Tag Archives | Digital Photography

Polaroid’s SX-70: The Art and Science of the Nearly Impossible

Polaroid co-founder Edwin Land with an SX-70 and an SX-70 snapshot in his Cambridge, Massachusetts office on November 1st, 1972. Photo: Joyce Dopkeen/Getty Images

What makes a gadget great? You might argue that it’s determined at least in part by how many lives the product in question touches. Back in 2005, when I helped choose a list of the fifty greatest gadgets of the past fifty years, we ranked the Sony Walkman as #1 and Apple’s iPod as #2. Fabulous gizmos both; I suspect, however, that they wouldn’t have topped the list if they hadn’t been bestsellers of epic proportions.

The SX-70–specifically, the SX-70 which I bought at an antique store in Redwood City, California in April of 2011.

But greatness isn’t a popularity contest–not primarily one, at least. Maybe it has more to do with the concept expressed by Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law: making technology indistinguishable from magic. By that measure, I can’t think of a greater gadget than the SX-70 Land Camera, the instant camera that Polaroid introduced in April 1972. We ranked the SX-70 eighth on that 2005 list, but the sheer magnitude of its ambition and innovation dwarfs the Walkman, iPod, and nearly every other consumer-electronics product you can name.

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Four Technological Holy Grails

If you could somehow transport me as I was fifteen years ago to 2011, the old me would be flabbergasted by how much technology improved in so little time. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if you showed 1996 Harry an iPad, I’d insist that it was either a hoax or witchcraft.

But if 1996 Harry stuck around in 2011 for a while and used modern tech products, I’d also be surprised by some things that haven’t changed. Annoying things. Annoying things that I would have assumed would have been fixed long before the second decade of the new millennium rolled around.

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Eye-Fi Rolls Out Direct Mode and a New Card

Eye-Fi, the folks who make the unique SD cards with built-in Wi-Fi, are just about ready to launch the most interesting improvement they’ve made since they unveiled their first cards. Previewed in January at CES, it’s called Direct Mode, and it will let you transfer photos from a camera with an Eye-Fi card directly and wirelessly to an iPhone (or other iOS device) or an Android phone or tablet–where you can then upload them to the Web using Eye-Fi’s  apps or use them with any phone app that involves photos, such as Instagram, Path, Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter.

If, like me, you do much of your photography these days with a phone but aren’t crazy about the results, this is potentially a more exciting application of Eye-Fi’s technology than its original features, which require that you be within range of an available Wi-Fi network to get photos off your camera and onto the Internet.

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Google Takes on JPEG

Stephen Shankland of Cnet reports that Google is about to introduce a graphics file format that stores photos and other images much more efficiently than JPEG, the planet’s dominant image format. Good luck with that: JPEG 2000, an earlier attempt to render JPEG obsolete, never caught on. Neither has JPEG XR, an open standard originally created by Microsoft which I haven’t thought about since it was announced back in 2006. (Back then, it was called Windows Media Photo; it was renamed HD Photo before ending up as JPEG XR.)


Roxio Creator: Cheap n' Simple 3D

Full disclosure: I think of myself as a 3D skeptic. On balance, I think its impact on the movie business is pernicious–sixty years after the first 3D boom, it remains a gimmick, not an artform. As for 3D TV, much of the enthusiasm I’ve witnessed so far comes from TV manufacturers rather than consumers, and the need to pay for all those pricey glasses still seems like an overwhelming gotcha.

Despite all that, I kind of like the approach to 3D in Roxio’s new Creator 2011, the new version of a venerable swiss-army knife package for creating, editing, and sharing media of all sorts. If you happen to be one of the few folks who own a 3D camera or camcorder, a 3D HDTV, or a laptop or monitor that works with Nvidia’s $200 3D Vision active shutter glasses, Creator ‘s new 3D features will work with them. But they don’t require any special equipment other than the pair of blue-and-red lens cardboard spectacles that come in the box, and you don’t need to know anything about 3D to give them a whirl.

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Fuji's Second-Generation 3D Camera: Are You Ready to Give Your Pictures Another Dimension?

At a very interactive product launch, Fujifilm this week rolled out a point-and-click camera that lets people display 3D photos on either a 3D TV or a PC. If you own the right kind of laptop or desktop PC monitor, you don’t even need to wear 3D glasses to view the third dimension of your work, Fuji officials said at the event at New York City’s Museum of Natural History.

Nevertheless, the new FinePix Real 3D W3 digital camera comes with an HDMI interface for instant viewing of 3D pics on virtually any manufacturer’s 3D TV with the assistance of stereographic 3D goggles. The camera will compete with a couple of new Sony models which, like the W3, are due to ship next month.

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