Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Is Yelp's new tactic to "close" non-advertisers?

I've moved to California, and I see a lot more, because Yelp's business information supplier covers many more businesses.  Yelp also seems to be more responsive to advertising in reviews and 5 star "reviews" written by the owners.

However, I noticed something about a week ago--a Closed business that was actually open.  Later in the week, I found another one.

I'm wondering if the businesses refused to advertise and were suddenly "Closed" by Yelp, rather than being deleted entirely.  I really don't believe the banner that "Yelpers report this location has closed" actually comes from people using Yelp.  It seems that it's coming from employees of Yelp.

I've done business with both of them and found them to be quite good.

Once again, I get that Yelp needs to make money to stay in business, and I fully support that.  Trying to make money from people barely surviving, and then, trying to hurt their business when they can't afford advertising is just cruel.

Besides, we'll end up with a bunch of vapid, trendy places serving lousy products for too much money.

Yelp, if you're reading this, find a better way.  If you drive businesses out of business, you should receive the same treatment.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Olympus E-M1 vs Panasonic GH3, part 2

Having used the GH3 extensively, and traded it recently while the trade-in value was still good, and now, having the E-M1, I've been making mental notes about things that work and don't work.

I'm warming up to the E-M1, having taken 2300+ shots on Saturday.  It is both a great and annoying camera body.

Auto Focus and Burst Mode

The auto focus is fast.  I have found in single auto focus mode that it can almost always keep up.  Of course, as the light is diminished, every auto focus system loses.  It has surpassed the AF of the GH3, although I have noticed a huge difference in burst mode and/or AF with the Panasonic 35-100mm lens.  It works significantly more slowly than the 12-40mm.

This lens is able to be focused very quickly on the GH3 and works at the full 6 fps in burst mode.  On the E-M1, something is not working correctly, as there is a noticeable difference in frame rate.  Perhaps, the lens is only able to work at 6 fps with OIS off?  I'll check again when I get my GH4.

However, it focuses very well with the Leica/Panasonic Four-Thirds 25mm f/1.4--the 62mm filter size lens, not the tiny micro Four-Thirds version.  I still have yet to use my other Four-Thirds lenses with it.  I should really see how the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 performs, as this is my go-to lens for outdoor sports.

Black out with sunglasses

My Oakley sunglasses and the EVF combine to give me black-out conditions in bright sunlight, as with the GH3.  I should try my free Jack in the Box sunglasses to see if those change the situation.  I've saved a number of photos by simply using muscle memory.  I've even got to the point where I don't have the camera to my face at times.

Battery life

The battery life is horrible.  Who thinks a small battery is a good idea with a powerful EVF, and with an uncovered rear display that wants to show you everything much of the time?  Of course, it's better if you don't use the rear display at all, and I've found ways to minimize my use of it but the EVF still drains the battery quickly, along with the 5-axis stabilization.  It's my mistake to think that the E-M1 will go as long as the GH3, but it seems to end just as the GH3 is warming up.


The grip is still uncomfortable.  The GH3 is probably the camera body with the most comfortable grip on the market right now, for me, anyway.  It's right up there with the Nikon D800 and the Olympus E-5.  I suspect that Olympus wanted to save money by using an existing battery, and designed the grip around it--to be too small.  I've heard from a number of people that it's just fine.  Maybe, they have fatter fingers than I have.  Someone suggested that I buy the battery grip, but it will be difficult to use its bigger grip in landscape orientation.

Accidental changes

Accidental control changes are too easy.  Coming from the E-1 and E-5, the front and rear dials change aperture and shutter speed, depending on the mode, of course.  The front dial of the E-M1 changes exposure compensation, by default.  Sure, it's a new user error, but considering that the E-M1 was meant to be the replacement for the E-5, they should have left the functionality as it was (with the E-1, E-3, and E-5), and allowed an optional change for those who wanted it.  It's also far too easy to switch the auto focus point.  Yes, I've been using a single point because I don't like the typical scatter pattern.  I will accidentally tap the OK button (enabling the Super Control Panel) and arrow keys when I'm not shooting, and then, I miss shots, and have to return to reset it, missing more shots.  If the rear display was on a fully-articulated panel that could be closed, this wouldn't happen.

Super Control Panel

The Super Control Panel really is a great way to display and change controls.  The Quick Menu from Panasonic really doesn't work well for me, and I spend more time trying to figure out how to get to what I want and to change it (not just view it and think that I've changed it)--than to actually change it and get back to shooting on an Olympus body.  Does the Olympus menu system suck?  YES.  Does the Panasonic menu system suck?  YES.  People claim that Nikon, Canon, Sony, etc. have a better system.  They don't.  They all suck.  It's the Super Control Panel/Quick Menu kind of interface that helps you get work done more quickly when the body lacks physical controls.

Rear Display

This bugs me the most.  Why didn't Olympus use a fully-articulated display, as with the E-5?  Having used the GH3 to get very low architectural photos with the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens, I can only guess in doing this with the E-M1.  The display doesn't flip out.  It goes up or down.  Having the panel out in the open all the time leads to all sorts of possible dangers.  It's also responsible for accidental control changes and reduced battery life.

Four-Thirds lenses

I have not used my Four-Thirds lenses extensively with the E-M1.  I have used the Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens--the one with the 62mm filter size with the E-M1.  As with the GH3, it focuses well.  From what I understand, it was meant to be compatible with Contrast Detect AF, as the Leica Digilux 3 was designed for Live View, as well as the typical dSLR optical viewfinder experience.  Thankfully, for this lens, we're in drought conditions.  I would hate to have a downpour and find that a US$1000+ lens is ruined by rain.  I have probably used it fewer than 10 times outdoors.

I'd really like to see if the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 works well with it, as I use it for cross country meets.  Olympus' micro Four-Thirds 40-150mm f/2.8 will become available later this year, but it doesn't reach nearly as far.  Sure, I can carry a load and run the course,, I only do that occasionally when I cannot see past the corn fields.

Olympus has done a good job creating a top end model for micro Four-Thirds.  It's not what I'd hoped that it could be, to replace my E-5.  Yes, the performance is good.  No, it's not quite right.  Panasonic thought more about what the photographer wanted and put that into the design of the GH3 and GH4.  In fact, the GH3 felt like the true successor to the E-5.  It's the kind of design where you don't have to think how to use it--you know how to use it.  On the other hand, the E-M1 is fiddly, unlike the E-5 or E-1.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Olympus E-M1 auto focus tracking for sports

I've been an Olympus equipment user since the 1990s.  I've gone through various bodies since my initial OM-1N.  When Olympus showed that they were ready for dSLRs, I bought an E-1, 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 and 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5--all weather-resistant equipment, which was good since I was in Florida where the hurricanes, daily summer rains, and the construction dust would damage most equipment easily.

I used the equipment out in three hurricanes and it's still functioning beautifully.

Since then, I bought an E-5 body.  The odd, less ergonomic design was bigger, more Nikon-like and made it easier to balance the 35-100mm and other SHG lenses.

I recently, and somewhat temporarily traded my Panasonic GH3 for an Olympus E-M1.  I'd been using the GH3 for indoor sports where flash was a serious problem and where lighting was as advanced as the 1950s.  It worked reasonably well.  The E-M1 is a bit more useful with the 5-axis image stabilization, but is uncomfortable in my hand.  They should have created a new, bigger battery and used it to create a bigger, better grip like that of the E-1, E-5, or GH3.

In any case, I've taken some good photos with it, but I had not put it to the test with sports.  Between moving cross country and schools being out, I didn't have much of a chance to photograph sports.

The other day, the Lathrop, California Generations Center had its grand opening celebration and I was able to photograph some skaters.  I think the E-M1 acquitted itself quite nicely, as you'll see.  I still can't wait for my Panasonic GH4 but I must.

Update 2014.07.05: I used the E-M1 with my Four-Thirds Leica 25mm f/1.4--the big, heavy one made for the Leica Digilux 3 body.  It worked pretty well with auto focus in low light.  Perfect it wasn't, but conditions were far from perfect.

Update 2014.07.25: I've noticed in the last few days that the E-M1 will suddenly not focus properly.  I assume that it's still busy writing to the card but that's not always the case.  Perhaps, it's cleaning up after itself.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Apple stopping development of Aperture raw development application

I'm not surprised that Apple are quitting on this application.  They were really developing it early, and slowed their enhancements quickly, sitting on their laurels.

I saw the app when the released it, and it wouldn't run on my then current machine.  The system requirements pushed desktop machines, and my older desktop machine wasn't a match for my laptop computer.  Aperture made great use of graphics through OpenGL and few of their machines were capable of giving it enough.

Apple has a terrible habit of producing good hardware or good software but rarely produces good matches on the desktop.  It's as though they don't communicate with themselves.  If you look back at the early PowerPC machines, they were very powerful, yet Mac OS 7.6.x (or Mac OS 8.x or Mac OS 9.x) didn't take advantage of them properly.  When I installed BeOS on my PowerPC 604e machine, I was shocked at the display of power--power Apple were wasting.

In photography in 2004, there weren't good raw development applications.  Thankfully, Olympus' JPEG engine created really good JPEG files, and the E-1 also created TIFF files, which were definitely useful in business.

Time passed, and I was part of a discussion that led to the Silkypix raw development application.  I downloaded it and tried it.  I found it to be odd.  It wasn't Japanese odd--I'm Japanese.  It was like so many programmers' projects--great on the inside, lousy on the outside.

I tried Adobe Camera Raw through Photoshop.  I really don't believe that Adobe ever understand that their applications should work with you, not against you.  They just don't seem to want to fix anything, and it shows up when you're trying to finish work.  I got some beta trial for Lightroom and that was interesting, but didn't encourage me, as it was extremely buggy.

At some point, I had an offer for Capture One from Phase One, version 2 or 3.  I downloaded it, and tried to use it.  It was a bit of a pain.  However, it produced reasonable results.  As the versions have come and gone, the application has become as important as the camera body to me.  Version 7 has been on a bumpy road, with the integration of media storage, but it now is easy to use and has produces high image quality, likely second to none.

Their version 7 imaging engine has even given me better quality from older images, at least, with the E-5.  Noise doesn't seem to be a factor, unless you're working in really low light.  That said, current digital sensors all seem to be better than the best film, and many have come to have a grainy look when they produce a lot of noise toward their limits.  That isn't much different than film.

In any case, I'm sad for all of the Aperture users who will not be getting upgrades.  I think it speaks volumes about choosing Apple for applications.  Will Final Cut Pro go away?  Did they make a deal to keep Adobe applications on (Mac) OS X, killing Aperture?  It seemed that Adobe responded very, very quickly to the announcement, as if they already had plans.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

New Jersey to California in many, many instants

So, I sold my house, and I'm moving to California.

The main thing about this switch is that I'm giving up the east coast for the west coast.  I love Philly and New Jersey, and even when I'm not there, I'm within driving distance, but all that is changing.

I've done Orlando to Los Angeles in three 15 hour days.  It's possible, although crossing Texas itself was a 15 hour day.  I don't want to do that again, not really.  I don't really like to fly because you can't pull the plane over to take photos or eat somewhere special.

So, this time, I'm trying to take everything into consideration.

Actually, the closing on my house was the 6th of June, two Fridays ago.  I immediately drove to Manasquan, New Jersey where I rented a motel room for 6 days.  When I arrived on Saturday, the beach was packed.  I couldn't even park.  Sunday, the parking machines weren't accepting cards.  Monday, it stormed like crazy and it drizzled the rest of the week until I left on Friday.

I went to Orlando for Saturday and Sunday.  Sure, it's 1100 miles but that's not a big deal (except for Washington, DC traffic) if you'll never see it again.  I have a family of dear friends there.  They're probably the last people on earth I really want to see.  They were close when times were bad and they helped when I couldn't help myself.

After a really good weekend there, I went back to New Jersey for a couple of days.  I had something in the mail.  Then, I headed out, back to Pennsylvania, and I took a detour to Cumberland, Maryland, thinking that a Madonna of the Trail statue was there.  I was wrong.  It was at Bethesda, near DC, and I wasn't going there for anything.  However, the marker for the origin of the National Road was there.

I've traveled the National Road in all of the states where it exists, both as US Highway 40 and US Highway 66/I-40.  Plus, this gave me a bit of history to pass on to my followers on Instagram, who live along U.S. 40.

I took I-68 from Cumberland into West Virginia, and met I-79 from Western Pennsylvania, and that led me to I-64, which took me all over the place, but finally into Illinois to meet I-57, apparently US Highway 66's successor.

That took me to I-55, and then, I-40 into Arkansas, which is where I am at the moment.  I'm photographing a newly-married couple in Oklahoma City, as a friendly, casual kind of photoshoot.  Hopefully, it will be good and not stressful and demanding.  (It worked relatively fine.)

After Oklahoma City, I just need to set the auto pilot controls and head to California.

It's somewhat amusing that I've had my 2012 VW Golf TDI about 1.5 years and put 32,000+ miles on it already.  It had 5000+ on it when I bought it as a demonstrator.  The computer is telling me that I have about 3000 miles until the next service is due, and I only had the previous one a couple of months ago.

Oh, and if you go 90 mph, you only get about 25 mpg, even though it's diesel-powered.

There are a couple of things on the way.  I'd like to stop at Plaza Cafe in Gallup, New Mexico (it may be 10 hours from Oklahoma City, an easy drive) for a nice breakfast, and there is place with a motel, restaurant, and filling station somewhere in the California desert--Roy's Motel or something like that.  It looks halfway abandoned but it should be interesting to photograph.  Apparently, the people who created Asphalt 8 used the design for something in their Nevada track.

I'm supposed to tell my singer/songwriter friend from Burbank, California when I've returned.  My buddy from San Jose knows that I'm going to be about 50 miles away, but I haven't heard from him lately.  The weird thing is that I don't know how to feel about starting fresh--really fresh.

Obviously, my time zone will change.  Work will change.  Food will change.  I need to have my car windows tinted to avoid the desert sun's effects.  I won't be close enough to San Jose to just pop over there, but it won't be an extreme drive.  Traffic will be heavy but there are trains during the week.  There is an alternative route with a bus to San Francisco that also uses BART trains.

I had to throw/give away a lot of things.  I'll probably be looking for them because something else will depend on them.  I will have done something wrong, and I really won't have time to care.  It will be a new life.

I look forward to the ability to attain and sustain...again.  I look forward to attacking goals and challenges with intellect and efficiency.  Most of all, I look forward to a peaceful life for the first time since I was a small child, for however long or little it will last.

Update 2014.06.27: Well, this is interesting.  I checked Twitter today, and my singer/songwriter friend is in New York City to perform as part of a group on various TV talk shows.  I'm guessing that he has been rather focused on that.  The buddy from the SF Bay Area is likely in the Galapagos Islands at the moment on a photographic adventure.

I made it from Barstow to Lathrop, along state roads 58 and 99, in about 5 hours, which is good, especially since traffic was a bit crazy at times with lane closures and stupidity.

Starting fresh will be interesting.  I'm close to 42,000 miles so I'll need to have my 40,000 service performed soon, even though it's not quite 10,000 miles since the 30,000 mile service, although that was only about 2 months ago.  I must have driven quite a lot.

Traffic in all states is interesting.  I'm always amazed at how many people like to inhabit the passing lane, no matter what.  It's interesting to see how few people use their mirrors.  When I first moved to Philly, the people sponsoring the aid trucks on the highway reminded people to use their mirrors.  I thought that this was ridiculous, but people did not look, which is shocking.  How do you determine where things are, if you're not looking?  (Of course, that reminds me of a co-worker who was parked in the parking garage, next to a post.  She slammed into the post 3 times when leaving work, if I remember correctly, and needed major work on the passenger-side door by the time she had finished.)

Driving along California's state roads is pretty good.  I suppose it all depends on how developed the state is.  Some states even have bad federally-funded roads.  Of course, dealing with mountains and canyons presents all sorts of interesting issues with proper road design and physics.  Good tires help a lot.  I didn't drive Pacheco Pass Highway today, but SR 99 presented some fun.

Update 2014.06.28: It's a pleasure to be able to not travel.  It's not as though I'm not going anywhere, but I'm limiting travel in order to look for houses.  Having a place to live is certainly more important than taking frivolous trips at this point.

Update 2014.06.30: Got some information today.  Even if you can pay a whole year of rent and the deposit, people don't want to rent to you, if you don't have a job.  That seems odd.  You'd think that they would be pleased to not have to think about where the next year's income would be.  Apparently, it is difficult to boot someone out in California, so the realtor's argument was "What do they do when you don't have money for the second year?"  I'm not even sure I would want to rent the same place for two years, regardless of money.  This is definitely a kink in the hose--there is nothing flowing.

I'd also like to say that it has been an amazing opportunity to see so much of the U.S.A., even if much of it was done at 70 mph.  As a child, I had been across the country several times, in a 1960 VW Beetle, imported from Germany to Japan, then taken with us to the U.S.A.  My adoptive dad drove us from San Jose, California to Richmond, Indiana across many different roads, prior to the Interstate Highway System that exists today.   Obviously, we didn't take that Beetle 70 mph, but it made it through the snow when vehicles from Buick and Mercury were on the side of the road, spinning their tires.

I only wish that I had a GoPro or other such camera to record a lot of where I went.  It might have even made an interesting time lapse recording.

I've noticed one thing being here in Northern California, especially with the temperature being quite high, and rather excessive stop-and-go traffic flow, my miles per gallon have often dropped just below 30 around town.  I never had that experience in the past, even in summer.  Then again, it was 106 degrees F today and I've had the air conditioning on almost all the time the car is running.  I don't sit at stop lights all that long, but it seems as though I sit at more stop lights--there is no extended flow.  They are very efficient at moving cars from any direction.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

GH3 -> E-M1 + GH4, as supplies become available (updated with photos)

How is it that so many people said that the GH3 was too big and that it would never sell, but then, it was in demand so much, and the GH4 is repeating that, even though Panasonic increased production?

Yesterday, I traded my Panasonic GH3 while the value was still good (I got US$500), for an Olympus E-M1.  They did not yet get their GH4 shipment from last week, which says either they're not producing them as well as expected or demand has been really good--better than the GH3 demand.

I waited several months to get my GH3 and it was easy by that time.  I didn't want to wait for the value to fall for trade-in, so I traded it while the GH4 was still difficult to get.  By the time the GH4 is readily available, I'll have learned to use (/love/hate/deal with) the E-M1.

My initial few hours with the E-M1 produced discomfort for me because of the small battery/small grip size.  It was especially apparent that it was too uncomfortable to use with Four-Thirds lenses because of the weight imbalance, as the grip was almost cutting into my fingers.

For the moment, I'll miss the fully-articulated rear display.  There is no way to use the E-M1 in portrait orientation and look down at the display, for instance.  This is something the GH3 and E-5 did so well.  However, the EVF is quite a bit more advanced than the GH3's EVF.

It should be interesting to see if the 12-40mm lens seems more capable with the 5-axis image stabilization.  I suspect it will be working until I adapt my grip.  As well, the Panasonic 35-100mm lens on it may prove to be okay, but the huge lens flare issue won't go away just because it's on a competitor's camera body.

Oh, one thing I've noticed over the pre-production version I used--I can do a half-press without taking a shot.  There are some spongy buttons on the back, but thankfully, the shutter release is more solid in production.

In the registration survey, Olympus asked about video, and I had to say that I wouldn't really be using video with the E-M1.  They didn't give it much functionality, so I won't be using it.  When I have my GH4, then, I can do video again.  I'm beginning to think that my iPhone 5c has better capabilities than Olympus has in any of their camera bodies but then, I buy Olympus for still photography.

Update 2014.06.13: The E-M1 is a good camera with an angular grip and tiny battery.  I think you know what suggestion I would make to improve the camera, as it is not bad otherwise.

I got a few photos at Asbury Park beach and boardwalk with the E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8 lens.

For comparison, I have a few from the beaches near Manasquan, NJ, taken with the GH3 and 12-40mm f/2.8:

Update 2014.06.15: I have really found the E-M1 grip uncomfortable, just with the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens.  I don't see how so many find it comfortable.  It feels like it's almost cutting into my fingers.  I understand that they wanted to make it compact as a hedge against those who would complain about it being too big, plus they could re-use the tiny battery from their other micro Four-Thirds bodies.

I haven't used it enough but I don't see any huge difference in image quality from the GH3's sensor.  People complained that there was more noise, but I think it's negligible, at least using Capture One Pro 7.

The rear display out in the open also bothers me.  Unlike the E-1, there is no plastic shield to keep it from damage or my nose.  Of course, the display is active too often, and I'm sure that there is a setting for that, to save battery life.

It seems odd to hear the 5-axis sensor shift image stabilization.  I'm sure that was quite a concern for many people picking up the E-M1 for the first time.  I guess I didn't hear it with the pre-production models because so many of us were talking.

After all this, I'm glad to have it, but I'm all the more impatient to get a GH4.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

!@#$ navigation!!!

May I take this moment to interrupt your calm with "Why doesn't navigation work properly in North(ern New) Jersey?

I complained back in 2006 when Telenav kept telling me to turn around, even though I was very close to where I needed to be.

I've been staying at a motel in Manasquan, NJ and I've been up and down the state, mostly using Apple's Maps app.  It doesn't know what a jughandle is, but that's okay.  I can adapt.

I took it to Little Falls on Sunday and it got me to a downtown area, and freaked out a little and I shut it off, and parked.  After my meal, I went to Fairfield, and since I knew the way back to the main road, it didn't really have a problem.

A couple of times, it has stuttered because I did not do what was expected.  Sorry!  Sometime, I've been through the route too many times and know a better way and don't want to go down every side street to get there.

Now today, I went back to the camera store in Fairfield, and it was mostly agreeable.  (Seriously, I don't use the Express lanes of the Garden State Parkway because there is no cash lane at the toll plazas on that side.)

As I was leaving, it was 4:45 p.m./16:45, and I know how difficult traffic can be.  I thought to go to a certain pizza place I was missing that is in the next county, in Rutherford.  It's mostly a very straight path.  SR 3 east and SR 21 North.  The only problem is that there doesn't seem to be a direct way to get to SR 21 going North.  Usually, you have to go to the next exit, cross over, and go north, which is what I did, while the Maps app displayed "Rerouting..." and reminded me to "proceed to the route" many, many times.

After eating, it was no easier.  It had picked an odd route that made no sense.  Once I remembered how to get back to SR 21, it was catching up, still telling me to turn.  I finally turned it off.  I tried Waze, which had me down every side street possible, and instead of taking me directly to the Garden State Parkway, which was straight ahead, it wanted me to take a county road off SR 3.  I quit that also.

I would have tried Google Maps, but it couldn't even find where I was.

Thank goodness my memory wasn't completely gone.  I'd still be down some side street in Rutherford.

Update 2014.06.15: I was travelling to the Orlando, Florida area--to Oviedo in particular, an area where I lived for 10 years.  Waze had wanted me to traipse down every side street from the Florida state line until the center of Oviedo.

When I selected my motel in Yelp and got to Maps, and asked for directions, rather than take me on a direct route to International Drive via Kirkman Road, Apple's Maps wanted me to go to a toll road further along the way, and apparently backtrack.  When it finally re-routed me, it still picked an odd route, taking me into more traffic than was necessary.

Thankfully, I generally know where I'm going, so I can't be confused quite that easily, but what are they (Waze, Apple, Google) thinking?

Update 2014.07.04: I was trying to use Apple's Maps two days ago around San Jose, California.  It did okay most of the time, but requested U-turns where there was a turn lane into a shopping center already.  Perhaps, their information is old?  I'm not sure but I didn't have the problem last August with one of the locations.

In one case, I was trying to get to Westfield Valley Fair mall, and I wasn't on the correct part of the exit, twice.  I didn't understand, and it was a complex juncture, but the navigation tried to loop me around twice when the answer was much more simple--turn left, follow the road, turn left at the appropriate road, and drive straight until the mall.  I found it when I followed my own path, but for some reason, navigation wanted me to avoid city streets.  I've had situations where one of the navigation apps put me into freeway traffic jams to avoid those crowd city streets, which were moving fairly well.