Sunday, 26 February 2017

Short Stories - The Trade

When I was in elementary school, I loved collecting Pokémon trading cards. I never learned to play the trading card game, I merely collected. Once in a while my parents would buy me a pack of cards, but most of the time I would obtain new cards by either trading or playing a game we came up with. In this game, you would toss cards in the direction of a wall and hope to be the closest to the wall in order to win your opponent’s card. I had a few cards that I considered sacred – that is, I would never use them in these games nor trade. Or so I thought.

Whereas my brother’s favourite first-gen starter was Blastoise, mine was without doubt Charizard. While I do not recall how I obtained my shiny second edition Charizard Pokémon card in the first place, what I do know is that I never imagined trading it. I had gotten many offers already, all of which I declined. Now keep in mind that in elementary school, we kids weren’t exactly the most intelligent of people. Plenty of idiotic trades took place by simply convincing the other person that your card was better than theirs for whatever reason. Up until a particular day I had never fallen for these tricksters’ arguments. I knew my Charizard was epic, having 120HP and an attack that would do 100 damage. Little did I know however, that there was a card in existence having not only an attack dealing 100 points of damage, but also a secondary attack dealing 20. By my child knowledge this meant that the new card was undoubtedly better than my Charizard. I had a hard time deciding whether I wanted to trade, since my Charizard was one of my sacred cards. “If I’m able to trade my card for a better one, then that’s the logical thing to do, no?” Turns out the card I traded my Charizard for was a shiny Camerupt. It’s not like I traded my Charizard for a Magikarp, yet still I traded one of the most iconic Pokémon cards that even my mother can name for one that only Pokémon fans will recognize. The first few weeks I even felt good about the trade. I liked my new Camerupt. I felt like my Pokémon team was stronger than ever. But the older I got, the more I began to realize that I had made a mistake.

A tiny part of my Pokémon Trading Card collection

One day during recess, my brother walked up to me and started talking about Pokémon cards. He showed me a new card he got and, to my surprise, gave it to me. I was really caught off guard. Mainly because I remember in my dark past, I would occasionally ‘grab’ a card from his collection and trade it, to remove all traces of me ever having ‘grabbed’ it. Back in the day I had no idea this was the principle behind money laundering. The card that my brother handed me was a Salamence, which I needed to complete its evolution set. To this day, I think of Salamence as my replacement Charizard. My most sacred card of my collection. The card that, at least this time, I really won’t trade.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

GIVEAWAY - Monochrome Camera

Can you remember that I wasn't happy with the lack of a Black&White camera application for Xperia devices? Do you recall that I decided to make my own camera application because of this? It's been a while since I've released Monochrome, a photographer's wish for a camera application. For now, the app is paid as I liked to see if my hard work could get me anything in return (mind you, I had no prior knowledge of programming Android apps). I was thrilled to see that people indeed showed a lot of interest for this kind of camera application!

It doesn't stop here, however. Assuming you've read the title of this article, you're hoping to try out my app for free. I can allow that, for the lucky readers of my blog who still visit this place after months without me posting a new article. You are a special kind of awesome to me; that's why I'm giving away 10 promo codes for Monochrome!


UPDATE: The codes seem all used up. I have three more to try, for the lucky ones:


Get it on Google Play

After you've used a code, it's appreciated if you could write a comment letting me know which ones I can cross off. If they're all used up, you're out of luck for now but who knows, I might do another giveaway sometime in the future. Right now, I'll need to find some time next to my studies to give the app a huge makeover and add more settings/features. I might be able to get the app in the "downloadable" camera apps section, but for that I'll have to get rid of the gesture settings: they weren't as intuitive as I initially hoped, according to the developers at Sony Developer World. If I manage to find time to update the app soon, I'll definitely do another promo giveaway after the update!

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Does your smartphone look boring? Why not decorate!

Odds are that you don't have the latest nor greatest smartphone. Odds are also that your somewhat older smartphone is decent enough for your usage, but it may just start to look boring. Well, that's what I thought... You may be using a case for your phone, and then it's refreshing to take it out of its case for a while, so the device looks different. In the same way, I wanted my device to look different from how it looked over the past year. Now, I'm not a case man. The first time that I used some kind of case for my smartphone was when I used my very first smartphone: the Sony Ericsson Satio. We all know how that ended... Only once more did I use a case for my phone in my life, with the Sony Xperia S. At the time I worked at a supermarket, and my Xperia S sometimes randomly turned on and my leg was pressing things on the screen. I couldn't afford any catastrophes, so I bought a flip cover, one that opens as a book. It's the only kind of case that I was willing to try.

I'll call it the Sony Xperia Z1 Premium

I've used my Sony Xperia Z1 for almost two years now, and it's still in great condition without the use of a case. Only the back has some minor scratches. I've always liked the look of vintage cameras, too. Honestly, it's the reason why I liked the Fujifilm XF1 in the first place. Needless to say, I'm really happy with how the skin for my Xperia Z1 turned out in the image above. Although I had a bit of trouble applying it perfectly, it does make the device look much more luxurious. The best part is that the scratches on the back are now covered and I can finally start sliding my phone across tables like the average person. The skin holds up against scratches rather well, it seems.

If you're not a skin-kind-of person, there are other options that may not have crossed your mind. For instance, if you don't like the limited choice of colours you had when you first purchased your device, why not try painting? It's a more drastic modification, sure, but remember: "if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything!"

Monday, 28 September 2015

Compact cameras in 2015 - who needs one anymore?

In this modern day and age where everyone carries around a digital camera slapped to the back of a smartphone, who in their right mind would still want to buy a compact camera? With smartphone camera sensors equaling the size of compact camera sensors yet being smaller and more pocketable, one might argue what the point is of compact cameras nowadays.

The title of this article may make you think otherwise: I am indeed positive about compact cameras. Honestly, it took me a while to realize the niche. Up until now, for quality shots I had my Nikon D5100, whereas for quick and easy snaps I always carried my smartphone. Having tried to get the most out of my phone's camera however, I realized we're not quite there yet in terms of image quality. Smartphone cameras seem to be getting as good as their size allows, but some things simply need more space. Think of aperture blades and zoom lenses for example. Not just that, but a key factor in improving image quality is increasing sensor size. The larger the sensor is, the more light is able to fall on the sensor, so the better the theoretical low light performance is. As the intro of this article states, some compact cameras have sensors the same size as a smartphone camera sensor (mainly 1/2.3"). However, most competent compact cameras have sensor sizes much larger than this with the best ones reaching sizes of 1" [useful chart], the popular Sony RX100 series being perfect examples. I decided to give it a shot, trying to see how useful a compact camera can be, next to a decent smartphone camera and a Nikon D5100.

The Fujifilm XF1: My very first personal compact camera.

Notice in the image above how most of the image is dark whereas the bright lens is properly exposed. I shot this image with my smartphone (a Sony Xperia Z1), and although I'm pleasantly surprised by how this image turned out, the dynamic range of the phone leaves a lot to be desired. If I hadn't adjusted the exposure compensation for this shot, the lens would have been overexposed leaving the text on the front unreadable. I'm hoping that the larger sensor of the Fujifilm will lead to a better dynamic range, and so far it seems good. I bought the Fujifilm mostly as an impulse purchase, but I've wanted to try out compact cameras for a while. I went into town with my new camera last weekend, and here are some of my thoughts about it:

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Where are the simple black and white camera apps? - Here's one now!

I could never see the point of black and white photos before. "You're just getting rid of colour, getting rid of precious data of a photo." As a person who barely ever deletes photos or videos, I didn't see the point in taking any photo not at the full quality. I always wanted as much detail preserved in my photos as possible. To illustrate this further, I always kept my Sony Xperia Z1's camera resolution at 20.7 megapixels, just so I would get as much detail out of the images as possible. I'm not a data waster. Recently, when I bought my Sony Ericsson Satio for the third time, I changed my mind. The Satio's camera is terrible when the sun isn't directly hitting the sensor. Otherwise it's great. When you point it at the slightest amount of darkness, chromatic noise creeps in like crazy. The Xperia Z1 mostly features just luminance noise, so it's colourless. This got me thinking, wouldn't images then turn out much better if I get rid of all colours? I'm thinking turning photos black and white of course. In these monochromatic images, the chromatic noise turns into luminance noise and it's much easier on the eyes.

As I tried black and white photography for a while, I really got hooked. I always thought it was overrated until I took it seriously. Being left with only a few shades of grey, shooting these monochromatic photos made me think more critically about the composition of the shot. I stopped worrying about image quality and noise, and I started to appreciate the art of photography. If you think it's boring, overrated, or any other negative adjective, I dare you to go out one day with only a black and white camera. Especially when you're 'out of ideas' or lacking inspiration for photography, this can be a great tool to get back in the game. Luckily for me, that recently bought Satio came with a setting for black and white photos.

Unluckily however, the Xperia Z1 did not. Well... there is this stock camera app called "Creative effects" from Sony that I have no idea of how it ever got through their testing phase. The preview is far from smooth, there is no way to change a single setting and worst of all, the effects take a lot of processing power and make the camera actually overheat and shut down within minutes. It's absolutely ridiculous. I realized this was going to be the moment for me to learn to build Android applications. At the time I was already taking a course in Java, so it was the perfect opportunity for me to put my experiences to the test. And now...

I present to you, Monochrome

Can you guess the city?

It took me a lot of work but it's here now: a fully feature-packed product. It has a clean interface, yet giving the possibility to change settings by swiping left and right, and up and down without being needlessly in your face. It integrates into Sony's own software, as that's the best way for quickly accessing the app from any camera mode. By default it's set to Auto Mode, which does what its name suggests and applies image stabilization where supported. If you swipe up or down, you can change the mode to Sports Mode and Night Mode. Sports mode is for those snaps that you need to take quickly. These kinds of photos aren't close ups, so I set the focus mode to infinity for this mode with a high base ISO so that the image is taken as quickly as possible after you press the shutter button. Night Mode (which by the way works just fine with the 20.7MP setting) when used in the dark, slows down the shutter speed as much as possible to get the most details out of the image as possible. Moreover, I chose to set this mode to enable the macro or close up focus mode. This focus mode is slower than autofocus so I decided to keep it out of Auto Mode to make capturing Auto Mode images quicker. Since the entire camera app is monochrome, white balance does not affect the photos and so Night Mode can be used and should even be used whenever you want the highest quality images when you can keep your phone steady. I use my app on Night Mode about 80% of the time. The other 20% is to make sure the other modes work properly [and yes, they do] ;)

If you want the full list of features and settings you can change, the app description in the Play Store is the most convenient: any updates will surely make its way to the description there. And trust me, I will update the app whenever there's a good feature idea. As a side note: like I always do with whatever I program, I added a little Easter Egg into the app. Can you find it?

If you'd like to buy me a cup of coffee and get a smooth black and white camera app in return, check out the app in the Google Play Store.

I would be very grateful; I will forever remember your name if you decide to leave that behind which may not be the best idea to do on the interwebz but no really thank you I need coffee

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

We have a winner Android Camera App!

This article continues on the previous one below. I asked around on the XDA-Developer forums, and I have the results of my poll. Turns out, there is apparently a difference in photo quality according to you. Let me talk about the results shortly hereafter:

It's interesting to see how two of the images appear to stand out: the upper middle and the lower left one. The other four images have pretty much no votes, so we'll disregard those for now. The upper middle photo has a very clear distinction from the rest: the number 16000 is readable. Why this is the case, I have no idea. I took all six photos in exactly the same setup with minimal time in between, but maybe there was a slight change in lighting that caused this. What I was looking for however, is image detail. And if I inspect the images further, it appears that the lower left image is surprisingly sharp. I was surprised at first, that's for sure. Now you may be curious which image belongs to which camera app, so I won't let you wait any longer. Here's the correct order of camera apps, reading left to right:

The results show that Sony's Superior Auto mode is liked by many, which is probably because of the visible number. However, the best voted camera app is Open Camera, indeed resulting in a very clear and detailed shot. I don't know how they do it, but the great thing is: you can even find out because it's open source! I will definitely try out this camera app some more, to see if it really makes a difference. After all, a poll with 30 votes on a single camera test doesn't tell us much at all. I felt like I had to start somewhere though, and the results are somewhat interesting at the very least.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Is one camera application for Android really better than the other?

I encounter the following quite often on forums: "have you tried camera app A? It's way better than app B!" - but barely anyone comes in with tests of these various camera apps to see if there really is a difference in quality. As a programmer who just started his own camera application for Android ("Monochrome", coming soon to an Xperia device near you..!), my best guess is that most -if not all- apps don't apply any algorithms to improve photo quality after taking a photo. Someone who really isn't into programming might think that every camera application starts from scratch and applies their own algorithms, but this is far from the case. With Android, camera applications can very easily be created by simply calling methods, or functions, that do just that - taking photos, focusing, or anything hardware related like that. It is all simply built into Android, ready for developers to easily utilize. I want to be proven wrong (let me know if I am), but so far my instinct tells me that no camera application in the Play Store actually improves image quality with custom algorithms. To be fair, that's quite a tough thing to do if devices don't even allow photos to be taken in RAW format though.

My hypothesis is that popular camera applications in the Play Store do not show a noticeable difference in photo output quality. So far I did some tests on my Sony Xperia Z1 with the following apps and settings, in no particular order:

Note that any settings which I left out above were set to their defaults. I used Camera FV-5 a second time to see if its night mode made any difference in daylight shots. The photo above shows the scene I set up to take photos with each app at exactly the same location and circumstances. It is vital for this test to not move the camera even the slightest, and I think I managed. Let's see the results, shall we?

Click to ENHANCE!

This is a cropped image stitched together by the 20MP shots. One of these is actually an 8MP shot, from Sony's Superior Auto mode. Can you guess which one belongs to which app? I certainly can't. After taking these, I had a hard time keeping them apart. They all look too similar. In my eyes, my hypothesis holds: between some of the most popular camera applications, there doesn't appear to be a significant improvement over the others. Colour accuracy is the same, brightness more or less too, details seem equal. Any difference in the photos seems due to noise. The lower left photo is the only one that seems a tad sharper though, but since these are fully cropped images, I doubt you'll see a noticeable difference in the full photos. For now, I can only let you in on this: the lower right image belongs to the FV-5's night mode, hence the deviation in brightness from the others. Finally, I have to admit that this is not a professional comparison by any means. I should've taken multiple shots with each app, then either combining the ones from each app or picking the best or worst to make this comparison more fair, and using them at different circumstances. This is a good start however.

If you have a different opinion from mine, please share it in the comments below. I always like to be proven wrong, so try me if you have valid arguments. If one image stands out, let me know why. Can you guess which is which?