Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fresh start: Olympus E-M1 or FujiFilm X-T1

I think a big question is being asked: If you're just starting, would you choose the Olympus E-M1 or FujiFilm X-T1?

Despite the viability of the Nikon D7100 and Canon 70D, I think that anyone serious enough to buy a camera body between US$1000 and US$2000, will be wanting the most functionality and the least weight to take photography seriously.  Sure, you can buy older, cheaper lenses for the D7100 and 70D, but the newer, for-digital lenses cost quite a lot, and they're big.

The E-M1 and X-T1 are similar in many ways.  They're loosely based on the company's SLRs of the 1970s.  They have a good group of lenses made for the digital world.  They have awesome electronic viewfinders and a sliding rear panel.

FujiFilm has that great X-Trans II sensor with its unconventional, non-Bayer pattern color filter, so even though both bodies have roughly 16 MP available in photos, FujiFilm's sensor should give better results.  Of course, a lot of this depends on the output and processing.  So far, raw processing has not been great, as development companies struggle to learn how to deal with the new patterns.  (Phase One Capture One 7 Pro seems to be better than most and Adobe seems to be worse than most.)  Given that Olympus is using a typical color filter on its sensor, it's much easier to get great results from raw development applications processing the files.  As software developers acclimate themselves to the color attributes, the FujiFilm raw files should prove victorious.

Tests I've seen using large prints have shown that people can tell little difference between different sizes of sensors, even though advocates will tell you that the larger sensor is definitely much, much better.  The truth is--it's difficult to find any current camera from micro Four-Thirds on up that will produce bad photos given similar circumstances.

Operationally, the X-T1 has the advantage of physical controls.  There are many on the top plate.  However, the E-M1 has the advantage of the Super Control Panel.  It's very easy to make quick adjustments using the rear display.  There is no room for a display on the top plate and it's just as well, seeing as how the display on the Nikon Df is not quite as useful as we could hope.  Given how big the Df is over the X-T1 or E-M1, you'd think that there could have been a better compromise made by Nikon.

Having the exposure compensation on the top plate, easy to find, is a win, and as I had to search and search for the control on the E-M1, the X-T1 wins easily.  I don't think having the ISO sensitivity control on the top plate helps a bit but FujiFilm has placed it there, as the film speed dial was there on the Fujica SLRs.  It would be more helpful if the company would abolish their ISO sensitivity limitations for raw files.  I'm not sure how useful any file will be at 51,200, but I would want to process such a file with a raw development application to smush (or schmush, if you prefer--that is a highly technical term for reduction) the noise (and not the image detail) in pleasing ways.  Of course, back in the 1970s, we were generally restricted to ASA 400/DIN 27 film and 1/1000th of a second fastest shutter speed and a maximum aperture of f/1.2.

On available lenses, the E-M1 has the advantage with two major brands bringing lenses to market over a few years.  FujiFilm is coming along with quite a few good focal lengths, while Olympus is making some interesting choices (the death of their Four-Thirds bodies gives way to HG-like lenses for micro Four-Thirds) nowadays and Panasonic is trying to use Canon's lenses as a guide.  It's a bit difficult to tell the better lenses from Olympus, except for price and most recently, the "PRO" label.  Panasonic's X label isn't exactly helpful, but that signals their best lenses, and FujiFilm is using XF to mark theirs.  Considering third party lenses, FujiFilm has the advantage with electronically-enabled lenses, while Olympus has the advantage with lenses that have no more than a micro Four-Thirds mount.  If Schneider and Tamron would actually produce the micro Four-Thirds lenses announced, there would be some interesting alternatives.  Schneider, 2013 has come and gone and your 14mm f/2.0 lens doesn't even seem to be in the hands of testers.

Of course, handling will be the big deal for any camera body.  As I've said too many times, SLRs from the 1970s were slippery.  Mount a heavy lens and you'd better pay attention more than with a current body.  The E-M1 and X-T1 have similar grips, and the E-M1 grip was sufficient for light, native lenses.  Putting Four-Thirds lenses on the body made the grip uncomfortable for me.  This isn't a problem for the X-T1, unless of course, you buy a third party adapter but then, that wasn't planned by the company, whereas the Four-Thirds lenses were meant to work with the E-M1, even though it still seems like an afterthought.  You can buy a battery grip for each to help with balance and shooting time.

I found the electronic viewfinder of the E-M1 to be so good that I could give up an optical viewfinder.  The viewfinder on the X-T1 is supposedly better, with less lag and a better refresh rate in lower light.  The information displayed on the X-T1 in portrait orientation is usefully re-arranged.

If I were starting fresh, I'm not 100% sure what I'd pick but I suspect that it would be the X-T1.

Update 2014.02.17: I've been thinking how the Panasonic GH4 interrupts these thoughts.  However, if still photography is my goal, these two will likely still be better choices.  I viewed a video today by Guilio Sciorio, a Panasonic Lumix Luminary, and he commented that the GH4 is a much better shooter than the GH3.  It's good that you can pull an 8 MP image out of a video file.  I've also see Panasonic marketing materials saying that the image quality is better than many other bodies, but it didn't specify stills or video.  The video quality is a given, but stills quality?  I'm not so sure.

Update 2014.02.22: What Digital Camera gave the X-T1 a score of 93% and the E-M1, 92%.  This is my go-to magazine, as I don't see advertising or personal preference influencing the outcome.

Some of the same things bother me, such as the rear display being out in the open, and only sliding or flipping, plus the battery is too small, though the E-M1 has fairly good battery life but the grip is uncomfortable (for me, especially with Four-Thirds lenses) because they're using a small battery and somehow they couldn't see to make it more like the E-5 or GH3.   I thought both of these bodies needed two SD Card slots also.  At the camera store the other day, they'd mentioned that the X-T1 bodies are trickling into their stores, and are already sold by the time they arrive.  Obviously, the E-M1 has been available longer but it's being bought at a good pace, also, despite the size and price complaints from various micro Four-Thirds users.

Update 2014.03.01: It's March already?  I spent a little time with an X-T1 yesterday.  I didn't photograph anything, so I don't have photos to share.  I wanted to compare the size and get a feel for how things worked in the confines of the store.  It felt small, as the E-M1 feels small to me.  The grip was smaller but better shaped.  If they'd put a bigger battery in the grip, two of my doubts would have been handled at once.  Given that I wouldn't be putting huge lenses on it, I don't think I'd have as much of a comfort issue as I would with the E-M1 and Four-Thirds lenses.

This blog entry is all about starting fresh, and I think either one is a good choice.  The number of manual controls is over the top on the X-T1.  I'm not sure if that is a good thing.  I don't frequently change the ISO sensitivity setting, so I don't need a manual control just for that, just as it was in the film days, when they had it accessible but somewhat secondary to the shutter speed.

The 1970s had simplicity on their side

Lift and Turn to set the film speed
Manual controls for practically everything possible
X-T1 and GH3

The build was solid, similar to the E-M1.  It felt better than the Canon 70D or the Nikon D7100--its main rivals, although the grip (and battery inside the grip) was the advantage for the dSLRs..  Once the weather-sealed lenses are available, it should be a very potent package.

Update 2014.03.20: I've seen a lot of good reviews about the X-T1.  However, a lot of those seem to be people enamoured of the sheer number of physical controls on the top plate, not necessarily the actual performance, which seems to be very much like the X-E2.  The X-E2 is very good, mind, but it's a bit sluggish (and the X-T1 is similar) compared to the E-M1 or the GH3 or the D7100 or the 70D.  FujiFilm has come a long way toward making their system desirable.  For casual users, I think it should be number 1 because it gives you great images with a minimum of fuss and the film simulation modes give people more of an idea of what to expect than Standard, Natural, or Vivid would suggest.  The top shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second seems a bit limiting, especially with the 56mm f/1.2 lens.  Neutral Density filters come to mind, though.

That said, the E-M1 is very quick.  For sports, it's easy to choose the E-M1, even over the D7100 or 70D.  That 1/8000th of a second shutter speed is helpful in many situations, as I have found with the Olympus E-5.  The E-M1 is not a body for the casual user.  The E-M5 is a better choice for casual users and it is less expensive.

Update 2014.11.06: I'm thinking about the X-T1 again.  There is a Rokinon (Samyang/Bower...) 8mm f/2.8 fisheye lens that is available for FujiFilm X-Mount cameras.

The 135 Format equivalent would be 12mm--plus this is an f/2.8 lens, not f/3.5 and that is somewhat more useful.  Add to that FujiFilm's sensor handling low light a bit better than Olympus', there are possibilities that I could get some skate park photos in lower light, with higher image quality.  It's not guaranteed but it's possible.

The only thing that worries me is that the X-T1 might not be responsive enough.  That was always my worry.  The E-M1 is extremely responsive, as are the GH3 and GH4.  FujiFilm seems to save money by not putting strong processors in the camera bodies.  For many people, this isn't a problem.  Casual photographers won't have a problem with it but sports photography doesn't wait for you to futz with your camera.  When I tried the X-T1, I had wished for a running event outside the store, so I could give it a good workout.  Unfortunately, the lenses I want/need for sports still aren't available.

Rokinon seems to have several lenses available, and even though they're manually-operated lenses, they should be good for FujiFilm users.  There are more available for micro Four-Thirds though they're not all of the same lenses.

I'm still considering what's best for me.

Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens

Many people have high regard for the normal view--i.e., the view that humans are supposed to commonly have.

Using Four-Thirds, the normal view lens was not readily available.  Sure, you could use a zoom lens, and the 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 had great image quality, but there was no 25mm fixed focal length lens.  Eventually, Olympus designed and built the very average 25mm f/2.8 pancake lens.  Panasonic also had a 25mm lens, with an f/1.4 maximum aperture, designed by Leica, and supposedly hand built by Panasonic, mainly for the Leica Digilux 3.  I have one, and it's a great lens, and even works well on my Panasonic GH3, aperture ring and all.  It was difficult to find.

Four-Thirds Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 on GH3 body, not sitting flat
E-5 with Four-Thirds 25mm f/1.4

When micro Four-Thirds arrived, there was no 25mm lens.  Eventually, Panasonic had another Leica-labeled 25mm f/1.4 available.  It's about half the price of the Four-Thirds version and much, much smaller--46mm filter size vs 62mm.  Still, at US$599.99, it's not cheap.  The image quality isn't as good as the Four-Thirds version but it's not nearly as huge or heavy or pricy but there sometime seem to be back/front-focusing problems, typically a Sigma problem.

micro Four-Thirds users needed a cheap(er) alternative.  If you can go out and buy a Canon 50mm f/1.8 for US$89.99, why can't you buy something similar for micro Four-Thirds?  Of course, the 50mm lens on cheap Canon dSLRs is equivalent to 75mm in 135 format terms.  A 35mm f/1.8 (effective 52.5mm) will be quite a bit more expensive.

So, Olympus has introduced their 25mm f/1.8.  It's not like the Four-Thirds version at all, thankfully.  It's not a pancake-style lens.  If you've seen the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens, you already know the basic shape of the 25mm f/1.8 lens.  Since it's not a pancake lens, it's likely to eschew all those nasty compromises.  It should focus much faster than Panasonic's dear 20mm f/1.7 lens, which doesn't have enough room for a faster motor.  However, the new Olympus 25mm lens is US$399.99.

I realize that it's 2014 and that products aren't cheap and that Olympus can't price it as though they're going to sell 1 billion of them.  They should be including the lens hood at that price.

However,  the only inexpensive lenses they have for micro Four-Thirds are the kit zoom lenses and the body cap lenses.  The 9mm f/8.0 fish eye body cap lens looks quite useful but still rather expensive, US$99.00, for the image quality and lack of electronics.

What bothers me is that all of the Four-Thirds High Grade lenses were a bargain, especially when you counted that they were weather-sealed, and yet Olympus has produced many expensive micro Four-Thirds lenses which are susceptible to the elements of nature.  I've used the 12mm f/2.0 extensively and it's lovely, but how is it worth the price when it can be destroyed by weather so easily?

I think that this is also a problem for the new 25mm f/1.8 lens.  At the price, it should be more functional and more protected.

I've found Robin Wong's view of the Olympus 25mm f/1.8 vs the Panasonic/Leica design f/1.4 lens to be interesting.  You may want to look.  Apparently, he's gotten a huge number of rude comments that were unnecessary.  I've read his findings again and find no reason to doubt them.  He could have a fine copy of the Olympus lens and a bad copy of the Panasonic lens.  I certainly haven't had any luck with my own micro Four-Thirds lenses at all.  My next purchase was to be the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens since it's so amazing, even on my Panasonic GH3.

The incorrect focusing problem of the Panasonic lens seems like the typical Sigma problem.  Why does that pertain?  Sigma is supposedly responsible for the manufacture of the Panasonic 25mm lens, even though it was designed by Leica Panasonic, approved by Leica.  Sigma has had quite a few calibration issues in the past.  They even have a special lens dock to help you correct the calibration problems at home.  (Apparently, the latest 18-35mm f/1.8 lens that is well-regarded has focusing issues.  I'm looking at buying one with a Nikon mount for use with a Metabones SpeedBooster for video recording on my GH4.)

As with the Olympus 45mm f/1.8, the 25mm f/1.8 is more than the sum of its parts.  It's not economical in a way that the Canon and Nikon dSLRs 50mm f/1.8 lenses are, but then, they have many drawbacks, such as having to stop down to f/2.8 to get decent sharpness, or f/5.6 to get optimal sharpness and they're not normal view lenses (for Nikon, 75mm equivalent in 135 Format terms) for the majority of the APS-C-sensored bodies on which they're used anyway.  Who would put a US$100 lens on a 135 Format frame camera body like the D800 or 5DMkIII?

I can understand that people feel that their purchase of the Panasonic lens was under attack in Robin's blog entry, just because there was a comparison that didn't validate their purchase 100%.  The truth is--it doesn't matter.  You buy the lens, you use the lens, you like the lens--why should that change?  You shouldn't attack someone because his findings don't agree with your findings or your opinion.

For 99% of the users for such a lens, will they even notice?

It reminds me of a software contractor I knew who invited me to his house, as he was auditioning speakers for his stereo system.  He played a number of classical pieces and I having played many of the piano pieces on 30 or so models of pianos was skeptical.  He and his friends switched cables, and they all came up with various witty comments, discerning invisible (to me) differences.  (I could have been wrong, but I've heard so many pianos from the keyboard, that it's difficult to not know the sound.)  At some point, he switched back to his original set, and played the various pieces again.  I could identify every piano being played, almost immediately.

If the product suits you, does it matter what anyone else thinks?  Do the numbers matter more than the experience using the product, or more than the results you get from using the product?

Update 2014.03.16: Apparently, more than a few reviewers have been pleased with the 25mm f/1.8.  I have no need for the lens but I'm sure that it would work well.  I'm just thankful that my lens is fully supported on the GH3.

Update 2015.04.08: I traded the GH3 for the E-M1 back in June, and finally got the GH4 in December 2014.  I'm still pleased with the Four-Thirds version of Leica's 25mm f/1.4 using the adapter.  I've used it on multiple occasions at skate parks in the evening and it's as amazing as it always was.  It's unfortunate that it isn't weather-sealed.

Update 2015.11.22: I just bought the new Panasonic 25mm f/1.7 lens for US$99.00 instead of US$249.00.  At the full price, I would consider paying the premium for the Olympus lens.  However, at the reduced price, minimal differences are ever minimized.  What would be good would be a 25mm lens with image stabilization.

Given that I now have 3 micro Four-Thirds bodies, this will be of good use.  It is small, light, and useful.  At the price, it did not stop my plans for any other lens.  While I love the Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 that works well on Four-Thirds bodies, it can be a problem on micro Four-Thirds.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sprint LTE: +40 = 340 locations

Sprint continues to make progress on LTE implementation, adding 40 more locations.

The locations seem odd but it looks as though they're just on the way to converging with other implementation paths.  The University of Oregon and Walmart central country (Northwest Arkansas) have Sprint LTE now.

I'm amused that the person who wrote the press release missed the mistake with Mobile, Alabama.  Besides that, where are they finding these new state abbreviations?

At least, a few of the smaller metro areas have gone live.  Hopefully, they're able to learn from the implementations and make the upgrades go more smoothly.  It would be good if they could make them go more quickly but accuracy is more important.  What good is a quick implementation if it's down after they go live with it?

I'm still expecting this area to go live in 3-4 months with Dayton and Eaton, Ohio already showing some LTE (even where the cows and horses roam), along with parts of the Cincinnati area but with the bitter cold (-14 to -18 degrees F tonight), I doubt much is being done.  Hopefully, they installed the new antennas/antennae during the summer, since it's much easier to work in the climate-controlled electronics room.

Even after they go live, they need to finish what they started, as it's hardly complete.  If they can go live and issue a press release on only 30% coverage, they certainly need to do a lot to finish.  Still, with the data upgrades on it's easy to see that they're making quick progress before they are ready to go live with anything.  As I've seen in certain locations, they seem to be re-distributing old equipment in order to increase 3G/EVDO coverage instead of remaining with 1xRTT in certain backwoods locations.

Update 2014.03.15: I've seen more of Indiana and Ohio lit up with LTE, at least in test mode.  Coverage is mixed, meaning a few feet can mean a huge difference.  I was trying to use Yelp in a parking lot and couldn't get anything and it was showing 3G on the phone.  As I was leaving, at the stop light on the main road, I had LTE and while it was slow, it was responding.  I was surprised that I had a call dropped yesterday, but of course, it was at a critical time and the indicator showed 1 bar and 1xRTT.  I can count the number of dropped calls in 13+ years on one hand, and most of those were on the other end.  This time, the other end was a land line.  I wonder if most of Ohio will have LTE by summer.  It looks as though southwestern Ohio and the adjoining areas in Indiana will, although coverage will be variable, as always.  There aren't enough towers.

I checked coverage for two areas I have frequented in Indianapolis since LTE went live there.  One is in a strong area with several tall buildings.  Performance is bad.  The other area, including the Sprint store, is in a weak part of the coverage for some reason and it's only a few miles apparently, but it's bad enough if you happen to shop in the area.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

E-M10: Cheryl Tiegs, eat your heart out

Apparently, the Olympus E-M10 will be announced, along with a new, more compact kit zoom, and a 25mm f/1.8 lens, on the 28th/29th, depending on your location.

It appears to be a cut-rate E-M5 in a smaller body lacking weather-sealing, and will not replace the E-M5.

Since the E-M1 upset so many because it was supposedly huge (What do you do when you want to replace a dSLR (in this case, the E-5)?  You make a larger small body, right?), Olympus is also going the other way making a more tiny body.  I'm not sure whose male hands are so small but apparently there are many out there who already have micro Four-Thirds equipment.

Is the E-M10 a stab at the Panasonic DMC-GM1?  I don't think so.  I doubt this will be small enough to fit into a pocket, any more so than the E-PM2.  It's more likely to be a stab at the GX7 or the G6, and at least, Panasonic acknowledges the PAL side of video.

What's curious is that it will likely undercut the E-P5's price a bit while providing an Electronic Viewfinder.  So, the fastest shutter speed is really the only thing other than style that the E-P5 has.

Will this change Olympus' market penetration?  I hope so, but I'm not holding my breath.  This certainly isn't something I would buy but I can see the performance being competitive against low end dSLRs.

Cheryl Tiegs, then a supermodel, introduced the OM-10 in advertising at the time.  I'm not sure a supermodel can help.  Kim Tae-Hee, a Korean supermodel has already been involved with micro Four-Thirds but I have my doubts that it would help, even though Samsung isn't making anything truly compelling in mirror-less camera bodies.

Update 2014.01.29: So, it's not actually the greatest camera body of all time.  Surprised?  Of course not.  It is a bargain, though.

Olympus has brought some technology down a price point or two.  Namely the best processing engine Olympus has, and a better rear display.  It also has 3-axis image stabilization, which is one axis better than the E-PM2 and E-PL5/E-PL6.  The 81 focus points sounds a bit better than 35.  Hopefully, they're arranged nicely across the frame.

The huge question is: Will people buy it?

During the holiday season, I saw various low end dSLRs offered for US$399.99.  It didn't matter that they were three years old.  Many of the people who would buy them just want a "professional" camera, and nothing says professional more than a cheap dSLR, correct?  Why spend US$6000 when your (photographic) friends can't tell the difference?

The trouble with this mindset is that until dSLRs are completely gone, mirror-less system cameras may never have a full shot at the market.  Of course, the high entry price says loads about it, and Olympus and Panasonic have made it clear that they want to make a lot of money from it, rather than trying to sell billions with very little profit, as is done with the cheap dSLRs.

Update 2014.02.10: I've seen some work done with it, and I'm impressed.  It's apparently better than the E-M5 in many ways, despite the budget-ish price.  For those who don't photograph in the rain, it shouldn't be a problem.  For those who want to photograph in the dark, they might want to try it first.  The TruePIC VII processor seems to find better image quality from the sensor also used in the E-M5.

I'm wondering what will happen to both the E-M5 and the E-PL5/E-PL6 now.  With a price just above the E-PL5/E-PL6, is the E-M10 just another option or does it confuse people?  You can use one of the electronic viewfinders with the E-PL5/E-PL6 but would you rather have everything in one box, so you don't forget the viewfinder?  The E-M10 is also cheaper than the E-PL5/E-PL6 with VF-4, though the E-M10's viewfinder isn't nearly as sophisticated.

Update 2014.04.03: Apparently, quite a few people are impressed with the E-M10 body.  They like that it's smaller than the E-M5 and less expensive, since it's not weather-sealed.  I can appreciate the step forward, but I wonder where that leaves the E-M5.  I see a lot of comments about price, and many of the same people commenting seem to have the least expensive lenses that they can find, which aren't weather-sealed, so for many, it's likely not a problem.  I'm thinking that the current count of weather-sealed lenses is up to 5, which isn't much considering that the majority of Olympus' Four-Thirds lens catalog was weather-sealed.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mini cars aren't so safe? Are you surprised?

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tested mini cars--cars like the Honda Fit--and the ratings were not favorable.  This doesn't actually surprise me.

I had a 1999 VW Golf GLS, which was about the same size as many of the cars in this category, but it was around 2800 pounds, probably 600 pounds heavier than most.

When I was looking for another car, I considered the category because of the size.  However, I couldn't find one with rear wheel disc brakes or other realistic safety items or features.  I quickly abandoned the category as unfit, at least, for me.

Over the time I've owned the various Volkswagen models (1985, 1986, 1990, 1999, 2012), the size of the Golf has increased quite a lot, and yet, it's still not a huge car on the outside, even though the inside is much bigger than you would expect.

It's obvious from the weight that there is much more in the car than the engine and transmission.  For small cars, Volkswagen has often done more than the typical economy car maker to safeguard passengers.  The passive knee pad was an early innovation that seems to have gone away but had its time and place.

I'm going to be rude because it seems as though someone gets behind the wheel of an SUV and loses their ability to think.  They seem to be more aggressive (especially early Ford Explorer drivers), and do stupid actions that they wouldn't normally do with anything else, thinking that the vehicle was made for ridiculous maneuvers that you would only see in movies.

I've driven one Jeep Grand Cherokee, one Chevrolet Suburban (which hardly seems an SUV), and a Jeep CJ5.  They seemed better in the slow lane, as the center of gravity was too high to keep the vehicle steady in curves and turns.

So, taking a mini car like a Mazda 2 up against a Jeep Grand Cherokee, which isn't all that steady isn't for the timid.  (Remembering someone telling me that his friend's mum took their Hummer H2 (not the craptacular GM platform) through a fast food drive-thru and ran over a number of things makes me wonder if the H2 would just crush the Mazda 2 in traffic.

If the Mazda 2 could have been configured with safety gear, I really would have considered it.  However, it and the others were too much like the flimsy European cars of the 1970s, like the Renault 5 or Fiat 128.  They may pass government safety standards but the federal government has been slow to move those standards in order to pacify the auto industry.

I wonder what sort of results the Germans would get in the same tests.  Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen all have much smaller cars that never arrive in the U.S.A.  I'm sure it's difficult to make money on them, so they will likely never see this country.

Monday, January 20, 2014

FujiFilm to release a 1970s style mirror-less camera X-T1, like the ST801 or ST901?

I saw this rumor today that Fuji will release a mirror-less model that resembles the 1970s Fujica ST-series SLRs.  More images here.

This hits home with me as much as Olympus with their OM-D line, as my first SLR was a Fujica ST-series body.  In the photo shown, it seems that they're using the ST801 as inspiration, my favorite.  There were others: ST601, ST605, ST901.  All used the Pentax screw mount for lenses.  With the AZ-1 (first Fujica with auto exposure), they switched to the Pentax K-mount that is still used in some fashion today.

As I've been saying, FujiFilm has been designing and bringing new and improved technology to market lately that is compelling to me.  As far as I'm concerned, and you're welcome to disagree, they belong at the top of the interesting heap, along with Panasonic and Olympus, because they've made interesting usable.

Their X-Trans sensor, whichever version, has quite a bit more to offer than those made by Sony, Canon, or Panasonic.  If they can bring down the cost of the sensor, they could inundate the market with something better.  I'd also like to see if Panasonic and FujiFilm can work together to bring similar sensors to micro Four-Thirds.

In any case, creating an SLR-like body is what I want and using the ST801 as a template is great, as it fit me well.  They need to offer more of a grip (the electrical contacts on the base are evidently there for a portrait grip) because, like anything from the 1970s, the ST-series was a bit slippery.  (They show a bit of a grip, but I don't think that's enough and charging US$150 for an enhanced grip is just evil.  They just did that for the X-Pro1 and X-E2.)

If the pricing is reasonable, I will likely stop using micro Four-Thirds before I really use it much (Do several hundred sports photos count as much?).  Other things must be handled, though, such as the ability to use raw files at any ISO sensitivity.  The current models only allow raw files to be used in the Normal range.

The company seems to be making excellent progress in bringing excellent equipment to the market but with a few quirks that hopefully, they'll eliminate.

Update 2014.01.24: The more I think about this, the more I'm interested.  We'll find out January 28th, if we're not all frozen here.

The 56mm f/1.2 (especially after seeing the price of Panasonic's Leica-designed lens, no matter how good) and 10-24mm f/4.0 lenses have made a switch compelling, and this body make complete that feeling.  I really, really want some lenses I can use for sports photography, and those aren't it.  As most people are more concerned about casual or artistic photography, they're talking about the 18-135mm that will also be introduced.  It has a good range and if it's weather-sealed, it's likely better than the Canon lens, but it's probably not for me.  I'm skeptical of image quality in lenses with more than 4x zoom.  I'm fairly sure than 18-135mm is longer range than 18-72mm.

The available long zooms have rather small (read consumer) maximum apertures, which won't give the performance I need.  They have a 70-200mm (50-140mm, weather-sealed) f/2.8 equivalent on the road map but that just means that my current Four-Thirds and micro Four-Thirds equipment will have to keep going.  Of course, this gives more time for FujiFilm to work out their firmware for raw files, and it gives developers of raw development software, namely the Phase One Capture One I use, more time to get the most from the images.

Update 2014.01.28: The X-T1 seems very reasonable, although hardly different than something in-between the X-E2 and X-Pro1.  Being weather-sealed is important to me, so I'm glad to see that it's there, like the Olympus E-M1.  It's also freeze-proof, like the E-M1, and the electronic viewfinder is apparently similar, but with a portrait orientation that thoughtfully rearranges the information for easy viewing.  The information display reminds me more of the ST901 than the ST801 which used LEDs to signal the light meter reading.  It also adds a sliding rear display.

The company is claiming a greater extended ISO sensitivity, up to 51,200--useful with JPEG images.  Yes, the raw file range is still limited from ISO 200- 6400.   I find this disagreeable.  Do I work past ISO 6400?  No.  Might I need to do that?  Maybe.  Prior to Phase One Capture One, the ability to process raw files was limited.  I  could use the free software that came with the camera (if I had all day, since it was slow), or hope that Adobe Camera Raw wasn't nearly as buggy as Photoshop, but neither was a good solution.  I suppose using a JPEG to get a low light photo wouldn't be the worst thing, if I really need the photo.  They have supposedly re-worked the circuitry around the sensor for less interference and therefore, a cleaner image.

There is a clip-on flash, and two grip accessories.  One is a portrait battery grip that allows the use of one extra battery.

The body is a bit small, comparable to the Olympus E-M1.  It remains to be seen if the XF-series (higher quality) lenses will be much of a burden.  Since my problem with the E-M1 is that it was meant to be used with the full sized lenses for Four-Thirds bodies, it isn't well-balanced most of the time.

Since the X-T1 won't be using similar lenses (FujiFilm doesn't have a K-mount adapter listed), there shouldn't be a huge imbalance.  The only official adapter was for Leica M-mount lenses.  I don't remember when the Fujica-series equipment went away, so I don't know if anyone would want to use their old K-mount (or for that matter, their Pentax screw mount) lenses with it, though Pentax makes a good range of weather-resistant K-mount lenses.

The lenses I would want are yet to be available, and all are in the XF-series and weather-sealed, so I have time to think about my direction.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

According to The Weather Channel, the lives of DirecTV users are at risk now

I was a bit shocked at The Weather Channel's advertising on Twitter.

They've been running adverts all day about how DirecTV doesn't care about their customers' safety, since they dropped The Weather Channel.

I'm not really certain what part of the reality TV programming TWC offers is life saving, but I'm not convinced that I'm going to die without them.

I had various Cable TV companies from 1986 to 2006, through various blizzards and hurricanes, and I rarely ever looked at TWC, but I survived.  I wasn't stuck in ditches or in trouble any other way, so how did having their channel help me?

In 2008, I started with DirecTV and it's been the best experience with a company since living in the Philadelphia suburbs, not dealing with an overbearing Cable TV company.  Despite all the bad weather, I haven't looked at TWC for more than a few minutes, when I was wondering what they were showing.  I'm still not sure but they tell some stories about weather?  I have my own.  Want to ask me about three hurricanes in Florida in 2004?  Want to see my photos?  I didn't think so.

I suppose since I was outside during the hurricanes, photographing them, I'm a risk taker.  So, I have no problem taking a risk and living (or not living) without The Weather Channel.

Their marketing people need to be more careful what they say because legally they would find it difficult to prove that they've saved lives any more than any other channel or service tracking the weather.

This might be enough to cause everyone to think twice about having their channel.

Update 2014.01.17: They're now putting their pledge page in their replies to trick people into pledging to switch.  You could accidentally tap the button to pledge.  I really didn't think that The Weather Channel's management were bad morally, but they're certainly not on the up-and-up right now.

I got an answer about how much money The Weather Channel wanted: $0.01 per customer per month for technology upgrades.  I think there is much more to the story than just the money, unlike Viacom.

Update 2014.04.10: Things have apparently been resolved, but as far as several people are concerned, the damage the marketing people did will never be forgotten.  It was irresponsible to tell us that DirecTV didn't care about our safety.  I'm still not sure how they related just having the channel to safety.  If you don't use it.  It isn't helpful.  I've never found an instance where The Weather Channel gave better information than the locals, but I've always lived within 40 miles of a local channel.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

T-Mobile US: The other major carriers are shit

It's easy to be a loudmouth.  Sometimes, you're right and other times, you're wrong.

John Legere and company have made T-Mobile better and that's evident in their recent numbers, where they've gained both prepaid and postpaid customers.  It was the best they've done in eight years, if I remember correctly.

At CES, Mr. Legere complained that the other major carriers are basically shit--their plans, their policies, their service.

I don't disagree 100% but there is a huge difference in T-Mobile and the rest--coverage.

When T-Mobile covers as much as any of the others, and they can keep everything as wonderful as they say things are, then I'll believe them.

It's a lot like the Europeans who live in a country the size of one of the states of the U.S.A. who say how easy it is to put everything into place.  Sure, it's easy to cover when you have an area that you can drive in 6 hours north to south or east to west.  Try covering an area that takes three 15 hour days to drive east to west.

I agree that Sprint has been terrible.  It's struggled a lot while having to deal with Nextel issues, and it went from being the number one 3G data provider to number three.  Once again, coverage matters.

I might have been with T-Mobile years ago, but when I asked about the service, I got a "No, we don't have 3G service yet." in response.  They've come a long way, and so has the new AT&T since its Cingular days.  I'm remembering 38 metropolitan areas were covered when Apple was readying its iPhone with 3G data capabilities.  When the first iPhone became available, Cingular had to upgrade their GPRS/EDGE data because it wasn't good enough.

As far as I'm concerned, it will still be 2016 before issues are settled and LTE will be good for the majority of users.  That is a long time and there will be a lot of B.S. and chest-thumping until that time.

By then, there probably won't be any feature phones and data usage will have increased to match the capabilities on the network, and we'll still be complaining.

Update 2014.03.08: RootMetrics put out a report citing their summary for the U.S.A., with a combination of areas they measured.  It's not all-inclusive but it certainly says something about what is real in mobile phone and data services.  It doesn't look as though T-Mobile was on top.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 breaking while sitting in a bag without any trauma? Unlikely.

There is a lot of talk about the new Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens breaking, just by sitting in a bag.

If you really believe that anything is going to break just from sitting in a bag, then 100% of the mobile devices should have failed already.

I’ve seen plenty of people claim that nothing happened to their devices, while the insides show anything from a mere bump to an impact from being tossed.  Others claim that they didn't get their devices wet, yet there is internal corrosion.

You may have seen this article from Lens Rentals already that sheds light on various lenses.

I would certainly like to believe that all equipment is designed correctly.  I've seen plenty from the inside out, that is not designed correctly.

Laptop computer hinges make for an easy failure.  Most are designed so that even distribution of stress occurs--i.e., your hand goes to the midpoint of the cover and push it with even, light force until it closes.  Many people grab a corner and slam the cover closed causing the hinges to fail over time.  Is this a design flaw, a part flaw, or abuse?  In my opinion, it's abuse, but exactly the kind of abuse a case designer should expect, for which they should try to compensate.  If IKEA didn't test their inexpensive chairs for people plopping in them, would they be negligent?  Of course, although people shouldn't expect much, if they didn't pay much.

Back to lenses, I've been using two lenses (Olympus ZD 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 and 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5) quite a lot since April 2004.  They've been used out in hurricanes, in construction areas, spent 14 hours a day attached to a camera body.  My Crumpler bag holding them fell from a seat to the floor, as well the bag was tossed into the back seat of my car by some idiot.  I've yet to need service on them.

My Olympus E-5, 35-100mm f/2.0 lens, FL-50 flash fell from a seat to a pool deck in-between swimming races.  I picked them up, and used them just fine, although the flash became less reliable, but then, it's almost all plastic, and later, it failed.

One of the first experiences I had with dSLRs was my buddy's Canon 300D/Digital Rebel.  The lens was mostly plastic and a high percentage of them broke while still mounted to the body.  No, you can't just drop something like that on a table or the ground and expect them to survive.

Besides this, "plastic" is a very general term that people put to acrylic, nylon, polycarbonate, and more.  You've probably used any number of materials that are loosely defined as plastic, but that don't have similar characteristics.  Strength is a matter of the material's design.  Anything can be broken, given enough and the correct kind of force.  Perhaps, you've seen the recent IIHS vehicle crash test ratings where 5 star rated vehicles were reduced in their ratings because of new crash tests that simulated real life better.  If you don't plan for it, it's only luck between you and circumstance.

I've yet to have a lens break and while I've had a few phones replaced because of failure, I've never had to have a display replaced.  I suppose I'm just more careful, but buying a proper bag or case never costs too much.  My iPhone 4s was dropped 20-30 times while it was in my Otterbox Defender case.  The case had minor scratches but the phone was like new after two years, although I only held it bare maybe five times.  For that matter, my original diskette drives from the early 1980s still work.  My 75 MB Seagate drive from 1990 still works.

In any case, the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lenses that I have used were shared among a group.  They were all available a couple of months ahead of availability to be sold.  In the case of a photowalk, we traded lenses quite often.  Obviously when walking and talking and checking for traffic, you're not as likely to be careful with equipment.  I used the 12-40mm lens on the supplied Olympus E-M1 as well as my own Panasonic GH3.

Were the lenses different than what you can buy?  I don't believe so.  Did they have an extra inspection to make sure that they wouldn't fall apart during a demonstration?  I would believe that.

The lens felt better than my Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens.  It may all be perception but Panasonic made their lens feel cheap in their use of materials and finish.  Optically, it's not very good either.  I understand that there are measured flaws with the 12-40mm lens, which is to be expected.  Fitting between my 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 and my 14-35mm f/2.0 in both price and performance, I would expect the flaws to be in accordance with its positioning.

Unfortunately, I don't have the 12-40mm yet, due to my having to replace my water heater for a similar amount.  If the 12-40mm could have produced hot water, you know what I would have chosen.

So, after all this blah blah blah, I don't believe that there is any huge flaw with the 12-40mm lens.  They may not have designed and tested for unintentional abuse, which is a flaw in their operations.  (You think this is bad?  I have a horror story about a company making aircraft parts not testing them correctly, only to receive them later because they did not pass inspection by the airline.)  Olympus probably should have put the 12-40mm on each current Olympus and Panasonic body and dropped it a few inches to see the results.  If they did not, they were not designing for the real world.

Update 2014.02.05: This interview with Olympus executives seems to point to there being any widespread problem with the lens.  Whether it's correct or whether they're untruthful is unknown.  As a Japanese, I know that getting a straight answer on an unpleasant subject means that they're answering truthfully because Japanese people will talk around the subject otherwise.

Update 2014.02.20: I bought mine yesterday.  I tend to treat my Four-Thirds lenses harshly at times, so we'll see what happens.  (My Olympus E-5 and 35-100mm f/2.0 fell from a poolside seat onto the pool deck, and I picked them up and kept shooting, and one year later, still haven't had a problem with eitther.)  I'm taking it out in the weather today, although it's becoming warmer at the moment, we're supposed to have thunderstorms later.

Update 2014.02.22: The combination of GH3 and 12-40mm f/2.8 have been together since the 20th.  They've been in some odd positions in my car, not usually in the bag because I wanted them ready.  If there was to be some stressful position, I'm sure they've already seen it.

Update 2014.02.24: It still hasn't broken.  I guess I'll have to be ruthless, which is reasonable, since I don't know anyone named Ruth lately, so I'm definitely Ruth-less.

Update 2014.03.09: Still no luck in breaking it accidentally.  The lens has been in the bag a bit of the time, but generally, it's attached to the GH3 and is somewhere near the floor of the car when I'm driving.  While I'm walking with it, I haven't taken any more care than I do with the 14-35mm or 14-54mm lenses.  The combination of the 12-40mm with the GH3 seems quite light but sturdy.  If I had dropped these from a seat to a pool deck, I'm not sure either would survive.  The GH3 feels relatively strong but I could hammer nails with the E-1 or E-5 bodies.  The 12-40mm lens feels so much stronger than the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens that I'm shocked that the Panasonic lens was more expensive.  I would expect that the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 lens is equally dainty, though its image quality is reportedly better than the 35-100mm.

Update 2014.03.20: The 12-40mm has been attached to the GH3 and when it's not out, it's in my sideways-opening LowePro bag, facing inward.  I haven't been overly careful with it.

Update 2015.09.22: Still not luck breaking the lens, but the front lens cap fell apart, and apparently, it happens with regularity for some, according to a review on the GetOlympus site.