Impact of AI On Photography 2019

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff HarmonLeave a Comment

Learn about the impact AI and computational photography is having on photographers in 2019

Is Brent Switching From Canon to Sony?

Brent, as we were talking about his episode you said you wanted to talk a little about a decision you are toying with on possibly switching from Canon to Sony. Tell me about that.

Brent is a conflicted man.  An ongoing saga of what does he want in his life with regard to photography.  Rented an Olympus camera a few weeks ago to give that a try. Looking to go lighter.  Shooting with the 5DM4 now. Just looking to lighten my load.

Lens Flexibility With Sony

He has had the Sony A6400 for a little bit now and has enjoyed using that for video but for some reason hasn’t really been interested in pursuing Sony as his main stills camera.  Not sure what really sparked looking into it more now but he is intrigued and wants to give Sony a try to see if it provides the flexibility he needs and accomplish the goal of lightening his load.  His plan right now is to invest in some lenses for the A6400 and then use them with the full frame camera if he buys one in a few months.

Brent sees more flexibility with regard to lenses with Sony than he can have with Canon.  He likes the possibility of investing a little in crop sensor lenses for the A6400 and then going to full frame later with the Sony A7S3 and still being able to use those smaller and lighter lenses made for the crop sensor on the full frame camera since they share the same lens mount.  

You can’t do that with Canon, the EF-S lens mount on their crop sensor cameras means lenses made for their crop sensor cameras can’t be used on the EF lens mount on Canon full frame cameras.  You can do the reverse, use the bigger/heavier high resolution lenses made for Canon full frame camera bodies on Canon crop sensor cameras (this is exactly what Jeff is doing using Tamron G2 EF mount lenses on his Canon 80D and Canon 7DM2), but he wants to go smaller/lighter.

Not that this is always the end goal.  If the shoot is one where he needs the entire image from the full frame sensor he can use a full frame lens.  If he is traveling and wants to lighten the load then he could use the full frame camera body and use the smaller/lighter crop sensor lens and go from 60 megapixels down to something like 20 megapixels and still be able to do a lot.

Plan is to buy the 70-350 lens and a wide angle prime.  Then if he likes where it is going he will buy the full frame body and invest in full frame prime lenses.

Desired Performance In Sony A7R4

As photographers have shared images from their Sony cameras, they are very impressive.  Not sure I need 60 megapixel images, I have been able to create the images I want with far less megapixels than that.  However, for Brent the ultimate manifestation of his image is a huge mural print. Can that be done with 25 or 30 megapixels, yes.  Is it easier with 60 megapixels, yes!

The A7S2 is only about 12 megapixels, and again megapixels isn’t everything, but Sony has a lot of offerings that are very appealing and provide a lot of flexibility.  Having 60 megapixels would be really nice to have as an option.

For Jeff, megapixels are not the thing he is looking for.  Not looking to upgrade right now, but megapixels are not the spec he is watching for an upgrade.  If he was looking to invest in full frame and upgrade it is dynamic range that he cares far more about.  Even though the Canon 5DM4 is a fantastic camera that he knows he could use to create incredible images, the dynamic range in the Sony sensors are what makes the Sony system something he would really have to consider if he was upgrading.

You can compensate for the lack of dynamic range while shooting by bracketing and doing panoramas.  Jeff loves doing that and shoots this way often, but there are some scenes that you just can’t quite capture with the wind moving leaves on the trees.

Brent had to really consider what is actually important to him with his photography and what gear fits that best.  His rental with Olympus went well but the image quality that came out of it just wasn’t up to what he wanted. The goal to lighten the load was fully accomplished, but the size of the print he can create from those images is too important to him.  This is something where Sony will not be a compromise and still may allow for a lighter load.

Our friend Nick Page switched to Sony from Canon and he recently posted in the Facebook group a panorama taken with his A7R4 where he was just amazed at how much detail was in the photo even at 100%.  Just amazing detail. So much that he had to share the information with as many as he could and was kind enough to do that in our Facebook group.

Brent wishes that Canon had made the Canon 90D a mirrorless camera, but as it is the flexibility just isn’t there with the same EF-S mount and not really saving a lot to lighten the load.  Taking a lot to move Brent out of the rut his wagon wheel is in with Canon but he thinks Sony may just make it happen.

Conflicted All Of 2019

Brent has been conflicted and on this quest nearly all of 2019.  He thought he would switch to Fuji and that just didn’t work out with enough differences in post processing he just could get comfortable there.  He really wanted that to work out but it just didn’t work for him.

He gave Olympus a rental to see what it offered.  He wasn’t too sure it would bring to the table what he needed but so many photographers have done great work with Olympus he wanted to check it out.  Not as committed or convinced with Olympus as he was with Fuji, but wanted to give it a try.

Some may have assumed that as a lifetime full frame shooter Brent just wouldn’t consider smaller camera bodies with smaller sensors, and maybe that is true.  As went into it with as open a mind as he could but it just wasn’t what he needed.

Still, Brent is convinced enough that he is switching to Sony that he has already talked to a few people in his area who were interested in buying his 5DM4.  Not entirely sure at this point that he will get there given how other camera systems have disappointed him, but really going to investigate Sony.

Impact of AI on Photography

AI, or artificial intelligence, is gaining momentum and the impact is growing in the photography industry.  The impact is two fold. First, it is something we can leverage as photographers to help us create the images we envision.  Second, it can be our competition. Photographers need to be fully aware of this in 2019.

iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro and Camera AI

One of the bigger stories here in September 2019 related to AI is the release of the new iPhones where there was a HEAVY emphasis on computational photography dramatically improving the quality of the photos that can be produced.  Brent is a bit of a laggard when it comes to his phone, just barely upgraded his 5c last year to an iPhone 8 Plus and is still paying that off so he isn’t going to be upgrading to the iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro. Jeff is using an iPhone X and intends to get 3 years out of his phones so he won’t be upgrading until 2020.  Both would love to upgrade to get the improved camera performance but can’t swing it.

Still, the reviews of the cameras built into Apple’s new iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro are pouring in and the example photos are really impressive.  The best camera is the camera you have with you and this would be so nice to have the iPhone 11 Pro in particular to have more options to create better photos.  The iPhone X and the iPhone 8 Plus are both very capable of creating good photos, but it would be nice to have a little better option in the pocket all the time.

Apple finally caught up, and some say slightly surpassed, the capabilities of the Google Pixel with low light photography.  There are now three lenses on the back of the iPhone 11 Pro. An ultra-wide, wide, and “zoom” lens.

Here are some of the specs of the iPhone 11 Pro:

  • Ultra-Wide:
    • Shutter: 1/4500 – 1s
    • ISO: 21-2016
    • 13mm
    • Aperture: f/2.4
  • Back:
    • Shutter: 1/12500 – 1s
    • ISO: 32 – 3072
    • Focal Length: 26mm
    • Aperture: f/1.8
  • Back Telephoto:
    • Shutter: 1/4500 – 1s
    • ISO: 24 – 2016
    • Focal Length: 51mm
    • Aperture: f/2.0

Tough to compare those specs to a DSLR or mirrorless camera.  The sensor sizes are just so different with the sensor in all smart phones being significantly smaller than even a micro four thirds mirrorless camera.  The best lens is that normal wide lens, which is good to know so that you can choose to use that lens if you want to get the very best image quality.

Good specs, but what is even better is the software side of things.  The AI based computational photography that is happening in iOS to use these lenses in a way to produce stunning images.  So glad that Android is really pushing things here as well, competition is good for all of us.

AI Tested In iPhone 11 Pro

Austin Mann, a photographer who does work for the likes of National Geographic and Nike among others, published a review with the pros and cons of the iPhone 11 Pro cameras.  

He wanted to test out the new ultra-wide angle lens that goes an equivalent of 13mm, the new “night mode”, changes to how photos are managed on the phone, and the new editing tools available.  He has several example photos that are really impressive in his review post, one of them is a shot of those cormorant fisherman in China which is a pretty popular photography destination that nearly always involves low light.

These fisherman in China are a dying part of the culture.  Fisherman that go out on their rafts with birds that help them to do the fishing.  A unique relationship between the fisherman and the bird to make that happen. Very sad that is a dying profession.  Really the only reason they exist right now is all of the tourists that want to take photos of them. Usually done in very low light with a single lantern lighting the raft, the bird, and the background really.  Beautiful and compelling image when done well and normally impossible with most smartphone cameras until recently.

Some Android phones have had a night mode kind of shooting that used computational photography to overcome the physical limitations of the cameras in the smartphone and produce significantly better low light images than they should be able to based on the hardware.  Now Apple has caught up, and perhaps slightly leap frogged, those Android phones.

Here is what Mann had to say about night mode in the iPhone 11 Pro:

“How Night Mode works: I’ve been caught off guard by the ability to handhold multi-second Night mode shots and maintain sharpness even while in a moving car on a bumpy road or shooting Huang Gaohui on a rocking boat.

If you are a pro familiar with shooting long exposures, you’ll immediately realize something is fundamentally different about how the iPhone 11 Pro collects light in Night mode.

From what I understand, the way Night mode actually works is the camera captures a bunch of short exposures and slightly longer exposures, checks them for sharpness, throws out the bad ones and blends the good ones. On a traditional dSLR/mirrorless camera, a 5 second exposure is one single, continuous recording of the light throughout the duration of the shutter so any movement (of subject or camera) is recorded.

But with iPhone 11 Pro the rules are different… it’s not capturing one single continuous frame but blending a whole bunch of shots with variable lengths (some shorter exposures to freeze motion and longer shots to expose the shadows.) This means the subject can actually move during your exposure but still remain sharp.

I’m sure some of you are wondering, “well this is cool for handholding but what if you want to do light trails?” The iPhone actually detects when it is on a tripod and changes exposure method so that light trails and movement can still be captured.

This new way of thinking took me a good bit of testing/questioning to really figure out what is going on and it is yet another place where the computational side of photography really shines, leveraging powerful software — instead of a big lens with big glass — to capture more light.”

Here are a couple of additional articles to check out on the iPhone 11 Pro:

Is AI and Computational Photography a Positive or Negative For Photographers?

It is amazing what this computational photography and artificial intelligence technology is doing for photography.  Can look at it as a positive being able to get far more out of the hardware we have when the software can enhance the pixels automagically.  It could also be a negative for photographers because it doesn’t take a whole lot of skill to hold up that iPhone and let the software make an incredible photo for you.

There is also the issue of what do you do when you want the image to be something different than the computational photography is going to do?  What if you wanted to get light trails on traffic going by at night? Right now it doesn’t seem like people using the phone for photography have much control over how the computational photography is going to be applied.

The ability to take out sections that have too much blur and replace those pixels with sharper pixels sounds like voodoo magic.  There is live mode the iPhone has had for a while too where the camera is recording like half a second of video and then I can choose which image I want to be the photo out of that time.  Brent is thinking through what it would take to do something like what they are saying is happening inside the camera in Photoshop. Blending together several images to come up with a final image, something that seems like would take forever.

Jeff thinks that it is something we couldn’t actually do in Photoshop ourselves.  Maybe the AI that is being built into Photoshop is going to be able to do this for us just like is happening on the iPhone, but it seems like this requires looking at each individual pixel from the various photos and deciding which one is best to use in a final image.  There are techniques like luminosity masking that help us do this today, but this is at a whole different level.

What Will DSLRs and Mirrorless Do With Computational Photography?

What are Canon, Nikon, Sony, and other camera manufacturers going to do here?  Sure seems like they have to catch up and provide some features similar to this.  Maybe just an automated way to have the needed photos taken and then use software on your computer when you are processing them to have the computational photography happen there.

We have some examples of this already.  Skylum has their Luminar 3 software that is already capable of adding light rays to a photo.  You can decide where the source of the light rays should be, how long the rays should be, how wide the rays should be.  Then you can move the filter around on the screen and see the rays sort of react to the pixels in the image. Gives you a lot of control on where the rays should be and what it should look like.  Really incredible technology.

Skylum has announced Luminar 4 where there is an even larger emphasis on AI-based adjustments that will be available.  They have said the software will have an automated background replacement capability. It can give us a lot of power but it can also lower the barrier to entry and make it possible for a person with almost no knowledge in photography can accomplish pretty incrediblethings.

As a teacher, that part scares Brent a little.  Is he going to be replaced with AI in software so that people don’t have to learn how to use a camera.  He has already had to change his curriculum a lot because Photoshop has become so much easier to use over the years.  Extracting hair with a model from the background used to be so difficult and the tooling in Photoshop really helps with that now.

Brent is all for getting better tools for photographers to use.  AI is removing limitations we have had and there may be an ethical impact to consider along with the issue of photographers being replaced even more than they have today.  Viewers are going to not know what they can trust or what has been faked in an image.

Photographers Need to Know and Understand AI

The biggest takeaway is that photographers of all genres and experience levels need to understand what is going on with computational photography here in 2019.  You need to get on board, understand it, and use it to help you or you are going to be run over by that AI bus!

Check out this article from F-Stoppers: Couple Paid Wedding Photography $800 and Got Better Photos From iPhones.  Now this is not a competent wedding photographer being out done by smartphones, the photographer did a very poor job of capturing the photos for this couple.  This does illustrate the point we are making here though, photographers in 2019 MUST adapt to the new world where smartphones are extremely capable of producing excellent images without requiring a person knows anything about photography!

We all have to figure out how we are going to compete with the crazy uncle Bob in the family who says he can shoot the entire wedding on his new phone.  How are we going to provide a service that is worth paying for when compared to those smartphones? Is lighting going to be the value you add? Is it composition, can that really be enough of a difference when software can analyze an image and crop it to look great?  Is it how you interact with people and get them positioned and posed?

Jeff loves the technology.  It is all positive for him. He will be following it and using it extensively to realize his creative vision.  He can see though that this would be scary to some photographers who don’t and don’t want to understand it. Staying up on this is as critical for photographers today as understanding the competition in your market has been.  AI is rapidly becoming your competition.

Doodads:

Jeff: Rode SC4 3.5mm TRS to TRRS Microphone Adapter ($15)

Brent: ThinkTank Photo Urban Access 15.  Jeff’s workhorse backpack MindShift Gear Backlight 26L Outdoor Adventure Camera Daypack Backpack (Woodland Green) ($250)

Reminders:

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