New Macs, Functional Perfection, and Crowdsourcing

Back to the Mac.   Steve Jobs and selected luminaries from Apple conducted their latest special event Wednesday at Cupertino heralded as “Back to the Mac.”  The short summary is:   updated iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand components in the new iLife ’11 suite, FaceTime for Mac, announcement of the next version of the Mac OS X operating system (10.7 Lion) to be released summer 2011, and two new MacBook Air models—an 11-inch (11.6″ diagonal) and 13-inch (13.3″ diagonal).  How big a deal the sum total is for Mac users depends a lot on how you use your tools.  If you’re a happy hobbyist and avid social communicator you’ll no doubt be delighted; but if you’re a serious creative (say a photographer producing images for sale) these offerings appear at best lukewarm.

Regardless of the implication in the event title of renewed emphasis on the core business that made Apple famous, what really is occurring is a relentless merging of mobile media concepts and operating systems with the old tried and true Mac operating system. Lion (OS 10.7) will draw significantly on iOS by integrating many of its features.  As Jonathon Seff at quotes Steve Jobs—”That’s what Lion’s about…Mac OS X meets the iPad.”  Find a lot more in the full article here.  Apparently Mac is only about a third of Apple’s business now, and the main push continues to be in the direction of maximizing both the philosophy of and tools for the mobile consumption lifestyle while concentrating the revenue stream as directly as possible into Apple’s coffers.  No doubt that’s why their stock keeps going up.

Canon lenses.   For Canon users, you can find more information here about four of the new EF lenses announced recently:  400/2.8L IS II, 300/2.8L IS II, 70-300/4~5.6L IS, and 8-15/4L Fisheye.  Two of these are exotic supertelephotos— highly desirable, but very expensive tools.  The Fisheye is certainly interesting and it will be comparatively expensive too, though not quite in the same rarified category as the big white lenses, but it’s use will be very specialized—not exactly an “everyday” lens.  The one that’s going to appeal to a lot of folks is the new 70-300 zoom.  While it won’t have quite the reach of the 100-400 that so many Canon nature shooters have come to rely on, it will weigh nearly a pound less, focus two feet closer, and have a four-stop IS system that you can leave turned on when the camera/lens is attached to a tripod.  If the image quality lives up to expectations, I suspect this will be a very useful and extremely popular lens.

So where is the update to the good old 100-400?  Who knows.  That focal length range has been a huge favorite in the Canon lineup, though the push-pull zoom mechanism and somewhat failure-prone mechanical properties have been niggles for a long time.  Many copies of the lens just aren’t that sharp wide open at 400mm either…which is exactly where the lens gets used a lot of the time.  (Try closing down a stop when zoomed all the way out; even a half stop can make a significant sharpness difference.)  Of course one can wish for anything, but a modernized version of the same lens using a twist zoom mechanism and the latest IS and coatings would seem a no-brainer.  Or, a 200-400mm constant-aperture f/4 similar to Nikon’s hugely popular model.  Or, a 300-500 constant-aperture f/5.6 as small and light as possible—I’d find room in my arsenal for that one!  But we should appreciate the good things that do evolve, like the most recent models and the new 500/4 and 600/4 coming next year.  And in the meantime maybe something else will be thrown into the mix.  Never hurts to keep wishing.

Functional perfection.   Observing and participating in the digital imaging revolution of the last ten years or so has been exciting, challenging , and at times perplexing.  Keeping up with sensor megapixel counts, for example, in the quest for “quality” has caused incredible angst and depleted discretionary resources.  To a considerable degree, the megapixel race has now all but reached terminal velocity (on a practical level), and other components in the digital imaging production chain are getting closer to “good enough.”  Inkjet printers for example may not be perfect, but high-end models are truly excellent.  Color-critical monitors (particularly from NEC and Eizo) have not only tamed many of the major color management concerns, but come down in price enough to be in the realm of reason for those dedicated to top-level work.  So is there a way to conceptualize all this (should one wish to do so)?  Brooks Jensen has done a pretty good job in describing it as “functional perfection.”  He elucidates his thoughts here with a suggestion that discovering the point of functional perfection can be a motivator, time saver, and generally useful in many creative endeavors.  Try the idea on for size.

Reality check.   Here’s another blog post worth reading if you place any value whatsoever on your time and creations.  It’s by Bob Krist, subtitled “There’s no vaccine for the crowdsourcing epidemic.”  It’s another big part of the ongoing social metamorphosis.  Remember, you make the decision.

In a similar vein, Scott Bourne (of the photofocus blog) has taken a stand—one that may surprise you—but he’s tackling the social networking Terms of Service issues directly.  Read his comments here and here.  This seems to be rapidly becoming one of those single issues that splits opinion right down the middle while demanding you take one side or another—no middle ground.  For serious photographers this is anything but a trivial issue.  If you care, get informed.

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