Monday, September 30, 2013

Panasonic DMC-GH4 to be announced soon? Status: Available

It has been announced.  See what I wrote here.

I got mine. 

Since the Olympus E-P5, Panasonic GX7, and Olympus E-M1, time has been pushing the Panasonic GH3 backward a bit, as far as the use of current technology.

Notably, the 1/8000th of a second shutter speed those three have, mates better with those Voigtländer f/0.95 aperture lenses.  They also have fancier viewfinders, even though the E-P5's excellent VF-4 viewfinder is an optional add-on.

Thankfully, I don't have such fast lenses (maximum aperture f/1.4) for the GH3, and my f/2.0 Olympus ZD lenses don't always have a problem with the 1/4000th of a second shutter speed.  I've seen 1/5000th of a second shutter speed while photographing sports with the Olympus E-5 and those same Olympus ZD lenses.

On the other point, the electronic viewfinder is a major problem for me.  I have managed to work around it, but there have been times when I'm trying to get some shots and the camera is working but the viewfinder is not up to speed, so there is guess work involved in getting the next shot.  Also, the color rendition is lousy--purple is dark blue, as I noticed last Thursday.  The shots look fine but the viewfinder misleads you.  Manual focusing is another difficult area, as there are just not enough pixels to replace an optical viewfinder well, and the magnifying bit is annoying and I miss shots, so I've disabled the "assistance".  However, using the E-M1's EVF and having zero problems with it, suggests that Panasonic can also do that well with theirs.

Now, there is a Panasonic announcement (GM1, 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 and future Leica/Panasonic 15mm f/1.7) in a little more than a week (further back?), supposedly.  It may not be about the GH3 replacement but Photokina isn't that far away (actually, Photokina has turned into an every-other-year exposition, so waiting until October 2014 is a bit long) and it seems that they announced the GH3 about that time.  Update 2013.11.06: October is gone, and November seems to be quiet.  There are rumors about a 4K video addition, but will that be put into a GH3 replacement?  That almost seems too much, as it will require more firmware, and much stronger processing capabilities.  Still, Panasonic seem dedicating effort to toppling Canon's 5DMkIII, so it might happen.  There is also the AF100/AF105 that they need to replace, so it might be a dual announcement.  NAB 2014 runs from April 5 through 10.  Perhaps, the announcement will happen then.  It seems late but plausible.

(Why isn't the replacement a GH4?  Since the sound of "four" in Japanese and Chinese is the same as "death", it is considered an unlucky number.  In Japan, inviting 3 guests has been considered a situation where you want one of them to die because there will be four of you seated at the table.  Because of that, tableware comes in sets of five.  I don't buy products in sets of four simply because I might run into the situation, whether I believe in superstition or not, I am a Japanese.)

It would be good to see the GH5 with the enhancements of the GX7, while still providing a great camera body and manual controls (not counting the DISP button).  If Panasonic can move the acceptable photo level from ISO 3200 to ISO 6400, I'd be thrilled because ISO 6400 right now is mush, even with raw files.  It seems that they need a bit more fine control in the Venus imaging engine.  (Update 2013.11.07: I read the DPReview review of the GX7 and the EVF is really broken with "rainbow tearing".  What good is a denser display, if you can't see the scene properly?)

With the speedier shutter speed and an enhanced viewfinder, it will make a good package better for photographers, rather than just videographers.  Panasonic mentioned that they wanted the GH3 to be a great stills camera and they were on the right track but they didn't make it all the way.

The GX7 (and the GM1!) seems to have adjusted things a bit, so they're still learning.  Of course, the sensor from the Olympus E-M1 would help me a lot.  I use my Four-Thirds lenses enough of the time that having auto focus available at times would be useful.  Most of them work now, but I need patience compared to using them on the Olympus E-5.  I would still need some patience compared to the E-5 when using them on the E-M1, so I could ask the runners to run more slowly.

Token changes are unnecessary.  Color options aren't warranted.

I suspect that a lot of people are waiting to see if Panasonic implements a 4K video mode of any kind.  I would suggest that they need to modify a lot to get there, even though the sensor has enough resolution for it.  Faster pathways cost more and there would need to be more firmware capacity to support 4K video.  As far as I'm concerned, they can rip out all the fancy effects in the firmware and just provide great stills and video.

Update 2014.01.08: Panasonic has shown a GH3 with a "4K" sticker on the GH3 and proposed that this newer, higher model will be "arriving" in late February here.   Of course, saying that it's under US$2000 likely means that it's US$1999(.99) or thereabouts.  Still, it's cheaper than the Canon 5DMkIII.  There was apparently zero news about how it worked photographically, other than being able to take a stills shot while capturing video.  200 Mbps capture is fast, so those little SD Cards won't be as useful as they are with the GH3.  Since it's not a replacement for the GH3, I'm still wondering when Panasonic will replace it, as they can't make hardware changes through firmware, even though a lot of people apparently think it's possible.

I suspect that they could make the GH3 a great photographic tool, if they removed most of the video firmware content and replaced it with appropriate firmware content for still photography but that wouldn't do since video is the GH3's very special domain.

Update 2014.11.26: The GH4 has been available for a while and it's been successful.  It still has the odd problem with auto focus, but what camera body doesn't?  Getting 85% from DPReview was surprising, since they generally only like Canon or Nikon equipment.

I still have not bought mine, and I traded my GH3 in June (for an Olympus E-M1) to avoid a discounted trade-in price.  This is definitely the time to buy as the GH4 has been discounted to roughly $1499.99 everywhere.  When I tried to trade in June, Unique Photo wasn't getting them regularly, and I happened to be gone the next week with no certain address ahead of me until July.

The E-M1 has been a good companion but not as comfortable as the GH3, and definitely not a video-oriented camera body.  It is extremely responsive.

Thinking about the discount on the GH4 right now, I may take a trip to buy one in just a bit.

Update 2015.04.08: I got mine shortly after that, with the US$200 discount.  It's been much better than the GH3.

It can be a pain but it's less of a pain than the GH3.  It's amazing for video, less so for still photography with not so good auto focus.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Nikon 1 AW1, stepping up to the mirror-less plate

Having seen the announcement on the Nikon 1 AW1, I think Nikon has a great addition to their insipid mirror-less system.

By itself, I find that the Nikon 1 system is good in a purse.  It fits and it has reasonable quality, but it's very expensive for what it is.  Now, for a family's ability to photograph each other in the swimming pool, the AW1 is a huge step above the typical waterproof (or water-resistant) point-and-shoot camera.

I wouldn't expect Jacques Cousteau's crew to use this camera but I'm sure that they would have appreciated the weight reduction, and everyone could have strapped one to their belt, giving more flexibility in their ability to show ocean life to the world.

Now, cynical me asks "When do we hear the first report of someone changing lenses underwater?" because it will happen.

How many people have dust on their sensor because they dismounted the lens and flipped the mirror out of the way because they thought that there was dust on the sensor, only to find that the lens was dirty?

The only real trouble with the Nikon 1 system is the price for the capabilities.  Even Canon had to make radical changes when few people saw value in the EOS-M.  The AW1 will help Nikon, I'm sure, although I think nothing will persuade the "Full Frame" fanatics to buy something with a sensor that small.  At US$799.99 with the 11-27.5mm lens, it doesn't seem a horrible deal, but it's certainly a big step from the point-and-shoot cameras at US$300-$350.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Apple iOS 7: 50 reasons why I didn't wait to update

I'm cautious.  I don't want anyone in my business, as much as it can be avoided.  That said, internet privacy is impossible and guarding your phone or other mobile device is essential.

When I read that Apple has left us hanging again with 50 open security issues, I was ready to update.  Why they don't provide security updates is beyond me.  If Al Franken is so worried about the ridiculous finger print scanner security, why isn't he worried about the 50 open security issues (or making Congress do some work, like the budget)?

Over and over, I've updated to the newer release of the operating system, not because I thought that it would be fun, but because Apple haven't been providing security updates.  If their own people are using the phone knowing that there are problems, why aren't they worried about their own security?

In any case, I went to the Apple Store in Cincinnati in Kenwood Towne Center and had to remove a few things before it would download and install the update.  It took quite a while, but it gave me a chance to become more familiar with the store and the newer products.  I really didn't know that Thule was making computer and phone-related products.  The MacBook Air and iPad case looked amazing.  I have one of their bike racks, so I find the company interesting, although I wouldn't go out of my way to buy all sorts of their products.

The phones felt very light, but I have an Otterbox Defender on my iPhone 4S, which weighs it down.  One of the store associates mentioned that I wouldn't need it and I suggested that we go to the phones and do some drop testing.  She declined.

As with my white MacBook, I think the polycarbonate iPhone 5c will be fairly good, as long as it lands on its back, but I would still add a silcone case.  Being that the iPhone 5s is mostly alumi(nium/num), I would think that it would dent easily, but obviously not shatter the way the iPhone 4S does.  It was odd but they had their own cases in display cases toward the center of each table.  I wasn't sure why the iPhone 5s cases were made of leather, but I suppose the people who would object won't be shopping at the Apple Store anyway.

I guess the company is doing well with the new phones.  Certain display models were missing, so I can only assume that they've already been sold.  The Gold iPhone 5s was missing and so was the White iPhone 5c.  They both seemed like upscale products, even though the colors of the less expensive model were extremely bright and saturated.  I'd have to think twice about the Green or Yellow and four times about the salmon but having good LTE support would be a step up, even if LTE carrier support is still very limited.

Update: the phone with iOS 7.0.2 is working fairly well.  For the most part, it's not had a problem that wasn't there in 6.1.3.  It's not as smooth or quick but that's to be expected until 7.1, which will likely arrive in January.  Currently, they're finishing a version for the new iPad models to be introduced next week, so that's a priority.  I'm surprised that the performance is as good as it is.

Update 2013.10.25: iOS 7.0.3 is out and it has improvements, though I'm not really feeling them.  Performance is sufficient until January when version 7.1 should be available.

Update 2013.11.14: iOS 7.0.4 is out and supposedly it only addresses a Facetime bug.  I haven't downloaded it yet, simply because it hasn't been shown to me yet through Software Update.  I'm sure iTunes will show it to me but at nearly 900 MB, I don't think so.  I'll download it through my mobile hotspot and get the much, much smaller version. 

Update 2014.01.17: iOS 7.1 is supposedly being delayed until March and there apparently is nothing else in-between.  I've become acclimated to the performance, so I can live with it--as if I had a choice--but it's definitely not at its full potential.  The good thing for me is that I switched to the iPhone 5c and it performs better than my iPhone 4s anyway.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

"micro Four-Thirds is just a generic term."

I was a bit surprised to hear this the other day.

I went into a chain store that has locations all over Ohio, Dodd Camera.  This location was near the Dayton Mall near Miamisburg, OH.

They advertise this location as having all the goodies in the Dayton metropolitan area.  Back in 2006, Dodd Camera bought Click Camera and this is one of those Click locations.  I went to Click once way back in the 1980s and wasn't impressed.  I had been selling cameras and their people seemed to know less than I did and I certainly didn't consider myself an expert of any sort.

So, when I went to the store the other day, I figured I'd see what they had in micro Four-Thirds equipment since they actually advertise that on local TV.  There were two women and one man working in the store.  It was small but no smaller than the Cincinnati store, and bigger than the other two stores I'd visited in the Dayton area.

A woman to the right welcomed me, and asked me if there was something specific I wanted to see.  I responded with "micro Four-Thirds equipment", so she took me to the Sony case, and started talking, and i tried to interrupt, but she ignored me.

She then, took me to the Nikon case, to show me the Nikon 1 system and said that they had the J1 in stock there.  As she paused, I explained again that I wanted to see micro Four-Thirds equipment.  I tried to remind her that Panasonic and Olympus are responsible for the format and she replied "No, micro Four-Thirds is just a generic term." and I said "No, it isn't.  You're talking about micro Four-Thirds as if it's all of mirror-less."  So, she went over to the computer and started looking for Olympus equipment, to which I said "Don't bother." and proceeded to walk towards the door.  She ignored me.  The man working there said "Thanks for stopping." as if everything was just fine.

I'm sure she blames me for being stupid, as in "why doesn't he know that it's all micro Four-Thirds?" sort of question.  It's sad.  Would you trust your money to someone who can't even make a simple distinction?  Update 2014.12.02: the store had been closed some time in 2014.

Update: Apparently someone at the new Polaroid thought the same way.  Here is the micro Four-Thirds (or Four-Thirds depending where you look) mirror-less camera from Polaroid:

Oh, and Nikon just filed suit against Sakar over this model:

Update 2016.04.05: It's interesting to me that many people confuse ratios (4:3) and fractions (4/3) when talking about micro Four-Thirds.  The sad thing is that the sensor's ratio happens to be 4:3, like 6x4.5 film and it's roughly twice the size of the 2/3" type sensor that Olympus was using in the E-10 and E-20 Zoom Lens Reflex cameras.

Apple and Upgrader's Remorse

I haven't upgraded to iOS 7 for two reasons: it wasn't presented to me yet, and I usually wait until the x.1 release weeks later.

Having been a moderator in some of the world's largest Apple-related forums, I've seen way too many people ask "How do I go back to the earlier release?"  The answer is all too painful: delete everything and start over.  No one wants to do the tough stuff, but they don't want to wait to see the new stuff, either.

The couple of times I've upgraded before the x.1 release, I was treated to all sorts of problems.  However, iOS 6.1.3 isn't exactly working well.  I'm still receiving notifications for events in the past 13 hours, sometime longer than that.  Rather than fix the difficult problems, most software companies would rather ignore them because they require no money and no work to ignore and fixing requires both.

I suppose when iOS 7.0.1 arrives within a week or two, I'll be on it, 728 MB or not.  Does that sound like a lot?  The old iOS 4.x releases were 225 MB almost every time.

Sadly, being forced into an upgrade is a problem that you can't stop.  This article showed up on MacRumors:

What's impressive is the unending barrage of comments berating the person who filed the lawsuit.  The first two "oh, just upgrade" kind of comments come from people who own the iPhone 5s, which shouldn't have a problem with the latest operating system.

However, I've seen many, many comments about upgrading the iPhone 4 to iOS 7, and people could barely use their phones afterwards.  I experienced a similar problem with iOS 5 and my second generation iPod touch.  Apple didn't think what they were doing to their own customers.

There should be an option to not upgrade, ever.  The person in the lawsuit wanted his phone back to the way it was and $50.  That's not exactly a fortune.  It's sad to see fanatics jump on such a reasonable person.  You'd almost wonder why I stopped being a moderator there.

Update: I upgraded simply because there were 50 outstanding security issues that were fixed.  I'm now on version 7.0.3 and the performance isn't great but casual use is fine for my iPhone 4s.  iOS 7.1 won't likely be available before the first of the year, so it will be a while before the performance problems go away.  I was trying to play a graphics intensive scene in Galaxy on Fire 2 with an add-on pack, and it was extremely unresponsive.

Update 2013.11.08: I've been watching what's been happening on (Mac) OS X Mavericks/10.9 and it's crazy.  They're giving away the iWork (Keynote, Pages, and Numbers) applications to anyone on iOS or 10.9, but they've stripped away features in order to re-write the applications as 64-bit code.  I'm not sure why this would have any bearing on the functionality of the software, having developed quite a bit of architecture-agnostic software.  I can only think that they ran out of time, or they just didn't want to pay the costs of adding things that they weren't going to sell.  However, word count seemed a simple function that is now scheduled to be re-inserted into (Pages, I'd guess) the applications.  As with Final Cut Pro X, they're going to add things after upsetting customers.  Strange Public Relations, yes?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Panasonic GH3 vs Olympus E-M1

Part 2, here.

Had these both existed when I bought my GH3, it's likely the outcome would have been the opposite way.  Why?

Olympus is better at still photography.

I bought the GH3 because I needed help with lower light photography indoors.  Why didn't I consider the E-M5?  Size.  It was too small to be useful in sports (just as my OM-1N was, though the heavier, bigger Nikon F2 wasn't all that great), and would require the additional grip just to be functional for me but of course, in true Olympus fashion, the grip was in the way of some controls.  (The OM-4Ti grip wasn't bad for the time but sports photography often required using a tripod and flash because there wasn't enough light.)

The GH3 was still a bit small.  The Olympus E-1 was practically a perfect size for E-system lenses.  The ZD 35-100mm f/2.0 can be used handheld quite easily, although the balance is improved with the E-5.  However, I use the GH3 with the ZD 14-35mm f/2.0 and the ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5.  Auto focus works faster, especially in poor light, than that of the E-1--at least, my E-1.

GH3 at front left, with an E-M5 and 2 E-M1 bodies

The E-M1 auto focus is improved over the earlier micro Four-Thirds bodies made by Olympus.  Whether it's better than the GH3 remains to be seen (update: the E-M1 auto focus of Four-Thirds lenses is great in bright light but I didn't get a chance to try it in dimmer situations), but I suspect it will be, except in lower light, where Olympus repeatedly has failed.  I'm not saying that it's easy for Nikon or Canon--just that they've done something more than say "that's okay enough" and quit that Olympus have often done.  Just last month, Panasonic updated firmware on the GH3 to include auto focus down to -4 EV.  If they can do it, Olympus can do it.

Now, for something that drives me bonkers--white balance.  The GH3 shifts the white balance from shot to shot just slightly.  The best thing to do would be to keep a piece of white paper with me and get a setting and stick with it.  I always worry about other things and forget about the piece of paper, and adjust in post processing.  Apparently, this is a problem with the majority of bodies from various brands.  I'd become so accustomed to the E-1 with the one-touch white balance setting that I hadn't really considered that the rest of the world was so messy.  Working in Phase One Capture One Pro 7, I don't really notice it so much, unless there is something dramatically wrong, especially with hundreds of photos at a time.

I believe that the Olympus E-M5 has the edge over the GH3 in lower light photography at high ISO sensitivities, so I expect the E-M1 to work at least that well.  Panasonic tends to smush everything at some point above ISO 3200.  I get great shots at ISO 3200 but don't bother using anything above that.  However, I've seen acceptable shots from the E-M5 at ISO 6400.  Apparently, the Panasonic GX7 is much better, but is it better than the E-M1, or even the E-P5?

The GH3 excels at something I've barely used--video.  In just a few seconds of video I've taken, I can see that Panasonic really worked at it and you wouldn't need a video camera, although it would be easier to get 30 minutes or more into one file since there is a legal/taxation limitation.

I'm not selling my GH3 to jump to the E-M1.  In a bit over 6 months, I'm just barely comfortable with it.  In another year, there may be replacements for both.  For all we know, Panasonic may make a GH5 with phase detection auto focus points on the sensor and allow smooth operation down to -4 EV.  All I can say is that it would be interesting to see how the E-M1 works with my current Four-Thirds lenses but almost good enough isn't good enough.

Update 2013.10.05: Having spent more than an hour or two with the E-M1, and having used it with my Four-Thirds ZD 35-100mm f/2.0 and ZD 14-35mm f/2.0, I can say that the E-M1's auto focus was quick enough in the store to be useful.  Whether it's good in a darker gym (where I photograph a lot of sports) or not, I have no clue.  People have hinted that E-5 users will not be pleased in low light with the E-M1.  Olympus have struggled with low light AF as far back as I can remember--my E-1 is terrible in low light.  For casual use with the Four-Thirds mount lenses, I think the E-M1 will be quite good.  Perhaps, I'll just wait for the next one or hope that Panasonic adds the same sensor to the GH3 replacement.

Given my encounter with the E-M1, I thought about what annoyed me where the GH3 is better: the angular grip, the sliding, tilting mechanism of the rear display.  The GH3 has a comfortable grip (bigger battery), even when holding my SHG lenses and the fully-articulated rear display is helpful, even though it doesn't have the excellent Olympus Super Control Panel or the excellent EVF.

Pros for GH3:
  • Fully-articulated display
  • Comfortable body
  • Video
  • Auto Focus to -4 EV--starlight

Pros for E-M1:
  • Image quality, especially from ISO 6400 and up
  • Phase detection used for Four-Thirds lenses and for tracking with micro Four-Thirds lenses
  • Electronic Viewfinder
  • Super Control Panel 
Update 2014.03.11: Does the GH4 change the balance?  I regularly find that ISO 3200 is the highest sensitivity that I find produces acceptable photos.  Since the usable limit is being changed from ISO 12,800 to 25,600, does that mean that ISO 6400 is now acceptable?  The photos I've seen suggest that in many ways, ISO 6400 on the GH4 is even somewhat better than ISO 3200 on the GH3.  In no way does that mean that my photos (i.e., swimming or basketball photos) will have less noise, but it certainly would suggest that.

Also, with the newfound processing power to handle 4K video, still photography is getting a boost.  Hopefully, that means that everything will be more responsive, including auto focus.  I don't care for auto focus, but with the short, short lenses, it's better than trying to manually focus them.  Subject tracking on the GH3 needs a huge improvement and if what Panasonic has said about the GH4 is real, there may be some improvement.  They have suggested that, because of the improved processing power, there was no need for Phase Detection pixels on the sensor.  I am skeptical, but hopeful.

The electronic viewfinder and rear display have been enhanced.  The EVF still isn't as large an image as on the E-M1/VF-4 (0.71x), which is smaller than that of the FujiFilm X-T1 (0.77x), at 0.67x but improvement can come in other ways.  They made statements about using aspherical elements in the magnification to counter the appearance flaws of the GH3's EVF.  They also increased the contrast ratio to 10,000:1, and redesigned the eye cup.

Of course, the GH3 was US$100 cheaper but the GH4 is US$300 more expensive.  The E-M1 is only adequate in video and that's where the real difference is.

Update 2014.03.22: I've seen many shots from the E-M1 now and I don't see that they're as good as shots from the E-M5 or E-M10 at ISO 6400 or higher.  I'm not sure why carving out 35 phase detection pixels (or is it many more within 35 areas?) would be the cause of the degradation since FujiFilm's X-Trans II sensor has some 86,000 pixels dedicated to phase detection.

It doesn't seem that the E-M1 is quite the low light magician that it might be, unfortunately.

Update 2014.10.17: I traded my GH3 back in June, while the trade-in value was good,  for the E-M1.  The switch was not awful, but also not great.  After four months, I find that the E-M1 is still not as comfortable as the GH3/GH4 body but it is so responsive that it makes up for it somewhat.  The tiny body also means that I run out of battery power much earlier than with the GH3.  I believe that I never switched to my second GH3 battery, while I often have to switch to a second battery with the E-M1.

The viewfinder of the E-M1 is better but not without the blackouts I also experienced with the GH3.  I switched to a different eyecup, hoping that it would not scratch my sunglasses so much, and help with blackouts.  There are still blackouts.

It is too easy to change the focus point location, even while viewing photos.  The 4 way controller buttons will move the focus point, while the OK button will bring up the Super Control Panel, and the front dial will change the exposure compensation.  Then again, with the GH3's Quick Menu, I was never sure that anything had been changed at all, and many times, I had to go to the menus to change things.

I'm still looking at the GH4 for video work, but I'm looking more at lenses and other equipment at the moment.

Update 2014.12.14: Got the GH4 a couple of weeks ago, and it feels good.  I've begun to do video and I'm mostly pleased with the results, especially considering my lack of experience.

As with the GH3, it's a good tool.  Unlike the GH3, the GH4 handled a darker indoor location much better than the E-M1 with the same lens, and I didn't have to set a certain ISO sensitivity to achieve auto focus or anything else.  The E-M1 seems to need to be set precisely for what you want.

The GH4 really fixes the electronic viewfinder issues for me.  It may still not be perfect, but it works very well.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pandora going the way of Nokia--into Microsoft?

Pandora's new CEO is a former Microsoft executive.  Does Microsoft need an internet radio service to compete?  Does this sound like Nokia's situation all over again?

Microsoft is using Pandora is an advertising-free internet radio service on Windows Phone, at the moment.  I'm just wondering if two or three years down the road, especially if Apple succeeds with their service, if Pandora will be on the ropes, and willing to be acquired by Microsoft.

Maybe, they've already made such plans.  It's just a thought.

Update 2014.03.03: I'm thinking about this more since Pandora was excluded from the services in Apple's CarPlay announcement.

Pandora said "At this time, Pandora is not integrated with Apple CarPlay. As a first mover in the auto space, we continue to broaden our relationships with OEMs while also exploring other opportunities to expand our presence in the car. Apple has been and continues to be a valued partner."

Does this have to do with their OEM deals or is it something to do with their deal to put Pandora on Windows Phone?

Apple's stock price on the downslide, re-evaluated

If you've read my entries on stock pricing, you might remember how I talk about stock "anal"ysts.  They can't follow trends.  They can't follow forecasts.  They don't notice the run-up in Apple stock price prior to an announcement and the sell-off after the announcement.  However, they know everything there is to know.

Apparently, the new iPhone 5c has caused Apple to be on the way out of business.  It's too expensive for emerging markets, and it's likely too expensive to make.  So, three of the world's finest stock brokerages/investment firms have downgraded Apple, after which the stock price dropped due to a sell-off.  (Update: As of the end of October, the stock price has rebounded and Apple has sold too many of the iPhone 5s and not as many of the 5c but they are re-working production to help with the demand.)

Could Apple go out of business because of one product?  It's not likely.  I think they learned their lesson with the Cube.  Those were hard times and yet, they didn't go out of business.  They just threw away some money and frustrated some people.

Is the iPhone 5c too expensive?  (If you have to ask, you can't afford it?)

I've only seen the unlocked price for T-Mobile and that was the 32 GB version for US$649.  That seems US$50 too high, compared to other phones selling on-contract for US$199.  Is T-Mobile in an emerging market?  No, and we don't know the pricing for every country, do we?

I don't expect that everyone in the world will be buying a premium phone, and while cheaper than the iPhone 5 or 5s, the 5c is still a premium phone.  At the lowest level, it has 16 GB of storage, most of that is usable by the user.  Compare that to a free Android phone that maybe contain anywhere from 512 MB to 2 GB of storage, and may only have 170 MB available to the user.  I recall this quite well from my LG Optimus S, which wasn't free at the time and gave me frequent messages about a lack of available storage.  The original 8 GB Google Nexus 7 tablet was infamously short on usable space.

So, will someone who can barely afford to eat buy an iPhone 5c?  I wouldn't think so.  Food is important.  Will someone with a good job who already eats well and lives cheaply buy an iPhone 5c?  I'd bet they'll take a serious look at it, along with a look at some inexpensive Android-based phones.

Can someone who eats well, owns whatever they want, and manipulates people into buying stocks that they may not want understand how the rest of us live?  I doubt it.  Of course, they could eat snails because they like them, and the poor could eat snails because those are available.  Maybe, the rich really do understand the dirt poor.  That was sarcasm, if you didn't notice.

How Apple will survive is anyone's guess.  More innovation would be good, and for me, more bug fixing.  Being conservative on popular products isn't a great way to handle things, but I don't see a bunch of people dropping Apple products.  Those who like Google and Android are there already, and the undecided will search and try things.  I'd like to try the LG (Optimus) G2 or Google Nexus 5, but after my Nexus 7 "fun" and my LG Optimus S, I'm not sure I can live with a broken phone.

Update 2014.12.11: Apple has recently had all-time record stock prices.  This week, they're falling, but the company is still doing well.  It seems that they're still the company in the world with the largest valuation--on paper anyway.

I got one of the new iPhone 6 models with 64GB of storage.   I can understand why it is popular.  I'm still finding it a pain to switch but it's better than switching to another company's phone.  I like Android but my 2013 Nexus 7 tablet hasn't been incredible, with version 4.3.x, 4.4.x, or 5.0.x.  The operating system is getting better but it's still a bit like a product in its infancy, unfortunately.  You'd hope that it would be more mature.  It's probably a lack of real-world testing.  Apple does very little real-world testing, but it's a bit more than what Google does.

I wonder what will happen with the Apple Watch.  I suspect that will really cause the stock price to drop.  The good thing is that they don't need agreements with anyone else to make it work, a la Apple TV.  By that time, Apple Pay should be firmly entrenched.  I haven't used it yet.  I don't trust iOS 8.1.1 completely and I know that 8.2 is in the beta process, and of course, there will be an 8.2.1.

I'm guessing that Apple Pay will help offset Apple Watch.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Apple's new iPhone 5s, 5c--rumors proved

Is there a letdown for those who have been reading rumors for the past couple of weeks?

Apple introduced their new phones (and nothing else, really) and there wasn't much to say.

The 5s has a new, 64-bit processor, enhanced GPU, an integrated motion co-processor, and a fingerprint sensor.  (Update: naturally, there are problems with this one, due to the new hardware.)

The 5c is mostly a 5 with a polycarbonate body, like the MacBook series.

Both have enhanced LTE support with more (all?) bands included but no 802.11ac (Gigabit WiFi), and a bit more battery capacity.  (Update: Sprint's version supports 2 bands of LTE but not all 3.)

All new iPhones come with free downloads of iPhoto, iMovie, and the iWork apps.  They didn't put them on the phone for a few reasons: it costs them and they don't want to give away anything, they don't want to be accused of Bloatware, and they want the brand new phone to look nice before you cram it full of stuff.  That said, the capacities are 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB--no 128GB at the moment.

The motion co-processor is supposedly more sensitive and less battery intensive than having the main processor handle the location and motion work, so it should increase battery life.  Hopefully, it helps with apps like Waze that really heat up my iPhone 4S.

Oh, and the iPhone 4S continues as the free-on-contract phone.

iOS 7 will be available on 18 September, and supposedly iRadio will be ready.

Oh, and one more thing (no one says that any more!): the typical stock buying binge before the announcement and subsequent sell-off afterwards happened, just like clockwork.

Update: They really are nice in the hand.  Strangely, I prefer the less expensive, polycarbonate version.  Maybe, it's just my conservative streak, which is why I waited for the iPhone 4s, but the white one matches my 2009 MacBook pretty well and it's proven hardware.

Update 2013.11.11: I've got my own iPhone 5c now in an Otterbox Defender case and the phone is quite good, although iOS 7 needs a lot of work, even at version 7.0.3.  I suspect 7.1, as usual, won't be available until January, but a lot of things will be fixed in that release.

I noticed that they wanted me to download all of the free apps before I restored my configuration from iTunes.  Now, it makes me pick and choose to get them separately.

Of course, the phone felt better in the store than in an Otterbox Defender case, but I'd rather not drop my own phone.  I can't really see much of the phone with the case on it, as with my iPhone 4S, but that's life with electronics.  The Defender case is reasonably thinner.  The hard plastic seems thicker and softer and more form-fitting, although the screen protector is a sheet of plastic stretched (too far) above the display.  Since it's not in contact with the display, your finger will make contact with the screen protector, and eventually, it will make contact with the display where your presses will be registered.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Olympus E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8

Well, September 10th is here and Olympus has announced their new professional-oriented equipment, the E-M1 camera body and 12-40mm f/2.8 lens.

As someone who has been using Four-Thirds equipment since early 2004 (when the alternatives were bad), the E-M1 is supposedly targeted at me.  The specifications sound great (but missing 14-bit raw files and a second card slot) and I'm enthusiastic but there is a huge problem: the size.

Sure, they're not charging US$1699.99 as with the E-5, but only US$1399.99 for the E-M1 camera body.  Since you have to buy the MMF-3 lens adapter (to use Four-Thirds lenses) for almost US$200.00, it's a small break.  However, mounting several of the Four-Thirds lenses on such a tiny body will create a problem with balance.  Certainly, the ZD 35-100mm f/2.0 was not meant to be on the OM-D series without a tripod, and the 35-100mm is hardly the biggest lens.

I understand the economics, but they had to design and create a new body to accomplish their goals.  If they'd made it the size of Olympus' own E-1, there wouldn't be a problem.  Plus, you have to use the lenses through the adapter, and it doesn't feel all that strong.  I use the 14-35mm f/2.0 frequently and the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 somewhat less frequently.  They're both fine with the GH3, but I still wonder if the adapter is going to come apart at some point while either lens is attached.  I don't use my ZD 35-100mm f/2.0 with it.

External size:
Width x Height x Depth

E-M1   130.4x93.5x63.1
GH3    132.9x93.4x82.0
E-1      141x104x81
E-M1    443g
GH3     470g
E-1       660g
Still, if you're looking at the Canon 70D or the Nikon D7100, you might want to think a few times about your intentions.  Starting fresh, the E-M1 offers loads of good stuff, especially if you like fixed focal length lenses.  The Olympus 75mm f/1.8, 45mm f/1.8, and 12mm f/2.0, Panasonic 7-14mm f/4.0 (yes, you are correct--that is a zoom!), and 8mm f/3.5 fisheye are really good lenses.

I've been a harsh critic of zoom lenses on micro Four-Thirds, including the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 I have.  After using it, I stopped short of buying their 12-35mm f/2.8.  If their high end lenses are just average, wait for the prices to drop, yes?

This 12-40mm f/2.8 lens from Olympus may be enough to make me forget that Panasonic has a 12-35mm f/2.8 lens.  The slightly bigger (62mm filter size vs 58mm) barrel hopefully houses better optical elements, and gives better image quality, while minimizing distortion.

The price of the Olympus lens is less than the suggested Panasonic price by US$300 at US$999.99, I believe, but the Panasonic lens has been out long enough to gain a discount or two.  If the 12-40mm is better then, the price might be justified because I feel that the 35-100mm (and likely the 12-35mm from what I've seen and read) are great US$750 lenses.  They're just not very good at their list prices.  micro Four-Thirds users pay too much for too little, but they have a wide selection, unlike users of other mirror-less formats.

It's likely that I'll check reviews as much as anyone else but I'll likely buy the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens sometime after its November availability.  The upcoming 40-150mm f/2.8 lens may be equally interesting, though it's a bit short to replace my ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 but for indoor sports, I'm using both the Olympus ZD and Panasonic 35-100mm lenses.

MTF charts:

12-40mm f/2.8

14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 Mk II

14-35mm f/2.0

Update 2013.10.04: Having used the E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8 on Thursday for an hour or two, I have no doubt that the E-M1 and the 12-40mm f/2.8 combination is an amazing step in image quality for micro Four-Thirds.

I am less in love with the ergonomics and comfort of using the E-M1 vs the E-5 or Panasonic GH3.  It seems to have been designed for casual users to hold.  I can't imagine a 14 hour day using the body because of the angles in the grip vs the curves of the E-5 or GH3.  The Super Control Panel, of course, makes adjustments easier, but the exposure compensation had been set and without help, I had a difficult time finding the dial combination to make it work.  Once again, the GH3 and E-5 had buttons marked for this, whereas the E-M1, in order to be more flexible, has few buttons marked.  Through the adapter, it focused the ZD 35-100mm f/2.0 well and the difficult ZD 14-35mm f/2.0 reasonably well but it's a gorgeous lens that requires some extra handling.  If Olympus put the E-M1's guts into the Panasonic GH3 body, they'd have a sale.  If the GH3 successor comes close to the E-M1's still photography functionality, guess where I'm going.

You can see my encounter here:

Update 2014.12.20: I've been using an E-M1 with the 12-40mm f/2.8 since early June.  It's a potent combination.  However, the 12-40mm f/2.8 also worked well on my Panasonic GH3 prior to that, and more recently, my GH4.  It's a good lens that has practically sidelined my dSLRs.

I have on one occasion seen nasty lens flare that was almost 100% eliminated by the automatic changes in Phase One Capture One 7 Pro.  It does exhibit minor lens flare more often than I would like, but so does the ZD 14-35mm f/2.0 but I rarely pull out the huge lens hood for that.

In day-to-day operations, I find the E-M1 to be good but with minor problems.  It's too easy to change the auto focus point, for instance, and exposure compensation is attached to the front dial.  They didn't make it work like the E-5 and that was a mistake given that they were promoting it as the replacement.

Still that 10 frames per second has been useful in skate park photos.  Then again, focus goes away suddenly, even though it's already in focus but only occasionally.  I've also had times when I'm ready and the camera body does nothing when I press the shutter release.

If you're not photographing sports, you'll be fine, I'm sure, and you'll be pleased. 

Update 2016.04.22: It's been a while since I first wrote this blog entry--about 2.5 years.  Much has changed.  I'm using an E-M1, along with the Panasonic GH4 and GX8.  I've bought several other, native micro Four-Thirds lenses.

The E-M1's firmware updates have made it very, very good but it's typical for me to reach for the Panasonic GH4 first.  I've taken so many photos with the E-M1, though, that I had to have the 150,000 actuations shutter replaced.  Still, using the E-M1 with the 14-35mm f/2.0 or 35-100mm f/2.0 is difficult.

Thankfully, the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens works quite well, and so does the 8mm f/1.8 fisheye, along with a number of Panasonic lenses that I never expected to have.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I really could have used that Nikon D400

More and more, I keep thinking that the D400 would have solved my problems.

While the D300 was amazing for 2007 and the D300s was a good successor, I find myself wanting a bit more.  I considered buying a D7100 for more than a few moments, but the lack of a generous frame buffer stopped me.  I really don't want the whole operation to stop while I wait for the photos to be written to cards.

The D600 is also not a good substitute, as it's more of a D7000 than the D7100 is, what with the older auto focus module, etc.

That D400 with the guts of the D300s and a slightly enhanced image sensor would have been great.  12 (clean) MP aren't bad at all, but 16 or 18 MP would have put its sensor more eye-to-eye with the Canon 7D.

Why am I thinking about all of this now, again?  The rumored Olympus E-M1, a Four-Thirds substitute body.  If it's real, as they've shown it, it's not good.  It's undersized, a cobbled-together assemblage of good intentions that will work for those Four-Thirds users who have already jumped ship to micro Four-Thirds.  There may be other, casual Four-Thirds users, but I doubt it.  It's very much an all-or-nothing type of system.  ( hint "E- series" on a teaser for the announcement coming soon.  It could be a fake, but it would make more sense just to put everything into an already available body and make the combination up to date.

I photograph sports--cross country, track, basketball, wrestling, swimming, lacrosse, and more.  I've been using the Panasonic GH3 to handle some of those, and it sort of works but there are multiple problems.  Even the most expensive micro Four-Thirds zoom lenses aren't good--they're certainly not excellent, which is something the Olympus ZD lenses are.  Switching dSLR brands will cause me to pay 1.5 to 2.0 times the cost to find almost equivalent lenses, and I'll have to buy more to cover my current range.  The electronic viewfinder of today isn't very good.  Panasonic's may not be great, but I don't see any of them with 16 times the resolution, so it looks like real life through an optical viewfinder.  Guessing at focus, and manual focus of fast sports is often necessary, is not likely to be acceptable.  Don't get that?  Try capturing Usain Bolt (not even on one of his good days) with a mirror-less camera.  You may get 1 or 2 decent photos.

When Olympus' E-P2 was arriving, I quipped that the E-P14 would be the first complete mirror-less camera from Olympus.  The E-P5 has come a long way toward shutting my mouth but the viewfinder and continuous focus are less than ideal for a dSLR user.

So, that D400 may never arrive, but I might have to jump ship--back to the future?  The Nikon D300 is still a good camera body and the price is extremely reasonable.  The D300s provides video and some other minor enhancements which I have handled elsewhere, so spending extra money doesn't seem reasonable.

Of course, the D300 has 12.3 MP output.  It's not greater than my Olympus E-5, except that the photos may be a bit cleaner in low light because of the lower density of pixels on the sensor.

Jumping ship, of course, is a bigger deal in the lenses than the camera bodies, unless you're still only working with that kit zoom.  I find that buying a 70-200mm f/2.8 and adding lenses around it is cost-prohibitive.  Certainly the new 24-85mm f/3.5-5.6 135 format normal zoom is reasonable at US$599 (I believe!) for good, but slow glass with an image stabilizer.  Right now, I have two normal zooms that run (equivalent of 135 format) 28-70mm f/2.0 and 28-108mm f/2.8-3.5, both image stabilized because of the image stabilization built into the body.

Would I spend more to take a big leap in image quality, even at the expense of the future?  I'm not sure.  That D300 still looks good and if not that, then the D700 can probably be had still.  Bigger isn't always better but giving peace of mind a chance might be.

I've been attempting sports with the Panasonic GH3.  It isn't bad and sometime, it's even good.  The electronic viewfinder gets in my way and for manual focus, the resolution just isn't there.  I tried it at last Saturday's cross country meet and I was fine with my older Olympus E-5.  Even if the sensor isn't so good in low light situations, that's rarely a problem for cross country running in the sunshine, or even in the rain.  However, a D400 might have taken away any doubts about shooting sports because it would be better in low light than the E-5 and with contrast detection auto focus, could have followed the runners more easily.  Of course, switching to the latest Olympus ZD 50-200mm with the SWD (Supersonic Wave Drive--like any other ultrasonic focusing motor), might have allowed the auto focus to work quite well.

However, going the Nikon route might be desirable, since Olympus seem to be packing up their last Four-Thirds camera body.  We'll see what happens next Monday/Tuesday after the announcements.

Update 2013.10.08: Olympus' E-M1 isn't a dSLR but it focuses the dSLR lenses that the company makes.  Pentax/Ricoh introduced their new APS-C sized flagship, the K-3, and it looks everything that the D400 should have been, had it been made at all.

Update 2013.11.24: Could a D7200 fix the buffer issue and solve the problem?  Surely, they'll find flash memory inexpensive enough to increase the buffer without changing anything else.  Certainly going from D600 to D610 they didn't change much and improved the camera quite a lot.

Update 2015.04.14: The D7200 is finally available in stores, and it fixes a lot about the D7100.  It's still not the D400 but it should impress a lot of people.  They should have introduced it halfway through 2014, but they didn't.  Oh, well.  Given that Canon revised the 7D, at least, there are two refreshed dSLR camera bodies in the category.  Now, if Ricoh Pentax could fix their firmware weirdness, there would be three good APS-C sized sensors in dSLRs bodies.

Update 2015.08.15: The D7200 is available in my bag now, for about one month.  The buffer fix is good, especially using 12-bit raw files.  The Expeed 4-class processor and the updated sensor seem to have given it great power.  I'm still working to learn it but I've only got a few good photos with it.  I'm waiting for firmware updates to fix a lot of ridiculous little problems, such as its choosing ISO 25,600 even in good light.

It will be a good replacement for the D300, finally, even if the build isn't quite as amazing.  I can still take out my Olympus E-5 (or E-1), if I want something that will work in the worst situations.

Update 2015.12.13: The D7200 sits a lot.You'd think that the body and the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 would be great companions, but they're too slow and not good enough in lower light conditions.  How good is the image quality of a photo the camera refuses to take?

 I like it, but it seems to work against me rather than working for me.

Update 2016.01.06: The D500 has been announced and while it looks good, it's not looking great for video, even though it can handle 4K video at some level.  The Panasonic GH4 is better for video overall.  For stills, of course, the D500 image quality is much better than the GH4 or any other micro Four-Thirds body, but is it enough?

Monday, September 2, 2013

The other Microsoft/Nokia shoe has been dropped

Microsoft has completed a deal to acquire Nokia.

Who wasn't expecting this since ex-Microsoft employee Steven Elop took the reins at Nokia?

It all dates back to 2007 when people at Nokia and Research in Motion/BlackBerry laughed at Apple entering the mobile phone space, and not being prepared for something different.

Sure, Nokia had phones like the N95, but they didn't have a clue to making a smooth user experience.  All the internal elegance is lost on non-technical users.  RIM practically made the smart phone work for the business user and virtually made addicts of its users.  When services were down, CrackBerry users were lost.

Apple changed the game, putting Windows Mobile, Symbian, and BlackBerry to minimal market share.  Of course, time has passed, Windows Mobile was trashed and poor, little Zune became the base for Windows Phone.  RIM/BlackBerry has been re-invented with the injection of the QNX operating system that ran on the IBM PC in the early 1980s.  Symbian has been pushed from the high end devices to some middle ground, and Windows Phone took over at Nokia.

After the Android operating system arrived, Nokia and BlackBerry were pushed down further.

Do I feel bad for Nokia?  I suppose so.  They were a great success story, even more than Japanese companies' success.  Given that Finland is probably the least understood European nation, it makes me smile that success came from a country with a most interesting language.  Finnish, like Estonian and Hungarian are in a different world.  Finland has a Swedish population but it's not big enough to change everyone from Finnish.

Will Nokia die?

Given the odd life of Windows Mobile (Pocket PC, etc.) and what Microsoft did to Danger and its Sidekick devices and how they approached and discarded Kin devices, I have my doubts about success for Windows Phone and Nokia devices.

They have the opportunity to really integrate legally (not that they weren't doing that already with their earlier deal--it will be above boards now) and show the world how good Windows Phone can be.  However, this deal should kill any remaining devices from HTC et al.  They weren't too happy to do them anyway, but at this point, the lack of sales will translate to Microsoft/Nokia devices only.

The good thing about this is that Nokia employees will be more secure.  Microsoft has deep pockets and can lose money and not care.

I recently noticed that Microsoft has an interest in Pandora, as well.  A "former" Microsoft executive is taking the CEO position at Pandora now.  Microsoft has a deal to provide radio services to Windows Phone, but I wonder if they're being groomed for integration with Microsoft.

Update 2013.12.06: It looks as though the authorities in the U.S.A. are okay with Nokia becoming part of Microsoft.

Update 2014.10.28: The other day I saw a photo of a Nokia phone with Microsoft branding, instead of Nokia.  I'm sure the people in Finland (half-)expected this but it is tough pill to swallow.

I'm still wondering if Pandora, the music service, is going this way since they signed a big deal with Microsoft a while back.  It seems to me that a Microsoft executive hired on there, as similarly as Steven Elop did at Nokia, to bring them into the fold.