Memento “Smart” Frames

I was at B&H photo, and I saw a wall display of Memento “Smart” Frames. You’ve probably seen digital photo frames before. They are mostly tiny and low quality. These are much bigger (25″ or 35″ diagonal) and much higher quality. In fact, at first glance, I thought I was just looking at prints. One of the marketing points on the Memento website is that these frames adjust to the ambient brightness, and at least at B&H photo, the frames were not blaring out bright light, but had the more subdued light one might expect if a printed photo had been reflecting actual room light.

The frame has 4K vertical resolution of 2160 pixels. The horizontal resolution is 3240 pixels, giving it a 3:2 aspect ratio, which gives the frame a total resolution very close to 7 megapixels.

I really like the 3:2 aspect ratio. I’ve come to believe that 3:2 is the best aspect ratio for still photos. Yes, this is the aspect ratio of most high-end cameras. Only Olympus and Panasonic make interchangeable-lens cameras with a 4:3 aspect ratio. Plus some medium format cameras. Being the contrarian that I am, for a while I championed the 4:3 aspect ratio, and then for a while I was cropping all of my photos to 16:9. But nowadays, I’m a 3:2 guy. However, 3:2 is a rare aspect ratio for screens. Tablets usually have a 4:3 aspect ratio, and all televisions and most computer monitors have an aspect ratio of 16:9. Yet photos look best when they are displayed on a screen matching the aspect ratio of the photo, otherwise you see ugly black bars. So I think that the 3:2 aspect ratio is one of the key benefits of this product.

The existence of this product raises the philosophical question of what’s the “correct” way to view photos? I doubt we will be seeing these Memento frames anytime soon at art galleries or museums. Those institutions have a strong vested interest in maintaining the traditional concept of the photo as a physical object. Art galleries make money by selling rare physical objects (or at least by convincing the customers that the physical objects are rare). And even though museums don’t actually sell what they put on display, if you can just download an exhibit to your smart frame and view it at home, what would be the purpose of having a museum?

Because the high end of fine-art photography will remain print-based for the reasons explained above, photo frames, even good photo frames like Memento, will be seen as low class, something that only rubes and unsophisticates would display in their homes. However, once we put aside class snobbery and think about it rationally, a high quality photo frame seems to me the most logical way to display photos. In fact one of the great annoyances I have with my personal photography is that my camera makes 16MP images, but I don’t have a display that does justice to such a high resolution image, and I never print any of my photos because I wouldn’t know what to do with the prints. I think that a product like the Memento frame would allow me to view my photos in a way in which I could appreciate them a lot more.

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The 25” frame only costs $599. This seems a little bit more expensive than a comparably sized 4K monitor, but given that it’s a unique product, I think the price is fair.

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