Thursday, December 25, 2014

FreedomPop for home

I've been using a phone or a mobile hotspot for my computer's internet connection from late 2006.  It started with a Samsung A900--Lex Luthor's phone in Smallville.  It was a lousy phone but the 3G connection was reliable, and the speed was better than my 3 Mbps DSL connection.

Lately, I've been using a Novatel Wireless MiFi device with Verizon.  Service was really good at my last location, but just acceptable here.  I gave up on Sprint around March of this year when the Sierra Wireless (now Netgear) device wouldn't connect for 6 hours.

Earlier this month, I was coming close to my full monthly allotment of 10 GB on the 10th day into my billing period.  Uggggh.  I'm currently about 4 GB ($40) over it.  I haven't noticed anyone else using it, but DirecTV seemed to be using a lot, even though I wasn't streaming anything.  I've been working on creating videos lately, but there wasn't that much I was uploading.  In any case, paying loads for extra use, and not knowing how it was happening was difficult.

I looked for FreedomPop after seeing an article about it.  Freedom Hub Burst is a home product similar to a mobile hotspot but without the mobile part.  It needs an AC electrical outlet.  They've been using ClearWire/Clear connections for quite a while.  The only problem with this is that I have some spotty service with Sprint at home.  Both ends of my apartment have LTE but my living room and part of my bedroom are a transition zone between 3G and LTE, so I end up with 1xRTT on my phone too often.

At $21.99 for 10 GB per month, it seemed reasonable, compared to $10 per 1 GB for an overage on Verizon.  Normally, FreedomPop hasn't been charging for the service, but this home service is a bit different, and I'm okay with it.  Like buying a phone with prepaid service, I needed to buy a device.  They supposedly included an extra USB-attached mobile modem but it wasn't included in the box.


Receiving the package on Christmas Eve seemed gift-y.  Opening the package and not finding useful instructions didn't.  Actually, there was a little pamphlet that fell between the cracks, and I found it afterwards.  It would have helped a lot but I already had a connection, read the instructions, and managed to find the page to get everything set.  Looking at the pamphlet, it neglects to tell you the default password for the connection to the device itself, so how do you connect without a current connection?


It has been simple enough to get online, once I set everything.  Speed is reasonable, though not extremely fast, nearly 5 Mbps.  Perhaps, the LTE will improve as Sprint/Clear finish their deployment in this area.  Response time seems minimal and it feels like a good connection.  Unlike my phone, I can leave the device near a window on the edge of the apartment where the connection is better.

Having an extra 10 GB for about the same as 2 GB overage isn't bad.  I can connect the TV and Blu-Ray player to it and they can update firmware to their CPU's content, even when I'm not home.  I'm thinking that I shouldn't connect my DirecTV receiver, as it will take advantage of the connection in big ways.  Now, my mobile hotspot can once again be mobile, and I can even update those extra iPhone apps without having to look for a WiFi connection elsewhere.

Update 2015.01.13: Saturday, I received a WiMAX/3G modem, like the one Sprint discontinued quite a while ago.  I couldn't download the connection manager software from FreedomPop, so I downloaded it from Sprint.

It connected but then told me that there was no free 4G service available and that 3G service wasn't free.  I only have one question--why send me this unusable piece of technology, to clear the warehouse?

Update 2015.03.27: The other day, the company offered me an upgrade for the useless WiMAX modem.  For $29.99, I could get a Franklin brand LTE modem.  It sounded great, but then, they wanted me to take a premium 2 GB data package for $21.99 per month.  It's not horrible, when you consider AT&T and Verizon and I could cancel later.

However, they're counting on someone missing that, and I missed the data rollover option that they slipped into the WiMAX modem package, and they've been charging me $3.99 + tax until I checked practically every option on the web site.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

iPhone 6 cases and screen protectors

Oh, the trouble with switching phones can be huge.  At least, this time I didn't have to get new accessories because I changed cables and connectors.

(tl;dr : I bought a Ballistic Tungsten Tough case and Otterbox Glass screen protector)

My iPhone 5c was about one year old and I switched from an iPhone 4s then, also switching from the 30 pin connector to the Lightning connector.  When I got the iPhone 5c, I bought another Otterbox Defender case at the same time as I bought the phone.

It was poorly designed, apparently to be first to market.  People were cutting out the screen protector because it was too far away from the screen it was supposed to protect.  I swore I'd never buy another case from Otterbox.

I'd seen a load of Ballistic brand cases in another store near the Sprint store, and I was close to buying something else.  A couple of months later, I ordered an SG MAXX case from the company directly, as the local store was almost out of them.  It was just as good as that other brand, but it was easy to take off and put on the phone.  Something that was practically impossible with the Defender case.

Okay, so, here I was buying an iPhone 6 with no Ballistic case in hand and I couldn't find a store ahead of time that carried them.  I ended up with a Griffin case than claimed 3 feet for drop protection, and an Otterbox screen protector made of glass.

The screen protector was of great significance since that was a huge problem with the iPhone 5c cases.  As I wrote earlier, many people cut out the Defender screen protector because of the gap between it and the screen.  Ballistic had an add-in screen protector that made it difficult to see the screen.  A corner of the protector would slip out on occasion.  I ended up with an Invisible Shield protector, as it seemed an early and popular choice.

After that year, the Invisible Shield protector had become rather nasty.  The instructions recommended installing it again from time to time, I guess so that you could clean the phone's display.  Even when new, it seemed a bit wrinkled, and that seemed normal.  Even car tint carefully installed can look like this because of the various layers.

The glass screen protector is practically perfect.  There is some adhesive keeping it tightly attached, and it feels as though I'm directly touching the device.

While I could appreciate the Griffin case for its minimalistic design, I prefer not to break my phone if I drop it.  No phone is attractive when it's in more than one piece.  I also don't care to advertise the Apple logo out the back of the case.  Why invite trouble?

So, I was in a Best Buy a few days later during the Christmas rush and found three Ballistic cases that were not on the company's website.  I'm guessing that these are higher profit, lower cost cases made specifically for Best buy.  I'm cynical, but is that wrong?

$34.99, $39.99, or $49.99?  I wasn't sure what to trust.  I still wasn't sure if they were fakes.  I chose the $39.99 Tungsten Tough case, labeled 7+ feet drop tested.  It's not as thin as the $34.99 case, but I had been using a case with a holster previously.  I'm thinking that I still want that extra protection, although it's a pain to get the phone open quickly to answer a call.

How much is $849.99 worth to you?  If you don't have enough protection and need to have the device fixed or replaced, what if that cost exceeds $49.99?  Is a pretty case worth the extra cost of repairs?

Update 2015.04.03: The Ballistic brand case has been as good as the previous case for the iPhone 5c.  I've dropped the iPhone 6 a few times and the case has kept the phone safe, and even the case seems to be fine.  In fact, it is incredibly difficult to separate the phone and case.  That's almost a good thing, although there was dirt inside of the case.  It's surprising how good the iPhone 6 feels by itself but I'd hate to see it smashed on the floor.

It was a while later that Ballistic's web site showed the Tungsten-branded models that are apparently only available at Best Buy.  That gave me a better feeling about spending US$39.99, because I'm not always trusting of Best Buy.

I still miss the holster clip, so I may buy one of those.  I've noticed a problem with the phone further down in my pocket--lint.  It's having more trouble with charging than usual.  Some cables aren't working 100% of the time.  The car charger sometimes stops charging during a trip, so I find that the phone is at 50% or less.  I guess that's the problem of not having a case with a flap over the Lightning port.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sprint "Cut Your Bill in Half" deal only on plan, not your device. Is that a surprise?

It's apparently not quite the deal you'd expect, and of course, it depends on Verizon Wireless and (the new) AT&T's bad plans.




 DSL Reports

I'm not sure that there is a real story or not.  I don't expect miracles anyway.  The big two have been working a little bit more to be balance plans with service.  However, if you get great coverage where you are--watch out for fake coverage maps from any of the big 4--Sprint should be a good deal.  Now that Nextel is all but dead and the 800 MHz frequency band is available, there is a huge chance that Sprint could be dominant in certain markets.  There are Spark areas like Milpitas, CA where Sprint is using 800 MHz, 1900 MHz, and 2500 MHz combined.

Verizon has dual frequency bands with their XLTE but who knows what device you need to make it work right now.  I've searched multiple times to see if my current mobile hotspot will take advantage of it but they're not telling apparently.  I'd prefer enhanced throughput.

Update 2014.12.30: I've been a Sprint customer since September 2000.  I've seen great service and weird, poor service.  Lately, it's very good everywhere but home.  While I'm feeling just more than neutral about Sprint, Verizon (my mobile hotspot) doesn't really make me feel better, and the stories about AT&T and T-Mobile keep me away.  YMMV--Your mileage may vary.  Do your research.

Update 2015.11.19: The deal is back, mostly.  There are more conditions, but I suppose it's a good deal, if you happen to have great coverage where you live.

Speaking of which, Sprint also made a big announcement about 77 locations for their LTE Plus service, which seems to be what they were calling Spark last year.  (They were also mentioning LTE Advanced but I'm not sure if they meant that LTE was more advanced than their 3G service or they've actually put the newer technology into place.)  If everything is working well, you can get tremendous speed.  In fact, they had the service in town for a while.  I was seeing 38 Mbps, up from 1-2 Mbps and then, a month later, it was gone and the old service had been restored.  (I believe that they took the equipment back to their city of Overland Park, Kansas to help themselves.)

It was quite a bit better than the 7 Mbps that I normally see on my Verizon mobile hotspot, and Verizon still hasn't announced where they have their enhanced two frequency service--only that it exists.

Sprint has decided to hide coverage deficiencies on the map with 100% LTE, then Spark

I came to this area about five months ago.  I noticed that the majority of this city of 70,000+ people were covered by 3G, while the adjoining city of 22,000+ had strong LTE.  I also noticed that Sprint seemed to be working their way up California SR 99, but skipping this area north of Modesto and resuming near Sacramento.

As time progressed, they added LTE capabilities and they've slowly crept into my apartment, but I'm still at many times seeing 1xRTT as LTE and 3G/EVDO fight over my phone.

I mentioned this to @sprintcare a while back, noting the huge roaming area encompassing the shopping area on the east side of the city.  I was told to look at AIRRAVE as an option.  It isn't a portable option and it doesn't fix the lack of coverage.  It could only cover it up.  Since that conversation, I started another with @sprintcare, as I noticed that the map showed LTE coverage while the behavior of the network had not changed.

They told me that there were no towers in the area.  I told them that the maps didn't show that any longer.  They told me to look again and again.  I finally made screenshots of the map at the cross streets I told them, and the map near my apartment, on the edge of the roaming area.  They never replied.
What roaming area?

What roaming area?

It's apparent that marketing is more important than truth.  I assume my previous conversation about the roaming area caused them to falsify results on the coverage map.  What else (and where else) have they modified the truth?

Update 2015.01.23: Two days ago, there was almost no service and my phone spent almost the whole day on roaming, not only near home, which wouldn't be unusual, but in other areas where LTE is usually strong.  According to an acquaintance on Sprint, service was also bad there, so apparently, it was up and down California SR 99, not just where I live.

What was naturally amusing is that @sprintcare told me that there were no reported problems.  Cable company, much?  I made the comment that since September 2000 when I became a Sprint customer they only admitted to one problem.  Later, they decided that there was an outage.  They didn't mention that it was over multiple cities.

Turbo 1xRTT? Spark? I wish.
3G map shows roaming area
Voice is fair but data is 100%?

I was shocked to find that they updated the map to show Spark, not only over my city, but the highest performance over my apartment.  It was amusing to see 1xRTT while viewing the new coverage map details.  I believe that they might have a plan for Spark here, but I think they're jumping the gun with their marketing efforts.  With the roaming hole, they shouldn't be able to claim coverage anyway but their map legend has no extra provision for Spark or LTE roaming.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to have three frequency LTE coverage?  I haven't exactly seen it working yet, although parts of the San Francisco Bay Area are working quite well.  I've seen something upwards of 30 Mbps on occasion.  I'd be really impressed to see upwards of 70 Mbps, especially since Verizon is working on two frequency LTE coverage, on capable devices, which my MiFi 5510L is not.

Update 2015.05.16: Spark is apparently working in parts of this town.  I saw 30+ Mbps a couple of miles west of my apartment.  I'm still struggling to keep a signal at home, and end up with 1xRTT or No Service far too often.  I've been told that I should take my phone to be serviced.  This is like "The problem is in your set." responses from the cable company that won't acknowledge their problems.

I would imagine that my service would be just fine here, if they had the other tower emplacement.

Update 2015.11.13: They apparently removed the new equipment about a month after it was working and restored the old equipment.  I'm guessing that they wanted to show that they had the coverage, but only planned to map it and remove it, probably so that they could help the area around the headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas.

It is a good idea to give their employees good service, especially since they aren't paying full price for services.  That way they can claim that there is no problem with service, because they have no problem with service.  It's a bit like Congress--if the executives had to live with our poor conditions, they'd probably be willing to do more for the everyday people.

Parts of the San Francisco Bay Area are very good, but there is no consistency there.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Panasonic GH4 vs GH3 vs Olympus E-M1 (vs GX8?)

I've had the Panasonic GH4 a little over a week now.  I just did some video clips yesterday, pretty much for the first time, although I took a couple of video clips with the GH3.

I had the GH3 for over a year and wanted to trade it before the trade-in value dropped too far.  Unfortunately, it took a while to get a GH4.

I was enthusiastic about the changes to the GH4 because the GH3 was occasionally inconvenient, particularly, the EVF.  Given that the GH3 was the first mirror-less camera body I'd ever used, getting used to the electronic viewfinder was difficult enough, but it always felt a bit broken.

I even had a problem when I was wearing non-polarized sunglasses where the viewfinder at some angles would be blacked out.  I seemed to have a similar problem with the Olympus E-M1, but that seems occasionally to be a problem with the proximity sensor.  I realized that when I saw the image on the rear display.

In any case, the viewfinder of the GH4 seems much better.  There may be some odd behavior but I've only noticed positive results.  As usual, the viewfinder is so bright that I can see better than just using my eyes.  Despite the size difference between the E-M1 (0.71x compared to 135 Format) and GH4 (0.67x), I find the GH4's viewfinder to be very good.  Size is not an issue.  It is surprising that 1024x768 is an advanced resolution for an EVF.  The FujiFilm X-T1's viewfinder is bigger at 0.77x but doesn't seem incredibly better to me, though I don't use it every day.  The GH4's functionality is good enough that I could give up optical viewfinders, and that is difficult for me to believe.

Just today, I had a positive experience with the GH4's magnified manual focus view, unlike that of the GH3.  My experience with focus, whether manual or automatic was difficult on the GH3.  I was just moving from optical viewfinders and the resolution on the GH3 viewfinder was not great, and the distortions were not helping.  Plus, the magnified view was just a huge problem, getting in the way of my ability to follow the action while focusing.  Using the GH4, the magnified view was shown in the center, and I was able to see around it to keep up with the action.  It's apparently possible that you can move it to suit you.

The battery is the same as the battery of the GH3, and the GH4 seems to sip battery power, though I generally leave the rear display in the closed position, rarely browsing what I have just taken.  I wish that I could have done this with the E-M1.  Its economical design seemed more of an attempt to use already-available parts than to create a serious replacement for the E-5 dSLR, for which it seems Panasonic created, with the GH3.

The rear display of the E-M1 can't be protected because it can't be reversed.  It can be accidentally activated (far too easily, though I'm adapting), especially showing the focus point selection display, further depleting the battery life needlessly.  Practically the first thing I noticed when I got the E-M1 was that I could not fold out the rear display to take a portrait-oriented photo of a building from a very low angle.  You can slide it down or flip it up, but it shows a consumer-oriented display mechanism, unlike that of the E-5, GH3, or GH4.  Of course, my E-1's rear display couldn't be reversed either, but that came with a plastic screen protector and of course, didn't have touch capabilities.

The E-M1 does not seem to sip battery power, and my first experiences with the camera body was that I would run out of power early, and end up being a door stop, and I would have to get the E-5 out of the bag.  As the battery is small, so is the grip.  I have acclimated to the E-M1's grip, but it can be uncomfortable coming from a dSLR, unlike the GH3 and GH4 grip.

Using each body, I find myself referring to every SLR, all the way back to my first Fujica SLR but focusing on the Olympus E-1, my first dSLR, which felt instantly intuitive.  The GH3 and GH4 have the drive mode selector on the left shoulder of the top plate.  I feel it might be better to have exposure controls there, including ISO and exposure compensation.

As well, Olympus should have done something similar with the E-M1, assigning it to aperture control rather than having the front dial assigned to exposure compensation.  It was uncomfortable moving to the E-M1 from the E-5, and there are still times when it has been unintuitive, making for accidental changes that I didn't want.

I could hope that all companies come to use a standardized menu interface, but it feels that it won't happen any time soon.  Olympus' Super Control Panel is really amazing, and Panasonic's Quick Menu is satisfactory.  The regular menu systems are the opposite with Panasonic's being more easily navigated, in contrast to those from Olympus (8 levels within the Tools Menu, seriously, Olympus?).  The extra video options on the GH4 should make professional people working in video happier.

I've recorded a few videos and it went well.  Outdoors, it looked very real in 1080p, much like some documentary.  Indoors, there was a similar feel, even though it wasn't extremely bright.  Having been at the skate shop and their half pipe a couple of weeks earlier with the E-M1, I was surprised at how responsive and accurate the GH4 was.  I used the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens in both cases.

Checking the photos and videos later, I was so pleased that the focus was great, surprisingly great.  The photos and videos looked as though there was much more light than what the E-M1 had.

While I was taking video, I tapped the shutter release a couple of times and ended up finding two JPEG files.  I need to analyze them further, but they were taken at unfortunate times and I wouldn't be able to use them.

There was a problem for me finding the button for video recording, but even when I left my thumb on it, I wasn't always able to start or stop recording when I expected.  It's recessed to avoid accidental use.  I'm sure I'll become acclimated to it eventually.  I was thinking that it might be better if the video capture button was near the shutter release--in the front.

Many people value image stabilization and it may save me at some time.  I haven't noticed that it works or not, whether it's in a lens or working the sensor platform.  With the GH4 (and previously, the GH3) and 12-40mm f/2.8, I have no image stabilization, and I don't see any problem.  I finally bought a tripod about a year ago, and I've used it so few times.  When photographing sports in lower light situations, what will help other than more lighting?

At ISO 3200, you probably don't want to use the photos as your best work but from what I've seen, that could also be the story for APS-C and 135 Format sized sensors, as well, except for a very select few that include ISO sensitivity at 102,400 or greater.  Regardless, film didn't do so well at ISO 3200--or 1600 or 1000.

Panasonic GH3 Pros:

  • 1080p image quality and video format/bit rate flexibility
  • Video industry support
  • Grip comfort and battery life
  • Multiple function buttons
  • 5 custom sets--3 positions on mode dial
  • Fully-articulated rear display
  • Silent mode

Panasonic GH4 Pros:

  • Lower light auto focus ability and responsiveness
  • 4K/C4K video
  • Video industry support
  • Video format/bit rate flexibility
  • Grip comfort and battery life
  • Improved EVF over that of the GH3
  • Multiple function buttons
  • 5 custom sets--3 positions on mode dial
  • Fully-articulated rear display
  • Manual focus magnification mode
  • 1/8000 of a second shutter speed
  • Silent mode

Olympus E-M1 Pros:

  • 5-axis image stabilization
  • Electronic ViewFinder clarity
  • Button feature set toggle switch
  • Responsiveness
  • Phase Detection pixels for tracking, and PDAF with Four-Thirds lenses
  • Effective Face detection
  • 1/8000 of a second shutter speed

I appreciate the Olympus E-M1 and Panasonic GH4 equally.  The extra money for the GH4 is consistent with its extra functionality and ease of use.  While I felt a bit betrayed by Olympus for the mess they created after the E-1 (Four-Thirds) body was released, the E-M1 is a very good camera body on its own, but with micro Four-Thirds lenses.  10 fps (E-M1) vs 12 fps (GH4)?  They both work really well.  I've seen plenty of reviews that say that none of these bodies are good for sports but I get my shots, though the GH3 made it much tougher and caused me to return to the E-5 dSLR in many cases.  The only real problem is the lack of wonderful lenses but Olympus is working on that.

The GH3 should be a great body for anyone who is interested in high quality 1080p video, with still photography on the side.  The price has come down quite a bit and it's a good compromise, especially with the fully-articulated rear display.  I was able to get some good architectural photos at a very low angle, thanks to it.

I'm not even sure that the E-M1's video capabilities have improved over the E-5 and without the fully-articulated rear display, it's not nearly as flexible.  Still photography is its domain and for the size of both the body and the system's lenses, I doubt there is a better compromise.

That said, the E-M1 is now the second most used body in my bag, rather than the E-5.  I doubt that will change once I'm more accustomed to the GH4.  It is both supremely comfortable and it's extremely capable.  The little problems I had with the GH3 seem to have been fixed.

Update 2014.12.13: I've found that the GH4 and E-M1 really automatically focus micro Four-Thirds lenses well (although there is an odd performance issue between the E-M1 and 35-100mm f/2.8).  I'm seeing mixed results with my Four-Thirds lenses.  The E-M1 and 50mm f/2.0 macro are a great match.  The E-M1 works better with the 50mm lens than any other body, including the Olympus E-1 and E-5.  I need to really plan and test, but my 2004 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 wasn't very good with the E-M1.  I suspect that Olympus only tested with the SWD version.  It seemed that it worked well with the GH4.

As I'd found when I was using the GH3, auto focus was better with my Four-Thirds lenses than with the E-1 in low or ordinary light.  My E-1 may have had a problem with auto focus, though it seemed okay in bright light.  The E-5 is still faster with Four-Thirds lenses than the GH4, GH3, or E-M1, except with the 50mm macro.  The 14-35mm f/2.0 is often a pain with auto focus but usally works reasonably well even with the GH4 and E-M1.

Update 2014.12.26: The GH4, as with the GH3, often focuses on something else entirely than what I put in the focus area.  It often finds a fence way behind the person I want to photograph.  Apparently, face detection is not useful.

Update 2014.12.30: Panasonic Face Detection asks me to register a face when I try to use it.  If this happens every time I need to use it, it's going to be a pain.  I hope it works beautifully.

I shot some 4K video the other day.  I tried to pass it through the Sony 4K-upscaling Blu-Ray player and it wouldn't handle it.  Maybe, it didn't like the file format.  I need to transfer to a USB stick and feed it directly through the TV's port.  That works.

Still having more fun/frustration with the auto focus.  It seems to randomly lose focus in the middle of what I'm shooting.  For a professional, it shouldn't be a problem since they won't likely be using auto focus at all--or the native lenses that suppose auto focus.  I'm learning, although, I'm looking at lenses that aren't native or those which won't have an electronic interface.

Update 2015.01.20: I went to take some portraits.  I'm not a portrait photographer but the E-M1 is quite good, partly because of face detection.  Focus rarely fails.  I really need to set up face detection on the GH4 to see how it works with the 35-100mm f/2.8 lens.

I keep wondering about the value of Panasonic going it alone with their DFD technology only working on their lenses.  They need to work with Olympus for the sake of the format.  On the other hand, I've noticed the slower performance between the 35-100mm f/2.8 on the E-M1 versus the GH3 or GH4.

Update 2015.02.09: The GH4 continues to impress in most cases.  The auto focus is still a bit inaccurate (focusing on the fence behind a person rather than the person where the single focus point is place) and it would be better if it worked better with Olympus lenses since the premium Panasonic lenses are generally only adequate.  That said, I bought the Panasonic/Lumix/Leica 15mm f/1.7 lens the other day.  It has the typical purple fringing that seems to define Panasonic lenses but AF is almost always accurate.

I took a trip down south to San Diego and the LA/OC area, photographing at skate parks, both still and video.  I also used the GH4 and Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 at a small concert venue and it performed very well, and I managed to hold it fairly still.  Even though I was close to the speaker, it recorded the sound very well, and the video was good.

I bought some new USB drives, with USB 3.0 speed and copied the 4K video files onto one of them.  After connecting it to the USB 3.0 port on the TV, I didn't really see improved performance.  I'm just not sure the problem is with the TV or the GH4, given that they cost me about the same amount of money.  There was something in Panasonic's latest firmware for the GH4 that mentioned improved playback of 4K files but I figured that it was for the rear display or the viewfinder.

Update 2015.12.11: Things have changed a bit in a year.  The Panasonic GX8 and Nikon D7200 have moved the E-5 out of my current tools.  In many ways, I have regretted buying the E-5. Until the GH4 or E-M1, there was no incredibly-usable alternative for my Four-Thirds lenses.

I looked at jumping to Nikon instead of buying the E-5 but the price of lenses was so significant that I hesitated, and the D300 was looking old in 2011.  Since I now have the D7200, I'm not sure a Nikon body would have made me feel really good about the switch.  While I get good image quality from the D7200, it isn't a clear difference over the E-M1 and GH4.  It also doesn't work as well in lower light conditions.

The GX8 works in most conditions as well as the GH4 and E-M1.  It's really small and the battery has about the same capacity as the E-M1, which isn't much.  Since the rear display isn't exposed, that should save a bit of battery life.  I have three batteries, as I have for the E-M1, versus two for the GH4.

I still pull out the GH4 first, as I've created over 120 videos in the last 12 months, mostly from video clips shot at skate parks.  The GX8 has become a good companion to the GH4 for video.  I used the E-M1 so much in a year that I had to have the shutter replaced, as I had apparently exceeded the 150,000 actuations.  At 10 frames per second, that isn't difficult to do.

Almost all of my equipment is still weather-sealed and the GX8 adds to that.  One of my most-used lenses, the Panasonic/Leica 15mm f/1.7 lens is not.

Update 2016.11.24: Almost two years from when I got the GH4, I'm pleased to use it the most.  I have over 100 videos on YouTube and appreciate the body's size and weight and battery life.  The GX8 is fine at times but the grip doesn't quite match my hands, even if it's better than the E-M1's grip.  Battery life for the E-M1 and GX8 are fairly bad.

I got rid of the Nikon stuff.  It was marginally better with the lenses I had.  Finding weather-sealed lenses was a major problem.  Some of the lenses had a fluorine-coated front lens element and that was the extent to the weather-resistance.  That's sadly amusing.  You can depend on FujiFilm and Pentax for APS-C systems with clearly marked "WR" weather-resistant lenses.  Sigma Sport line lenses are also weather-resistant.

The Olympus E-M1 has been succeeded with a Mk II model that is superior in most every way.  The price is the sticking point for many people.  In an era of almost zero inflation, the E-M1 Mk II is US$300 than Olympus dSLR flagships and something like US$700 more than the E-M1 was at launch.  It feels as though the extensive AF grid will make it worth the extra $300 over what I expected and the dual card slots, articulated rear display, and more show real value.  It's still a difficult price if you're moving from the E-5 dSLR, especially when the Panasonic GH4 feels so much better.

I'm glad to be using micro Four-Thirds for exactly what the reviews say isn't easily possible--sports.  I don't know how other people photograph sports, but what I've seen people show me needs to be improved.  For American Football, they can keep their Nikon D5.  It's obvious that it works well.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Video seems so intensive in contrast to still photography

The Panasonic GH4 hasn't really made my life easier.  Yes, it's great equipment.

I've taken roughly 49 video clips since getting the GH4.

Hold the camera steady.  Follow the motion.  Oh, and remember to remove the lens cap and power on the camera.  Yes, that's it.

Once I got the clips onto the drive, I was confused about what to do next.  I started iMovie (I have Adobe Premiere Elements on the way) since that's my only video editor.  Suddenly, I need to deal with Events and Projects and Importing.  Am I confused?  Am I.

I managed to get a video onto YouTube and Vimeo.  That seemed a little problematic, but not horrible.  Horrible was the description for dealing with Instagram.  It saw my video, but refused to process it, possibly because it was too wide.  The solution?  Dropbox on Android was extra helpful in exporting to Instagram.  It somehow found the face in the video and kept the person in the video, regardless of the location.  That was quite amazing, and better than I could have thought to do at this point.  The iOS version of Dropbox didn't have such an option (or any export to Instagram) that I could find.

After getting the first, very raw video on all three networks that I use, I felt better.

The next day, I tried working with iMovie further, without any extra support.  I made mistakes, and learned.  Finally, I managed to learn enough to put a bit of the video into slow motion.  Then, I found that iMovie could immediately send the final product to Vimeo and YouTube without much more than e-mail addresses and passwords.

I still have something like 10 videos to process--out of 49 I took.  Some of the videos need pieces thrown away.  I should be able to learn.

Update 2014.12.13: Finally worked with the last nine of the videos, added some transitions, and wrapped them into one video of slightly under two minutes.  Am I proud?  Am I accomplished?  I don't know.  I'm satisfied to be able to finish something else, and do more.

I got my copy of Adobe Premiere Elements, along with Photoshop Elements, today.  I'm not sure it's easier or better but the multiple levels of assistance will probably be useful.  (I use Photoshop so little since working through Phase One Capture One that Photoshop is all but obsolete for my workflow.)

Apple doesn't seem to care about helping the user, except through some videos.  They'd started a tutorial system way back in Mac OS 8.x but they killed it fairly quickly on the way to Mac OS X.

Still, iMovie is more confusing than difficult to use.  Hopefully, Premiere Elements is also more confusing than difficult.

Update 2015.01.15: Premiere Elements is similar.  It's just giving me a load of new user problems, as is iMovie.  Why am I not going for a professional product?  It really doesn't matter at this point.  I still have to learn to work with taking the video, working with equipment, and processing the clips, understanding the software.  If there is magical software to help do what I want without requiring learning something, I need that kind of software.  I don't believe it exists.

Also, I'm looking at which lenses might help me.  It matters about whether I'm going to take video clips or make films.

What does that mean?  Serious equipment will require more than just a monetary investment.  It will require a mental investment, planning any move.

I'm more of a run-and-gun type of photographer.  I'm ready at any moment.  I don't tell people what to do--I ask what they want to do or use what they are doing.  Sports photography is like that, though working around skate parks requires even more flexibility.

I've been thinking about cine lenses.  I can use those in a way that isn't completely different from the way I work now, but these are adapted or otherwise, manually-operated lenses.  There is a recent crowdsourced group Veydra that will be able to provide supposedly high quality cine lenses at low prices, in contrast to Zeiss--US$900 vs US$5000 for each lens.

What's different is actually setting the various parameters of exposure, which may not change a lot from minute to minute, and focus.  This should not be a problem because, as I've found photographing sports, auto focus isn't always all that reliable, unless maybe you're using a camera body over US$5000.

However, I'd found that the Olympus E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8 lens was fairly good for run-and-gun situations.  Perhaps the GH4 with Panasonic's 12-35mm f/2.8 lens would be equally good.  The really great solution would be for Panasonic to work with Olympus and vice versa, to add the higher end Olympus lens profiles to the GH4 for Depth from Defocus application.  It doesn't feel as though the 35-100mm f/2.8 lens from Panasonic is all that great with the GH4 but it wasn't all that great with the GH3 either.

I'm still considering all of the options, but quick auto focus is certainly effortless, mindless--if it works.

Update 2015.03.26:  In January, I bought the Panasonic/Lumix/Leica 15mm f/1.7.  It's been very good for video, staying focused.

The other day, I tried my Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens.  The OIS was enabled and it was worse than the two lenses I use that don't have any image stabilization.  What's worse, they recently updated the firmware to improve the OIS during video, and I'd applied that fix.  It was absolutely jumpy.  I suspect it would have been much better with the OIS disabled, as I'm usually only slightly shaky.

Building a workflow has been interesting.  I organize the clips into folders.  Delete the bad clips.  Combine the good clips.  Add transitions and titles.  Shorten clips to remove unwanted material, and quicken the unwanted material in the middle.  (I might be able to split the clip, and delete the bad section, but right now, this makes the process less complicated, and the speed up might be entertaining.)

Since I'm using iMovie at the moment, there are a lot of simple ways to add effects, as long as I can figure out how to select the correct segment.  I'm taking baby steps to avoid making an unsophisticated mess of my finished videos.

Update 2015.11.20: I have over 120 videos on YouTube and only a few on Vimeo.  Vimeo wanted me to pay to upload more and I would not.

I'm using the Panasonic GH4 and GX8 for video, but I have used video from the E-M1 and it's not as bad as people say that it is.  It's just not as good as it should be.  The Pentax K-50 is also not bad.  The fixed display isn't helpful though and the fixed display on the Nikon D7200 has kept me from using it for video, especially when I already have some powerful equipment.

 I'm still using iMovie for video production.  Yes, it is the free one.  I recently bought a Windows 10 machine and paid for Sony Movie Studio Suite.  This is a cut-rate version big package and it is confusing.  To start a new project, it has various categories of the type of video--you're importing or producing--I can't tell.  Nothing in the DV or HDV category seems to be 1920x1080p 60fps, which is what I use.  They have AVCHD which is something the cameras support but I don't use.  The package supports 3840x2160 but not 4096x2160.  Shouldn't the application read the files you're importing to determine the project and ask you what you want to output?

In any case, iMovie has been amazingly quick and easy to get reasonable skate park videos out of it.  I put together a final project, a best of video, that started with 42 minutes' worth of clips that ended up at 14:55, with music and effects.  Even with iMovie, it was a task but at least, it's not difficult to remember how to split a clip, change effects, or even import from multiple folders.  It took a while.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Got an iPhone 6 last night and stayed with Sprint

As you might have read already, I live in an area where the LTE installations haven't been finished.  While much of the town is on LTE, I live on the edge of LTE and a roaming zone.  In fact, my bedroom seems to be a transition area between 3G/EVDO and LTE, so I end up with 1xRTT too many times for too long.

Verizon First

I went to see Verizon, but after seeing the local reseller's Yelp ratings, I went to a city 15 miles away where there was an official company store.

They currently have a $150 switching rebate, and I had found that the data sharing plan of 12 GB had been upgraded to 15 GB.  This is important as I already have a mobile hotspot with the company.  Service is better than Sprint but not great, as though it's bordering on overloaded.  We apparently don't have enough towers in town.

I waited about 15 minutes until there was an available associate.  We talked, and he explained the rent-to-buy plan.  It sounded fine, and then, he talked about the data plan--6 GB for $120, along with talk and text messaging, which we didn't even discuss.  I told him that I'd really have to think about that, since it would drive my total expense up by $40.

Then, I said "I thought there was a 12GB 15 GB sharing plan" and he seemed to tap his headset, and looked surprised "Oh, why didn't I think of that?" and as if he'd been given information by someone behind the curtain, he remarked "That would be $160."  That pretty much ended the conversation but I asked if he was on commission, and he said yes, and had someone get his card for me.  I figured that he would get a little extra each month by not suggesting the cheaper plan.

Sprint Next but not Nextel

I went to one of the two Sprint kiosks in the mall just after that.  The first was busy, so I went to the other.  I said "Give me a reason to stay with Sprint.  I'm ready to pay my ETF." and we started a discussion.

Within only a couple of minutes, he mentioned an extra discount for long time customers on the lease plan.  This also supposedly doesn't include a contract.  They get to keep the phone at the end of the lease or you can pay an extra $200 to keep it.  I was a bit confused, but it still sounded okay.  Except for prepaid service, is it ever 100% straightforward?  Since I wanted a 64GB iPhone 6, it cost a bit more.

Naturally, with these plans, you leave without paying anything.  They put certain things on your initial bill, like the !@#$ $36.00 activation fee--yes, they need to pay for the rigamarole to handle all the crap of paperwork.

My plan is a bit old, so they had trouble deciding which reason to use to make the lease work.  They need to add "Hella Old Plan" to the list.  Eventually, everything was fine, and they also sold me a Otterbox glass screen protector and a Griffin case.  Amusingly, my old address from 2000-2008 was there, and now, with one of the receipts sent by e-mail, they showed me Indiana taxes, where I haven't lived for months.

What's bad about the lease discount is that I had to stay with my current service plan.  They have a better, cheaper plan now.  Actually, last year when I got the iPhone 5c, they add an Unlimited Everything plan or some such that was the same price but had no limits.  Still, I don't talk on the phone enough to need my current minutes.

Oh, and I didn't have to pay the ETF, so far.  Hopefully, it won't show up, since I was told that it wouldn't happen.

They asked me if I wanted insurance, and I told them AppleCare+ but I'm not sure that it will arrive or not.  They didn't charge me for it, but then, they didn't charge me right away last year.  I didn't want Asurion to handle it, as they want lots of money each month, and they have no problem refusing service.

In any case, the iPhone 6 is much better than the iPhone 5c.  That's a surprise?  I suppose not.  I'm thankful that the iPhone 6 is a bit more efficient than the iPhone 5s.  I was concerned about buying a first-generation 64-bit processor from Apple, so I didn't buy the iPhone 5s.  The phone keeps up with me, except when service is poor.  Given that the iPhone 5c is a two band LTE device and the iPhone 6 is a three band LTE device, I should have great performance in certain areas where the Nextel 800 MHz frequency band has been re-purposed.

Most apps I use seem to have been updated for iPhone 6, as well as iOS 8.x and they seem fine.  However, there seem to be so many bug fixes, with apps being updated every few days.  Asphalt 8 takes advantage of the new abilities and has some extra special effects.  I'm not seeing anything else like that from other apps, but everything else seems smooth.

As it has only been a little over 24 hours, I don't know how the battery life really is.  I was in a habit of charging whenever possible--in the car, in the house, and I have a Sony charging kit with a 10,000 mAh battery.  I'm not comfortable enough to let it go overnight without a charge, though I suspect that it will be fine.

The display seems so good.  I wish that they'd picked a more standard size, such as 1280x800 but had 1334-by-750-pixel resolution at 326 ppi.  That's big enough to play 720p video, finally.  Seeing "Full sRGB standard" makes me happy.  I can't tell you how many times I've looked at photos I've taken and the color range and dynamic range is lower than expected, leaving my photos not looking their best, requiring imagination.

TouchID seems to work well.  I was carrying on a conversation with the salesperson while trying to set up the phone and I wasn't synchronizing my movements well, but the TouchID setup was very patient.  It works fine and it's good to be able to put my thumb on the Home button to unlock the phone.  I'm not ready to use Apple Pay.  Let someone else live through the problems.

The thing I don't like is the size of the phone.  It's not horribly big, but it is a big difference.  When I'm playing games in a landscape position, it's great.  When I'm trying to use it as an internet device in portrait orientation, it's a little uncomfortable to use with one hand.

What else?  I'm planning to buy another Ballistic case, so I don't have to worry about dropping it.  The current Griffin case was labeled with "3'" but does it actually work after a drop of three feet?  The glass screen protector from Otterbox seems fine, but for such a price, it should be fine.

Oh, the speakers are in the way of my hands.  Yes, I know that doesn't make sense.  Playing games or watching videos in landscape orientation, I can barely hear the sound at all.  If they'd be a little less obsessed with thin and light, they'd likely have made it so headphones aren't necessary.  Maybe, I can charge my Bluetooth-connected Motorola S9 headphones and hopefully, the synchronization of sound is better than way back when with the second generation iPod touch and iOS 5.x.

Update 2014.12.12: I found Best Buy-only Ballistic cases for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.  They were $34.99, $39.99, and $49.99.  I bought one of the $39.99 priced cases that was labeled Tungsten Tough.  You won't find these on the Ballistic web site.  It's a similar situation to the Klipsch speakers that are made for Best Buy.  I suspect that there is a higher profit margin.  The case has what seems to be anodized aluminum in back.  The drop rating was 7+ feet.  The case for $49.99 added water resistance, a screen protector, and an 8+ rating for drops.

I'm not sure if I'll miss the clip (it didn't turn the case into a viewing easel), as it has hung on to my pocket when I didn't quite have the case far enough into the pocket, but the company's protection is great, so a 7+ rating should handle a fall from my pocket easily.

Update 2015.02.10: I have to say that the situation with Sprint in California isn't as good as it should be.  I understand that it is a long state, but seeing "No Service" should never happen, and it happened too often on my trip from Northern California to San Diego.

The compensation is that when LTE was available, it worked very well.  I've found too many transition zones, just like in my apartment, where they still haven't got overlapping towers.

Update 2015.11.06: Sprint provided better technology and therefore, a better connection.  After 1 month, they took it away, and things are back to the way they had been.  Where they have good service, the phone works just fine.  Elsewhere, the service is poor and the phone works poorly.  I was told I needed to have the phone serviced.  I told the @sprintcare team that I didn't know that humor was a new service they offered.

I almost wish that I had not got the new phone so I could switch to T-Mobile, which has improved their service.  Even paying more to Verizon might have been worth it.  I've been with Sprint since 2000 and the last couple of months have made me wish that Sprint would go out of business.  I actually mentioned that to the @sprintsavings people on Twitter.

The phone has been good.  Now, with iOS 9.0.2, it seems even better, if still a bit buggy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Copyrights and "Sharing"

For years, I've seen plenty of people who believe that digital files are theirs to do with as they please.  Many of these files have been photos, some of which were my own, but they also include software, music, and videos made by professionals.

It isn't just an individual or group of individuals who feel entitled to take--Facebook has been consistently holding onto their rights of your uploads.  If you agree to any private network's terms, you usually give up all rights that would normally be yours in a free society.  Free speech doesn't necessarily exist, but people seem to think that because they live in a country which gives them rights, so should a social network that may not exist in that country.

People were upset that Facebook was using their photos in advertisements.  Perhaps, these same people were ripping off photographers and musicians, and had no regrets but felt that they were being used when their photos showed up in advertisements.

I saw a bit about Apple being on trial for using DRM that prevented "sharing", that the DRM was illegal.  If it prevents sharing music or music videos--an illegitimate act--how could it be illegal?  Apple needed such DRM to make agreements with the various music companies.  Was it not important to protect the companies from people who were not paying for music?

Do I think that the music companies were charging too much?  Yes.  Do I think that their promises of cheap CD prices were mysteriously forgotten once the startup of the technology was over and CDs were commonplace?  Yes.  Do I think that the RIAA was a group of out of contact with reality?  Yes.

Do I think that things would be the same right now if Apple didn't apply DRM to satisfy the music companies?  Yes.  The world somehow benefited from the situation, even if it didn't seem that way.  Now, music is DRM free in general and Blu-Ray discs (and DVD to a certain extent) are the real DRM target.

For every person who has taken one of my photos without permission, I'd love to have a digital method to make them pay for it or have it disintegrate.  The owner of the digital files should be in charge, not the people who want them.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Panasonic GH4 is in my bag

It's just before Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.A. and the sales are all over the place.  One of the national broadcasters mentioned that electronics would be cheaper before Black Friday, and cameras and other photographic equipment generally falls into line with electronics.

I read that Panasonic has reduced the price of the GH4 by $200.  Adorama, B&H Photo, and Mike's Camera (Colorado and California) have said that this is an instant rebate.  Mike's Camera ended this instant rebate on November 26th--today.

I braved holiday traffic to drive 30+ miles to buy the camera body.  I met with a salesperson with whom I'd previously talked.  I asked about the body, and he checked their web site, and I bought it, even using my extra battery from my GH3 to try it.  (My battery appeared to be fully charged, even though I traded my GH3 in early June.  That makes it almost six months since it was charged.)

At $1499.99, the body is somewhat more reasonable for me, and it's the same price I paid for my Olympus E-5.  That also makes it less than half the price of the Canon 5D MkIII, its nearest (hybrid) competitor in the business.  Well, actually, the 5D MkIII was the competitor of the GH3, and the expanded 4K capabilities and high bit rates at 1080p add to the differences between the GH4 and the 5D MkIII, above those between the 5D MkIII and the GH3.

The salesperson mounted an Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens, so I could check the body.  The lens seemed almost tiny, though not as small as the 15mm f/1.7 approved by Leica, designed and made by Panasonic especially for the GM1/GM5.  The image through the viewfinder seemed improved (it has over double the density) over my memory of the GH3.  I didn't notice that much difference from the E-M1 I use regularly, or from my memory of the FujiFilm X-T1.

I used my sunglasses briefly, explaining about the blackout problem that I had with the GH3, and I currently have with the E-M1 on occasion.  It only happened on occasion, but it happened enough that muscle memory was my only way around it with the GH3.  I'm guessing that it may still occur.  Perhaps, switching to polarized sunglasses may help.  It isn't a problem with optical viewfinders.

Of course, it took a few minutes to find settings to change, to try to personalize it similarly to my GH3.  I was pleased to see many video additions in the menus, bringing up the professional specification.  I can't say enough how great it is that the GH3 and GH4 have 5 slots for settings.  I only used two slots with the GH3 and that might be the same with the GH4, although I'll be more focused on video this time, so I might use more.

The most wonderful thing about the GH4 is the instant familiarity.  Panasonic wisely chose to keep ergonomic choices almost all the same.  They added a lock to the mode button, something it has in common with the E-M1--and the Olympus E-1 from way back when.

I just checked the What Digital Camera (my go-to magazine) review for the GH4 and E-M1 and they said that the design of the GH4 was an 85 and the E-M1, 95.  In the text, they complained about the GH4 having so many buttons but appreciated the dSLR-like design.  Strangely, everyone else seems to like that you don't have to dig through menus, and the Panasonic menus are a bit less extreme than those of Olympus.  The magazine has had a complete change of staff and they seem to work toward advertisers more than 10 years ago.  89% for the GH4 vs 92% for the E-M1 isn't a huge difference.  However, I would say that, given Olympus' poor video performance and uncomfortable grip, the two are equal at least.

One of the bigger issues for me with the E-M1 was the combination of the small battery and small, angular grip.  Now that I have 3 batteries for the E-M1, I don't run out of power early, but I don't use it nearly as long as I used my dSLRs, so I'm still concerned.

With the GH3, I never had a problem where I exhausted both batteries during a long day of shooting.  Since the battery is so much bigger than that of the E-M1, there is definitely a difference.  Getting battery grips for each won't help much, as either grip only holds an extra battery, though they might help with using my Four-Thirds 35-100mm f/2.0 (3.64 lbs./1650g) lens.  I was never happy with that balance on the GH3 and I've never bothered to try it for more than a few minutes with the E-M1.  Of course, with the tripod collar attached to a tripod, the balance issue goes away.  Naturally, this was never a problem with the Olympus E-5, which is only as big as the Nikon D7100.

When mounting the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens outside the store, I found that the lens operated at full speed again, in contrast to its performance on the E-M1.  I had not used it significantly since the Panasonic Repair Facility had checked it.  The few times I tried it with the E-M1, the frame rate was significantly slower than Olympus' 12-40mm lens, which made no sense, since it was very fast on the GH3.  This makes the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens important for the E-M1.  I expect that the color from the lens will be equally better over the 35-100mm f/2.8 as the 12-40mm f/2.8 was.  I thought that there was a problem with the GH3, until I used the 12-40mm f/2.8 on it.  It should be interesting to see how fast the frame rate of the GH4 will be with the 40-150mm f/2.8 lens.

I'm hoping to try some skate park video soon, using the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens.  I don't know much about video but I took a few with the GH3.  I don't have an enhanced speed card to handle 4K video but learning how to handle video is more important at this time.  Responsiveness with my current SanDisk Extreme Pro card seemed much better than with the GH3.

Oh, and concerning the bag, I'm afraid that I've got to re-distribute equipment again to emphasize the smaller equipment, though I still want to use my Four-Thirds lenses through the adapter.  I hope Crumpler has something appropriate.

Update 2014.11.28: Ouch!  The firmware needs to be updated and for some reason, I'm unable to update it for various reasons.

First, the U.S. Panasonic web site ends up with only a Windows executable when I open the .zip file I've downloaded.  Perhaps, I didn't see a Macintosh-related link or the web site incorrectly detected that everyone uses Windows.

I used the Japanese web site that I'd used for the GH3 and that seemed to give me the correct file, but the camera body doesn't recognize that there is an update available when I go through the procedure.  I'm sure I'll be fine with firmware version 1.1 instead of 2.0, for a while anyway, but whatever.  Panasonic continues to be an administrative screw up.  What was downloaded was labeled AH4 instead of GH4.  I got something different tonight, and have updated my GH4.

Taking the GH4 and 35-100mm f/2.8 to the skate park, it performed well, but not with as much performance as expected.  (Continuous AF is enabled by default.)  Auto Focus accuracy was acceptable, similar to the GH3.  I'll try it with the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 at a later date.  It didn't feel as fast or responsive as the Olympus E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8.  Auto Review is also enabled, which not only slows things down, as it does with the GH3, but it's also a battery waster.

Update 2014.12.01: I ordered a 4K-capable SD card from Adorama.  It's interesting that these cards were UHS-I, class 10, U 3.  Do I need such a card right now?  Probably not, but having dedicated for-video storage would be a good idea, especially on those days when I've been busy taking still photos.  I'm a little short on cards now that I have three bodies that take SD Cards.

I had a chance to buy a higher capacity SanDisk card but, after viewing several descriptions of the card, I couldn't determine the exact performance.  One mentioned 95 MB/sec., while others mentioned 60 MB/sec. and 80 MB/sec.  They were also labeled Extreme or Extreme Plus because the company changed the name at some point.

Update 2014.12.07: Part of my order was not readily available, so I ended up at Best Buy getting a 4K-capable card.  It was about the same price for 32GB as Adorama had for 64GB.  That's not the worst I've seen.  At least, it's a SanDisk card.  They had the Extreme and Extreme Plus cards, but this one is labeled Pixtor.  I've barely used it for anything.  I thought that the card would enable 4K options immediately, but that happens through the Creative Video mode on the mode dial.  Getting past the GH3 is taking time.

I'm impressed with how responsive the GH4 has been, especially in low(er) light.  I went to a skate shop with an indoor half pipe, and shot both still photos and video.  I was there a few weeks earlier and the E-M1 struggled with the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens but the GH4 didn't seem to have any problem at all.  That doesn't mean that it's great in the dark.  It isn't.  I could use more lenses at f/1.4 or wider than my older Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 from the Four-Thirds system.

The Voigtländer lenses look good.  There is a 10.5mm f/0.95 that should be available soon (okay, officially Q1-Q2 2015), and that is wide enough to get skate park shots easily, and should be good for sharp landscape shots at a less aggressive aperture.  Is US$1000 or more too much for a manually focused lens?  It depends on your wallet, of course, and whether you can make money from it.  The other three (17.5mm, 25mm, 42.5mm) have all been rated well and many people are satisfied with what they do.

Update 2014.12.31: The Panasonic card is flaky and has had general errors in both the GH4 body and the computer SD Card slot.  Almost naturally, the SanDisk card isn't a problem--I've had to have one replaced in the past, but only one.

I'm having some struggles learning the GH4.  I'm not finding it as instantly familiar as I thought I would--or at least, I'm not as successful with it as I had hoped.  As I go further with it, I'm finding little issues.  The drive mode dial has been accidentally moved.  The burst mode position is adjacent to a +/- burst mode position that allows you to take bracketed auto exposure photos.  For instance, it will take photos at -1/3 EV, +0 EV, +1/3 EV, much like HDR preparations.  Your bracketing settings will affect the latitude of the exposure range.  It is useful, although there have been times when I was getting a series of shots and naturally, it stops at three and the action continues without me.  Yes, I should be more aware of my settings.  I'm sure I saw it in the viewfinder and didn't really notice as the +/- didn't seem so significantly distinct.

The GH4 is so capable that it could be 6 months before I'm really comfortable.  It's been a little over a month that I've had it now, so getting casual photos are easy but action photos are usually more involved.  I've basically given up the use of the E-M1 to get up to speed with the GH4.

2015.01.09: The auto focus still isn't everything it should be, with continuous auto focus or not.  During video, it will lose focus completely, which is a great effect that people like, except that it will do it at the wrong time.  That's not unlike the Olympus E-M1.  Maybe, the 12-40mm f/2.8 isn't feeling well.  I was using the 35-100mm f/2.8 the other day and I noticed that the auto focus on the GH4 was similar to the E-M1, lower performing burst speed, but with better AF accuracy.

2016.12.07: It's been over two years since I got the GH4.  I've got over 100 videos on YouTube.  Most are skate park videos but I have some music performances and random things, also.  The camera itself does a very good job, except for AF.

I've got a number of Panasonic lenses and it loses focus on those, as well as while using the Olympus lenses.  It just seems too busy to bother with auto focus duties, but in this price range, it shouldn't have such a problem.  I'm not asking it to track someone.  I want it to focus on the single area I select while I move the camera.  It has predictive focus--it's always busy.

I'm still learning.  I've been learning to do time lapse photography because I wanted to try some shots while driving, to condense little road trips as I've seen someone else do.

Since the GH4, I've bought the GX8 and GM5.  The GX8 has very good 1080p video which matches what I get from the GH4, and that is so useful at skate parks since I'll have the 35-100mm f/2.8 on one and the 12-35mm f/2.8 on the other.  The E-M1 doesn't come close and I suspect that the GM5 won't match either.

The GH5 should be released in spring.  What the whole feature set is, no one outside Panasonic knows, and I'm not certain even they know at this point.  3840x2160 at 60p is one of the few things that are guaranteed to be included.  They've shown mockups of the body and it's agreeable, but nothing is much different.

The new sensor may be 18MP or 20MP, but they're not saying.  The new Olympus E-M1 Mk II has a 20MP sensor with 121 cross type AF points--both PDAF and CDAF.  Many speculate that they will use a lot of the same equipment in the GH5.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Lollipop (Android version 5.0) was installed on my 2013 Nexus 7 tablet a bit ago

An hour or so ago, I got the notice that Lollipop was available for my 2013 Nexus 7 tablet.  Despite my reluctance to embrace x.0 versions, I decided to have it downloaded and installed.

You can see visual differences here in this Ars Technica article.

Naturally, the update took a while, and there was a bit of time involved as it was "optimizing" applications.

I haven't spent much time at the moment.  So far, my most consistent experience is when I unlock it, by pressing the lock icon and sliding it, which gives me the camera.  Perhaps, they want me to see how much better the camera is.  I really don't know.

The system icons at the lowest part of the display look less indicative of their functionality.  The joined rectangles were more of a clue of the multi-tasking manager than a single square.

Google Play seems okay when updating applications.  I'm not sure it works better but it looks better.  Perhaps, that's the thing--we're to be enraptured by its new look, and will forgive any lingering problems.  Apple tried that and it didn't work.  I get the feeling that Google never tests anything with regular people who aren't directly connected with the company.  Apple does it somewhat, but things aren't always intuitive any longer.

I look forward to finding if performance is improved.  I've read that it could be smoother and faster, but until I experience it in real life, I'll continue my skepticism.

So far, the delay from booting is still there.  It may be diminished somewhat, but I need to let the tablet sit a while before I do anything.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

iPad Air 2 good, iPad mini 3 pathetic

Late last year, I chose a Google Nexus 7, the 2013, revised version.  Why?  The iPad mini didn't really meet my needs.  It was too wide to be held in one of my hands, and it wasn't very powerful, but it was really expensive.  Now that the newer (second generation+) version is out, last year's model has been dropped by US$100, and it's still not a bargain for what is there.  However, the newer version isn't worth an extra US$100.  People are better off buying last year's model for less.

Why does it seem that Apple are trying to push the iPad Air 2, even more than they were trying to push the iPad Air?  That's my only explanation for the relative crapiness of the iPad mini.  It makes the current iPad Air look a relative bargain.  I'm even considering an iPad Air 2 for me.  I would consider a refurbished iPad Air, if I could get it in a 64 GB configuration at a substantial discount; however, the anti-reflective surface of the newer model would be useful.

Another problem for the iPad mini is the iPhone 6 Plus.  It is big enough, and its resolution is brilliant for the size.  It also has strong processing power.  Except for the size, it seems a great choice.  I was interested in the LG G2 and Nexus 5 last year about this time but they were so large that I thought twice about them, despite the power.

I'm sure Apple will do well enough, especially with the iPad Air 2 but who will buy the newest iPad mini?

Update 2014.11.04: There is a rumor that the iPad mini may go away, making way for the huge 12.9 inch iPad.  Someone mentioned that Apple gives poor upgrades to products that aren't selling.  Isn't that the correct strategy for a product you're hoping will lose?

I would think that an aggressive company would drop the price and improve the performance, not try to give a product one new feature and polish it a bit more.  The U.S. automotive industry was hit hard because they didn't help themselves, choosing style over functionality.

Update 2015.02.13: I've been waiting for the Apple announcement.  It should be soon, and we should expect the watch, the big iPad with a keyboard/cover, and likely a revised Apple TV box.  While Apple continues to make headway with content, until they start to resell networks or the networks' content, there will not be TV with a display.

Update 2015.04.07: Apple seem to be taking it easy, playing it safe, and any other relaxed idioms that apply.

The new 12 inch MacBook looks interesting, even though it's not very powerful.  The latest rumor on the yet-to-be-announced Apple TV replacement is that it won't feed 4K media to the TV, even though the chipset is capable.

Update 2015.11.19: They fixed the problem by making the iPad mini 4 with the same processor as the iPhone 6.  It's much more powerful having an A8 instead of an A5.  The display is apparently very good, and for color accuracy, apparently better than the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Pro.  That seems odd considering that the iPad Pro should be used by artists.

I guess the rumor about the Apple TV replacement was true--no 4K.

OS X Mavericks now, Yosemite later

I've had OS X Mavericks for a week or so.  Since Mac OS X, I've taken it a bit more slowly with my updates, upgrades.

When I went from 10.2.x to 10.3.0, things went awry.  It took until 10.3.4 until most everything worked again.  It seemed with every release, it took until 10.x.4 until it was stable enough for all that I did, so I waited, even though I had used the beta test versions for testing and programming purposes.

When Avie Tevanian left Apple, Mac OS X seemed to become even more sloppy.  I still have a PowerBook G4 on 10.5.8 and it really could have used some bug fixes.  Thankfully, they produced a number of security updates since then, and some of those helped stability.

Since 10.6.8, Apple provided (Mac) OS X on less and less media until it was only available for installation over a network connection.  When I got my mid-2012 MacBook Pro, it got 10.8.0, which required updates while connected to the internet.

So, I bought a new version of Phase One's Capture One version 8.  The only problem was that the software didn't work on 10.8.x and I didn't see anything about the system requirements ahead of the purchase, which seemed odd for them.  Obviously, I wanted the new version of the raw development software so much that I was not thinking as well as I should have.

Having spent the money, I needed the update to OS X 10.9.x.  The nearest Apple Store was okay with installing the update for me.  If there was physical media, I would have installed it myself.  Actually, I was expecting to occupy a corner of the Genius Bar with their internal network connected to my computer and I would install the update myself.  They had a local installation image of the update and they used that.

They managed to e-mail me when they finished the update, but they didn't use the phone number they confirmed three times.  Since they had my computer and I expected a phone call, I didn't check my e-mail.  I returned to the store about 45 minutes before the store would close, just hoping that they had finished.

Long story, long, I've updated and my computer is still working.  Mavericks is slightly better than Mountain Lion, so I feel okay about the changes.  I'm not finding any interesting or odd behavior.  I'm glad I did the update when I did, so that I wasn't forced to Yosemite.  The only Yosemite I want close right now is the national park.

Update 2014.10.30: Some Yosemite users are reporting WiFi connectivity problems.  That's a surprise!  (Did your sarcasm detector max out there?)  Every new release of Mac OS X in recent memory has had WiFi connectivity problems, and many iOS releases have also.  Do you wonder why I wait to update?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Panasonic GM1 vs GM5

I was looking at the Panasonic GM1 within the last two weeks.  It is an interesting camera body, having the power of micro Four-Thirds in the smallest possible body.  With an adapter, it can even use various lenses from other systems, and for me, my current Four-Thirds mount lenses.

GM1 with Four-Thirds Leica 25mm f/1.4
GM1 with Panasonic/Leica 15mm f/1.7

I stopped myself from buying it, just because the GM5 was rumored to be released soon.  Today, they made that announcement and the GM5 should be available in November.  I'm even more interested because it is an improved model, which includes a hot shoe and an EVF.

Why is this important?  I live in a very sunny part of California and using the rear display works fine in a store but not necessarily during a very sunny day.  Trying to see my smartphone or tablet display is nearly impossible, though I've become very good at taking photos using muscle memory.  Even if the EVF of the GM5 has the rainbow/tearing effect that plagues the GX7 for some people, it's better than not having an EVF at all.

The lack of a tiny built-in/inbuilt flash to make room for the EVF is okay, since they've included a hot shoe, so that you can now use the included flash or another, more high-powered model.  The GM1 has no such ability to use an external flash unit.

Being able to take 1080/60p video is a worthy enhancement, though I haven't seen anything about 25p or 50p.  Those in PAL areas may be disappointed.  It's possible the press releases I've seen were tailored for each country.

Of course, the GM5 kit is more expensive than the GM1 kit--US$899.99 vs $759.99, I believe was the price I was quoted at the store.  (I have no desire for the 12-32mm lens but the pre-orders seem to be stuck with it.  There are still no Panasonic/Leica 15mm f/1.7 kits.)

Update 2014.10.10: Adorama has the GM1 and kit lens for $597.99 and you get a $100 Adorama gift card.  Getting the GM1 for just under US$500 seems a great deal to me.  It's still tiny and functional.  The deal makes the GM5 seem more expensive but I can't (for me) discount the usefulness of the EVF and flash hot shoe.

Update 2014.11.30: I was waiting for the GM5 and suddenly, I found that the GH4 was both available and $200 off.  Since I bought the GH4, I have to postpone my purchase of the GM5.  In-between, I'll probably buy the 15mm f/1.7 lens because having a low(er) light wide(r) lens would be good, given that my only other such lens would be the Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 shown in the photo.  That works fine on the GH4, including the aperture ring,  but it's not always wide enough for skate park shots.

Update 2015.04.03: Adorama currently has deals on the GM1 in blue and in orange with a US200 gift certificate, effectively making the cost US$500.  That certainly sounds like a good deal, if you were on the fence about it.

Update 2015.10.18: Panasonic currently has a US$200 instant rebate on the GM5, making it roughly US$700 with the 12-32mm kit lens until October 24th.  I keep thinking about it, but I've taken the GH4 into a restaurant within my backpack.  I don't really go without a camera bag of some sort.

Update 2015.11.29: Currently, Adorama is selling the GM5 for about US$400 off.  That's a great deal.  There is a rumored GM7 but I believe adding 4K video to such a small body will be a disaster.  They might increase the size of the body somewhat, as they did from the GX7 to GX8, but I don't expect a minimal change to work.

I really want the GM5 but I've spent a bit of money on other equipment.  The GM1 has been reduced, as well, but in sunny environments, there is nothing better than a viewfinder, even one that isn't optimal.

Update 2016.06.19: Got the GM5 at a Mike's Camera store tent sale.  US$399.99 was a good price, and I got the 42.5mm f/1.7 Power OIS lens at the same time but with US$100 instant rebate.

The tiny battery will require that I have another 14 batteries, if I plan to do much with it.  I was looking for a way to carry it and I put it into the soft case for the 42.5mm f/1.7.

The viewfinder is unusual, but in sunny California, I'll need it and I can adapt to most any equipment.  The shutter release is not where my finger expected it.  It isn't exactly an action camera anyway.  I need to get a wrist strap for it.  Set up was about the same as for any other Panasonic camera body, once you switch it from the Intelligent Auto position on the dial.

There is more here.

GM5 with Olympus ZD 35-100mm f/2.0

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Thank you, Nikon, for the D750!

(No, they didn't give me one.)  If it's not everything you think it should be, you probably don't understand reality.

This was a good surprise (and makes me think less about the D400 and D7100).  A reasonable resolution from the sensor, plus good low light performance (technically, so far to ISO 12800 within the suggested range), and an auto focus unit that goes almost as low as the Panasonic GH3/GH4, to EV-3 gives this camera body a lot of appeal for a reasonably low price.

You can say that Sony has something smaller and cheaper, but if you want great performance, you don't go to Sony yet.  I'm not saying that the Nikon D600 or D610 are great but it seems that we'll get great performance from the D750 that sports photographers would love--something that didn't quite make it all the way into the D800/D810.

The Expeed 4 processor seems to help quite a lot.  It's showing up everywhere now, and it feels as though Nikon has smacked Canon up one side and down the other, even as a replacement for the 7D is around the corner.

Is US$2299.99 a huge price?  I don't think so when you compare what else is available, even if you just look at Nikon's products.

I wonder if the use of polycarbonate will compromise the weather-proofing of the D750 body.  It's certainly a possibility for damage during a drop.  The lighter weight should be useful, though, as long as the balance with the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is still good.

Why is this important?  That would be my main combination, especially for sports.  I'm betting for a lot of those with the D700, it's an easy switch.  Handling the file size will be the real problem, going from 12 MP to 24 MP should be a bit troubling but no more than going from 6.x MP to 12 MP, right?  Big cards are required.

I'm guessing that the pre-orders are going to be excessive.

(Oh, I've seen some comments that seem as though Nikon has done a terrible thing--that the D750 cannot be the replacement for the D700, emotionally or otherwise.  If I look at camera bodies as more than tools, I would have to say that the Olympus OM-1N was the best 135 Format film camera body ever created.  It was good, but I don't believe that it was the best.  Life goes on.  We'll survive the changes.)

Update 2014.10.15: I handled a D750 at Best Buy yesterday.  It was not as heavy or large as I expected, definitely smaller than the D810.  That said, you'll probably find it heavy and large.  I still like my dSLRs.  It felt as though it would be well balanced with any 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, though they had something of a normal zoom mounted that brought up the price another US$700.

Update 2014.12.17: I still don't understand the emotional backlash.  The body seems to be everything that it needs to be, at a reasonable price.  Some of the bundles are consumer-oriented but then, the body is almost as consumer-oriented as the poor D610 with the D7000's I-guess-I-got-it AF but impressive as a semi-professional model instead.

Update 2015.01.01: There seems to be a problem with flare in certain D750 bodies.  It's worse with some lenses than others, apparently.  Take a look at The Imaging Resource's article in the link.

Update 2015.03.22: Seeing the DPReview review, I've been surprised about the results.  It seems the image noise is lower than that of the Canon 5D Mk III, and that's impressive.   Even though the D750 is a bit less rugged, it's also lighter and smaller.

Update 2015.04.08: Having photographed a scooter competition at the indoor skate park of Woodward West recently, I'm seeing the need for better image quality at ISO 3200.  I'm not exactly what will work for me, but the D750 seems a good fit.  The Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 lens also seems good for me, as it is weather-sealed.  The limited 2x zoom may be a bit wide in contrast to my 135 Format effective 24-80mm f/2.8 that I use regularly--24-70mm f/2.8 would probably work better, but the pricing may be too much.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sprint is still amusing me instead of amazing me

Since I moved to a rural area of California along I-5 and SR 99, I haven't seen more success in a great network experience than I had at the last place.

In fact, Sprint doesn't even have a store here, though they have 3 kiosks in malls (two of them in the same mall) about 15 miles from here.  The Sprint reseller in this town is next to SR 99 and is on the edge of LTE and a large roaming area.  The fact that I'm on another edge of those area is frustrating.  My bedroom has LTE near the street and 3G toward the back of the apartment complex and the phone searches for service in the middle.

Truth be told, Verizon is not really great here, so I'm not getting any real satisfaction on the computer or tablet.  It's just less worse.

Occasionally, I'll send a tweet to @sprintcare.  Recently, I asked @sprintcare why their reseller didn't get good coverage (there is a roaming hole near the shopping area), and I was told that the majority of the 95336 area was in the Fair rating.  It is, but that is Sprint's rating for "Virtually unusable".  Using Yelp to Check-in often results in a time-out after 3-4 minutes.

He completely ignored the large roaming area in town and told me to go check their AIRAVE device.  The last time I looked, it was not a portable device that I could take with me.  It also required a wired internet connection, which they were unwilling to provide the last time they pushed me toward the option.

Tell me why it is my responsibility to fix their network problems by paying more to use a device to work around their shortcomings.  I'd really like to know.

That said, I can see the LTE signal becoming stronger.  In recent days, it's working in the living room.  LTE works fine in the San Francisco Bay Area (around 50-75 miles away) in most places.  I have hope.  They're just not working as quickly as I expected.  It's already September and many places are not working with LTE as they should be.

I need more patience but this is something that is stretched far too thin since say, 2008, when I moved out of a strong area, before the death grip of Nextel took hold.

Update 2014.10.29: They have increased their LTE reach into my apartment, although it too often changes to 3G when I try to use it.  Service is slowly, incrementally improving.  I still receive too many timeouts at stores.  Sometimes, even in stronger areas.  I see too many times when the service switches between LTE and 3G and it's basically unusable unless I force it to ignore LTE.

Update 2014.11.18: The hole in Sprint's coverage is now gone from the map.  They've filled it with non-existent LTE.  My apartment is covered, also, with the strongest LTE possible--none of that Fair business.

Best LTE, yet frequent time-outs

Perfectly covered, yet 1xRTT often
Obviously, all of this time I'm spending on 1xRTT is in my imagination.  The multiple time-outs are also imagined, apparently.  It couldn't be the work of simple easily flowing orange on a map, because no company would ever cheat.

The only thing making sure I don't go to T-Mobile is that their service here isn't very good, either, and they're still working over a rather insecure GSM.  When VoLTE (Voice Over LTE) becomes available, I'd be glad to jump ship, although I don't talk much, but it only takes one call to give away information that someone else can use to empty your accounts and CDMA may not be great, it's secure.

Going to Verizon would be expensive and going to AT&T would be stupid, since it's likely they will still overcharge, plus as many people here complain about them as love them.  Verizon's service for my mobile hotspot is good but not incredible.

Update 2014.12.09: I had a little chat with @sprintcare recently and they said that the roaming area is still visible to them.  When I finally Tweeted the maps I saw (like those above), they didn't reply at all.

I went to talk to someone at a Verizon store and they played a little game on the price of service, at $40 more than I had found on their web site.  I was uncomfortable giving that person a commission for withholding the best deal from me.

I went to the local Sprint reseller and said "Give me a reason to stay with Sprint." and he did but there is a still a lot of hope for the future.  However, I saw something on CNBC's app today where they finished the Stockton area and the service is much better.  That city had horrible service.  10x from 0.30 Mbps is a good improvement for 3G service.

The only real problem with the report is that they jumped over the city where I live, choosing to modify the map.  They may do more--they should do more because the Sprint reseller is also on the edge of the roaming zone.

Now that I have a three band LTE phone, it seems as though the service is somewhat better.  They weren't planning to turn on Spark (three band LTE) over here, but if they have 800 MHz and 1900 MHz, that would be good.  If the 2500 MHz band they got with Clear isn't supported here, that's okay.  If it's only 1900 MHz and 2500 MHz, that would be so-so.

2015.02.14: After a roughly 450 mile trip to San Diego and then, to Disneyland, and back, I think that Sprint still has much more to do across the state.  However, it's good to know that they're taking care of the area around their headquarters continually, since the people working for the company aren't paying as much as the other customers are.  At least, they're not blaming their customers as AT&T always do.