Spencer’s notes on AI, chatGPT, and the photography world resonate strongly with what I’ve personally been feeling for a long time. For years before the advent of AI in our industry, I was concerned with the “value” side of photographs. What is it that makes an image really worthwhile?
I’ll stick to my field, wildlife photography. You can always photograph animals in a zoo or birds in an aviary and get easy, technically appealing shots. But when you do, how much are you learning about the animal’s habitat, hardships, and natural life? Most of the time, there is no story behind the photo.
Regardless of aesthetic qualities, that’s why photo below is almost worthless in my eyes. This is not a photo that required me to engage with my subject or understand it. It’s a photo from an aviary in the suburbs of Prague. I wouldn’t say it’s exactly like typing a few prompts into an AI image generator, but it’s not far from it, because there is no story behind the photograph. It required hardly any thought or creativity on my part to capture.
Was that a bit too deep for a weekly news roundup? Well, it’s something that was on my mind as I scoured the web for the most important photography news of the week. Here’s what I found for you.
- Nikon Z50 firmware 2.40: No revolution, but a useful update that will come in handy, especially for videographers. Nikon Z50 gets eye-detection AF for video. In addition, the eye-detection performance in Auto-area AF mode has been improved. According to Nikon, the refresh rate for the focus area displayed in live view mode during subject tracking and when using face/eye detection focusing has also been improved.
- New HDR sensor from Canon: 1.0-inch, back-illuminated, stacked, 12.6MP CMOS sensor with an industry-leading dynamic range of 148 decibels (dB). Canon does not achieve the high range by merging multiple photos with different exposures. The entire image is captured at once, eliminating blur when photographing moving subjects. The new technology is intended for security applications for now. However, the potential for civil use is obvious. See the details in the link.
- A Cosina lens for Leica M mount, soon for Nikon Z: Have you ever dreamed of shooting at f/1? It’s nothing but swirls of sugarplum bokeh, I’m sure. Already, Leica M rangefinder users have had access to the $1800 Cosina 50mm f/1 lens. Now, Nikon Z shooters will have a native version “under a license agreement with Nikon.” The lens is manual-focus only but has electronic contacts for EXIF data. Ships in February.
The Rumor Mill
Rumored fast Canon wide-angle lenses
It’s a big week for Canon lenses! Starting on the wide angle side of thing, there are two patents that seem likely to become actual products (which is far from a given with Canon patents). These are the Canon RF 14mm f/1.4L IS USM and the Canon RF 24mm f/1.4L IS USM. Both lenses are sure to be popular choices for night sky photographers or reporters working in challenging lighting conditions.
Via Canon Rumors
Another Great white will soon emerge in Canon waters
According to Canon Rumors, Canon is expected to introduce a new “big white” telephoto lens within a month or two. What exactly it will be is only something we can speculate about for now. But looking at Canon’s existing portfolio of RF mount lenses, one can guess. My prediction is that the new lens could be a successor to the EF 500mm f/4L IS USM II or EF 200-400mm f/4L IS 1.4x.
Is Canon planning to introduce mirror telephoto lenses with AF?
This question is hard to answer, because it hinges on more patents. The patents in question would be an intriguing 300mm f/2.3 and 400mm f/5 lens. I’m generally not a big fan of mirror telephoto lenses. They have a fixed aperture, and they tend to produce strange bokeh. But mirror lenses are light, small, and cheap. If they can autofocus well, they could make great budget options for Canon photographers.
Via Canon Rumors
Photo Contest Corner
Pink Lady – Food Photographer of the Year
- Topic: A number of categories where food is the central theme.
- Fees: £30.00 for up to 5 photo entries.
- Prize: £5,000 for overall winner. Up to £1,500 for individual category winners.
- Deadline: February 5
Motif Collective – Street Photography Competition
- Topic: Street photography
- Fees: $12 to $36 (up to 6 entries)
- Prize: Cash awards up to $10,000 to the top three photographers.
- Deadline: February 7
Vital Impacts Environmental Photography Grant
- Topic: Photographs submitted should demonstrate the entrant’s experience of photographing a local conservation story. See the Vital Impacts website for more details.
- Fees: $25
- Prize: The two $20,000 grants will support the development of a documentary project on the work of an environmental story over the course of twelve months.
- Deadline: February 7
Good Deals and New Sales
The continuous progress in camera development has helped older models drop in price dramatically. An example of this is the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. This heavy-duty sport and wildlife camera is now priced at $2,999, half the original price. For Nikon, the D850 is also worth considering. It is now priced at $2,797 (which is $200 less than usual).
This trend is even stronger in IT. I brought you some MacBook deals last week, and here are a couple of other great sales from Apple. If you edit your photos on the go, a two-year-old Apple 16.2″ MacBook Pro with M1 Pro Chip for $2,199 (was $2,699) is a great performer. Do you edit your photos only at home? Then consider the Mac mini with M1 Chip for $549 (was $699). Apple doesn’t often put their products on sale to this degree, other than for Black Friday.
Other Pages of Interest
The war in Ukraine leaves no room for making light of the situation. Still, an interesting post appeared on the Military Force Ukraine Twitter account. As a wildlife photographer, I sometimes camouflage myself in the field. But compared to Ukrainian snipers, I am very, very poor at this. Judge for yourself.
Let us take our attention away from earthly matters for a moment and look at the sky. Probably all of us who own a telephoto lens have tried to photograph the moon at some point, right? I remember being blown away some time ago when I saw the level of detail that can be captured from Earth. But it doesn’t compare to what The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), Green Bank Observatory (GBO), and Raytheon Intelligence & Space (RIS) have recently managed to do. If there were trees growing on the moon, you could count them in the photo. Here’s a glimpse of Tycho Crater.
With the deadline for the Vital Impacts Environmental Photography Grant approaching, I’d like to introduce you to the name behind this project. It is world-renowned nature photographer and photojournalist Ami Vitale. Out of her many projects, I have chosen one that is personally close to my heart. It’s about the last northern white rhinoceros male, Sudan. I went to see Sudan years ago at the nearby Dvůr Králové Zoo. Last year, unfortunately, I visited him at the National Museum in Prague. Attempts to save the species have failed despite best efforts. Here are the photos of the last of its kind.
Re the owl photo. Perhaps it doesn’t tell a story you’d expect, but to all readers, take a breath, let go of expectations, look at the owl picture and tell me you don’t feel anything?
It is simple, beautiful and looking in the eyes evokes an emotion. We cannot see that the owl is not “free” but we do FEEL a sense of sadness.
Story story story, that’s one way of looking at photography. But looking at art, look with your feelings, and as such, this is a worthy picture.
Just my personal take on it.
I understand your point about the owl photo, but by denigrating the photo, you’re also denigrating the animal. Do you, or any of your human subjects, live in the wild? Were you raised by wolves? Did you even hunt for your dinner? Do you have any value? I’m not trying to be a jerk (it comes naturally to me), just adding to your thought process.
I see your point. In my owl photo, only the owl is natural. Everything else is de facto artificial and unnatural. If I publish this photo anywhere, I feel it is my duty to point that out. Otherwise, I would feel like I was lying to people. There is a bit of the photojournalist in me.
But the situation is different with Joel Sartore (www.joelsartore.com/), for example. His project of photographing animals in extremely controlled conditions at the zoo is amazing. It depends very much on the context.
Your mention of humans would take us to the edge of a big topic, which I won’t go into. Deciding whether a species is native to a particular area is a difficult question. Basically, it depends on what time you take as the dividing line. And I don’t want to bring evolution into it. Humans evolved under very different conditions from those in which we live today. The result is the teeming offices of psychiatrists, orthopaedic surgeons and gastroenterologists.
I think it’s a little more complex.
Ok, a zoo is one thing.
I take my photos ‘wildlife’ photos:
A) At a birds of prey conservation centre.
B) At a hide where the outside is designed to attract certain birds.
C) In my garden, where I’ve put up feeders and a reflection pond.
D) At a nature reserve.
E) On the coast.
Which (if any) of these is not ‘authentic’ and fails to provide a ‘story’?
There isn’t a great deal of ‘wild’ wildlife in England. Possibly some in Scotland and Ireland.
I took quite a pretty little photo of a great tit yesterday during the RSPB annual garden bird count. I don’t feel that it lacks a ‘story’.
In fact I’d say the opposite. In an hour of watching I clocked 3 blue tits and one great tit. Far worse than my previous results.
There lies an indictment of this country’s attitude to its wildlife. That’s why we protest to the government to improve the state of nature.
Like talking to a brick wall …
You are right, Robert, that the situation is not as black and white as I have presented it. Well, it is if we include AI generated images in the whole thing. All the places you mentioned are perfectly fine from my point of view. Even the birds of prey conservation centre. The conservation aspect is particularly interesting there, that is, why the birds are there. Personally, I appreciate most the photos that have more of my personal effort behind them. However, this is usually not apparent in the photo itself. This is why I love so much the “behind the scenes” footage that the BBC or Netflix have been providing in their documentaries in recent years. It’s a valuable and often surprising insight for people into what such work involves. I wish that (not only) your garden is once again teeming with a variety of birds.
Yes, the last 10 minutes of a BBC wildlife programme are quite wonderful.
Thank you for the wish. We’ve got 2 wildflowers patches, fruit trees, an area that we leave undisturbed and feeders for mixed seeds, sunflower hearts, peanuts and suet balls. Not sure what more we can do.
That Owl photo is far from worthless, it’s quite beautiful, Libor. I agree that the story does matter for a photo. But there’s nothing wrong with a slightly less dramatic story either. But I think taking the human out of the equation with AI does so much more damage to the worth of an image. Anyway, nice shot!
Thank you, John. In every photographic genre, the story behind the photo, i.e. its authenticity, plays a different role. In product photography zero, in journalistic photography let’s say ninety percent. Wildlife photography is somewhere around 70 percent, maybe more. At least for me. But by the time most of the content is created with the help of AI there will be no story anymore. There will just be perfect photography with zero inner content. And it’s not just a matter of photography, but art itself. This is a topic for a long conversation around some old-fashioned, non-updateable, completely analog medium. Maybe by a fire.
It is a beautiful shot. If it were shot in the wild, I would have loved the story behind how it was found and the effort and technique making the shot. Thus, I agree with you, Libor.