Switchover (part 3): Polarr

Third part in this switchover series, today I want to talk about Polarr.

Polarr is a multiplatform web-based photo editor, loaded with features and with a very pleasant interface. It is technically a web-app, but done so well that you barely notice it. Actually, I had to read it online, otherwise I would have never discover that.

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Polarr on launch. It has a very clean interface (yes, I switched to standard Ubuntu and GNOME).

Polarr comes in two interfaces, User and Pro, the latter offering more options. I started straight away with the Pro interface having some experience with photo editing.

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There are several options for editing, masking, exporting, cropping, rotation…. the only thing it does not do is coffee.

The controls are superb, despite being unable to manually input numbers. These sliders show the effect that sliding in one or the other direction will have and they offer live preview, so you can see the effect as you slide (something that darktable still hasn’t and annoys me). The histogram is shown on the upper left corner, but it is possible to move it around the screen as preferred.

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Curves are included and are very neatly implemented in a non intrusive way. It is possible to work on the general curve or on the single colour components.

There are several adjustments available, which can be applied globally (on the entire picture) or locally (through the use of masking). Masking can be elliptical, gradient or set manually with a brush tool.

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There is a huge selection of filters available.

There are also filters, available, although they are more like “presets”. Once applied, their settings can be completely altered and it is also possible to save your own presets/filters. Very handy as starting points or for quick fixes.

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Exporting options. Not a vast selection, but functional.

All edits can be undoed and restored, they are saved separately from the picture itself. It is possible to save a copy of the edited pictures via the Export function which shows the window above. It is possible to set custom metadata, apply a custom watermark, single and batch exporting. Batch exporting also allows for batch renaming and filter application.

Polarr is free to use, and can be downloaded from the official website (or used straight from there, as a matter of fact). There is also a subscription  (less than £30/year) that offers some more features and works with all versions. It is available for Windows, Linux/ChromeOS and macOS. I highly recommend this software!

Switchover (part 2): Shotwell

After having introduced the world of GNU/Linux operating systems, it’s time to dig a bit into the specific applications.

The first one is Shotwell, the photo organiser for the GNOME project. Shotwell aims to be more a replacement to Picasa and iPhoto on Mac, rather than Lightroom, but it’s fast and does its job.

Shotwell exists as a precompiled binary package for most distros out there, so check your package manager. It’s highly probable that Shotwell is part of the default set of software already installed on the system, anyway. It is also possible to get the source tarball from the official Git repository and compile the software yourself.

Shotwell requires several dependencies, so have a look here to see the full list.

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Shotwell and the main interface (together with my very confused photo collection)

On launch, Shotwell presents an interface very similar to iPhoto. You can import pictures into your photo library, categorise them and do small editing tasks on them. Extra editing requires launching an external editor.

It is possible to select multiple pictures, drag and drop into folders or events, add and remove tags, or just start a slideshow. It’s fast, quick and simple to use.

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A picture is loaded, ready to get edited.

By opening a picture, it gets shown in the main window, with a toolbar underneath. From there it is possible to intervene with small tweaks such as rotation, cropping and straightening. There is also an option for red eye fixing.

The editing tools are quite easy to use but are limited. There is a curve preview, then sliders for settings such as Saturation, Highlights, Shadows, Contrast, Temperature and Tint. There is also live preview, but changes won’t be shown until the slider is released (unlike Lightroom which shows changes in real time, for some good fine tuning).

All in all, Shotwell is a good photo organiser. Its intended use is for everyday photo organisation and retouching, nothing major, but does its job pretty well. Plus, most distros have precompiled packages, so installation is a breeze.

[The Unusual Library] The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras

51r5y49vfxl-_ac_ul320_sr228320_The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras
Jean Loup Princelle
1995, Hove Photo Books
ISBN 978-18-740-316-35

This is a book I had to sweat a lot to put my hands on.

The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras is a difficult to find book (I had some luck with an eBay auction from France), but it is also the Bible of the Russian and Soviet camera collector. I’m not a collector per se, nor I have a keen interest in buying all FEDs and Zenits and KMZs that I come across, but Soviet cameras have a certain charme, they have contributed to shape the camera markets of those years, despite often being inspired or cloned from existing western models.

For many people across the Iron Curtain, these cameras were the only option. For many westeners, these were the most affordable option (and you got a decent camera, too). Like the book about the Chinese cameras, this guide is divided by factory (starting from GOMP/VOOMP/LOMO and KMZ to more obscure ZAVOD GEODEZYIA and ZAVOD ARSENAL) and lists (possibly) every model produced together with pictures and technical details, when available. There is also the history of the factories themselves and put in context with the socio-political situation of the USSR at the time.

Overall, it’s quite a nice and interesting book, if you manage to find it grab a copy. Not essential unless you really like to collect Soviet cameras, I might add. There are also some details that appear to be wrong (I’ll consider them bona fide mistakes).

[The Unusual Library] Book Review: Cameras of the People’s Republic of China

Cameras of The People’s Republic of  China
Douglas St. Denny
1989, Jessop Specialist Publishing
ISBN 978-0951-4392-03

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This is a rather unusual book. A very niche one, which you will probably not own unless you have a keen interest in PRC’s history of cloned cameras.

I’m not that interested in collecting this kinds of camera, neither do I own one, but I recently stumbled upon several reviews of the Seagull TLRs (from Shanghai) and they made me curious. In the photographic world, we are used to the big brands that are popular still today and synonym of quality equipment, but if somebody mentions Shanghai Camera Factory or the Beijing Camera Factory… we all tend to shrug.

Thinking that China never had a place in the market would be wrong, as this book demonstrates, albeit most of the cameras introduced in PRC between the 40’s and the 70’s were close copies or identical clones of more popular European/Japanese brands (and that includes also Russian LOMO and KMZ models).

It’s quite interesting to read the stories of the companies and the cameras that they produced, all with very evocative names like the Tian Tan (Temple of Heaven) TLR, the Yuejin (Great Leap) and the Zi Jin Shan (Purple Mountain), like looking inside a world that has been there for a very long time, but no one bothered to notice before.

The book itself is no longer published, so browse eBay to grab a copy!

Kodak Pocket Instamatic 100

Note: I started this post in May 2018, hence the date, but I just finished editing it and adding the picture. It is quite long overdue.

Instamatics are possibly among the most commonly found film cameras in charities here in the United Kingdom. If a charity sells cameras, there’s a 90% chance you’ll find an Instamatic somewhere.

Although the name itself might lead to the idea of an instant camera (much like the Polaroid), in reality no Instamatic model worked with self-developing film (these were the Kodamatics). They were designed as a line of inexpensive, easy-to-use compact point and shoot cameras, that accepted 126 and 110 film. Most models had no setting control at all, with a few exceptions.

The first model was the Instamatic 100, a camera which used 126 film cartridges, which costed around 15-16 US$ (in 1963). It accepted AG-6 flash bulbs which were powered by a couple AAA batteries. The only setting available was whether to use the flash or not.

Several models came out, later models replacing the flash bulbs with flashcubes and magicubes (thus, removing the need for batteries).

The model I purchased online is the Pocket Instamatic 100, a 110-film camera that was produced in the early seventies.

The Pocket Instamatic 100

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The Pocket Instamatic 100 in its original package. Missing are the film roll and the instructions manual. The red button is the shutter release, whereas the black slot is for the Magicubes (optional).

It took me a while to find out some specs for this camera, but finally I found the Kodak Classics website, so I managed to get hold of some numbers. This camera offers a fixed 25mm triplet lens, with an aperture of f/11. Shooting time is 1/60s (unchangable) and there is the option of using a Magicube flash, if the lighting is insufficient. Inside the package there is the camera itself, a Magicube extender (an adapter that raises the Magicube a bit so it is not too close to the lens) and a lanyard. The original package also provided a blank roll of 110 Kodak film and the instructions booklet.

It is a plastic beauty, quite small and compact (the dimensions are …). The lens is protected by a sliding panel, that also unlocks the camera when opened. There is also a lever to operate the film advance on the bottom, which also rotate the Magicube slot by one quarter of a turn (a Magicube has four bulbs).

It’s a very simple and compact design, but it’s quite fun to use. 110 Film is still produced by few companies, including Lomography who also process and scan it through their LOMO Lab service.

There are some pictures I snapped in Krakow, Poland with the Pocket Instamatic: