Out And About 1

I often take photos on my way from one place to another, frequently on my daily commute. Here are some recent ones that I liked.

iPhone X Portrait Mode vs Leica Wide Open

When the iPhone X was announced, I was quite excited about it for a few reasons: the dual cameras, the OLED screen, and the smaller than Plus form factor. Ever since Apple introduced iPhone models with dual cameras, I've wanted one, but I just didn't want the added bulk of the Plus models that had that capability.

One of the interesting features on the iPhone X's Camera app is the Portrait mode that applies a faux bokeh (fokeh, if you will) on the subject being photographed. This is another one of the new computational photography features, like HDR, in the iPhone line and was introduced as a beta last year on the iPhone 7 Plus.

I decided to compare the fokeh with bokeh produced by my dedicated camera, Leica M with a Summicron-M 35mm f/2 lens. Following are a few examples. You can select each photo to see it in a larger size.

All photos were taken handheld. This is significantly harder on the Leica M because of the manual focus and extremely shallow depth of field. That the iPhone makes this effortless is great.

All Leica M photos were taken with the Summicron lens wide open at f/2. The iPhone's wide lens is f/1.8 but I used the Camera app on auto and let it pick whatever settings it wanted.

I tried to keep the frame the same. In hindsight, I should've used a 50mm lens on the Leica M to keep the focal lengths more comparable. However, I don't think that would alter my observations or conclusions.

In the iPhone photo above left there is an obvious artifact on the lower part of this hummingbird feeder. The left side of the feeder is in sharp focus whereas the right side is blurred.

Sometimes the fokeh works but creates completely unexpected artifacts as seen in the following photo of my glasses on a beer bottle. It appears to be due to the transparency and the background. I've never seen this happen when I'm wearing these glasses, as can be seen farther below.

I shouldn't forget that this feature was primarily designed and marketed towards taking portraits of people, and in that respect it continues to do an admirable job. Here are a couple of photos of my partner, Jenni, in different lighting conditions.

I have occasionally taken a selfie with the Leica M in the past but I usually don't bother because it is unweildy to point at yourself at an arm's length. This combo is just over 2 lbs 2 oz and there is no way to see the frame. The iPhone has this down like nothing else.

So the following are all iPhone X images, in normal mode, and portrait mode, with HDR equivalents. These illustrate how useful it can be to blur out the background when it is not at all interesting. Or if you want that pole sticking out of your head to be less prominent. Also illustrated here is the benefit of HDR combined with portrait mode (with only a minor artifact).

Overall, I would say that Portrait mode does a great job of using technological advancement to render this optical effect quite nicely. Subjectively, I find the bokeh to be more pleasing than the fokeh, but ask me again after a couple more generations of hardware and software enhancements.

A Roll of Film

It has been a few years since I used a roll of 35mm film. I think the last time was in Spring 2013. Before that it was my preferred medium for photography for almost a decade.

Last week I shot a roll of Tri-X in one afternoon. The purpose was to make sure my film camera was still operational before I loaded a roll of limited edition Ferrania P30 into it.

It was a pleasure to return to that state of film-shooting mind. I had missed it. Normally I would edit and only put a select few of these online but because this was a bit unusual shoot, I feel like sharing them all. Here are scans of all thirty-eight photos from that roll. I think about ten of them are somewhat decent. Are there any you like?


Voigtländer Bessa R2A with a Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2.

On buying a house

On 11th February in 2015, I decided to buy a house in Portland. At the time I was working on my laptop at Hivolt, a coffee shop in New Orleans. I ordered a cup of pourover coffee named Burundi Buziraguhindwa. The menu described it as “natural sundried, juicy, strawberry, raspberry”. Turned out to be one of the best coffees I’ve ever had. It was the catalyst, because a few minutes later I had made the decision. When I told Jenni about it, she started calling it “magic coffee”. I love her.

Fast forward to August. My cross country road trip has ended, and I’m back in Portland. I’ve been talking to friends about buying a house, and looking for an agent. Amber recommends Laurie Gilmer. I meet Laurie and the house search begins. Two weeks later I make my first offer. She suggests I write a “love letter”, so I do. It doesn’t work out.

About two months pass. I see a bunch of houses. I make an offer. It doesn’t work out. Four days later I make one more offer. It doesn’t work out. The love letter is getting better all the time, I think.

Another month passes. Another offer. I really wanted that one. Nopes. Two months pass. I see a bunch more houses. Another offer. I really really wanted that one. Same story.

With every offer I got sleepless nights and elevated stress. Prices of houses in Portland have gone up by 12% over the last year. That trend goes back a couple of years. Each time it didn’t work out, I wondered if I would be able to buy a house at all.

Tick tock. It’s leap day 2016. Laurie informs me of a house that is being prepared to go on the market so we go see it a couple days later. I like it. On 3rd March I make the offer. On the 4th, it is accepted. 😱

Five days ago, on 11th April, I got the keys to the house. I’m so happy and excited, even though I suspect that it hasn’t fully sunk in. I’ve never bought a house before, and except for six months, I’ve never lived in a single family home my whole life. I can’t wait to move in next week.


P.S. Oh, and by the way, if you know where I can get my hands on some Burundi Buziraguhindwa coffee, please let me know. I have more decisions to make in life. [Update: It is available at Counter Culture Coffee: https://twitter.com/tomburns/status/721458685797466113. Thanks Tom!]

P.P.S. If you’re in a similar boat, I wish you the best, and I highly recommend Laurie Gilmer, Laura Wood, and team at Think Real Estate. And also, Anne Viola at Rose City Mortgage.