There is nothing quite as good as starting your day next to the bay, listening to the slow and rhythmic break of waves on the shore. And it is even better when the fog hugs the distant hills and lingers over the bridge that has been Instagrammed maybe a billion times. The beauty of the morning inspired me to make some photos — and test out the technical mettle of the new iPhone 13 Pro’s various cameras.

….powered by the new image signal processor (ISP) in A15 Bionic for improved noise reduction and tone mapping, the iPhone 13 Pro lineup features the best camera system ever on iPhone. The all-new Wide camera has a larger sensor with 1.9 µm pixels, the largest ever on iPhone, for less noise and faster shutter speeds needed across lighting conditions, producing even more detailed photos. Coupled with the larger ƒ/1.5 aperture, the Wide camera on iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max offers a massive improvement in low-light situations, up to 2.2x when compared to iPhone 12 Pro, and nearly 1.5x when compared to iPhone 12 Pro Max. Sensor-shift optical image stabilization (OIS) — unique to iPhone — is available on both models

The new Ultra Wide camera features a much wider ƒ/1.8 aperture and a new autofocus system, bringing a 92 percent improvement for low-light environments, producing images that are brighter and sharper. iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max also boast a new 77 mm Telephoto camera, offering 3x optical zoom for a total 6x optical zoom range on the camera system.

Apple iPhone News Announcement.

Apple’s claims check out. Most landscape photographers judge the camera by its ability to capture details and colors, for a good camera is the one that can produce files that transition from shadows to highlights with a minimum of fuss. And the iPhone 13 Pro cameras pass with top grades.

Later, upon returning home and looking at these images on an XDR display, I could easily see the impact of the bigger pixels giving the images smoother transitions between shadows and highlights. I also like that the colors are naturally deeper. I appreciated the lower noise in the new sensor — giving me the courage to make the fog a bit whiter during the editing process.

As I usually do with my mobile photography, I used the Halide Camera to capture images in RAW and used the Darkroom App to edit them on the phone. The edited set is a mixture of color and monochromatic images. I hope they convey the sense of calm and peace I felt this wonderful morning.

September 26, 2021. San Francisco

Friday Night Lights: SF Giants Stadium, long after the game is over. Leica SL2-S. Leica M 135mm lens.

“Tweek,” is an aggregation of the tweets I sent out during the week. It is a habit I picked up from Disquiet, a blog run by Marc Weidenbaum. It allows me to remember what I was thinking about during this specific time. It also allows me to correct my grammar and spelling. If you don’t follow me on Twitter, this is just the best of what I have shared with my community.) 

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September 23: The passing of Melvin Van Peebles made me think of his son, Mario, who made the most wonderful 1991 release New Jack City, which like The Godfather, is one of the best movies about the brutalism of the capitalist way. Quote: “Yo baby, we talkin’ about combinating and consolidating!”

***

 In response to a tweet by outgoing Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer, I did a tweet thread. 

September 22: Here is my PR-bullshit free translation: 

  • 1. There is no way stock will do better than what it has done over the past 13 years. 
  • 2. Govt(s) oversight is going to grind the company. 
  • 3. Top-down leadership is getting crazier. 
  • 4. Term limit on enabling a monster is 13 years.

I remember when Mike was part of @mozilla and what a strange journey from being part of the open web’s champion to being part of the evil “attention sucking” empire that is a net negative for the web, SV ecosystem & Society.

The last thing I will say to this – the longer you have stayed inside the circle, the less trustworthy you are. It is a shame that SV is hiring from a knowingly toxic and morally ambiguous place. All things learned there are going to pollute the ecosystem for a long time.

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September 22: The macro photography on the iPhone 13 Pro is insane. Here is a close-up of nibs from a new Twisbi pen. My short review from yesterday, in case you missed it.

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September 20@PitchBook: $23.5B invested in Indian startups this year, nearly double what the country’s VC ecosystem collected over the last two years combined. Forty-one unicorns, 17 minted this year. Big market, more local tech IPOs & China (Tech)Chill prompting shift of $$$s to India.

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September 19: 25 years ago, sometime this week, @djshadow

 dropped the mind bomb called Endtroducing. We might be getting old, but that album still keeps rocking. Raise your hand if you heard it then! (Read)

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September 19: Damn @disneyplus has deprecated the @IPL viewing experience by pushing it to @ESPNplusHD & killing @DisneyPlusHS. This is what happens when a global strategy is set from California without understanding viewership. The point of “apps” was to create curated experiences and go after niches. Instead, we are back to the lame “cable oriented thinking,” which isn’t surprising since most media giants aren’t known for innovation.

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After five days of using the iPad Mini, it became obvious: sometimes an iPad is not just an iPad. Confused? 

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If you are a regular reader, then you are familiar with my workflow. I switched my entire workflow to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. I own a Mac Mini (attached to an XDR Display) because I use Photoshop to edit my photos. Adobe Photoshop is subpar on the iPad.

Unlike many who find faults in the iPad and its OS, I am quite satisfied with my own device. Big screen, big battery, great camera, great speakers, nice external keyboard, ability to use a Pencil as an input device, and most importantly, built-in LTE connectivity. 

The Mega iPad does everything I need to do — from Zoom calls to writing documents, answering emails, reading articles, watching videos on various streaming services, and indulging in Twitter.

The availability of alternative browsers such as Brave and Firefox allows me to use most of the services I previously used on the MacBook. The newest version of the iPadOS has some solid improvements that have made me appreciate my iPad Pro even more. 

And you can see that most of my iPad use during the day (and sometimes in the evening) is akin to a traditional computer — keyboard-based inputs, and very rarely using alternatives such as Pencil. In the evening, I remove the keyboard, put on the softcover, and watch some YouTube, baseball, cricket, or an occasional TV series on Amazon Prime or Apple TV+. I do my reading in the morning — with the iPad sitting on the kitchen table and coffee steaming. You get it — I don’t really need another iPad or any other device in any other configuration — that is up until the new version of the big iPad Pro comes to market. 

***

That is why I was quite confused when Apple sent me a review unit of the brand new iPad Mini

Unlike those who review gadgets for a living, I prefer to write about things long after using them. I can’t really offer a decent opinion unless those devices are part of my daily workflow. And if these devices (or services) can’t become part of my daily workflow, that reflects poorly on them as ongoing utility is a key criterion in assessing the true worth of a product. So, consider this post as my short-term impressions of the iPad Mini. For the past few days, I have been using it as my primary iPad. 

It has an 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display, comes in four finishes, and is powered by Apple’s latest mobile chip, the A15 Bionic. It has a new USB-C port (thank god) and has 5G, and supports Apple Pencil (2nd generation). It has two new cameras, but the front-facing 12 Megapixel ultrawide camera is the most useful one — its larger field of view enables Center Stage for better video calls. In short, it has all you need from what is a good modern tablet.  It is a good accompaniment for those of us who carry smaller phones, such as the iPhone Mini. 

The size (7.69 x 5.3 inches) and the weight (297 grams) make it diminutive compared to my mega Pad, which weighs 685 grams. It is effortless to hold it in hand without getting a wrist cramp. It is small enough to be held inside my palm — although I don’t have huge hands. Even holding it at the edge puts no strain on the wrist. Ergonomically it has what the 12.9-inch iPad Pro lacks — the ability to be a “near view” device. 

Let me explain: the screen size and utility should be proportional to the screen’s distance from the eyes. If you are too close to the big screen, you can’t experience the benefits of the size. 

In my case, to enjoy the biggest iPad, I need to keep it at a certain distance from my eyes. I find it comfortable to use when it is 3 to 5 feet from my eyes. When working on an article or responding to emails, I can pull it forward to three feet. When watching the Yankees get their tushy spanked, I push the device back by a foot or more. It makes eyes adjust and appreciate the bigger screen. It is good to put some distance between the device and my face for Zoom calls or FaceTime chats. 

The iPad Mini, on the other hand, is meant to be enjoyed closer to your eyes. Especially when it comes to reading — and I do a lot of that. I use the Apple News app and Feedbin app (for reading RSS and aggregating various newsletters I subscribe to) in addition to apps from The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, the Financial Times, and The Economist. My daily reading diet also includes Kindle, which is for eBooks. 

The iPad Mini screen is about 18 to 24 inches from the eyes. By keeping the brightness below 50 percent, my eyes don’t get tired despite a long reading session. It is quite pleasant to read on the iPad Mini, thanks to its upgraded screen. I can lounge in my Eames chair, a cup of coffee on the side, and skim through morning reading relaxed and without hunching over. I much prefer this lean-back mode of consuming the words. The screen is on my desk. I can listen to a podcast in the background, but it doesn’t feel like work again. It feels more of a relaxed consumption of information. 

The iPad Mini turns out to be an excellent lightweight device for light work and casual activities. However, when it comes to heavy-duty work such as answering lots of emails and writing longer pieces, the device is hard to use, even with an external keyboard. You simply need a bigger keyboard and extra screen real estate to be more productive.

I tried pairing the Mini with the new magic keyboard. I found the distance from my eyes to the screen is large enough to make the screen’s smaller size pretty obvious. My eyes had to work hard to focus on the smaller screen, and the experience was uncomfortable. I also tried thumb-typing but gave up after a few paragraphs. I don’t intend to damage my hands to get work done. 

The best way to extract the most out of the smallest iPad is to think of it as a device enhanced by non-keyboard input methods — Scribble with Pencil, snapping photos with the cameras, or using Siri/voice input. The improved “Scribble” allows you to make notes, do quick searches, and even find directions. It is a very addictive way to use the iPad, especially in the smaller size.

I enjoy the ability to clip and store relevant bits of information in the new and much-approved Apple Notes app. I am also using the Pencil to make things easier. Pencil is quite handy when it comes to casual editing of photos on Lightroom and Darkroom apps. I also find doodling on Procreate on this tiny screen easier as well. 

And there is the camera — which, when used with LiveText — becomes a tremendous visual input device in itself. With LiveText, you point the camera at a photo or image with text, tap the indicator icon, and quickly act to make a phone call, translate the text, and more. I found LiveText easier to use on this smaller iPad versus the big iPad Pro that I own. 

The more I use the device, the more I realize that most computing has been defined by a singular idea of work and productivity. Mobile devices have and will continue to redefine our work. In the past, most of the computing involved being in the office. Now, non-office tasks have access to computing resources and thus offer an opportunity to make them more productive. Devices like the iPad are about making non-office work a bit more productive. Whether it is doctors, field engineers, or delivery drivers, devices such as the iPad in general and iPad Mini, in particular, could help change the very notion of productivity.

***

So, after a few days of using the iPad Mini, I have to admit, it is no slouch. It can do whatever its big brothers can do. The lighter weight, lower price, and Pro-matching capabilities make it a worthy purchase for any iPad buyer. But to get the best out of it, one has to reimagine how we interact with computers. I find myself scribbling and talking to this piece of glass. That’s not a bad start.

Last week when Apple’s iPhone 13 models went on sale, I asked Twitter followers which model they planned to order. An overwhelming majority voted for the iPhone 13 Pro, followed by the iPhone 13 Pro Max, followed by the Mini and the Basic. Interestingly, those are my personal preferences, especially now that I have perused all four iPhone 13 models that Apple sent out for review. 

In addition to these phones, Apple sent out another device, so not surprisingly, I have spent most of the past few days mucking about with that device instead of digging into the iPhones. I intend to write my full length iPhone 13 review in time, but I highly recommend John Gruber and Joanna Stern if you want to get some good intelligent reviews.

Like all reviewers, they emphasize two things that have improved across the entire line-up of new iPhones — cameras and batteries. And candidly, it is all that matters to an average person: great cameras to capture daily moments and selfies. Given how much we all are addicted to our phones, battery capacity and performance are pretty high in feature lists for most people. 

Last year, I preferred the iPhone 12 ProMax because it had a better camera –, but this year both Pro and Pro Max have the same camera configuration. The 13 ProMax has longer battery life — Apple says it is an additional 2.5 hours compared to the 12 ProMax model — but it comes at a price: it is heavier, and you can feel it. 

The iPhone 13 Pro, on the other hand, is the “Goldilocks” model — perfect in size, weight, comfort when using in a single-hand mode, battery life (about 90 minutes more than last year’s model,) quality of the screen, and camera quality. It is easier to use for selfies, and it is also less conspicuous in one’s pocket. 

The other significant improvement — at least for me — is the screen performance. In the two Pro models, Apple has added a “Super Retina XDR ProMotion” display, which allows the device to use “ProMotion.” That allows a screen refresh rate of up to 120Hz. It makes the whole user experience so smooth and flawless. 

Within a couple of minutes, your brain is so used to this latency-less experience that you start to notice that your year-old iPhone 12 Mini feels like a slowpoke. Apple has made some OS-level improvements to ensure that the system can dynamically switch between 10Hz to 120Hz refresh rate (based on content), so it doesn’t drain the beefier batteries. This new refresh technology puts iPhone on par with Samsung’s latest Galaxy S21 Ultra. I just have not been able to get over this smooth screen experience — this is the icing on the cake. 

The cake, though, is an all-new camera system inside the Pro models. (I will eventually get to the Mini and Basic models, but I am focusing on the 13 Pro for now. Apple has put a new sensor inside the phones. It is bigger than previous models (though Apple didn’t share how much bigger.) However, you can see that they are bigger because the rear camera module is visibly larger and has visibly larger camera lenses and camera bumps compared to last year’s model. 

They have increased the sensor size. For the standard camera, it is 1.9µm pitch pixels, which at 12MP translates to a 1/1.67” sensor. The aperture on this camera is now  f/1.5 and is IBIS stabilized. That is what allows a much-improved Portrait mode performance and gives the phone ability to create a “cinematic effect” in the video. The ultrawide lens now has an f/1.8 aperture. The Telephone lens has gone up from (an equivalent of) 67mm in the 12ProMax model to (an equivalent of) 77mm equivalent focal length, or 3x magnification over the normal-camera module. The telephoto lens has an aperture of f/2.8. 

I am also digging the ability to get close to my subjects and automatically switch into macro mode. Macro photography is so hard to do even with the most expensive cameras and best lenses, and the iPhone 13 Pro is throwing out one good photo after another as if it was child’s play. The biggest takeaway from the new camera rig is that it works amazingly well in low-light situations, which means fewer blurry and less noisy photos during romantic dinners. 

Many Android phones have superior camera rigs and are improving their quality by leaps and bounds. However, as an iPhone owner, this set-up is enough for me to take good photos. I have not had a chance to go out and take photos with the new device extensively, but whatever work I have done so far has given me some astonishing results. I can’t wait to get out tomorrow and the days after to put these cameras to use, capture some great moments and share them with you. 

For now, if you are looking to upgrade, even with my limited experience, I can safely say: you can’t go wrong with the iPhone 13 Pro.

In a recent blog post, George Hahn, who writes about many different things, talked about how capitalism benefits from sowing seeds of discontent. Sure, the piece is not about technology, but it is nevertheless worth a read. This paragraph stands out:

Quite the contrary. In the interest of making a profit by selling things, happiness and contentment are the enemy. Discontent is the spark that ignites the burn and yearn for something more, something bigger, something else. It’s all about what we don’t have, where we aren’t, with whom we aren’t. Discomfort or dissatisfaction with self and everything else is the kryptonite marketers have, telling us that we’re losers or less-than without the right car, the right watch or a full head of hair.

Read article on George Hahn's Blog