Monday, May 28, 2012

Nikon D600?

The camera business seems most bizarre now.  Low end cameras gain the most pixels.  Mirror-less cameras are crashing the top 10 in Japan, taking spots away from dSLRs.  Point-and-shoot cameras are looking to replace dSLRs, and phone cameras are looking as good as point-and-shoot cameras for most people.

Then, there is this odd rumour about a Nikon D600.

It supposedly has an FX-sized sensor, meaning that it's roughly the size of a 135 format film frame or 24x36mm.  Looking at the model number, I'd guess that they're fitting it between the coming D400 (or forgetting that entirely) and the still-available D700, to have a fourth FX dSLR.  Of course, it would be economical, maybe priced around US$2000.  That might push the D400 down to meet the Canon 60D, retire the D90, update the D7000 to use the D3200's sensor, etc., and also retire the D5100.

Are the loud people who frequently call for a 135 format-sized sensor ready for a camera body that actually has one?  Will they be ready for the back aches of carrying all the big and heavy equipment?  I'm cynical, so I think they'll be complaining about the price of the appropriate lenses.  You're probably not going to get the best resolution out of a 30 year old craptacular Sigma lens that you got from your grandfather but they're not likely to spend the money to commit to the format.  However, I'm cynical, so maybe they'll prove me wrong.

I would welcome a less expensive 135 format body for wide angle work.  As things are relative, the body size will be big for a while, if not for much more than the size of the mirror and the pentaprism.  If large is suddenly light, I'm sure many would be pleased, or shocked, or both.

Nikon has been winning back their advocates since the D300 arrived.  They've shown a willingness to stand up for their business and show that they're not just a company with a long photographic history.  By the end of this year, it should be quite a lot more interesting.

Well, to update this, the D600 arrived and it's everything I would hope to have in an economy shooter for wide angle work.  The D7000 is a good product on which to base a revision, much like the D300 gave birth to the D700.  I'm impressed Nikon.  Keep going, but one thing, fewer bodies make decisions easier, and please, please, make it apparent which lenses are weather-proofed.

Update: Seeing the Canon 6D, Nikon shouldn't be too worried.  I'd think they'd be laughing, actually, but they can't afford to waste time laughing, really.  Eventually, Canon may make a comeback--Nikon did.  Funny how the D7100 is more advanced in AF and other areas than the D600, but since there is no D400, that makes sense.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Apple, the Mac App Store, and yeeesh!

It seems that Apple are always changing in ways that they cannot predict and cannot control.

I'm currently having a problem with a $20 purchase not being able to be updated.  I'm told that I have updates available for other accounts.  The only trouble is that I only have one account.

I wouldn't mind so much if this was free software, but it isn't and it's probably going to be difficult to get around the problem without Apple's customer service help.

So, the other night, I ended up at a page for just that.  I sent a short message describing the problem and slightly more than 24 hours later, I got a human-generated reply.  The person requested screenshots of the problem.  The bad thing about her reply was that she worked from Saturday through Wednesday, 8 p.m. - 5 a.m. CT and she was replying on Wednesday night/Thursday morning.

I took care of the screenshots and replied quickly to the message, and thanked her for taking a look at the problem, hoping that she could do something before Saturday.

So, I received another message a couple of hours ago.  She thanked me for the screenshots and promptly told me:

Thank you for providing the requested information, Curtis. As an Advisor for the iTunes Store, I handle issues related to billing, downloading, customer accounts, and the items available on the iTunes Store. Although your question falls outside of my area of specialty, I want to leave you with some personal suggestions for your convenience. Please do take note that this recommendations is only a basic troubleshooting guideline.

Please try to do the updates using your computer. Sign in to each of your accounts and do the updates, then sync your device.

Considering that this was the Mac App Store, I don't have a separate device to sync.  Also, I managed to download/update a free application in the meantime, so I know something is working.  She seems to think that she's finished and that it's not a problem for customer service.  I wish I could just gather information and tell customers that it's their problem and that I'm finished helping.

I have not dealt with either store's customer service, but I've read that it can be a 50-50 situation, and it's all about getting someone who cares.  I'll be persistent but I can only hope.

Update: it seemed too simple.  Once the customer service representative received my more panic-laden reply, she suggested deleting the application, which would allow the Mac App Store to download it again.  It worked, but there was a new surprise: the application had been renamed.  The store apparently didn't know what to do with the previous name on the computer and the new name in the store.  Strangely, the application has a rather long identification number which is only used to confuse the buyer.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Nishiki, Connections, and me

I was amused recently when buying a bicycle helmet.  The brand is Nishiki, which is also the brand of my rice, and which is also the river that flowed through the town where I was born.  Woohoo!  that's a bit bizarre.

Then, thinking back to my previous address, I had an odd connection to Harry Potter's Uncle and Aunt's address.  Privet and Ligustrum are related to the same family of green plants.

I also had a strange connection to the main character in Ninja Assassin who is named Raizo, although I can't really explain it here.

I hope it's a good day where you are.  I saw that investors in Facebook are not so happy and have been evacuating the sinking ship, so I'm sure the administration at that company are wondering what to do.  However, Google dropped from their initial price for a while, though that company had more to offer.  When Facebook joins MySpace and Friendster, no one will be that happy.

Apple have really been throwing curve balls lately.  We've been led to believe that there are some amazing products arriving in 2012, but I'm not that amazed yet.  If they announce laptop computers with displays that have doubled resolution in both directions (as they did with the 3rd generation iPad), will you be amazed?  I've had loads of trouble with the Mac App Store these past few weeks, I have to wonder if anyone at Apple tests anything.  Then again, I had my id10t error last week with my iPhone 4S, not that I'm doing anything new on the computer.

Is the world more friendly lately?  For the longest time, it seemed as though people were more selfish, worried about number one, but the past week or so, people seem more friendly, even though I'm hurting more.  I'd love to see people helping each other and being friendly.  Maybe, it was the eclipse.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Panasonic's new 12-35mm f/2.8 lens

Note that there is no secondary aperture number.  This is a constant maximum aperture zoom lens.  Even in 2012, there aren't that many of them, and they certainly haven't outnumbered typical variable maximum aperture lenses.  Beyond all that, this is a first for a mirror-less system.

It will carry a premium price.  Was there a doubt?  US$1299.99 isn't bad considering the maximum aperture, weatherproofing, and hopefully, amazing image quality.  The last is a big hope, given the small size of the lens.  I expect the companion 35-100mm f/2.8 to be somewhat more expensive, given that the materials used will be larger.

On one side, the micro Four-Thirds users are complaining about the price, even though they might not need it.  On the other side, the Canikon users are being somewhat indignant about the quality, the sensor size, and the Panasonic name.  (it wasn't that long ago that I wasn't sure about Panasonic making cameras but since the DMC-GH2, they've convinced me.)

What comes to my mind is a comparison to Olympus' Super High Grade 14-35mm f/2.0 lens.  That is one of the finest "normal" zoom lenses, ever.  The price echoes that thought, also: $2299.99.  I know someone has used the lens extensively and had to back off using it for portraits, as it showed too much facial detail.  (It's no wonder there are variable soft-focus lenses for medium format.)  I'd love to see how these two lenses compare.  Of course, if it only comes to the image quality of the High Grade 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5, I'd be disappointed in such quality for the price.  There is a limit to how much weight or space I want to save--for the price.

I'm really not expecting great things.  Previous X-series lenses have been mediocre, no matter where they fit in micro Four-Thirds land.  However, there are plenty of people who find a 10x zoom to be a great lens, and I don't want any zoom lens over 4x.  If these new lenses deliver the kind of image quality Olympus' 14-35mm and 35-100mm lenses have, it should likely drive a lot more positive attention and sales to micro Four-Thirds.

It is a format that's doing quite well against the competition anyway.  Panasonic's DMC-GH2 constantly seems to be making headway in video recording and with all the cine lenses available, it should be able to produce some amazing work.  I don't do video, but good equipment always makes it easier.  Since the GH3 is close, I should be even more impressed when it arrives.  I would expect a new sensor that will also be used in their new professional recorder for higher image quality, faster throughput and processing, and the (new!, awesome! ramdom!) 4K recording that everyone is hyping.

Considering how well the Olympus E-M5 resolves images, I'd hope that it and the 12-35mm lens would be a great pair, delivering stunning results.  My skepticism keeps me firmly planted in my chair--no jumping for joy.  People seem to be reporting mostly good things about the E-M5 since they've been arriving.  I hope it's not just euphoria.  I'd like to think that people are realistic from time to time.  I'm waiting for an E-M6, just as I waited for an OM-1N or an E-3 successor.  I had a notion today about Pentax's new K30: it looks a lot like what I wanted in an Olympus E-1 successor.  It's just too bad Olympus hadn't wasted so much money betting on the horses.

Update: I've seen preliminary reviews on the 12-35mm and 35-100mm Panasonic lenses and I'm less than impressed despite the brand fanatics' enthusiasm.  Of course, they might not be any worse than the Canikon lenses.  Canikon users have been paying more for less for quite a while. 

Update 2: I've got the 35-100mm f/2.8 and I also have the Olympus ZD 14-35mm f/2.0 and 35-100mm f/2.0.  I'm disappointed in a lot of things with the 35-100mm f/2.8 from Panasonic.  It's not bad optically--it's about what I'd expect from Nikon or Canon--but the plastic and the tacky finish seem inconsistent with US$1499.99.  The lens hood that isn't completely sealed from light where it meets the lens is also a letdown.  So far, the performance is good.  I could have hoped for a lens more like the ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5, though.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I'm an id10t :-D

Wow, this was quite a day!

I didn't sleep last night, so I finally fell asleep sometime after sunrise.  I got a couple of calls from the realtor that he had two new showings for my mum's house.  That's great news.  If it could be sold quickly, I could finish fixing, painting, etc. my house and sell it also, and be on my way to somewhere else.

Not long after the last call, I tried to connect to the internet with the computer and it didn't work through the cable, so I turned on WiFi and it was fine.  The next time I went to use it, nothing.  It seemed to be powered off and wouldn't return to normal.  I tried pressing buttons and thought that I had even done the hard reset, but by that time, I was a bit panicked.  In almost 20 years, I've never had an Apple product fail like that.

I drove to the Sprint store.  These people are amazing and helpful, and they were willing to replace the phone, even though AppleCare is the contract and not Sprint's Total Equipment Plan.  The "Lead Salesperson" noticed that it was a 32 GB model and said that they didn't have one.  My next choice was to drive 50+ miles to the nearest Apple store, without a working phone.  I geared up at home and headed toward the Kenwood section of Cincinnati, Ohio.  Traffic wasn't bad until I reached I-275 and it was momentous, as it was around 17:25/5:25 p.m., also known as rush hour.  Why don't people go quickly during rush hour?  They go more slowly.

Add to this that I could not remember which direction on I-71 to go, so after a rather long wait between U.S. 127 to I-75 and I-75 to I-71, I went north.  "Ummm, I don't recognise any of this." I was thinking to myself.  When I saw signs for Kings Island amusement park, I knew that I was in trouble, as the destination was about 20 miles in the other direction.  Oops.

Once righted, I slowly passed I-275 again and passed state road 126/Ronald Reagan Highway, and found Kenwood Towne Centre, the mall that contains the Apple store, and more.  When I finally arrived at the store it was around 6:30 p.m./18:30, an hour later, just for being confused.  Of course, I should have just used the GPS application on my phone, yes?

The store was packed, and this was Thursday evening.  "Are they having special sales?" I thought.  In any case, a helpful John got me an appointment at the Genius Bar for roughly 30 minutes away.  I mentioned that I hoped it wasn't an id10t error and he laughed, as user errors are too common.  I was asked to wait by the iMac section since it was less crowded.

I was looking forward and noticed a "customer setup" section, where apparently, they help you get started with your new equipment, hopefully at no extra charge.  Some woman mouthed some words at me and I really did not understand.  I looked away and noticed that she was looking right at me, and she stuck out her tongue at me.  Weird.  About 15 minutes after my appointment was supposed to begin, that same woman came over to one of the iMacs in front of me and started playing with it.  If she disliked me so much or thought that I was some sort of rapist, why would she come closer to me?

Another 10 minutes or so transpired, and someone from the Genius Bar came over to talk to me.  We discussed the problem, and he managed to do a hard reset, which I apparently did not do correctly.  Oops.  50+ miles and a simple fix?  I explained to him about problems with the cable, and anything else that had happened since I got it.  He ran diagnostics over WiFi--wow!  It didn't show much of anything, which is good.  He mentioned that I should clear the multi-tasking app list from time to time to avoid this type of situation, as some apps won't let go and run frequently to check for input, even input from GPS.  In any case, I knew about this somewhat, and I had cleared them occasionally.

What I didn't know about the multi-tasking list was that it was persistent across re-boots.  So, if you do the power off/power on cycle, everything will still be there.  Considering that the device had been re-booting by itself occasionally, and I had performed a power cycle all too frequently, I expected to be safe and I wasn't.   So, eventually, it was an id10t error.  Oops.

So, my phone is working, as expected, although I'm a bit surprised that it would completely freeze and not even be able to charge, but that's Apple.  I've had problems with their virtual memory techniques in Mac OS X, so why not iOS also?  I can't wait until iOS 5.2.2 or some such version that will be stable, and I'll remember to clear the multi-tasking list from time to time.  Oops.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

!@#$ Patents and Copying

How many times are consumers hurt by copying?

There was an episode of All in the Family where Archie Bunker was gloating about his new watch.  He was going on and on about this Omega brand watch he bought for almost nothing.  Then, it's revealed "Oh, no, that's not an Omega.  It's an Onega."

Are consumers always fooled so easily?

A co-worker more than 10 years ago was shocked to learn that her new Lexus E300 was a Toyota Windom.  "Toyota?"  As though the Lexus dealer randomly appeared by the Toyota dealership out of convenience and nothing else.  Then again, people were shocked that the Cadillac Seville started as a Chevrolet Nova.  Would those driving an Escalade be driving the Chevrolet version?

I was reading that the HTC One series phones due to be sold this week are held up in U.S. customs, due to the patent issues between HTC and Apple.  While I understands Apple's frustration, the consumer is losing some great phones, especially those who have pre-paid for those phones.  HTC really haven't done anything to Apple but because they were the vanguard of Android, starting with the T-Mobile G1, they were selected, which is a horrible strategy.  They have made some admirable designs without copying Apple.

The patent war between Samsung and Apple is more realistic.  Samsung copies practically everything Apple have done in the mobile space.  Supposedly, they're planning queues/lines to make it appear their phones are more lust-worthy than they might be otherwise.  However, they made advertising about such lines, and made fun of people standing in line for products.  It looks as though Samsung is Samsung-ing itself.

I read elsewhere that the company is all but stopping production of their point-and-shoot cameras, in order to boost production of their mirror-less system cameras.  I doubt that the few thousand who buy the mirror-less models are going to suddenly want new versions, or that throwing more money at them will make them popular.

Their struggle to overtake Sony may be working but it's going to take a long time.  It's more likely that Panasonic will be there first.  It's amazing to me that Panasonic have gone from household items like rice cookers to high end televisions, phones, and computers in the last 30+ years, and that Sony have diminished.

One last thing about patents and copying: why is it that IBM's laptop computer line never had to look like anyone else's (save my sad L40SX), and they've been such a hit, even now that they're coming from Lenovo?  When most of the Ultrabooks look a lot like Apple's MacBook Air, Lenovo's products don't.  They're stylish in an industrial way and get respect from just about anyone.

Update: In the U.K., a judge has decided that Samsung didn't copy iPad to create their own tablet and has ordered Apple to tell everyone this.  When I was in primary school (as it feels this punishment resembles), the copier was punished, not the person being copied.

If I look at practically every mobile device that Samsung has done in the last 2 years, they look remarkably like Apple devices, so much that I noticed one and wondered what Apple had done to their hardware.  Add to this the rather obvious software tweaks to Android to make it look more like iOS, I can't imagine what the judge is thinking.  The only reasonable explanation I can find is that he was annoyed and decided to fix it since they were acting like school children.

Besides, if Nokia and HTC and Motorola can design devices that don't look much like Apple's, why can't Samsung?

Update 2014.01.10: Apple and Samsung have agreed to another round of arbitration, in order to agree on something, anything.  I don't really understand why the FRAND patents weren't settled already since every other FRAND patent gets very little, unlike what Samsung wants. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cancer took away happy mother's day

It's been about 6 months since my mum died of terminal cancer.  It's been difficult, and each holiday or birthday or whatever personal date seems to rudely interrupt any recovery to a normal life.

I hope that everyone who could talk to his or her mother said "Happy Mother's Day" and meant it.  If only for that day, to feel some special family connection, before it's too late.

I said it last year, knowing full well where things were going.  Chemotherapy was removing her quality of life to give her quality of life.  It's all about balance, correct?

The good thing is that I'm not spending every moment thinking of ways to help her and that she isn't spending every moment in pain.  Happy Mother's Day, indeed.

Friday, May 11, 2012

ILC, EVIL, CSC, and MSC and DSLM--mirror-less acronyms

Seriously, these name games are ridiculous.

  • ILC -- Interchangeable Lens Camera, which describes everything from SLRs to Rangefinders to mirror-less cameras.
  • MILC -- Obviously, an extension to ILC with Mirror-less out front.
  • EVIL -- Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens is more precise but technically includes Sony's SLT line of translucent mirrored cameras, as well as mirror-less cameras.
  • CSC -- Compact System Camera could mean just about anything, including point-and-shoot cameras with a large number of accessories and snap-on lenses.
  • MSC -- Mirror-less System Camera to me, defines the category the best, but leaves the interchangeable lenses to the imagination.  Obviously, it could include point-and-shoot cameras, but I believe it is closer to a narrow definition.  Alternatively, MILSC and MSILC are getting a bit long, and I get to feeling like singing "M-O-U-S-E" after saying or spelling it.
  • DSLM -- Digital Single Lens Mirrorless.  Added by Panasonic with the arrrival of the GH3.  It's very clear what it is, but then, they used it with the rangefinder style GX7, so it might not make as much sense.

In any case, I think it's going to be a while before the category has a definitive name or goal.

I'm still interested in how Olympus' E-M5 stacks up against Panasonic's DMC-GH2.  I think it's apparent that Olympus has been doing quite well with still images, as Panasonic has been doing with moving images.  The GH2 is in need of a few upgrades and a weatherproof body, and they're supposedly on the way, but haven't moved to manufacturing yet.  By the time the GH3 is out, the E-M5 will probably be feeling old.

Of course, Panasonic's G3 and GX1 have been out a while, as have Olympus E-P3, E-PL3, and E-PM1.  So, only the models numbered 5 are truly fresh, although the GX1 hasn't be around all that long.

I feel a bit sorry for Samsung and Sony.  They keep throwing money at the situation, but they're not really making a lot of positive progress.  Nikon are probably selling their 1 series pretty well, despite its shortcomings, simply because you can fit it into a purse easily.  Why have a compact camera, if it's not really compact?  Nikon put their money into the 4x6 print crowd.  It's a bit too much to say but Pentax's tiny Q-system can barely manage a 4x6.  It's not that small or that bad, but it is at a disadvantage and their K-01 is the odd man out being the size of a dSLR but allowing their large collection of lenses.  You might as well carry their K-r compact dSLR.

Seeing as how Canon punted with their PowerShot G-series and Nikon brought out the D3200 with 24MP, you have to wonder if these mirror-less system cameras will continue to invade the top 10 lists around the world.

Update 2014.01.09: They've all made progress but the terms are used without much thought.  Mirror-less cameras have come a long way and even Canon is on their second generation body finally.  micro Four-Thirds (Panasonic, Olympus and now JK Imaging/Kodak) and FujiFilm seem to have the lead.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Are $200 (subsidised) phones worth it?

There are a lot of people who go through smart phones quickly and fewer who have more than one.

I'm still of the opinion that whether the phone is $200 on contract or $600 free of contract, it's too expensive.  It's a huge investment to me, and I would want to part with it after 2 years, but some say that they'll keep them a few months and get rid of them.  Hopefully, someone is buying them.

Maybe, the thing is that I've got a house and a car and bills.  Maybe, these guys don't have those things, so they just have phones and phone bills?  I guess you could handle more than one or pay full price, if you didn't have other commitments and were making loads of money.

It's a bit shocking every time I go for a new phone because there is a huge cash outlay and then, I get some of it back in rebates, but then the carrier wants to charge me for the switch and all the wonderful things they do--like increasing my plan.

New technology is great, but eventually, I see all the smart phones being commodities, as the feature phones are now.  The technology won't matter as much and people will be more concerned about brand and colour and size.

Speaking of which, why do I need a 4.7 inch display?  Are people getting personal with their phones?  Geez.  Anyone need a 400 cubic inch (6.6 litres to the rest of you) V-8 engine today?  It seems like there are a lot of 25-35 year olds who think bigger is always 12 year olds.  Oh, well.  "Everybody has one."  Yep, and thankfully, you can turn off my opinion too.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Surprised by the Olympus E-M5

I'm jaded and cynical and anything else that would lead you to believe that I don't believe much anymore.

So, Olympus brings out a new series of camera bodies to supplement the PEN series: OM-D.  Yes, sure, the OM-system was amazing.  Olympus shocked Nikon into making smaller camera bodies.  You only need compare the Nikon F2 with the Olympus OM-1 to see why.

I used an OM-1N for years and it was quite good and the results were amazing.  I was more than pleased with lens quality, even though I didn't have the best of the best.  When the OM-1N failed and couldn't be repaired, I settled on an IS-series camera and it was adequate, but as a Zoom Lens Reflex (ZLR), it had to be everything to everyone and it wasn't.  Now, we have those SLR-like superzoom cameras that follow Olympus' lead.  The IS-20DLX that I had took photos that were good as snapshots.  It had scene modes and it was pleasant to use but it was a snapshot camera.  Ugggh.

Olympus even transitioned those into the digital world with the D-500/D-600, C-2500L (the first with TruePIC), and the E-10/E-20 pair.  The add-on lens was an interesting way to add capabilities, as long as you followed the rules.  Otherwise, you ruined film or had a digital shot to delete but you might have gotten a bit closer, hand you done things correctly.

When Olympus introduced the E-1, they said goodbye to the ZLR, and exclaimed that they had entered the world of the SLR again, after a long hiatus from the OM-4Ti.  I was so enthusiastic that I bought an E-1, the 50-200mm and 14-54mm lenses a few months after release.  (Version 1.0 isn't for me, generally.)

I was surprised that it worked so well.  I had tried various dSLRs and they were sluggish and gave poor photos and didn't seem worth the trouble.  In 2004, there just wasn't the software for processing raw files and Olympus' JPEG files were the envy of every camera maker.

Today, we have the E-M5.  It's about as close to the OM-4Ti as could be possible.  Unfortunately, they couldn't stuff a 24x36mm sensor in there.  Fortunately, they didn't have to do that.  Reading review after review, it seems that it works quite well.  In fact, for a lot of shots, it works better than the E-5 "professional" camera body.  This bothers me to no end because I bought an E-5 in November of 2011.  (Yes, yes, get over it.  I know.)  Of course, I just have to shoot sports and I realize that I'm not having a bit of trouble with the E-5.

I have a few reservations about the E-M5 for sports photography:

  • it's slippery like the OM-series
  • the lens quality is lower than what I have
  • the ISO sensitivity values are apparently not close to accurate

There is an add-on hand/battery grip, just like the OM-4Ti had, so even if it's slippery or unbalanced, that hand grip will help.

The lens quality issue isn't going away any time soon.  Olympus was (and is still) knocked for the size and weight of the High Grade and Super High Grade lenses.  They've gone small with the micro Four-Thirds lenses and that means lower quality and smaller maximum apertures.  That doesn't work for me.

The ISO sensitivity values are apparently far from what they should be.  I've forgotten how far, but 6400 may only be 4000, as a non-factual example.  What I recall was much further off.  I've been complaining about ISO 1600 with the E-5 and if its calibration was off like the E-M5's is and I was seeing ISO 1000-quality shots for ISO 1600, I'd probably be thrilled, until I learnt the truth.  (I'm still not happy with ISO 800 on the E-5.)

Few people seem to have reservations and a lot of people have ordered.  Apparently, so many that Olympus are struggling to make and ship enough, for the first in a very long time.  Congratulations to them!  I'm glad for their success.

They've been talking about a professional micro Four-Thirds camera body for a while.  I'm listening for any news about it, but they have to provide lenses and somehow keep the detractors from saying "huge", "heavy", and "pricey" while providing the amazing quality that we've come to know from the HG and SHG lines.  I'm looking at Nikon every day and wondering if I'll take the plunge and switch.  Nikon hasn't proven anything much to me, though.  The D300S doesn't look much better than the E-5, especially considering the lens choices.

Maybe, the E-M6 will arrive quickly, or maybe, it'll be an E-7 since the bit about some quick changes to the E-5 in 2011 still haven't happened.  Maybe, Nikon will get with it, ditch the 1 system, and provide a blow out mirror-less system camera but that's not their way because it's not safe.

Update 2014.01.10: The time has come for the E-M5 to be replaced.  Supposedly, the replacement will be the E-M10.  As the name implies (think OM-1, OM-10), it will be slotted under the E-M1.  The E-M5 got some awards, including Camera of the Year from the most unlikely source--DPReview.  Hopefully, they'll fix the mushy buttons and replace the viewfinder with something similar to the excellent unit used in the E-M1.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Joys of a Fixed Focal Length Lens

A few months ago, I bought a new Four-Thirds format lens: a Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4.  As it has the Leica name, it goes for a premium, but since it also has the Panasonic name, it's a discounted premium.  It's roughly US$1000, which is probably double what Nikon and Canon charge for their normal f/1.4 lenses and about half what Leica charge.  Of course, for Four-Thirds, you have two choices for fixed, normal lenses: the abysmal 25mm f/2.8 Zuiko Digital pancake or the superlative Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4.  The latter has been in short supply for many years and I'm glad I finally got one.

When I was young, you didn't have much of a choice, you generally used a fixed focal length lens and you learned to walk to get the photo you wanted.  Zoom lenses were bulky, expensive, and quirky.  They generally had small apertures and weren't much good in low light situations.

The other day, I took the 25mm out for a ride and I started shooting.  I would start to shoot something and would go to turn the zoom ring and it wasn't there.  I needed to foot zoom.  As I was thinking about what I was shooting, I turned the exposure setting to manual for the first time since using the Olympus E-5 body.  (It's not very convenient because there is no PASM dial.  However, it's not a choice you're going to make frequently.)

I started to think more about everything in the area, including reflections and shadows and my perceptions.  I was almost drawn to thinking about using Ilford HP5 black and white film again.  Amazing stuff, that.  (No, I didn't say "stuff that".)

When I first worked with 135 format, I had a Fujica ST605.  Then, a Minolta SRT Super.  The ST605 was a very basic, economy body with only 1/750 top shutter speed but it was small and light like the Olympus OM-1N of the time.  The SRT Super was a clunker.  It was the opposite of super, actually, and really wasn't as good as the ST605, except that the top shutter speed was 1/1000.  Minolta was always the choice for people who didn't know anything about cameras but since it was a gift from my friend's father in Japan, I couldn't say much.

For years, I used the ST605 with just the 55mm f/2.2 and a Vivitar 135 f/2.8 that had much better image quality than the kit lens.  I was intent to buy the Fuji Super EBC 50mm f/1.4, but it was 3 times or thereabouts the price of the ST605 at US$500.  If I'd been using the ST801 or ST901, it might have made sense, but an enlarger and a better body seemed more important than the 50mm f/1.4 lens.

For several months, I'd been selling cameras at a department store and tried everything Nikon, Olympus, Canon, Fuji, Pentax, and Minolta had to offer.  We didn't have much Nikon equipment because it took up so much room.  Olympus fixed that with the OM-system being so tiny.  Canon had the craptacular, gimmicky AE-1, while Pentax had the ME/ME Super.

Years later, I got an Olympus OM-1N and was reunited with what felt like manual camera heaven.  The controls and the viewfinder seemed just right and the images were quite good.  I look back on the image quality of the 1970s and wonder how the lenses were actually good when chromatic aberration, etc. were fairly common, even with Olympus and Nikon.  It's just a good thing that film was so flexible and resilient.

In any case, I stepped back into those days, thinking about the scene, the distance, the surroundings, and the settings.  The heft of the camera body and lens did nothing for the photography and remembering the Nikon F2, I would be hard-pressed to have found it enjoyable when being creative.  It belonged on a tripod in a studio.  The fact that I was using something not entirely tiny came to linger in my mind.  If it didn't weigh so much, I wouldn't need to have image stabilisation, would I?  If I needed a slow shutter speed, I could stand against a tree or a wall to steady myself.

Al of this took me back to Olympus' new OM-D series that's begun with the E-M5 body.  It's slightly smaller than the OM-system bodies.  It's also very light.  (Why they can't fit a 135 format-sized sensor in it is beyond me.  They should find a way.  Of course, it would double the price.)

I'm sure I'm in the minority, but I'd like to have a simple performance camera body.  I don't want to make movies and I don't care if I have Live View.  I could do without the image stabilisation, also.  Give me great ergonomics, an above average sensor that doesn't have to be huge, and some fine optics.  That's where I was in 2004 with the Olympus E-1, but it's 2012 and nothing has all 3.  If I had Olympus working for me, they'd take the E-1 body, put the 16.x MP sensor from the E-M5 into the body with the latest TruePIC VI processor and be done with it.  I could slap the Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 on it and go.  Of course, for my sports shooting, I'd still need my 50-200mm but too many gadgets have spoiled photography.  Let us be free and enjoy being creative again.

Oh, I was amused to see the TIPA awards for 2012.  They included the micro Four-Thirds 12mm f/2.0 lens as "Best CSC Fixed Focus Lens".  Please, laugh with me.  The judges are supposed to understand photographic terms.  The lens is a fixed focal length lens, but has variable focus.  I certainly wouldn't pay US$799 for a fixed focus lens, even if NASA built it.

iPad 2 (and new iPad now, plus Google Nexus 7 and iPad mini) Ripoff on QVC, HSN, ShopNBC

I was flipping through channels and noticed that QVC was selling an iPad 2 and accessories for a whopping US$709.95.  As a 16 GB WiFi-only iPad 2 runs US$399.99 now, that's a premium of US$309.96.  They'd better be amazing accessories for that much money.

I recently saw something similar from HSN.  It seems as though legitimate companies are taking advantage of people's ignorance in order to get some quick money.  I'm not really so surprised by HSN--they do pressure sales, but QVC has been laid back about people shopping beyond their means.

Sad, isn't it?  For a little more money, you could have two iPad 2 tablets.

Weird.  ShopNBC has added the New iPad (third generation) with accessories for a Today's Special Value of $849.  That's not much different than the other two, except that the iPad is $100 more and the price is for today only.  I shudder to think about the regular price.

Well, all 3 channels now have the third generation iPad, which retails for US$499.99, with all their overpriced accessories.  I can't imagine that the split payments are worth that much to buyers.

2012.08.19: HSN had iPad 3 available with some overpriced accessories for an additional $249, I believe, over the tablet price.  That's somewhat better and for HSN shoppers, they would split it into 18 monthly, finance-free payments, which could be considered good, since they said it was something like $41 or $51 per month.  I wasn't listening quite that intently because I was looking for other details.  HSN is funny selling electronics because the hosts have diarrhoea of the mouth and don't think.  She said something about it being "the best tablet Mac makes" and 30 seconds later said that it was "the best tablet iPad makes".  I think the producer finally got her to say "Apple" but I'm sure that she forgot another 5 minutes later.

2012.11.04: One of the three channels is still selling the older, third generation iPad as if it's the newest, with the same bundle price.  Actually, all three are probably doing it but I haven't spent much time in front of the TV to notice.  QVC is probably the one I've seen since they're generally the one most overpriced to pay for their great customer service and return policies.  Even getting the fourth generation iPad would be a rip-off at those prices, but they won't do that because they can't offer the new Lightning port chargers yet.  Even as they make it sound as though these models are the newest you can find, they've announced that their supply is limited.

2012.12.21: QVC apparently ran out of the third generation iPads, so they're including the newest generation in their bundle.  It seems it was an extra $300 but I didn't notice whether they had a charger or not, since there isn't a non-Apple legal charger for the fourth generation yet. 

2013.01.19: I'm not sure where I saw this one but they were charging $349 for a Google Nexus 7 tablet, when the tablet is normally $249.99.  They weren't offering a car charger, but a case (hard to find anyway, if it fits) and quite a few (probably free) apps for the extra money.  I'm sure they're not worth it, but for people who can't get to stores, it might be acceptable.

2013.02.19: QVC has added the iPad mini to its collection, charging something like $220 extra for their wonderful accessories. 

2013.12.03: ShopNBC has apparently changed their name to ShopHQ, but not their habits.  They've had a long history, if you include their time as ValueVision.  However, you have to be careful with all three of these channels.  QVC seems to be pushing much harder than in the past, even though they've been a part of Comcast for a while.  If ShopHQ is also under Comcast, due to the sale of parts of NBC, that would make for interesting confusion.   Due to my mum's obsession with home shopping channels, I learnt way too much about it, which makes it much safer to shop the channels.