Little thoughts and short articles on photo and video technology
by Andreas Beitinger
Newer iPhones and iPads as well as some Android-9 devices capture photos in a new format with the extension HEIC (which stands for HEIF with HEVC compression). Compared to the outdated JPEG format, the HEIC format provides about half the file size for the same quality. Until now, HEIC files are usually converted into JPEGs during export so that other programs and devices can read them - but this means that the technical advantages of HEIC are lost. It would be more convenient if HEIC images could be used and archived directly. The more smartphones with HEIC image format are coming onto the market, the more important this feature becomes.
The manufacturers of image processing software are still hesitant with direct support of the HEIC format because they would have to purchase licenses for it. An at least partial alternative is direct integration into the operating system. In macOS there has been support for the HEIC format for quite some time; many applications on macOS can therefore read the format. Now Microsoft provides something equivalent for Windows 10. You no longer have to use any external software.
On some Windows 10 computers, HEIC support is already active without
user intervention. If not, it must be set up manually.
To make it work, at least system version 1903 should be installed. In order to get support for the HEIC format, two dedicated apps must also be installed via the Windows Store: 'HEIF image extensions' and 'HEVC video extensions from the device manufacturer'.
All you need are the free apps linked here; to download them you don't even have to be logged in to the Windows Store. Confusingly, for HEVC and HEIF/HEIC there are also paid apps available, but they are not needed.
Once the HEIC support in Windows 10 is set up and the computer is rebooted, HEIC files are displayed in the Explorer and on the desktop with preview images. With the system tools 'Photos' and 'Paint' you can open them. Also some other applications that use the so-called WIC driver (e.g. Microsoft Word, Affinity Photo, IrfanView) can then import HEIC files.
Essentially, the Windows apps offer the functionality to open HEIC photos. With 'Paint', you can even save in the HEIC format - but without the option to set the file size/quality. In order to benefit from all the advantages of the HEIC format when saving, you would need software that natively supports the HEIC format.
Added on December 7, 2019
As film students in the late 1990s, we had no money to shoot our training films on 35mm film. Video formally served the same purpose, but it couldn't keep up with the look of noble motion pictures. Therefore, we were obsessed with everything that visually resembled a scanned movie: We eliminated the fields in post-production in order to get a subtle cinematic judder. The perfectionists among us even used photo lenses on matte screen adapters to simulate the shallow depth of field of a real film camera. Whether our audience ever appreciated these efforts is unclear. In any case, we ourselves were proud of it.
Twenty years ago, studio shows and documentaries were shot with video
cameras and had a "video-look", television films and movies were shot on
film material and had a "film-look". Today this clear categorisation no
longer exists. With the advent of video-capable DSLRs, any layman could
suddenly shoot films that came close to the visual appearance of movies
on DVD and Blu-ray. At some point also YouTube was flooded by videos
with "film-look". In the beginning this applied to scenic films, later
also to all kinds of family videos, vlogs and explanatory films.
Digital cameras have changed production processes. Many television documentaries and even some studio shows are now produced in 25 fps. At the same time, however, the new tv sets are equipped with a motion-smoothing feature that eliminates the subtle judder and thus even gives motion pictures a "video look". As a movie lover, you may find this terrible, but most other people don't mind. If you show them how the films look originally without motion smoothing, they won't see any advantage in it. Nor do they understand what is particularly beautiful or noble about an extremely shallow depth of field.
Viewing habits do not last forever. There is always a new generation
of viewers growing back who is influenced quite differently than the
generations before them. And what is easily overlooked: Even in the
past, a fairly large part of the viewers didn't care about film-look.
With lighting, colour design and contrast curves, there are still many ways of influencing the look of high-quality films today. However, the traditional cinema frame rate and the "180 degree shutter" are no longer compatible with ever higher image resolution. Today's 4k and UHD resolutions make the technical deficits more and more apparent. If the image appears blurred for the most part due to a shallow depth of field, this can be quite annoying on large screens. It's even more annoying if the resolution drops visibly every time the camera starts to pan. More depth of field and shorter exposure times are required. The latter, however, lead to a strong judder if not also the frame rate is increased at the same time.
For us filmmakers, this is a hard cut - because a large part of the film look that used to be so important to us is now gone. But you can no longer plausibly explain to a young moviegoer what the advantage would be if the picture jolts on the screen and becomes blurred with every movement - even though we have the technology to do it better. At some point even us "older people" will have to accept that.
Added on November 12, 2019
On many digital photo cameras, the length of a single video recording is limited to 29 minutes and 59 seconds - sometimes even less. This is annoying if you want to record longer events (plays, concerts, carnival processions, etc.) without interruption. Only the "true" video cameras and a few photo cameras support unlimited video.
Originally, these limitations were mainly due to customs law.
According to the customs rules of the World Trade Organization, video
cameras are classified differently than digital photo cameras. Cameras
that can record video of 30 minutes or more are classified as video
cameras under WTO rules. In areas such as the EU, where video camera
imports are subject to higher tariffs than photo cameras, the
differentiation has an impact on the duty level.
Until June 2016, most video cameras in the EU were subject to 4.9% duty, while digital photo cameras were duty-free. In order to spare their customers in the EU the extra cost, manufacturers often limited the video recording time to less than 30 minutes. In the meantime, however, a new WTO agreement has come into force that will gradually make many electronic devices - including video cameras - duty-free. The duty rate was already reduced by several stages and since 1 July 2019 has been only 1.6%. On 1 July 2020 it will drop to 0.8% and from 1 July 2021 it will cease altogether. For countries of origin with whom the EU has further agreements (e.g. Japan and South Korea), the tariff rate for video cameras is already zero. So the customs classification of cameras is now almost irrelevant.
However, there are also technical reasons to limit the recording
time. The larger the sensors are, the higher the resolutions and the
higher the frame rates, the more the sensor heats up in video mode.
Photo cameras that do not have sufficient heat dissipation can therefore
overheat during longer video recordings and have to switch off. Some
manufacturers limit the duration of video recording in advance; this can
then be much shorter than 30 minutes.
Cameras that are to record endlessly while still using a large sensor require complex cooling systems and are therefore becoming larger and heavier. This is a bad compromise for customers who do not want to make long video recordings at all.
Even if the customs classification is no longer relevant, there will still be cameras with limited recording times.
Added on November 8, 2019
Not so long ago I stumbled across the fact that Nikon doesn't have any AF-D lenses in its product range. And never had. Until then I (and I wasn't the only one) had used the abbreviation AF-D frequently and quite naturally in forum posts: "Do you have the AF-S version or the AF-D version?" After some research I now know that the question is nonsense.
The mistake probably goes back to the 1990s, when Nikon added the D
feature (distance reading) to its AF lenses. So suddenly there were new
versions with the obscure D in the name. Someone from a photo magazine's
editorial staff probably came up with the idea of calling the new lenses
"AF-D" - and this abbreviation has since been used persistently by Nikon
In truth, the letter D in the official Nikon lens label does not appear with a hyphen behind "AF", but only behind the speed number. Back then, when the D feature was introduced, nobody could care less. But in the meantime Nikon has invented several more letters, and now the combination "AF-D" doesn't fit into the overall logic any more.
There are officially AF, AF-I, AF-S and AF-P in the Nikon line-up. The letters represent different types of focus motors in the lens. If the letter behind AF is missing, the lens uses the AF drive in the camera body.
Behind the speed number there is either no letter at all or D or G or E. These letters show stages of the lens evolution: On the early AF lenses this letter was missing, D then brought the aforementioned distance data transmission, on lenses with G the mechanical aperture ring was additionally omitted, on lenses with E the aperture was additionally transmitted electronically instead of mechanically.
Yes, it all sounds like clever shit now. But it's not. Or at least
The problem is that the terms overlap. So there are Nikon lenses that have AF-S as the drive type and additionally the D feature (e.g. the "AF-S Nikkor 80-200mm 1:2.8 D"). So it doesn't make sense to pretend that there is AF-D in competition to AF-S.
Not all terms overlap, but some do: AF lenses are available without a letter after the speed number or with D or with G. AF-I lenses are available only with D. AF-S lenses are available with D, G or E. AF-P lenses are available with G or E.
Added on August 15, 2019
Note: This page was translated from German with DeepL and then corrected by hand.