Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Panasonic GH3, 35-100mm lens on order, err in my bag

So, I placed my bet on micro Four-Thirds, finally.

There have been multiple iterations since Panasonic and Olympus surprised everyone with the mirror-less announcement and quick release of Panasonic bodies and lenses.  I've been a skeptic, not of the technology, but of the capabilities to replace current equipment.

I have seen Olympus falter regularly and Panasonic has erred on the side of cheap and small, for decades.  However, Panasonic's DMC-GH3 is ready and I believe that the 35-100mm f/2.8 lens is no worse than you'd get from Canon or Nikon.

Mind, I'm not giving up my Four-Thirds equipment, as Olympus has an announcement and hopefully, a new Four-Thirds body in the latter half of 2013, but I want to photograph (successfully) in low(er) light now.  While I regularly shoot basketball photos and get good shots, some gyms are just pathetically bad and I could see Canon and Nikon equipment struggling also.

So, I ordered a Panasonic GH3, extra battery since it seems hungry, and the 35-100mm f/2.8 lens.  They knocked off $100 from the lens, so it came to just under $2800.  If I'd gone with the Nikon D7100, the (not as much Magnesium alloy) body would have been cheaper by $100 and the lens would have been more expensive by about $1100.  Of course, the weight makes a difference and the video capabilities of the GH3 are much better than most any dSLR, comparing favourably to the Canon 5D MkIII.  Also, Best Buy had a sudden price drop on the 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 for $300 off, at $99.   So, suddenly, I have two lenses, and a micro Four-Thirds body, most of which is on the way.

I'll see if all the love on the web is justified, but I'm sure it will take some time to become acclimated to the new equipment.  If it's instantaneous, I'll be the biggest fan.

First impressions: Where is the rest of the equipment?  It's tiny!  It doesn't feel anything like the Olympus equipment I've been using, although it feels like the GH3 was designed to appeal to E-3/E-5 users.

Of course, settings are never easy to use from company to company.  Everyone has their own way to do things.  e.g., there doesn't seem to be a way to delete all of the photos, so you must Format each time.  I'm wondering which reduces the life of the card more quickly.

In any case, the 35-100mm looks a bit toy-like, whereas my Olympus ZD 35-100mm looks and feels like a deadly weapon, as does my E-1 or my E-5.  I've had the E-5 and 35-100mm slip from a poolside seat onto the pool deck and have zero problems (not so much the FL-50 flash) but I don't see this GH3 or its 35-100mm surviving the impact intact.  As the difference of US$400 between the GH3 and the E-5, I would expect a heartier body.

Removing/attaching lenses doesn't seem particularly smooth and neither does releasing the LCD.  There is no significant lip to grasp.  Mind, they went all out with functionality, so I'll adapt.

It seems odd that the GH3 and 35-100mm lens are both labelled "Made in China" but the older, cheaper 45-200mm was made in Japan.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Diesel up, gasoline down--diesel down, gasoline up

As I'm adjusting to using diesel fuel instead of gasoline, I noted that diesel fuel was up 40 cents per gallon since I got my car a few weeks ago.  Gasoline was driven down until recently when certain refineries went offline.

While I understand that except for light trucks and a few Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen models, there aren't many consumer diesel-driven vehicles and the price will fluctuate, I'm sure there is more to the price of gasoline being prodded in a certain direction.

If there isn't much demand, you can't really get people to pay what you want, unless they need a refill at that time.  At 29 mpg, I could generally wait weeks to see what happened.  Now, at 35-40 mpg, I can hope that diesel fuel changes to what I want.

It all feels like we're being herded to slaughter by the oil companies and/or refiners.  May their party funds go empty waiting for us to pay.  I don't mind any company making a reasonable profit, but when regular people have to choose between getting to a job and eating, should there be that sort of a choice?

Oh, and just for fun, I went to a filling station that had a single diesel pump around the back, in the dark.  I wasn't about to be mugged but it's interesting when the gasoline pumps under the canopy are well lit.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A car with bun warmers!

Winter here is a mess.  Along this stretch of U.S. 40 in Indiana, winter thaws in the day time and freezes in the night time.  So, between midnight and noon, we can fall on our ice.

The wondrous thing about having a car from Germany or Sweden is that they think about those things.

Saab and Volvo probably had bun warmers (heated seats) in the early 1970s in the 99 and the 240 series of cars, respectively.  Perhaps, the high end Mercedes-Benz cars had them also.  The BMW 2800 and Audi 100 of the time seemed more utilitarian.

I've made use of the bun warmers a few times already.  I also have heated mirrors, and I suspect I have the heated windscreen washer nozzles, also.  That's a lot of bad weather fighting technology.  Friday night, I had plenty of ice all over the car, as it had been raining before a good (is it really good, or hard?  it's just a) freeze.

In any case, I've been glad to have a German car that is set to handle harsh weather.  Japanese cars rarely do that well, probably because Japanese people are generally not driving in miserable weather.  Subaru would be the notable exception here with all-wheel drive, etc. but before that, they weren't all that great, either.  It used to be that German air conditioning was horrible, of course.

I was somewhat surprised when I first used the bun warmers.  It was something like 12 degrees F outside and I'm unhappy with anything less than 50 degrees F, due to frostbite, and my general nature, I suppose.  I didn't realise that it had 3 levels of toastiness and it selects the highest level at first.  You must push the button more to decrease the heat.  Suddenly, down the road it was becoming uncomfortably warm.  It didn't melt my cards or anything but it was toasty.

As I tried the defroster/deicer, I noticed that it turns on the air conditioning, which is something I'd been doing during Florida's summer afternoon rains because of the humidity.  I was glad to see similar thinking went into the process, as having water dripping inside the cabin is not a good idea.  I still remember in the 1960s how my parents would retrieve a handkerchief to wipe the inside of the windscreen to handle the moisture.

I still haven't seen the light indicating that the mirror heaters are working, so I wonder what extremes they need to operate.  As a random though, I wonder what ever happened to the headlight washers and wipers.

The skid (electronic stability) control is a great addition and seemed a minor extension of ABS that wasn't implemented soon enough.  I haven't seen it work on this car yet but I was using a Toyota Corolla rental car and it activated on some ice and it helped.  I think the Golf TDI is so stable that it hasn't been useful quite yet.

As it's only been about 3 weeks, I haven't tried the limits on snow or ice, but somehow, I figure it will fail just as easily as any other car in those conditions.  It might be fun to try a few things in a deserted parking lot, though.

Update 2013.11.09: It's about that time again.  The temperature has dropped below freezing a few times already.  Yesterday when I started the car, I needed to scrape the ice from the windows and had the heat going.  I suspect this will be a better car to survive winter, but ice is still ice, and this area has a terrible snow-thaw-freeze cycle that consistently puts ice on the road day after day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Nikon D7000/D300s replacement(s)?

So, I've been asking this question for a rather long time.  It was of real concern to me when I was considering a new Olympus body because I thought that I might jump ship.  At the time, the D300/D300s was a good performer but a bit old in image quality and there wasn't enough difference between it and the E-5 to jump ship.  The D7000 was good but it didn't seem enough in many ways (although it's a great budget body), especially over a used D300.

Now, it's 2013 and the D700 has been replaced and has a cheaper relative in the D600.  The D5100 has been surpassed, as well.  The D7000 has dropped in price to the point where it's a very good choice...for last year.

I've been expecting a switch and I mentioned in the past with the D600 having been on the way that Nikon might just combine the D7000 and D300s replacements into one body, at a very desirable price point.  I'm sure a lot of things delayed the company's progress--a huge earthquake and tidal wave, flooding, and the mirror-less revolution in Japan.

I would hope to see such a camera body soon, given the pricing.  Can they combine a better low light experience with a higher image quality for a great price?  I believe so.  Could the sensors be a problem or are they re-engineering the body to avoid dust and oil contamination, as with the D600 problem?

I'm still unwilling to put US5000 or more into jumping ship, so I'm thinking about it all very carefully.  I'm also waiting to see what solution comes from Olympus this year to replace the E-5.  Even if it's merely the E-M5 sensor in the E-5 body (coordinated, of course), that would be fine with me.  Working at double the ISO image quality would be quite a boost.  When Nikon is only stating an upper limit to their working range as ISO 6400 that sounds good, but do I want to use those images?

Any time now...

Update: Well, that was almost one week until the D7100 to be announced.  It combines the best parts of the D300 into the D7000 body, and even has an extra crop mode to give Four-Thirds users like me, an easy way to jump ship and get the same 2x multiplication of focal length with a bit of a boost in burst shooting speed.  Well done!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Performance, thy name is...diesel?

On Friday, I was missing some local high school basketball to photograph, so I decided to look at games further away that were interesting.  I picked one near the southern point of Ohio, near the Ohio River.  It was three to four hours' drive from home.

Being that I no longer use gasoline, diesel fuel drives a lot more thinking.  Where is the nearest fuel?  Do they have the correct fuel?  Will I arrive before I run out?  Considering that the estimated distance for a tank is nearly 600 miles and I've made it a bit over 400 miles on my gasoline-powered car, I don't really have to worry.  The smaller towns will have diesel fuel but the pumps are sometimes hidden.  I remember when the Mercedes 300D and the VW Rabbit Diesel were available and a few filling stations added a diesel fuel pump to the side, so it wouldn't be in the way.

The other day, I was looking for fuel and every pump I wanted to use only had gasoline.  I finally gave up on the town and returned home on the half tank I had, even though I was really wanting to gauge the fuel economy.  On the way home, I found that the Golf TDI was much more capable than most any car I had driven on that hilly, curvy road I had been using for years.  What was 55 mph in one car had become 65 mph in another and 80 mph seemed very possible in this one because 70 felt like nothing.

So, when Friday came, I filled the tank and went for a long drive across the state of Ohio, seeing the U.S. 35 expansion that had been done a while back to provide truckers a more direct route from coal country in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia to Dayton, Columbus, Cleveland, Ohio, and to cities in Indiana.  It was much as you would expect an interstate highway to provide without the fancy name and new road.

As I moved closer to my destination, I took various state roads which were not quite so straight or wide but serviced the situation well enough.  I was nervous about the weather--when you live in an area prone to ice, the freezing point becomes a huge issue in driving.  The high school was on the edge of a national and a state forest.  I was somewhat amused to find that my phone lost reception as soon as I turned off the road.  Of course, do students need mobile phone reception at school?  No.

In any case, I was early, wasted some time, and returned to the school, still a bit early.  I photographed two games, talked to a couple of people, and hopefully, left people with a good impression.  Since I was leaving at 9 p.m., my best hope for an arrival time was midnight and the worst would probably be 1 in the morning.

Since the temperature had dropped a bit, I went south to U.S. 52, which more-or-less follows the Ohio River.  There are a lot of small towns.  I travelled it about 1.5 times, since I had turned to use U.S. 68 or some other on my previous return north.  This time, I found myself on this two lane road driving 75 mph easily--it felt like 50 mph.  I panicked a few times after seeing the number, even though the car didn't.  Of course, it was a long drive home.  What's worse, it wasn't so easy to go north of Cincinnati because it said I-275 east and west.  I-275 west went into Kentucky after the Cincinnati Corp. Limit sign.  Weird!  It was a few miles to I-71/I-75 so that wasn't a problem and I got to see the Cincinnati skyline (no chili, just skyline!) from the Kentucky hills.  If you ever saw the tv show "WKRP in Cincinnati", they showed a similar view with the Central Trust sign and all.

I arrived home about 1 a.m., not so tired, and with about 100 miles' worth of fuel remaining.  According to my Road Trip app, I only got 40.85 mpg but that's almost the estimated 42 mpg that VW and the government state.  That figure probably does not account for fun.

Also, this evening, I was driving from my friends' Chinese restaurant to Target and there is a small expressway in-between the two.  I happened upon one of those NOISY Honda Civics with the performance muffler that generates an extra 1 HP and loads of noise.  I ended up right next to him at a stop light just before the expressway began.  He decided to show me how wonderful his car was.  So, with not much in front of me, I put my foot halfway down and he disappeared.  I let off the pedal and he came back after a while and they looked over at me, as I was laughing about it.  "Dude, you just got smoked by a diesel."  :-D  Apparently, there were four of them travelling together.  I had already noticed an older VW Jetta with the VR6 engine ahead of me at some point.  I suspect that they have a bit more respect for diesel-powered cars now.  I do.

Returning home: thought I was doing 65 mph, but I was doing 90 mph!  This car feels so stable and assured, similar but different to my 1990 VW Corrado.

Update 2014.05.15: The car has over 32,000 miles now.  I took it for the 30,000 mile service about two weeks ago.  It still does quite well, and much better than I would have expected, but may I just drive more than most.   People told me how the engine would practically not run, if I didn't drive it long distances as though it was a semi-truck/tractor without the trailer.  I'm not sure it's as happy as it was, but then, I've become accustomed to it.

I drove it back to photograph basketball January 31 and February 1 in that same area.  The weather was warmer on Saturday--around 60 degrees F, but by the time I arrived home, it was only 34.  The car performed well, but I was antsy and slowed down this time.

Since I've had the car, I've been surprised over and over how well it accelerates and handles the real world overall.  I was surprised to see over 50 mpg but that only happened briefly, with 47-48 mpg a regular occurrence.  I could see many more people buying these and maybe, I'd have to wait behind diesel users for the diesel pump, instead of the gasoline users.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Dull, errrr, Dell going private

Do you remember the bold Michael Dell statement where he said that Apple should return all the money to share holders and go out of business?  According to this, they're doing half of that themselves.  It's probably only a matter of time to go out of business.

I give Michael Dell credit for assembling computers in his dorm room.  Unfortunately, basing a company on such an operation wasn't great.  His next strategy was to underprice the competition, which worked until Dell was on top, and then, it hurt them as well.

I almost feel sorry for someone who made an opportunity into a big deal and then, watched it diminish--but he has been so arrogant that it's difficult to feel sorry for him.

At least, the shareholders will receive some of their money, and hopefully, they'll make a profit.