EXIF info or general document properties on PDFs or other files.

Many times over the years, I've used the "Properties" command on a third party PDF or MS Office file (for example, to identify an embedded font) and been presented with sensitive information about the third party.

In one case, I learned that two companies were in merger talks because someone neglected to clear a previous file name from the metadata of a file that was used as a template for a project with me. In another case, I learned that large portions of a file someone was trying to pass off as their own work actually originated elsewhere.

Check your metadata!
 



Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Camera
As one who likes to do geotagging, I do let the camera record location. However, when I don't want the actual location used (private home, secret meeting, etc.), I edit the location in the Mac Photos app to reset the location to a landmark in the area. For example, I will move the location for pictures inside a home to a nearby park.
 


... Apple's so-called "telephoto" camera appears to be just 52mm (equivalent) vs. 13mm and 26mm (equivalent) focal lengths for the other two cameras. (The iPhone 7 has a 28mm equivalent camera with the iPhone SE at 29mm.)
Just to clarify for non-photographers, a 52mm (equivalent) lens is considered to be a standard lens. A 85mm short telephoto lens might be used as a portrait lens in a studio. 135mm to 200mm would be considered a mid telephoto. (These numbers are, of course, all referenced to 35mm cameras.) So Apple's "telephoto" lens is only considered telephoto in comparison to their ridiculously wide-angled other lenses.
 


So Apple's "telephoto" lens is only considered telephoto in comparison to their ridiculously wide-angled other lenses.
One thing that's not been mentioned about cell phone "telephoto": Oppo, Huawei, possibly others, offer phones with "periscope" telephoto. Still tiny modules, they sit vertically and use a prism to direct light into the periscope.

[Here are some related links.... —MacInTouch]
 


Just to clarify for non-photographers, a 52mm (equivalent) lens is considered to be a standard lens. A 85mm short telephoto lens might be used as a portrait lens in a studio. 135mm to 200mm would be considered a mid telephoto. (These numbers are, of course, all referenced to 35mm cameras.) So Apple's "telephoto" lens is only considered telephoto in comparison to their ridiculously wide-angled other lenses.
Wouldn't longer telephoto lenses need to stick out of the phone?

Or, take a right angle bend inside the phone, as is done in an Oppo phone and in some Sony cameras. If we can't have a headphone jack then use the space for something beneficial.
 




Off, off, off! Received some iPhone images from a friend that were really just innocent landscapes, but possibly landscapes at a a place the friend would have reasons to prefer didn't become known? Downloaded to my Android, they were put in a "places folder" for just that location. It's darn hard to have any privacy in today's world, and Apple's been very happy to keep track of your travels over time.
I love geo-tags, especially when looking for a certain picture. I always know where I took it, but much less likely when. If you have a problem with it, then just turn it off: Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Camera > Never.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
A bunch of specs and prices for comparison, for what they're worth:
The Verge said:
How the iPhone 11 compares to the best Android devices
Apple’s new iPhones are here, with the new iPhone 11 set to replace last year’s XR model, and the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max models that succeed the XS and XS Max as more premium options. But how do they compare to the best Android phones on the market, like the Galaxy Note 10, Galaxy S10, Google Pixel 3, and OnePlus 7 Pro?

...Of course, there’s plenty more to the picture than just raw specs... but the numbers still do make a bit of a difference when you’re deciding what deserves a spot in your bag or pocket. Here’s how the new iPhones stack up...
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
Some perspective on changes in smartphone/camera technology:
Reuters said:
Apple's new iPhones shift smartphone camera battleground to AI

... The technology industry’s battleground for smartphone cameras has moved inside the phone, where sophisticated artificial intelligence software and special chips play a major role in how a phone’s photos look.

“Cameras and displays sell phones,” said Julie Ask, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester.

Apple added a third lens to the iPhone 11 Pro model, matching the three-camera setup of rivals like Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Huawei Technologies Co, already a feature on their flagship models.

But Apple also played catch-up inside the phone, with some features such as “night mode,” a setting designed to make low-light photos look better. Apple will add that mode to its new phones when they ship on Sept. 20, but Huawei and Alphabet Inc’s Google Pixel have had similar features since last year.

In making photos look better, Apple is trying to gain an advantage by way of the custom chip that powers its phone. During the iPhone 11 Pro launch, executives spent more time talking its processor - dubbed the A13 Bionic - than the specs of the newly added lens.

A special portion of that chip called the “neural engine,” which is reserved for artificial intelligence tasks, aims to help the iPhone take better, sharper pictures in challenging lighting situations.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
I can see people being unhappy that at the "standard" price point, Apple has given them something but not the thing they wanted. But... the worst that's happened is you now have to pay more for a 2x lens than you used to; but that was just as true last year, too, and this year's models are clearly better. And if you really want a 2x lens on the cheap [in a big phone], an 8 Plus is still waiting for you.
There's another alternative for people who don't want to schlep around quite such a huge phone, don't want to pay luxury prices, and would like to have a 50+mm "telephoto" lens... but this probably won't last long:
Plus, you get the bonus of the vaunted OLED display....

Other options:
More info:
DPReview said:
Apple iPhone X review

Key Photographic / Video Specifications
  • Dual 12MP sensors
  • 28/56mm equivalent focal lengths
  • F1.8/2.4 aperture
  • On-sensor phase detection
  • Quad-LED flash
  • DNG Raw capture and manual control with 3rd party apps
  • 4K video at 60 fps
  • 1080p 120/240fps slow-motion video
  • 7MP front-facing 'TrueDepth' camera with F2.2 aperture
Other Specifications
  • 5.8-inch, 2436x1125 OLED
  • Apple A11 Fusion chipset
  • 3GB RAM
  • 64/256GB storage
DPReview said:
Apple iPhone 8 Plus: specs

Rear camera effective pixels (Primary) 12 megapixels
Rear camera focal length (Primary) 28 mm
Rear camera aperture (Primary) 1.8
Rear camera effective pixels (Secondary) 12 megapixels
Rear camera focal length (Secondary) 56 mm
Rear camera aperture (Secondary) 2.8
...
LCD size 5.5″
LCD dots 1080 x 1920
LCD DPI 401
Display type LED-backlit IPS LCD
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
My experience has been that iPhones often take amazingly good photographs, but I've had two serious issues with iPhone photography:
  1. Uncontrollable algorithms that radically favor low ISO over faster shutter speeds, frequently resulting in blur that ruins otherwise-good shots.
And I'm apparently not alone....
DPReview said:
Apple iPhone X review
Low light shooting exhibits some interesting problems. Autofocus performance, which is impressive during the day, can miss with disappointing regularity as light levels drop. Also, the shutter speed will too readily drag all the way down to 1/4 sec, and though the iPhone is supposed to detect movement and boost the ISO and shutter speed to avoid handshake or subject blur, this doesn't happen reliably.
Apple has had a very long time to address this problem but has chosen not to.
 


I’m willing to believe that the results I can get with my iPhone camera, compared to my dSLR, are to some extent due to ID-10-T errors. Using apps other than the Camera app helps me somewhat, given Camera’s punchy-contrast tendencies. But the fixed wide angle lens is not useful for most of what I am serious about shooting. I use my iPhone the way probably most people do, taking mostly closeup shots that only need to be good enough for social media. I am regularly frustrated by its inadequacy for situations that need a zoom lens.

My first dSLR, acquired in 2006, was a 6-megapixel Pentax (*istD S2) with the standard 18–55 lens. A friend who reviewed gear for a well-known tech site very kindly gave it to me after she had reviewed it: I could not have afforded to buy one at that point. I shot tons with that camera until spring 2010, when I was able to buy a K-x that came with two lenses. My current go-to dSLR is a K3 II with an 18-270.

Pretty much anything I shot with that 6MP camera is better than what I have been able to get with an iPhone or iPad. I attribute the difference to the lenses, including a used 35–80 Pentax F series lens that I bought on eBay for a mere $10. Being able to shoot RAW is another factor in favor of my “real” cameras. There is certainly a niche for my iPhone, but when I am out exploring along the NYC rivers, I want my “real” camera. I got a bit excited upon hearing that one of the new iPhones has a zoom, but 52mm? The tiny bit of excitement has been snuffed out. My iPhone 7 is still fine for making my cats look good on Instagram.
 


Will any of the non-lens-related photograph improvements in the iPhone 11 be available on the iPhone XS? What about the improved HDR or Night Mode?
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
Will any of the non-lens-related photograph improvements in the iPhone 11 be available on the iPhone XS? What about the improved HDR or Night Mode?
That's a great question, which I have, too (and what about the iPhone X, iPhone Xr, etc.). I searched for an answer (e.g. in Apple's iOS 13 features list and the show video) but haven't found one yet.
 


Off, off, off! Received some iPhone images from a friend that were really just innocent landscapes, but possibly landscapes at a a place the friend would have reasons to prefer didn't become known? Downloaded to my Android, they were put in a "places folder" for just that location. It's darn hard to have any privacy in today's world, and Apple's been very happy to keep track of your travels over time.
If you didn't turn off location services for photos in settings prior to taking a photo, you can still strip the metadata on the iPhone using an EXIF app. I'm using viewEXIF, but there a probably others.
 


Apple TV+: one-year free trial with iPhone, iPad, Mac, or AppleTV purchase. $4.99 x12 = $59.88. That times 100,000,000 would be about $6B in "free" service. There have been rumors that Apple was going to spend $6B on AppleTV development (content buys). I'm kind of curious whether a chunk of that is "buying" their own content from themselves.
The 'spend" on content could still be separate. However, it seems they do intend to do lots of "buying" of the context with the 1-year trial. Goldman Sachs expects the stock to dip on the massive 'buy' when a number of folks don't follow the money shuffle. (I won't be surprised if there is some tax shelter property to this, too.)
CNBC said:
Goldman Sachs just dramatically cut its outlook for Apple, predicts 26% downside
  • Goldman Sachs cut its price target for Apple's stock to $165 a share from $187, making the firm's expectation for Apple the lowest of the major Wall Street banks, according to TipRanks.com.
  • The firm predicts a 26% downside for the stock because of a "material negative impact" on earnings for the accounting method the iPhone maker will use for an Apple TV+ trial, Goldman analyst Rod Hall said in a note.
  • "Effectively, Apple's method of accounting moves revenue from hardware to Services even though customers do not perceive themselves to be paying for TV+," Hall said.
Big picture, though, it is telling of market herd mentality when there could be a double-digit percent swing on a stock largely just because folks can't read the balance sheet and are more interested in pulling the trigger fast.

Also, while Apple may put aside the $60 to cover AppleTV+ , if you don't claim the 1-year service in several months (3), then that liability disappears (the deal is off). Also, there's only one free trial deal in a family plan, so there will be a number of these trials never claimed. If folks aren't using the service, then Apple shouldn't be assigning money out of the pot to pay for it....

The 1-year free trial will create 'noise' in the context of evaluating whether AppleTV+ is doing OK organically or is primarily just surviving out of no-option bundle. Apple has taken lots of the risk to Apple out of their AppleTV+ bet.

P.S. in the pre-2008 era, Goldman both sold "high rated" loan derivatives to some clients while selling protection from those derivatives from another group. I'd bet a small sum there is another part of Goldman not planning on some massive tactical 'short' of Apple.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
... Apple has had a very long time to address this problem but has chosen not to.
As a test, I took a photo of a still garden at dusk with an iPhone 7 and the latest iOS, intentionally underexposing via the Camera exposure control slider to get a faster shutter speed. Apple's algorithm chose an exposure time of 1/6 second at ISO 100. Despite the optical image stabilization in the camera, that speed is so slow, the photo is unusably blurry. This isn't a smart algorithm; in fact, it seems really perverse to me. Only third-party apps offer better settings and more control.

Another photo, taken about the same time, highlighted a pink and blue sky – this got a 1/30 sec. exposure at ISO 25. Despite the low ISO and reasonable shutter speed, details of the landscape are unattractive at full size with quite a bit of JPEG compression artifacts contributing to loss of detail. But this photo is at least usable at smaller sizes rather than being a blur (only because there was more light available). Again, only third-party apps offer raw/DNG for better quality.
 


Ugh! Remember that Sculley's method to compete was to fill store shelves with as many varieties of {fill in product name here} in order to squeeze out the competition from the limited shelf space given to that type of product. In the computer industry, it didn't work
Hmmm, that sounds a lot like...
Apple said:
The retail context now is much different from back then. The picture is more complicated due to a number of factors.

Some places, it has worked relatively well, e.g. B&H Photo's tablet section tablet section, ordered by "Best Sellers." In Apple's stores, there are zero competing systems, so it has worked extremely well there. :-) For the Apple "store in a store" in Best Buy (if you overtly pay to rent the space, yes, you can kick other folks out): it works pretty well.

Some places, not so much. Amazon's tablets best sellers is a mixed bag (the snapshot today is a bit skewed, since the new iPad is, well, new). But it also highlights why Apple has to have the entry-priced iPad to be in the game. (Amazon's tablets do very well on Amazon and at the lower end of the market.)

Yes, in the classic brick and mortar showrooms, where there is no Apple "store in a store", this won't work, like it didn't in the 80-90's, but the larger fraction of retail (at least the part with long-term growth) isn't in that sector anymore. For web stores, "shelf space" is the limit of the warehouses, not the local store. In a vast sea of product category options, Apple can also get 'lost' if they don't have enough products to cover sub-markets.

The iPad model expansion is more about different markets for iPad than "crowding out" competitors. Reportedly, the iPad Mini helped stop the decline for Apple. The entry-level $329 (often $249-289) model did the same thing over last two years. The iPad Pro is competing off in a space that almost nobody else is competing in (directly with an Android solution).

Folks have to make some choices with this line-up, but budget will sort out a large fraction of folks pretty quickly. That gap between the iPad Pro 11" and a iPad 10.2" won't stretch on a normal inelastic budget. Budget + "latest tech or not" + screen size preference will filter down to two choices for most folks pretty easily. Two choices isn't going to overwhelm most folks.
 


I just searched Apple's iPhone 11 pages for "sapphire" — nothing came up.

...But this also popped up:

Then this:
And this
I have a Rolex watch and discovered shortly after buying it in 1990 that the sapphire crystal, while being tough and mostly scratch-resistant, is not very impact-resistant from a sharp point or anything that has a thin edge. Also, if you drop it about 3 times, the shaft on the self-winding mechanism will break, at least on my more or less vintage watch. Would I trade a Rolex for an Apple Watch? So far, have not!
 


... More computer power in the phone (or a camera) enables more computational photography. But every digital camera since day one has done computational photography, converting images that hit a sensor to digital, then from "raw" sensor data to jpg, or just writing the sensor data to storage in a digital file. I'd bet much of the "speed" of the new A13 chip is used more in facial and object recognition than in UI and UX.
Competitive computational photography these days isn't about single images, so it really isn't like the old days. It is closer to more than a handful of sensor reads and composing a bunch of images into one. There is a video element here (constant multiple frames) to be competitive in this space now.

(Compression to jpg is an extremely narrow computation. You are still just basically doing a read and store. Compression is work to store less.)

The other major gap with the past is that earlier you would capture RAW or JPG to give to a skilled photograph retoucher (darkroom skills having shifted to now being tasked with post-processing photos). So, post-processing from an end user drop-down/pop-up menu, lowering the number of photos that need to go downstream of the camera to either service providers or equipment. "Computational photography" underplays the movement of skills — they are being encoded and moved closer to the originating sensor.
 



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