Monday, January 14, 2019

FujiFilm's Mirrorless models Are Finally Great

Ever since the FujiFilm introduced the X-Mount and the X-Trans color filter array, I've waited to see what would happen.

I tried the X-T1 in a camera shop and decided that it was too slow and sloppy for my needs.  In fact, it seemed a very casual camera body, much like the Sony mirrorless models.  When a body has loads of enhancements but requires complete manual control to keep up with action, what does it really offer?

Having used various SLRs in the 1970s, manual control wasn't a big deal.  Keeping up with the action could be.  Back then, I appreciated the shutter speed ring around the lens mount that kept my focus on the action, rather than having to reach across with my left hand to futz with the dial on the top panel.

In 2012. that didn't make sense to me.  In 2018, it makes even less sense.  However, the newest image processor in the X-T3 is quite capable and various parts have been modified to make the X-T3 the envy of most APS-C and micro Four-Thirds users--if they could just admit it.

At this point, I wouldn't recommend any APS-C Nikon, Canon, Sony, or Pentax models, although Pentax' weather-sealed bodies are quite good and offer plenty on a budget.  Tight budgets notwithstanding, the X-T3 is the best compromise, even without In-Body Image Stabilization.  (I'm still of the opinion that the Panasonic G85/G80 with Dual I.S. is a better option for great video and good lenses on a budget, plus it's part of a very compact system.)

People starting today, should seriously consider with FujiFilm is offering.  They have two good systems now and will continue to improve, especially as they gain more, impassioned users.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Playing Games on the Cheap

I balked at every new game console where the games were US$59.99.  I'm not the kind of person to enjoy that, even though I spent a small fortune with the Atari Jaguar, and had hundreds of games for the 8-bit Atari computers.

Having a Macintosh from 1993 to 2017 kept me focused, especially when I stopped buying desktop machines.  Steam arrived when I had my intel-based polycarbonate MacBook G3 and I took advantage of Portal and Half-Life 2 for free.  I bought very few games because few developers invested in Mac OS X.  I bought Unreal, Unreal Tournament, UT 2003 (a mistake), UT 2004, and missed out on UT3 when some company wouldn't license their technology for Mac or Linux.

Having had the "casual gamer" Omen by HP laptop computer since April, I started off with Steam--sort of reviving my purchases.  Of course, I didn't use cloud saves since my connection was poor, so I had to start fresh.

At this moment, Steam shows 47 games, which includes some VR variant, which I cannot play.  I don't believe I exceeded US$19.99 for any of the games, including The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition.

As I like to release frustration with arena shooting games, Toxikk has become my new favorite for starting a quick game.  The full game was a little over US$5.00 and it has a lot of what made Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament 2004 fun.  If you want something with a plot, this isn't it.

That game would be Life is Strange 2.  It's so serious at times, I had tears in my eyes at one point.  I've seen the underbelly of the west coast since moving back in 2014, and this game seems too familiar.  It's so well made that has a feeling of reality, although the voice acting might not be what it should be.  (The Galaxy on Fire series of mobile games have the worst English voice acting ever.)

Metro 2033 Redux and Metro: Last Light Redux are similarly serious but seem more of the fantasy shooter variety.  It's good to see some video games that are based on books.

I've spent a lot of time with UT2004 and UT3 lately, but continue to go to Toxikk for quick matches.

Life is Strange 2 is taking a lot of time.  I've tried to go back to Half-Life 2 and the rest of the Valve Software games but my heart just isn't in it since my progress is gone and I have to fight through each area again.  I'd rather spend the energy on something else.

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is somewhat appealing, especially since the Spyro games aren't going to be available to me any time soon.

I've given up on Gone Home and A Story About My Uncle far too quickly.   I will likely be bored and try them again.

I tried the free version of Counter Strike: Global Offensive but I'm just not sure I care.

Picked up the Freemium Asphalt 9: Legends and it's not bad with the controller and it's so small, since it's a mobile game that almost anyone could fit it on their machine.  It could use some powerful CPU/GPU combination, though.

Update 2018.12.06: I saw an article saying that Epic Games was starting a store, so I downloaded the application and found that the newer, trial of Unreal Tournament was available.  I tried it for one day and the next day they announced that they are canceling it but that they are going to make the earlier games available through the store.  Since I bought them through Steam, I'm not sure what good that will do for many.  At least, Toxikk is available.

Update 2019.01.11: I've picked up two new games for free from the Epic Games store: Subnautica and What Remains of Edith Finch.  They both seem good.  It's interesting that they're going to offer a different game for free every two weeks.

On the other hand, I picked up Star Trek Timelines for Windows/Steam and it is pretty difficult to play with the mouse, as it hasn't really been converted from the touch screen game that it is on iOS and on Android.  It would probably be okay in tablet mode on the Lenovo Flex 3 that I once had, since it had a touch screen, but it's frustrating with the mouse.  What once fit on 480x320 is now on 1920x1080 and nothing has changed in the screen usage.  As well, the battery usage would be horrible as it keeps the GPU and the audio busy, even when I'm not playing it, mostly as it does on mobile devices.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Buying enough RAM to make the i7 7700HQ happy

Okay, I've had this 2017 Omen (by HP) 15t for around six months.  It's decent at most everything, making it a good successor to the mid-2012 MacBook Pro quad core i7 with 16 GB of RAM and 480 GB SSD.

When things get tough, it shows how slow it is.  The 8 GB of RAM show up as about half in use when doing simple things.  When I go to edit photos, I'm in trouble, with RAM generally full and virtual memory has to resort to the 7200 rpm hard drive.  Intolerably slow would be the key phrase but it's possible to remember with 4 MB of RAM was a full set and my Atari 1040 ST (with modification) would fly at 8 MHz.  That was a monochrome system with a 640x400 display.

The MacBook Pro supported 1440x900 and this Omen has a 1920x1080 display--the not so good display, that is standard.  Hey, if I can edit from lesser displays in the past, can I work with lesser displays in the present?  Of course, I can.

However, using Phase One Capture One Pro has been a bit tedious, especially if I'm using Luminar 2018 at the same time.  If I try to also use Magix Movie Edit Pro and/or Xara Designer Pro, things might grind to a halt.

I just ordered 32 GB, in two RAM sticks, with sales tax, etc. for just a bit less than the two pieces were by themselves just a few weeks ago.  G.Skill RAM works well and is trusted.  My needs may not be as specific or hard core as the gamers who would also buy products from the brand, but high performance, reliable products are necessary.

I considered 16 GB but half of my 8 GB is in use doing almost nothing.  Trying to make video with 16 GB might leave me with almost nothing and virtual memory will ruin the performance and I'd be back to intolerably slow performance, plus I'd spent money to arrive there.  Considering the drop in price, it didn't make sense to go with the lower capacity.

I also ordered a toolkit from iFixit, so I should be able to open the machine and put things right easily.  Previously, I had two Husky drivers (from Home Depot) and two Kobalt drivers (from Lowes), which helped quite a lot.  I made the modifications to the MacBook Pro quickly and easily, while being watched, just in case.  It helped train them, also.  I've watched the video reviews of this machine and they opened it fairly easily.  It's just a matter of remembering which screws go where, just like always.

I will have to wait for drive improvements.  The machine has an M.2 slot, so it's perfect for a Samsung 970 EVO drive.  1 TB is much more affordable than the 6 Gbps 480 GB drive I put into the MacBook Pro in 2013. I'm just wondering if I happen to have a Samsung 2.5 inch 512 GB SSD drive that I bought a few years ago.  If I can transfer everything to a 1 TB M.2 drive and switch the 1 TB hard disk drive for an SSD drive, also, things will improve.  However, saving money takes time.

Wish me luck!

Update 2019.01.08: I've got the RAM, but couldn't install it, due to a plastic plug covering one screw.  I'm still working on solutions, but I'm about to have someone else install it, and the HP EX920 M.2 1TB I bought for very little.  Hopefully, the cost of installation won't break the bank.  I've had some noise lately, and I'm not sure whether it's one of the fans or the hard drive.  In either case, a gaming laptop computer needs everything working at full throttle.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Luminar (2018) is the quickest way to huge edits

I've used a few raw development applications by now:

Phase One Capture One Pro
Ichikawa Software Labs Silkypix DS
Olympus' free Viewer
Adobe Lightroom (original beta)

I started with Capture One 3.x way back in 2006.  Good raw development application software was difficult to find.  Thankfully, Olympus bodies produced fine JPEG files.  If I had been using Canon or Nikon, I would have been in more of a hurry.

When Luminar became available on Mac OS X, I had already been using the company's Creative Kit 2016, which had a single application for a major functionality.  Luminar put those together in a simplified way.

Thankfully, Apple created CoreImage functionality and that took away some of the complexity, especially when dealing with raw files--if Apple got it right.

The company's software gave me a reason to experiment and it made it quick and interesting.  With Luminar, many transformations became so quick simply because I didn't need to switch from application to application.  I could have dramatic results within minutes.

If you look at Capture One Pro or Silkypix DS, they both support saving a group of settings to give photos a certain look quickly.  Those in Capture One Pro especially tend to be holding to a less dramatic upheaval than Luminar.  Given the target type of photographer, that might be appropriate.  I appreciate some restraint, but I'm learning that my audience may want a bit more spice.

Now that I'm using the Windows version of Luminar, things are less certain than on the Mac but just as interesting.  They have many things planned but I would just like to be able to switch quickly between a number of files within a folder.  I photograph sports, so I might end up with hundreds (or more) of photos from a meet or tournament.  I can't guess at which one is which, especially when Windows doesn't support the raw files.

At this point, I will have Capture One Pro open and switch to Luminar for special edits, which is difficult to do with the current 8 GB of RAM.  (I'm working on that, but don't know whether I will be okay with "only" 16 GB or need 32 GB, especially for video projects.)

Left-original, Right-altered

I'm looking forward to more experimentation with Luminar.  Hopefully, they can provide a healthier interface to files, so it's easier to use in a professional workflow.

Update 2018.11.02: The company released the AI Sky Enhancer filter.  It's supposed to only work on sky and clouds.  I'm not certain how wonderful it is because I have yet to make extensive use of it.

Included is a side-by-side sample of a fairly busy sky at sunset photo to show the differences.  This may be a bad example but it does show differences.

Update 2018.12.06: Skylum have announced that the update to Luminar that adds Libraries will be available on December 18th.

Update 2019.01.08: For anyone interested, I've been trying to use Luminar 3, with the updates, and it is miserable.  I am certain that everything will be much better in time, but I don't even feel it's worth using at this time.

The first time I started it, it took forever, as if it was an early (alpha/beta?) release of a product.  It asked what I wanted to have in libraries.  What I selected was completely duplicated, but with a current date, so that it made a mess of searching and use of the Photos application.  After the fix update, I tried a few photos and with each style I tried, it created an image.

They have a great many things to handle.  Until they get them under control, I will use Luminar 2018.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Windows Fall Update 2018/1809

It is with a bit of regret that I updated so quickly from 1803 to 1809.  A few hours later, there were articles about data loss.

I'm not really seeing a lot of visual changes.  I tried the new screen shot functionality and it didn't work as I expected.  I tried Windows + Shift + S to activate it and used the mouse to frame a window.  The screen shot included the background and that window, rather than just the window.

For some reason, I expected just the window.  Why it excluded the other windows but not the background, I can't imagine.  It seems a convoluted way to capture it and still make you edit the screen shot to exclude the rest of the display.

This morning, the Disk Defragmenter was running on its own.  I suspect this could account for data loss.  I'm not sure that anything is missing, but I'd rather not experience this.  In any case, Microsoft has pulled the update until they figure out what happened.

Quite a few extra instances of tasks seem to be running now, in contrast to a couple of days ago when 1803 was active.  I'm hoping for the best, but I expect it will be a couple of weeks until things are updated again.  I may pass out from holding my breath.

Update 2018.10.10: The fixes arrived fairly quickly and I'm wondering if they just moved the problem (as they did in the old days) or they actually fixed it.  Since data loss is not minor, they probably found the actual problem and fixed it.

Update 2018.11.04: Still having various small issues.  Can't decide whether they're from the update or something else.  I'm guessing that there is a combination of problems that has been exaggerated by the update.  Putting the machine to sleep seems particularly difficult now.

Update 2018.11.23: I can sign into my account more quickly but it still takes a very long time until I can do anything, with everything checking something at startup time.

You'd think that Windows 10 would be a great operating system by now.  Windows 7 showed that Microsoft could almost erase its history of half-ass work.  Windows 10 needs one person to guide it and tell people what's wrong and to have enough power to have others fix it.  Every company that develops products needs a mad genius of sorts.

Update 2018.11.28: Apparently, my interface to iCloud hasn't been working, so Apple worked that out.   Every other day, it seems that there is a new problem with the Windows update.  I haven't had this much "fun" since Windows 95.

Update 2018.12.06: The other day, I looked to see if any other updates were available to make things more reliable.  What showed up was a surprise--a cumulative update for 1803.  Considering that I've had 1809 for a bit, I'm not sure how I can be put back to 1803.  I'm now wondering if I have some sort of dreadful mix between the two.

Update 2019.01.08: The 1809 update arrived again.  This time it took a whole day, possibly because my main drive is failing, but it didn't seem to be making quick progress with the internet connection either.

The good thing is that the computer seems settled now.  Things seem to work more smoothly and consistently.  Hopefully, they take a long time to test the 1903 update before they let anyone have it.

Oh, and there have been mini updates off and on since the 1809 arrived.  Apparently, security updates are still a priority.  It's good to see Adobe Flash security updates but why do I want Flash installed at all?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

135 Format Seems to Have Returned

In the late 1970s, I sold cameras at a department store.  Mostly, we sold Nikon, Minolta, and Olympus SLRs but also Fujica/FujiFilm, Pentax, and Canon.  That order also shows the relative quantities sold.  The Canon AE-1 was possibly the worst seller, and I really had to explain Shutter Priority auto exposure--and why the controls seemed to be the opposite of everything else we sold.  (We also sold Medium Format, 110 Format film cameras and the odd, leftover 126 Format cameras.  Polaroid and Kodak had instant cameras.)

Now, we're getting back to a time like that, when many camera makers have an entry in 135 Format.  Nikon and Canon have been in 135 Format for a while now, and Pentax returned recently with the K-1, now at K-1 Mk II.  Sony was the first with a 135 Format mirrorless line and they're on the third generation now.

In the last few weeks, Nikon and Canon introduced mirrorless 135 Format models.  In my opinion, Nikon is closer to getting it right from the start.  They're going to need a lot of firmware updates and they don't like to do that.  Canon didn't stray far from home and they're going to need to re-do their system much more quickly than Nikon will simply because of the lens mount.

This week, Panasonic, Sigma, and Leica got together on the L-mount, already in use by Leica (SL, TL) in a 135 Format camera body.

This is news because Panasonic has been a small appliance and electronics company for years.  They have come so far since those days, possibly due to their feud with Sony.

In any case, two 135 Format bodies, one high (S1R), one low (S1), similar to Nikon's path.  Having an SD Card slot along with an XQD slot is brilliant.  The thing is--these are months off, probably available around spring.  Specifications are subject to change without notice is the appropriate statement, isn't it?

The other part of their announcement is that Sigma is moving to 135 Format with their Foveon technology.  I'm trying to keep an open mind, but they haven't been making much progress.  When someone complains about their low light capabilities, someone has to yell "Hey, look, over there!"

The better part of this is that Sigma will finally have a worthy mount and can share a market, instead of cornering a market that few want.  (There probably aren't that many Leica users, though.)

My only question is: where is Olympus?  I don't have to ask about FujiFilm.  They're not competing head-to-head.  They have introduced another 50MP Medium Format model and documented that they are working on the rumored 100MP model.  I'm not sure whether Pentax is a factor since they haven't had much luck with mirrorless, going the quirky path, but there is a new Irix 150mm f/2.8 macro lens with their mount that will be available.  The K-1 Mk II and the update to the original seem to be decent, but better auto focus would make people want to buy them.

Olympus has rumored that they are working on a higher high-end camera body, which considering the price of the E-M1 Mk II, they need some much better technology for micro Four-Thirds.  If they're heading to 135 Format, I'm thinking things will heat up.

Update 2019.01.12: Panasonic supposedly will launch their S1 and S1R bodies in March 2019.  That's not particularly far away, and yet, we still don't have many details.  It should be interesting to see what lenses Sigma has re-mounted by launch time.  The latest Sigma lenses seem to be quite good and would help make the launch a success.

Nikon seems to be getting good press, even though they have some shortcomings, as with any first generation equipment.  I can imagine that Panasonic will have odd troubles, but the bodies should be as good as can be made--the line starting with the GH3 should be proof of that.  However, dust reduction and sensor-based image stabilization will be their biggest engineering feats, plus re-working their video routines.

Friday, September 21, 2018

iOS 12 on my iPhone 8 now

I am generally the voice of caution.  I have had too many experiences when incompatibilities hurt my productivity when doing operating system upgrades/updates.

Why would I jump to iOS 12 so soon?  It seemed that it was truly past the beta test stage, unlike previous releases.  Also, Apple plays a guessing game with device security.  You can never tell how dangerous your situation is.  I have upgraded to the latest major release in the past because there were so many security fixes.

I felt that way today and certain articles I've read recently suggest that iOS 12 is more likely to protect me, broken or not.

1.35 GB seems a crazy load for a handheld device but it has become more common to exceed 1 GB with updates and upgrades.  Games are especially heavy on storage.  2018's operating systems are hardly the machine language monitors that needed to fit into 8 KB of RAM in the late 1970s.  What could fit into a well-ventilated room now fits into your hand, except for the keyboard and keypunch.

First off, shutting down and starting are very, very quick to happen.

Usually, there is the wheel, barely visible, churning until the system shuts down.  I didn't even see it--the system was just finished.  I held the power button and it was ready for my PIN very soon after that.

Backing up the updated phone is taking quite a long time.

Everything seems a bit more responsive and some things are extremely responsive.  I'm not sure if they changed the game interfaces' performance but games feel more fluid now.  Text scrolling seems smoother than warm butter.

Obviously, an iPhone 8 shouldn't have any issues because it was new only 1 year ago.  Still, the operating system's latency made the experience seem to lag.  I hope that this is not a temporary speed-up that will be crushed by bug fixes.  Mac OS X was really awful from Public Beta and got better with each release.  At 10.4.11, it seemed the best it could be, and Leopard was uncomfortably buggy and slow.  Things never seemed to improve, which may be why I'm on Windows 10 now.

iOS 12 gives me hope, as does WatchOS 5.

Update 2018.09.26: Certain apps seem unresponsive at times and have to be ended and re-launched.  Overall performance is good but occasionally choppy.  There have been around 5-10 app updates each day.  I suspect many more will come as they actually test their development efforts (or lack of same) with actual users on iOS 12.

Update 2018.10.07: Nothing more interesting has happened, thankfully.  Hopefully, the next update will improve stability.  I'm happy for those on older phones who are getting a big performance boost.

Update 2018.11.04: Woke up and the time was not reset to Pacific Standard Time today, even though Daylight Saving Time had ended for this year.  Version 12.1 doesn't seem to be completely better, but 12.1.1 is in the beta test period now.  There were some nasty security issues squashed with 12.1 though, so it was well worth the risk.  I hope that Apple are looking at security 24/7/365.

Update 2018.12.08: I've been on 12.1.1 for a couple of days.  It corrected a few bugs, including the time zone issue.  I'm not sure how stable it is but it seems to be okay at the moment.  There are loads of app updates, as companies realize the problems their apps contain.

It's likely that there will not be any update until February, unless they find something significantly broken.