Thursday, April 26, 2012

Photo surprise: iPhone 4S camera

I've done quite a bit of photography, including high school sports and food photography.  I never thought for once I'd be happy with what a mobile phone camera could do.  Point and shoot cameras barely work for me.

Since February, I've been working on Yelp, adding reviews and photos.  More than half the time, those photos come from the iPhone 4S I keep, instead of my Olympus E-5 or E-1.  After all, it looks a bit strange to pull out a large dSLR to take some interior photos of a restaurant or some photos of food, unless you're paid by the restaurant.

The iPhone 4S has been amazing.  Thankfully, they added an LED flash to the package, a faster (larger aperture) lens, and some intuitive software.  Touch to set a focus point is convenient.  I don't really give a !@#$ about the expanded number of pixels.  The sensor is tiny and it should be noisy, just like a crowded bus, full of uncomfortable passengers.

The photos are quite good and that's a huge surprise.  The exposures are usually good, but bright, bright sunlight is a problem.  I suppose the Camera+ app would help there.  I'm still learning to use it and with iOS 5.1, you can go from the lock screen to the Camera app with a tap, hold, and a slide.  Too bad that they don't let you use other apps with that.

It all works pretty well and you can choose the minimum and just capture a photo quickly or you can change some settings and work a bit more.  As mentioned earlier, the tap to focus functionality is easy.  If anything is not easy, it's positioning the phone to take a close up shot.  The lens is in an odd place (is there a camera on a mobile phone that's positioned well?) so my finger has been in the way.  If it's not that, I'm gripping the phone in such a way that I've pressed the Home button and the Camera app goes away.  The last phone had the camera in a more central location, which always ended up directly under my finger as I removed it from the holster.

I'm wondering what anyone could do to make the camera/software better.  If you're thinking Instagram-like effects, I'm really not thinking that those would be in the better category.  My E-5 has "Art Filters" and I still think they're only good for those who want to get attention.

Who knew that Apple would go from really poor digital photos to very popular (the mostest on flickr) to actually having a good sensor able to take good photos?  It's great to find a positive surprise.

2012.11.11: I'm still constantly amazed that they've done such a good job.  I've used my cheapo studio lighting and people are shocked at the quality.  Mind you, we're not looking at the individual pixels, but a full-sized print might not look bad at all.

Friday, April 20, 2012

24 MP Nikon D3200, greatest economy camera?

Having seen the announcement and some previews of the new Nikon D3200, I'm wondering why Nikon would bother with this model.

It seems a curious entry into the low end dSLR market.  When most people only see the pixel count, who in the masses would choose a smaller pixel count at a higher price?  I suspect that none of them would.

I'm not even convinced that an APS-C sized sensor can work with 24 MP well.  Canon proved that 18 MP was quite good for the size.  I read a comment where someone thought that it was the same imager from the Sony NEX-7 and if that's the case, I'm surprised since the NEX-7 is priced like a midrange dSLR and the D3200 is toward the bottom.  Still, the sample photos I've seen from the NEX-7 would suggest that the sensor belongs at the lower end, due to its poor image quality.

Of course, do the masses care about more than a 4x6 and sharing photos on the web?  If that's the case, does a clean photo matter?  Those who know more would probably go with the D7000 or higher models, since they would be more likely to display their photos at full size.

I was amused that Nikon has gone to the trouble of adding a helpful Guide application, similar to what Olympus, Sony, and Panasonic have already done.  It's a great idea to help the user achieve amazing (or at least better) results.  It shows them how their settings will affect their output, so that they can achieve a good depth to the sharpness of the subject area and not end up with some of it out of focus.  Since many people only have to hold a dSLR to become a photographer, Guide will help them produce photos more like a photographer would.

Is Nikon's plan to keep the D3100 alive good or will it just confuse the customer?  I recall Steve Jobs returning to Apple and during a speech, he laid out the number of computer variations, and said that they were cutting them to a minimal number.  I suppose that the number of bodies Nikon make are a small number with certain models using the same frame and some dumbing-down of the software to limit features.  I'm confused by the numbering schemes, especially where it seems that you multiply by 10 to get the less professional models.  That doesn't really work because the D90 still exists and the D300s is part of a line that's been around for many years.  The D90 or the D7000 may be the appointed descendent of the D70 but just looking at the model numbers, who could tell?  (Yes, this isn't particularly important, but it's strangely amusing.)

I'm still waiting to see what Nikon will do with the D400, but if the D3200 is any guidepost, I wonder if we'll be seeing some crazy pixel count, instead of incredible image quality.  I'd hope that they'd stick to 16 MP of the D7000 and not worry about the measurebators.

Update: the images I've seen from the D3200 (and D5200) aren't very good.  They aren't worse than those of the body they replaced but if I were a customer with the D3100, I certainly wouldn't switch for anything.  DPReview uses the images for comparison against mirror-less camera bodies and I don't see the D3200 or D5200 winning but they should.  No D400, is there?  The D7100 is almost completely about pixel count, but its images are great.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Waiting for the Panasonic DMC-GH3 (got it!)

I've been rather interested for the DMC-GH2 for a while now.  It's a comfortable camera body with a sizeable and growing count of lenses with a passion for video.  Okay, passion may be a bit much but this article suggests exactly that.

The fact that video doesn't quite have nearly as much resolution as still photos do (for now), suggests that micro Four-Thirds bodies should be quite capable of doing good video.  However, this body in particular has a particular strength, a multiple aspect ratio sensor.  It doesn't have to compromise on aspect ratios including 16:9, 3:2, or 4:3 and I believe, 1:1.  That's an advantage.

Zeiss have already released several cine lenses and I read that Schneider would be doing the same with their own products for the system.  Mostly, this was for the more impressive Panasonc AG-AF100 but they apply to any camera body that has the micro Four-Thirds mount.  Of course, many people stepping up from point-and-shoot models won't be interested in manual focus but just want to capture videos of their child or pet.  The lenses are also priced so that only the most interested will be willing to pay.

Panasonic introduced some power zoom lenses, similar to what you might have used on a point-and-shoot digital or Olympus' IS-series of integrated 135 format cameras way back when.  They provide home movie convenience with some good optical quality.  Notice that I'm not saying great optical quality.  Panasonic and Olympus have gone on record as saying that micro Four-Thirds products should stay small.  They don't want to scare away users the way they did with Four-Thirds.  Keeping things small and light means limiting optical quality.  I'd like a better compromise, but I'm not the target audience for their products.

The GH3 has been rumored to have better dynamic range and light sensitivity.  Considering the GF5, it will likely have a revised processing engine, as well.  What surprised me was that a rumor suggested a slightly lower pixel count.  16.x MP isn't exactly high or low, but I can only imagine that they're willing to sacrifice pixels in order to increase dynamic range and to reduce effective noise.  It may end up that there will be a higher pixel count and the newer sensor will use better techniques and op-amps to reduce the noise.  I'd think that they will increase the sensor output speed to increase auto focus speed and performance during sports photography. (In reality, the continuous auto focus is some interesting predictive auto focus and it predicts that I don't want to focus in the right places, but only sometime.)

Given that I've seen a number of professionals hanging 2 or 3 SLRs around their neck, wouldn't they be happier with 2 or 3 GH3s around their neck, if it meets all the criteria, including better lenses?

I can see the point where Olympus and Panasonic are going to realize that their current lenses aren't a match for the sensor quality and they'll have to design new lenses similar to Olympus' SHG line or say that they don't care, that it's someone else's market.  (It's sad that the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens just isn't a substitute for the Olympus ZD 35-100 f/2.0.  Besides the image quality, I find it too small.)

It's an interesting time for digital photography, and given the complexity of a reflex camera, it's a wonder that mirror-less cameras haven't been popular until now.  I'm interested, but only just.

Update: Panasonic has apparently scheduled a meeting partway through July.  There seem to be reductions and/or discounts in certain equipment at the moment, as if they're at end of life.  There have been a number of suggestions that several lenses are going back for a makeover.  I'd think they were going to add their Power O.I.S. and weatherproofing, but they may also try to reduce size or correct their sometimes too high chromatic aberration to work better with Olympus bodies.

It's not a total surprise but the G5 has been introduced without the GH3.  Since the G5 is using the possibly same 16 MP sensor from the G3, I wonder if it's really likely that they'll not change the GH3 sensor either.  In a way, it's good for them to get a handle on image quality at a certain resolution, especially since they're fighting larger sensors for stills.  How patient can we be?

Update 2012.12.22: People have been receiving their GH3 bodies somewhat slowly.  It seems as good as anyone could hope.  There were a number of complaints about the size, but it's smaller than Olympus' E-1, which started Four-Thirds.  I'm finding the E-1 a bit small for the Olympus Zuiko Digital 14-35mm and 35-100mm lenses, which makes sense why the E-3 and E-5 were larger.  I'm really not certain about using the GH3 with an adapter.  Sources say that a upscale Olympus body is coming toward the end of 2013, and there has already been an Olympus patent showing an adapter with phase detection auto focus.  For me, an OM-D sized body won't do it.  The OM-1N I had was slippery with the 75-150 f/4.0, so imagine a body that size with a lens much, much heavier and bigger.  On the other hand, my E-5 and 35-100mm and FL-50 slid off a plastic seat onto the pool deck and kept working, so maybe it won't matter.

Update 2013.02.26: I received my own GH3 and it's been interesting--better than expected in many ways, but still not great for photography although good.  I still find the Olympus E-5 to be a bit better, and much more predictable.  The Olympus MMF-3 adapter is quite helpful in getting the SHG and HG lenses attached to the GH3 for higher image quality.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Looking forward to Ubuntu Linux 12.04

Remember being a small child on Christmas morning?  I know that not everyone had that experience but it always surprised me because I was obedient so I never found the gifts ahead of time.  Surprises are many times a good thing.

A few releases ago, the Canonical people decided to go their own way and cover up GNOME by putting their own desktop, Unity, out front.  It has been a somewhat painful transition for me.  I liked GNOME for its simplicity (as opposed to KDE or Windows), although it might have been too simple at times.  It reminded me of the earlier days of graphical user interfaces, when GEM and Macintosh ruled in the mid to late-1980s.

I don't use Unity every day, unfortunately.  Being forced to use something, you're much better at it, of course.  I spend most of my time in Mac OS X, which is a love-hate relationship.  I'm not a fanatic of any operating system by any means, but it's been almost 12 years since the public beta test of Mac OS X and it doesn't feel any more usable.  Some days, it's just downright unfriendly and I wish I had an alternative.

I've been using Ubuntu since 07.04.  It started as an experiment to see what the Linux fanatics were saying was better than anything else.  Well, unfortunately, it wasn't better then, and it was not all that good at all.  The installations would leave a few things to be figured out by the end user.  Grandma wouldn't have been happy when she couldn't get an internet connection.  Linux would have been perfect for the grandmas of the world who only used a web browser, e-mail, and the occasional letter writing application.

I think the 10.04 was the first release that seemed good for grandma.  Now, with Unity, are things better for her?  I think if I'd switched her machine, she'd be cursing me.  My mum was that kind of person.  She'd say "I hate that !@#$ computer!" quite frequently.  My uncle gave her a laptop computer as a gift and she gave it back the next year.

In any case, I'm looking forward to what the next Ubuntu distribution will bring.  I haven't been checking the website regularly, so it will be like a Christmas morning surprise.  I'd really like to switch, though I have paid software that I'd rather would run on my machine instead of using something that looks as though someone was testing it.  I won't give my photography to a half-baked application.  I can't sell it if it's not the highest image quality I can provide.  I saw that Corel was providing an application but their software quality isn't exactly high.

Here's to an interesting Ubuntu 12.04 release.  I hope they find new friends to install it.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Silly 3D Wand Waving

It's not been long since the last time I wrote about 3D.  I was watching The Three (3D?) Musketeers on 3D Blu-Ray that came at an exceptional price.  I found the latest Harry Potter film 3D package for US$9.99 at Best Buy this week. It was cheaper than the regular 2D version, including the DVD version.  Wow!

There are a number of films that have been converted somehow to 3D.  It may be the equipment I have (LG 42LW5300 television and Blu-Ray player set) that may not be giving me an accurate idea of what the conversion should show.  I expect that I could use the television's 2D->3D conversion technology to give me a similar effect but with some potential slowdown.  It's a bit laggy anyway.

The odd thing about this is that I still haven't been able to sit through the Part I of the Deathly Hallows film.  I have gaps, besides those details that didn't make it from book to film.

Watching Part II, I was surprised to finally see Dame Maggie Smith wave her wand.  As a professor in the the series, I'd expect her to be quite powerful but she never was willing to prove it.  In one film, she backed down from the very pink Imelda Staunton.  As Professor Minerva McGonagall attacked Professor Snape, you get the feeling that she's still holding back and she's still soft-hearted.

As an aside, isn't it amazing that they got so many fine actors for the series?  I'm sure those who were children at the start have learnt quite a lot about being phenomenal actors, even if they haven't had the chance to show it outside this series of films.

Julie Walters came to my attention in the film Educating Rita.  She was quite a handful as a hairdresser trying to improve her station in life.  She made the film fun, but it felt totally different than when Audrey Hepburn did the film My Fair Lady.  They both charmed but were quite individual in their ways.  In any case, it was a good surprise to see Mrs. Weasley doing more than cooking or hugging.  "Not my daughter, you bitch!" got my attention and seemed more one of her other characters.  She seemed a bit rusty in her technique, at first but motherhood got hold of her and she remembered quite clearly, vanquishing Helena Bonham Carter.  Carter is another huge (I resisted a shift in the size of the text) name, even from the days of Lady Jane, she has been amazing.  To think that they've been in a series of films mostly targeted toward children is brilliant.  That little scene between the two made me smile.

There have been so many films of that genre that are compromises.  They have adults who really had nothing else to do or they have children who would have trouble making you believe anything.  Sometimes, they have both, and even the children watching have trouble believing any of it.

I can't say that I've seen many that have pulled me so completely into the scene with them.  The original Star Wars (Episode IV, if you must) had that quality, Dances with Wolves was another.  There have been others, but they don't really come to mind.  I can tell you though that I've watched way too much Star Trek Deep Space 9 and Voyager, so I might count some of those episodes among the engaging.

It obviously doesn't take actors from the UK to be engaging, but have producers, directors, and casting directors lost their way?  They seem more intent on showing us skin and blood than telling a story.  Was Avatar a film or a 3D technical, animated indulgence?  I was surprised to see a tv series on Starz, something called Spartacus that seemed to lack good story and good acting.  They seem to use massive amounts of foul language, nudity, and violence to divert you from any possible story.  Each can be used as a tool, but to inundate the viewer with so much seems to say that all the good writers didn't like your idea.

Let's have some good story telling, please.  The 3D thing isn't bad but until it's 360 degrees, it's not immersive and isn't really helping.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Vigilantes: Trayvon Martins beware

I lived in a well-planned community in Florida with two sets of gates and a host of homeowners' associations for 10 years.  It was horribly pleasant.  Neighbours didn't speak to each other generally and most people were self-absorbed.  I went to work and spent most of the remainder of my time away from home.

I remember a particular woman and her housemate who moved into the neighbourhood.  She refused to speak and walked as though she had a stick up her ass.  She put her recycling bins in their driveway to keep other people from using it, though I never saw anyone unrelated to a house try to use a driveway.  She became president of the homeowners' association and nit-picked the rest of the neighbourhood.

It's little people like this who want control, probably because they've never had any.  Is George Zimmerman any different?  He killed another person who was unarmed but with a bag of Skittles.  Those are deadly, yes?  How afraid could a person be to shoot someone who only inflicted minor injuries that would come from an grade school brawl on the playground?  Wouldn't you fight with your fists first before considering killing someone?  (Update: I didn't think that Trayvon Martin was some innocent child, but he also wasn't the one with the gun.  In the past, I've had two people hold guns on me but wasn't afraid and no one was shot.  However, when you have a gun pointed at someone, you've decided to kill them.  As far as I'm concerned, the police and the military should be in those situations on the street, not ordinary citizens.)

Florida passed a law years ago that you could protect yourself.  It was meant to be used in the case of someone trying to break into your house.  You didn't have to wait to be attacked to defend yourself and your property.  Despite the backing of the NRA, I thought that it was a good law, though you could end up shooting Girl Scouts trying to sell cookies.

However, the way that George Zimmerman was the aggressor in the initial contact, I can't see how he could be claiming self-defense.  He was following Trayvon Martin, who was walking, in his vehicle.  He called 911, and they told him to leave it alone, that the police would handle it.  I can only imagine this scared, little individual had been watching too many CBS crime series and thought himself a heroic type, the Captain of the Neighbourhood Watch.

Well, Captain, you've killed someone who probably didn't deserve it.

Knowing how death and justice work only for the poor in Seminole County, I fully expect that George Zimmerman won't suffer the law.  Mary Hill knows that.  She wrecked her BMW backwards into a tree at such a force that they were claiming 75 mph or some such.  She killed her daughter, one of the daughter's friends, and her daughter's other friend was left with brain damage.  I don't think she's served more than a few months of imprisonment, even though she was given two, concurrent 15 year sentences.

These little people need help.  They need to stop being afraid, so that they can join the rest of us.  Seminole County needs help too.  I can't imagine that area just off Rinehart Road has become so crime-infested that you need to brandish arms in order to survive.  After all, there are several strip malls along the road, and Seminole Town Center.  It's not the Bronx or Oakland.