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iPhone 11 portrait mode vs plain-old digital camera: Love or hate all the photo fakery?

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Most people’s spontaneous photographs these days are taken with a smartphone, and that’s been the case for many years now. Because the smartphone is so ubiquitous, most of us may not be aware of how it has changed, and continues to change, the way we capture memories.

Apple’s iPhone 11, which went on sale last month, is an amazing technical achievement, and I was interested to examine just how it is changing the way that we see. 

I performed an experiment: I took a series of shots with an iPhone 11 and a digital still camera at the same time. The set-up for the test was a photo shoot with my friend Natalia. The camera loves Natalia — every camera loves this lady — so she was a perfect choice as the model for the experiment. 

I took all the iPhone pictures with Apple’s top-of-the-line device, the iPhone 11 Pro Max, the model that starts at $1,099. It has three different cameras so it gives you three different options for depth of field. It also has all kinds of new software capabilities to dress up your photos. 

For comparison, I used a five-year-old digital camera called the “Quattro DP3,” from Japan’s Sigma Corp. It has a couple of good attributes for this kind of experiment. It has an excellent sensor, made by Silicon Valley chip company Foveon (owned by Sigma) that can capture lots of nuances of light and texture, and a lens that never lies about the lines or curves in a scene. And it’s a very straightforward camera: It gives you hardly any fancy options to dress-up photos. In a sense, it’s very truthful.

Look at this first picture of Natalia from the iPhone 11. This is using all the basic settings in “Portrait” mode, with no attempt to adjust anything. Nothing has been edited after the fact. You can see immediately that the picture captures a lot of light, and colors pop, and there’s a nice job of blurring the background, the “bokeh” effect that mimics the effect of a professional lens. 

natalia-feature-image.jpg

This picture uses all the basic settings in the iPhone 11 “Portrait” mode, with no attempt to adjust anything. 

Now look at the iPhone picture set next to the DP3 picture. The iPhone is on the left, the DP3 on the right. Again, nothing has been edited in the case of either shot, they both come straight out of the camera. The DP3 doesn’t pop, and it doesn’t have a lot of light in it. I could have done some things to capture more light, but I decided to leave the DP3 with the gloom of the actual environment. So it actually captures the scene pretty accurately. It’s at an Apple store, the artificial light isn’t great, and the outside light coming through the windows of the store wasn’t very bright because it was a gray, rainy day. 

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The iPhone is on the left, the DP3 on the right. Nothing has been edited in the case of either shot.

The iPhone photo floods the scene with light but it also does some weird other things. It makes the colors rather artificial. The colors in the DP3 are more true to life. The iPhone makes Natalia’s lips more pink, it makes her skin oddly rosy when she has a Mediterranean complexion that has more olive tones in it. The iPhone turns her dress and hat and coat from the dark blue-black they are in life, which are pretty closely captured by the DP3, to a kind of cobalt blue. Not a bad blue, but not accurate. 

Natalia and I looked at the results after the first few shots. “Fake,” we said in unison. The iPhone version is Instagram-ready, we both realized. It creates an effect that is easier to read, in the sense of seeing what’s there. Natalia’s earrings, the lace of her top, her eyeglass frames — all of it is “documented” in the sense that it’s all visible in the shot. And the iPhone version creates aspects that people value on Instagram, such as colors and shapes that pop and catch the eye and are kind-of candy colors. 

The next shots show some interesting extra items. Natalia’s skin has a kind of  sheen to it, a luminescence that is more than what you’d see in real life. It’s not just a smoothing of skin texture, it’s a kind of weird, glossy shine.

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With the DP3 [right], there’s detail only in the area of focus, which in this case would be Natalia’s face. The iPhone photo has detail throughout.

You can also see an odd thing going on with detail. With a digital camera, such as the DP3, there’s detail only in the area of focus, which in this case would be Natalia’s face. The iPhone photo has detail throughout. It’s almost as if every part of the picture is screaming for attention. Her lace top is intricate, her hair is detailed down to the individual strands. You might call it “photorealist.” Even though Natalia’s face is still the focus, it’s as if all parts of the picture are equally important, except, perhaps, for the blurred background. There’s something flat about the picture because every part of it is given equal emphasis in terms of detail. 

Lastly, we come to a stark contrast. As I said, the light in the store was terrible for a photo shoot. The DP3, on the right, captures the shadow effects of the situation. Not only is it a kind of interesting, dramatic effect, it places Natalia at a definite place in time. A shadowy corner of an industrial space on an overcast morning. There’s a record here, in light and shadow, of what it was like for this one person to be at this place in the universe at this unique moment.

natalia-comparison-3.jpg

The DP3, on the right, captures the shadow effects of the situation. The iPhone brings in a large amount of light to the scene, more than was actually evident at the time.

The iPhone once again brought a large amount of light to the scene, more than was actually evident at the time. The colors pop, again. Surfaces are somewhat flat, because shadows never get deeper than a certain threshold. 

What you see from the iPhone consistently is a fakeness. Colors are dramatically altered, incidental light is boosted beyond anything that existed in the actual field of view. And detail is consistent throughout the picture in a way that isn’t really the case when you focus on something in the world in real life. 

You can look at it another way. The iPhone is about information more than anything else. The pictures it produces don’t have much mood or tone. They aren’t really faithful to the moment in time. But they have tons of information. You’ll know everything about the design of the person’s earrings, everything about the pattern of her dress, everything about the highlights of her hair, the contours of her body. Etc., etc. etc. Rather than a picture, it creates a visual collection of data, an abundance of info.

I imagine people can feel lots of different ways about this. Some might not be crazy about the fake aspects. However, a lot of people will probably be pretty delighted at the kind of instant Photoshop, Instagram-ready aspects of the iPhone. One thing is certain: as computing power increases on the phone, there will be even more of an ability for the device to modify and alter pictures as they’re taken. 

It’s interesting to ponder whether the iPhone may someday grow up and decide to stop producing brilliantly lit pictures that are heavy on info and instead seek to create more mood, more tone and “feeling,” for lack of a better word. 

Do you like the new fakery? Do you long for the natural look in digital photos? Tell me what you think in the comments section.

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YouTube to launch parental control features for families with tweens and teens – TechCrunch

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YouTube announced this morning it will soon introduce a new experience designed for teens and tweens who are now too old for the schoolager-focused YouTube Kids app, but who may not be ready to explore all of YouTube. The company says it’s preparing to launch a beta test of new features that will give parents the ability to grant kids more limited access to YouTube through a “supervised” Google Account. This setup will restrict what tweens and teens can watch on the platform, as well as what they can do — like create videos or leave comments, for example.

Many parents may have already set up a supervised Google Account for their child through Google’s Family Link parental control app. This app allows parents to restrict access across a range of products and services, control screen time, filter websites and more. Other parents may have created a supervised Google Account for their child when they first set up the child’s account on a new Android device or Chromebook.

If not, parents can take a few minutes to create the child’s supervised account when they’re ready to begin testing the new features. (Unfortunately, Google Edu accounts — like those kids now use for online school — aren’t supported at launch.)

The new features will allow parents to select between three different levels of YouTube access for their tween or teen. Initially, YouTube will test the features with parents with children under the age of consent for online services — age 13 in the U.S., but different in other countries — before expanding to older groups.

Image Credits: YouTube

For tweens who have more recently graduated out of the YouTube Kids app, an “Explore” mode will allow them to view a broad range of videos generally suited for viewers age 9 and up — including vlogs, tutorials, gaming videos, music clips, news, and educational content. This would allow the kids to watch things like their favorite gaming streamer with kid-friendly content, but would prevent them (in theory) from finding their way over to more sensitive content.

The next step up is an “Explore More” mode, where videos are generally suitable for kids 13 and up — like a PG-13 version of YouTube. This expands the set of videos kids can access and allows them access to live streams in the same categories as “Explore.”

For older teens, there is the “Most of YouTube” mode, which includes almost all YouTube videos except those that include age-restricted content that isn’t appropriate for viewers under 18.

Image Credits: YouTube

YouTube says it will use a combination of user input, machine learning, and human review to curate which videos are included in each of the three different content settings.

Of course, much like YouTube Kids, that means this will not be a perfect system — it’s a heavily machine-automated attempt at curation where users will still have to flag videos that were improperly filtered. In other words, helicopter parents who closely supervise their child’s access to internet content will probably still want to use some other system — like a third-party parental control solution, perhaps — to lock down YouTube further.

The supervised access to YouTube comes with other restrictions, as well, the company says.

Parents will be able to manage the child’s watch and search history from within the child’s account settings. And certain features on YouTube will be disabled, depending on the level of access the child has.

For example, YouTube will disable in-app purchases, video creation, and commenting features at launch. The company says that, over time, it wants to work with parents to add some of these features back through some sort of parent-controlled approach.

Also key is that personalized ads won’t be served on supervised experiences, even if that content isn’t designated as “made for kids” — which would normally allow for personalized ads to run. Instead, all ads will be contextual, as they are on YouTube Kids. In addition, all ads will have to comply with kids advertising policies, YouTube’s general ad policies, and will be subject to the same category and ad content restrictions as on Made for Kids content.

That said, when parents establish the supervised account for their child, they’ll be providing consent for COPPA compliance — the U.S. children’s privacy law that requires parents to be notified and agree to the collection and use personal data from the kids’ account. So there’s a trade-off here.

However, the new experience may still make sense for families where kids have outgrown apps designed for younger children — or even in some cases, for younger kids who covet their big brother or sister’s version of “real YouTube.” Plus, at some point, forcing an older child to use the “Kids” app makes them feel like they’re behind their peers, too. And since not all parents use the YouTube Kids app or parental controls, there’s always the complaint that “everyone else has it, so why can’t I?” (It never ends.)

Image Credits: YouTube Kids app

This slightly more locked down experience lets parents give the child access to “real YouTube” with restrictions on what that actually means, in terms of content and features.

YouTube, in an announcement, shared several endorsements for the new product from a few individual youth experts, including Leslie Boggs, president of National PTA; Dr. Yalda Uhls, Center for Scholars & Storytellers, UCLA – Author of Media Moms & Digital Dads; Thiago Tavares, Founder and President of SaferNet Brazil; and Professor Sun Sun Lim, Singapore University of Technology & Design – Author of Transcendent Parenting.

YouTube’s news, notably, follows several product updates from fast-growing social video app and YouTube rival TikTok, which has rolled out a number of features aimed at better protecting its younger users.

The company in April 2020 launched a “family pairing” mode that lets a parent link their child’s account to their own in order to also lock down what the child can do and what content they can see. (TikTok offers a curated experience for the under-13 crowd called Restricted Mode, which can be switched on here, too.) And in January of this year, TikTok changed the privacy setting defaults for users under 18 to more proactively restrict what they do on the app.

YouTube says its new product will launch in beta in the “coming months” in over 80 countries worldwide. It also notes that it will continue to invest in YouTube Kids for parents with younger children.

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Facebook brings news sharing back to Australia – TechCrunch

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The Facebook-Australia news battle seems to have reached an end, Android gets an update and Lucid Motors is going public via SPAC. This is your Daily Crunch for February 23, 2021.

The big story: Facebook brings news sharing back to Australia

Last week, Facebook responded to the Australian government’s proposed law requiring internet platforms to strike revenue-sharing agreements with news publishers by blocking news sharing and viewing for users in the country. But with the government amending the law, Facebook said it will restore news sharing in the “coming days.”

Among other things, the amendments call for a two-month mediation period before Facebook is forced into arbitration with publishers, and it also says the government will consider commercial agreements that the platforms have made with local publishers before deciding whether the law applies to them.

William Easton, Facebook’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement that the amendments address “core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them.”

The tech giants

Android’s latest update will let you schedule texts, secure your passwords and more — This update will integrate a feature called Password Checkup to alert you to passwords you’re using that have been previously exposed.

Twitter relaunches test that asks users to revise harmful replies — Twitter is running a new test that will ask users to pause and think before they tweet.

Area 120 is beginning to use Google’s massive reach to scale HTML5 GameSnacks platform — GameSnacks is an HTML5 gaming platform where titles are bite-sized and load much faster.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Lucid Motors strikes SPAC deal to go public with $24B valuation — This will be the largest deal yet between a blank-check company and an electric vehicle startup.

Shippo raises $45M more at $495M valuation as e-commerce booms — The startup provides shipping-related services to e-commerce companies.

Reddit ups Series E round by another $116M — Reddit had already announced a $250 million Series E earlier this month.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

How to overcome the challenges of switching to usage-based pricing — The usage-based pricing model almost feels like a cheat code, according to OpenView’s Kyle Poyar.

Oscar Health’s initial IPO price is so high, it makes me want to swear — Alex Wilhelm doesn’t mince words: “Public investors have lost their damn minds.”

RIBS: The messaging framework for every company and product — The test is designed to tell you if your story is memorable, so you can turn it into a compelling message.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Announcing the complete agenda for TC Sessions: Justice — Our second-ever dedicated event to diversity, equity, inclusion and labor in tech is coming up on March 3.

Six Miami-based investors share their views on the region’s startup scene — Investors see a huge opportunity for the region to become a major startup hub by utilizing its diverse workforce and wonderful quality of life.

SolarWinds hackers targeted NASA, Federal Aviation Administration networks — Hackers are said to have broken into the networks of U.S. space agency NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration as part of a wider espionage campaign.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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Reddit ups Series E round by another $116 million – TechCrunch

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Reddit, which announced a $250 million Series E earlier this month, has added over $116 million to the financing event, upping the round’s most recent total to $367 million, according to a new SEC filing. The document shows that Reddit is aiming to raise up to $500 million in this capital raise.

A Reddit spokesperson confirmed the news, saying that the new capital is from ”new and existing investors.” They offered no specifics on names. The spokesperson did confirm that the new capital did not come with a new valuation, keeping the platform at its previously-announced valuation of $6 billion pre-money.

Reddit is a 16-year-old company with over $800 million in known venture funding. It has been in the spotlight for the past few months, with co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigning over moderation concerns, to, more recently, its role in the Election and the meteoric rise of GameStop’s stock due to the subreddit r/WallStreetBets.

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