Light L16 review follow-up: real estate photography

A quick follow up on my review of the Light L16 digital camera…I think it’s a great option for real estate photography. It’s compact (the best camera is the one you have on you), it generates very high resolution images, and it’s wide dynamic range (WDR) feature produces some compelling results without the hassles of HDR photography.

I’ve been working on the design and construction of Elcome India’s new corporate headquarters in Mahape (outskirts of Mumbai) since 2015. Though the project has taken a year longer than planned, we are in the final stretch and look forward to occupying the building by Q4 of this year. I visited the construction site this week and took the following photos with the L16. As you can see in the gallery below, I was able to recover a lot of detail from the highlights in the interior photos with only single exposures in Auto mode…no exposure bracketing and merging required.

Light L16 camera review

Light L16 camera in hand

For the past six months I’ve been using the Light L16 camera. I first learned about and preordered this camera in October 2015, and after a two year wait finally got my hands on it.

Let me start by saying that the L16 does not yet support video recording, direct uploading to social media, sharing to iOS devices, high dynamic range (HDR) photos, exposure bracketing, optical image stabilization, and some other features found on high end DSLR and smartphone cameras. Many (but not all) of these features are promised in future software updates.

The camera has quite a few limitations and is best suited to early adopters who are willing to put in the time/effort to get the most out of it. Having said all of this, I like it and have decided to keep it. More importantly, six months down the road I’m finding myself using it more and more. Here’s why.

Introduction

The L16 is more closely related to a smartphone than a traditional digital camera. It is an Android based device with sixteen mobile phone grade camera sensors (13 megapixels each) each with their own lens of varying focal lengths (28mm, 70mm, and 150mm). The camera combines up to ten of these sixteen sensors to produce a photo.L16 lens close 001 4K 3840x2160

Depending on the focal length you select, the camera generates an image of between 13-80 megapixels. The “prime” focal lengths are 35mm, 75mm, and 150mm where you get the sharpest images with minimal interpolation. At 35 & 75mm, you get images of approximately 52 megapixels. More information on this variable resolution is available on the Light website.

Graph Variable Resolution 1200pxW

The L16 is a computational camera, meaning that the photos it captures are generated by software algorithms processing data collected by its sensors. This means that it’s performance depends on the quality of camera firmware and image processing software. The hardware obviously doesn’t change, but it’s software changes frequently unlike traditional digital cameras. With each software update the functionality, image quality, reliability, and performance of the camera changes (hopefully improving).

The L16 today

Today, the L16 is a product with solid hardware and beta-quality software. Not all features work as advertised, the camera has some bugs related to capturing images, the desktop software is changing rapidly and requires significant CPU performance, and it’s not yes seamless to capture and share images online. Having said that, if you are willing to overlook these issues and put in the effort to post-process images after they are captured, the camera can produce some amazing results.

Light Lumen Desktop software screen shotLight L16 DNG image detailsL16 Images & Workflow

Lumen is used to combine the multiple exposures the L16 captures and provide some controls over how that happens and do some basic edits to the final image. The camera captures images as a LRI (Light Raw Image) file, which is basically a container that includes the images captured by each sensor and some metadata to aid merging.

You can output your image at various resolutions and in either JPEG or DNG format. In my case, I always elect to output full resolution DNGs that I then edit further in Lightroom. To the left you can see the file details for a typical full resolution DNG outputted from Lumen.

In my case, my workflow involves Lumen, Lightroom, and Apple Photos. From Lightroom I output 16-bit TIFF files with Display P3 colorspace that are then pulled into Photos as my main photo management tool. The challenge is the large amount of storage space that each image takes: approximately 200MB RAW + 150MB DNG + 230MB TIFF = ~580MB total disk space per image for my workflow. I plan to implement an AppleScript to automatically archive the LRI and DNG files once I’ve processed my final image.

As mentioned earlier, processing L16 images in Lumen is quite CPU intensive. I use it on both my 2013 Mac Pro (3.5 GHz Intel Xeon E5, 6-core) and a 2016 MacBook Pro (3.3 GHz Intel Core i7, dual-core). Exporting full resolution DNG files can be a very time consuming process that maxes out all cores on my machines. I haven’t had a chance to test Lumen on a machine with a larger number of cores (like the 2017 iMac Pro with an 18-core Xeon), but I suspect that the process will benefit from being able to parallelize the export process across a larger number of cores. I don’t anticipate that Light can do much to speed up this process beyond a certain amount.

Taking Photos with the L16

The process of taking photos with the L16 is similar to that of a modern smartphone, but with additional options tailored to more professional users. The L16 has a nice touchscreen on the back that is used to compose the shot and adjust camera settings. There are two main parts to the software: a photo capture function and an image gallery.

At a Glance Photo 1600pxW

The camera currently supports the following capture modes: automatic, ISO priority, shutter priority, and manual control. It also has a self timer, burst mode, white balance adjustment, and exposure compensation adjustment. In the gallery view, you typically see a low resolution preview from one of the ten sensors used to capture the image. You can optionally generate a higher resolution preview in-camera that combines images from five sensors. Aperture adjustment is currently done in Lumen and by default all photos are captured at the equivalent of f15. There are basic photo editing tools in-camera

Light L16 in-camera photo editing tools

It can be a bit frustrating at times to not have hardware buttons for zoom, but the camera body does have touch sensors that appear to be for this purpose that are yet to be enabled in software. I hope this happens soon. Currently zoom is achieved by swiping your finger up and down over the preview image.

One drawback of the touchscreen is that it’s not bright enough when shooting outside in bright sunlight. The camera itself is not waterproof or splash resistant, and the touch screen doesn’t always respond to touch inputs if there are drops of water on the screen.

Is it a good camera?

After detailing the features and drawbacks of the L16, I want to talk about what is probably most interesting and relevant to anyone reading this review: is it better than modern smartphone cameras? Sometimes.

If I’m taking regular photos of my family and daily life for sharing on Instagram or other social media, I prefer to use my iPhone X. If I’m taking photos that I might use in other ways that benefits from more resolution, photos that would benefit from greater zoom, or photos of complex scenes with both bright and dark elements, and when I have time to process the resulting images on my computer, then I prefer to use the L16.

Let me give you a specific scenario in which the L16 was the best camera for the job: skiing. On a family ski holiday last month to Courchevel, I wanted to have a camera that fit into my ski jacket, had sufficient zoom to take compelling portraits and landscapes, and enough resolution to display at larger sizes. My other camera (iPhone X, Leica Q, Panasonic LUMIX FZ1000) were not suitable and the L16 performed admirably.

I was able to capture good photos in challenging conditions: cold, very bright, not easy to compose shots, limited space in my jacket pocket, multiple falls without being damaged and without damaging me. My iPhone X could have been used for some of these shots, but many times it lacks sufficient zoom and resolution to take quick photos and then crop to desired size later. With almost 4x the resolution and optical zoom in a pocketable format, the L16 worked out well on this trip.

Another feature of the L16 is the ability to add a depth effect to image, similar to the Portrait mode on the iPhone X, after the image is taken. You can adjust this depth effect to emulate a depth-of-field down to f2. Here is an example of the original image and the same with depth effect applied:

Courchevel Skiing Photo no depth effect
Original image (f15)
Courchevel Skiing Photo
Depth effect applied (f2)

As is the case with the iPhone X’s Portrait mode, the L16 depth effect is not perfect and often requires using editing tools in Lumen to correct errors. I’ve not been able to get the hang of those tools, so I use the depth effect sparingly. I’m spoilt by the f1.7 aperture on my Leica Q and so most simulated depth-of-field effects don’t look very appealing to me.

Other areas where the L16 excels is landscape, urban, and architectural photography. It’s compact size means that it’s more likely to be with you when you see something interesting, and it’s resolution and optical zoom gives you flexibility to frame your phone quickly. Another feature is the impressive detail that can be recovered from the highlights and shadows…rivaling professional DSLRs in some cases. This is because the current version of the L16 software includes a wide dynamic range (WDR) feature that underexposes one of the sensors when capturing a scene. The DNG file brought into Lumen can recover a lot of detail from highlights as a result, and you can safely expose photos for the shadow areas knowing that blowout highlights are not as much of a problem as typical cameras. A simultaneous HDR mode is promised for a future software update.

The resolution when capturing photos is apparent in this comparison of an iPhone X HDR photo vs. the L16 WDR photo of the same scene (sunrise in Singapore):

iPhone X HDR photo of Singapore at SunriseLight L16 WDR photo of Singapore at Sunrise

And here is the detail available from each camera when you zoom in on the SingTel building in the background:

Crop of SingTel building captured with iPhone XCrop of SingTel building captured with Light L16

Not only is there more detail in the L16 photo on the right, but far less noise. At Instagram image sizes you can’t really appreciate these details, but when you look at the two photos on a large computer monitor, 4K TV, or large print you can definitely see the difference.

There are two situations where L16 image quality needs improvement: high ISO (above 1,000) and certain focal lengths where more interpolation is required. The lack of optical image stabilization makes the low light noise problem a bigger issue than on other cameras. If you can use a tripod or place the camera on a flat surface, it’s possible to get clean low-noise photos by using ISO priority mode and setting it to 100 or 200. Handheld, the iPhone X performs noticeably better at low-light photography.

Show me the goods!

OK, enough chit-chat and let me show you some of the photos that I’ve taken over the past six months with the L16 so you can judge it’s quality yourself by looking at my collection L16 albums on Flickr. You can pixel-peep at the full resolution images there, but I’ve included some at the end of this post.

The blog is back

After a twelve year hiatus triggered by technical issues (my hosting provider went bust) and laziness (my site backups were not up-to-date), I’m back. For the past decade or so I’ve been using a combination of Twitter & Facebook as my “blogging” platforms, but they each have their limitations…so it was time to rescue my old blog with the help of the Internet Archive and recover all my old posts. Now that’s done, I’m looking forward to posting here and sharing insights with my millions of loyal followers.

Apple Computer 1

A few weeks ago I became the proud custodian of an original 1976 Apple-1 computer. I collect vintage Apple computers, and for collectors like me the Apple-1 is the holly grail. I’ve been on the lookout for one for more than 20 years and the stars finally aligned to make acquiring one possible.

Apple-1 board

The Apple-1 was not a commercial success, with less than 200 units sold in just over one year; but it was the reason that the Apple Computer Company (as it was known at the time) was founded and was pivotal in Apple securing venture capital to develop the Apple ][, it’s first mass market personal computer.

Steve Jobs keynote screen grab

The story of how the Apple-1 came to be is well documented, but the individual histories of the ~200 Apple-1s that were manufactured are a little less clear. Luckily, there is an excellent online registry of original Apple-1 computers, originally created by Mike Willegal and now maintained by Achim Baqué. My Apple-1 is listed as #67 on the registry. There is also a dedicated Apple-1 online forum for owners and enthusiasts at Applefritter.com.

The Apple-1 was sold as a fully assembled motherboard in a cardboard box. The chips on these boards were hand populated by Steve Jobs’ family and friends in his parents’ house. They were then taken to the garage where they were tested, and repaired if necessary, before being shipped to a handful of retailers in the US who sold them. The Apple-1 did not come with a case, keyboard, monitor, data storage device, or transformer. It was up to the retailer or the buyer to source off-the-shelf components to complete a working systems that would have typically looked like this:

Assembled Apple-1 system

In recent years, the value of Apple-1 computers as increased significantly with recent auction prices averaging in the $350-$500k level and as much as $900k. My focus, due to budget constraints and not being totally bonkers, had been to acquire the “runt of the litter” so-to-speak and leverage the excellent PCB repair ability we have in-house at Elcome to restore it. Here’s a video documenting the process of restoring this particular Apple-1 to working condition:

We got lucky with this board. Underneath a coat of grime and sticky residue was a pristine & unmodified board that we were able to get working without replacing any of the original components. Due to the age of the components, I don’t plan on powering up this Apple-1 a lot, but it’s actually good for it to be used every couple of months to prolong the life of the capacitors. There’s not a whole lot you can do with the Apple-1 compared to the Apple ][ or modern personal computers, but we’re working on an IP interface to make it easier to load software rather than the present method of using audio files or typing them manually. Having previously assembled a couple of Apple-1 replicas allows us to experiment more easily.

The Apple-1 basically completes my collection of vintage Apple computers. I have my favorites from my collection displayed in my office: some out in the open and others a bit more discretely.

Jimmy Grewal's vintage Apple computer collection

PowerMac Table photo

I plan to put together a blog post about each of the computers in the wall display above at a later date…hopefully before the decade is out. I’ve owned some since they were new, and others were acquired specifically for my collection. I haven’t yet figured out how I’m going to display the Apple-1 in my office…I’m saving that as a summer project.

My longterm plan is to partner with a public venue, like a museum, to display this Apple-1 so that anyone can see it and learn about it, the people who created it, and the technological revolution that it sparked. Until I find a permanent home for it, I’m exploring sending it on tour for temporary display at smaller museums…once I sort out all the insurance, transport, and import/export issues involved.

If you have any questions about this Apple-1 feel free to reach out on Twitter.

Pulse: hello world!

For the past few months this blog has been very quiet; that’s mostly because I’ve been busy trying to get a new project off the ground. This is something I’ve been working on since I left Microsoft back in 2003, but it has taken time and some mistakes along the way to build the company and product that I wanted.

Pulse logo

I’m pleased to announce the launch of the Pulse family of residential and hospitality automation products and the company behind it, Aspalis SAS.

Aspalis was formed in December last year as a partnership between myself and my friend Laurent Nicq. Laurent and I met in 2004 while he was working for a company called ConvergeX which was building Windows Media Center based home automation software. When that company had severe financial trouble and laid off most of its staff, Laurent and I decided to partner and build our own company and hire many of the talented engineers which ConvergeX let go.

Thus, Aspalis SAS was born and is now based in scenic Sophia-Antipolis, just outside of Nice and Cannes in the south of France. Besides myself and Laurent, we have five other talented people working with us: Jean-Paul, Emmanuel, Baptiste, Lucas, and Thomas. Aspalis is working closely with Navicom Technologies FZCO, a Dubai-based company in which I’m also involved, to bring products based on Aspalis software to market in the Middle East and the rest of the world.

Pulse ControllerThe first of these products is the Pulse Controller. This device acts as a central monitoring, control, automation, and remote management gateway for various systems in the home. At present, this device is designed to interact with hardware using the KNX / EIB and Z-Wave protocols; we will be adding support for additional protocols and standards in the future. Basically, the Pulse Controller interfaces with lighting, HVAC, curtain/shutter, IP cameras, and other devices/systems in the home to present the user a unified view on what’s going on around them.

The end user interacts with the Pulse Controller via client software running on a range of devices:

  • In-wall touch screens running Windows Embedded CE 5.0 or 6.0 with the .NET Compact Framework installed
  • Personal computers running Windows XP and Vista, including a special version for UMPCs
  • Mobile devices such as Windows Mobile 5.0 PocketPC and Smartphone connected via a WWAN connection such as GPRS/EDGE/UMTS/HDSDPA/etc
  • In the near future we will add support for clients based on Vista Media Center, Mac OS X, Symbian, and the .NET Micro Framework.

Pulse Client on HTC S620We have worked hard to build a simple and consistent user interface which adapts to the unique characteristics of the device it is running on. It’s hard for me to describe what I’m talking about, but we hope to post a Flash based demo that you can play with on our website sometime early next year.

The Pulse Controller itself is also a mini-computer, but is totally customized to suit the unique requirements of the market we are targeting. First and foremost, the hardware and software inside the Pulse Controller is designed to be reliable and easily serviceable. The hardware is based on industrial-grade embedded technology and features an Intel IXP420 Network Processor running at 400 MHz. At present, it runs Windows Embedded CE 5.0 Core, but we are evaluating CE 6 for future versions. The blocking issue at the moment is the lack of a suitable BSP.

The Pulse Controller is manufactured for us by Kontron Modular Computers GmbH on top of their E2Brain platform and the entire system is fully CE certified. We are in the process of getting FCC certification as well. The Pulse Controller has 64MB of SDRAM and 32MB of flash storage. It has two serial ports, two USB 2.0 ports, and two 10/100 Ethernet ports. There is space inside for an RF module, which presently occupied by a Z-Wave module available in 868.42 or 900 MHz versions. KNX / EIB support is enabled by way of a Siemens BIM 113 module which allows direct connection to a wired EIB bus. The device accepts 10 to 33 volts DC, and consumes around 4 watts during normal operation. It’s very compact and comes with both wall and DIN rail mounting brackets.

In addition to making it reliable and delivering easy-to-use client software, one of our most important goals was to design a solution which scaled well. By this I mean that we want to offer home automation for even the largest residential/hospitality projects out there. In order to do this, you have to design a solution which can be monitored, controlled, and updated remotely. We have built some configuration and deployment tools already, but have also included full support for monitoring and control of the Pulse Controller via SNMP. A white paper detailing this capability will be posted shortly.

In summary, the Pulse Controller and associated products have some unique selling points:

  • Reliability. The hardware and software was designed from the ground-up to be reliable and easy to service.
  • Scaleability. We have developed the first home automation solution which can be deployed in large residential or hospitality projects in the same way networking or communications equipment is used.
  • Cost. We have not taken the traditional “kitchen sink” approach, but rather focused on delivering a solution which has some basic/essential features and does those things well. We’ll leave the flashy/gimmicky features to all the other guys.
  • Openness. We like making friends. By leveraging protocols such as EIB and Z-Wave, we allow our dealers and installers to design solutions which best suit their customer’s requirements. We also play nice when it comes to client devices and are open to integrating the Pulse Controller with front-end software from others.

So, what’s next? We just finished exhibiting at the Gulf Information & Technology Exhibition (GITEX) in Dubai, thanks to the kind folks at Intel who gave us some space at the last minute. Next week we’ll be at Cityscape 2006 in Dubai starting on December 4th. We will be on the Al Shafar General Contracting stand. In early January, we’ll be making our North American debut at CES in Las Vegas. More details on that shortly.

If you are interested in learning more, watch our website or this blog and we’ll have more information about where you can buy home automation systems incorporating our products and technologies. Our initial focus is on new homes, but the Pulse Controller can also be used in existing homes.

I’m really proud of the work my team has done over the past year, and I am confident that we have carved ourselves a viable niche in the home automation market. The architecture we have developed makes it easy to adapt to changing market requirements and we have already begun work on future generations of the existing product and new products as well.

2008 Infinity G35 sedan?

I saw this car today behind the Emirates Towers in Dubai. Sorry about the bad quality of the picture, it took me a little while to figure out it might be a prototype of a future Infinity and it was hard to take the picture while shifting gears (was driving the Aston).

[CLICK PICTURE FOR LARGER IMAGE]

2008 Infinity G35 Sedan spy picture taken in Dubai

At first I thought someone had played a joke on the owner of the car because the Infinity badges were covered up and someone had drawn a Hyundai logo on it instead…but then I noticed that the Infinity logos on the wheels were also missing. When I got home I did a little search on the Internet to see whether my hunch was right, and sure enough I found some other pictures of a similar G35 prototype…which seem to have been taken at the Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai.

The main differences I can tell are that the twin exhausts are now separated on either side of the rear apron, the more rounded rear with integrated spoiler, and new location of the G35 badge further up on the trunk lid.

EDIT: Turns out this is a 2007 G35 sedan which will be publicly unveiled in September, followed by a new coupe which might be a 2008 model year vehicle.

Where are the Finals???

I can’t believe it’s the summer of 2006 and I still can’t find a way to watch the NBA Finals live in Dubai…either on the cable/satellite TV or on the Internet. At most I can buy the video from Google Video or iTunes 24h later which kinda spoils the fun. If anyone knows of any way to watch the games live in Dubai, please post a comment.