Monday, March 23, 2015

Panasonic Lumix X 35-100mm f/2.8 continues to disappoint

This weekend, I was photographing and video recording a skateboard and scooter competition.

Since the skate park was fairly spacious, and so many people were everywhere, I used the Panasonic Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8 instead of the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8.

I have not really used the 35-100mm lens since sending it for repair due to a very ugly purple lens flare with the sun out of the frame.  That was over one year ago.  If I need such reach, I get one of my Olympus dSLRs (E-1, E-5) and use the Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0 or 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5.

However, recently, Panasonic had developed and released firmware to make the Optical Image Stabilization better than it had previously been when recording video.  Apparently, it stuttered terribly.

In any case, I took 1014 photos and 23 video clips.  A buddy and I were going to work with the video clips today, and I tried to weed out the worst of them.  I was shocked at how horrible and jumpy they were.  I don't have such a problem with the GH4 and the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 or the Leica/Lumix/Panasonic 15mm f/1.7 lenses, and they're not stabilized at all.  (The still photos were reasonable, especially since it was afternoon and there was plenty of sun.)

This lens is unfortunate, especially at a retail price just under US$1500.  The image quality is good, especially for a lens that would cost $750 (compare to Sigma's 18-35mm f/1.8 for US$799.99), but it's only average for a $1500 lens.  The build quality seems weak for such a lens, although it is supposedly weather-sealed.  Zacuto mentioned in an online interview with Panasonic representatives that it seemed much less high quality (did he say "cheap-feeling construction"?) than the 12-35mm f/2.8 also made by Panasonic.

I swore off Panasonic lenses, but the 15mm f/1.7 was too good to ignore.  It functions well, aside from some low light AF hunting.

I was considering the 12-35mm f/2.8 because of the OIS but forget that.  I've been told that it was much better, but that was before the firmware release "fixing" the 35-100mm f/2.8 lens.  If this is normal behavior for the 12-35mm f/2.8, how are they selling any of them?  How can I be more disappointed than I already was?

After handling the Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 for 14 hour days, I wonder if Olympus' new 40-150mm f/2.8 will be a problem to hold steady on the GH4 or E-M1?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Nikon has introduced the D7110, errr, D7200

After two years, the D7100 has been replaced.  Strangely, it is a very minor update.

I'd commented a while back that they could have released a bigger still frame buffer in an updated camera body called the D7110.  This is practically what they've done.

However, the newer auto focus module is more responsive in low light, similar to how it works in the D750, down to -3EV.  It also has built-in WiFi, just like the D750.  It includes the Expeed 4 processor and better ISO sensitivity.  Interval shooting has been improved from 999 shots to 9999.  Auto bracketing has been improved.  Maybe, that's enough for a D7120.  Maybe.

At US$1199.99, is it enough?  In two years, the Canon 70D, 7D MkII, Pentax K-3, Olympus E-M1 and E-M5 MkII, Panasonic GH3 and GH4 (and various models from Sony, such as the a6000) have become competition.

I've wondered why it has taken Nikon so long to replace the D300 properly, as well as the D700.  It's not a surprise that the D7200 is so similar to the D750, just as the earlier two were connected.  (Ricoh-)Pentax' K-3 seemed a proper successor to the D300 with some great functionality, hampered with typically Pentax firmware.  (As a perennial underdog, I wonder if the firmware had been written by Olympus that the K-3 would take a huge share of the US$1000-2000 interchangeable lens camera market.)

I'm not saying that the D7200 isn't welcome.  I'm saying that it's just a bit late.  Those who were waiting might have gone for the D750.

It feels as though Nikon doesn't believe that the market is worth much, or any, development.  That seems reasonable since it took Canon 3 years to revise the 7D.  It seems as though there isn't much money to be made in camera bodies under US$3000 for Nikon or Canon.

Thankfully, the price is good at US$1199.99.  Hopefully, this means that the D7000 won't continue to be sold.

In any case, with the buffer handled, the D300 should have a proper successor, but in a more economical model.  The Expeed 4 processor and revised image sensor should clear up the noisy photos issue from the D7100.  The bigger range of ISO sensitivity speaks to the noise elimination in the sensor, and the better processing of the Expeed 4 processor.

I'm not in love, but I'm definitely in like.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Got the Lumix/Leica/Panasonic 15mm f/1.7

Last week, I was down in San Diego and Orange County, California doing some photography and enjoying the time away from home.  While I was gone, I noticed that Panasonic started some quick instant rebates.  Are sales hurting?  They just had instant rebates before Christmas day.

I still haven't decided on my video-making lenses but I've been trying to do something to make food photography better for me.  In one of my initial digital-only shoots, I took an Olympus E-1 and the ZD 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 and used Ott-Lite lamps with daylight type bulbs for which they were known, to photograph ice cream without melting it, and to show sandwiches, waffles, eggs, and other items as realistically as possible.  The images hit home with so many people and people were yelling at me for posting desirable images of food at night when restaurants weren't open.

So, thinking more casually, the Panasonic GM5 and 15mm f/1.7 lens seemed a perfect combination for casual food photography--maybe, even for serious food photography.  While the GM5 also had an instant rebate available, I chose to wait, only buying the 15mm f/1.7 lens.

Either way, a US$100 rebate is significant--on US$599.99 or $899.99.  I'd still rather get the GM5 without the 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.  The GM5 and 15mm f/1.7 seem a perfect combination, especially up against the FujiFilm X-100T.  I'm not saying that the GM5 is an incredible camera body but it's quite capable for its size and can generally keep up with the GX7.

So far, I've only had the 15mm f/1.7 lens on the E-M1.  It seems an appropriate lens for the slim E-M1.  The lens is tiny, given that it was meant for the GM1 and GM5 specifically.  It's not a Leica design.  It's a Panasonic design, approved by Leica.  From what I've seen so far, it has the Panasonic purple fringing, according to various web sites' articles.


Sharp at most apertures
Keeps focus well for video


No aperture ring long for Auto setting
Fiddly bits with filter ring, front lens cap, lens hood
Occasionally hunts for focus in lower light situations

15mm on the E-M1 looks reasonable with lens hood
Processing interior photos with some studio lighting, I don't see a problem, but with exterior shots at night, the purple fringing is quite noticeable, and Phase One Capture One doesn't have a lens profile yet for the 15mm f/1.7 lens.  I've only used it with the Olympus E-M1, so perhaps, it will be magically improved with the GH4.  I suspect that the focusing will certainly be improved.  It hunted quite a bit on the E-M1, whereas the GH4 can focus to EV -4.

I'm generally pleased with the sharpness and the ability to use it at a very close distance.

Outdoors, on the E-M1, it did well.

I need to take the GH4 and the lens out to see how well it will work.

15mm lens on the GH4 looks tiny
Update 2015.02.10: I took the GH4 and 15mm f/1.7 out tonight.  I was not surprised that the lack of stabilization was a problem.  However, I was surprised that the lens hunted during auto focus, just as much as it did with the E-M1.  I'd think that there will be a few firmware updates, although there should have been some already.

Update 2015.03.26: I've had the 15mm f/1.7 over a month now, and I've shot a lot with it, both on the GH4 and the E-M1.

It's a good video-making lens.  It keeps up well.  Without image stabilization, it is fine.  Photos are almost always really sharp at any aperture.

On the other hand, I've lost the lens cap that goes with the lens hood already.  The lens hood has unscrewed itself a number of times and I've noticed it early enough to keep it from falling.  At US$80, I don't want to lose the lens hood.  At almost $7.00, I can afford to replace the lens cap.  The filter ring has to be unscrewed to use the lens hood, so that's a piece that can be lost easily and it's so dainty that you might never find it, until you bend it with your foot.  Also, during still photography, it will hunt for focus in lower light situations, and the Panasonic purple fringing is present on the E-M1.

That said, it is one of two lenses that I use the most.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

FreedomPop for home

I've been using a phone or a mobile hotspot for my computer's internet connection from late 2006.  It started with a Samsung A900--Lex Luthor's phone in Smallville.  It was a lousy phone but the 3G connection was reliable, and the speed was better than my 3 Mbps DSL connection.

Lately, I've been using a Novatel Wireless MiFi device with Verizon.  Service was really good at my last location, but just acceptable here.  I gave up on Sprint around March of this year when the Sierra Wireless (now Netgear) device wouldn't connect for 6 hours.

Earlier this month, I was coming close to my full monthly allotment of 10 GB on the 10th day into my billing period.  Uggggh.  I'm currently about 4 GB ($40) over it.  I haven't noticed anyone else using it, but DirecTV seemed to be using a lot, even though I wasn't streaming anything.  I've been working on creating videos lately, but there wasn't that much I was uploading.  In any case, paying loads for extra use, and not knowing how it was happening was difficult.

I looked for FreedomPop after seeing an article about it.  Freedom Hub Burst is a home product similar to a mobile hotspot but without the mobile part.  It needs an AC electrical outlet.  They've been using ClearWire/Clear connections for quite a while.  The only problem with this is that I have some spotty service with Sprint at home.  Both ends of my apartment have LTE but my living room and part of my bedroom are a transition zone between 3G and LTE, so I end up with 1xRTT on my phone too often.

At $21.99 for 10 GB per month, it seemed reasonable, compared to $10 per 1 GB for an overage on Verizon.  Normally, FreedomPop hasn't been charging for the service, but this home service is a bit different, and I'm okay with it.  Like buying a phone with prepaid service, I needed to buy a device.  They supposedly included an extra USB-attached mobile modem but it wasn't included in the box.


Receiving the package on Christmas Eve seemed gift-y.  Opening the package and not finding useful instructions didn't.  Actually, there was a little pamphlet that fell between the cracks, and I found it afterwards.  It would have helped a lot but I already had a connection, read the instructions, and managed to find the page to get everything set.  Looking at the pamphlet, it neglects to tell you the default password for the connection to the device itself, so how do you connect without a current connection?


It has been simple enough to get online, once I set everything.  Speed is reasonable, though not extremely fast, nearly 5 Mbps.  Perhaps, the LTE will improve as Sprint/Clear finish their deployment in this area.  Response time seems minimal and it feels like a good connection.  Unlike my phone, I can leave the device near a window on the edge of the apartment where the connection is better.

Having an extra 10 GB for about the same as 2 GB overage isn't bad.  I can connect the TV and Blu-Ray player to it and they can update firmware to their CPU's content, even when I'm not home.  I'm thinking that I shouldn't connect my DirecTV receiver, as it will take advantage of the connection in big ways.  Now, my mobile hotspot can once again be mobile, and I can even update those extra iPhone apps without having to look for a WiFi connection elsewhere.

Update 2015.01.13: Saturday, I received a WiMAX/3G modem, like the one Sprint discontinued quite a while ago.  I couldn't download the connection manager software from FreedomPop, so I downloaded it from Sprint.

It connected but then told me that there was no free 4G service available and that 3G service wasn't free.  I only have one question--why send me this unusable piece of technology, to clear the warehouse?

Update 2015.03.27: The other day, the company offered me an upgrade for the useless WiMAX modem.  For $29.99, I could get a Franklin brand LTE modem.  It sounded great, but then, they wanted me to take a premium 2 GB data package for $21.99 per month.  It's not horrible, when you consider AT&T and Verizon and I could cancel later.

However, they're counting on someone missing that, and I missed the data rollover option that they slipped into the WiMAX modem package, and they've been charging me $3.99 + tax until I checked practically every option on the web site.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

iPhone 6 cases and screen protectors

Oh, the trouble with switching phones can be huge.  At least, this time I didn't have to get new accessories because I changed cables and connectors.

(tl;dr : I bought a Ballistic Tungsten Tough case and Otterbox Glass screen protector)

My iPhone 5c was about one year old and I switched from an iPhone 4s then, also switching from the 30 pin connector to the Lightning connector.  When I got the iPhone 5c, I bought another Otterbox Defender case at the same time as I bought the phone.

It was poorly designed, apparently to be first to market.  People were cutting out the screen protector because it was too far away from the screen it was supposed to protect.  I swore I'd never buy another case from Otterbox.

I'd seen a load of Ballistic brand cases in another store near the Sprint store, and I was close to buying something else.  A couple of months later, I ordered an SG MAXX case from the company directly, as the local store was almost out of them.  It was just as good as that other brand, but it was easy to take off and put on the phone.  Something that was practically impossible with the Defender case.

Okay, so, here I was buying an iPhone 6 with no Ballistic case in hand and I couldn't find a store ahead of time that carried them.  I ended up with a Griffin case than claimed 3 feet for drop protection, and an Otterbox screen protector made of glass.

The screen protector was of great significance since that was a huge problem with the iPhone 5c cases.  As I wrote earlier, many people cut out the Defender screen protector because of the gap between it and the screen.  Ballistic had an add-in screen protector that made it difficult to see the screen.  A corner of the protector would slip out on occasion.  I ended up with an Invisible Shield protector, as it seemed an early and popular choice.

After that year, the Invisible Shield protector had become rather nasty.  The instructions recommended installing it again from time to time, I guess so that you could clean the phone's display.  Even when new, it seemed a bit wrinkled, and that seemed normal.  Even car tint carefully installed can look like this because of the various layers.

The glass screen protector is practically perfect.  There is some adhesive keeping it tightly attached, and it feels as though I'm directly touching the device.

While I could appreciate the Griffin case for its minimalistic design, I prefer not to break my phone if I drop it.  No phone is attractive when it's in more than one piece.  I also don't care to advertise the Apple logo out the back of the case.  Why invite trouble?

So, I was in a Best Buy a few days later during the Christmas rush and found three Ballistic cases that were not on the company's website.  I'm guessing that these are higher profit, lower cost cases made specifically for Best buy.  I'm cynical, but is that wrong?

$34.99, $39.99, or $49.99?  I wasn't sure what to trust.  I still wasn't sure if they were fakes.  I chose the $39.99 Tungsten Tough case, labeled 7+ feet drop tested.  It's not as thin as the $34.99 case, but I had been using a case with a holster previously.  I'm thinking that I still want that extra protection, although it's a pain to get the phone open quickly to answer a call.

How much is $849.99 worth to you?  If you don't have enough protection and need to have the device fixed or replaced, what if that cost exceeds $49.99?  Is a pretty case worth the extra cost of repairs?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sprint "Cut Your Bill in Half" deal only on plan, not your device. Is that a surprise?

It's apparently not quite the deal you'd expect, and of course, it depends on Verizon Wireless and (the new) AT&T's bad plans.




 DSL Reports

I'm not sure that there is a real story or not.  I don't expect miracles anyway.  The big two have been working a little bit more to be balance plans with service.  However, if you get great coverage where you are--watch out for fake coverage maps from any of the big 4--Sprint should be a good deal.  Now that Nextel is all but dead and the 800 MHz frequency band is available, there is a huge chance that Sprint could be dominant in certain markets.  There are Spark areas like Milipitas, CA where Sprint is using 800 MHz, 1900 MHz, and 2500 MHz combined.

Verizon has dual frequency bands with their XLTE but who knows what device you need to make it work right now.  I've searched multiple times to see if my current mobile hotspot will take advantage of it but they're not telling apparently.  I'd prefer enhanced throughput.

Update 2014.12.30: I've been a Sprint customer since September 2000.  I've seen great service and weird, poor service.  Lately, it's very good everywhere but home.  While I'm feeling just more than neutral about Sprint, Verizon (my mobile hotspot) doesn't really make me feel better, and the stories about AT&T and T-Mobile keep me away.  YMMV--Your mileage may vary.  Do your research.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sprint has decided to hide coverage deficiencies on the map with 100% LTE, then Spark

I came to this area about five months ago.  I noticed that the majority of this city of 70,000+ people were covered by 3G, while the adjoining city of 22,000+ had strong LTE.  I also noticed that Sprint seemed to be working their way up California SR 99, but skipping this area north of Modesto and resuming near Sacramento.

As time progressed, they added LTE capabilities and they've slowly crept into my apartment, but I'm still at many times seeing 1xRTT as LTE and 3G/EVDO fight over my phone.

I mentioned this to @sprintcare a while back, noting the huge roaming area encompassing the shopping area on the east side of the city.  I was told to look at AIRRAVE as an option.  It isn't a portable option and it doesn't fix the lack of coverage.  It could only cover it up.  Since that conversation, I started another with @sprintcare, as I noticed that the map showed LTE coverage while the behavior of the network had not changed.

They told me that there were no towers in the area.  I told them that the maps didn't show that any longer.  They told me to look again and again.  I finally made screenshots of the map at the cross streets I told them, and the map near my apartment, on the edge of the roaming area.  They never replied.
What roaming area?

What roaming area?

It's apparent that marketing is more important than truth.  I assume my previous conversation about the roaming area caused them to falsify results on the coverage map.  What else (and where else) have they modified the truth?

Update 2015.01.23: Two days ago, there was almost no service and my phone spent almost the whole day on roaming, not only near home, which wouldn't be unusual, but in other areas where LTE is usually strong.  According to an acquaintance on Sprint, service was also bad there, so apparently, it was up and down California SR 99, not just where I live.

What was naturally amusing is that @sprintcare told me that there were no reported problems.  Cable company, much?  I made the comment that since September 2000 when I became a Sprint customer they only admitted to one problem.  Later, they decided that there was an outage.  They didn't mention that it was over multiple cities.

Turbo 1xRTT? Spark? I wish.
3G map shows roaming area
Voice is fair but data is 100%?

I was shocked to find that they updated the map to show Spark, not only over my city, but the highest performance over my apartment.  It was amusing to see 1xRTT while viewing the new coverage map details.  I believe that they might have a plan for Spark here, but I think they're jumping the gun with their marketing efforts.  With the roaming hole, they shouldn't be able to claim coverage anyway but their map legend has no extra provision for Spark or LTE roaming.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to have three frequency LTE coverage?  I haven't exactly seen it working yet, although parts of the San Francisco Bay Area are working quite well.  I've seen something upwards of 30 Mbps on occasion.  I'd be really impressed to see upwards of 70 Mbps, especially since Verizon is working on two frequency LTE coverage, on capable devices, which my MiFi 5510L is not.