Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mac App Store and iTunes' support = PITA

It's funny how everything is my fault, so on numerous occasions, I'll say to people "Oh, that was my fault." and they'll reply something like "...but it was on the other side of the world, so you couldn't have anything to do with it."

When dealing with Apple, I've come to see them no different as a cable TV provider or mobile phone carrier.  They never take the blame.

I've been trying to update the Typist/タイピスト and Twitter applications on latest computer, with a lot of trouble.  It changes to download in the Mac App Store application and immediately changes to Installed, without downloading anything.  I can understand that Typist is a problem because the Mac App Store didn't deal with an English name change.  I ended up deleting that application and it was then able to be updated/replaced/installed.

I was told that the problem was my internet connection.

Mind, I went to my older machine with several applications to update, some updated just fine in-between Typist and Twitter, but the latter two won't be updated.  They're stubborn.  However, it's my internet connection that's at fault...or so they say.

It reminds me of Sprint telling me that the phone is at fault when I've had 4 of their phones doing the exact same thing in this location.  That's another story, but they've recently fixed their data problems apparently when they did a voice upgrade.  They claim that there was never a problem.

Besides the two applications, I downloaded a movie via iTunes and a free code with a Blu-Ray combo pack.  I had to go to a phone/computer repair shop where they have a great connection.  Unfortunately, iTunes downloaded everything but couldn't finish integrating the pieces, so I had two 3.5 GB download.m4v files and another file with the movie title.ite

Of course, Apple's response was to delete that and re-download, using the check for unfinished downloads.  It was finished, so it doesn't show up.

Clearly, Apple tests only the best-case scenarios.  They likely have a really great internet connection for all their employees and the employees probably have great connections at home.  They don't go away from the SF Bay Area and test on mobile hotspots or dialup connections.

Now that they have many, many customers (unlike, say 1995), they don't care whether you're a customer or not and it shows in their customer service.

I got a final answer from customer service, who want me to contact AppleCare.  Unless AppleCare has changed to resolve issues not related to warranty service, I don't understand this move:

I had the matter escalated once again, and unfortunately, I was advised have you contact our AppleCare Technical Support team. We cannot find other information that can assist you with the issues you are encountering:

USA: 1-800-275-2273

Contacting Apple for support and service

Please understand that we can only provide basic troubleshooting steps since we are not completely trained for technical issues.

If our AppleCare Technical Support team is unable to correct the issue, I also recommend asking them to connect you to our Account Security team for verification. They will be able to contact our Tier 2 advisors and possibly run tests on your account.

Please let me know if you have any other questions or concerns. I'll be more than happy to assist you with whatever you need. Thank you for the chance to improve your iTunes experience. Have a great day, Curt.

 I got a survey request today.  I was honest that it was a terrible experience.  I questioned why these groups weren't integrated and would pass me indirectly.  I also mentioned that they need to do some real world testing, since they apparently don't do that.  Does everyone have a high speed internet connection?  When Apple took Mac OS X 10.7/Lion away from physical media, they knew that their user base was upset.  Steve Jobs answered an e-mail by telling the person that they could go to the physical Apple store to download it.  Unfortunately, that could be a 300 mile (probably more) trip for some people.  Real world, what's that?  I'm sure there are plenty of people who would love to have my craptacular connection, as it's much better than what they have.  It's no wonder people abuse their employer's connection.

Update 2014.03.03: I'm using an LTE connection now, at roughly 10-12 Mbps down, and the Mac App Store software does the same thing.  It's as though they don't actually test the connection, they just assume something, anything and try something, anything else and it doesn't work.  Then, they push you to the Purchases page to try again, even when you're on the Purchases page.

I even had an incident a couple of months ago where I couldn't buy something in a physical Apple Store, with an Ethernet cable connected to their internal network.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Choosing a phone by repair cost

The first day of July this year, I can get a new phone at discount.  I may not jump on that opportunity right away.  I have an iPhone 4S and Applecare + doesn't expire until the 24 months are up, which should be finished around October.

In the last few months, I've been associated with a computer and phone repair shop.  I help them with some odd iPhone/iPod touch and Mac problems.

The phone technician is impressive.  Apple will sometime say that an iPad or iPhone can't be repaired but he repairs them.  I believe what they really mean is that it's not worth their time.  What I've read is that they replace the product right away and then send it to a designated repair facility.  Often, those repairs end up with the product being returned in worse shape than the shape in which it was received.  This also applies to Apple computer repair.

I was having a problem with the backlight of a late 2004 Apple PowerBook.  I discussed the problem with the owner of the shop, who does the computer repair.  We agreed that it was the backlight.  When I checked it 2008, an Apple retailer gave me a guesstimate of US$400, because they would replace the whole rear panel, as Apple does, which includes the backlight.

The owner of this local shop quoted me a price of something like US$90 for labour + US$20 for the part, and he would order an extra part or two, just to have it.  Being that it was late 2012, Apple didn't even have parts available, so getting the whole panel would have required a deal on eBay for a used part, even a whole computer.  I believe that soldering the new backlight in place took minimal time.  It was the disassembly and re-assembly that took the most time.

So it is with phones.  They have a large display, one or more slabs of batteries, and a tiny circuit board.  Often, they're held together with a lot of glue, which makes disassembly almost impossible.  Certain generations of the iPod touch are a pain and the Samsung Galaxy S III is nearly impossible.  (This just in--the Galaxy S 4 is apparently just the opposite.)  If you damage the display on the Samsung GS3, and you don't have at least US$300 for the display, you're in trouble.  Replacing the display could be a mess because of all the glue and the tight fit.

On the other hand, I see iPhone 4, 4S and 5 repaired regularly although the iPhone 5 isn't nearly as fragile.  It's fairly simple to take those three phones apart, as long as you remember where you put the extra pieces.  One of the biggest problems they see is that someone decided to help their friend avoid a major repair cost and forget to finish the job, which in turn, costs more time and energy--and diagnostic and repair costs.

I'm fairly shocked that Apple made it easy to service the phones.  I needed to replace the battery in my 4th generation iPod (the original white model with the monochrome display) and I couldn't open it.  That's rather different with the 4200rpm hard drive, but the case was not meant to be opened by just anyone.  I've been replacing computer parts since the time of the original IBM PC in 1981, so I have a clue, but I don't mess with miniature parts.

This brings me back to the thought of a new phone.  These high resolution and large displays cost a lot of money to replace.  I was considering the LG Optimus G with the 1280x800 (or is it 1280x768?) display.  Now, they've announced the Optimus G Pro with the 1920x1080 display that's even larger.  Even if the phone is US$299 with a contract, the display replacement might be US$400 or more.  Obviously, if you're paying US$10 per month insurance, it's not a bad thing at all.  I suspect Asurion will charge more than US$10 per month for such a phone.  It's good to know that Apple only charge US$99 for two years.  My buddy replaced the display on an Optimus G a few days ago, and he said that there was so much adhesive that it took a lot of time to remove the shards of glass before he could install anything.

I think I'll hold onto my phone another year and see what happens.  After all, I know someone who can repair it quickly.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Panasonic DMC-G6 = renewed DMC-GH2

For all those who wanted a GH2 replacement and you hate the GH3, Panasonic has the G6.

It has:
  • Compact size
  • GH2 sensor, apparently enhanced
  • Enhanced Venus engine
  • Better Electronic Viewfinder
  • Enhanced firmware

It seems to me that they did everything they could with the G6 to satisfy the GH2 fans, much as they brought out the GX1 for the GF1 fans.

It makes sense that they would provide a new body, especially since it seems to take a more Leica look for easy Leica re-badging.  They've added function buttons and given it less of a consumer look.

The rest of the package makes a lot of sense for those with a keen interest in video who still need to take still photos.  Sure, it won't be as good as the GH3 or the Black Magic Cinema Pocket Camera but the price reflects that.

Given the news about the Black Magic Cinema Pocket Camera, they will have an alternative without jeopardizing their consumer-oriented focus.  The G6 should quell the uproar that the GH3 wasn't a true successor to the GH2.  It seems that they're addressing a lot of issues with just one camera body.

I'm not quite as sure about the 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 lens.  I still don't love the 35-100mm, so what would possess me to buy a 10x zoom lens when a superzoom is already a compromise?  The new one is smaller and lighter, which is certainly good for those with the GX1 or GF6 since those are tiny.

I read some comment stating that it didn't look like the new one was worse.  That's not much of a compliment.   Was the older one that good that "no worse" could be a good thing?  I'm certainly not going to buy something just because it's "no worse" than the older one.  To its favour, the maximum aperture is bigger, probably because the physical size of the lens has been reduced.  It will be somewhat more capable in low light.  After spending some time with the 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6, I hope that the 14-140mm focuses in dim light, as the 45-200mm has trouble in average light.

Of course, their Power OIS should help in low light, as it seems very capable on the 35-100mm I have.  I'm interested in seeing the Tamron 14-150mm f/3.5-5.6, as their VC (Vibration Control) III is said to be quite good.  Tamron has every reason to make their first attempt in the micro Four-Thirds market a powerful one.

I suspect that people who wanted the GH2 and 14-140mm will be terribly pleased with the G6 and the newer 14-140mm lens.  At a lower price and with better capabilities, people should love them.

Update 2014.05.22: I guess I was wrong.  They wanted the GH2 body with the GH3 internals.  They're beating a dead horse because Panasonic isn't making another GH2.  It should be obvious by now with the GH3 and GH4 that Panasonic isn't making a cheap, hobbyist-oriented body in the style of the GH2.  I heard that the G6 wasn't the successor because it didn't have the same controls--right, because they're not in the GH2 body.

How is it that some people feel betrayed by a company trying to make money to stay in business to make more products to stay in business?  Apple fanatics are the worst.  They dream up something crazy and when the company doesn't bring it to life, they're angry.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Internet privacy--don't be naive!

My first thought was to leave the content empty--a blank page.

There is no internet privacy!

If you want privacy from the internet, disconnect!

So, anyway, I'm amused far too much by what people say.

It's like people on privately-owned forums claiming their national rights to freedom of speech.  Seriously, in private forums?

Update 2013.06.09: the NSA et alia have been accused at having their hooks into our personal data via various companies, and that they record information about telephone calls.  They don't record the call, supposedly, but just information about who was called and where you were at the time.  I would think that they would record the call until the listening software determines that the call has no bearing on anything interesting and, if that's the case, it would delete the recording.  You can't rewind a live conversation but you can delete a partial recording.

I read about an announcement that was happening on Labour Day--May 1st.  Many people retorted that it wasn't, with one person saying that it was the first Monday in September--the U.S.A.'s Labor Day.

Are people really so naive?

I've been uploading some of my sports photography photos to Instagram for a while and I've been asked a couple of times to photograph someone's games or meets.  One student athlete was very insistent and when I told him that it was 2400 miles away, he just went away.  Do people really think that everyone is local?

Maybe, I'm being too positive about the thinking bit.  Are people thinking at all?

People have so much potential but it takes effort and it seems that the current generations don't want to work so hard in many aspects of life.  Do other people wonder as much as I do about the fate of the people in 50 years?  I wonder if people will even maintain civilization or if they'll become scavengers since they won't know how to "cook" without a microwave oven and a frozen package.

Update 2013.11.20: I just saw something about Macy's and an app on iOS called Shopkick.  It uses the iOS 7 iBeacon technology to help you locate pertinent items.  In this case, what Macy's wants you to buy.  There was an uproar from a few people on MacRumors about such technology being used to invade their privacy.  I can't imagine why.  If you don't use the app, nothing will happen.  Is there a chance that another app will abuse the technology?  Of course!

When you use FourSquare or Yelp (or Checkpoints, if it's still active), you agree to be tracked and your information used.  When you check-in somewhere, your friends can see it instantly, if they choose.  I'm sure the information is used to provide a profile on you for future advertising.  It could also be used for suggestions, as to where you might want to shop or eat, based on your history.  Oh, that's like or Newegg watching your browsing of their merchandise and making suggestions.  Someone on MacRumors mentioned, as if it was a safer alternative.  Seriously, stay awake and aware.  Your mind is always the best tool to avoiding disaster.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Panasonic GH3 vs Nikon D7100

I went through this debate so long, as it was a continuance of the GH3 vs. D7000 debate.

According to DPreview, they were making similar comparisons.

The GH3 body only is about US$100 more than the D7100.  Given the great video abilities, the GH3 is likely the better choice for someone who wants to do stills and video, but the D7100 is undoubtedly a better stills camera.

I decided against the D7100 because I didn't want to spend US$4000 on the D7100 and 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, and possibly be underwhelmed.  The GH3 and 35-100mm f/2.8 came close enough to US$3000 but I could use an adapter to make use of my high end Olympus glass.

The D7100 uses the sophisticated auto focus unit from the D300/D300s as an upgrade from the adequate auto focus unit in the D7000.  However, when I use auto focus, I use 1 point in the centre and while I have it locked, I move the frame however I like.  I really don't want to think about which of the 51 points work with which lenses at which aperture and I definitely don't want the focus on something other than what I intend.

Maybe obviously, I'm not a fan of auto focus.  With earlier camera bodies, I didn't even use auto focus.  The Olympus E-5 is pretty quick in good light with the lenses I have.  The Panasonic GH3 is quick with the 35-100mm lens although neither body always puts focus where I want it during sports.

On build quality, I think the GH3 is better than the D7100, from my physical inspection.  That said, compared to the E-5, neither one feels that strong.  Of course, the E-5 still retails for US$500 more than the D7100 and US$400 more than the GH3, including the much older sensor and smaller resolution.

After all the complaints about Electronic Viewfinders (EVFs), I expected to hate using one.  The EVF in the Panasonic GH3 may not be the most sophisticated, but it works well enough for me to get the shots.  I've noticed problems while wearing sunglasses, but I'll become acclimated to pairing them, as I would with any other viewfinder and sunglasses.  (Update: the Olympus E-M1 is better than the GH3 and seemed as good as an optical viewfinder, but I only used it for a couple of hours.)  The rear display of the D7100 is in a fixed position while the GH3's display is fully articulated.

I'm amused every time I hear some micro Four-Thirds user complain about the size of the GH3.  It's really not huge but the typical micro Four-Thirds camera body is tiny.  The GH3 is smaller than the Olympus E-1 and much smaller than the E-5 or D7100.  Of course, the balance of the body/lens combination should not be a problem.

The Olympus E-5 and Nikon D7100 are similar in size but the Panasonic GH3 is not.

The D7100 and 70-200mm are a little off-balance because the 70-200mm f/2.8 is rather massive.  I see the same problem with the E-5 and the 35-100mm f/2.0.  It's not horrible but it makes you pay attention.  On the other hand, the GH3 and 35-100mm f/2.8 feel like a pocket camera to me--too small and almost too light.  I've finally put the strap on the GH3 so I can wear it while using the E-5.

The Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 is so small that I have trouble using it manually.  Here is where the combination is too electronic for my taste.  The body helps me focus manually by giving me a magnified view.  The E-5 works similarly in Live View mode.  It takes acclimation.  However, the 35-100mm is so small that my fingers are often past the end of the lens, trying to find the focus ring.  I plan to take a few hours and practice nothing but manual focus with the lens, so that I'm ready for anything.  It's so easy to push the lens aside and pull out an Olympus lens that I haven't done enough to acclimate myself.

As far as image quality goes, I think there isn't that much difference between them, but the best lenses have much between them.  Can the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 compete with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8?  Yes, more-or-less.  The 35-100mm isn't a great lens and US$1499.99 seems expensive, except that it's about US$1000.00 cheaper than the Nikon lens, and the Nikon lens is more in line with the Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0--beastly.  I don't think that the Panasonic 35-100mm would stand much abuse but the 70-200mm could be used as a hammer.  Still, from all the photos I've seen comparing the GH3 and D7100, there isn't enough difference in image quality to call it decisive.  The extra telephoto reach is important though, as the 70-200mm becomes 105-350mm effective focal length in 135 format terms and the 35-100mm becomes 70-200mm.

In the end, D7100 or GH3, I think I'd be having regrets.  However, the D7100 is holding on to the past while the GH3 is headed toward the future.  It's better to be prepared for change that to meet it kicking and screaming, don't you think?

D7100 Pros:

    •    High resolution sensor
    •    Availability of lenses
    •    1.5x zoom factor--i.e., 70-200mm becomes effective 105-350mm
    •     Optical viewfinder and continuous auto focus for sports but small raw buffer lessens the advantage

GH3 Pros:

    •    Video formats and bits rates extremely flexible
    •    Articulated rear display
    •    Light and small lenses
    •    Direct sensor feed to viewfinder
    •    Buffer size for continuous shooting

Update 2014.02.18: Is anyone surprised that the Nikon D7100 is not being replaced while the newer GH3 is?  I am.

We've seen the D600, the D3200, the D5200 replaced and the Df added but not the D7100.  Even Canon has replaced the D7100's main dSLR competition, the 60D, but not the ~4 year old 7D.

The problems with the D7100 are small--the frame buffer and the image noise.  They should be able to handle those two things cheaply by adding to the frame buffer and substituting a newer image processing unit.

Considering the price of the Sony A7, and the viability of the GH4, E-M1, and X-T1, I don't understand why they're not moving more quickly, except that the profit in US$1000-$2000 isn't huge.  Slap a "MkII" on the name and increase the price by US$100 for now.  We get that the D400 isn't coming, but the need still exists.

Update 2014.04.10: Earlier, I was reading a review on the Pentax K-3 on DPReview.  They've been known to throw non-Canikon equipment under the bus from time to time.  In this review, it was no exception:

The Nikon D7100 is a safer bet in this respect, too, though it is somewhat hobbled by its small Raw buffer - 7 images, rather than the K-3's 23-or-so.

Now, to me, a 3.x to 1 ratio is hardly "somewhat".  "Extremely" is a better choice of words, unless you're worried about offending Nikon D7100 users.  In the comments, a person or two mentioned the problem, and they were smacked hard.  I understood the bit about the Pentax lenses not all focusing at the same speed, which I'm sure goes for all brands, including Nikon.

In any case, the D7100 is looking like less of a contender these days with opponents from all sides.  Yes, it's good for casual photography and for slow sports, where you have time to wait for the buffer to be written and cleared.  I've almost bought one, once or twice, but in my case, the GH4 is on my list now.  Oh, and if I was to buy another dSLR--it would likely be a K-3 since it's in that same price range as the D7100 and the GH4.

Update 2014.10.28: Given recent price drops for the D7100, it looks a good deal for someone willing to pay for the highest quality Nikon lenses.  The D7100 and 70-200mm f/2.8 always looked a good match for me.  Now that the D750 is available at roughly double the price of the D7100, I'm thinking that the D750 would serve me better and longer into the future, since it's not a two year old body.  Even Canon finally revised the 7D into a new version, along with the 70D.

I traded my GH3, which I used for indoor sports, for an Olympus E-M1, merely because the trade-in value would decrease as the GH4 would become available.  I'm looking to buy the GH4 because of the enhanced video functionality.  However, it's received a number of negative comments about sports photography, mainly that the auto focus is not as good as it should be.  It doesn't surprise me--e.g., I was photographing a track & field meet one day and the auto focus selected the fence behind the runners instead of the runners. I worked around it by using single point AF and moving it, but I would have rather used manual focusing to be precise.

I still feel that the GH3 and GH4 are the best hybrid bodies anywhere.  If you want to shoot video without more equipment, you need one of them.

Update 2015.01.10: I got the GH4 around Thanksgiving Day, when the deals were good.  It really is great for video, further distancing itself from the D7100 for video, but not quite matching the image quality.  However, the D7100 was notable for the image noise.  I suspect that having a pixel density around the same as micro Four-Thirds 16 MP sensors showed that physics can be bent, not broken.  That's why the bigger sensor in the D750 is likely how Nikon meant to divert attention from the D7100's age.  They both are important bodies.

The Pentax/Ricoh K-3 has turned out to be really amazing but with a boatload of idiosyncrasies that only Pentax could do.  If any other camera maker were to re-program the hardware, I suspect it would be 100% amazing and Nikon would be replacing the D7100 NOW.

Update 2015.03.15: The D7200 looks as good as it should be.  Sadly, I think it's the camera body I believe it should have been over a year ago.  Even though the D7200 is a mid-range model, it takes an important place with more serious photographers.  Since there is no D400, it takes on Canon's 70D and 7D Mk II.  I believe it's up to the job.

However, this blog entry was about the GH3 and how it compared to the D7100.  While the D7200 is very capable, the GH4 seems quite a bit more.  Would I trade my GH4 for a D7200 for stills?  It would be a difficult decision.  The GH4 is quite capable but the auto focus, for still photos,  isn't amazing, though I almost always get my photos.  Video tips the scales in a big way, and since I have the Olympus E-M1 for stills, I don't have to worry.

The only real reason for me to buy the D7200 is for certain lenses related to sports, and I could buy Metabones SpeedBooster adapter in order to use those photos--with manual focus, of course.

Update 2015.04.27: I chose to buy a Pentax K-50 to see if the Pentax way of doing things would be possible to handle.  Since they've been making digital bodies, I've found their thinking to be quirky.  I considered the *ist body and I just couldn't handle it.

However, the K-50 is an inexpensive, weather-sealed body that appealed to me.  If I can live with the quirks, I can put money into the system, rather than buying the D7200, which would be the safe alternative.  However, in investing the D7100 and the D7200, suddenly, I was looking at the D750, and for just a little more, the D810.  Suddenly, a US$2300 camera body and lens pair became more like US$4200.

In any case, seeing how the GH3 has been dropped in price, is the D7100 or D7200 enough?  Overall, can the D7200 compete with the K-3 Mk II that's been recently introduced or, for that matter, the Canon 7D Mk II?  The market from US$1000 to US$2000 has become crowded, especially when you include mirror-less camera models.

Update 2015.09.15: I have both the Panasonic GH4 and the Nikon D7200 now.  While the D7200 is arguably a better stills shooter, I have not seen it surpass the GH4 so greatly.  It can be a pain to use at times, while the GH4 seems well organized.

In low light, the ability to capture photos belongs to the GH4.  If you have better image quality in low light with the D7200 and it cannot take the photo, how good is the image quality of the photo you didn't get?

Yes, the depth of field is larger with the smaller sensor, but I have struggled to get more depth of field with Four-Thirds and micro Four-Thirds, not less.  The D7200 and Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 are good but when it comes to getting a lot of work done, I'm using Panasonic and Olympus equipment.

Update 2016.10.05: I expanded my Nikon-related lens set from just the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 to include Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8 fisheye, and Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6.  It made the D7200 more capable with a variety of lenses but I never saw the incredible increase in image quality that I was told was so certain.  I'm not even sure there was a credible increase in real-life image quality but I limit my usable micro Four-Thirds photos to ISO 3200 and the Nikon D7200 went to ISO 4000 with similar quality.  Nowhere else was anything truly noticeable.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Product Review--believe it or not?

Here is your grain of salt to take with you when you read camera reviews.  I suppose this could relate to the review of any product or service or even an event.  People can be biased and people can lie.  I am often appreciative of Brand X--what is not so mainstream.  Here is my background, to serve as a baseline:

For cars, I'd never choose Toyota, Nissan, Honda or BMW products.  I had a GM product and a Ford product and don't think I would go back.  I've had 5 Volkswagens and 2 Mazdas.  My favourite cars of all time were the 1974 Lotus Europa and the early 1960s Jaguar XK-E 3.8 litre.

For computers, I stayed with Atari products until they were falling apart, and now, I use Apple products, though I still don't like the company's tactics although Microsoft is worse.  Atari's 800 8-bit computer and operating system were so good that they should be held as an example of how to do things correctly.

For photography, I generally don't use Adobe products because they're too buggy and take a lot of extra work to get the desired results.  I've used Olympus cameras and lenses for more than 20 years, and I recently got a Panasonic GH3.  I started with Fuji equipment and still regard Pentax and Nikon highly.  I once again looked at Canon when I was moving to the digital age and decided there was too much compromise for my liking.

Reviews through the magnifying glass

So,  we all look at reviews with a certain bias.  When someone tells me that a product is perfect, I laugh.  There is no product which is perfect for everyone.  I also love the comments when someone isn't in the market for such a product and they say something like "Oh, but it doesn't have a full-frame sensor" or "It needs 19 inch wheels" but the review is a low-end model.

Over the years, I've found no one to be typically good at reviewing computer equipment dispassionately.  In the early days, you were a 6er (Motorola/MOS Technologies) or an 8er (Intel/Zilog) and those rivalries continued for the longest time but now, they're split into a couple of operating systems.  In reviews, you can still hear a lack of criticism from someone who only works with one or the other.

For cars, I usually read Car magazine or Top Gear or Automobile.  When Automobile arrived, they seemed to be friends with Car--almost trying to be an American version.  They yelled about things that were wrong and they sung the praises of things that were right, similar to what Car was doing.

For cameras, I usually read What Digital Camera.  I find they tell what I find to be the truth, although with some of their newer authors, they tend to forget about the larger world.  A generation or more forgot how big certain brands were in commercial photography, thanks to Canon.  Fuji and Pentax were forgotten.  Medium format is rarely noticed, not being the mistakenly-named full-frame (135 format).  There are many full frame formats.

Cut out the bullshit

I'm apparently too old.  I remember too much.  I find bullshit to be bullshit, not something to be regurgitated by clones.  Tell me the truth whether I like it or not and I'll process it.  Tell me to my face, don't talk behind my back.  There is something to be said for the honesty that you find in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York City.  You know where you stand at all times.  If only reviews were written that way, we could trust.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Microsoft store, Apple iPhone 5S, etc. etc.

Microsoft Store

Saturday, I spent some time in a mall where they opened a Microsoft store.  I wondered if they were actually doing anything, other than having an opposing opinion/option to the Apple store in the mall.

I remembered the original opening weekend of 2 Microsoft stores, where the employees broke into a spontaneous, planned dance.  Microsoft tries so hard to be kewl, but they just don't get it.

The employees at the local store were friendly and they wanted to be helpful, but they seemed to be standing at the front of the store in order to keep people out.  I seemed to be the only one willing to go into the store, even though the Apple store was rather busy.

iPhone 5S

What's happening with the iPhone 5S?  The rumors are in conflict.  You can bet that there will be a device the same shape and size as the current iPhone 5.  That's a given, as it's too expensive to change the physical design every year.

There should also be a lower cost model, as selling the iPhone 5 as the low cost model just won't work well.  They could do it as a loss leader but they are a profitable business and all devices must be profitable.  Will they have a MacBook-type of model to offset their MacBook Pro-type that's always been the model?  It makes the most sense.

I have buddies who are in the computer/phone/tablet repair business and they were talking about the price of the iPhone 5 display being prohibitive to replace at around US$300.  As there are more manufactured and sold, the price will eventually drop, but demand is still good.  Of course, the iPhone 4S display is around US$100 so it's cheap enough that they could lose a little money to gain customers.  I doubt seriously that they'll go back to a low (320x480) resolution display to offer in developing countries.

Don't expect great changes with the iPhone 5S.  It'll be the same, but better.  That's Apple.  You should expect an improved camera and 802.11ac WiFi, plus improved LTE.  Right now, they need to work on fixing iOS 6, rather than doing big things with new hardware.  Oh, and they'll likely have a low-power, higher performance CPU + enhanced GPU with almost double the performance.

iPad mini

I was told to expect some iPad mini-related changes in April but I don't feel they're coming, unless they're placed in the tablets without a word.  I believe that they're testing a more power-efficient CPU/GPU for widescale release later.  That doesn't go along with the other hints about the higher resolution display, but they're apparently having trouble securing enough of those to produce tablets without a press-worthy scandal.

micro Four-Thirds

What should be coming in April are some announcements from Panasonic and Olympus for micro Four-Thirds.  Panasonic's supposed merged GX1 and GF5 replacement didn't happen.  The GX1/G5 replacement should happen at the same time.  What's not being mentioned is a replacement for the AG-AF100/AF105 video recorder but there is a rumor for a totally new camera.  Would they bring a semi-professional model to the masses, above the GH3 but at half the price of the AF100?  I seem to remember the Canon XL1 and GL1 being the gateway drugs to Canon's film-making products.  Shouldn't Panasonic have more?

Noting my earlier thoughts about the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera, will Panasonic quickly revise the GH3 to compete?  Will Canon do something, anything to compete?  At US$995, the device stands to wipe away a lot of barriers with what it can do.  Of course, high quality lenses are still cost-prohibitive.  They've shown the camera body attached to cine lenses, mounted in a typical rig.  Obviously, being used in hand, it presents typical problems of using a tiny camera body attached to a heavy lens, which is why I don't like most of micro Four-Thirds bodies.

T-Mobile--the last stand

Is it destined for erasure from history?  It seems that way.  They're going all out to either change the industry or destroy themselves.  I've seen that Verizon picked up on the finance a full-priced phone bit but I suspect Verizon won't end the Early Termination Fee or contracts.  It would give their account department heart attacks trying to predict future income.  Right now, when someone signs a contract, they can fill buckets for 24 months and project how they'll be faring a long way into the future.  If T-Mobile is all month-to-month revenue, can they predict anything?


I've noticed that Sprint has fixed a few things locally.  They can't keep up with the onslaught of new smart phone users, but they've fixed some problems with their current capacity and speeds.  As Nextel and the chirp go away, things will improve.  If the agreement with Softbank and the other agreement with Clearwire work out, Sprint should shake off the past and regain some of its strength.  Smart phones do seem to be killing all the providers, but at least, Sprint isn't publicly blaming their customers the way Cingular/AT&T does. (Oh, geez, Dish Network is proposing a US$25.5 billion merger with Sprint.  Since Dish Network was trying to buy Clearwire, it makes sense but nooooo!)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, micro Four-Thirds biggest moment?

As you may have seen, this new US$995 video/digital film camera was announced this week at the NAB show.  Blackmagic has been making waves for a while with some interesting cameras that seem more budget conscious than even Red.

The Pocket Cinema Camera is about the size of micro Four-Thirds models like the Olympus E-PL5 or the Panasonic GF6 (also announced this week), but it doesn't do still photography.

It does 1080p video in a way that it's a film maker's tool.  It's easy to imagine two of these mounted to the front of a car to give easy interior shots.  The thing that's confusing to most people so far is that it is a video/digital film device.  I've seen several people want to buy it simply because it's small and light and will use their lenses.  Then, they learn that it's very different, and they seem almost betrayed.  :D  The Super 16mm format of the sensor is the main problem for those people because it's smaller than the current Four-Thirds format.  What's good for cinema isn't so good for still photography.

This would be a perfect tool for me because, having had an Olympus E-5 since November 2011 and having had a Panasonic GH3 for a month or two, I haven't touched video at all.  Obviously, I should waste US$995 on something I may never use, simply because of its excellence.  Of course, I need to learn to use the video to augment my photography but it's not high on my list.

I know that film makers were using the GH2 for video and the GH3 came along to make things better and easier but how does this new camera body change things for Panasonic?  It's about US$300 cheaper than the GH3 and doesn't have anything to do with still photography.  (Not that the GH3 is a great stills camera body, but it is more than just serviceable.)  Panasonic has been grooming the GH3 to supplant the Canon 5DMkIII and it does similar functionality for less.

The Pocket Cinema Camera is important for other reasons.  It gives Carl Zeiss another product with which its cine lenses can be used.  Schneider may at some time produce the 3 promised lenses and they'll be welcomed by the industry, moreso than the casual photographers who generally use micro Four-Thirds equipment.  As much as I'd love to use US$20,000 zoom lenses on my equipment, I have so far drawn the line at US$2500, although I might go somewhat higher for greater focal length, namely the ZD 90-250mm f/2.8.

If micro Four-Thirds has not become everyone's darling format, it's because of the casual photographer who would rather buy equipment than learn to use equipment to its fullest.  Yes, there are times when you can't walk closer to your subject, but when you can't get a decent photo out of any of your lenses, your equipment isn't the problem.  I've been know to be inflexible and I have struggled with a point-and-shoot.  However, I started with a box camera, a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, and I know how to walk, and sometimes, I know how to imagine what I want.

I'm guessing that this new camera will feed the imagination of young film makers who will rush to buy inexpensive bits and pieces and make quality films with (relatively) very little money.  It's exciting!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Olympus' GH3 workalike coming?

I've wondered for the longest time why Olympus doesn't give their professional model the newest and best of everything.  After the E-1, it took 4 years for a replacement and the company's more budget-conscious models got an 8 MP Kodak CCD, a 7.5 MP LiveMOS (NMOS, I believe) sensor from Panasonic, and then a 10 MP Kodak CCD.  Eventually, in 2007, the E-3 got a 10 MP LiveMOS sensor.  Not long after that the E-30 got a 12 MP LiveMOS sensor, and in 2010, the E-5 got that same sensor.  Odd, isn't it?

A buddy in Singapore was telling me that files from the E-3 needed more manipulation to reach the look that Olympus gave us with the E-1.  When I bought the E-5 body, I noticed the same, even if it took supposedly less work, they didn't come from the body nicely.

I've been noticing with Capture One 7 Pro that the fixups help the E-5 photo files much more than the E-1's files.  It could be many aspects of the photos but could just be that more time has passed.  My E-5 files come out looking about as good as those of the E-1, thankfully.  The Phase One people have worked some sort of photographic magic with their new imaging engine because the old engine wasn't so good.

If you've been reading my blog entries, you'll know that I'm thrilled (and sometimes, annoyed) with the Panasonic GH3.  What really bothers me is that Olympus didn't bother with their own model.  They could be trying to salvage the E-5's sales or they just don't agree with the shape and believe that the fanatics will turn against them.  Certainly, a lot of people were upset with the GH3, even though it's a good tool for professionals--with adjustments.

The GH3 has a funky white balance issue and I know that I can set it and remember to set it each time I start to photograph something different, but I'm so depending on Olympus' auto white balance to pick a great number.  By the way, the E-5 is nowhere near as good as the E-1's AWB, but I say that about just about anything.  :-D

I'm looking to the E-5 replacement to fix everything for me.  Yes, I'm delusional--hopefully, not.

An E-M6 could have a great sensor, and it doesn't have to be a higher resolution than the one used by the E-M5 and GH3.  It doesn't have to shoot video or have Live View, although I know it will.  I'm really looking for a great stills camera body.  Image quality and equipment balance are my main points.  I want to attach my overly big, overly heavy 35-100mm lens and not feel as though it's going to slip out of my hands.  i.e., give it a big grip, and while that's available, give it a big battery.

Even more so, make it a great tool that I can use without taking my eyes off the scene.  An LCD display would be great, but not to the exclusion of dials and buttons.  An articulating display is great but if it takes up valuable button space, make it smaller.  I use the Super Control Panel on the E-5 to make some quick adjustments because they're all in one place.  Panasonic's Quick Menu isn't as helpful, but as I become more familiar, it may be good for me.

What bothers me about the GH3 is that Panasonic obviously consulted with professionals on what they wanted--they just didn't implement the body as though it was to be used by professionals.  I can pick up the E-5 easily and the E-1 more easily and just shoot, but I have to think about using the GH3.  It could be just time and acclimation (or brand) but I think there is more to it, such as the settings as shipped.

I hope that Olympus comes to my rescue but once again, 2010 to 2013 is a long time to wait and the E-5 was only so-so by the time they delivered it, as was the E-3.  We want a home run, not a single.  (I was supposed to photograph a baseball game today but it was cancelled.)

Update 2013.09.15: There has been some time to digest the information about the Olympus E-M1.  It is as close as Olympus will come to a GH3 type of camera.  Video is not their priority and they don't want to upset Panasonic who are very important in micro Four-Thirds.  Olympus have put out a great new camera body, which of course, is especially good for stills.

It's obviously to me that Olympus have got their micro Four-Thirds act together.  I'm not pleased with their Four-Thirds action but it happened.  I'm hoping that the GH3 replacement will take better photos because it really is a well-designed camera body.  (Yes, I was finally acclimated to it.)  If Olympus had just modified the GH3 body with the E-M1 bits, it would have had a great camera all round, so hopefully, Panasonic will take us to a similar point with the GH5.

I had a few hours with the E-M1 and it felt like a great body for micro Four-Thirds lenses.  It was uncomfortable for me with Four-Thirds lenses, as the grip was angular, rather than rounded like the E-5 or GH3 bodies' grips.  The photos were good.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Digital photo noise--subjective, not objective

I happened to see the latest Popular Photography issue at the store today.  I've never given much thought to the magazine since the first time I look at it during the days of film and laughed at their conclusions.

In the current issue, they were reviewing the Panasonic DMC-GH3, a camera body I recently bought.  They had a bar graph for noise at each ISO sensitivity setting.  First, they had ISO 100, which isn't a setting in the GH3.  I guess they couldn't be bothered to put the actual number in their graph, although in the same area of the review, they had ISO 125.

Concerning noise, they had ISO 1600 and up as unacceptable.  I'm not sure how they can tell what is acceptable or not.  When I worked with film, ASA(ISO for digital) 400 film was usually acceptable, especially with the later formulations, and it is horribly worse than most digital sensors of the past few years.  Whether it's the grain of black and white, incorrect pigment of color, or digital noise, who can say definitively what is acceptable?

Other reviews have said that at ISO 800 on the GH3 (and I believe, the Olympus E-M5), noise is creeping into the photos.  That makes sense since that number was where the problem really started with the E-1.  My own experience tells me that the images I'm getting at ISO 1600 are very clean and the images at ISO 3200 are reasonable, but not beautiful.  After that, don't expect much of anything positive.  Yes, I've seen people claim to get really good photos at 12,800 but I don't believe it's likely unless they're working with a Nikon D4.

Still, for someone to put a wall up saying "unacceptable" seems unacceptable in itself.  It's difficult to quantify and impossible to generalize that all photos fit into one category.  I would agree that a photo is likely to be more noisy at a certain ISO sensitivity but to be unacceptably noisy?  It's like comparing different technologies and using numbers that don't mean the same thing.  I've been reading that camera makers have implemented film-like noise somehow.  This is certainly better than the banding we've seen in certain situations but it's the chroma (color) noise that makes the biggest problems.

I've printed indoor E-1 (using flash) photos on 13x19 paper and found them to be quite acceptable, as are the outdoor photos.  Are they exquisite and flawless?  No.  The noise is not really visible and I can only guess that the combination of photo processing and printing evened out the noise so that it isn't noticeable.  For that matter, how would a 14 MP point-and-shoot compact have good 8x10 or bigger output?  The TV shopping channels almost always have huge prints from so-so point-and-shoot cameras, so something has to be happening.

I believe that there is a point where the noise will be so visible that it's unacceptable to everyone.  In certain industries, almost any photo noise is too much, which is why fashion uses medium format and studio lighting.  I've even seen shoots where they use lighting during daylight.  Even the E-5 has amazing image quality with studio lighting.  I'm sure Popular Photography would disagree.