iPhone 5 Camera Comparison vs. Ricoh GR Digital III

The new iPhone 5 features an improved camera, mainly in the area of image signal processing in the A6 chip, which reportedly allows it to do intelligent sharpening, noise removal, and pixel binning for low-light situations. The lens elements have also been rearranged, resulting in a slightly different field of vision from the iPhone 4S. There’s also the new sapphire crystal lens cover which resists scratches — unfortunately, I already have a tiny speck of dust on the inside of mine, which I’ll have to get them to clean at some point.

I’m more interested in seeing how the iPhone 5 competes with other point and shoot cameras than with the iPhone 4S. Here are two scenes taken with the Ricoh GR Digital III (my review here), a high-end compact comparable to Panasonic’s LUMIX LX3/5/7 series, and Canon’s S90/95/100 cameras.

The photos below are direct from camera and have not been fixed or enhanced. The GRD III is something of a prosumer camera, and if handled correctly, i.e. with manual controls and lots of fiddling, is capable of some great results. For parity with the iPhone 5, these photos were taken in fully automatic mode, letting the camera figure things out.

Ricoh GRD 3

I had to take this shot twice because the Ricoh chose a very shallow focus, directed on the leaves in the middle, which left the stone duck and foreground leaves blurred out. It’s a little underexposed, but the larger sensor gives some beautiful detail to the fern.

iPhone 5

The iPhone 5 analyzed the same scene, and chose to keep a relatively deep focus for a usable shot the first time around. The photo is also noticeably warmer (pleasant, but perhaps inaccurate) and brighter. This photo is good to go without any editing, which is how most users want it. No problems with sharpness in the details.

Ricoh GRD 3

The GRD had trouble focusing again, and ended up with a spot in the middle (above and to the right of her nose), which keeps the dog’s legs in focus but not the face. Although what fine details that were in focus got captured with a good amount of clarity, the photo is pretty dull and boring on the whole. Your aunt would not consider this a keeper without a trip to iPhoto.

iPhone 5

Again, brighter and warmer. I don’t think the iPhone makes everything warmer, only in shade and indoor lighting conditions. None of the daylight shots I’ve seen so far look overly warm. Sharpness is consistent across all areas of interest, and noise is acceptable for ISO 400. Fine fur details are not as well resolved as in the GRD photo, but this may be down to JPEG compression. Using an app that allows setting lower JPEG compression, such as 645 Pro, may compensate for this.

For most purposes, I can’t see why the iPhone 5 wouldn’t be an adequate camera replacement. In terms of straight-from-the-camera usability, these photos are astounding compared to the GRD III, which used to cost in the region of USD$500-600 (it has now been replaced by the GRD IV model).

I’ve gone on a few trips where I ended up taking all or most of my photos on an iPhone 4/4S, with few regrets. Focusing on the 4S was a little touchy, and it tended to take photos before focus had fully locked, if you hit the button too soon; this seems to work the way it should on the iPhone 5.

Why Can’t Twitter Be Like Foursquare?

Turf Geography Club

I never thought little ol’ Foursquare could lead the way for Twitter, but their approach to the third-party access and monetization problem shows more class and understanding. For the past few weeks now, instead of investing in a user experience that users would choose, Twitter’s stated solution has been to make their apps the only ones in town.

Thanks to a tweet from @tarngerine today, I discovered Turf Geography Club, a location-based iPhone game built atop Foursquare’s place database, with additional Monopoly-like mechanics for upgrading and defending your property. It stands out from all the other “check-in and own this location” type apps by taking a flat-out fun (as opposed to a utility) approach: retro 16-bit style graphics, a Wes Anderson-inspired aesthetic (evident in the name, video trailer, and writing), bears, compasses, illustrated logbooks, and nonsensical references to an eternal struggle between man and nature.

What I liked was how I could suddenly start using Turf as my Foursquare client of choice, checking in as I usually do, but also playing this separate, app-specific metagame at the same time. Likewise, I can choose to use Path to document my movements with friends, and share a subset of those actions to Foursquare, for my other contacts to see them. Or I could document something private in Day One, the journaling app, and still check in to Foursquare from there where the location made sense (publicly, without sharing the contents of my journal entry).

Whatever you think of Foursquare and the people who use it, you can’t deny that this is what everyone would love Twitter to continue being, and what the company seems bent on defying: a confident social platform open to innovative ways of being used.

Foursquare recently updated their mobile apps in a big way, taking focus away from previous key features such as Mayorships, and emphasizing discovery and recommendations instead. The Foursquare app is now really good at showing you things of interest nearby, in categories such as food, shopping, and sightseeing, based on recommendations from other users. I can’t get those in Path or Turf, but my one-way actions in those apps feed back into the enrichment of Foursquare. That’s reason enough for me to keep the Foursquare app on my phone in addition to all the other ones that offer check-in functionality.

Twitter’s mobile apps also do a couple of things that third-party apps aren’t allowed to. It shows interactions that your friends have had on the service: tweets they’ve liked, people they’ve recently started following, and it shows supposedly personalized things of interest: local trending topics, and popular links being shared. The latter is where their advertising monetization is meant to happen, and it’s something that no one loves because it’s often dead wrong about what we want to see.

Imagine if Foursquare’s app showed you places you would never go, or check-ins from people you didn’t know or like. What would be the value in that? Instead, contextual intelligence and expert data mining help Foursquare stay valuable and interesting to users when they want to explore, while their availability to third party apps keeps users active and in the equation. The people at Twitter can’t go wrong throwing everything behind the creation of that value, in the interests of long-term viability, instead of shutting down the future of their service that may come from apps like Turf.

Learning about email newsletters the hard way, week 2

Issue 2 of The Round Down is out, but I had to abandon the TinyLetter service at the very last minute when it flagged the finished newsletter as containing spam, and refused to send it out until a human on their team could verify it wasn’t. That simply doesn’t work for our weekend publishing schedule, so I decided that relationship was over.

Although TinyLetter was acquired by Mailchimp, it doesn’t seem to share tools and services with its larger parent, which is honestly the only game in town if you want to do full-featured newsletters for no money down. I’m betting on it being more reliable and letting us do neat things like submit posts by email. Issue #2 went out without getting caught in a spam filter, so that’s a start.

TinyLetter provides a front page for your newsletter, but Mailchimp does not. I’m now using a custom domain + Tumblr for that, and that’s where old issues will go too. http://therounddown.com

One thing I wish I’d caught: a link that got corrupted in the Markdown to HTML conversion, that I forgot to fix. Rushing to set up Mailchimp and Tumblr over lunch didn’t allow time for a final check. With all other web publishing being of the instant and editable sort, and this being my first go at using email like this, it was something of a surprise that I couldn’t just reach out and edit it afterwards. Hard to keep a print production mentality when you’re writing in Google Docs.

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