Wednesday, September 28, 2016

BlackBerry to be a software-only company

Years ago, their phones were known as Crackberry because people were so addicted to the devices.  Now, you can barely see one.  Today, the company formerly known as RIM (Research in Motion) has given up on the hardware end of things.

Is this surprising?  No.  The people at RIM and Nokia both laughed at Apple's iPhone, considering it less than even minimal competition.

While both companies made some attempt at fighting Apple, it didn't work.  Nokia had already had the Symbian operating system, which was supposedly so much more but obviously, wasn't enough.  (It always looked to me as though Nokia had young children creating their icons.  I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out my Nokia flip phone before looking at the manual.)

RIM bought QNX, a real-time operating system from the early days of the IBM PC.  They shaped it into a mobile operating system but as their hardware sales dwindled, it didn't make enough of a reputation to get important applications written for it.  Microsoft is still struggling with this problem, even though it's quite well known.

In any case, that famous BlackBerry keyboard may be no more.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Olympus E-M1 Mk II: Take my money now

I've been an Olympus user since around 1990, starting with an OM-1N.  I'd also had an IS-20DLX, D-300L (one of the first two Olympus digital cameras), C-2500L, E-1, E-5, and most recently, the E-M1.  I've shot a lot of high school sports with the E-1, E-5, and GH3 and skate park sports with the E-M1, Panasonic GH4, and GX8.

I attended an event to try a pre-production E-M1 and various lenses.  I wasn't happy with the compromise.  If you used the E-5 and was suddenly pushed to use the E-M1, you wouldn't be happy, either.  Thankfully, these things are optional.

The E-M1 has a tiny battery capacity--far less than the E-1/E-5's or GH3/GH4's capacity.  Add to that an electronic viewfinder that is always enabled, and the rear display that is accidentally activated too easily, and you have a requirement for several batteries per day.  I have 3 batteries for the E-M1 versus 2 batteries for the GH4.

The E-M1 Mk II has a larger capacity battery and a reworked grip, since that is where the battery resides.  (The external battery grip supposedly takes only one battery.)  This has a lot to do with 4K video recording but also with the enhanced auto focus processing.

The enhanced AF processing is important.  They're dedicating a quad core processor for auto focus.  They also claim 121 cross-type phase detection points and 121 contrast detection points.  That could help greatly.  Will that be as good as a dSLR?  Olympus will try to make it work.  I changed my methods to get focused shots, instead of depending on continuous/predictive AF and tracking that didn't really work.

On the other hand, Panasonic claimed that they didn't need phase detection pixels at all for the GH4, but their AF is a headache for me.  When I think I've got something in focus (sports don't slow down), I end up with something much larger in the background in focus far too often.

The E-M1 viewfinder was fairly good at 0.71x of 135 Format.  The Mark II viewfinder is sized at 1.48x and runs at 120 fps, which seems to be double the refresh rate.  The magnification is incredibly big, but the camera body isn't out and we may find that it isn't quite like that in real life.

Increasing the mechanical shutter's maximum burst rate from 10 fps to 15 fps seems exceptional, but for me, the 200,000 shutter actuations (as good as the GH4) hits home.  I exceeded the 150,000 actuations with my E-M1 and had to have the shutter replaced.  At 10 fps, photos can be created very quickly and at 16MP, they take quite a bit of space.  At 15 fps and 20MP, that just makes things more intense.

The enhanced in-body image stabilization is rated at 5.5 stops, which allows the hi-rez 50 MP mode, good for still scenes.  Supposedly, the mode can handle some gentle motion.  Hopefully, it's as good as that of the latest Pentax bodies.

It looks like they've addressed most of my concerns, including the single SD Card slot, to make the E-M1 Mk II more like the E-5 successor that I expected three years earlier.  Then again, the E-5 was about 3 years late.

Of course, the Panasonic GH5 is equally compelling but for different reasons.  I wish I could replace my E-M1 and GH4 right now.

Update 2016.09.24: All of the previews I've seen so far seem as though the E-M1 Mk II is better than anything else near its size or specifications.  Don't put the marketingspeak in front of me, though.  I doubt salespeople from a company.  I'd love for it to be so amazing, but it has to work that way in my hands for me to believe it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

For me: tvOS 10 good, iOS 10 on hold

Yes, September 13, 2016 has come and gone.

tvOS 10:

No one seemed to mention that Apple TV generation 4 was getting an update on the 13th but it was there just the same.  It would seem to have been about 500 MB, although I didn't check too closely.

I'm usually leery of updating too quickly but tvOS is so unstable that I want every update at this point.  It's a lot like the early days of Mac OS X where I was eager to be able to print for the first time, copy reliably to a CD-R, or some such basic functionality.  Way back then, I had to switch back to MacOS 9 a lot.  With tvOS, you just have to live with what is there.

The update itself went smoothly.  The only real change I've used is the dark theme.  There was an informational display prior to being able to use the update and the only other one I remember at this point was searching with Siri.  I tried using Siri initially but it didn't really help.  I still don't have it enabled on my phone, either.

Performance has been improved somewhat.  The Galaxy on Fire: Manticore Rising game is a great indicator of how well the Apple TV and tvOS are working, as were the older games in the series.  I haven't seen as much of a slowdown when things get busy.  I believe I saw only one Network Connection Lost error while I was playing.

Within a month or so, Apple should make another update available to fix some bugs and improve performance further but it's going to be a rather long time until they get a production quality product.  Sadly, it may take until the 6th generation Apple TV product before it's truly Apple-like.

iOS 10:

If people look at my history, they'd see that I'm generally slow to update iOS because of so many early adopter problems.  With almost every major release of iOS or Mac OS X, there have been problems connecting to WiFi.  This wasn't really a problem for me with Mac OS X because in the early days, I was connected by Ethernet cable.  Of course, trying to use a networking cable is quite impossible at this point for an iOS device.

Thankfully for many people, iOS 10 was not easily available.  Some people have had trouble with getting the update from the servers and Apple has already updated (10.0.1) the update, due to (bricking) problems.  I remain skeptical and slow to update.  When version 10.1 is made available, I'll be more willing to update my phone.

While there are some enhancements, I didn't see anything compelling for me.  What would compel me to update would be some huge security flaw in 9.3.5 and it seems as though things are stable with security problems being fixed in 9.3.4 and 9.3.5.

Update 2016.09.20: macOS Sierra (10.12) has been made available, so it seems that everything is finished, except for the bug fixing.

If Siri access is the main reason for the new version, I'm not sure I would bother.  I don't use Siri or the phone, and when I tried it on Apple TV, it was less than helpful.  I used to use the PlainTalk interface way back in MacOS 8.5 around 1998, which was especially helpful when I was getting ready in the morning.

According to reports, iOS 10 is being implemented much more quickly than iOS 9 was.  I saw some article title which seemed to be complaining that iMessage has become the MSN Messenger of iOS.  Having used MSN Messenger, I hate to think about that.  However, it doesn't surprise me.  After years of working to make things simple, Apple seems bent on making things convoluted.

Update 2016.09.26: Encrypted iTunes backups created on a Mac or PC are protected by a password that can potentially be brute forced by password cracking software. The backup method in iOS 10 "skips certain security checks," allowing Elcomsoft to try backup passwords "approximately 2500 times faster" compared to iOS 9 and earlier operating systems. 

 iOS 10 is up to 10.0.2 already, with several bug fixes.  I suspect that there are plenty of more minor bugs and the fixes are being collected for version 10.1 instead of being sent in incremental releases.  I'm not ready to take chances.

I got a quick look at it on an iPhone 7 display at Target last night and didn't notice enough of a difference to form an opinion.

The iPhone 7 click-less Home button was interesting but didn't feel like the same technology used in the Mac click-less trackpads that work so well.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Time for a Phone Upgrade?

I dislike when people use "upgrade" when they mean switch.  However, it's become part of common use English, unfortunately.

It's been almost two years since I switched phones.  I was unhappy with Sprint but the Verizon salesperson tried to sell me a more expensive plan, I guess to help his quota.  This upset me and, having done my research, I explained the plan he should have been suggesting, and it was like someone was talking to him in the ear piece--everything he said from that point was robotic.

The iPhone 5c was a good phone and I miss it, but the two band LTE wasn't enough with Sprint and since Sprint offers three band LTE many places I go, the extra bandwidth is useful, especially when their service is bad.  It still doesn't help with those areas where Sprint still hasn't added LTE and, in California, those places are many.  They decided to spend the money to help the area around their Overland Park, Kansas headquarters where almost no one pays.

In any case, seeing 68 Mbps not far from home is great.  Verizon has LTE Advanced service around here, but not here.  I've seen around 40 Mbps at home and it might be even better not far from here.  I wonder if I could see over 100 Mbps with a newer phone in one of those LTE Advanced service areas.  My problem at home is that I'm on the edge of a roaming area for Sprint--about 6 blocks from the center of town.  They have refused to add a tower near the shopping area that would help.  They occasionally turn up the power on the tower near the skate park but they don't have enough capacity to make it work well.

The iPhone 7 Plus is actually faster than some of the latest 12 inch MacBook models using Core M processors.

 Since the iPhone 7 pre-orders will be available in a few hours, I'm wondering if I should consider it.  I looked at the Sprint website a bit earlier and it said that I was eligible for an upgrade.  However, they didn't mention iPhone 7 at all.

I usually stay away from the latest Apple hardware but the iPhone 6 has been good.  I considering the iPhone SE but I remember how I struggled with seeing small details on the display.  The iPhone 6s would be fine, I'm sure, but don't I want the extra power and extra battery life?

I believe that the iPhone 6s is unnecessary and the iPhone SE is too small for my eyes and the iPhone 6s Plus is too big for my pocket.  (If you're wondering, Android 6.x didn't work well on my 2013 Google Nexus 7 tablet, so I doubt I want it on my phone, even though the LG V20 looks desirable.)

Who knows?  If I wait, I'll lose the chance to get an iPhone 7 pre-order.  If Sprint's web site never shows it, I'm thinking that the Apple web site will show Sprint as an option.

Sprint really wants my iPhone-related money.  They changed their Sprint Zone app on iOS, at least, to display whether a person is ready for an iPhone upgrade.

While the desktop web site timed out a bit, the mobile app + mobile web site seemed to be working quite well.  I'm still trying to figure out about my leased phone, since it says that there needs to be a trade-in.  I'm two months from the end of the lease, and after two years, I really don't want to keep the phone, even though it works just fine.  Verizon quoted me something around US$35.00, which is much less than I could get elsewhere, if I put work into it.

I'm still thinking about it.  Pre-orders have been live for more than 1 day.  Supplies are becoming somewhat scarce.  Apple have changed the selections--AT&T and T-Mobile versions cannot be used on Verizon or Sprint because they supposedly don't include CDMA functionality.  You can go the other way with an unlocked phone on Verizon or Sprint.

No Floppy Drive? No Headphone Jack? What Are Apple Thinking?

Apple has been pushing the envelope for a while.  Remembering the iMac and then, the PowerMac, Apple removing the floppy drive was viewed as horrific.

How would we transfer information?  CD recordables weren't that common.  There was a new bus--USB, instead of Apple Desktop Bus that connected the keyboard and mouse.  We could connect other peripherals but there were only 40-some available at the iMac launch.

When I got my PowerMac G3, with the ugly blue front panels, I needed some way to load things from floppies.  I bought some Imation (3M) drive that could utilize floppies and a special, high capacity drive.

Here were are about 17 years later and Apple has removed the headphone jack on the latest iPhone models.  They've included an adapter so that you can use your current headphones with an analog cable.

This change was important in order to make the iPhone dust- and water-resistant.  With higher resolution audio, getting rid of the analog headphone jack made sense.  For years, people have been using a personal headphone pre-amplifier to listen to Classical music.  This change should make everyone happier in the long term.  Hopefully, high resolution audio over Bluetooth will be satisfying also.  Certainly enough people use Bluetooth speakers and car audio systems that communicate over Bluetooth.

I can imagine that early reactions will mostly be negative, even from people who don't use their headphones at all (such as those who hold their phones slightly away from them, on the horizontal).  People don't like to change.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

One year with the Nikon D7200

It's been one year since I bought the Nikon D7200 and Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8.  It has been a very rough journey learning to get the best of it, even though I've used a number of SLRs and dSLRs and other cameras over the last 40 years.

Back in 2004, I made the jump to a digital SLR, looking at Nikon, Canon, and Pentax ahead of buying an Olympus E-1.  I weighed a great many factors and chose an all-digital system without a legacy.  The images that came from it are still quite wonderful and the body worked nearly like an extension of my arms.  I've yet to find another camera body that feels so right.

By 2007, the Nikon D300 arrived and I was re-thinking a lot of things.  I was fairly invested at this point and declined to jump to Nikon.  When Olympus brought forth the E-3, I was unhappy that it was two years late and two years behind the rest of the market.  In late 2011, I bought the Olympus E-5.  By then, the D300 was older and the E-5 used my equipment quite well, with a fairly modern sensor.  Had there been a D400 at the time, I probably would have jumped ship.

Not quite four years later, I bought the D7200, still waiting on a true D300 replacement, with the well-regarded Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens.

I have struggled with the camera body and still struggle with it now.  The last Nikon I used to any larger extent was the F2 film body.  When I recently talked to a Nikon representative, he hinted at the inconsistent nature of the company's interface since they started with dSLRs.

The rear of the body is an ergonomic mess.  The left-side column of five buttons is difficult to use without looking carefully at the buttons.  The button at the bottom, a stylized "i" seems to be for information, but across the rear display is a button marked "info".  Is this confusing?

Sadly, the menus are even more confusing.  They're possibly as bad as the Olympus menus, but at least, Olympus has the interactive Super Control Panel.  Nikon gives me the Informational Panel that is not interactive.  Auto Focus was extremely interesting, due to its reliance on both menu selections and the AF controls to the bottom left of the lens mount.

Thankfully, major functions in the form of four buttons replaced the mode dial on the left shoulder: Quality, Metering, White Balance, and Mode.  The first three are better there than as some sub-functions on those 5 left-hand buttons on the rear of the body.  They can easily be found by position on the D500.

When I first gave up the mode dial with the E-5, I thought that it was the stupidest thing I'd ever seen.  The E-5 relies greatly on the top display, as do the D300 and D500.  Years later, the top display works just fine, thankfully.  Even the top display of the E-1 is still working well.

Well, in a twist, due to my heart defect, I've given away all of the Nikon-related equipment.  Someone else with only Nikon equipment will make the best of the D7200, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6, and Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8 lenses.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Panasonic GM5 is tiny but quite usable

I'm adapting to the Panasonic GM5 after years of using SLRs and dSLRs.  To say that it is small would be an understatement.  My first photo of the camera was in front of a $1 bill.  The GM5 was smaller.  It's smaller than a smartphone, as well.

25mm, GM5 with 42.5mm, 15mm, and 12-32mm
Smaller than a $1 bill

It seems impressive that internally, it is much the same as the Panasonic GX7.  The big compromise is that the mechanical shutter can't go faster than 1/500th of a second.  If there is any chance you would mistake this for a camera for sports, you'll notice the shutter speed limitations immediately.  For many people, this might not be a problem because the electronic shutter goes to 1/16000th of a second, jello effects included, as necessary.  Thinking back, my first SLR had a top shutter speed of 1/750th of a second when 1/1000th of a second was a premium shutter speed.

The other significant compromise is the battery capacity, at 680 mAh.  I'm not sure whether the GX8 battery is worse for the size or not.  The GH4 is the only micro Four-Thirds body that doesn't seem to have a lower than expected battery capacity, at 1860 mAh.  I joked when I bought the GM5 that I should buy another 14 batteries.  Pressing the DISP button enough times will shut off the rear display for normal use, and you can still press the Play button to display your photos and video.

GX8 isn't huge but the GM5 is tiny

GX8 behind the GM5

GH4 behind the GM5

Olympus E-5 behind the GM5

As you can see from these photos, it is tiny.  All of these camera bodies use the same size (13.0mm x 17.3mm) of sensor, although the dSLR contains the mirror box which makes everything much bigger.

Four-Thirds 35-100mm f/2.0 obscures the GM5
There is no grip on the front of the GM5--the textured surface may help a bit, as does the thumb hold at the rear, beneath the mode dial.

The optional grip on the GM1
I'm not quite sure about the use of the optional grip.  Currently at US$79.99, it isn't horribly expensive but it doesn't do much, providing more clearance for larger lenses so that the combination doesn't fall backward.  There is also a third party grip, made of aluminum, that looks very useful, but doesn't add any extra clearance below the body.

I was quick to order the strap you can see in my photos of the GM5.  US$37 + shipping seems a small price to pay for the security of photographic equipment.  I pay about the same for my phone cases, although I can feel safe dropping my phone.  Nauti Straps are made from cable used in the sailing industry, so they're quite strong.

I've also ordered two batteries and a small case, so that I can carry the miniature kit with me.  The Lowepro Urban Reporter 150 Messenger Bag for Micro-compact DSLR or CSC Cameras is currently US$29.99 at Adorama and seems appropriate for the GM5 and a few lenses and supplies.  Strangely, I've been using the lens bag for the 42.5mm f/1.7 to hold the GM5 + kit zoom lens, and it sits just above my GH4 in my big bag.

I'm still working on taking time to go out with the GM5 and a few lenses to get some photos.  At the moment, I either take everything with me or just the GM5 and one lens.




The 25mm f/1.7 isn't always resistant to flare.




Update 2016.08.10: Trying the GM5 in lower light but not complete darkness is frustrating.  Around sunset, it didn't want to lock focus as quickly as the GX8 or GH4.  Obviously, the small size doesn't allow as much processing power, but smart phones still do well.  The GM5 actually seemed better in the dark, but it might be that I had lower expectations at that time.

It is still a lot of fun.  I have a bag for the GM5 and easy pockets up top for the 15mm f/1.7, 25mm f/1.7, and 42.5mm f/1.7.  There is also room for the Olympus 8mm f/1.8 fisheye, extra cards, and the two extra batteries that are so necessary for a few hours of use.