Apple’s new hardware is built for our visual future

Two decades into the new millennium, it is pretty apparent: hardware without software and smarts is nothing more than a gimmick. Apple’s product launch event today was a timely reminder of this new hardware reality. And I’m glad to say Apple delivered. The new iMac video cameras and the new iPad Pro’s front-facing cameras are … Continue reading Apple’s new hardware is built for our visual future

What do Nils Frahm, Anne Mueller, Jeannie Schulz, Mary Lattimore and Atli Örvarsson have in common? They are among three dozen artists whose albums I bought last year from Bandcamp, an Oakland, CA-based music service. It was my way of supporting these artists. As I wrote earlier, “we need to figure out how much we value the music and the musicians,” so that “we can use our dollars to encourage them to keep creating.”

And I am not alone. 800,000 customers spent $48.3 million on what Bandcamp calls Bandcamp Fridays — every first Friday of the month, Bandcamp forgoes the 15 percent cut of the digital sales (and 10 percent cut of the physical sales.) All money goes to the artists. Bandcamp Fridays started as a one-off feature on March 20, 2020, it has become a regular feature. In a year since the company has sent $148 million to the artists.

Their success is finally getting the attention it deserves. It has taken almost a year for the media to notice Bandcamp’s progress. There is a fantastic article in Billboard, and of course, much better is an NPR conversation with the co-founder and CEO of the company, my dear friend, Ethan Diamond. Shawn Grunberger is the co-founder and chief technology officer.

Bandcamp is the antithesis of streaming. The company’s value metric is based on helping smaller and independent artists create a way forward for themselves. In comparison, someone like Spotify’s north star metric is time spent on the platform. I am not saying Spotify (or any other streaming platform) isn’t essential — their clever use of machine learning and algorithmic discovery, access to music across devices, and all platforms make them worth using. 

The reality is that we are all addicted to convenience — and streaming platforms make it damn convenient for us to not think about the artists and how they manage to survive. As streaming becomes more pervasive, the sad reality is that every track, every artist, every album is reduced to just data, served up by the algorithm. It only continues to devalue our emotional relationship with the creators.  

For now, the least we can do is fight the good fight and support what you value — by buying music. It is way better than sending tips to artists via PayPal, as Spotify suggests as a way of support. That, to me, feels like digital panhandling, but that’s just me. Even if you listen to it on other platforms, buying music is a better way of expressing your fandom. 

Did you know that Nils Frahm has a new album, Graz? It is worth buying. 

Disclosure: * Bandcamp is backed by True Ventures, where I am a partner.

In December 2020, with the release of the iOS 14.3, the owners of iPhone 12 Pro (and ProMax), got to experience Apple’s new photo format, ProRAW. In simplest terms, the iPhone camera captures multiple image frames, picks out the best bits from these frames, and stitches them together in a photo with higher amount of data that can be manipulated for editing later. These are big files — about 10-12 times the sized on normal files captured by the iPhone.

In more recent days, Adobe announced a new version of Photoshop (and Camera Raw) image editing software especially for the M1 Mac. As part of these upgrades, the company unveiled a new feature called Super Resolution.

“The term ‘Super Resolution’ refers to the process of improving the quality of a photo by boosting its apparent resolution,” Adobe engineers write on the company blog. “Enlarging a photo often produces blurry details, but Super Resolution has an ace up its sleeve — an advanced machine learning model trained on millions of photos.”

Think of this as turning a 10-megapixel photo into a 40-megapixel photo. While I don’t need Super-Resolution with my Leica digital files, it is an interesting proposition when applied to cameras with smaller sensors, especially smartphones. I thought it made perfect sense to marry the ProRaw files from Apple’s iPhone 12 ProMax with Super Resolution. So, I did.

Last evening, I took a handful of photos with the iPhone’s normal and short-tele lenses in ProRaw format. I applied the Adobe SuperResolution in CameraRaw, made some adjustments, and opened the files in Photoshop. I edited them using my normal editing workflow — one I reserve for my Leica SL photos.

I was editing them on the Apple’s M1 MacBook attached to the XDR Display, which is about 32 inches and has 6K resolution. And the results were nothing short of astonishing. Sure, the files lack the dimensionality of a Leica. But for a camera phone, they are stunning. I printed the files on paper sized 11 x 17 inches on my Epson P800 printer. The print quality from the file, which is about 7000 x 6000 after my preferred 7 x 6 crop, is highly satisfactory.

What impressed me most was the detail that the marriage of ProRaw and Adobe’s Super Resolution could capture and enhance. Below, I’ve included two different crops of one image for you to take a look at. Remember, this is from a tiny smartphone sensor. And when you stop and think about how we have only just gotten started with the marriage of smartphone cameras and artificial intelligence, it is impossible not to be excited about the future of smartphone photography.

MacBook Pro
Photo by Mikaela Shannon on Unsplash

From the day I first laid eyes on the M1-based Apple’s MacBook Pro, I have been a massive fan of the machine. It is fast. It is powerful. It runs cool. And most importantly, it has excellent battery life. It will be a huge boost for desktop computing, which remains stuck in the past when it comes to applications. And one of those applications from the past I absolutely can’t live without is Adobe’s Photoshop. 

Barring minor adjustments to fix the vagaries of the lenses, I don’t use Lightroom. I was an early convert to the cloud variant of the Adobe Lightroom photo library tool. It offered easy access to all my digital negatives and edited files anywhere, anytime. It didn’t have the bells and whistles of its desktop-based big brother — and since I didn’t need them, I don’t miss them. 

I prefer Photoshop for everything. I like the layer-based approach to editing photos. It gives me much better (and granular) control over my edits. Photoshop was the solitary reason I owned an iMac Pro and a MacBook Pro. My models were packed with memory and top-of-the-line graphic processors, and as a result, I could breeze through my photo edits. 

With Apple ready to switch to its silicon, I decided it was time to sell those machines. What made my decision easier was that Adobe’s Photoshop Beta was spectacularly fast. Even the Intel-based Photoshop performed well on the 13-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 processor. Adobe promised a brand new M1-version of Photoshop in March 2021. And they delivered. The application has garnered gushing reviews across the board. Many have been gobsmacked by the software’s performance on M1 machines. I am no different. I love the performance of M1-Photoshop. 

Except for one small thing. 

The M1-Photoshop is pretty useless for those — like me — who use third-party extensions as part of their editing workflow. For instance, I use some extensions that allow me to pursue highly granular masking via luminosity masks. Other extensions for color grading (including Adobe’s own Color Themes) and additional tune-ups are also part of my flow. And none of them work with the new Photoshop. 

Extensions are not working because Adobe has shifted to a new way of writing extensions — specifically, using UXP. According to Adobe, “UXP provides modern JavaScript, a curated selection of UI components, and a more streamlined workflow for plugin developers.” In the past, Adobe used CEP (Common Extensibility Platform), which used web-based technologies like CSS to make the extensions work. The shift to UXP is visible with the M1-Mac version of Photoshop. 

In its breathless blog post and news releases around the new M1-Photoshop, Adobe (intentionally, I suspect) failed to mention that extensions weren’t working. Like many, I was forced to re-install those extensions, only to find them absent. After a few tries at rebooting the software and the computer, I was perplexed. I ended up on their support website to get the answers. Adobe wants us to get in touch with the extension developers to see if they are offering upgrades. 

They aren’t. 

For me, this has meant going back to the Intel version (via Rosetta). It is frustrating because I can switch to the M1-version and see how good Photoshop could be on the new platform. Mostly, I am disappointed in Adobe’s communications (or lack thereof). 

Of course, developers will come out with updates at some point, but exactly when is anybody’s guess. If you are like me and use extensions and external add-ons for Photoshop that you can’t live without, it might be a good idea to wait. 

Updated March 29, 2021. Adobe Photoshop team posted a long article about the changes in Photoshop, how extensions and plugins work, and the underlying new technologies. While it is a good explainer and removes the opaqueness around the issue, it doesn’t take away from my original argument — you are stuck using Rosetta unless extension developers rollout the upgrades.