Saturday, October 22, 2011

Digital Photography: 3 Step Guide For Beginners

Believe it or not, you don't need to have one of those fancy DSLR's to take great photographs. Certainly there are limitations to what you can do with the little guy, but that doesn't mean it can't take great photos. Here are some awesome tips on how to get the most out of it:

Read The Manual

Yes that is right, Mr. Smarty-pants; read the manual, it is the first and the most important ground rule when it comes to photography, 'know your camera'. Each camera has its own presets and operating modes, take the time and go through the manual and learn about what does what and what each preset does. For eg. You can easily guess the 'night mode' from the preset symbol and know it is for low light photography, but did you know that it uses a lower shutter speed to let more light in ? (highly unlikely, if you haven't read the manual). So go and open that manual, if you can't find it (yeah, this is more likely) download it from your camera manufacturers website.

Before going further lets have a look at some of the basic terms when it comes to photography:

Aperture: It is the opening through which light enters the sensor. It is usually expressed in f-stops. Smaller f-stop numbers means larger openings, and larger openings means more light .

Shutter speed: How long the shutter remains open, for capturing the image. Longer exposures ( like 1 second ) allow much more light in to the sensor than a 1/1000 of a second exposure.

Exposure: The aperture and shutter speed together gives the exposure. You might have seen people writing f2.8: 1/250, this means that the photo was taken using f2.8 aperture and at a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second.

You can get the same exposure with different combinations of aperture and shutter speed, why ? see the image below to understand why

Know The Presets

Already read the manual ? (whoa, you certainly broke some Guinness records buddy.. :D). Ok, read it later, so lets take a look at some of the common modes/presets available on a point and shoot (if you have already gone through the manual, skip this, this one is for the lazy folks):

This is like getting the homeworking done by your mom, you have no clue about what happened, but you get the job done. The camera does everything, adjust the aperture, choose shutter speed, choose the white balance, choose the ISO and the end result is either a good photo or something you would never want to look at again.
This mode keeps your background out of focus (a narrow depth of field, by choosing a larger aperture; small f-stop value). Use it when you’re photographing a single subject, and get close to your subject when taking the shot. If you’re shooting into the sun, enable the flash before you take the shot. 
Use this mode for small objects like flowers, insects etc. Keeping your camera parallel to the subject prevents some part of the subject being out of focus (unless that is what you are intending to do).

It keeps everything in focus (by using a smaller aperture; large f-stop value). Perfect for shooting group of people, landscape(duh !) etc.
Perfect for shooting moving subjects, uses a fast shutter speed. Moving the camera with the subject (called camera panning) and taking the shoot creates a more dramatic picture with more realistic motion blur (and a sharper subject).
Uses a large shutter speed to gather enough light to capture the background. Use either a tripod or use some support (place the camera somewhere and use the timer to get the shot) to prevent blurred images.

These are the basic modes available in the most basic of point and shoots, if you camera is a bit more advanced (and more expensive) then chances are that it has manual and semi automatic modes.

Aperture Priority (A/AV):

This Semi-automatic mode let you choose the aperture (f-stop) and keeps the rest in automatic. Aperture (the opening in your camera, look into the lens, you can see the opening) affects the depth of field. With larger aperture (smaller opening), you'll get more things into focus(large depth of field) and with small aperture you will get a more blurry background(shallow depth of flied). Useful for shooting objects and portraits.

Shutter Priority(S/TV):

 Lets you to control the shutter speed ( how long the camera keeps the shutter open, to capture the image) and keeps the rest in automatic. A Fast shutter freezes the subject in motion and a slow shutter blurs the motion. The slow shutter speed can also be used when there is inadequate lighting, but remember to use some support and use the timer to get sharper images. 

Full Manual:
You change everything, master it and you can do wonders with your point and shoot camera. You can change the white balance, ISO, shutter speed, aperture etc.
White Balance Settings:

  • Auto : Default setting, you camera does the job. Although it works fine in most of the case, sometimes you need to adjust it manually.
  • Tungsten : For shooting indoors, especially under incandescent lighting (such as a bulb). It generally cools down the colors in photos (blue tint).
  • Fluorescent : Make adjustments for fluorescent light and will warm up your photos.(yellow tint)
  • Daylight/Sunny/Outdoors : Doesn't make much of a difference, slighly cools down colors in the photo.
  • Cloudy : this setting generally warms up the colors a bit. (I usually use this mode, as it gives a slight warmth that looks nice on most photos).

ISO Settings:
The ISO value ISO100, ISO200 and so on, determines how sensitive is your camera sensor to light. Point and shoot cameras usually works best at less than ISO 400 due to the small size of the sensor. You may be able to push the ISO further, but the images will get extremely grainy. Pushing the camera to an higher ISO will let you shoot fast moving objects (fast shutter speeds) and poorly lit subjects, but images will get noisy.

Never use it unless it is necessary. Using the flash when there is adequate light can create blown up pictures and harsh shadows. You can use flash when you are pointing the camera towards the sun (so that you can illuminate the subject), or when you have a very bright background with the subject in shadow. In low light if you are going to take some landscape photos or your subject is static, use longer shutter speed and use a support and timer.
If you can walk in closer to the subject, then walk in; using zoom will multiply the effect of your handshake and cause a blurry image. Avoid digital zoom (it is software, so avoid). When shooting in low light avoid zooming, as this will cut off more light, resulting in a darker picture (to compensate this, you can use a longer shutter speed).

Holding The Camera and Taking The Shot is a point and shoot you can hold it any way you want and take the picture. But this is how you are supposed to hold one (especially when you are using longer shutter speeds) so that you get a sharp and less blurred image.Your right hand forefinger should sit lightly above the shutter release (the button for taking the shot), with the thumb gripping onto the back of the camera, and the other three fingers curling around the front of the camera. If you are standing then spread the legs in shoulder width and support the weight of your camera using your left hand by keeping it underneath or hold it around the lens in case you have a mega zoom camera. Then take a deep breath, exhale slowly and take the shot.

That is it it guys, now take out the camera and play with it for a while, you'll be surprised to see what your little camera can do.

Note: I don't own copyright of any of these images in this post, if you want me to remove it just let me know []

Sony NEX-3 : Best Price In Ebay !!

After the Olympus E-PL1 mega discount it is now the turn of Alpha NEX 3, the 14 Mp monster baby from Sony. If you have no clue about what is a mirrorless camera, then take a look at our E-PL1 post. Sony unlike Olympus and Panasonic, uses a much larger APS-C sensor for their compact mirror less series cameras. So what you get (in paper) is a much better image quality (almost like an entry level DSLR ) for the price of a high end point and shoot camera.

Unlike the big brother, the NEX-5, there is no Full HD video (they could have as the spec is almost similar except the materials used for construction, but then there would be no point in paying a lot more for the NEX-5). The NEX-3 has 3" 920k tilting screen but like all other mirror less cameras there is no optical view finder (but the screen is just brilliant). You don't get a flash (it is an accessory, so be ready to spend more if can't live without a flash). Although you can push the ISO upto 12,800 (wtf !!) significant levels of noise is present, so ISO 3200 is the best it can do without any noticeable noise (so low light photography isn't bad with this one).

Image stabilization is lens based (the lens shipped with the camera, kinda ruins the point of a compact camera, and makes it a bit uncomfortable to hold). You can mount the Sony α DSLR A-mount lenses, using an adapter (sold as an accessory), so don't worry about the limited set of lenses available with the NEX series.The battery drains very fast (that is one of the main problems with this one, so get those expensive additional batteries if you shoot a lot). Here is the spec if you need to know:
Sony Alpha NEX-3
Sensor: 14.2 million effective pixels.
Metering: Multi pattern, centre-weighted and spot.
Sensor Size: APS-C-sized CMOS (23.4×15.6mm).
Lens: Sony E Series mount.
Shutter Speed: 30 to 1/4000 second. Flash sync: 1/160 sec.
Continuous Shooting: seven fps.
Memory: Memory Stick PRO Duo, PRO-HG Duo, SD, SDHC, SDXC cards.
Image Sizes (pixels): 4592×3056, 4592×2576, 3344×2224, 3344×1872, 2288×1520, 2288×1280.
Movies: 1280×720, 848×480, 640×480 at 30 fps.
Colour Space: sRGB, Adobe RGB.
LCD Screen: 7.5cm LCD (921,600 pixels).
File Formats: JPEG, RAW, JPEG+RAW, MPEG4.
ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 200 to 12,800.
Interface: USB 2.0, HDMNI, AV.
Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery, DC input.
Dimensions: 117.2×62.6×33.4mm WHDmm.
Weight: 297 g (inc battery and card).
Lens (SEL 18-55):
Lens Type : E-mount 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OSS
Lens Mount Type : Sony E-mount
Aperture (Max.) : F3.5-F5.6
Aperture (Min.) : F22-F32
Focal Length (35mm equivalent) : 27mm-82.5mm (35mm equivalent)
Filter Diameter : 49mm
Lens Groups-Elements : 9 groups, 11 elements (4 aspheric surfaces)
Minimum Focus Distance : 9.8" (0.25m)
Now the deal: Rs.17,999 (shipped) with 3 years Sony India warranty (sweet !!). Like it ? then get it from right now (3 days remaining).

Friday, October 21, 2011

Free Cloud Storage For Android And WP7

After Apple announced their cloud storage platform - iCloud, I was wondering if there is anything similar for Android and Windows Phone 7 as well. Looks like there are lot of them offering free and paid options to choose from, here are the ones I liked (which have some sort of free option):

You get 5 GB with the free plan, and you can then upgrade to 25 GB (~$10/month) or 50 GB (for ~$20/month). Unfortunately WP7 users will have to wait a bit more for the official WP7 app, which will be launching soon (till then use, and also read this if you want some kind of work around). The free personal accounts don't support auto-syncing among devices (though that's possible with a paid account), and there is a file size cap of 25 MB per upload; if these are ok, then give this one a try. Read the full list of features for each type of account, here. Get the app for Android devices from here.

#Tip: Get 50GB free storage on, by downloading the app from iTunes to an iPhone or iPad. It is a limited period offer, ends in Dec 2, 2011. It also increases the file size cap to 100MB. (You can get a friend who owns an Apple device to sign in from one, and avail this offer).


You get free 2GB with the free account, which can be upgrade to upto 100 GB (50 GB:  ~$10/month, 100 GB: ~$20/month). The best thing about dropbox is that there is no file size cap if you are using the desktop client (Windows only), the web interface has a 300MB file size limit.  You can read the full set of features here and if you really like what you see then, get the Android app from here.

#Tip: Get 250MB free storage on Dropbox, by inviting your friends and get upto 8GB more space. For students, 500MB with every invitation and upto 16GB more space with the basic plan.

Google Docs:

The cloud storage service from Google -Google Docs recently added the ability to upload any type of file. Their upload filesize limit is 1GB and you get 1GB of storage for free. There is unlimited storage for Google Docs formats (and they don't add up to the 1 GB cap) and the 1GB is on top of your Gmail and Picasa storage (7GB and 1GB, respectively). If you want more space then there is a yearly pricing scheme (starting at just $0.25 per GB) or you can buy 20GB of storage for your entire Google Account at just $5/year. Get the app for Android from here.

Windows Live SkyDrive:

SkyDrive is a Microsoft’s answer cloud storage. It is the one service that works best in WP7 devices (obviously). The file size cap is very measly at 50MB max. But if offers a whooping 25GB for free. You can install SkyDrive Explorer in Windows and can make up for the absence of a desktop client. You won't find an app in WP7 market place, as it is integrated into the OS itself (Including sync, available in the Mango update) . If you are an Android user, you can view/download using the SkyDrive mobile web interface.
Here's a little feature that Microsoft quietly sneaked into Mango -- you can stream music straight from your SkyDrive account. With the latest WP7 update comes some nice integration with Redmond's cloud storage service, but it's not just for pulling up spreadsheets. You can navigate to any folder and, if you tap on an compatible sound file, it'll start playing the tune in the music app. It's not a full fledged streaming and syncing service like Google Music or a tightly integrated ecosystem such as iTunes and iCloud, but it is a pretty neat trick. -engadget

Ubuntu One:

It is built into the latest version of the Ubuntu, and offers 5GB free storage.You can upgrade to 20 GB at ~$3 / month or ~$30 / year. If you want music streaming then it is $3.99 / month or $39.99 / year with 20GB free storage. Client for Windows is also available, and you can get it from here. With the Ubuntu One Free account you can store, sync and share your stuff from anywhere. If you are an Ubuntu users then go and get the app for Android from here.

(I particularly like their music streaming option, just like what is offered by Amazon on their cloud service, which is sadly available only for US customers, and hence is not listed in this article).


SpiderOak gives you 2 GB free space(online backup, synchronization, sharing, remote access, and encrypted storage storage..hmm that is a lot). You can buy more for $10/month for every 100 GB increment. Also clients for Windows, Linux and Mac are available along with Android and iOS mobile clients, if not there is web client for other devices. You can get the Android app from here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Find Out Who Is Stalking You On Facebook !!

  • Are you game ?
Have you ever felt that someone is stalking you on Facebook ? Then this is your chance to find out who. Allow this Facebook app, access to your public data and just watch the screen, you'll be surprised to see what happens next. And don't worry, it won't do any kind of damage to your account.[ takethislollypop ]

A user reaction video (see ??, she is fine..):

Thanks to our reader, Vishnu for sharing this app. If you are too scared to try this app, then watch the following video (SPOILER ALERT):

HoloDesk - Direct 3D Interactions

HoloDesk is an exciting project from MSR which enables direct 3D interactions. It uses a see-through-display and employs webcam and Kinect for tracking movements. Developed by the Sensors and Devices group at Microsoft Research Cambridge, HoloDesk helps you to manipulate 3D virtual images using your hands. Applications include Physics models, Virtual Rapid Prototyping, Remote Collaboration, etc. HoloDesk has huge potential and I strongly recommend you to watch the video below to see how amazing it is.

iOS makeover for Android : Espier Launcher

Espier launcher brings the iOS Springboard to your android. It succeeds in giving the most authentic iOS look compared to similar launchers existing now. It clones almost all the UI features of Springboard like Spotlight search, Jiggly mode(to remove apps), App Switcher, app folders, etc.

Main Features
- Similar with desktop layout and icons of iPhone 4/iPhone 4S
- Support dynamic icons, such as calendar, SMS, phone and other icons, dynamically display the date, the number of unread messages or missed calls
- Create and edit folders by fast way
- Easy Desktop Editing: press and hold any icon into desktop editing mode;
- Support for adding shortcuts on the desktop
- Applications Access Control: user must input patterns or digital password to start applications
- Support a variety of icon sorting method
- Support for Desktop Searching: you can easily search for applications, contacts, SMS, e-mails and so on
- Support for Desktop configuration restore/backup
 Main operating methods
- Open desktop editing mode: press and hold any icon until all icons begin to vibrate
- In desktop editing mode, drag the icon that you wish to move for position adjustment
- In desktop editing mode, tap "X" on the top left corner the icon for uninstallation
- In desktop editing mode, drag and overlap any icon help to create a folder
- In desktop editing mode, press and hold an icon , then filp around the phone will help to move the icon to another switched page
- Slide finger from screen bottom to top, then go into the task bar, press and hold the icon to vibration and tap "-" on the top left corner of the icon can quickly kill the process
- Slide the task bar to right into the system function switch area, then you can open or close multiple system functions

Download Espier Launcher.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Google Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich !

Google and Samsung unveiled their much anticipated handset - the Galaxy Nexus (Nexus Prime) running the latest edition of the Android OS - the Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0). The horde of new features rumored to be on the new version of the OS, kept everyone excited even though the pictures and video of the phone running the latest OS was leaked sometime back. So now since it is official and everyone is talking about it, shall we look into what it is all about ? Lets start with the phone first (the least exciting of the two; the phone looked kind of boring after seeing the  Motorola Droid RAZR):

Galaxy Nexus:
Firs things first, the display (well it is Samsung, so the display should be exciting even if the rest of it isn't) is 1280x720, Super AMOLED Plus (whoa ! HD). The 4.65-inch screen has a gentle curve (a bit like the Nexus S), and no physical buttons in front (finally those are gone, thank you). The next thing, an NFC (Near Field Communication) radio is built into the phone, which will let you do all sort of cool things like paying with the phone (in places where there is NFC payment facility), communicate with other NFC phones (called Android Beam, will let you send contacts between two phones, just by touching it with the other phone. You'can also 'beam' locations on your map, share webpages, launch multi-player gaming sessions etc).

The camera is bit of a let down, since it is just 5 MP compared to the iPhone and the other new phones sporting 8 MP sensors (but it lets you shoot in 1080p). Here is the rest of  the spec:
Galaxy Nexus Features:
Processor: 1.2GHz dual-core processor
Display: 4.65-inch 1280 x 720 HD Super AMOLED
OS: Android Ice Cream sandwich (Android 4.0)
Cameras: Rear: 5-megapixel, Front: 1.3-megapixel
Video: Playback and recording at 1080p (30fps, MPEG-4/h.263/h.264)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 3.0, USB, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, NFC
Sensors: Accelerometer, compass, gyro, light, proximity, barometer
Memory: 1GB ram + 16/32GB storage
Battery: 1750mah standard battery
Size: 135.5 x 67.94 x 8.94; 135g
Network HSPA+ 21 850/900/1900/1700/2100; EDGE/GPRS (LTE).
Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0):
Now lets get into the really exciting stuff, the yummy Ice Cream Sandwich. What is new ? Google has revamped the look and feel of the OS (Oh boy ! it looks prettier than anything I have ever seen), with an all  new type face thown in (the new native font is called Roboto) and a native resolution of 1280 x 720, it looks stunning. Almost all stock apps have undergone some kind of change or the other and there is now a face unlock option, which uses facial recognition to unlock the phone (you can always use the swipe method, say in low light when the camera won't have enough light to register your face).

Google has also changed the contacts app, which is now called 'people' (hmm..just like WP7 Mango, and it even pulls info from various sources like email, twitter, facebook, google plus.....just like the Mango). Bookmarks created on the browser can be synced with the Chrome web browser, run up-to 16 tabs simultaneously (hmm..that is a lot) and  save a page for offline reading (at last, thanks Google). The native camera app lets you snap pictures while recording a video, and comes with everything from scaling/cropping to basic photo filters.

You can now uninstall any app, even the native ones (oh yeah !). Closing apps has never been this easier (just enter the multitasking interface and wipe it off, that kills the app..smooth). I love every bit if the Ice Cream Sandwich, and the best part ? the in-built data monitoring app, lets you control the amount of date usage allowed for each app, and even alerts you if you cross your monthly data cap. Also added is the ability to scale the widgets on home screen.

The lock screen also has undergone the knife, and now you can do a lot more than swipe to unlock. You can control your music, manage notifications (wait...., isn't this supposed to be a 'lock' screen ? o.O).  A new "Explore-by-touch" mode lets users navigate without having to see the screen by giving audible feedback to users (aimed at visually challenged people) and even reads webpages to them. Also voice recognition has been improved and mic icon is now on the keyboard to dictate text.

There are still plenty of new features and improvements in ICS, but these are the best of the lot. The great news is that the ICS combines the best of the 2.x and 3.x, replacing both in the up coming devices. The Motorola Xoom 2 may get the ICS first among the 'pads' and ICS may find it way to the Droid RAZR announced yesterday in Q1 of 2012. Big day for Google and Samsung and they didn't disappoint anyone, I'm sure Apple will feel the heat and certainly come up with some new 'patent' games soon. This month is certainly intense, and the next big thing will be Nokias WP7 launch. (I hope they won't disappoint too)

And don't forget to watch this awesome video from Google,

Motorola Droid RAZR : Razor Sharp !!

Motorola has unveiled its LTE model, the Droid RAZR. This newest addition to Motorola's Android lineup is powered by a dual-core 1.2GHz TI OMAP4430 processor and first of its kind - a 'Gorilla' glass coated, 4.3-inch qHD super AMOLED display (from Samsung). It is super slim with just  7.1mm thickness and in the back is an 8 megapixel snapper capable of 1080p HD video. As far as memory goes, it has 1GB RAM, 16GB of onboard storage with 16GB additional on the microSD card. A 1,780 mAh battery completes the list of awesomeness.

Additional features:
  • Powered by Android™ 2.3.5, Gingerbread
  • Front-facing HD camera for video chat over 4G LTE, 3G or Wi-Fi
  • 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot capable so customers can share 4G LTE speed with up to eight Wi-Fi enabled devices
  • Water repellent nano coating protects the phone, and even the inside components, against everyday spills
  • Remote wipe, pin lock and government-grade encryption for email, calendar and contacts as well as voice and video chat conferencing
  • Use Quickoffice® to view, create and edit Microsoft® Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents on your mobile device from anywhere at anytime
  • Bluetooth 4.0 low energy
Also announced is MotoCast™, the free Motorola cloud service app that lets you stream or download your music, pictures and more from your PC to your phone.You can also combine the device with accessories, like the Lapdock™ 100 or HD Station, to edit documents and browse using a  full Firefox® browser on a larger screen .

 The global release is slated on November, so start saving guys.

Note: Droid Razr will get the Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) update in Q1 of  2012. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Friday for Android

Friday is another app from Dexetra which acts as your personal journal and answers questions about you.

Friday is an application for Android, which builds a personality of the user from various information streams like Calls, Mails, Places, Status updates etc. and provides answers, analytics and journal to the user. Consider it as a personal Wikipedia, or Wolfram Alpha. Friday has a very powerful answering engine to whom you can ask questions, just like you would to a real person. Friday uses the cloud to store your information so that you can access your phone information from the web and other devices.

Over the past few months, the app has evolved to include more complex technologies and features. Friday runs in the background and using its intelligent data daemon, it creates semantic map of the users' activities. Users can add more details to existing information by adding extra tags, notes and posts.

You can signup for an invite here.

Iris : Siri for Android

Siri has made quite some noise in the recent days as the intelligent personal assistant in the newly launched iPhone 4S. We have covered Siri in the iPhone 4S post. Iris is a Siri-like personal assistant which has been developed by Cochin based Dexetra Software Solutions. It works by using the Text Synthesis function which is built in android. The app was built in just 8 hours. It doesn't have the sophistication of Siri but still it is worth a try. They are planning to make it more interesting and release a final version to the android marketplace.

Dexetra's Narayan Babu says:
It started out as a lazy Friday with half our team missing, the influx of tweets and posts on the "Awesome Siri" were flying everywhere. Suddenly, I got the urge to do something similar for Android. Since we have been working on NLP and Machine learning for over an year now, I had a crazy belief that I could pull this off. Somehow I managed to write a tiny engine that could answer your questions, digging the results from the web.
When we started seeing results, everyone got excited and started a high speed coding race. In no time, we added Voice input, Text-to-speech, also a lot of hueristic humor into Iris. Not until late evening we decided on the name "iris.", which would be Siri in reverse. And we also reverse engineered a crazy expansion - Intelligent Rival Imitator of Siri. We were still in the fun mode, but when we started using it the results were actually good, really good.

Android market link : iris. (alpha)