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Anamorphic Cookbook

Anamorphic on a Budget


Rapido FVD-16A

August 12, 2018

This is Rapido Technology’s first take into the single focus market in order to compete with Rectilux and SLR Magic. It’s a pretty awesome adapter!

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You can support this project on Patreon. Make your contribution and help the Anamorphic Cookbook!

Tito Ferradans here to talk about the Rapido FVD-16A. Before I even start, I’d like to thank JSD for letting me have his lens for a few days and take it to the distant lands of Hiroshima, while I was in Japan. The FVD-16A is Jim Chung’s single focus solution and it puts Rapido in the same market as the SLR Magic Rangefinder, Rectilux and – the now seemingly defunct – FM Lens. This is a small and light unit that magically turns your double focus setup into single focus. When I was out shooting at night I could always tell if something was in focus. The loss in IQ compared to just the anamorphic and taking lens feels negligible.

Unlike my previous single focus solution tests, I didn’t have a Kowa B&H for this one, so I tested with a Moller 32/2x and a Hypergonar S.T.O.P. 16 and the Contax Zeiss taking lenses. The name – FVD-16A – means front variable diopter for 16mm scopes, version A, implying there are other versions coming in the future. I was shooting in extremely hot weather and there was some grease leaking on the outside of the barrel every time I refocused. This is something I experienced with the HCDNA as well, so maybe these adapters are just not meant for tropical areas!

The FVD-16A feels like the Rangefinder should be if it wanted to compete with Rectilux. It’s smaller than the HCDNA, lighter too – only 415g. It has 75mm female threads on the back and connects to your scope through those or three small screws (just like the HCDNA). The 75mm threads also match the front of the Rapido FMJ and HTN’s Kowa Locking Ring. Rapido also offers an adapter from 72mm threads to 75mm so you can attach it to anything else.

The front has 77mm threads, which are much MUCH friendlier than the Rectilux’s 86mm. The FVD has focus scales in feet and meters, solid focus gears for follow focus and comes down to 1.2m (4ft). You’ll need diopters to get closer than that, but it’s cheap to get good 77mm diopters. Thanks to the non-rotating front it’s also easy to use 77mm vari-NDs. Handling feels solid and one of the debatable downsides is focus feels too light (no dampness to the ring). I’ve heard from a few users it’s quite stiff once you get it, but this one has been smoothed out by repeating turns. Another thing that constantly made me miss shots is that focus is reversed, Nikon-style. This is a big downside for me, since it takes me days to rewire my brain.

The FVD costs $500 and is made in small batches, while the HCDNA costs $1000 and is made in even smaller batches. If you’re on the fence about it, I’d say it’s a great investment. Go for it, but at this point, it means getting in line for one of the later batches.

Image quality is immensely superior than the Rangefinder, staying fairly sharp all the way to wide open and it feels in the same league as the HCDNA.

In terms of flares, it doubles up flare reflections, like all other single focus solutions, but I didn’t see any orbs like the ones from the Rangefinder. It has neutral coatings which won’t play with your original look.

My biggest concern at this point is the added vignetting because of its smaller size. So if you’re constantly pushing towards the widest combo you have, your setups will take a hit. With the Moller I had to go past 85mm to clear full frame with the Moller (smaller scope), but did fine at 85 and the Hypergonar. For clearing 2.4:1 crop on full frame, you’ll have to go longer than ___mm

My closing thoughts are this is a great piece of gear especially for those trying to spend less money and making a good single focus setup. Focus is a little light, but that’s a personal preference, and my only real downside to this whole thing is the reversed focus. Having 77mm filter threads is amazing, non-rotating front, focus gears, focus scales and a simple process to setup is all great. Jim did a great job on this one, and I’m curious to see if/when there’s gonna be another one for larger scopes.

What do you think of the FVD-16A? Are you getting one, or sticking to the Rectilux HCDNA? Let me know in the comments below! Also, like this video and subscribe to the channel so you can get updates with new episodes. I very much recommend making a pledge at my Patreon page, since you’ll have early access to content and other useful perks. I’m Tito Ferradans and I’ll see you soon.



August 5, 2018

I’ve been away for quite a while. It’s time to put things back on track and I’d love to hear from you. :)

All the RED links on this post are part of eBay’s Partner Network, so if you purchase anything through them, you’re helping me to keep this project going.

You can support this project on Patreon. Make your contribution and help the Anamorphic Cookbook!

Ahoy ladies and gentlemen. Tito Ferradans back here after a good chunk of time away. If you only want lens reviews and solid data, skip this video, but if you care a little bit about the one who speaks to you, maybe keep watching. I’m gonna talk about other things.

This is the longest I’ve gone without posting a video. I had some existential issues about the channel – it struck me I was putting way too much energy here and not getting enough back – and by that I mean financially. It’s hard to stay motivated when you can take easier jobs that pay a lot more. So I wanted to change my approach in a way I wouldn’t feel I was cheating myself every time I published my hard work for free. I don’t think many of you love working for free. Do you?

That added up to getting harsher negative feedback on some videos, plus folks being upset at the Scope video. On top of all these challenges, there’s managing the facebook group, which is an unyielding task in terms of accepting new members. I get personal messages of people asking me why I didn’t let them in. Guys, I see the queue every day. Please don’t send me messages, I can’t do much about it! :(

Yeah, I know I should ignore all of this but it doesn’t really work that way. I don’t “have” a brand, I AM a brand and my whacked mind interprets all negative feedback to my work as negative feedback to my person. That is a bummer. Overall I felt like nothing was going right and I was throwing my time down the drain.

So I retreated to the real world and focused on other things for a bit. It’s summer, so I biked a lot, walked a lot, enjoyed plenty of time with Ari, traveled, and so on. Along all those things, I kept thinking what I could do to make Anamorphic on a Budget better and inspiring to myself again.

Honestly, I haven’t found an answer, but one day I woke up and I was back into it. That was last week, when I did the instagram thing answering questions. That was a rehearsal towards live broadcast here, aimed at your interest rather than whatever I want to focus on pre-made videos.

I’ve been developing things in the background, like my sponsorship by Simmodlens and a few other things that aren’t quite ready yet, so there are surprises to come. I’m also running short on lenses to review (there isn’t THAT MUCH of a difference between various 2x double focus projection lenses). So now, more than ever, I’m open to your suggestions of what would be interesting to do/show here. I feel this video is just the first part of the reasoning for my absence, but I’d rather make it public now than to stay quiet for longer. Tell me what you think.

Before I sign off, I wanted to bring up some more stuff about Scope. Sure, it was a prank, and people got upset, but did you know that Zess Ikon did almost the same thing in 1966 with the Super-Q Gigantar 40mm f/0.33? But instead of a Youtube video (the internet wasn’t such a big deal back then), they brought their “prototype” to Photokina in order to draw attention to the aperture speed craze going around lens manufacturers (more details in article below). Does anyone complain about Zeiss reliability or quality even though they “made a fake lens”? Hmmm.

The second thing about Scope is, even though some people were upset, others saw that as a chance to learn. Paul and I were invited to write a tutorial covering the process of making that scene photo-realistic. The tutorial was published last month in the 3D Artist magazine in the UK.

Ok, that’s it for today. More in a little bit, with a crazy-technical video. Recap: I’m back. Like this video, leave comment with suggestions of what to talk about here. Subscribe to the channel. I’m Tito Ferradans and I’ll see you again next week.


Designing Anamorfake Apertures

August 5, 2018

This episode was requested by one of my Patreon supporters and I just went all the way down math path to add some DEPTH to it!

All the RED links on this post are part of eBay’s Partner Network, so if you purchase anything through them, you’re helping me to keep this project going.

You can support this project on Patreon. Make your contribution and help the Anamorphic Cookbook!

Alright guys, I’m Tito Ferradans and this is my first episode requested by one of my supporters on Patreon – you can make requests too if you make a pledge! Today we’re gonna learn how to properly design aperture discs to anamorfake lenses and reduce light loss to a minimum while also figuring out the new f-stop for the lens. This is definitely not one of those one-size-fits-all kind of thing.

The tools we’re gonna need are a caliper, any lens you want to mod and a vector-based design program. I’ll be using Adobe Illustrator.

The first part is to get to the aperture mechanism of the lens you want to mod. I recently did the Tair 11A, so I’ll use that one. When you get to the aperture, there’s two numbers you want to get. The first one is the diameter of the mechanism area. In this case, it’s 51.90mm. The second number is the diameter of the aperture, the hole that lets light through, 44.86mm. Write things down with two decimal cases, as precision is always good when dealing with small builds.

With these two numbers, I’ll go on Illustrator and create two concentric circles. Don’t forget the measurement unit to make it in scale with real life. The bigger circle on the outside is gonna be the full size of the disc, while the small one is the cut to let light through. So far so good, the problem is there is nothing anamorfake about this.

Select the inner circle and change its width without messing with the height. The percentage of the original size you want depends on the stretch you want to fake. Just divide 1 by the stretch. For 1.33, it’s 75%, 1.5 is 67% and 2 is 50%.

This design will give you a disc that will fit over the aperture mechanism, so it can’t fall anywhere, and at the same time benefits from all the vertical height of the aperture, which minimizes your light loss to… about as little as you can get.

If this much math already sounds heavy to you, stop watching now. We’re going deeper.

First we’re going to calculate how the oval affects your f-stop. If you don’t know how apertures work, here’s a crash course: for every sqrt(2) decrease in aperture area, you cut one stop of light. If that didn’t make sense to you there’s probably a more user-friendly method out there, look for it. In visual terms, sqrt(2) = 1.41, and dividing 1 (full aperture) by 1.41 results in 0.7.

This means that every time you shrink the area of a circle to 70% of its original size, you’re cutting one stop of light. Which is basically what we did!

Let’s do the math for the Tair. We originally had an aperture with XYZ diameter, which equals f/2.8. The area for it is pi * radiusH * radiusW – duh, it’s a circle, both radiuses are the same. Bear with me. This equals 1551.7 square millimeters.

Now I’m gonna cut it down to a 1.5x oval by reducing its width to 67% of the original size. Ovals are also called ellipses and there’s a formula for their area too: pi * radiusH * radiusW – see my point now? – and this is 1024 square millimeters, which is also 67% of the area of full sized circle.

67% is close enough to 70%, which is sqrt(2), which means one stop of light loss. So by making this a 1.5x bokeh, we’re cutting one stop of light of the max aperture of our modified lens. f/2.8 becomes f/4. If you make it a 2x bokeh, then we’re cutting the area in half, which is sqrt(2)2, so TWO stops of light.

This will unfold into resolution and depth of field. Since your vertical aperture is considerably wider than your horizontal aperture, you’ll end up with better image resolution and sharpness horizontally, since it’s a narrower f-stop than vertically, which is funny because with regular anamorphics, it’s the other way around. When using an anamorphic lens, you get better vertical resolution, since you’re effectively squeezing more information in the horizontal axis. This is fairly confusing, but it also leads to the last point of this episode.

Many of you like using anamorfake lenses to enhance bokeh in less pronounced adapters, such as 1.5x and 1.33x. So let’s assume for the rest of this episode that we live in a world where the dream bokeh is 2x – because by combining anamorphics and anamorfakes you can easily achieve unrealistic bokeh, like 3 or 4x compression. I’m not gonna go into that, but you’ll be able to figure out the math.

For now, I’ll write the path for optimizing light loss and achieving 2x bokeh through the combination of 1.33x and 1.5x anamorphics and a custom designed aperture.

[Squeeze works in a similar way to everything we saw here so far. A 1.5x lens will make your bokeh 1.5x thinner, which is 67% (1/1.5) of its circular width. This is multiplied by the area of the oval disc, so if you made a 1.5x aperture and combined it with a 1.5x adapter, your anamorphic bokeh will be 0.67 (from the iris) * 0.67 (from the adapter) percent of its circular size. 0.67*0.67 = 0.44, which IS LESS THAN 50%, so it’s longer than 2x bokeh – which is 50% -, and we don’t want it. We don’t want it because it’s unreal and because we are losing more light than we need on the aperture. So we need a more subtle aperture.]

The best way to approach this problem is to start at the end. The result we want to achieve is 0.5, or 50% width, and that number has to be the product of two other numbers (stretch factor and anamorfake aperture) and you have to know at least one of them! In order to bring in the stretch factor, divide it by 1. If I’m using a 1.5x stretch Bolex, I’ll divide 1/1.5 which equals 0.67, if I’m using a 1.33x Century, then it’s 1/1.33 and that is 0.75.

Now we solve the equation for what’s left.

0.5 = 0.67 * X
X = 0.74
0.5 = 0.75 * X
X = 0.66

And this resulting number is how much you need to shrink the width of your oval aperture from its original circular shape. These are both pretty close to 70%, which is the one-stop loss mark, so not too expensive for cheating 2x bokeh on an adapter without that strong of a squeeze!

Another positive aspect of combining anamorphics and anamorfakes is that your resolution sort of evens out – remember that anamorfakes deliver better horizontal resolution and anamorphics do better vertical resolution? – for a “best of both worlds” type of thing. Wow, this started out simple enough and ended on a very elaborate note!

Now, if you managed to make sense out of all this, please like the video and leave a comment saying “AH! I GET IT!”. If you haven’t subscribed to the channel and you got this far, you should really subscribe because we have a lot in common you’re gonna love what’s coming! Lastly, if you want to suggest me an episode, just like Andre suggested this one, make a pledge on my Patreon and we can go far on the anamorphic business. See you next time, folks! Tito Ferradans out.


Fake it until…

July 27, 2018

When I was a kid I suddenly wanted to go to school wearing a red cape. “People don’t go to school wearing a cape, Tito…” I didn’t care.

Getting a haircut was always a stressful process (I still haven’t figured out why), so when I was ten I decided I would let my hair grow – and for the next two years I didn’t get it cut. On multiple occasions I was mistaken for a girl. Then I got tired of the long hair but I didn’t wanna lose it all, so I left a little wisp at the back of my head at full length and cut the rest of it short. That was a call for jokes from all sides. I still didn’t care.

My mom constantly complained about how under-dressed I was, or how old my clothes were/looked. This was a recurring comment until I moved out. I never really took it as criticism, but as an observation.

All these examples involve engagement from my parents and I’m grateful they didn’t force me into anything – even the things they didn’t agree, like dressing nicely. Thank you! This intro is running a bit long, so let’s get to the point. There is a common thread between all these stories and the title of this post.

I have a serious issue with keeping up appearances, or, the way it’s popular among artists, “Fake it until you make it”. This implies that to get anywhere you have to play pretend, dress a certain way, avoid this or that subject, go to all the parties (“the parties are where all the business happens, man!”), always be ready to speak about how great you are and how your art is gonna change the world. Writing this already got me wound up.

All these “suggestions” and “guidelines” of “how to succeed” (notice the great number of irony quotation marks here) make me laugh and think “how the heck did I end up in this art thing?”, then I remember it was because I care about my work and not my looks. I grew up hearing “if you love what you do, work will come your way” from my parents and, honestly, that is one of the truest things in life. Not “if you pretend to care, people will care”.

Summarize a party for me, would you kindly? “Loud music, small space, lots of people, alcohol”. Does that sound like a recipe to success for you? If yes, I’m betting you’re an extrovert. This is the second part of why I hate so much faking. I’m an introvert – and I know I’m not the only one in this industry. If the gold standard of success is the number of people you know, I’m failing hard. The less extra noise I have in life, the better I feel. So I’m not about getting someone’s card, saying “I love your work” even though I have no clue what their work is, and “I’ll be in touch!”. I’m happy with five good friends. I like getting to know people. I like long talks about deep subjects. I like working with someone before I commit to them. These things don’t happen at parties. Plus I don’t drink, so after half an hour of being immersed in a sea of “look at me! look AT ME! LOOK AT ME!!!!!!” I’m ready to go to bed.

I feel as a group we’re too concerned with form and very little into function. It’s easy to prove that point just by bringing up a graph for explosions vs box office for Michael Bay’s movies. Before you ask: yes, more explosions equal higher profits. We live in a time in which one explosion isn’t enough to solve a problem. It’s all about being brighter and louder. I don’t see that as healthy and I will not play by these rules. That comes as big challenge but I’m used to not having things easy, so I know I’ll be ok.

What bothers me the most is these things are taught in school. I took this class twice – once at VFS, then again at Langara – so I know it wasn’t a one-off weird aspect of a specific program. Guess what happens when you try to tell a bunch of people to fake their feelings and act like something else? It’ll stick for a little bit, then it wears off with the wonderful “what am I doing with my life?”, quickly leading into a career change. Out of both my VFS and Langara classes, I’m pushing it if I say half of them are still into making films. Why do you think that happens? We also have a lot of depressed people. Does it sound random?

Lastly, an analogy with 2008’s economic crisis. In short, people bought and sold their stocks based on assumed value and claims that everything is perfect. But they lied and the whole world got screwed. So let’s assume we’re making this film and I’m faking that everything is going well on my department. When the other heads of department see that I’m doing fine, they don’t want to cause trouble so they say everything is great on their end too, and this keeps on going. The film is going flawless. Then one big problem lands front and center. Everyone is so full of problems they refuse to admit that no one can tackle that extra problem. “It’s not my department”, “So and so said they had this under control”, or the classic “We’re waiting for the funds to come through”. That causes everything to crumble to pieces and the project is put on hold forever.

It’s not healthy and it’s hard to break through. I’m happier with my small victories than doing things I don’t agree with in the hopes of being picked up to fame and fortune. I couldn’t care less about fame.



July 17, 2018

There’s a thing of beauty about sunny and hot days. Back home – in Brazil – those used to be my default, but in Vancouver temperatures only rise above 25°C a handful of times through the year (usually packed in a few weeks in July).

We’re on the third in a row of these days today. I spent all three of them wandering outside. Not “doing things outside”, just moving from place to place either on foot or biking. After every couple of hours I’d settle on a patch of grass, or a beach, or a park bench and simply exist there.

That’s usually a challenging task for me. My mind is constantly racing with the things I need to get done, or bubbling up with new ideas, questions and reflections. In these sunny days it all quiets down and, just like my cat, all I need is to move somewhere without a roof over my head and lay there.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but my mood is directly related to how sunny each day is. There’s not much that could be better today.


“Fortune but Finally.”

July 8, 2018

When I went to Japan earlier this year, Ari and I went to a temple to get our fortunes. The one I got is the title of this post. At first I was confused on what that could mean, but as I read through it, my fortune couldn’t be more right – and it sucked. Here are the exact words:

“You will be suffering from disease and get depreciated by other people. You are always attacked by danger, so you can’t get through everything. When spring comes, you may meet a happiness. You should make a perfect and good plan and wait for a good chance, with patience.”

“*Your request will not be granted. *The patience will get well in a little while. *Lost article will not be found. *The person you wait for arrives late. *Building a new house and removal are both well. *Now is a good time to start a trip. *Both any kind of marriage, and new employment are medium fortune.”

“But Tito, if you’ll get what you want in the end, why does it suck so much? At least it’s not a bad fortune!”

You know what? Maybe a bad fortune would’ve been better. I’d at least know that NOTHING would work out and just let go of all worry and stress. The fact that things eventually get sorted is what sucks, because they don’t get sorted out by themselves: I have to do it all myself. It’s not like this is something new that I just read or thought about. Ask my parents, my sister, ask my therapist, or my girlfriend! For as long as I can remember I’ve always got to where I wanted, but the costs to succeeding have always been way higher than expected or planned for. Not like $50 or $500 kind of higher but “Tito-you’re-dying-and-you-should-get-some-sleep-or-look-for-a-doctor” higher.

This led me to become a very negative person for almost everything in life. This is what I’ve experienced so far: if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. If something is surefire to work out, luck will find a way to mess it up and it will go wrong. I’ve never had anything work out in the first try. Hell, most times I get to the tenth try and things are still broken. But I can’t relax and accept things weren’t meant to be because in the end they will work out as I die trying.

Do you want some examples? Here’s a couple.

1 – I’ve been making videos on YouTube for three years every week. In the beginning of each video I say my name. The channel has my name and last name in writing. To this day, it’s hard to come by someone either saying or writing my name right – and not just online. In my graduation ceremony they said my name wrong as I walked across the stage – they had a phonetic spelling! Remember how luck always finds a way to mess up surefire solutions? Anyway, English’s doesn’t have the right phonemes for people to say my name properly without trying hard, so I got used to people calling me anything that vaguely resembles my name. This week a big photo/video portal published a review that pointed to my channel. Needless to say they misspelled my name. Is there even a point in trying to get it right?

2 – Last week I bought some lights from China. They shipped through the fastest option provided by DHL. The package was supposed to arrive on Tuesday evening. I’ve grown used to my packages being delayed or disappearing for long stretches of time for no reason – all companies that tried have failed (UPS, CanadaPost, FedEx) – so to give DHL a better shot at success I stayed home all day. All they had to do was show up. I even signed a form that allowed them to deliver without getting a signature so if they tried the classic move of knocking too lightly, they’d still have to drop off the box at the door. At 7pm I checked tracking for it and it was marked as delivered. I walked out the door to get it but the box wasn’t there. So I went to the front door – as some delivery folks are too lazy to go through the back – and it wasn’t there either. I checked with our landlord and she had nothing for me.

Of course it was already too late to call their customer service, so I sent a message on their website. At 9am I get a response saying they’ll call me with updates in two hours. You guessed it right. The call never came. So I gave them a few more hours just to make sure and then I called in. No updates, they guaranteed they’d have something for me the next day by 2pm. You also know where this is going, right? Next day, no package, no call. I called, they said the driver informed he delivered the package to the landlord, some guy named “R. Scott”. Then I go “well, there’s no R. Scott in the house I live”. “Are you sure?”. Dammit, phone person, I’ve lived here for more than a year. You think I wouldn’t know? “Yes, I’m sure. I just asked my landlord once more and she said there were no packages delivered”. “Oh, okay. On Monday we’re telling the driver to go back and pick up the package wherever he dropped it”.

And down the drain went my hopes of using these lights on the project I’m about to shoot, starting on Monday. Plus, how would I manage the issue from set? I just resigned to accepting failure.

Then, Saturday evening comes around and I get a text from my landlord saying that a gentleman two blocks down received the box by accident and brought it back to us. I can’t believe my luck. After one week of trying hard, I finally succeeded – and not thanks to DHL. Fifteen minutes later I realize my wallet has jumped out of my pocket. Two hours looking for it yield no result. I am now without any documents, bank cards and money. I can’t get a new card because I need ID, I can’t get new ID because I can’t go anywhere this week since I’m on set. It’s gonna be a fun week. I figured the best way to save money is to have no access to it at all. Let’s see how that goes.

I just want a break. You know, for things to go well, or to go as planned, or even to go in a “phew-that-wasn’t-impossible” way.

DISCLAIMER: I know there’s tons more of people who are in a much harder situation and don’t have the privilege I have to be where I am – but I still have the need to vent. This is a blog, and this is one of the most personal entries in a while. :)


“Great photos! You must have a great camera!”

June 16, 2018

If you take your craft seriously, the odds of having heard these words are quite high. Audiences associate good images with great cameras, and for the longest time this (almost) accusation has bothered photographers who felt their skills were downplayed. The interesting bit is that we’re walking towards making the “great cameras = great photos” equation true! And they fit in your pocket.

Speaking of great cameras, here’s an Arri Alexa with a cinema prime!

Before I started for real with photography and cinematography – more than ten years ago – I used to play with a Sony compact camera. Back then I believed that great photos could only be achieved with great cameras. Mine lacked everything I associated with great photos: shallow depth of field, wide dynamic range and beautiful color science (I did not know these terms back then).

When I got my first DSLR in 2008, a Canon Rebel XTi, I started to learn that a good camera indeed makes things better, but it won’t prevent you from taking plenty of crappy photos – as most of mine were. I’ve had this thing where I look at the total number of images shot on a given project and the number of images I process and export out of Lightroom. Back then, this used to be a 25:1 ratio. These days I’m at 3:1.

Over the last ten years I’ve improved my photography skills considerably while also improving my gear – from the XTi I went to a 7D, then to a 5D MkIII and lastly to a Sony A7sII. Every time I switched cameras I remember being blown away by the new capabilities and improvements on the image – color reproduction, full frame sensor and low light sensitivity. Each one of my cameras was stronger than the ones preceding it. That was never enough guarantee some photos wouldn’t turn out bad anyway – out of focus, poorly lit, too contrasty, too shallow depth of field, too much depth of field, and so on.

During this trajectory I took more than a few photos I’m proud of, and many times I heard the bothersome “Woah! This is such a great photo! Your camera must be amazing!”, as well as its reverse when people saw me working: “With a camera like that I bet all your photos turn out flawless”. Many of these people were close enough friends that I was able to explain the camera is just a tool and without someone behind it to push the right buttons the quality of the photos is not guaranteed.

During my learning process I also watched the rise of smartphones. I used to write a column for a photography magazine back in Brazil (2012-13) and I saw several big photographers arguing about the validity of an image taken with a phone by an untrained photographer. This was a particularly hot topic in the journalism community. Regular folks (non-photographers) would be closer to a story when it broke, snapping photos on their phones and recording precious developments in real time – way before a photographer got to the scene.

The pros would get up in arms about the media outlets using low-quality, phone-shot images. “These are not good photos!” they’d say, “Then you should’ve been there faster”, magazines, newspapers and TV channels would reply. Phone cameras and lower entry-prices for digital cameras represented the democratization of photography, an extreme boom in popularity. Everyone was now a photographer – but not everyone was able to make a living out of it, sometimes not even the established photographers from before the boom.

Until recently it was easy to tell when a photo was taken using a phone or an actual camera. In its latest iterations though, through the use of dual-lenses and/or machine learning and automated processes, smartphones experienced an unparalleled upgrade in the images coming out of their cameras. This is where optical photography lines start to blur as we introduce the powers of computational photography.

Wikipedia has the perfect definition: “Computational photography … refers to digital image capture and processing techniques that use digital computation instead of optical processes. Computational photography can improve the capabilities of a camera, or introduce features that were not possible at all with film based photography, or reduce the cost or size of camera elements”. Smartphones are taking advantage of their strong processors to bring in serious upgrades over their optically limited cameras.

The latest iPhones (7 Plus, 8 Plus, X) use two lenses – a wide-angle and a telephoto – in order to create a depth map of the scene in front of its lenses. With said map it’s easy to realistically simulate out-of-focus areas like a full-sized camera would. The difference is the depth map gives you freedom to manipulate that data in ways your camera wouldn’t. You can change the lighting of the scene to some extent, you can create impossibly shallow – yet accurate – depth of field, as well as you can change your focus point after pressing the shutter. None of this is particularly new = the Lytro camera kicked around with a similar concept ages ago – but it has never been so accessible and easy to play with. Apps like Focos and Anamorphic allow cost under $5 and allow you to fiddle the results of your dual-camera shots.

Hover over the image to see the difference between the original photo and the one using the depth map in the Focos app

Apple’s approach can be seen as conservative when compared to the solutions implemented in Google’s Pixel 2, which relies in a single lens camera and the full force of its artificial intelligence. The Pixel 2 stacks and aligns up to nine photos taken on a burst in order to achieve maximum dynamic range as well as to create its own depth map based on the camera movement and the parallax in the scene. Not only that, its AI has been taught what a person looks like and as soon as they find something that fits the bill, they’ll make sure that part of the shot is in focus. This leads to amazing photos coming out of a fairly inexpensive, light and multi-functional device when compared to a full-size camera. Plus, the photographer doesn’t need to make any decisions. Photos taken by my 7-year old niece and taken by me can look just as good with the press of a single button.

If you want to read more about the technical wonders coming out of smartphones, Rishi Sanyal’s article “Why smartphone cameras are blowing our minds” on DPReview has been a great source of inspiration for my own article.

This makes now a time when someone can say “Great photos! You must have a great camera!” attributing the quality of the images solely to the equipment used and not be wrong! At the same time computational photography levels the playing field of day-to-day photography, it makes other skills stand out – for example framing and lighting are things machines are not good at just yet, among other subtleties we pick up while honing our craft. It goes to say if you’re only able to take good photos because you have a good camera, things are about to get tough! Just to paint a clearer picture, all the photos in this post were taken with an iPhone 8 Plus and a Google Pixel 2.