Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sprint and its wireless service

I just saw where Sprint added and enhanced LTE data access in a number of markets:

-- Baraboo, Wis. -- Kokomo, Ind.
-- Beaver Dam, Wis. -- Laredo, Texas
-- Brownsville/Harlingen, Texas -- Lebanon, Pa.
-- Bronx/Brooklyn, N.Y. -- Morgan City, La.
-- Columbus, Miss. -- Nacogdoches, Texas
-- Daytona Beach, Fla. -- Nashville, Tenn.
-- Durham, N.C. -- Oakland, Calif.
-- Dyersburg, Tenn. -- Ocala, Fla.
-- Faribault/Northfield, Minn. -- Palm Coast, Fla.
-- Fayetteville, N.C. -- Philadelphia
-- Fitchburg/Leominster, Mass. -- Ponca City, Okla.
-- Flint, Mich. -- Port Charlotte/Punta Gorda, Fla.
-- Fort Lauderdale/Pompano -- Portland, Ore.
Beach/Deerfield Beach, Fla. -- Rocky Mount, N.C.
-- Grand Rapids, Mich. -- Saginaw, Mich.
-- Greenville, N.C. -- Salinas, Calif.
-- Greenwood, Miss. -- Springfield, Mass.
-- Holland, Mich. -- Tulsa, Okla.
-- Homosassa Springs, Fla. -- Tupelo, Miss.
-- Jackson, Tenn. -- Wausau, Wis.
-- Jacksonville, Fla. -- Wilson, N.C.

I hope it works well.  I actually tried the LTE service on the edges of Philadelphia back in June, as I have their Tri-Fi mobile hotspot.  I finally had to turn off LTE access because it wasn't yet stable enough and WiMAX was at around 10 Mbps and I didn't need anything slower.

I'm interested to know why they picked Homasassa Springs, FL or Kokomo, IN.  I'm sure some of the other locations would be interesting, also but then, their previous choices seemed odd, as well.  I suspect the whole industry is looking for easier places to start, to diagnose before they really get the complex and difficult areas ready.

Meanwhile, they've disabled iDEN, which is a good thing, as they have two bands for LTE and one band for WiMAX at the moment.  As WiMAX fades away next year, they'll have 800 MHz, 1.9 GHz, and 2.5 GHz for LTE.  That will give them both building penetration and reach.  My Tri-Fi mobile hotspot uses 1.9 GHz for LTE and 2.5 GHz for WiMAX, so it will definitely be outdated once they've finished.

It's amazing how things have changed since 2006.  Sprint was the 3G data leader then but handling Nextel became a huge problem that has only been resolved a couple of weeks ago.  Of course, there weren't a bunch of smart phones back then.  Only HandSpring/Palm's Treo line really worked well and there were no substantial subsidies, so only the determined would buy a smart phone then.

Now, the lines are clogged because everyone seems to need a smart phone.  Sprint has way too many MVNOs on their network, as well.  A few people have gone to other carriers but the exodus has apparently not been massive and they were reporting quite a few smart phone users in the recent, closed quarter.
Eighty-six percent of quarterly Sprint platform postpaid handset sales were smartphones, including approximately 1.4 million iPhones® sold during the quarter. Forty-one percent of iPhone sales were to new customers.
Unfortunately, I don't see them expanding the network at a similar pace.  Of course, had they been using the money from contracts to expand the network as they went along, they would have been in such bad shape.  Of course, a lot of the money went to Nextel problems.  I wonder how much more, if any, the Nextel customers would have complained if Nextel went out of business on its own, without Sprint to keep it going.  I suspect that would have been better for Sprint and Sprint customers.

Of course, the 78% buyout of Sprint by SoftBank should help the acceleration of network improvements and buying ClearWire should help that company focus their attention toward the network and not selling their services.

I'm still trying to decide whether to remain with Sprint.  I started with them in September of 2000 and it's only been the last 5 years that I've had doubts, but especially since they started handling Apple's iPhone, as the data usage has ballooned but not the hardware capacity to handle all the extra data requests.

Their customer service people seem willing to help but their technical staff seem unwilling.  As I find it difficult to use a network that churns away just to retrieve e-mail, they try to avoid acknowledging the problem using any method possible.

They even offered me a device which connected to a wired internet connection.  When I asked how it was going to correct their connection, they sounded upset.  So, I asked if they were going to provide the wired internet connection, and of course, they declined.

I haven't talked to any of the technical people recently but they ought to offer me the fancy US$59.95 cradle with the extra antennae and 5 dB gain improvement.  That would not have helped me way back when because I was tethering with my phone, not having the mobile hotspot device.

I hope the extra money will cause them to flourish again.

Update: I've been on the road recently in August, mostly across I-40 west of Memphis, Tennessee, and at Barstow, up to San Jose, California.  I have yet to see any evidence of LTE working, even in San Jose 95131.  My first six hours there, WiMAX was working quite well, and then, it was 0-1 bars the rest of the time, even after they closed the ticket.  3G worked, but it was overloaded.  Since my Tri-Fi device does 1900 MHz LTE, that should have shown up, if they've really pushed it out.

I haven't found anywhere things were great but WiMAX was fine in Flagstaff, Arizona and Amarillo, Texas.  Other places, like Barstow didn't even have WiMAX and will probably be a while to get LTE.

Update 2013.09.28: I was in Muncie, Indiana and I had a chance to check their LTE service not far from Ball State University.  AT&T added LTE service there last year and Sprint added LTE service earlier this year.  Maybe, it's the mobile hotspot device or the 1900 MHz frequency, but I was about 150 feet from a main road and just barely inside a building, but neither the download or upload speed exceeded 4 Mbps.  That's not good.  In July 2012, when I tried Verizon's LTE over a mobile hotspot, I didn't think it was very good at just over 5.5 Mbps because I was getting roughly 3 Mbps from Sprint's 3G network at the time.  I can't imagine that every student in Muncie switched to have LTE, but it certainly seemed overloaded.  It wasn't even that bad in Indianapolis when it was only 30% covered.  A couple of weeks later, I was in downtown Indianapolis waiting for an event and I wanted to download something large.  Their LTE was at 0.75 Mbps on the test I ran.  After notifying Sprintcare, they told me that two towers were having issues, putting stress on the tower I was using.

Update 2013.10.29: Sprint entered 42 new markets, I believe, in just about every state.  They picked some odd locations, again.  I thought it was great that they chose Fort Smith, Arkansas, as I'd been there in August.  I thought it was odd that they added LTE in Odessa, but not Midland, Texas as they had covered both towns with WiMAX in the early stages.  They also mentioned that they enhanced coverage in Queensborough, New York City, NY, which is a great thing but it's not helping me.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Philly Cheese steak--don't mess it up!

Twice this week, I've seen advertising for a "Philly" sandwich and they both used Swiss cheese.  I lived in the Philadelphia area for 8 years and never, ever saw any place using Swiss cheese or green peppers.

If you want to make a cheese steak, there are very few ingredients.

  • Hoagie roll
  • Steak
  • Cheese (Provolone, Mozzarella, or Cheese Whiz)
  • Onions

Optionally, you can add ketchup or marinara sauce as a topping.  There are a few places where you can add mushrooms.  There are many places where you can change it into a cheese steak hoagie by adding lettuce and tomatoes.

If you go to Pat's or Geno's, you're expected to know what you want and order that way.  "Provolone wit(h onions)" or "Cheese Whiz".  They're not going to add green peppers and they won't have Swiss cheese.  They may not be the best but they're the longest running places in the business since Pat's started it.

It's a Cheese Steak--don't mess it up!

Update 2014.03.19: You've probably seen the Cheese Steak Shuffle on Geico advertisements.   Whatever works.  Apparently, the Vento family is going all out to make some extra fame for their business.

I went to a place that advertised cheese steaks and they tried to put Swiss Cheese on it with mayonnaise.  When I told the cashier I wanted Provolone, she apparently forgot to add it, but took off the Swiss, so someone said "Cheese Steak, No Cheese" and when no one else spoke up, I told him to put provolone on it, like a real cheese steak.  The roll was terribly soft, like what Blimpie or another company in the south used--this company was from Memphis but the founder was from Philly.

I don't eat many of them, simply because they're so bad for you.  In fact, I love beef but I don't eat much meat really.  I'd rather have fish any day, though.  If they can make a cheese steak with chicken, how about fish?  I thought that using chicken was sacrilege but whatever.  It's done.  Give me fish!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Google's new Nexus 7

Ifr you missed the announcement on Wednesday, Google has replaced the Nexus 7 with the Nexus 7.

It uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro--quad core CPU and Adreno 320 GPU with 2 GB of RAM total to power the 1920x1200 pixel resolution display.

The older one used an nVidia Tegra 3 quad+1 core CPU with nVidia's own GPU and a 1280x800 pixel display.

Obviously, it's quite a change.  Having had two of the previous version and returning them for various reasons, I wonder if the newest version will please.  Hopefully, they won't have any quality issues because there were plenty early in each run.  Thankfully, they went with the current 16 and 32 GB storage options.  I also wonder about performance issues.

The older one left me wondering whether I had a defective device or not.  It would be smooth for the longest time (like I'd not seen from Android) and suddenly, it would pause a couple of seconds, and start again suddenly.  There never seemed to be a pattern, and it happened with both the 16 GB version that was then top of the line and after being replaced at the top, the 32 GB version.  You'd think that nVidia (and Google) would have noticed that in testing.

I'm amused at the Apple fanatics who say that there is nothing to the Nexus 7 in comparison to the iPad mini.  What are they missing?  The iPad mini wasn't competition for the original Nexus 7, so how is it that it beats the newer one?  (Update 2013.10.25: Obviously the revised iPad mini with the higher resolution (the same as the full-sized iPad) display is on a more even testing ground with the newer Nexus 7.  Given that both the newer iPad mini and newer Nexus 7 have very powerful processing available, it's simply a matter of taste.  Oh, and the US$170 difference leads to some powerful thoughts.  Google is trying to sell their ecosystem and services while Apple is trying to sell hardware.)

I like Apple products and I was disappointed with the iPad mini by the time it arrived.  There were rumors about the time of the second generation iPad and a 7-8 inch mini version with a 1024x768 pixel display was reasonable then.  As time passed, the specifications remained the same, and the processor was barely newer.  Adding insult to injury, they wanted a premium price for it.  I had zero desire to buy one.

Having had two Nexus 7 tablets and feeling a bit cheated by the experience, I'm not sure I want a tablet at all but I feel it's a good way to display my photos.  If I buy a tablet, it's going to be from 7-8 inches for the display.  The Nexus 7 and iPad mini would still be the likely items.

Right now, Apple is having trouble lining up displays for the iPad mini, so they need to have a fire sale because I don't see how they're going to sell what's now a US$149 tablet using Android.

Update 2013.11.14: I tried the 2013 version of the Nexus 7 briefly and found it to be more agreeable than the 2012 versions.  Even though there is a rather massive difference in display surface area, I'm not sure it's going to be a huge deal for people wanting a tablet that they can hold in one hand.  While I was in Micro Center yesterday, I saw people buying a US$50 tablet as though it would solve everyone's deepest needs.  I suspect, being that cheap, the people behind the tablet have zero mechanisms for dealing with software updates so what you see is what you get, even if you somehow naively think you're getting a Nexus 7 equivalent.

Update 2013.12.03: I've had a 2013 Nexus 7 for a couple of weeks.  It's everything I hoped with none of the bad.  The fact that I got it US$30 cheaper than the regular price helped sway me to part with the money.  The new iPad mini is good, but not very good, and for less money, the 2013 Nexus 7 is so much better.  It's the tablet I expected from Apple before they even had anything ready for the public.  It's too bad that Apple decided to raise the price, rather than dropping it.  Of course, Google raised their price also, but the new tablet is much, much better than the 2012 version.

Update 2014.03.15: I've had my Nexus 7 for a few months.  It got the Android 4.4.2 update not long after I bought it.  I still have my doubts about Android.  It works as though it is tested for functionality, but not for the user experience at all.  The 2012 Nexus 7 is evidence of that.  If anyone had actually tried that tablet, they never would have let it go to market.

Still, in a casual setting, the newer Nexus 7 is stable and except for the occasional glitch performs well.  For games, a lot is dependent on the game but they all seem more unhappy than their iOS relatives.  That's sad because this is the Google tablet.  If they can't get Android to perform correctly on products labeled as their own, how can they handle other products correctly?

Update 2015.04.27: The Nexus 7 has been said to no longer be available via Google.  It's surprising that they didn't replace it already, but it doesn't look as though they care to replace it at all.

With the latest Android version 5.1, mine doesn't seem to be working all that well, even though that was the performance fix release for 5.0.  I can only imagine how horribly the 2012 version of the tablet is struggling to work.  Maybe, it is time to call it quits.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

TripAdvisor, Yelp: the amusing reality

I'm fairly sure I had a connection to TripAdvisor much sooner than Yelp.  They had a map where you could add places where you've been and places where you wanted to go.  You could add it to any social media web site you used.

When I started to write reviews on Yelp, I never thought of putting them on TripAdvisor.  TripAdvisor always seemed a bit snooty and unrealistic, plus Yelp had businesses other than hotels, restaurants, and landmarks.

If I'm on a trip, my car might need service, unexpectedly.  Where do I go?  Who is good?  TripAdvisor won't tell you.  Here, Angie's List might help, but it won't tell you about a motel or restaurant, and you have to pay for a membership.

Now, the thing about any review is whether you can trust the person or not.  Currently, I have 50 reviews on TripAdvisor and 525 reviews on Yelp.  I have zero reviews on Angie's List and probably won't--I didn't join.  They may not advertise but why pay when you could still get false reviews?

I review places I've been and services I've used.  It doesn't mean anything to me to see a review of a place that says "I'm a fan!" or "Good beer!".  Did you have good service?  Did you wait long?  Was the food agreeable?  Was the place dirty or messy?

I got an e-mail from TripAdvisor today saying that a photo was rejected.  It seems that every photo I took at that restaurant was rejected.  It's dark inside so it wouldn't be easy to get, but having 5 exterior photos doesn't help people know how it is inside the place.  At least, they didn't delete my review.  Since I was sick after 1 taco, I figured they'd get rid of that.  How useful are professional, staged photographs?  Is your experience anything like that?

Besides that, they don't like screenshots of WiFi speeds.  When you go to a motel or hotel where they feature an internet connection, wouldn't it be helpful to know the likely speed you're going to get, especially if you need to get work done?

This explains why I like Yelp.  Sure, you have to weed through iffy reviews, but you have to do that elsewhere, also.  No site where a person's opinion can be written is 100% safe from fabrication.

This is my next point.  I wrote an account of my experiences with Isaac's Moving service around Philadelphia, first from Audubon to Bensalem and then, Bensalem to Altamonte Springs, FL.

The move from Audubon went brilliantly with two very caring people.  It was so good that I wanted to have the company move me to Florida over a big name interstate mover.  In the end, Isaac's told me that I had more than I showed the estimator and that's why they needed more money at the destination.  In fact, I'd thrown away most of my furniture and had almost nothing big at that point.  At the time, it was a rather typical tactic of small movers to provide this "extra service" when you really needed your things.  No government (federal or state) had any rules or regulations concerning consumer belongings, so the contract was everything.  Such tactics were shown on national news reports, but of course, no one could do anything about it.  Thankfully, PODS arrived on the scene.

A few weeks ago, someone from Isaac's decided to comment on my review of their services.  Without knowing exactly where or when my move took place, he fabricated a wonderful story about the heroic movers and how they weren't going to receive their money, even after several discounts, because I was indigent and desperate.

I was completely amused that someone would attempt to come up with such a story, when there were so many 1 star reviews.  Besides, when I left Bensalem, I had 3 weeks of unused vacation pay, and my new employer in Florida was paying for my move.  In any case, I didn't respond to the comment because that would have removed it from public view.  I should probably quote it and incorporate it into my review just in case that they decide to delete it.

I find it strange that some people go to great lengths to have people write reviews for them, rather than fix their business.  In this case, attacking my credibility should probably hurt me but with 524 (make that 685 total, as of 2013.12.09) other reviews, I think people can tell who I am and why they can trust what I write.

Update 2013.12.09: This weekend, someone from Isaac's made another comment on my review.  It seems substantially the same.   I find it difficult to believe that they would place so much emphasis on dis-crediting my review.  Surely, if they don't think that reviews on Yelp are worthwhile, why fight them?  Why tell people to look at Angie's List (people can't lie there?) or the Better Business Bureau, if there is nothing to fear, and I'm just a hopeless storyteller?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dr. Amar Bose has died

Way back before the Acoustimass series of apartment-dweller surround sound systems, Dr. Bose introduced the world to Direct-Reflecting sound with the 901 series and its commercial equivalent.

The speakers were odd, even in the 1970s when there were many odd speakers like the Klipschorn.  Most people wanted big speakers or tall speakers.  They didn't understand Direct-Reflecting speakers, and the time of home theatre had not yet arrived.

About the same time, I saw my first 72 inch projection TV.  It was horribly fuzzy, in a way that a US$50 TV would not be today, even with an analog signal.

In 1978, the world wasn't ready for the technology but in Japan, Panasonic was displaying HDTV prototypes.

I fell in love with the 501 series as it was an affordable substitute for the 901 series.  There was even the bookshelf version of the speakers, the 301 series.

This week, at 83, Dr. Bose has died.

He had degrees from MIT and also taught at MIT.

Most people have no clue about his early work or his commercial products.  They focus on the work of the company starting with the Acoustimass series, which to me, was at best, a huge compromise to fit a 400 sq. ft. apartment that you might find in Manhattan (New York City), and at worst, a joke.  Subsequent marketing produced a number of so-so products, but the original 901 series continued to be improved.

I was most impressed when I was watching a movie on Laserdisc around 1992, and the digital sound was so life-like that I picked up my beeper/pager thinking that it had an alert, but it was a beeper in the movie.  I can't think of another brand that had sound so clear.

Was it the end-all-be-all for rock music?  Of course not.  JBL did that.  Unfortunately, time has caught up and with home theater amplifiers and receivers, there aren't the correct connections to use the 901s.  I still use a pair of 601s as my rear surround speakers, and I need to replace them, as well.  They've all served me well.

So, here is to Dr. Bose for his fine work in spatial audio, opening a small room into a virtually much larger room, and I'm sure that kind of technology has been replicated in every sound bar today.  He did a lot for the world of audio that most consumers would only recognize when they heard it.

Update 2014.05.04: I was in a Bose store the other day.  Obviously, things have changed a lot since the 1970s when the 301, 501, and 901 series were sold in electronics stores.  The Cinemate 1 SP soundbar + bass unit was impressive.  It also reminded me of all the various sound bars using a variation of Direct/Reflecting technology.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Wide angle for (micro) Four-Thirds

I'm considering too much lately.

I'd really like to have a wide angle lens to do some photography that just normally isn't possible due to an effective (135 format) 28mm with the ZD 14-35mm and ZD 14-54mm lenses.  My iPhone 4S is the only way I can get really wide angles currently.  Panasonic's 12-35mm is available but an effective 24mm vs. 28mm isn't a huge difference.  (Update: Equally, the new Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 will be available in November but is it enough?)  Would it be useful with the GH3?  Sure, but it would be only somewhat more useful in wide angles and not enough to justify the price.

I had considered the Nikon D7100, but even then, it has the 1.5x multiplication factor, so a 10-20mm becomes effectively (135 format) a 15-30mm lens.  Before I jump to a Nikon D700 or D800, I need to consider how often I'll use such extreme wide angles.  Paying US$4000-5000 to get wide angles may be a bit much.

Olympus and Panasonic have a few options:
  • ZD 7-14mm f/4.0 (Four-Thirds)
  • Panasonic 7-14mm f/4.0 (micro Four-Thirds)
  • ZD 11-22mm f/2.8-3.5 (Four-Thirds)
  • ZD 8mm f/3.5 fisheye (Four-Thirds)
  • Panasonic 8mm f/3.5 fisheye (micro Four-Thirds)
  • m.Zuiko 12mm f/2.0 (micro Four-Thirds)
  • ZD 9-18mm (Four-Thirds)
  • m.Zuiko 9-18mm (micro Four-Thirds)
I can now also add the:

  • m.Zuiko Pro 12-40mm f/2.8
  • Panasonic 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6

Those are plenty of options, I suppose.  The 9-18mm are out immediately.  They lack weather-proofing and they're not very good.  The Olympus m.Zuiko 12mm f/2.0 is a great lens but lacks weather-proofing and I generally don't buy primes because they don't fit most of what I want to photograph.  Yes, I know how to walk and my first few lenses ever were fixed focal length lenses.  The fisheye lenses are similarly out of the list, although Olympus has a $200 discount on its lens currently and it's weather-proofed, so it is somewhat interesting.  Of course, they have a distorted view, which makes them both loved and hated.

That brings me to the 7-14mm lenses.  Panasonic really outdid themselves creating a small version of Olympus' lens.  Despite the lack of weather-proofing, it seems a wonderful lens and it's built very well, especially compared to other micro Four-Thirds lenses.  The ZD 7-14mm is practically perfect with weather-proofing.  Yes, it's huge but it works on two systems with an adapter, and Adorama has a demonstrator occasionally at an amazing price.  The low light capabilities would be significant, as this would be a good lens for interior shots.  Unfortunately, at f/4.0, you can't do much indoors without extra lighting (or a great deal of exposure and clean-up time).

I'm thinking that the ZD 11-22mm f/2.8-3.5 is a good choice.  It's mildly wide with a good maximum aperture, and it's reasonably light.  The 72mm filter size will require an adapter ring but that's not a huge deal.  The MTF graphs are unusual, as Olympus didn't label them very well.  It looks like the 11mm graph is a bit wild, but I would expect distortion at such a focal length.  (Update: seeing Robin Wong's photos with this lens, I expect it to be quite amazing, as it came from the time when few lenses existed, such as the 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 and the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5.)

Panasonic's new 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 is an amazingly small lens, made for the GM1 camera body, which is also amazingly small.  The maximum aperture is also small, mainly because it's a kit lens, but it may be quite usable because of high ISO sensitivities on newer bodies.

Olympus' new 12-40mm f/2.8 lens is absolutely wonderful.  If there is a flaw, I'm not sure what it is.  The included lens hood looks a bit small, but from my experience with the 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 hood, the lens hood should not be in the photo as it is with the 14-54mm hood.

I'm still lost in thought about this.  When I need wide angles, it's apparent that I don't have the equipment but most of the time, it doesn't matter enough to spend extra money.  Of course, I could have started with Nikon 135 format digital equipment back in 2004, but oh wait, it wasn't available.  Their APS-C based equipment wasn't all that great then, either, nor was Canon's.

Update 2014.03.10: Recently, Olympus announced a micro Four-Thirds version of the 7-14mm but with a larger maximum aperture--f/2.8.  I'm sure the lens will be good, if it actually arrives.  It's due in 2015, which is next year, but that would be any time next year.   I recently bought the 12-40mm f/2.8 and the 12mm end has been a thing of joy for me.  I've been able to photograph a much wider scene than the extra 2mm would seem to allow--or in 135 Format terms, 4mm.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Canon 70D vs Panasonic GH3

This week's announcement seems that Canon is attempting to remove any thought of using the Panasonic GH3 for film work.  As I've said in the past, it seems that Canon is on the downslide and they seem to know it and they're afraid and trying just about any idea to put them back where they were.

The new auto focus development on the 70D closes a rather huge hole in Canon's dSLR ability to handle video focus correctly, as well as the live feed from the sensor.  A busy sensor may be an overloaded sensor, but at least, they'll have accurate focus, probably, if their firmware is correct.  If they had implemented Contrast Detect Auto Focus, it's likely they wouldn't have had as much of a problem.  (Update 2013.12.07: I've been told that the new auto focus works well, so that's in their favour.)

It seems a good breakthrough, but one that will be ignored by professionals, as they'll use manual focus for most anything.  Don't you want to control the focus yourself, as they do for films you see in the cinema?  Still, Canon wants to hurt any chance for the Panasonic GH3, which is rather firmly entrenched by now, and the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera which should be available any time now.  Since both use micro Four-Thirds lenses, Canon might be able to hinder development of third party lenses, although putting pressure on third parties who have to scrape to get their lenses to work with each Canon model might not work so well.  Tamron seems to be bowing to pressure.

Live View on the 70D (as well as the D7100) seems to be restrictive, mostly due to the single position rear display.  If the world could be gathered in front of a tripod, it might be convenient.  However, the world moves at all angles.  When using Live View, shouldn't you be able to hold the camera above your head, over a crowd, or hold it near the ground, facing upward?  A fully-articulated rear display helps in these matters.  If you have to guess at what you're getting, what's the use of Live View?

Shooting from the ground, comfortably with rear display angled

Now, I've just seen the Canon EOS-M, their hopeful mirror-less camera, drastically reduced in price because only the fanatics were willing to buy.  They have started a small avalanche of sales.  After it returns to regular price, will anyone care?  I suspect it will sit a lot but the company can still hope.  (Update 2013.12.07: They've introduced a follow up model in Japan and it has hybrid auto focus and naturally, a high price, and not much else.)

In general, mirror-less camera equipment isn't selling incredibly well, probably because it's rather expensive.  While the Panasonic GH3's price makes sense, how can the GF6 price make sense when the GF6 looks like a point-and-shoot?

It doesn't seem that dSLRs are selling all that well, either, but there are more people who want to look like professionals and could be terribly embarrassed if their friends saw them with something small.  Elementary school, anyone?  Samsung even did a demonstration in Australia where they hid a mirror-less body inside a dSLR shell.  Assumptions are everything.

In any case, I think Panasonic and Blackmagic have no reason to worry about the Canon 70D and Canon users at that level will be happy to switch to a newer body.  The GH3 and Pocket Cinema Camera offer too much to film makers to be ignored.

Another tidbit: if you're considering the 70D vs the D7100 for stills, pick the D7100.  The weather-sealing and the 51 point auto focus have a lot to offer over the 70D and the only thing that the 70D really offers over the D7100--this new Dual Pixel AF--isn't something worth having unless you have a lot of Canon equipment already.  You could do better to buy into a mirror-less camera system.  Once again, the GH3 is a very good choice, when video is your main concern but you also need still photography.

Canon 70D Pros:

  • Still image quality
  • Extensive variety of lenses
  • 1.5x zoom factor for lenses--i.e., 70-200mm becomes effective 105-350mm

Panasonic GH3 Pros:

  • Video flexibility of formats and bit rates
  • Weather-sealing
  • Articulating rear display
  • Light weight and small size of lenses aids portability in the field 
  • Remote control from a tablet or smartphone
  • Focal length/aperture reducing adapters
Update 2014.02.21: Given that the Panasonic GH4 (the GH3 replacement) has been announced and it will be available in the near future, I think that the gap will have widened quite a bit--if the technical data is as good in real life as it looks on virtual paper.  I'm still of the opinion that, if you're heavily invested in Canon equipment, and don't feel like tossing it all away, stay with Canon.  You really have to want to change.  If you're fresh to the market, I think it's better to go with Panasonic, especially if you're interested in video or film making.  Panasonic is committed to doing great things while Canon is treading water, hoping to keep its place.  I'm not quite so thrilled with Panasonic's own lenses, but I only have two and one is away being repaired now.  However, Olympus has quite a few great lenses (I just bought the 12-40mm f/2.8 and it's on my GH3 right now), and Samyang/Rokinon/Bower have inexpensive, sharp lenses available, and Kowa just announced three of their own.  We'll see if the processing of still photos is that much better than the GH3.  They seem to make good generational steps, and the GX7 and GM1 bodies show better stills performance already.  Given the power necessary to handle 4K video over Full HD, I know that the processor has to be much more powerful.

Update 2014.12.18: I've got the GH4 now and it contains fixes for most any problem the GH3 had.  It's still not perfect, but what is?  Auto focus is more certain, especially for video, and I've used it for skate park videos already with success.  Is it as clever as the 70D innovation?  Probably not.  Is it as effective?  If I'm not having a problem with focus, I would say so.  However, the articulating rear display is a huge bonus on the GH4, as it was on the GH3.  As well, being able to operate the GH4 from my tablet or smart phone has made it extra useful.

The Metabones SpeedBooster has become useful to many people, apparently.  Being able to take a low light-oriented lens and make it work as an even faster lens is useful.  Think of it as a reverse teleconverter.  As I've doing more and more video, I'm interested.  The SpeedBooster for Nikon G lenses along with the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 was suggested to me in particular.

My experience with Four-Thirds/micro Four-Thirds sensors is that you can't expect much past ISO 3200.  However, I haven't seen much better from APS-C sized sensors, unfortunately.  It takes a much bigger sensor and lower pixel density to fix the sensitivity problems.  Still, they're all better than film.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Still considering another phone

July 1st has come and gone.  Its only real significance is that it opened up my new phone upgrade window.  It's a long time until my contract ends in November, so Sprint has made things available much earlier than their previous 22 month period.  My two previous phone switches happened around 12 months from the prior change, as I was part of their Premier programme.

Apparently, they weren't making enough money but they made a lot of customers happy.  Of course, smart phones have an ETF of $350 and feature phones are at $200, I believe, but they weren't getting enough of that within 1 year, so the price of happiness was too high, indeed.

I currently have an iPhone 4S with 32 GB of storage.

I'm thinking about:

  • LG Optimus G(2)
  • HTC One
  • Apple iPhone 5S
Of course, the iPhone 5S won't be out until October or so.  Apple has just revealed that they've added the iPhone to the university sale that they do in autumn, so until the current supplies are gone, no one gets the new products.  This also explains why the MacBook Pro wasn't revised at WWDC, as all products they feel are desired by students will be discounted and after stock runs out, the revised models will be announced.

In any case, I want something fairly current but I'm not sure how far I would want to go.  The displays of all three will be high density displays.  I'd like a tablet but it's too much extra to carry, especially with the laptop computer.  A high density display on a phone will allow me to read and write Japanese, Chinese, and Korean more easily.

Update 2013.07.08: About 1 month from now, there is an announcement from LG, which is expected to be the Optimus G2.  I noticed that Sprint has reduced the price of the Optimus G from US$199.99 to US$99.99, according to my contract upgrade.  It's still a quad core phone and it sucks battery life as with all the rest--will the new one need a humongous battery and still suck the life out of it?

One thing that concerns me is that Android always has a problem where some app doesn't work with some phone.  These two phones are well known but will all apps work with them?  They have a good chance, but is that enough?

Of course, it has taken time for various apps on iOS to support the iPhone 5 and newer iPad displays.  It matters but there may not be a problem by the time October/November arrives.

Speaking of app compatibility, the HTC One lacks the menu button.  This seems a major flaw, even though some developers have gone out of their way to provide a solution in their applications.

I have a fourth option: do nothing and let the contract expire.  I'm not 100% enamoured of Sprint's service in this area, and my mobile hotspot (Tri-Fi!) regularly has trouble, probably because it doesn't support the lower frequencies and neither WiMAX nor LTE are available at home.  I doubt they'd appreciate losing a 13 year customer, although it would just be the loss of my phone at the moment, as the mobile hotspot has until July of 2014.

It seems to me that they could put better technology into a place that suffers from more trouble, rather than putting poorer, cheaper technology into place.  The signal used to be quite good, but their current technology leaves the mobile hotspot hanging by a 1 or 2 bar thread, where the phone will have double that.  The lower frequency counts, apparently.  Of course, how many times have you seen the number of bars change when you actually started to use the device?  Then again, one the phone, the number of bars represents the voice signal, which could always be fine, while the data signal would be in the toilet.

It's sad to return home from a trip where I was getting around 10 Mbps on WiMAX or LTE to see the connection struggle with e-mail.

I seriously doubt the deal with SoftBank will help in that department.  They'll still consider a small town unworthy of investment, even though the Sprint executives probably live far enough out of Overland Park, Kansas/Kansas City to be consider rural.  I doubt that they have a problem anywhere they go.

Update: 2013.09.10: iPhones 5s and 5c have been announced for September 20th availability.  Could I do with the 5c, which is mostly a warmed-over iPhone 5?  I suppose so but the extra power of the 5s sounds better.  I still haven't seen the LG Optimus G2 available, but Motorola's Moto X is.