Bob Fairbairn's microblog

Apple Support now has a YouTube Channel

I have been following Apple Support on Twitter for quite a while for interesting information and help.  Now they have launched a YouTube Channel with similar content.





Picking a New Mac an Overview

Picking a new Mac today is an interesting exercise in understanding specifications. But that can be simpler than it seems. The human factors and use cases are the bigger problem.

Look to the Apple website to see the following list of Macs:

While the image looks pretty simple it hides quite a bit of complexity and some aging products. It does not tell the whole story!

There are a couple of interesting resources that can help you in the selection process. On you will find historical database of Macs that is very complete. Looking to the future you can use to give you a sense of the historical lifecycle of the new Mac you are interested in so you do not buy something that is about to be updated!

There are a few of decision points before you buy any Mac. These are the things you really need to decide before you go ANY futher.

  • SSD vs Fusion vs spinning disk (currently a desktop only problem)
  • SSD storage size
  • RAM and RAM expandability (notebooks are factory only)
  • Ports are a-chanigin’. (USB-C and much more)
  • Keyboards

There are two forks in this road. The first fork is what I can buy/order today vs what Apple has promised for the future. This is a minefield that many folks do not know is there. The second fork is the notebook vs desktop vs iPad vs iPhone intersection and with the iPad Pro out there or even the high-powered large screen phones maybe just maybe the notebook is less tempting..

So you are for-warned and have an idea of where you want to go.. What does Apple have for you? What should you avoid and why.

I think I can help here by grabbing the outliers first. These are the machines that are “special” in some way.

There are a couple of “red flags” in the current Apple line-up. First is the current Mac Pro. This machine was released in 2013 and has not been updated! I would be very careful about looking at the current Mac Pro as Apple has promised a new Mac Pro after 2017. The second problem child is the Mac mini. Apple has not updated it since 2014 and Apple is has said that something to the effect that it is important to them! Now if you NEED either of these computers that is fine just be informed before you buy.

The next interesting item of note is the iMac Pro that has been announced for December of 2017. This appears to be a very strong contender for the higher end desktop / all-in-one workstation. It is going to be expensive and powerful!

Skipping around a bit I want to talk about the MacBook Air. This has been Apples go to machine for portability. It has settled into the lowest price notebook that Apple sells. At $999 it is an interesting buy. The form factor has not really changed and the display is not retina. It still has the MagSafe power cable. Unless you are very price sensitive this machine may not be future proof enough for many.

Next is another interesting machine that Apple has kept around; the 15in MacBook Pro from 2015. This is a “generation” old in that it does not have USB-C ports it still has the older keyboard style and MagSafe power. Again this fills a niche for some buyers. This machine starts at $1999 and fills the need for power users that need the older style ports, etc.

Now that I have covered what I consider the outliers in the line up we can talk about the other machines in the line up.

In 2015 Apple started a re-design of their notebook line with the 12” MacBook. This series of changes introduced a new slimmer design and has eliminated most legacy ports and replaced them with with USB-C variants. In 2016 the MaBook Pro was re-designed with that same forward looking ethos in mind.

Apple now sells four notebooks in the new designs:

  • 12in MacBook
  • 13in MacBook Pro
  • 13in MacBook Pro with Touch Bar
  • 15in MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

There are a couple of notebooks that stand out from this lineup for their differences. First is the 12in MacBook. This machine is really amazing, small, light, no fan, one USB-C port and a headphone jack. At just over 2 lbs this machine is a miracle. The single USB-C port is a bit of a limitation and the screen is not P3 extended color gamut. The processors are a bit limiting and if you need it you can get 16GB of RAM.

The “sleeper” in this lineup is the 13in MacBook Pro which is sort of a MacBook Air killer. It is a lot more powerful and it is around the same weight. The screen is retina with P3 extended gamut. The middle price range of this machine is around $1599.

The Touch Bar MacBook Pros are the high end machines. They start at about $300 more than the rest of the line because of the Touch Bar which is a bit like having the core of an iPhone built into your notebook with Touch ID and a strip display touch enabled display. They are faster, lighter have more USB-C /Thunderbolt 3 ports. If you need mobile computing power this is the place in Apple’s lineup to be.

The Apple iMac lineup is currently three machines. I would avoid the 21in non-retina machine as it is pretty low performance wise, non-retina and is slow. It is targeted towards the education market. Thereal models are the 4K 21in and the 5K 27in. These machines have high-resolution wide gamut displays and enough ports to solve most connectivity issues.

The new iMac Pro has been pre-announced by Apple. There are still some questions about pricing which they say will start at $4999. You have to decide if you want to wait for this.

We do not know what Apple has in mind for the the new Mac Pro. Apple has said that it is important to them and that they are working on one.

The Mac Mini is still in limbo and that is about all I can say about it for now.

Here are three use cases and three machines as reference examples.

  1. The 12in MacBook for ultimate portability if you have to have a Mac. But think about iPad when you think about this machine.
  2. The 13in MacBook Pro without touch bar as a great mid-range notebook that overshadows the MacBook Air.
  3. The 27in 5K iMac which can be configured to handle just about any job and has that really wonderful display.

While this guide is not intended to be complete or personalized, it should be a good starting point for helping you understand the Mac landscape. I have not talked about the AppleCare extended warranty, accessories, etc. Those items are very personal and I do not want to overly influence.

Finally there is an interesting way that you might purchase a Mac from Apple and that is from their factory refurbished page. While I consider it beyond the core of my goal here I would be remiss in not telling you to take a look.


Horsing Around with iPhone 8 Plus HDR

I have been shooting a lot with the iPhone 8 Plus and have been finding that the auto HDR can work very well and can do some really odd things. I was visiting Kline Creek Farm over the weekend and shot a few images that illustrate the HDR working and HDR creating some artifacts. I would not write these problems all off to software; I feel that I am not holding the camera still enough or keeping stable.


In the image of the horse the HDR did not show any artifacts and it created a pleasing image.


Now the shot of the frost blackened garden beans shows some artifacts in the out of focus areas behind main image. Look at the the yellow pan in the little garden wagon and the roof of the barn in the distance. Something is amiss. Now I can ignore it but it is interesting.

Behind the squash the out of focus dry grass and garden material appears to have artifacts of the HDR process.

I am not going to complain but I do wonder. The images that show this issue I will be sending in to Apple to report to their software team.

I am also looking at a new way of shooting with the iPhone that might help with keeping the phone more stable. But you will have to wait for that as I have not started testing yet!


Security Sunday: The Big Freeze

As a bit of an aside I am starting a series of posts on Information Security. Our technology world is increasingly under pressure from folks trying to steal our money our information and more. So Sunday mornings will be the slot for these posts.

Today I want to talk about a specific form of identity theft called loan fraud. Many times when our identities are stolen it is to create a method of taking out a loan or a credit card to get money to purchase goods for resale. One of the best methods of preventing this kind of fraud is what is called a security freeze. This is where you tell the credit agencies to not allow anyone to access your credit records. This basically prevents you or anyone else from taking out a loan or a new credit card in your name.

While there are some downsides to this it is mostly for the good. The credit agencies are now talking about what they call a credit lock but that is a device of their own making and may not carry the weight of the law that a credit freeze has.

Here are a couple of reference articles to guide you through the process of checking your credit status and freezing your credit..

Get your credit report:

Freeze your credit records:


Dual Lens Switching on iPhone X — Studio Neat

Studio Neat has a interesting blog post on testing the iPhone X cameras!

Traveling (light) with cameras

In 2015 my family took a vacation in the UK and I wanted to travel light! I always take too much gear with me when I am traveling. I decided that for this trip I would pack everything in a Think Tank Mirrorless mover 30i. I packed my iPhone 6s Plus and a Panasonic LUMIX LX100 camera. I used an iPad Air 2 to store the RAW files from the LX100 into Apple Photos for backup and for use in sharing with family, etc.

After looking back at the images and thinking about the trip I have several observations from the trip and using the cameras. Going in I would called the LX100 the primary camera for the trip but over and over the iPhone won the day. As a side I typically use the Apple camera application for my images. It is fast, simple and works very well.

The LX100 is the “perfect” larger sensor travel camera and the 24-70 zoom helps frame up the shots you need. The wide F1.7 aperture of the lens really helps with photographic control. I mostly shoot in 4:3 but I use both 1:1 and 16:9 for effect. The turn on time for the LX100 is rather slow because it has to extend the lens. I have the automatic lens cap which keeps some of the dust out and eliminates the loss issue while protecting things.

The mechanics of the iPhone are pretty good to get “the shot”. The swipe up for camera from the lock screen is fast. (Note: IOS 10 makes it even faster with raise to wake and one swipe for the camera). There is not as much photographic control with the iPhone and the sensor is very small. The software running the iPhone camera really does do a great job of getting the picture “right”.

In the end I am very happy I had the LX100 with me. It is a brilliant camera that travels well and just works for many situations. Being critical it is either not wide enough for the city stuff and it is not long enough for the nature stuff.

Doing the trip again I would reconsider the camera selection and just possibly iPhone might be enough.

This post was originally published on my previous photography blog.


Everything iPhone and iOS 11

Apple has a very nice online “manual” for your iPhone and iOS 11 in their iPhone User Guide.

<p style="text-align:center;"></p>

Apple Photos: HEIF and HEVC on other devices

Continuing the background on the new photos infrastructure. As we expand our view outside of the iOS devices Apple works very hard to manage data to simplify user interaction with differing file formats. You can find a list of supported cameras here : Digital camera RAW formats supported by iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra. Apple regularly adds new cameras and their formats to their Operating Systems. Their RAW file conversions are very good.

With iOS 11 Apple changed the file format that the native camera which for them should be relatively simple to manage. Apple has chosen to only support the the new file format fully in macOS High Sierra in their Photos application. So if you want to use Photos you have to upgrade your Mac to High Sierra. If you are using Windows PCs there will be some lag in support because Windows applications have to build their own support for different file types as the OS does not help with this. Even Apples photos tools on the PC had not been updated at the time I write this.

For professional photographers working on the Mac this change really means nothing. We are used to managing RAW files in our normal work flows. We do not send the RAW files out to our customers or to the photo lab that cannot use them.

In Apple Photos understand that exporting the original file will give you the HEIC format that may not be viewable on say a Windows PC or a Mac running older versions of macOS. Note that the sharing systems on iOS and OS X convert to JPEG for compatibility.

If you are managing your iPhone images manually you will also run into this potential problem.

Using the Apple supplied systems of the iCloud Photo Library and Apple Photos virtually eliminates issues for most users. So when you start using iOS 11 and the new image formats you have too upgrade your devices that sync to iCloud to the iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra.


Apple iPhone Photography: Deprecating the JPEG

This week at the MYSCAU iOS Special Interest Group we started a discussion about the underlying technologies in image processing and management from Apple. This is the first in a short series of posts extending our discussion on Apple technology behind the shutter.

Apple has started using new standards for photographing images and videos. These new file types are meant to modernize the system for higher performance and to reduce sizes of files. This is not only for still images but also for movie recordings.

The new still image format is HEIF (High Efficiency Image Format) which are store in HEIC (High Efficiency Image Container) which is used to store the HEIF images. The HEIC file can store more that a single image at a time.

For video there is the HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) format the delivers improved compression and more. This CODEC helps keep file sizes down which allow for better streaming efficiency and of course storage space savings. As in all things there penalty to pay and that is in computing power. Encoding and decoding HEVC / H.265 files requires much more computing power. Finally note that Apple stores this new file format in .MOV (movie) files.

One of the big questions was are the images better. From my view they have been. This is a rather complex topic and it is being covered all over the internet (not very well in many places). The following article has some nice image comparisons:

What does this mean for the person using a iPhone or iPad that is running IOS 11? As is always true “that depends”. If you are living the iOS only lifestyle Apple takes care of translating to most compatible formats when needed! If you to things like sync photos to other devices, etc. then there are side effects from using these new file formats.

Note for discussion at a later time: The Apple Camera app stored to JPEG before the iOS 11 update even though Apple has has the tools in the OS to record RAW images to a DNG file type since iOS 10.

I will continue this in another blog post shortly.

Obligatory Computational Cat Photo

The Internet is full of cat photos and so is my iPhone! But this one is special; it is computer enhanced. The iPhone 8 Plus has two rear facing cameras with different focal length lenses. The computing hardware and software in the phone can take a photograph using both cameras and combine them using computational methods to “fake” shallow depth of field and generate out of focus areas to visually isolate the subject.

Computational photography is coming to us in many forms and this example is nothing short of brilliant! While this may not be a replacement for larger format cameras with fast lenses it brings new tools to the photographer and helps us all create images in a new and fun way.


It's a bit fuzzy out there!

This is the first post on my new blog.  I know that there is a lot I should say other than “please stand by” but that is really part of my message.  I have a lot of content lined up for this blog.  I will start pushing it out as soon as the domain registration gets completed.  So if you are seeing this now: STAY TUNED!