Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Leica M262 sensor

LFI has recently published an article stating that the sensor in the new Leica M262 differs from that in the older Leica M240. This has generated a fair amount of comment on various forums because the M262 is, at least in principle, just a simplified version of the M240. Live view has been left out, no video, etc, etc.

I can't claim to know whether in fact the sensor is different or not. It would certainly be possible to have a simplified sensor - the various capabilities that have been removed certainly add complexity to the sensor. And generate heat, drain the battery, etc. However, making even small changes to an established sensor design is an expensive process, so the question is whether it actually made financial sense.

I have taken a look inside the DNGs produced by the M240 and the M262, and in as much as it relates to the sensor, the two files are identical. Of course, the pixel dimensions, etc are the same as you'd expect, but the most significant similarity is that the color matrixes are also identical. That makes it near certain that the dyes in the color filter array are the same. That in turn implies that the sensors are built on identical technology.

So, while there's no way to tell whether the sensor is "new" or not, the technology isn't new. As a result I'd predict that the actual imaging performance of the two cameras will be identical for all practical purposes. Which will perhaps be a bit of a blow for those hoping that "different" meant improved performance -- the M240 sensor is now several years old.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Mini comparative review : Eight email apps for Inbox Zero

Mostly, I use this blog to write about photography related issues, but today I'm making an exception, and writing about email apps. Apologies to regular readers, but never fear, normal service will resumed soon.

Email is important to me. As a consultant and entrepreneur, I get a lot of email, and have to process it efficiently. If I didn't, I could easily spend a large proportion of my day just dealing with email. I might add, I don't actually like email. Given the choice, I'd abolish email, and move to a messaging-style system such as Slack or one of it's competitors. But given that 90% plus of the communicating that I do is "external", rather than to people that work with me regularly, that's not an option.

My way of processing email efficiently is "Inbox Zero". Inbox Zero is an approach to email management aimed at keeping your inbox empty -- or almost empty -- at all times. In essence, the idea is to immediately either delete, archive or respond to as many emails as you can. Those that you can't immediately respond to, you defer. So to the extent possible, for as many emails as possible, you only deal with them once, rather than leaving them in your inbox forever, to be opened and reopened.

Until a few days ago, I used Mailbox on both my iPad and desktop, despite the fact that the desktop app was notoriously buggy. Mailbox was originally a stand-alone startup, but was taken over by Dropbox in 2013. However, Dropbox has now decided to discontinue Mailbox, much to my horror and annoyance. So I am now faced with having to replace Mailbox.

The reason why Mailbox was great for me was that on the iPad you could swipe any email in your inbox, and depending on swipe direction and length, you could delete, archive, or postpone any email. So one swipe per email to Inbox Zero. Very efficient.

In order to find a new email app, I've been looking though quite a list of options. Mailbox's creation triggered a lot of activity in the field. Numbers of new email apps, all with subtly different approaches to handling email, emerged. This is my take on the apps that I've looked at. This is by no means a full review of each - some apps were clearly not suitable for me, and I abandoned them almost immediately, without more than perfunctory testing.

Mail Pilot

Mail Pilot, from Mindsense, was the first app that I looked at, and the one that I had the highest hopes for, because unlike pretty much all the other apps on my list, Mindsense has apps for both iOS and OS X. Also, it has the option to defer emails, which is something that not all apps have. I chose to test (actually, I bought) the desktop version first, but was disappointed. It works reasonably well - certainly it's more reliable than Mailbox's desktop app ever was. But there were occasional problems syncing, and occasional strange behavior. But my real problem with Mail Pilot is that it's just ugly - the tool bar icons look like something from Windows 95. Really. Also, I found the user interface to be non-intuitive. So it's just not something I can see myself using regularly. I didn't test the iPad version; there's no free trial, and I had already lost faith that Mail Pilot was for me.


Zero also initially looked good. There's no Mac app, but when Mail Pilot fell by the wayside, it became clear to me that I probably wasn't going to find a multi-platform solution anyway. Zero ticked most of my boxes - a nice clean interface, and swipe to archive, etc. It doesn't have a true defer option, but does offer a scheme of prioritizing emails.

However, Zero proved to be very buggy. When new emails came in, the badge count incremented, but the new email didn't appear in the inbox. Huh?? Also, Zero doesn't have push notifications, even on GMail, where push is very easy. I contacted MailFeed, but they were unable to resolve the issue of the inbox not updating, other than suggesting that I do a manual update.


MailDeck, from Crono, is an interesting app. Unlike some of the other apps that I tried, it worked flawlessly, and supports turning emails into tasks. However, it has a few issues:
  • Firstly, the user interface is a bit unconventional. For example, the inbox uses a grid display. On an iPad, three columns are shown in landscape, and two in portrait, with a total of six emails displayed in summary form. But other apps with more conventional layouts, e.g., Mailbox, Outlook, etc, show summaries of six or seven emails and the full version of a selected email. 
  • No single swipe to action an email; you have to touch the action button, then touch what you want to do.
  • The display also uses lots of colors; it's not exactly in line with the "flat" iOS 9 design. 
  • Finally, while the app does support turning emails into tasks, the process is unintuitive, and doesn't have the simplicity of just deferring an email. 
The full unrestricted app is $19.99, which seems a lot given the competition. But if the interface and the task functionality appeal to you, this is a workable option. If you're planning on trying the free version, note that it has some really obtrusive "Upgrade now" advertising built in.


Spark, from Readdle, comes with a major recommendation: Apple has picked Spark as the “Best of the App Store 2015”! It also ticks most of my boxes. However, there's a huge problem - Spark doesn't support the iPad. It will run, but with iPhone screen resolution. So not an option for me - I do a lot of emailing on my iPad.


Google's Inbox app is well known, and it's a very serious contender. As well as being specifically designed to facilitate Inbox Zero, it has a whole list of smart features that no other email app provides, such as check-in for flights, shipping information for purchases, etc. It also integrates fully with Gmail accounts, handles appointments well, etc. And is very reliable. If I had to, I could live with Inbox. But for me, Inbox also has some less than ideal features:
  • No unified inbox. Apparently the Android version does have a unified inbox, but not the iOS version. That may change soon, but for the moment, this is a deal killer for me.
  • Strange iPad user interface. Inbox's user interface on the iPhone is fine, but on the iPad has huge amounts of wasted space. It's as if Google built Inbox as a universal app, but only designed the display for the iPhone.
  • Inbox only supports Gmail accounts. Which is a bit of a problem if you have other accounts!


Boxer, which comes with the tagline "A better inbox", is functionally the best Mailbox replacement that I have been able to find. The user interface isn't quite as clean and fluid as Mailbox, but Boxer has short and long swipes to either the left or right for emails in it's inbox, and each kind of swipe is customizable. So Boxer is one of the few email apps that fully delivers on Mailbox's "one swipe to action" paradigm. There's also a lot of other features to like:
  • Integrated scheduling. This is actually a big deal in many situations, one of the problems with Mailbox was that it didn't do scheduling. Boxer really does, which is great.
  • Connections to other services such as Evernote, Dropbox, Facebook, etc
  • The iOS version connects to Sanebox, which automatically categorizes your email, also very handy.
However, I did have reliability issues with Boxer. The contacts screen didn't always display my contacts. Strangely, when sending an email, my contacts appeared as autocomplete options, but Boxer's contacts screen was blank. I also had problems with Boxer not responding to changes in screen orientation on my iPad. Worse, technical support was non-existent. When I contacted Boxer about the problems, I received a automatic acknowledgement promising a response "as soon as possible", but that response never came. (Update - Boxer did eventually respond, but more than a week later. And the response didn't give a fix.)


CloudMagic is a bit of an outlier on this list. It's hugely popular, but viewed as an app for InBox Zero, or as a Mailbox replacement, it really doesn't stack up. There's no swipe support, so actioning an email is a matter of two button presses. It does have support for deferring emails, but in a bit of a obscure way; you have to touch and hold on the star button. The default options for how long to defer are not really well thought out. If you get an email late at night, you might want to defer it till tomorrow morning, which is an option that than several other apps have. But CloudMagic's closest option to "tomorrow" is "24 hours", which is not ideal. So you have to manually set tomorrow 9am. But CloudMagic still deserves a look because of it's other features:
  • Most important, CloudMagic is beautiful. In fact, CloudMagic got a Webby for its visual design. Of the apps I tried, it's the only one with a better user interface than Mailbox. Most of the other apps, and Maildeck is the worst offender, have ugly toolbar icons and/or garish colors. CloudMagic has a clean, understated look, but still manages to work fluidly.
  • CloudMagic works with pretty much any email provider, including IMAP accounts.
  • CloudMagic's big party trick is integration with other web services. Rather than viewing itself as the one app that you're going to use for everything, CloudMagic seems to view itself as coordinating between email and other services. It uses the paradigm of "cards", that can be sent to services such as Salesforce, Evernote, Pocket, Zendesk, Trello, MailChimp, DropBox, etc, etc. 
I tried CloudMagic's integration with Trello, which I use for project management anyway, and it worked exactly as advertised, the CloudMagic card showing up on my selected Trello board. For some people, this is likely to a very useful integration, and may justify CloudMagic all on its own. In effect, you can use passing an email to Trello, or another supported service, as a "defer" option. The only problem with this is that you don't get the email back to reply to. In my case, I frequently need to reply to deferred emails, which makes the CloudMagic to Trello workflow less than perfect.


Outlook, from Microsoft, might not be what some people expect to see on this list. Saying Microsoft Outlook tends to bring up the image of the solid but clunky app that Microsoft ships with Office. Outlook for mobile is a different product, with a much more streamlined interface. It does pretty much everything that you'd want from a mobile email client, including calendaring. Outlook also has good support for Inbox Zero, with email scheduling, and swipe options.

The only downside to Outlook is that the swipe options aren't very flexible. Firstly, there is only left and right swipe, not short and long swipe as well, so you can't swipe for all three of delete, archive and defer. You have to chose two. If you only ever archive emails rather than deleting some, that may not be a problem for you. Secondly, you can't do things such as configuring to delete and mark as read. So you end up with unread emails in your deleted folder, which can cause some other email clients to show unread emails in their badge count.

In use, Outlook was, at least for me, rock solid, with no signs of the kind of glitches that marred my experience with some other apps.


So what email app should you chose? Well, that depends:
  • If you only have a single Gmail account to worry about, then Inbox may be your best bet. It's got lots of convenience features that others just don't have.
  • If you're looking for the best Mailbox replacement, then Boxer is the obvious choice, if you can deal with occasional glitches, and no tech support. But the flexibility of Boxer's swipe options make it the best Mailbox replacement. And it does calendaring!
  • If you're not too worried about Inbox Zero, and the ability to conveniently defer emails, then CloudMagic is an intriguing choice. Certainly you should check out the list of available integrations, and see if  CloudMagic can help you out.
  • If you want something that is reliable, has full Inbox Zero functionality, and you don't mind swipe options that aren't quite as well thought out as some of the other apps, the Outlook may well be the way to go.
At the end of the day, I'll be going with Outlook. The various glitches I had with Boxer just don't seem worth the better swipe options. But I will be keeping a close eye on CloudMagic. If they ever implement swipe options similar to Mailbox, I'll be changing over.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

CornerFix - still going strong

CornerFix was one the the first imaging apps that I wrote. Written originally for the Leica M8 to fix the M8's "pink corners" problem, it corrects for vignetting, both in luminance and in color dependent form. In photographic circles, this is known as "flat fielding". Later updates made CornerFix more versatile, with the ability to deal with many other vignetting-like image problems, such as the Leica M9's "Italian flag" syndrome.

When CornerFix was first written, there really weren't any other options for correcting corner and edge issues in digital images; neither Lightroom or Capture One had the ability to address the problem in anything except the most basic way. Subsequently both Adobe and Phase One had added flat fielding to Lightroom and Capture One respectively. Their implementations are different to that of CornerFix, but they accomplish approximately the same goal. However, CornerFix has remained relatively popular, with somewhere between 50 and 100 downloads per week. One of the reasons for this is that CornerFix is designed to be able to use real world reference images such as images of white walls, etc, as opposed to images created in well equipped photographic studios.

A question that come up occasionally is how CornerFix compares to using LightRoom or Capture One's functionality. Fortunately, Gerd Waloszek has recently documented his experiences on the various options as it applies to the Leica M240. If you're trying to decide whether to use CornerFix or one of the other options, you should give it a read.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Two great articles from Photosmith's developers

I've just found out that, to my regret, Photosmith has ceased development. In short, Photosmith allowed images to easily be uploaded to an iPad, sorted, rated, and the ratings etc transferred to Adobe's Lightroom.

Photosmith was somewhat of a competitor to one of my own products, PhotoRaw, so it might seem surprising that I'm sorry that things turned out this way. But I am genuinely disappointed to them go.

Firstly, I have a great deal of sympathy for folks that try to do something innovative in the imaging space, and the Photosmith folks had to deal with many of the same issues that I had to - many imposed by Apple.

Secondly, Photosmith was helping to make raw processing on the iPad a viable option. Their conception of raw workflow on the iPad was very different to mine, but in the initial stages of establishing the concept of the iPad as a viable way to process raws, having them around probably did more to expand the market than to take sales away from me.

Finally, I often recommended their product to prospective PhotoRaw customers that wanted Lightroom integration.

However, the reason for this post is actually to point out that the Photosmith folks have written two excellent articles:

  • All good things” – Chris Horne’s historical overview of Photosmith’s inception and development.
  • Going out with a bang” – Chris Morse’s review of Photosmith’s economics and use history, with informative graphs and stats.
If you're at all interested in the reality of developing imaging software, and the economics of it, these article are a "must read"

Thursday, October 29, 2015

How much lens correction is there on the new Leica SL?

A number of people have contacted me to ask how much lens correction there is on the new Leica SL. Or, more accurately, how much lens correction there is on the new SL lens, the VARIO-ELMARIT 1:2.8-4.0/24-90mm.

Below are the comparisons for an image shot at 24mm - the uncorrected image is from AccuRaw. (The original image is courtesy of PhotographyBlog).

I'm sure you won't need me to tell you which is which(!).

For those interested in the gory details, here is the content of the correction:
Opcode: WarpRectilinear, minVersion =, flags = 0
Planes: 3
  Optical center:
    h = 0.500000
    v = 0.500000
  Plane 0:
    Radial params:     0.999557, -0.133087, 0.061558, -0.010640
    Tangential params: 0.000000, 0.000000
  Plane 1:
    Radial params:     0.999276, -0.132477, 0.060577, -0.010234
    Tangential params: 0.000000, 0.000000
  Plane 2:
    Radial params:     0.999683, -0.131579, 0.058723, -0.009416
    Tangential params: 0.000000, 0.000000

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Leica SL (Typ 601) raw file (DNG) analysis

(Edited 23 October to include information on how M lenses are handled.)

As usual when new Leica cameras come out, I took a quick look inside a DNG from one of Leica's new Leica SL (Typ 601) cameras, using one of the new Leica L mount lenses:
  1. The camera is using what appears to be production software - version 1.10.
  2. The camera name shows as "LEICA SL (Typ 601)"
  3. The image data is 14-bit. There is no compression used in the DNG I looked at. 
  4. The DNG version is 1.4, with a "backward version" of 1.3. There is a reason for this - DNG 1.3 allows for opcodes, which Leica use for lens correction.
  5. In the DNG I looked at, which was shot with a "VARIO-ELMARIT 1:2.8-4.0/24-90mm ASPH. OIS" lens, lens correction is done by a single "WarpRectilinear" operation in the DNG. 
  6. In addition to the lens correction op code, there is also a "FixBadPixelsConstant" opcode, whose function is exactly as the name states. This is the same as in the Leica Q.
Something to note is that the sensor appears built on identical technology to the Leica Q sensor. The color matrixes, black levels, etc are all identical.

Thanks to Jonathan Slack, I now also have an example shot with some coded M lenses, including the WATE (the Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21), as well as Leica 28 and 35 mm fixed focal length lenses. The answers are interesting:

With the M lenses installed, the WarpRectilinear opcode still exists in the DNG file, as does the FixBadPixelsConstant opcode. However, there are no additional opcodes.

The WarpRectilinear code  effectively does nothing, as the parameters are set to zero, so M lenses are not corrected for geometry, which is what you would expect.

But the absence of additional opcodes implies that whatever corrections for vignetting/"red edge"/"Italian flag syndrome" are being made by modifying the actual raw data, as is the case on M-series cameras. That might seem surprising, as if you're using DNG 1.3 style opcodes, why not just use opcodes to correct, rather than messing with the raw data? However, this doesn't really surprise me. Without going into the technicalities of what the opcodes in the DNG specification can and can't do, correcting for color aberrations as complex as those produced by M series lenses by using opcodes was always going to be challenging. Possible, but not easy. So I would think that Leica have simply chosen to transfer the existing raw data modification algorithm from the M-series cameras to the new camera. This makes good sense - Leica users that have been around a while will recall that even on the M-series cameras, getting the corrections optimized took a few iterations. Changing to opcode correction would effectively reset that to zero.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Affinity Photo is out of beta

Affinity Photo isn't one of my products, but I have been following it closely, and trying out the betas as they came out. It is now out of beta, and I know that a lot of readers of this blog are looking for alternatives to being forced onto the Creative Cloud model.

Affinity Photo is worth taking a look at. It's loosely a Photoshop competitor, but much, much cheaper. It doesn't of course have all the stuff that Photoshop has, but it has a lot of capabilities, probably all that most photographers will need. However, you should note that (a) it's Mac only, and (b) the raw demosaicing is pretty primitive - the X-Trans rendering is just nasty. Guys, you really should have come talk to me about that raw engine :)

There is an introductory special on at the moment, $39, which is 20% off, so this is the time to take a look. You won't be buying much at all from Adobe for $39.