Episode 37: frame sixteen mcdermott mcdermott

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How can 50 not look like 50? How can 16 act like 1? How many McDermotts does it take to make an episode? All those questions, and not much else really, will be answered in Episode 37. Hopefully, those are the questions you've been yearning to ask…

How Full is Your Frame?

When photography was invented, the size of the images varied greatly since there was little need to standardize, and the size you shot was the size you got. Meaning, the polished metal plates of a Daguerreotype and the salted paper Calotypes, followed by tintypes and glass and film negatives, were either the final product right out of the camera (Daguerreotype, tintype), or were prints made in contact with the original paper or glass or film negative. Daguerreotype and tintype were what came out of the camera with no practical means for making copies, and there was almost no enlarging of small negatives onto larger prints because electricity was coming into practical existence at the same time.

So it was that almost a century after the invention of photography, with flexible films common in the movie-making business, and photographic enlargers at companies big and small, the German camera designer Oskar Barnack settled on 35 mm movie film stock as the medium for a new, still, camera and he set 36 x 24 millimeters as the size of the image he would capture onto that film. That, dear reader, is what we know as full frame.

There were larger and smaller sizes of film, but 35 mm became the most popular film size throughout the world and thousands of different camera models, from scores of manufacturers, entered the world over the next eight decades to form images on that size media. Then, when digital photography was being developed around the turn of the 21st century, the major manufacturers of 35 mm film cameras had to balance the technical challenges and expense of designing and manufacturing digital sensors with the large numbers of existing users of their film cameras — cameras with expensive lenses, attached or sitting in a camera bag, waiting to be attached.

If they made new cameras on which those existing lenses would not work, well, those users might change camera brands if it meant having to buy new lenses anyway. So camera manufacturers decided to stick with the same lens mounts but put, inside these early digital cameras, sensors that were not as large as 35 mm film.

Eventually, sensors the same size as their film predecessor were developed, but they are more expensive to make than smaller sensors, so most cameras with interchangeable lenses — cameras based on the film size of old — have models with smaller-than-full-frame sensors and models with full-frame sensors. Somewhat smaller cameras, too, were designed since they didn't need the larger dimensions to house their smaller sensors.

Aside from some technical issues that allow full-frame sensors better performance in low light, which might or might not affect a user or even be noticeable, smaller-than-full-frame sensors necessarily capture a smaller area of a scene than a full-frame sensor. It's as if you cropped the photo as you're making it, rather than later. For this reason, these smaller sensors are also referred to as crop sensors.

Full-frame versus crop sensor base image via Wikimedia.org, with additions by the author.

Depending on your brand and model of camera, a common rule-of-thumb for understanding how much of a scene will be captured by a lens on a crop-sensor camera, compared to a full-frame, is to multiply the focal length of the lens by 150%. The focal length is a number of millimeters, like 28 mm or 50 mm and 85 mm. We think of those as representative of wide-angle, normal, and portrait focal lengths, respectively which, on a crop-sensor camera, turn into 42 mm, 75 mm, and 128 mm — not-very-wide-angle, pretty-much-normal, and longer-than-portrait. (Some cameras need their focal lengths multiplied by 160%, but the results are pretty much the same, so unless you're doing scientific or forensic work, don't worry about the difference.)

How Many is Enough?

There's a new camera on the block, and it's anything but usual. Even calling it unusual doesn't do it justice.

Unless you've seen this camera, you've never seen a camera like it. And the funny thing is, it sorta looks like a camera you already own — it looks like a smartphone, though a bit bigger.

The camera is the L16 from the company Light.

I have one of the larger Apple iPhones and, in its not-particularly-bulky case, if I lay that phone on top of the L16 camera, the camera is, maybe, an eighth of an inch wider and a quarter of an inch longer. Look at it from the side, though, and you'll find it three times thicker. The numbers are 6.5” long, 3.3” wide, and 1” thick. Those are 165, 84.5, and 24 millimeters, respectively.

It weighs nearly a pound, or 435 grams.

The back features a five-inch touch-screen for viewing and controlling and reviewing, with good ergonomics for holding and shooting, at least for right-handed people. You lefties know the drill…

The back side of the L16 shows the very large screen and simple on-screen controls, plus the overall clean design. Image courtesy of Light.

The recessed power button is on top. It takes about 40 seconds to go from off to on, but after that you just put the camera to sleep, pressing the power button briefly, and awakening takes just a couple of seconds.

There’s a shutter release button next to the power button, and you can also take a picture using an on-screen button.

Also on screen are controls for exposure method, with full auto, wherein the camera chooses the shutter speed and ISO both, or you can select a shutter speed or ISO and the camera chooses the other. Or, go full manual. The controls for setting the shutter speed and ISO — plus instructing the camera to capture darker or brighter images, known as exposure compensation — are all easy to use. How easy? Touch the appropriate on-screen button and slide your finger up or down. The change in is reflected in big numbers that appear on screen as you slide.

To choose a focus point, touch on the preview image where you want to focus. Indeed, using each of the controls is pretty much like you’d expect when using the camera on your smart phone.

They refer to the sixteen cameras as modules, and that’s a good thing, calling them modules, because otherwise talking about the L16 camera can get confusing. Explaining how all those modules work together is not hard, though it takes a while, so I will, instead of “not hard,” go for easy.

The hardware is like this — five wide-angle modules, five slightly-narrower-than-normal modules, and six more-narrow modules. Remember, a module is just a camera. Three different focal lengths across five plus five plus six makes sixteen modules.

In one sense, this would be like a smart phone with three forward-facing cameras — one each with a wide angle lens, a portrait lens, and a telephoto lens. But having multiples of each camera, each module, allows Light to do other things with them.

This front view of the L16 shows sixteen cameras, plus apertures for flash and a microphone. Note the lanyard attachment point along the edge. Image courtesy of Light.

The wide-angle modules all stare straight ahead, but since the modules are spaced apart, the camera develops a 3D sense of the scene, building it from those five images. You know how the size of the aperture on your camera’s lens affects the depth of focus, how much is in focus from near to far? Well, with the L16, later, after you shot an image, the free software that comes with the L16 can use that 3D knowledge to adjust the depth of focus, again and again, based at the location, and the depth, of your choosing.

The portrait modules each point in different directions. Four of them point to the four corners of the scene. They take four separate images and the camera stitches them together for one complete image. The fifth module points in the middle of the four to add extra detail and light gathering ability.

The telephoto modules do the same thing — one in each corner and one in the center, with the sixth also pointing in the center but capturing darks and lights only, no colors, for better low-light performance.

This illustration should give you some idea of the machinations going on when you are composing and shooting. Image courtesy of Light.

The onboard software takes care of which does what, such that when you press the shutter release, the camera will use either 10 or 11 of the modules, focusing and capturing and stitching. Despite all the image gathering and computations involved, it’s basically point-and-shoot.

And that’s how I see the L16 — a point-and-shoot travel camera with better-than-average features that can capture better-than-average images, no muss no fuss, and it comes through on that intent.

The camera is really well built, with no extraneous gewgaws or speed whiskers, was easy to figure out and acted reliably. I kept it tethered to my wrist with the included lanyard when in use, or slipped it into its padded sleeve when not. It was a loaner, after all.

One feature I missed was an on-screen light meter. If one was available, I didn’t find it, and that made my preferred shooting style — setting the exposure manually — problematic. It lead me sometimes to overexpose, which resulted in blown-out highlights, bright areas that lost all detail in the image. There’s a histogram available when reviewing images, but nothing for before-the-shot guidance. Practice, practice, I suppose.

They claim a full charge is good for 400 images. I didn't shoot that many with the loaner, but I'm going to squint at that number a bit. Shooting just 30 frames or so seemed to leave only 85% of the battery available. Would I get 12 times as many more images in the remaining electrical capacity? Doubtful. Maybe it’s how I used it, composing and reviewing a lot, but maybe that’s how people use it, so I’d say, just keep an eye on the battery meter and put it to sleep when you’re not actually using it.

When I was using it, I made a bit over 100 images with the L16, from fluorescent-lit interiors to cactuses in the sunset, paint peeling from a tin-panel ceiling to clouds building over the mountains. Vistas, details, near and far.

What do I think of the images? Well, frankly, they're fine. I wasn't astounded by them — they are solid images of what I pointed the camera at.

I was surprised by the level of digital noise at the high-end of the ISO, 3200, but surprised in a good way. Sure, shooting on such small sensors at high ISO numbers makes for noisy images, but I think the multi-sensor approach paid off with cleaner images — the noise was mostly in the characteristic of images called luminance, which means brightness and darkness. Often, digital noise is a rainbow of speckles in high-ISO shots, but that was not the case with the L16.

I also noticed, when zoomed in to the image on the computer, that depending on the zoom setting of the camera when an image was made, around the periphery of the scene the sharpness might suddenly fall off. I suspect this is due to the overlapping sensors not always seeing everything that another sensor sees, so detail is reduced. Here again, I had to zoom in to see that, and it may not be noticeable in the least at regular viewing distances or in prints.

I was not enamored of having to compose and control the images using the big screen. Then again, I don't like doing that with any camera because it's hard to see the image in bright light and often my face or clothing would be reflected in that screen, another source of image-obscuring annoyance. It's a big screen, which is good, but it can't magically make up for what it is — a big mirror.

There's nothing like it, that's for sure, but ultimately the question is, "is it worth it?" Which means we need the answer to "what does it cost?" The answer to the second question is easy: the current list price is $1,950, which includes the camera and wrist strap lanyard, the padded sleeve slash case, plus the wall charger and USB-A to USB-C cable, all with a 1-year warranty and a 30-day return guarantee. And they offer free shipping. (They also have refurbished units for sale, so you might check those out for significant savings.)

Which means the answer to the first question, "is it worth it?" is up to you. I could certainly see this camera working well on travel. There are smaller point-and-shoot cameras, but none pack the features of the L16. It packs more pixels than point-and-shoots, allows you to alter the depth of field after you make the image, and it's easy to use — remember, I described just about every feature and function which, even if you didn't take notes or exactly follow because it was just me yammering, I trust you understand that there wasn't actually a lot to learn.

In the end, though, it is nearly two-thousand dollars. If you might be interested in the camera, make sure you read other reviews and seriously consider the 30-day return guarantee. You will get what you pay for, but for that much money you will want to be that much happy with it. There's nothing else like it, and maybe it's exactly like what you want.

The L16 camera comes with a padded slip case with, inside, a lens cloth. This rendition shows the lenses, but the opposite short edge of the camera has a lanyard attachment slot, a feature I used consistently, so normally I'd put the lens end of the camera in first and leave the lanyard out. (Of course, that would present a less interesting view of the product, so…) Image courtesy of Light.

THIS JUST IN: The camera I was reviewing is back with Light, but they've announced an update to the software in the camera, which they handle wirelessly, by the way, that puts that depth-of-focus adjustment to the camera too. And, get this: they introduced 1080p video recording in a beta kinda way — which explains the microphone aperture on the front. Try that — changing the software and adding major functionality like video — with your other cameras!

To learn more about the Light L16, click on over to light.co.

Here are some images I made with the camera.

I used the 3D depth information stored by the L16 to reduce the depth of field normally present in small sensors.

People like to shoot holes in signs, a sign of man's dominance over, well, over inanimate objects when no one is looking, I guess.

And if shooting a sign of a cow is okay, plugging a defenseless memorial to a person's life and passing is just a short step away. Idiots. By the way, I used the adjustable depth of field to select the cross as the object to be in focus, then reduced the effective aperture so the background went blurry. I could have, as easily, chosen the mountains and pushed the cross out of focus.

The lighting is not ideal for a landscape, but I was capturing an example of "repetition," not creating a masterpiece. (See? Just blame the light, not the photographer!)

This still life with sun tea shows off an error in the software, incorrectly leaving the wall blurry in the upper right, and along that side, plus a bit in the lower left. It is correctible in the program, but I wanted to share an example to show a potential issue you would need to address.

I love the pastels and mixed textures. I could have improved the composition, though, by shifting a smidgen to my right or left so those two leaves don't end right at (or nearly) the corner. A tiny move, but I missed it.

These colors are more energetic than the agave photo, further energized by tilting the camera and punching the colors in the program.

Another still life — a new agave and what's left of a cow.

Philosophically Photographic

Shane McDermott started life with artistic talent, veered away from art into health and wellness pursuits, and found photography to be a way to not just share nature, but to better connect with it. He also leads photography workshops through Arizona Highways Magazine Photoscapes program, during which he helps you to also better connect. You can learn more about Shane and see some of his work at www.shanemcdermottphotography.com, and learn about Arizona Highways Photoscapes at ahps.org.

Shane McDermott. Photo by unknown.

Shoot Less, Bring Back More

The tip for this episode, thanks to Shane, is to go out to shoot under two restrictions — limit the number of frames you capture and forbid yourself from reviewing until you've shot the last frame.

You'll probably want to photograph what you normally or frequently photograph, so you'll already have seen the results of those earlier sessions, but by shooting less and without the benefit of reviewing, you must synthesize all you know about photography and the subject at hand to come back with, probably, more keepers — in fishing parlance — than you normally would.

A photo I made at the Spanish-era mission San Xavier del Bac, south of Tucson, Arizona. The display on my camera had ceased working so this, and other images from that day, were made without the benefit of immediately reviewing the results.

How many shots? I'd suggest there are a couple of ways to determine that. One could be based on how long you are at it. Meaning, if you go for a ten-minute session, maybe shoot just 5 frames. Though ten minutes is not very long, as photography goes, so I'd say shoot at most two frames.

If you shoot for an hour, maybe 12 shots total? That would be one every five minutes, on average, so look carefully, think carefully, about what you can see and, more importantly, what you want others to see and understand about what you saw.

Who Said What?

"I believe that Ryan Murphy is a genius. His instincts remind me of Andy Warhol. I recently went to the Warhol museum in Pittsburgh, and you can see a lot of echoes of Andy in Ryan's work. Like Andy, Ryan's finger is so on the pulse of culture that he's ahead of culture. Their aesthetic and their vision of the world are very similar."

That was a quote from Dylan McDermott, one I like for three related reasons and some surprising ones. A) I wasn't for-sure sure who Dylan McDermott is. 2) I know Andy Warhol's name and have some sense of his place in art in America. And Chartreuse) I have no idea who Ryan Murphy is.

Dylan McDermott is, indeed, the actor I was thinking he is. You've seen him in the films Steel Magnolias, Twister, and Olympus Has Fallen, and in the television series American Horror Story, to name just a few of his credits.

Warhol, of course, was a big figure in art in the '60s and '70s. I say "of course" because, at least, I quoted him in the most recent episode of the show. I'm not quoting him this time.

And my hunt for Ryan Murphy led me, via Wikipedia, to a screenwriter, director and producer, one who co-created the television show American Horror Story. See the connection with Dylan?

Well, that connection exists but I think it's not the right Ryan Murphy. It didn't seem right, as, yes, there's the connection to Dylan, but I wasn't seeing in his work any real connection to Warhol.

So I abandoned Wikipedia and hunted, instead, on the general internet and discovered Ryan Sarah Murphy, a photographer and filmmaker based in New York. Now that sounds like someone who might have an aesthetic connection to Andy Warhol. In another call-back to the previous episode, wherein I mentioned Warhol's Campbell's Soup Can art, one of Ryan Sarah Murphy's earliest pieces is a pair of wooden frames packed with over 10,000 wooden clothespins in neat, whitewashed ranks. Murphy works in paper collage, and in photography too, including semi-abstractions of not-unusual objects.

And why would Dylan McDermott, no known relation to my guest, have a place in today's show? Well, as it turns out, he's a photographer too! His first show was THE DYLAN PROJECT, MAKE SOME NOISE! which supports V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women.

Talk about having your finger on the pulse of future culture — The Dylan Project debuted five years ago.

You can find Dylan McDermott on IMDB, and to learn more about V-Day, visit vday.org.

41 episodes available. A new episode about every 15 days averaging 79 mins duration .