Nova: A portable flash for Android and iPhone

Kickstarter goal reached, order now for delivery in March 2014

Nova is one of the most exciting projects we’ve seen come out of Kickstarter in recent times. Here at Clove we have a passion for smartphone photography, so naturally we’re keen on products that enhance the photo capabilities of a handset. Nova, therefore, is a perfect match.

What is Nova?

Nova is a portable Bluetooth flash – the size of a credit card – that connects to your phone wirelessly and fits in your wallet. It provides a softer, more natural light than the flash on your smartphone, producing better quality photos that have richer colour and depth.

It’s already reached its funding goal on Kickstarter (the target was $25k, it’s hit $60k with 10 days left to go), so the project is a goer. Free international shipping to anywhere in the world is being offered with Nova (that’s a pretty big deal!), so the prices shown are final. We have made our pledge and will follow up with some demo content once it’s delivered (estimated March 2014).

Visit the Kickstarter page here if you’d like to reserve one for yourself.

But my phone has a flash, why do I need this?

Smartphone photography is progressing at an amazing rate, but low-light shots are still tricky to get right.

By having a separate flash that is not so close to your camera lens and that has adjustable settings, you can create a much better light for your photo.

Typically, due to the effect that it has, it’s best to avoid using a flash when taking photos with your smartphone. It leads to washed out colours and more often that not, at least one person squinting in the photo.

Instead, turning up the exposure and positioning yourself so that the light source shines from behind you is better. This still leads to rather dark photos though, even on handsets such as the HTC One which have a specific focus on low-light technology.

Nova, however, changes this: you’ll no longer need to settle for photos that are too dark, too bright or washed out; and no more closed eyes.

Check out this comparison photo to see the difference that Nova makes.

NovaComparison

Compatible with Android and iPhone

Included with the Nova flash is an app that you control with your smartphone. This enables you to set the type of light that you would like for the photo: soft, warm, or brilliant. At the moment there is compatibility for select Android 4.3 devices (Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One and Nexus 7), plus the iPhone 4S, 5, 5C and 5S. The Android SDK will be made available shortly after release so it’s likely that there will be compatibility with more handsets.

Shipping March 2014

Nova is estimated to ship in March 2014. The entry-level packages are $54 (~£35) including international shipping.

Smartphone Cameras – is this the place for real industry innovation?

Camera-phones and phone-cameras, this is where smartphone manufacturers should be focussing

Cameras and photography are a huge part of modern smartphones, especially flagship devices and here at Clove they’re more than just another number on a spec sheet. A number of the team take an interest in photography as a hobby and others, like myself, take an interest simply in how advanced the technology can become. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve already taken a look back at the introduction of camera phones and how imaging technology has been central to the growth of the smartphone industry. We’ve also speculated at what effect the rising quality may be having on the separate camera industry – could it be harming compacts but perhaps improving sales of bridge and DSLR units?

One thing is certain though, that is the little lens on your phone that was once seen as a gimmick, or an afterthought, or an inclusion made to copy or keep up with competition is now one of the major driving forces in the production of a new device. Major smartphone manufacturers have roadmaps for new devices – they know the general specification of the devices they are going to launch far before they even go into production. This means that the majority of the hardware for a device is finalised long before the public are even aware of the device’s existence. This can also help explain why flagships released at very similar times can have big differences in power – if they started their development lifecycle at different times or weren’t flexible enough to adapt to technologies released during it.

This post will take a good look at camera technology in smartphones, how it has progressed and where it might be going. Read on after the break for some of my thoughts

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Do improving smartphone cameras make us want better separates?

With smartphone photography on the rise, do more people want better dedicated cameras?

Over last weekend I left up a poll concerning smartphone cameras asking if their continuous advancements mean we still need separate compact cameras. The poll is still open if you want to weigh in with your thoughts. The reason I only mentioned compact cameras in this poll is because I am aware how important SLRs are to many people;  professionals and hobbyists alike. The rise in popularity of MILCs (mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras) such as Sony’s NEX range or Panasonic’s Lumia G series, has also highlighted that customers are open to the prospect of much higher quality imagery in a more portable package.

lumia 1020Camera development in smartphones costs a lot of money and R&D time, which clearly goes some way to raise the higher costs of flagship devices. However as consumers, we have long become accustomed to a flagship device falling within a particular price bracket – the improvements to the camera and other hardware features are simply expected to be iterated upon without the price changing much from last year.

One way of viewing this is as having the camera quality improve for the same value; effectively we are getting more advanced camera technology at ‘no extra cost’ – especially when many consumers receive new handsets on contract for free or with major subsidy.  The flipside is that, to a non-camera enthusiast anyway, I have seen comparably little improvement in the value offerings of cheaper compact cameras in recent times.

It is for this reason that I no longer own a separate point and shoot camera, and speaking to friends I receive a similar response. Why would I want to spend the money when my smartphone does the job? One idea that does stand out for me though is that having such accessible imaging technology in an item we are already used to carrying, has opened the door for those with a hobbyist eye to look harder at the higher end of cameras.

The likes of Canon and Nikon are among the long established brands in the camera industry, producing professional and consumer grade units across all price points. For the uninitiated they also provide a stable name to put one’s trust in if opting to spend a lot more on the kind of technology and quality that simply can’t be replicated in a smartphone.

GALAXY S4 zoom side flatSo a question rises – is there a need for further convergence in the two industries? Already we see Samsung and Nokia adding higher grade camera hardware into their smartphones and vice-versa with phone technology and connectivity in Samsung’s compacts. Sony’s rumoured new handset codenamed Honami is also said to be sporting a new generation 20MP sensor. If the need for separate point and shoots is being slowly eroded by the evolution of smartphones then would the next logical steps for smartphone manufacturers be to approach some of the barriers to DSLR and bridge technologies?

It could seem crazy but I can imagine major manufacturers from the industries working together, or perhaps alone with enough resources, to implement such solutions. Of course no smartphone manufacturer or consumer is going to want to compromise on the size of the smartphone handset itself – the one thing that is required to make a proper mirrored DSLR. We can’t break the rules of physics concerning how light enters a device; but companion devices and accessories would be an interesting mid-point between the markets.

Sony-Nex-7-3MILCs have shown that incredibly high quality cameras can be produced in a relatively slim body with a 3/4 sensor and still feature interchangeable lenses. The Galaxy S4 Zoom has also received enough support in the last month or so to show that not all consumers are bound to ‘traditional’ smartphones. As technology marches on, the costs and natural size of these technologies will fall, bringing them closer to the flagship smartphone price points that we are accustomed to when combined.

If you require higher quality imaging then you have likely already committed to carrying extra weight, accessories and other items with you for your hobby. Combining this further into the world of smartphones seems to me to be the best possible outcome and future for the two worlds.

The smartphone won’t replace my SLR just yet

Josh has been talking on the blog in a couple of posts of late about photography on smartphones and it happened to be aptly timed. Just last weekend I put a post on my own personal Google+ profile page about how I am not ready to drop my digital SLR yet and rely solely on my smartphone.

Since 1st January 2013, I have been taking a photo each day and publishing it to my personal blog.  I intend to do this until the end of the year, as a personal challenge/diary for the year.  I am not aiming to be creative or have any professional tact about it, its just something I wanted to do. Some people think it is silly, but it is my personal challenge and has got me using my camera more than before.  If you are interested you can see them here.

However for this project I have been using my smartphone.  It works well because my phone is always with me and can allow me to capture those moments that sum up my day. They do say the best camera is the one that you have with you, which is very true.

Yet I feel compelled on occasions, despite the size, weight and annoyance to carry my digital SLR.  It is a fairly basic one costing around £400 and I have a couple of lenses but the Samsung Galaxy S4 that I use does not compete with the clarity and richness of colour.

With lots of tweaking of the settings maybe I can capture a very good image, but with my digital SLR I can without too much hassle point and shoot and capture results like the following:

I am not saying a smartphone camera can not do this, but few will get these results with so little effort. The Nokia devices probably stand the best chance currently but things are always changing.

I do find carrying an SLR a hassle.  Its bulky and heavy and well just awkward, but the results justify the hassle.

It is also not as integrated meaning removing memory cards or connecting USB cables to upload and share photos.  It takes time and is also more expensive to run a smartphone and an SLR. But. it will only be a matter of time; 2 years I reckon before I can ditch my SLR and rely on the smartphone camera.

How it will happen I am not sure.  I would envisage accessories will make a smartphone camera better (as shown with the Nokia 1020) as it will be very difficult to get it all into one device otherwise.  Even a good SLR is made great by lenses. I am sure manufacturers are planning this already

I really look forward to that day, it will make for a simpler photography option.

Do you still use a dedicated camera?

As smartphone cameras get better and better, do we still need dedicated point-and-shoot compact cameras?

Earlier this week, Jon talked about Samsung and their recent foray into adding much more dedicated camera functionality in the smartphones. Or was that more phone functionality in their cameras..? The point of the post really was to show how Samsung have positioned themselves very well to bridge the gap in the two markets. Samsung compact cameras have been seen for some time in the mid-range compact space and generally receive good reviews with investment in lens technology and software to go with the stylish exteriors.

Samsung may have pushed this integration more than other manufacturers recently but there is definitely scope for others to do the same. With this in mind I’ve started to wonder if we really need dedicated point-and-shoot compact cameras any more? Of course I see the need for both enthusiasts and professionals to use DSLRs, yet with the quality of smartphone photography ever on the rise, is there really a point in having a separate compact?

The poll below will let you cast your vote on the subject and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

 

Smartphone photography – innovation revisited

Looking back at camera phones and their rise

Megapixels, digital or optical zoom, lenses, post-processing and compression – the quality of a digital camera is dependent on many factors that work together to produce the images that we enjoy on a daily basis. Whether you’re uploading holiday albums to Flickr, letting everyone know what you’re having for dinner on Instagram, or reblogging friends’ work on Tumblr, the ability to take and distribute high quality photos has never been easier or more accessible.

At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur (I’m only 25 honestly) it really wasn’t always so easy. Technology, both in hardware gadgetry and software services that facilitate these processes, has exploded in the last few years. The times have changed rapidly and are in constant motion; watching cameras evolve over the last decade has been like watching a microcosm of the whole tech industry, including  initial forays into new ground, convergence with other parallel markets and the rise and fall of giants and minnows alike.

As Clove are Smartphone specialists, this post is going to focus on my experience with camera phones rather than cameras in general. So first off I’m going to go back to the very early 2000′s where most of my time spent with mobile technology revolved around me using my imported Game Boy Light when I should have been asleep..

nokia 7110An uncle working in a phone store gave me access to my first Nokia (a 3210 of course) and I suppose I can be thought of as part of the earliest generation of teenagers who grew up with a mobile in their pocket at all times. He shifted through phones at a rate of knots and it wasn’t long before I got hold of his iconic 7110 with spring loaded face plate. This wasn’t quite the ‘Matrix phone’ – that was a modified 8110 – but manufactured afterwards and still cool enough to look and feel pretty awesome every time I pressed the slide button and used the scroll wheel to play Snake 2 on the bus. Thus begun my love affair with modern gadgets, functional or plainly otherwise!

Something was changing at school though and that something was MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service). My 7110 looked immense but it was an old hand-me-down and even a decade ago, mobile technology pushed on as relentlessly as today; a fickle beast that redefines the entry requirements to coolness every 5 minutes. MMS extended traditional SMS’s cap of 160 simple characters by allowing images, ringtones, videos and other forms of media in a message. Whilst it is now largely defunct with modern data connections and packet based IP networks (I was shocked to find out that I had been billed separately for sending some recently as they weren’t included in my new contract!!), MMS was the original go-to for media and understood by all as ‘picture-messaging’.

motorola v300So picture messaging was the new thing to be doing and I needed a phone that could do it – enter the Motorola V300 – the first phone I had from new and mine for a couple of years. This beauty of a handset not only had a VGA camera (yes a whopping 0.3 megapixels), it also had WAP connectivity so I could check the Saturday football scores on Vodafone Sport for free, mp3 ringtones (polyphonics were DEAD), a backlit caller ID LCD panel when closed and included Stuntman, a full colour top-down driving game built in Java that blew my mind considering it was on my phone.

Camera resolution and by association screen quality (no point in taking 2 MP images if you can only see them on a VGA screen…) quickly became big drivers towards new phone releases. Mobile phones had now firmly moved away from the preserve of businessmen and nerds to being in the hands of almost every teenager and consumer. The result being that new devices could focus more on design and features outside of the traditional hardware specifications in order to entice new or repeat custom. It was here that the ‘numbers wars’ and spec comparison arguments that continue to dominate discussion today began to really start taking place. Super thin bodies and increasing megapixels were fast becoming the norm in TV and billboard adverts.

I went through a handful of feature phones and eschewed the early iPhone and Android smartphones before arriving at Clove. There was one standout though and that was the Sony Ericsson C902 which featured in the James Bond film Quantum of Solace. A 5 megapixel camera and ultra cool slide style lens cover that opened the camera app (I do have a weakness for slidey things) meant I took some great pictures and actually replaced the compact digital camera  that had been bought for me as a birthday present a few years previously. Sony Ericsson focussed on the camera abilities of the device when they weren’t using pictures of Daniel Craig to sell it. With features such as face detection, BestPic (which took a burst of images for capturing a moving subject) and support for uploading directly to blogs, the C902 was on the cusp of a new age that smartphones were about to dominate.

sony ericsson c902

Looking back, one thing I definitely recognise is how much having a camera on my phone made me use it more. I have owned a couple of compact digital shooters over the years but have never really been that big on taking pictures apart from when going on a proper holiday. Even then I tend to leave it up to others! With a camera phone though, the temptation to whip it out and take a few snaps , regardless of the situation, has always felt stronger. In fact, for someone growing up with a mobile phone and other gadgets as part of my identity, it almost feels more natural.

There will always be a subset of camera or mobile users that will want the more expensive and undoubtedly higher quality separate cameras rather than relying on a smartphone. Different needs require different tools. If you’re anything like me though and simply want to be able to take a basic image of the world around you at any given point, what better tool to use than the one already in your pocket and designed to communicate with the world around you?

The evolution and innovation within the industry has resulted in flagship phones arguably being able to take better images than £100 compacts. Depending on your device the level of pre and post image customisation may not yet be available on your phone settings, however when you’ve got limited bag or pocket space on a night out or a trip to the beach, who needs another piece of tech to store and worry about keeping safe?

I understand why some people do, but I’ll probably never bother with a separate camera again, instead making sure the camera in the single device I choose to carry is always at the standard I want. It’s taken many years to get here from those blurry pictures taken in the playground and shared over Bluetooth, but my phone now IS my camera.

Smartphone Photography: Rolling Shutter Effect

The ‘rolling shutter effect’ is not new within photography and is often regarded as more of a hindrance than an effect, but it can produce some interesting videos in the right situation.

This one shows the rolling shutter effect in action when guitar strings are being played (although it should be noted that the video does not accurately depict how guitar strings vibrate)

The rolling shutter effect occurs when a CMOS sensor is being used to capture an image. The majority of high-end smartphones include a CMOS sensor at it allows for versatile features such as fast burst mode and slow motion recording and also takes up less processing power than alternatives.

A CMOS sensor works by scanning each frame from side to side in a sweeping motion as opposed to capturing the entire frame in one go (as would be the case with high-end cameras). More processing power is required to process an entire frame, so by capturing the frame in stages (e.g 1/100th at a time) less memory is required.

However, when capturing extreme conditions of motion or fast flashing light, a CMOS lens can cause the rolling shutter effect to occur. In the cases below, this creates some nice looking visuals, but it can also cause annoying distortions of videos at photos at other times.

This video does a good job of explaining with visuals why the rolling shutter effect occurs:

How to prevent rolling shutter effect

In some cases the rolling shutter effect will be nearly impossible to prevent, such as those when you are capturing extreme motion in a repetitive cycle. However, you may be able to address the problem in some situations by steadying the camera as much as possible and increasing the frame rate (this may involve reducing the resolution of the recording if the setting is available).

Smartphone photography: is now the time for RAW?

Photography on smartphones has come an incredibly long way in the last few years, it doesn’t take too much effort to cast the mind back to a time when pixelated VGA images were the norm and the idea of a phone with a camera sensor with even a single megapixel was a distant thought.

Nowadays, imagery on smartphones is big business as Facebook’s billion dollar (or thereabouts) acquisition of Instagram last year is but one testament to. When you pick up a new smartphone, you expect to be able to start taking decent quality pictures with it straight away and, connection provided, share them almost instantaneously. Camera functionality is now so ingrained in smartphone operating systems that there is often a shortcut to get to the camera app from the lock screen, and any security issues this once caused have now been ironed out in many versions.

It was professional photographer Chase Jarvis that said the now trademarked and oft-repeated quote “the best camera is the one that’s with you”, which has become something of a mantra for those invested in smartphone photography. This is true in so far as, sure, if all I have with me is my phone, then what else am I going to use? However, with the rise in both interest and knowledge of the standard user, coupled with the power and ease of use of many editing applications, there is a growing community of people that want to be able to do more. So along with belated improvements to mainstream smartphone cameras such as improved sensor size and physical zoom, one thing being asked for is RAW format shooting. If you don’t know what RAW files are then read on.

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HTC UK Dusk Until Dawn Photography Project

Ever fancied a once-in-a-lifetime trip to see the Northern Lights?

If the answer is yes, and you are in the UK, why not consider taking part in HTC’s latest competition. 

Dusk Until Dawn photography project is about capturing images on your smartphone of the unseen side of the UK between the hours of sunset and sunrise.

Entries should be sent to @htc_uk with #duskuntildawn.

Each week internationally renowned photographer Poppy De Villeneuve will shortlist her favourites whilst the winner will be decided by a public twitter vote. 

The competition started on the 2nd and runs for 7 weeks, so there is plenty of time to capture your images.

Find out more by watching the video below.

Top Windows Phone Photography Apps

As Photographer Chase Jarvis once said “The best camera is the one you have with you” and if you happen to be carrying around a Windows Phone 7 device  the team at WP Central have compiled some of their favourite photography apps to add some creative flair to your snaps.

Thumba Photo Editor

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Price: Free (trial) or $0.99 for Full Version
Link: Get it here

Thumba allows you to apply 20 different effects to your photos as well as the usual image editing functions such as cropping, resizing, colour adjustments as well as coming with a handy before/after view to see exactly how your image changes when you make an adjustment.

Sketch Camera

Sketch Camera

Price: $1.49 for Full Version
Link: Get it here

Sketch Camera gives users the option of applying one of 12 different “hand-drawn” effects to existing photos or firing up the camera and applying the effect straight away. It does seem quite a high price for some limited functionality, though, and there’s not even a free version to try out first.

Fhotoroom

   

Price: Free
Link: Get it here

Fhotoroom is the closest thing Windows Phone users can get to Instagram at the moment. It features the usual dazzling array of filters and effects, photo sharing to the usual social media suspects such as Facebook and Twitter as well as being able to see the photos of other Fhotoroom users. All for the bargain price of… err… nothing.

AutoPanorama

image

Price: Free
Link: Get it here

If you don’t have access to the panorama modes provided in HTC and Nokia phones then this app can help you stitch together some breathtaking scenery shots of your own. Just point, shoot and slowly sweep the camera along the landscape to automatically capture and stitch together photos to capture the scene.

Pictures Lab

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Price: Free (trial) or $2.99 for Full Version
Link: Get it here

Again we have another photo editor here, again with its own in-app camera, again with more filters, adjustments, borders and effects than you can shake a stick at. Like Fhotoroom this one allows sharing to other services although it comes with a hefty $2.99 (well, not that hefty in the grand scheme of things) price tag. It does however have a free version for you to give it a whirl before parting with your money.

Apict

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Price: Free (trial) or $0.99 for Full Version
Link: Get it here

It makes your photos look like old school polaroids complete with a handwritten description. It also has the added bonus of making the sound of a polaroid snapping and printing your photo, which more than justifies the $0.99 price tag!

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