Monday, September 1, 2014

4K, 3D TV on the way

This was a very weird decision to make.

Months ago, I traded my 3D TV and Blu-Ray player for some help in getting things to the garage from other levels of my house.  I knew that the heavy TV panel on the flimsy pedestal would end up in millions of pixel-sized pieces at the other end of the journey, so I did the best thing.

I've been looking for a TV to replace it.  If the 3D craze had gone better, it wouldn't have been a big search.  Of course, had I not chosen an LG 3D TV in November 2011, I wouldn't be looking for one now.  I found enough movies that I liked in 3D that I wanted to see them in 3D again.

So, I started to search, starting with the same Blu-Ray player/3D TV combo deal.   Nothing was available.  Many of the TVs just weren't available and various web sites would produce links that went to whatever models were available, none of which had any 3D capability.

So, I noticed that all of the 4K TV models had 3D capabilities, until recently, that is.  I tried various models at Best Buy, where I was shown a Sony 1080p TV in their Magnolia Home Theater department, which was very good.  The price was somewhat high, but given the area, I could understand.  Recently, I went to try the 3D effect.  The heavy, active 3D glasses caused some kind of odd feeling in my nose as they sat there.  Perhaps, it was like getting a buzzing in your ear.  It wasn't exactly a vibration but maybe an electromagnetic resonance that was uncomfortable.

The 3D effect was rather good but within a few minutes, I couldn't wear the glasses any longer.

I was told the only alternatives were LG and Vizio.  I had reasonable luck with the bargain LG TV but I continue to hear how people have wildly variable experiences with Vizio.  So, I was thrilled when someone showed me a 49 inch class (class? Just say that it's 48.5 inches) LG 4K 3D TV (LG 49UB8500) at $1499.99.  Yes, that is not cheap, but it was a small difference from the 1080p Sony TV.

I've seen several 1080p movies played on it and it's obvious that they're pixelated here and there, but no more so than on other 4K TVs I've seen--or for that matter, 1080p TVs.

There are two big deals for me--substantial processing power and passive 3D glasses.

Obviously, with the ability to decode 4K content, it will do just fine with 1080p and 1080p 3D content, and that's plenty.  Do I expect 4K to hit it big?  No, not in the least.  I expect that 8K will have the major content re-work behind it.

I heard that DirecTV is planning to deliver 4K content any time now, but whether I want to pay extra for that (if there is an extra fee), is unlikely.  I'm finally making the switch to 1080p/1080i content, since I started with them in December 2008.

In any case, I got an extra $100 off because of the Labor Day weekend sales.  I wanted to buy through the same store in NYC that sells me cameras but their sale went off earlier than expected, probably because of the East Coast/West Coast time difference, and I had to wait a bit to transfer money.  Having a 6% points coupon would have been good, along with the $100 discount.  In any case, Best Buy is getting my money and they have free delivery, which will probably come from one of the local stores where I viewed the TV.

The only thing really left to do (for the TV itself) is to get an upscaling 4K Blu-Ray player some time in the future, especially if the current one just doesn't do the job.  I need a sound system and haven't decided on anything.  Being in an apartment has changed my options a bit and having a 900 watt system is probably not as good an idea as it was.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Will Olympus announce their new PRO series lenses in a few weeks?

Supposedly, there is an Olympus announcement coming around the end of August.

Maybe, obviously, the PEN E-PL7 will be announced for immediate sale.  The replacement for the OM-D E-M5 should be announced, as well.  However, I'm more interested to see the final realization of the 40-150mm f/2.8 lens, plus whether they've got the 7-14mm f/2.8 ready.

The ultra wide angle lens is important to me, especially since I've been photographing at skate parks lately.  I don't really care for fish eye lenses and Olympus still sells theirs--and a certain BMX rider has been on me to buy it, for that exaggerated perspective.  However, f/2.8 vs. f/3.5 makes for the difference between getting the shot and not.  (My first thought about this lens was that it would be great for the real estate market, but they're generally fine with point and shoot cameras.)

Of course, is it as important as it was even five years ago?  Putting an LED array on the hot shoe will provide sufficient lighting that the BMX rider will be blinded temporarily while moving close.  Plenty of people have mentioned flash, which amounts to the same problem.  Studio lights with massive battery power?  No, thanks.

The Nikon D810 might provide a better low light experience with the right weather-sealed ultra wide angle lens.  It had better at the weight, the size, and at the price.  Remember that the sensor itself mimics the size of 135 Format film--roughly 24x36mm and that is not huge or heavy.

Of course, the slippery Nikon Df has the sensor from the D4 with extra low light sensitivity, but it will probably be a handful to use for sports.

In any case, the Olympus E-M1 and Panasonic GH4 will work well for me, and hopefully, the new lenses will be everything I need.  I'm especially looking forward to replacing Panasonic's dismal 35-100mm f/2.8 lens with the 40-150mm f/2.8.  (It's amazing how different their 12-35mm and 35-100mm are.  I never ever hear negative remarks about the 12-35mm f/2.8 lens.)

Of course, the 40-150mm f/2.8 can't really replace my 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 because of the lack of reach.  Having the 135 Format equivalent of 400mm is awesome, especially when it's sharp.  (Panasonic's 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 doesn't seem to be sharp anywhere, but it's small and light with a 52mm filter size that covers a lot of plastic vs 67mm with a large front element.  Can't expect much.)

If the 40-150mm is as sharp as my Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0, I'd be thrilled and amazed.  I don't expect that.  I expect it to be somewhere in-between the 50-200mm and the 35-100mm f/2.0 in all aspects, with the price, also.  This is the case with the 12-40mm f/2.8 and the 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 and 14-35mm f/2.0.

The 7-14mm f/2.8 really signals an end of Four-Thirds for me.  I looked at the Four-Thirds 7-14mm f/4.0, which is an amazing lens, but couldn't get past the f/4.0.  I would be using it on micro Four-Thirds equipment but it would negate any advantage the newer sensors have.  Using it on the E-1 and E-5 would be practically perfect though.  However, these are not really landscape tools and the way I would want to use it would not be practical, even if I spend a lot of time in bright sunlight.  I shoot at night also.  (This is also a sticking point with the 8mm f/3.5 fish eye lens.)

The price of the 7-14mm f/2.8 is going to be high.  I'm guessing that it will be around US$1999.99 and the 40-150mm f/2.8 should be around US$1499.99.

Update 2014.08.17: The E-M1 is rumored to get 4K recording?  It doesn't even do well with the recording abilities it has.  It would be great to see a huge upgrade to 1080p, complete with high bit rates, but I can't imagine that happening either.  It was a bit amusing to see someone submitted Olympus' high end testing cameras as evidence that Olympus can do video.  If you're in the market to record and test vehicle crashes, I'm sure they're just fine.  I only want to record 1080p and 4K at the moment.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Midnight Portraits at ISO 25,600

Since I've been using Olympus digital equipment, I haven't been a fan of their auto focus or their low light capabilities.  The E-5 dSLR fixed some of that and the E-M1 mirror-less camera body fixed a lot more.

Last night, I was asked to a skate park around midnight.  It's not a good time for action shots no matter which camera you're using.  Please, don't blah blah blah Canon blah blah blah Nikon because I know that without lights, it's not going to work well.  Yes, there are a few models with increased sensitivity, but they're not perfect either and you'll still need lights to get great photos.

I got a few shots the way I used to do when I was using ASA 400/DIN 27 film.  I just don't care for most of what action shots I got.  Besides, at ISO 25,600, everything is better at 4x6 and not much bigger.  It reminded me of using ASA 1000 or 1600 film when ASA 400 was typically high.

I decided not to make any corrections to the shots because they often make the shots look fake.  Extreme conditions cause extreme problems.  It's the same with winter photography and snow.  I can make minor adjustments to improve the look but I generally leave them as is to enhance the feeling of cold.

Last night, I tried to use the E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8 lens.  I didn't think that it would work, so I also had my 14-35mm f/2.0 with me, and the Leica/Panasonic Four-Thirds mount 25mm f/1.4 lens is always in my bag on the adapter.  It's been very good, especially in these drought conditions to get near dark photos and in this case, it worked reasonably well to get photos at midnight.  I would consider the Voigtländer 17.5 f/0.95 lens but I really have to think about that.  Having portable, battery-powered lighting would probably make more sense.

You can see the results below.  I was mostly pleased.

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.