Keeping Up with Technology

A lot has changed in the last few years with regard to capturing, processing, and viewing images on screens or as prints, and methods and means continue to evolve.  But the last two years have been filled with disruptions—severe disruptions, beginning with COVID, which drove supply chain holdups and business closures (temporary or permanent) and crippled the economy, and most recently the war in Ukraine that has fueled more price hikes and threatened democracy worldwide.  All of this has obliterated previous expectations of availability of all sorts of things.  Like it or not, it’s the world we live in, and the turmoil will likely continue for some time to come requiring a new level of patience in order to cope.

On the camera front, the transition to mirrorless is pretty much complete.  Of course, a host of DSLRs are still in use making perfectly fine image files, but the majority of research, development, and new announcements going forward will be in mirrorless, with very few exceptions (like Ricoh/Pentax).  And when new product does come along—like the Nikon Z9 flagship pro body—it may take a very long time to actually reach most paying customers.

Image processing software development has greatly expanded.  During the transition from film to digital a couple of decades ago, Adobe editing programs were the industry standard with little serious competition.  Not so now.  A whole array of software tools currently exist that cover the gamut from RAW processing to specialized noise reduction and sharpening to full-blown development and image file management systems, many of which use advanced “AI” (machine learning).

Software runs on computer hardware, and there’s been little slowdown on that front though chip architectures are morphing rapidly.  On the Apple side their recently released Mac Studio using the in-house M1 processor seems to be the longed-for powerful yet relatively small Apple desktop system without an attached display (bigger than a Mac mini, smaller than a Mac Pro).  In the Windows realm, Intel’s latest Core i9-12900KS CPU is the current processor king as relates to running most photo editing tools, though AMD will surely bring more challenges later this year.  Graphics cards have also surged ahead (though they’ve been in extremely short supple and very costly due to stiff competition from crypto mining), helping leverage the computational requirements of AI (machine learning), and becoming a much more important consideration in spec’ing a photo editing system.

Even on the display front, color-critical monitors are moving ahead, even though it appears some may actually be leaving this market niche entirely (Sharp/NEC).  Eizo has two new top-end units coming shortly (CG2700S and CG2700X) that will be state-of-the-art in the 27” category, and already have a very popular pair of slightly less expensive “CS” models (CS2731 and CS2740) that also meet most critical requirements with slightly fewer bells and whistles.  In a significant shift, most new models offer a much broader array of color spaces, especially for video.

And not to forget printers (for the small number of dedicated photographers who still value this method of finishing photographs), the Epson SureColor P900 17” inkjet printer is the current cream of the crop.  Physically quite small and with a superior ink set, it will fit into even cramped studios and provide nearly unparalleled printing options in this paper-size category.

So, the tools are there, and more capable than ever.  Indeed, the plethora of options makes carefully choosing among them one of the bigger challenges, along with the constant relearning to make it all work together.  It’s a rich environment, even with all the turmoil.

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Unexpected Benefits

As imaging technology advances, some improvements present in unanticipated ways.  For those who pursue small, wary nature subjects (birds in particular), long lenses with a narrow angle of view are especially useful, and items like extenders or teleconverters aid in increasing perceived reach.  While adding an extender to a telephoto lens always degrades the image quality to some degree, at times the benefits are worth it.  Over the years I’ve often used Canon’s EF1.4 Extender with excellent results.  I’ve also used the EF2.0 Extender on numerous occasions, but even with the most careful focusing and sturdy support, the results have rarely been satisfying.  Enter the Canon EOS R5.  While major user-interface changes required considerable retraining of muscle memory, when optimally configured the body is a marvel.  Of particular note has been how well Eye Detection autofocus works—especially with the EF500/4 II + EF2.0 III and EF-EOS R Mount Adapter…better results than I’ve ever achieved before.  To be sure, I’d rather be close enough to use the prime lens without extender, but when pressed, I’m no longer reluctant to use this 500+2X combo.  I don’t know why this works so well, but whatever the reason it’s a big plus.

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Season’s Greetings

It’s been another challenging year.  Life as we know it has changed, and finding a “new normal” will require willpower and perseverance.  But time marches on and things will sort out, one way or another.  In the meantime we’ll keep our hopes up.  Here’s to a better, more fulfilling, more productive 2022.


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Non-winter seasons at this latitude are crammed into a much shorter length of time than in the Lower-48.  Spring comes late and flowers rush to complete the bloom/seed cycle.  Early wildflowers are reaching their peak in Southcentral Alaska, like these Jacob’s Ladder blossoms at Eklutna Flats.

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Seasonal Transition

It’s that time of year again, when winter begins to fade as temperatures gradually rise above the freezing point.  One of the first spots in Anchorage where the change is most notable is a shallow manmade lagoon along Chester Creek.  Parts of the creek flow fast enough to maintain a little open water through most of the winter, but that accelerates quickly during the transition, opening long channels that invite the first migratory waterfowl of the season—as well as other visitors.  Such as the Northern River Otters recently gathering small fish and other edibles there, and after dining, sliding around on the snow-covered ice in a playful manner.  Then, ever mindful of competition for a limited food source, one of the otters swam over to three Common Mergansers and aggressively chased them off.

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Fall Migration

The big, white, elegant Trumpeter swans have passed through southcentral Alaska again.  Dozens stop by Potter Marsh each fall to feed and rest on their migration south.  They have an acute sense of how long to stay and when best to continue their travel, usually departing just before freeze-up.

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Good News

Though far fewer photographs are finished as prints these days, the desire by some photographers to produce prints at home or in a small studio has not disappeared, and the tools for doing so continue to improve. Epson has been a leader in ink jet photo printers for decades and has raised the bar once again with their new SureColor P700 and P900 models.

I’ve owned a number of different small Epson photo printers over the years. Several improvements in the new models stand out in particular, including a slightly wider color gamut, dedicated Photo Black and Matte Black ink channels eliminating the need to waste ink switching from one to the other, and significantly reduced overall printer size. The latter may not seem like a big deal, but with the P900 offering 17”-wide printing in a 24”-wide footprint—the same width as the previous P600 13” unit—that could be a huge factor for those with limited space. In addition, both printers use a single top load tray for all paper, including fine art papers that previously required loading from an awkward front tray.

For more complete information see Epson’s full brochure.

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Winter Dining

Birds have to eat all year round.  Mountain ash berries are a favorite source of food for winter residents in Anchorage, including this European Starling in striking non-breeding plumage.

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Advancements in Storage

Digital images are saved to a physical storage medium, first in the camera, and then in an editing computer (or smartphone/tablet if that’s your primary capture device). Like everything else, storage technology evolves, and at the moment several factors are converging to make for a pretty big leap in throughput capability.

One is the move to faster and higher capacity memory cards. At the top of the heap is CFexpress, as exhibited in the recently announced Canon 1D X Mark III. These cards replicate the physical dimensions of XQD and several camera bodies with XQD slots will have firmware updates to accommodate CFexpress sometime in the future.

Second is the gradual proliferation of file transfer protocols (FTP), both internal and external. Internally, for several years PCIe 3.0 has provided the lanes for transferring data from one component to another. PCIe 4.0 has now arrived with double the potential data rate, though it is currently only supported through AMD processors and appropriate motherboards. New M.2 PCIe 4.0 NVMe solid state drives are also here, some exhibiting read speeds over 7GB/s! External devices are riding the wave too. By leveraging the NVMe interface, portable SSDs are orders of magnitude faster than platter-based hard drives with some achieving a 2,800MB/s data rate. Thunderbolt 3 (TB3) is still the fastest external FTP with a bandwidth of 40Gb/s, and though a lot of recent notebooks support this standard it’s important to understand that regardless of the theoretical capability, actual throughput still depends on the limits of the storage device itself. USB (in its various iterations) has a much broader installed base than TB3, and while previously having had a much lower bandwidth ceiling, USB4 will change that by also moving to a maximum 40Gb/s throughput and actually incorporating TB3 in the standard using the USB Type-C connector.

Without a doubt there are now more storage choices than ever before with the potential of significantly improved speed and efficiency.

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Richard Nelson

Richard Nelson passed away earlier this month. Alaska Public Radio listeners will fondly remember him as the voice narrating the marvelous Encounters soundscapes. He was involved in many other endeavors as well, and at least part of his legacy of audio and video stories will live on at Encounters North. A short opinion piece in the Anchorage Daily News by Kim Heacox further describes his background and accomplishments. He will be sorely missed.

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