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Crowdfunding an iPhone camera: Is the Ladibird project a scam?

Today, I came across an interesting IndieGogo campaign, for the Ladibird; a snap-on professional camera for the iPhone 5. Initially, I thought it was a brilliant idea, but then I started reading about the product, and I immediately became incredibly skeptical. Allow me to explain...

The sample images

First of all, the thing that made me wonder what's going on, were the sample images. They look fantastic, without a doubt, but when you look at the Ladibird video, you see that the product is just a 3D render. So that made me wonder: Where did the example photos come from? Right at the bottom of the page, they explain that the shots are taken with "a 50mm prime lens on a 12 megapixel Nikon D700".

Now, there's a lot of problems with this, in my mind: For one thing, the Nikon D700 is a high-end professional camera that cost USD $3000. It's also a full-frame camera, with a 36mm x 24mm sensor built in. The Nikon lens used (a 50mm f1/8) is also a mighty sharp piece of kit. Do you think it's fair to use photos taken with a pro-level camera as examples for what an iPhone accessory lens can do?

The specifications

In the IndieGogo campaign, the Ladibird manufacturers do the following:

The Specifications

The thing that isn't clear to me, is why they are talking about a 'mirrorless sensor' as if that's a standard. Mirrorless cameras have wildly different sensor sizes; The Pentax Q has a 6.17 x 4.55 mm sensor. The Sony NEX-6 has a 23.5 x 15.6 mm sensor. The Leica M9 has a 36 x 24 mm sensor. And there are tons of sizes in between.

The lens spec itself, too, is fuzzy. They are talking about a "Ladibird 50mm (35mm equivalent) large aperture prime lens", which patently doesn't make sense, unless they have a sensor that is 45% larger than that found in the highest of high-end SLR cameras. A more likely explanation is that they have their terms mixed up, and that they have a lens which actually has a 35mm focal length (Which is roughly a 50mm equivalent on an APS-C size sensor), but it does worry me: Would you trust a lens designed by a company that isn't sure which way around the crop sensor conversion factors go?

Developing sharp lenses is an incredibly difficult and challenging task.

But what about the large sensor and 50mm?

All of this makes sense, apart from the fact that they are talking about limited depth of field, which doesn't depend on the focal length: There's no reason why a 50mm should have more pleasing depth of field than a 100mm lens. It is mostly dependent on the aperture, but that isn't mentioned in the marketing material.

The Ladibird guys have done a great marketing tasks, but as someone who's written a book on mirrorless cameras, and has technical edited a rather chunky stack of books about photography, I can't help but feel I'm somewhat qualified to evaluate this project, and it's setting off all manner of alarm bells.

In their marketing site, they've equaled small sensors with blurry photos. That's patently not true: The Nikon 1 series have tiny sensors in them, but are capable of producing fantastically sharp images. Similarly, my iPhone 5 has a miniscule sensor in it, a quick browse through the 'most interesting' photos taken with the iPhone 5 on Flickr reveals that many of them are tack-sharp works of art. This would infer that a small sensor is in and of itself no reason to buy a Ladibird.

The other argument they make is that the 50mm f/1.8 lens is cruise control to awesome photos. Now, in most cases that might well be true, but those specs alone aren't enough. "50mm" only means that the lens has a focal length of 50mm. There's nothing inherently better about this, and there are many examples of absolutely dreadful 50mm lenses out there. In fact, I could build a 50mm lens myself out of a couple of lens elements, a kitchen roll, and some Blu-Tack in about 20 minutes, but I can pretty much guarantee that the photo quality is going to be severely lacking.

So, is Ladibird a scam?

I have no way of knowing that, but the IndieGogo page does set off an awful lot of alarm bells.

I won't be backing the IndieGogo campaign myself, and I'll tell you why: I know how incredibly hard it is to build photography equipment, and so far, we haven't seen a single prototype or sample image from these guys. Even the mock-up image doesn't seem realistic (to have a 50mm focal length, the lens barrel would probably need to be longer), which makes me wonder how far along in the process they have come.

If the mockup image represents the current state of play, then I fear they're about to get a rude awakening if they think that $20,000 is enough money to develop a fully functional prototype of the Ladibird. For a product this advanced (Apple MFi; App development; Sensor design; Lens design; Testing; industrial design; production design; prototyping...), I'd estimate you may not be able to complete the full development cycle for less than $150,000. Bear in mind two things: $150k is a very low estimate for a product this advanced, and at the end of this phase, they will have perhaps half a dozen prototypes; they still wouldn't have created a single Ladibird for the Indiegogo backers.

Don't get me wrong, I really do want a product like the Ladibird to exist, but wouldn't part with any money until I've seen at least a couple of sample images.

The biggest worry is that the marketing material is such a hodge-podge of technical, factual, and physics-related inaccuracies... Let's put it this way: if Ladibird was a book, and it was passed to me for technical editing, I'd have to craft a very difficult letter to the publisher, suggesting that it's in a shape beyond where a tech-editor can help, recommending that the book was cancelled or seriously re-written. It certainly wouldn't be in a state to offer pre-selling it to the public.

Or, put in other words: I'd probably just wait until the product is available to buy in a store.

Photoswarm: professional portfolios made easy

Fabulously add-free

When you can't find a product that meets your needs, what do you do? Well, if you're Will Jennings and Aidan Kane, you build it yourself. Will was struggling to find a website that would host his professional photography portfolio. He wanted something that looked slick, was simple to use, provided him with his own domain name and email address, and also the ability to sell his photos. What was on offer was too expensive and too limited in terms of the number of photos hosted or level of traffic received. Some people might have regarded that as a bit much to ask for, but not Will, or Aidan for that matter. Between Will's creative vision and Aidan's technical prowess, they developed Photoswarm.

All of Will's demands are right there. The site is clean and looks professional, uploading photos to it is a cinch, and it's reasonably priced.

There's a free package that allows you 50 photos on the site and as much traffic as you can generate. Upgrade to the light package–$5.99 a month or $59 for a year–and you can upload unlimited photos, you will have an about page, a contact page, a customisable look, and access to Google analytics. Splash out on the $9.99 a month ($99 annually) Pro package and you get all of that, along with your own domain name, email address, and the ability to sell your photos commission-free.

Whichever package you choose, you'll have access to Photoswarm's peronsal support if you need a bit of help, which is something on which Will prides himself. (He's in charge of customer support.)

Meanwhile, Aidan reckons that the Photoswarm interface is simple enough that even a five year old could create a portfolio. I'm yet to test it out on my six year old niece, but I will affirm that it's easy to use.

The Photoswarm team also endeavours to take care of registering and setting up your personal domain and email for you if you opt for the Pro package. You don't have to mess around registering with a third party and then integrating it into the Photoswarm site. You get a professional looking portfolio with the minimum of fuss. Fantastic!

And now what for the dynamic duo originally from New Zealand but settled in London? 'At present we're working on a fairly complex project of migrating our entire service to Amazon's S3 servers,' says Will. But as soon as that's done, they'll be looking at ways for Instagram and the soon-to-close MobileMe users to automatically import their photos to Photoswarm.

Then they're looking at providing subscribers with their own blogs, to increase the solidity of their web presence and help to showcase their work.

Photoswarm is a vertiable hive of activity, I'd say, and well worth checking out if you're looking for a professional, simple, and reasonably-priced portfolio-hosting option.

When time and space swap places

What happens when you want to interchange time and space in a video? Watch and find out, in this video by Last Future.

On the Vimeo page, he explains... "I was sitting in a train traveling through The Netherlands recently when for some odd reason I decided I had to take a video of the landscape passing by. I had no real use for it but decided to try and make something of it.

I remembered slit-scan photography, a method where a slit is moved across the picture plane essentially taking a temporal image, where different times of the scene are captured on different parts of the film."

Combining the technique of slit-scan and a spot of video editing, he came up with a brilliantly unique video...

Watch the video:

Temporal Video Experiment from lastfuture on Vimeo.

And there's a 'making of' explanation, too:

Temporal Video Experiment - Making Of from lastfuture on Vimeo.

Wanna join the competition fun?


In the spirit of Christmas, and good cheer, and giving, and not being grouchy, and trying not to tear out our hair with too many things to do, we thought that we’d give you an extra week to submit your photos to our December competition. This means that you now have until 29 December to snap a gorgeous photobook-winning portrait.

For the full details of the competition, have a look at the competition page, and then submit your portraits to our Flickr pool for our perusal.

Have fun!