Category: Features

UK drone flying restrictions given legal backing
Ian Burley

The new measures are designed to keep small drones and large manned aircraft well apart

Remotely flying a camera around in the sky, thanks to the affordability and sophistication of drones, is one of the newest and most exciting avenues for photography. You can buy a camera-equipped drone for well-under £100 and ones with decent photo quality start at £100-150. However, it’s not a free-for-all in the skies and concerns about safety are beginning to impact on even the hobbyist drone flyer.

New UK laws to keep drones safe and away from conventional aircraft

The UK government has announced new legal measures aimed at deterring drone operators from flying their aircraft irresponsibly. New laws will mean many hobbyist drone flyers will need to register their aircraft with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and take an online safety test. The main aim is to protect passenger aircraft in airspace near to airports and aerodromes. Statistics suggest there have been nearly a 100 near-misses in the UK alone last year.

Altitude and distance limits

The first of the new regulations to come into force will happen on 30th July. By default, it will be illegal to fly a drone above 400ft (120m) or closer than 1km (0.6 miles) to an airport or aerodrome. Prior to that date the 400ft altitude limit has only been a recommended best-practice limit, as stipulated by the CAA and NATS (UK air traffic control) backed Drone Code. Many low cost drones are capable of exceeding this limit easily.

A DJI Spark like this can be bought for as little as £300 and will happily sail past 120m (400ft) above you or fly out of visible sight.

In the words of the government press release; “Drone users who flout the new height and airport boundary restrictions could be charged with recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft or any person in an aircraft. This could result in an unlimited fine, up to five years in prison, or both.”

Safe and responsible drone flying – the Drone Code summarised:

  • Make sure you are familiar with the manufacturer’s instructions for the operation safe operation of your drone
  • Keep below 120m altitude
  • Keep well away from airports and airfields
  • Keep your drone in visual sight at all times
  • Keep a minimum 50m distance from people and properties you don’t have control over
  • Keep 150m away from any built-up areas or crowds
  • Be aware that you are responsible for the safe and responsible flight of your drone. You could be liable for criminal prosecution if you fly dangerously or irresponsibly

Drones heavier than 250g

Later, from 30th November, operators of any drone with a take-off weight of 250g or more will have to register their drone with the CAA and pass an online safety test. Most drones fitted with cameras capable of good quality stills and video photography exceed the 250g threshold. If you don’t comply with the registration and test requirement you risk a £1,000 fine. It’s not yet clear if the online test will carry a fee or not. Currently, drones exceeding 20kg require licensing and must only be flown by people licensed to be qualified operators.

Zerotech’s Dobby is a rare example of a drone with a competent camera built in, totalling less than 250g

The new regulations are being brought into law through an amendment to the Air Navigation Order (2016). A quick perusal of social media sites specialising in drone discussion reveals a split in reaction to the news. Some drone flyers whose main interest is flying as high and as far as possible are, naturally, disgruntled. But other drone enthusiasts believe the regulations were inevitable and many already stick within the limits to be enforced anyway and hope that their hobby, or even profession as commercial drone operators, will be protected from bad publicity generated by irresponsible drone flying. However, whether the new regulations can be enforced effectively is greeted with widespread cynicism. While more sophisticated drones equipped with GPS positioning receivers usually record a log of their flightpath, containing valuable evidential information, other large and powerful drones don’t.

Airline pilots say measures don’t go far enough, literally

While the changes are designed to protect passengers and pilots flying big planes, the pilots trades union, the British Airlines Pilots Association (BALPA), has been critical of the 1km airport boundary, saying it should be more like 5km. Apparently, an airliner could quite legitimately be well under 400ft 1km from the runway.

Because the drone industry, both for recreational and commercial flying, is estimated to be worth over £40 billion by 2030, the government stresses that it does not intend to hinder the responsible operation of drones.

Taking your drone abroad to fly is now increasingly common but there are no internationally agreed drone flying rules. Nevertheless, the same 250g weight threshold and 120m altitude limit do seem to be mentioned frequently in local regulations around the world.

Guard yourself from fake memory cards
Ian Burley

With a trained eye you can spot that the ‘4’ in 64GB is not the same typeface as on a genuine SanDisk card.

Fake or counterfeit memory cards that look like premium branded product, including convincing retail packaging, are a problem that everyone should take seriously.

What is a fake or counterfeit memory card?

Ciunterfeits will often look just like the real thing. Even slick retail packaging can be faked. Fake cards will often not have as much actual storage capacity as they claim and read/write speeds will be a lot slower. It may also be possible to spot visual clues as well. The counterfeiters can make cards that have much smaller usable capacity appear to contain a much higher capacity. These hacked cards work at first but once the memory has been used up, files already on the card start to be overwritten, causing file corruption.

Fake memory cards can do this to your files

About 18 months ago I saw a good deal on eBay for a 64GB SanDisk Extreme UHS-1 microSDXC memory card – ideal for my phone, I thought. It arrived and came, as advertised, in retail packaging. I was pleased. Much later, when downloaded music started playing back unreliably, and then photos and videos started to get corrupted, did the consequences of receiving a fake memory card come home to roost. By then the eBay seller was long gone and it was far too late to get any recompense.

A genuine SanDisk card

Before I suspected my card of being a fake, I thought it was only faulty. I tried scanning it for errors on my PC. Errors were found and, according to Windows, were fixed. But the problems eventually returned. Next, I tried a ‘slow’ re-format of the card, as opposed to a ‘quick’ format option. A quick format only reinitialises the table of contents, not the actual data across the entire card space. By un-checking ‘quick format’ you will reset all sectors on the card. This method should, in theory, uncover any bad sectors. But the reformat seemed to work fine. Surprise, surprise, file corruption eventually returned.

Suspecting your card is a fake

By this time I did some more simple tests. Copying large files to and from the card showed that the read speed was, incredibly, only 3MB/second and the write speed was, perversely, faster, but still a lethargic 7MB/second.  A 64GB SanDisk Extreme UHS-1 microSDXC card should allow data to be read at around 80MB/sec and written at 50MB/sec. It was beginning to dawn on me that this wasn’t a real SanDisk Extreme card, but a counterfeit. Later on I also spotted that one of the typefaces on the card itself did not match that of a genuine card.

Get the evidence for a refund or replacement

You can avoid an experience like this easily. All you need to do is test your brand new memory card as soon as you receive it. Don’t delay; the sooner you know the card is a fake, the better your chances are of getting recompense. Only buy via respected or protected sources; eBay and Amazon, for example, will help you get a refund or replacement even if the original seller does not cooperate. All you need is proof your card is fake. Here is how to do exactly that.

Green means good – this card has passed the test

 

After doing a little research I decided to use a free Windows utility called a h2testw which you can download from Softpedia: http://www.softpedia.com/get/System/System-Miscellaneous/H2testw.shtml. Mac users can use a similar utility called F3 downloadable from http://oss.digirati.com.br/f3/

Confirmation it’s a fake

The h2test2w utility writes to every sector in the card’s memory map as well as verifying and speed testing. It is capable of overcoming false capacity hacking of the card’s specifications. After running the utility it was clear that my 64GB SanDisk Extreme card was a fake, with only 8GB capacity, despite appearing to Windows and my phone as a 64GB card.

Red means trouble and a large proportion of the stated card capacity is non-existent.

I’d also recently bought a couple of other cards, one of which was another steal of a deal on an eBay auction; a Panasonic V90 U3 64GB SDXC card, which normally sells for £200. My £55 auction win needed urgent validation! Thankfully, it passed the test with flying colours. I already had one of these cards so tested that as well and the results were pretty much identical.

The testing process can take a while, depending on the speed of the card, but it’s a great way to make sure you’re getting what you paid for. It can also serve to identify a genuine product that is non-maliciously faulty. I will be testing all new card purchases from now on.

 

The Photography Show starts today!
Ian Burley

This year’s The Photography Show starts today at the rather cold and snowy Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (NEC).

I’m here at the show today to search out the show highlight, including interesting exhibits and show gear deals.

Here’s my first update from the show; a gallery of shots from WEX, Cameraworld and LCE, who are the main three camera retailers exhibiting this year:

Meanwhile, all the main camera marques are exhibiting. It has to be said the Nikon stand, although located in a prime position near the main entrance, seems smaller and less visible than it has been in the past. Canon has a massive stand at the opposite end of the hall, complete with cavernous presentation theatre. Olympus, Panasonic, Sony and Fujifilm occupy the centre of the hall with spaciously large stands. Pentax/Ricoh are off to one side with a rather more modest sized stand. Sigma again has a large and impressive stand to show off its wares. Tamron’s is more modest. A gallery of shots from the show aisles will follow later.

For more information about the exhibitors attending and the parallel events, including talks by great name photographers, check out The Photography Show official website.

 

Canon and Nikon to ‘legitimise’ Mirrorless System Camera market
Ian Burley

Is Canon heralding a bid for dominance of the mirrorless system camera market?

If there is one thing that emerged from the recent CP+ photography trade show in Japan it was confirmation that mirrorless cameras will finally take over from DSLRs. Canon bosses are reportedly targeting domination of the mirrorless system camera sector after years of fairly innocuous involvement at the fringes. An interview by the DPReview mega site with Sony’s camera division General Manager, Kenji Tanaka, appeared to confirm Canon’s intentions and more.

Sony, Fujifilm, Olympus and Panasonic Lumix, currently own the mirrorless system camera market. Nikon and Canon have, instead, tinkered with mirrorless cameras, carefully avoiding unnecessary competition with their established domination of the DSLR sphere.

Tough times for all system cameras

However, system camera sales across the board, including mirrorless, but especially DSLRs, are facing tough competition from the ubiquity and improving quality and usability of cameras in smartphones. But it seems mirrorless is now recognised as the more profitable and sustainable avenue for the future of system cameras.

Sony’s Tanaka not only expects Canon to invest heavily in mirrorless, especially full frame, but Nikon, too. While they can technically claim to have been a reasonably early participant in the mirrorless revolution, Nikon went for a small 1 inch sensor format for its Nikon 1 system. Sales never really took off and there hasn’t been much in the way of new Nikon 1 releases for some time. Canon has been very conservative with its EOS-M mirrorless system, though its more recent models like the EOS-M5 and M50 show a rapid expansion in Canon’s ambitions, albeit still only in the consumer sector.

Professionals will be key

Despite the arrival of some increasingly impressive professional specification mirrorless cameras, DSLRs are still the mainstay of most high visibility press, sports and wildlife photographers. Nikon and Canon DSLR shooters value not only the excellence of their gear but also the extensive and vital professional support provided by the two big marques.

But there is no getting away from the facts. DSLRs and their lenses are relatively big, heavy, and now no longer as dominant in image quality and performance in other technical areas like autofocus and shooting speed. DSLRs are also mechanically more delicate and complicated to manufacture. A lot of specialist professionals have switched away from Nikon in order to lighten their camera bags.

Legitimacy

Meanwhile, features like video, image stabilisation and new trick functionalities are giving mirrorless cameras key advantages and genuine appeal for professionals. Nikon and Canon are going to be duty-bound to provide professional grade mirrorless cameras for their legions of professional photographers. This will finally endow the mirrorless sector with the professional legitimacy it has sought to achieve for so long.

Panasonic Lumix invented the modern mirrorless phenomenon ten years ago when it launched the Micro Four Thirds system via the Lumix G1. It’s taken a long time, much longer than mirrorless fans predicted, but there are now clear signs that the dominance of the SLR era really is about to end.

Make your old film camera digital – I’m Back
Ian Burley

Somewhere in Italy, photography enthusiast, Samuel Mello Medeiros, is living his dream to bring thousands of neglected film cameras back from obscurity and into the digital era. His project to replace 35mm film canisters with a digital sensor module that can, in relative terms, be easily transplanted in to a wide variety of old cameras, is now in full swing thanks to Kickstarter crowd funding. The product of Medeiros’ labours is called ‘I’m Back’ and designed to be affordable, too.

Laughable? Maybe not

Digital replacements for film in 35mm cameras have had a laughable history. In the late 1990s an outfit called Silicon Film tried to develop a solutions called EFS-1. It never made it to market. More recently in 2011 the idea was re-hashed via a website called www.re35.com. This was launched on 1st of April by a German company that had no product, but simply sought to demonstrate that there was real interest in such a goal. You may be tempted to greet the I’m Back news with some suspicion, but to date the signs are looking positive.

Affordable

Medeiros has more than achieved his pledge targets on Kickstarter. His design appears to be functional and the specifications look realistically cheap enough to not be vapourware. The electronics are based around the popular and inexpensive Raspberry Pie versatile microcomputer board. It’s mated to an off the shelf Ambarella image processor. Another relatively inexpensive component – a 2/3rd inch 16 megapixel image sensor made by Panasonic. That’s a compact camera sensor, incidentally, with a cropping factor of around 4x.

A mirror diverts the host camera’s field of view downwards to the sensor. Everything is housed in a simple plastic module that can be screwed to the base of the host camera once the film compartment door has been removed. Medeiros says that potentially hundreds of film camera models can take variants of the I’m Back device. A finished ready-ti-use product is promised for May this year. If you’re that way inclined you can save a large chunk of the €175 price tag by purchasing a kit or even the blueprints for your own DIY build.

Clearly I’m Back is not about full frame camera image quality aspirations. Instead, Medeiros says it should interest those attracted to Lomography and pin-hole photography.

Check out the official I’m Back website and the I’m Back Kickstarter page.

Photobucket free account users left high and dry
Ian Burley

Potentially millions of users caught out by Photobucket’s radical change to its Terms of Service

Photobucket is currently subject to a storm of social media protests

Photobucket is one of the biggest online services for storing your photos. The company claims to have around 100 million customers and to host some 15 billion images. Unfortunately, many of those customers are discovering that their photos hosted on Photobucket but also linked to and displayed on third party sites, are no longer visible. Instead, they have been replaced by a generic graphic explaining that 3rd party hosting has been temporarily suspended. Photobucket users are, unsurprisingly, furious. The change means millions of images on third party sites from blogs to discussion forums and even on e Commerce sites like Amazon and eBay, are now not being shown.

 

What’s happened is that Photobucket changed its Terms of Service for users of its free service accounts. From this month users of basic free Photobucket accounts can’t deep-link their images on third party sites. The problem is that the block is retrospective and very few Photobucket users noticed the radical change buried deep in the Terms of Service, never mind the potential consequences.

At the time of writing the only obvious way to reverse the effects of the image ban was to upgrade to a paid-for Photobucket Plus account, which costs $399 per year.

Are you affected by the Photobucket policy change? Let us know what your thoughts are in the comment section below.