Thursday, February 27, 2014

No more Panasonic lenses (well, that didn't last)

I wanted to like the Panasonic Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8 lens.  It's small and it's light and it has a reasonable focal length range at a consistent maximum aperture.

It's not particularly good, though, and on several occasions I've commented that it would be a very good US$750 lens, but not a US$1500 lens.  It's not particularly sharp, wide open or otherwise.  It's more of a hobbyist lens from the results I've got from it, side-by-side with my Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0 lens or my Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5, which was much cheaper at US$1000.  (I've also got the micro Four-Thirds Panasonic 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 and the Four-Thirds Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4.)  The 35-100mm f/2.8 is their most expensive, non-Leica lens.  My early encounter with it buried my enthusiasm for the 12-35mm f/2.8, and certainly the lower cost lenses.  You can take great photos with practically any lens, but shouldn't the optical quality be better within a line of lenses when you pay more?

I recently sent it to be repaired.  The nasty purple lens flare was said to be normal, even though the sun was out of frame and the lens hood was being used.  Having the sun in frame didn't seem to have huge negative effects on the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 that I was also using at the same time.

Olympus 12-40mm on E-M1
You can see that the Olympus 12-40mm lens was affected but there is a dramatic difference, even though the sun is in the frame with the 12-40mm, and not the 35-100mm lens.
Panasonic 35-100mm with lens hood on GH3

I'm a bit shocked to be told that "The lens unit flare is normal", even though I included the photo exhibiting the problem.  I also asked the sales staff where I bought it, and they said that it was normal.  Surely, the Canon and Nikon 70-200mm lenses do not do this, even the bargain f/4.0 lenses.

Does size matter?  35-100mm f/2.8 vs 12-40mm f/2.8
I suppose I shouldn't expect too much given the size.  While the 35-100mm doesn't extend at all, with its internal focusing and internal zooming mechanisms, the Olympus 12-40mm does extend somewhat (on both ends of the focal length range) to just a bit longer than the Panasonic lens.  The filter size of the 35-100mm is 58mm while the 12-40mm has a 62mm filter size.  I think it says a lot about the proper design of a lens and using software tricks to get around adequate design.  The 35-100mm f/2.8 doesn't feel as substantial as the 12-40mm lens or even the Panasonic 45-200mm lens.

Given the 35-100mm lens' poor quality, and the repair facility's lack of responsiveness (5 calls, no answer), I think I'll avoid Panasonic lenses.  That's not to say that I have given up on the GH4.  I still believe that it will be much better than the GH3, my GH3.  I just hope I'll never have to send anything for repair again.

What also shocks me is that this is the same company that built my Four-Thirds Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens.  It cost me almost double the price of the micro Four-Thirds 25mm f/1.4 lens (and is still cheaper than the 35-100mm f/2.8) yet it is nearly perfect in all respects.  However, when you consider that it was meant for the Leica Digilux 3 and not just the Panasonic DMC-L1, the level of quality had to be higher, don't you think?

It took me a long time to warm up to Panasonic, whose name always meant rice cookers and other home appliances, along with some cheap electronics.  I never thought I'd be buying photographic equipment from them.  They've seriously damaged that relationship, even more than Sony did in the 1990s.  They don't owe me anything, but as a customer, I vote with my money.

Can you see Joan Crawford (or Faye Dunaway) shaking my 35-100mm f/2.8 lens at me, yelling "No more Panasonic lenses (instead of No more Wire Hangers)!!!"?  :-D

Update 2014.03.08: Would I consider the latest Leica lenses from Panasonic, the 15mm f/1.7 and 42.5mm f/1.2?  Perhaps.  They seem very different than the 45mm f/2.8 macro and the 25mm f/1.4 lenses that were labeled Leica lenses, as though someone actually cared.  I still wonder if the 42.5mm lens will be (US$600) sharper than the FujiFilm 56mm f/1.2 lens.   Judging from the differences in the filter size, I'd say that Panasonic did more to correct the design optically than FujiFilm did.  I am still interested in the Panasonic GM1 paired with the 15mm f/1.7, but it's very, very dependent on optical quality.  Besides, that money could be going to replacing the GH3 with the GH4.

Update 2014.04.04: Since I received my 35-100mm f/2.8 lens from the repair facility, I haven't used it at all.  I have no desire to use it, and thankfully, I'm planning to move away from here, so I have no current need to do photography.  It seems obvious to me that they just didn't want to deal with it, whether it's a design issue or not.  I think it's sad that they would lie about the fingerprints, unless the person who unpacked it put fingerprints on it before it made its way to the technician.

Update 2014.10.08: I've seen but not used the Panasonic/Leica micro Four-Thirds 15mm f/1.7 lens for the Panasonic GM1 and GM5.  It's a very, very good match for that camera body.  I'm concerned about it, though, as the review from What Digital Camera shows that it is excellent, except for some nasty side effects at maximum aperture.  I would likely be using it at maximum aperture for casual food photography.

The Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens is working only as well as it was prior to the service visit.  I don't have anything worse or better to say about it.  I'll be glad to have Olympus' 40-150mm f/2.8 lens but I'm not sure I'll trade for it now.  I may need both, if/when the GH4 is in my bag.

Update 2014.12.16: I found this comment from Jordan Steele concerning his review of the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens and the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8:

The Panny is way better in the flare department

Now, I'm concerned about the 40-150mm f/2.8 lens.

I've got the GH4 and it seems fine but it doesn't fix the lens flare issue, naturally.

Update 2015.03.01: I've got the Panasonic/Leica 15mm f/1.7 lens.  Yes, it exhibits purple fringing wide open but that's almost a Panasonic characteristic.  It should not be there in a lens of this value, especially with the Leica name on it.  While Leica lenses have their own flaws, I'm sure the design would have been better if they had designed it instead of Panasonic.  It probably would have been $750 instead of $600, though.

Hunting for focus in lower light conditions is a problem that shouldn't be there at all, especially with the GH4.  I understand why the craptactular 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 hunts and never locks focus in low light, but f/1.7 is enough, especially if the 35-100mm f/2.8 will lock focus quickly.

Once focus is locked, image quality looks quite good.

The lens is quite tiny and comes with a set of fiddly bits.  It seems that the filter thread is removable, in order to mount the lens hood.  Each has a lens cap.  I've left the lens hood in place with the rubberised lens cap.  The lens hood comes loose too easily but I've never had a problem with it falling.

I can forgive the flaws, given the good image quality and the US$100 instant rebate.  Unfortunately, this doesn't fix my opinion of Panasonic lenses.

Update 2015.11.23: Okay, I really feel like a liar--or at least, things have changed significantly.

Around September, I bought the Panasonic GX8 and their 12-35mm f/2.8 lens.  The 12-35mm lens was running US$999.00 at that time and there was a $100 instant rebate.  Since I got the lens in a bundle, there was another $200 off, which effectively made it US$699.00.

This lens feels and acts so much better than my 35-100mm f/2.8 lens, which was in that same serious category with the red X on the lens cap.  It doesn't seem quite as good as the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens but it works fairly well.

Last night, I ordered the new Panasonic 25mm f/1.7 lens.  Instead of the typical US$249.00, this lens is currently $99.00, which makes it an easy choice vs. the Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens at US$349.00 or the Sigma, errr, Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens at US$599.00.  Since I have the Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4, I don't need the crappy micro Four-Thirds substitute but this new lens will probably do 80% as well as the micro Four-Thirds 25mm f/1.4.

Update 2015.12.04: The 25mm f/1.7 arrived the other day and it seems okay.  It is very plastic but it has a metal lens mount and it seems a sturdy build.  I won't test it, though.

I was checking Nikon and Canon kit lenses, as well as 50mm f/1.8 fixed focal length lenses and they don't seem as well constructed.  The Pentax K-50's 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens seems a better build than what Nikon and Canon uses.

I haven't shot outside, so I have no idea how it will work in real life.  It responds reasonably well on the GX8 and somewhat slowly on the E-M1.

Update 2016.08.20: Almost two months ago, I got the 42.5mm f/1.7 lens along with the Panasonic GM5.  Getting the lens for US$100 off was a plus.

The lens is tiny, as is the 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 kit zoom lens that comes with the GM5.  They're working with the GH4 and GX8 very well.

The 25mm f/1.7 works much better with the Olympus E-M1 than it works with the Panasonic camera bodies.  Sadly, the completely out-of-focus problem continues, especially on the GX8.  Could this be a shutter shock problem?  I don't know since I've never had the problem in the past.  I've also noticed that the lens doesn't always handle purple lens flare.  Somewhere I read that it is a problem when stopped down, but not when wide open.  It seems a design issue.

The 42.5mm f/1.7 is good but slow.  It's an economical lens, relatively speaking.  Micro Four-Thirds isn't cheap.  Sure, each lens has a good number of electronic components.  That's why I don't buy much at full price.

It would be ignorant to say that lenses are better for similar prices on APS-C.  It seems that way but doesn't always work out.  You have to deal with third parties that probably don't have quick auto focus--or any at all.  OIS is probably not part of the package, either.  I speak from experience with the Nikon D7200, a Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8 fisheye lens, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens, Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens, and a Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens.  Things didn't work any better.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Apple security risk and fixes: update your devices soon

If you haven't heard, Apple iOS 6.x 7.x, and OS X 9.x have a rather large security issue.  It's such a huge issue that the company went out of their way to provide a patch for iOS 6.x, which is uncommon, as they usually only patch the current release being sold with devices.

http://www.macrumors.com/2014/02/21/apple-ios-706/

http://www.macrumors.com/2014/02/25/osx-update-ssl-facetime-audio/

If you haven't patched yet, you need to do that as soon as possible.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Aperture rings and other manual controls

Someone made a comment a bit ago that all lenses should have aperture rings, just like in the good old days.  That goes along with a buddy back around 2002 telling me how Nikon's G-series lenses were terrible because they didn't have aperture rings.

Seeing as how the FujiFilm X-T1 has really brought back manual control dials, I wondered if people would be enthusiastic to such controls on every camera body big enough to have them.

That first person was talking about the Panasonic lenses, as the Leica-branded micro Four-Thirds lenses have aperture rings but the others do not.  I thought back to the inspiration for the OM-D series--the OM-system.  They not only had aperture rings on the lenses, but just behind the lens, on the lens mount collar was a shutter speed ring, which made manual control very efficient.

Yes, the shutter speed only goes to 1/1000th

While the OM-series bodies were slippery with a heavy lens, they were the most efficient when it came to quickly changing settings.  You can also see the ASA-calibrated film speed dial, which required you to press and hold the small button next to it so you could turn the film speed dial.  As I recall, FujiFilm had a lift-and-turn mechanism to keep the film speed from being accidentally changed, as it shared the dial with the shutter speed.

Oh, here is something you might not expect.  The light meter was manually activated (you held down a switch in front, near the lens) on the Fujica SLRs to cut down on battery drain, and there was the On-Off switch on the Olympus OM-series SLRs just for the light meter.  If you were good with settings, you didn't have to worry if the battery was dead.

The ST801 certainly didn't have many controls

AZ-1 had Aperture Priority AE with minor compensation
Film speed setting occurs in the window, lift and turn
The X-T1 really is overloaded compared to the 1970s

I gave up all that when I moved to the Olympus E-1 dSLR in 2004.  The aperture ring was on one of the unmarked dials and the shutter speed was on the other.  That's all I needed to know.  It drove me bonkers the first week, and then, it was just fine.  Mostly, I just found settings that worked for the current situation and I photographed sports.  I didn't worry about film, full stop.  There was a PASM mode dial.  Of course, that dial wasn't possible or necessary in the 1970s because auto exposure was something new.  It caused Pentax to create a new mount and for FujiFilm to follow that mount, as they were both using a screw mount prior to that.
Olympus E-1, practically perfect for 2003

Having used the Four-Thirds mount Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 with aperture ring, there are times when I like the ability to control the aperture on the lens.  It is helpful when working at a slower pace, being creative.  (Photographing sports you have little time to be creative.)  The problem is that the aperture ring only works on my Panasonic GH3, through the Olympus MMF-3 adapter.  My Olympus E-1 and E-5 don't support the aperture ring in firmware, unfortunately, so I have to use the "A" setting on the ring.  I was a bit surprised to find that Panasonic supported it through the adapter.

I'm 99.9% sure that Olympus has no desire to completely relive the past.  They'd like to be quite popular again, as I'm sure FujiFilm, Pentax, and others would like also.  I remember having choices and with mirror-less camera bodies, it's become interesting again.

Update 2014.04.04: Do we need a huge number of manual controls now?  I don't.  I want to set an ISO sensitivity range and leave it.  I want a clearly-marked exposure compensation button that can be used with a general dial or alternatively, a dial just for exposure compensation.  The trouble with the specific dial is that it may not have a large enough range, and I'll still need to dip into the menus to set up the steps.

I like what FujiFilm has done with the X-T1, but I think it's more for the hobbyist than for the professional.  It's both totally wonderful and totally silly.  Once again, I'm not the casual photographer and when I try to be, I don't take minutes to set up a photo.  I check my mode, my aperture or shutter speed, my focal length, and focus and re-focus, and shoot.  That's pretty much what I do while photographing sports, with less time to think about settings.

I could wish for a FujiFilm/Olympus/Panasonic/Pentax company with design from the best of each, leaving out the various weirdness that hampers usage.  The combined company would likely wipe Sony out of the camera-making business while using their camera-component-making business much more effectively.  They'd also likely put the hurt on Nikon and Canon.  Consolidating the best players in the mirror-less market might not do too much harm, especially if they could convince buyers of their combined strength.

Nikon, I'm confused about your direction

Recently, we've seen the D3300 and the D5300 consumer dSLRs.  The D600 was revised and it became the D610.  The D4 has become the D4s with useful enhancements, also.

I'm just not sure why the D300s was not replaced or why the D7100 comes up short.  Truth be told, the Canon 7D is still hanging in there, and the 70D, while revised, isn't much of a divergence from the 60D.

Without the D400 to replace the D300s, there seems to be a hole in the line that isn't filled by the D610.  A few people might have gone up to the D800 or to the older D700, regardless of resolution.  I've looked at the D700 and D300s several times but don't see a solution.  The Ricoh/Pentax K-3 seems the true successor to the D300/D300s, slight weirdness and all.

I really don't understand where Nikon is going between US$1000 and $2000, or if they're not interested at all.  It almost seems as though we should be seeing the D7100 replaced, along with the D800/D800E pair but it doesn't seem that the company is in any hurry.

Is anyone excited about the D4s?

That huge, top ISO sensitivity number from the D4 has been doubled.  The new Expeed 4 processor is much faster and you can shoot 11 frames per second vs. 10, without being locked into auto focus or auto exposure settings.  After seeing 12 frames per second in burst mode from the Panasonic GH4, it doesn't seem a huge deal, but I'm certain everything is locked down to get 12, versus the 7.2 fps from tracking mode on the GH4.

So, will the D4s be so much better at getting night time football game photos?  I won't know because I don't watch NFL or the other pro ball games, and I won't be buying a D4s, but the possibilities certainly get my imagination started.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sprint, it's been a month (4 actually), where are the enhancements?

It's been a month since I got this on January 21.  I still have nothing to show for the poorer performance while they've been working on the network, although other areas 15-30 miles away already show that LTE is available.  I was in Connersville, Indiana earlier this week and, LTE was showing up there.  They were practically denied coverage at all previously, even though Sprint sold phones there.  What kind of company does that, and then, has the nerve to charge for roaming?

When I was in Eaton, Ohio earlier, I noticed that their LTE services have degraded dramatically to what should have been good 3G/EVDO speeds.  I was in Indianapolis, Indiana the other day and they've had their LTE upgrades for about 1 year and I was getting many timeouts.

The coverage map has changed, though the LTE indicator did not indicate LTE in some of the places.  In fact, actual coverage seems spotty, even in small towns, as though the equipment they're using isn't as powerful as the 3G/EVDO equipment they were previously using.

Closing from the west a while back
LTE stops close to the state line


The cows and horses really don't seem to have LTE available, as it wasn't indicated on the phone as I drove through that area.  As soon as I crossed the state line, though, the 5 bars turned to 1, then zero.  Obviously, LTE is closing in on the area but it's got some distance to go, and probably, a lot of time until it's really stable.

Of course, part of the problem is that Sprint is claiming that LTE is 10x faster than 3G.  Since their 3G speed is in the basement (0.10 Mbps?) many days, I guess 10x (1.0 Mbps) isn't out of reach.  If it's to be believed, the new AT&T/SBC said during their latest financial call that something like 97% of new phone purchases in the latest quarter were smart phones.  Maybe obviously, that would be a lot of potential data usage.

As I checked the coverage in rural Ohio near me (5 miles east?) in more detail, I discovered that they have Good and Fair ratings to LTE service--these were in the fair rating.  Is pathetic LTE coverage with little hope of better coverage better than no LTE coverage?

The PING response is slow but I can't complain otherwise
Update 2014.02.25: The downtrodden Trotwood, OH area (outside Dayton, OH) had substantial LTE today.  It's too bad nothing else is looking up in the area.

Update 2014.03.01: I was in the Sprint store today, trying to cancel the contract for my problematic Tri-Fi mobile hotspot.  They suggested that I call customer service, as they were not authorized.  When I was talking to the customer service representative about canceling, she said that it usually takes 30 days from the finish of the upgrades for things to show up.  Of course, I mentioned about the text message and how it's been 30 days.  Things may look better soon, but the mobile hotspot couldn't even connect partway through the day.

Verizon's LTE seems to be fine here
The odd thing is that I had the iPhone 5c reconfigured to allow the personal hotspot feature to work, and it was as smooth as silk.  However, I got a cheapo hotspot at the Verizon reseller and my first Speedtest results were 12.7 and 4.25 Mbps, from an LTE network that's been active for most of a year here.  When I went back to tell the people at Sprint about my experience with the iPhone vs. the dedicated hotspot device, they were surprised.  Then, we were talking about the LTE enhancements just across the state line, and I mentioned that the cows were enjoying them, and they had to laugh.  I'm sure they're unhappy with slow and poor developments because they have to face the angry customers.  I'm keeping the phone with Sprint, but for the moment, I think I'll keep the Verizon hotspot.

Downtown Hamilton, OH

West Main St, Hamilton, OH

Update 2014.03.05: I noticed LTE in Hamilton, Ohio, which seemed to have been ignored, even though it was in-between cities that already showed LTE was in the testing phase.  It looks as though it will be a big summer for Sprint.

Update 2014.03.09: More of the Dayton, Ohio area is covered now, and it seems that even more cows and horses in the country have LTE, even if some parts of towns are not yet covered.  I guess they're making better milk because they're happy, well-connected cows.

Update 2014.03.12: I went to Winchester, Indiana and while I was eating enchiladas, I thought that they might have LTE available, since the "data speed upgrades" have been done, but the coverage map shows LTE just outside of town, but not reaching the town itself.  In many parts of my travels of Indiana and Ohio, I still find service practically non-existent or on roaming because Sprint just doesn't have coverage.

I've only ever been two places in the past five years where the phone said "NO SERVICE" and they were both in the tri-state area.  I could almost understand about a state or national forest but near a U.S. highway?  I suppose it's like the cable companies not wanting to pay for wiring to low density areas because it doesn't pay, but I could swear that there were provisions in spectrum agreements that wireless carriers would provide service.   I may be confused but are there loopholes that say if 1 of the big 4 have service in the area that none of the others need bother?

Update 2014.03.25: Two months have passed and still nothing.  Performance is generally acceptable overnight, but just that--acceptable.  The best I see now is about 30% of what it was at its best, which was close to the limits, and it's about half of the typical during that same time frame.  Am I to believe that there are hundreds of people using their data-sucking devices in the middle of the night?


The whole "up to 10 times the speed of 3G" is something that they did with WiMAX.  They're saying that only the Spark areas (three LTE bands, 800 MHz, 1900 MHz, 2500 MHz) will see the maximum speed, which makes sense if they can use all three frequency bands at once.  With the Tri-Fi mobile hotspot, I was only getting WiMAX over the 2500 MHz band and I regularly saw between 5 Mbps and 10 Mbps, depending on the area, and that was inside a building (motel, restaurant, etc.) where the signal had a lower ability to penetrate.

What I'm seeing from Verizon LTE at home (about 2 miles from the same tower Sprint is using) is anywhere from 12 Mbps to 15 Mbps.  This is likely from two bands, including 700 MHz, which has an easier time of getting into a building than 1900 MHz or whatever they're using on the higher end.  Maybe, next month.


Update 2014.03.27: An hour ago, I got a text message from Sprint saying that I should expect more service interruptions and the wait will be over in the next few days.  What that really means, I don't know.  What I hope is that dual-band LTE will be here, active, and as fast as it should be.  Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end of bad service from Sprint.  I was still getting 1xRTT service in some locations in the past two weeks.  They ought to have enough old equipment now that they can push it out to the towers that don't have equipment from, say, 2006 or 2007.

Oh geez.  I went to Eaton, Ohio to get a haircut and eat pizza.  The LTE didn't reach nearly as far and was only really available on the main north-south road through town.  A month ago, it reached well into the countryside.

It's there on Main Street

The speed does look like 10 times 3G

Except that the 3G speed is really good right now

When I returned to Richmond, Indiana, I got a bit of a surprise sitting at the stop light: LTE.  I went to my Speedtest app and before I went far past the next light, about 200 feet from the main road, LTE was gone.  I guess they'll have it at full power in a few days, as they mentioned.  I guess they wanted the store staff to try it.


Update 2014.03.30: I'm seeing LTE show up for an instant several places, including home but as soon as I try to use it, it disappears.  I've checked the updates on the map and where there were none two weeks ago, there are seven eight now.  It's a bit surprising about the distribution of data speed upgrades.  They apparently added a couple of towers out by I-70, but the south of town still has zero towers, and another tower in the poorer section of town received two upgrades.  The tower closest to the Sprint (and Verizon) store and the shopping centers still receives minimal help with 1 data speed upgrade.  Service during the holiday shopping season was unusable.   While they changed the coverage map to show new deployments across the state line, LTE no longer shows up there on my iPhone 5c, at least.  You'd think that it would be better if it's on the coverage map.

Update 2014.03.31: As I was sitting at the stop light where I first discovered LTE in town, I used Speedtest.net to measure it.  The PING was 51ms, downlink was 4.78 Mbps, and the uplink was 0.74 Mbps.  Once again, LTE disappeared about 200 feet from there.  I hope this isn't full strength because it certainly doesn't match anywhere else I've tried and Verizon's signal certainly goes further--i.e., to my house about 2 miles away.  The towers with 2 data speed upgrades each are in the least congested areas, so that might be helpful to people who don't have a device to take advantage of it for a year or two.  I mentioned to the @sprintcare people that I figured LTE would be enabled about the time I was moving away, and that it wouldn't be active where I was moving.  It may be better than that, but if the current situation is all they'll do, it's a sad, sad state of affairs.  I hope they'll yell "April Fools!" and turn up the power on April 2nd.

Update 2014.04.30: Yesterday, this town was moved to the active LTE list, even though not much is covered and the tower near the Sprint store is barely working with LTE.  It is better lately for 3G service but putting it back to not quite the best performance is a bit underwhelming.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 is in my bag (usually in use though)

Today, I took a drive to get some Asian groceries and enjoy the not-so winter weather.  It was above freezing, and the snow was melting, and given how many days we had well below freezing, it was time for a break.

I first went for a fake cheese steak.  I lived in Philadelphia for eight years, and there is yet to be a place 100 miles or further from Philadelphia that can produce a good cheese steak.  Some of them claim to be famous even--that's just odd.  Lenny's Subs has been advertising about how great their sandwiches are.  The founder moved to Memphis, Tennessee and wanted an authentic cheese steak, so he had to create it.

As you probably didn't read in my earlier diatribe on getting it right, you have a roll/bun, thin steak, and mozzarella or provolone cheese or cheese whiz to top it and onions are an option, grilled or raw.  These people had the meat, a too soft roll, and Swiss cheese (although I was able to order provolone) and grilled onions.  It was a let down.

So, not far from the sub shop was a branch of the camera shop where I have recently enjoyed some photographically-related social activities.  Well, it wasn't there any longer.  They'd moved.  I called.  They answered, and they gave me their new address.  Strangely, they seem to be on the edge of a roundabout/traffic circle/rotary, in a small strip mall.

They had quite a lot and it was displayed quite nicely.  With high ceilings, it wasn't nearly as claustrophobic as their old (1920s?) store in downtown Indianapolis.

I talked to one of the people who ran the Olympus photo walk.  He even remembered me.  I'm not sure if that was good or bad.

We talked about FujiFilm mirror-less cameras, since they were next to Olympus' case.  He really likes the X-E2, which I think is quite advanced, but not quite the right shape for me.  He said that the downtown store was getting two X-T1 bodies, but they're already promised to someone.  I told him that I was waiting on weather-sealed lenses and he reminded me that not everything goes as planned.  The 50-140mm f/2.8 and 16-55mm f/2.8 fit me reasonably well.  I'd like to see how the FujiFilm16-55mm and Olympus 12-40mm are in an optical comparison.

In the end, I bought the only 12-40mm f/2.8 lens that they had.  It was made in China, if that's important to you.  It feels just as good as my Four-Thirds HG and SHG lenses.  These 12-40mm lenses have been selling almost as quickly as they can get them.  After all the screaming about fixed focal length lenses, I'm surprised that people are buying the 12-40mm lens.  I suspect people on that photo walk were thrilled with the lens, as it is better than other choices.  (Yes, this is my opinion.  It's my blog--practically everything is my opinion.  My opinion about Panasonic micro Four-Thirds lenses may improve once my 35-100mm f/2.8 is back in my hands.  My other micro Four-Thirds lens, the Panasonic 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 does not help.)

I don't buy lenses often, but I spend quite a bit on each.  I almost always buy weather-sealed zoom lenses because of sports, but also because I like the flexibility in other situations, such as quick portraits, food photography, and building exteriors.  Olympus' HG and SHG Four-Thirds zooms can be used wide open, unlike other brands, because they're sharp across the frame.  That's another reason I've been slow to buy micro Four-Thirds equipment.  The zoom lenses sucked--until now.  Once again, my Panasonic 35-100mm didn't impress me except in focusing speed and that doesn't really lend much to image quality.  Perhaps when it is returned to me after the repair for the ugly, nasty lens flare (with lens hood and sun out of frame), it will be a much better lens.

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8, extended, with lens hood

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 without lens hood

Of course, with a busy day, I didn't have time to photograph anything, but I brought it home, mounted it, and took a few photos of the Olympus E-5 with the Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4.  The 12-40mm f/2.8 doesn't seem to like the dark much (what f/2.8 lens does?), but I'm sure I'll find it extremely useful.  This is the first time I've had a 24mm (135 format) equivalent available since the 1970s.   I have two lenses that start at an equivalent 28mm but that's just not quite wide enough in some situations, and you can't always walk further back.  Of course, 14mm (Olympus, Panasonic) or 15mm (FujiFilm) would be amazing in constant aperture zoom lenses.  Given the 7-14mm f/2.8 zoom Olympus has shown as a mock up, I'm inclined to wait.  It is supposedly due in 2015, but because of the aperture and weather-sealing, it's a better choice for me.

This will also be the first time I'll have a truly light lens on the GH3.  Olympus' 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 isn't bad on it but the 14-35mm f/2.0 is heavy and the Leica 25mm f/1.4 is almost that heavy and it's huge for a fixed focal length lens with that 62mm filter size but not as big as the 67mm or 77mm filter sizes of the two zooms.  The 12-40mm is tiny but it also has a 62mm filter size.  The Four-Thirds Olympus 50mm f/2.0 macro may still be my smallest lens.

The lens hood is rather small, but I don't see it as ineffective.  The lens hood for the 14-54mm is a reasonable size but shows up in the photo at some focal lengths, and the lens hood for the 14-35mm is huge but is still dwarfed by the lens hood for the 35-100mm f/2.0 lens.

Olympus 14-35mm f/2.0

The focusing mechanism reminds me of the 14-35mm lens.  It extends on both ends of the zoom range.

GH3 with 12-40mm, E-5 with 14-35mm

The size difference between the E-5/14-35mm and GH3/12-40mm is amusing, much like the comparison with the E-5/35-100mm f/2.0 and GH3/35-100mm f/2.8.

58mm vs 77mm filter size

I am thrilled to say that I'm taking advantage of the wider angle.  It's certainly been useful.


I've photographed this court house a few times but was never able to get a whole side of it at once.


As I noted during the photo walk, the flare resistance is quite good, although I tweaked this photo to dial down the overwhelming sunshine.  You can't have a miserable, cloudy day and then, have sunshine, correct, when you'll just return to misery?  Now, that I look again, it has a bit too much of an unnatural look to it in the smaller size.  It's just great to be able to handle larger structures without stitching.



I'm liking the color, also.  I've had poor luck with the Panasonic lenses and the color, although I suspect that will be the case, even if they're perfect.  This is the first time that I've felt that the GH3 was giving its all with native lenses. 

Just thinking about it, this is the first time since November 2011 that I have not had any image stabilization, in the lens or moving the sensor.   Of course, I haven't had any terribly dark situations yet, but I never saw the E-5's IS helping me through difficult times.

Even near sunset, the color is good

Interesting that Google's Blogger has changed the photo from silhouette on import

Update 2014.02.26: I haven't removed the lens from the GH3 yet.  I've been testing to see if there is a real problem with it breaking.   It's certainly better to find the problem in the first few days, rather than after the warranty is finished.  The lens continues to impress me and it feels as though the GH3 is totally different.

Update 2014.03.05: I can't express fully how happy I am with the 12-40mm lens.  Ultimately, it's not a lens for the dark (could they have coaxed f/2.5 out of a lens with a 67mm filter size?), but my tripod could help with that, once it's a bit warmer outside.  My feelings about the GH3 have become warmer, though.  I find the lens to be extremely useful and it's so light that I don't seem to miss image stabilization, not that I knew when it was helping on the E-5 or within the Panasonic lenses.


The image quality seems to be so much better now that my regrets about buying a Panasonic body are completely gone.   It really has taken me back to the days in 2004 when my Olympus E-1 was new and I only had the 50-200mm and 14-54mm lenses.  I expect the 40-150mm f/2.8 to be equally engaging, so maybe work will just be joy.  If the GH4 turns out to be wonderful, I may not have any need for the FujiFilm X-T1.

Update 2014.03.19: Are they sure this aperture is f/2.8?  I seem to be getting clear shots that don't seem possible with f/2.8, especially since I'm doing it without any image stabilization. 

Update 2014.07.27: I've been using this lens with the Olympus E-M1 (I traded my GH3 in anticipation of a GH4) for the skate park and the extra little bit of the wide angle has been great.  It has some of the typical wide angle distortion, which gives close up shots something close to the skate park style that people love without the fisheye.  It obviously hasn't broken and it's been a good companion.  If there is a everyday problem, it's that the AF ring/clutch is too easily moved while I'm shooting, and I haven't spent a full day trying to manually focus it.  The micro Four-Thirds lenses are all too tiny for me, but at least this one is a bit bigger than most.  I still prefer the ZD 14-35mm f/2.0 though. 

Update 2014.10.02: By now, I've shot over 10,000 photos with this lens, most of them related to skate parks.  It has done well, but it hasn't been quite as wonderful as it initially seemed.  However, real-life problems have been few.

There have been two situations that have caused me to wonder.

  • In rare strongly-lit situations, lens flare is a problem
  • In mixed light, where strong light is bordered by deep shadow, auto focus with the E-M1 fails occasionally

Otherwise, the lens has been an excellent example of any lens so small.  I must say that I don't feel it's nearly as good as any of my Four-Thirds HG or SHG lenses.  However, it is quite amazing, especially at 12mm, a focal length I don't have with any other lens.

I live about 70 miles northeast of San Jose, California, past the foothills, into the farm land.  The sun and heat are strong through summer, and even though we've passed into autumn/fall, the light is still quite bright and during the afternoon, it is difficult to keep exposure even.

During a trip to Santa Cruz, the skate park's pipe was enough to channel the sunlight into a form that caused lens flare that I didn't expect.  I didn't think that the lens was perfect but it was more than I'd seen from any Four-Thirds Olympus lens.

More recently, in early evening, when harsh light meets harsh shadow, the auto focus with the E-M1 suddenly changes at that moment when I'm ready to take a photo.  I'm not sure whether this is a problem with the lens, the E-M1, or the combination.  The only other micro Four-Thirds lens I use on the body is the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 and I use it so rarely that I can't make a direct comparison.  There is a huge difference in the responsiveness, though, with the 35-100mm being significantly less responsive.''

Update 2015.09.07: It's been almost 1.5 years now since I got this lens.  It has been used almost every day--on the Panasonic GH3 first but lately on the Olympus E-M1 and Panasonic GH4.

There were early warnings about the build quality of the lens, claiming that it simply fell apart without any unusual circumstances.  I have tortured the lens in many situations and it has been great.  The front lens cap has fallen apart.  There is a little wear on the bottom, as I have put it down at skate parks.  (I wish the E-M1 was as healthy.  I have over the 150,000 shutter actuations apparently and it needs a replacement, along with a new eyecup mount.)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Found a photo of mine used for advertising

It's not that often that my photos are used for advertising.  When they are, I'm paid for my work, and it's all out in the open ahead of time.

Tonight, I got the local, slick advertising magazine with one of my photos.  Unfortunately, they didn't ask me about it.  They even incorrectly identified it as being on TripAdvisor, where it is not.

I have a rather unique photo of an arch for a high school that was never built.  The arch is in Hayes Arboretum in Richmond, Indiana.  You can see it here: www.yelp.com/biz/hayes-regiona…

I was shocked to see the photo in the local glossy advertising magazine, with "Photo Courtesy of TripAdvisor.com", especially since the photo isn't on TripAdvisor--I would have put it there.

They clearly took it, didn't remember where they got it, and didn't bother to message me.

If they would have asked, I'd likely have sent them a small copy of it.  I suggested to earlier editors that they could use my Madonna of the Trail statue photos, but they still haven't responded after almost 1 year.

Yes, it's better to be pissed off than pissed on, but still, I'm not pleased.






Update 2014.03.22: I was glad to see a correction in the latest issue of their advertiser, giving me credit for my work.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cameras for photographers, please, not just electronic devices taking photos

I've written a few times about checklist engineering.  It's popular with electronics companies such as Sony and Samsung.  It's generally popular with car companies like Chevrolet, Hyundai, and Honda.  It's about building devices with the personality of a toaster.

For the longest time, great cameras were designed by photographers.  A company would look at what worked for a person who didn't just snap photos, but wanted the camera to work each time, every time with consistency.

I never found rangefinders to be this kind of camera but people adored them.  Although the old medium format viewfinders were rather odd with the upside-down image (so were twin lens reflex), looking down from the top of the camera, you were engaged in the process.  Your imagination worked with reality.

Then, with the SLR, imagination wasn't quite as necessary.  You could see almost how the final image would be, as you looked through the lens with which the image would be captured.  Then, if you used the correct film and processed it well, you'd end up with an image that came close to your vision, your imagination of the scene.

Today, cameras are easy.  You don't have to think at all.  Auto-this, Auto-that are available.  You can even set the camera to take photos at intervals and just leave the camera doing its own thing, so you don't have to be bothered.

What camera engages you?  What equipment says "come out, and let's hear and see and find a story to re-tell people."?

For me, the Fujica series of 135 format SLRs from FujiFilm and the OM-series from Olympus were those kinds of equipment.  The Olympus E-1 was another, more specific, more modern model, and certainly now, the FujiFilm X-T1 seems to pull at me that same way, even though I've yet to buy one.

Intuitive controls are important and the camera body has to feel like an extension of the arm (for me, at least).  That sort of design doesn't come by starting by specifying internal components and working toward the outside eventually.

Look at the Sony A7/A7R duo.  They might as well be called "The Committee" because that's who designed them.  There was so little thought to the exterior that a 10 year old could have done it (with Lego?).  It's a brilliant combination of parts inside but who but Sony fanatics will want to use it?

The FujiFilm X-T1 has the controls all over it, much like the Fujica ST801 that was so dear, or the Olympus OM-1, if they had been designed for the digital age.  When the controls are where you want them to be and you don't have to access a display to make changes, you can be part of the process.

What I photograph with sports doesn't happen twice.  There are no second chances.  The camera body and lens have to work with me at all times.  I don't need to go back to a photo and find that my nose touched the rear display (Why Olympus with the E-M1 and FujiFilm with the X-T1 think I want those displays out in the open, I don't know.  The E-1 display was out in the open but it was off most of the time and had no touch capabilities.)  I keep the rear display hidden usually.  I don't need to find that a dial moves too easily, either.

The Nikon Df was made for people who care about such things, though I don't think it's for me.  I've had enough experience with heavy, slippery Nikon equipment from way back when.  The D800 (and the legendary, mythical D400) is better for me.

I've thought several times about gutting my Olympus E-1 and finding a way to put the Olympus E-5 or Panasonic GH3 equipment into it.  The E-5 innards might be a bit overwhelming for it, but the GH3's insides might just fit.  Matching the controls would be the problem, since I'm hardly a hardware engineer.  Of course, doing video on a 1.8 inch rear display might be a problem, though I rarely mess with video--so far.  However, getting photos in an intuitive environment would be wonderful again.

Mind, the Panasonic GH3 isn't a bad camera body.  It was my first encounter with an electronic viewfinder and it wasn't a very good encounter and they've re-worked the viewfinder for the GH4.  The problem is that it's not intuitive.  They seemed to look at the Olympus E-5, miniaturised various aspects of the design, gave it some Canon appeal, and moved a lot of control to the rear display.  Given what I've just written, you know that I don't have much love for the Olympus E-5 either.

The E-5 is a great tool.  You could use it to pound nails into the wall.  Like the E-1, it's possibly one of the strongest camera bodies from any dSLR maker.  It ignores intuitive design, unlike the E-1.  There is no mode dial, to provide space for a huge top display.  What it has over the E-1 is a higher resolution, better balance with larger lenses, and image stabilization but it never feels quite right in my hands.

So, I ask again, what camera engages you to go out to re-tell a story?

Update 2014.02.20: I was in a camera store yesterday talking to a salesperson I've met in the past.  I mentioned to him about the camera being an extension of the body and he just didn't get it.  I guess people growing up in a world where electronics were everyday devices has changed the thinking.  He suggested the Sony A7, but image quality alone isn't everything for me.  It has to be a good shooter and the A7 is an ergonomic disaster, as are most of Sony's serious camera bodies, unfortunately.  Apparently, the A7 is somewhat of a disaster to use, but is quite great at image quality.  Landscape photographers are more likely to take the time, as are rangefinder users, that Sony is giving them.

Update 2014.04.10: I'm not sure exactly why but the FujiFilm X-T1 has become a big hit for the company.  I think it's the overwhelming effect of all the dials.  Yes, the image quality is quite good, but I'm not sure that's the driving force, as it's much the same inside as the X-E2.  Is it a state of mind?  The camera body, like the Olympus E-M1 is just a bit small and uncomfortable for me, but with smaller lenses, it would be a great casual body with enough physical controls to delight the best perfectionist.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Olympus' new PRO series lenses for micro Four-Thirds

I'm really not sure about these lenses yet but they are good for Olympus.  They have meaning for me because I've been using Four-Thirds equipment for 10 years this April.  The weather-sealed designs of my Olympus equipment have been instrumental in keeping the equipment safe in any circumstance I've had to photograph.

I have several Four-Thirds lenses--2 Super High Grade lenses (14-35mm, 35-100mm), 3 High Grade lenses (14-54mm, 50-200mm, 50mm macro), and 1 Leica/Panasonic lens (25mm).  Weaning myself from these lenses will be difficult because they're quite amazing.  I've found myself time and again disappointed by the majority of micro Four-Thirds lenses.  Those few that are great, are getting some reinforcements.

As they cast off their Four-Thirds line of dSLRs, they brought forth lens designs, in-between the HG and SHG lines of Olympus Four-Thirds lenses, but this time for micro Four-Thirds, and with constant maximum apertures.

The 12-40mm f/2.8 is already available and it's very good, positioned between the 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 and the 14-35mm f/2.0 Four-Thirds lenses.


The 40-150mm f/2.8 seems to be on-schedule and should arrive about halfway through 2014.  I suspect that the image quality will be roughly the same as the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 and not that close to the 35-100mm f/2.0.

Prior to CP+ expo, they showed new mockups of a 7-14mm f/2.8 and 300mm f/4.0.

The 7-14mm f/2.8 obviously has a larger maximum aperture than the current 7-14mm f/4.0 that is highly regarded by Four-Thirds users.  As with any ultra-wide lens, it has a convex lens element in front, meaning that adding an optical filter is not easily possible and the lens doesn't support them directly.  I've been considering the Four-Thirds lens quite a long time, as the weather-sealing is a major factor for me.  I see a demonstrator available every so often for a considerable discount.  However, f/4.0 is difficult to use with the older sensors, unless I carry my cheapo studio lights with me, and somehow power them in an occasional outdoor twilight shoot.


The 300mm f/4.0 has a smaller aperture than its Four-Thirds equivalent, a rather huge lens that is/was priced at US$5999.99, I believe.  That could be the price of the 90-250mm f/2.8.  They were within US$1000 of each other.  The 300mm f/2.8, like the 90-250mm f/2.8 was built to order, rather than trying to stock something so complex and unique.  The f/4.0 lens will be much less unique and won't be able to be that heavy but hopefully, won't rely on electronic tricks to fix optical flaws, due to its smaller size.  I would expect that the 300mm f/4.0 will be roughly twice the price of the other three, possibly US$1999.99.  If higher, I don't see it going for more than US$2999.99.  Photographers of birds would surely like lighter equipment, but I wonder if the maximum aperture will cause them concern.  If  WiFi was enabled, they could have several of them pointed at a certain sport from different angles with the savings they got from not buying a 135 format 600mm lens.

They're still missing a 150-300mm f/2.8 zoom to fill the gap.  I wouldn't expect that lens to be US$999.99 but it shouldn't be outrageous, and being a 2x zoom lens, it could be light even with a very good optical design.  Given the current micro Four-Thirds 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7, they probably wouldn't even want to make people think about a comparison with a similar focal length range.  I currently use both the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 and 35-100mm f/2.0 but for different sports.  I'm not sure that working with two mirror-less bodies and two lenses is convenient to complete the 50-200mm range, but that's what they're doing anyway, not going with a 50-200mm.  The 40-150mm f/2.8 will certainly be close enough to the 35-100mm f/2.0 but there won't likely be a 4x zoom that will directly replace the 50-200mm, which is my most-used lens, followed by my ZD 35-100mm f/2.0 lens.

It's good to see Olympus finally decisive again, after 10 years of an almost completely aimless walkabout, even if there were some interesting highlights.

Update 2014.02.20: I bought the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens yesterday.  It's good to have a somewhat wider view, from 14mm to 12mm.  It made quite a difference--between getting the shot and getting part of the shot.  The lens feels right at home with the GH3, despite the lack of image stabilization.  It's sad that it won't work on the E-5 but times change.

Update 2014.02.25: After a few days of use of the 12-40mm, I'm as much in love with it as the 14-35mm f/2.0 lens, but with slightly lower expectations.  The great thing is that the lens hood is small enough to carry with me, though I can't imagine it's big enough to be incredibly effective.  I'm trying to remember whether I used it during the Olympus photo walk when the sun was just over the state capitol building and the Panasonic lens gave me huge lens flare but the Olympus lens mostly rejected it, even with the sun in the frame.

Could these keep me from moving to FujiFilm?

Update 2014.03.19: The 12-40mm seems quite amazing for the price.  It has brought new life to the GH3, as the color is so much better than that of the 35-100mm f/2.8.   Sadly, I have to wait for the 40-150mm f/2.8 lens to come from Olympus, but that should be around September, which will likely be a good time to purchase the Panasonic GH4.  Since the GH3 has a larger grip than the E-M1, I doubt I'll have any trouble keeping my hands steady during sports.  If I can do it with an E-1 that doesn't have stabilization, and the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 or E-5 with the 35-100mm f/2.0, I should be able to handle the GH3/GH4 and 40-150mm f/2.8.

Update 2014.12.16: I'm interested in the 40-150mm f/2.8 lens and it's available now, along with the 1.4x teleconverter, though I noticed something disturbing earlier.

I found this comment from Jordan Steele concerning his review of the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens and also concerning the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8:

The Panny is way better in the flare department

Now, I'm concerned about the 40-150mm f/2.8 lens, considering my previous experience with my 35-100mm f/2.8 lens and huge lens flare.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

One year with diesel

No, I'm not talking about Vin Diesel.  I'm talking about Volkswagen Golf TDI Clean Diesel.

This time last year, I'd been having all sorts of issues with a 13 year old VW Golf GLS that I bought with fewer than 50 miles.  It wasn't a paragon of reliability at any time, but spending US$500-$1000 nearly every month was difficult.

I searched for several cars and the dealership which serviced my car had two 2012 Golf TDIs in stock at a discount since the 2013 models had been available for months.

Switching to diesel wasn't a huge problem.  I knew enough that I wouldn't put gasoline in the tank.  Apparently, some TDI owners aren't that aware and VW had a couple of safety precautions that they used to help remind people.  My only issue was finding the diesel pump, as it wasn't always out in the open.  At one station, it was in the back, in the dark.  Their price was lower, I guess, because it wasn't for the faint of heart to fill up.  Many times, I've had to search for the diesel pump but a few stations mark it nicely.  It's always amusing how many customers will pass the gasoline-only pump to use the combined gasoline-diesel pump to get gasoline.  I love waiting.  I love sarcasm more.

Finding stations with diesel has been an issue.  While I was traveling, I would have loved to use Waze to help me there, but it doesn't allow me to customize it for the type of fuel, but then, neither does Scout.  If I'm in unfamiliar territory, it's easier to have GasBuddy at the ready and switch to that, and it already knows that I'm looking for diesel fuel.

The price of gasoline has swung madly through the year, while diesel fuel has stayed within 40 cents, never being very cheap at US$3.899, though US$4.299 seems rather expensive.  In my world, when I'm getting over 40 miles per gallon, I suppose it doesn't matter, but during the winter months, I may have trouble reaching 30 mpg because of warming up and moving slowly, staying in lower gears.  I've seen just higher than 50 mpg, which is rather a bit higher than the 42 mpg stated.  On my trip to Philly, I had 48.8 mpg, if I recall correctly, giving me a range of 664 miles.

Since I got the car just past 5500 miles, the first free maintenance had been finished.  I took it for the 10,000 mile maintenance at the same dealer where I bought it.  However, for 20,000 miles, I was between California and Ohio, so when I stopped in Arkansas, I had the service there.  The mechanic botched the service, pinching the fuel filter.  I had a huge leak.  The next day, they took care of it, but the mechanic refused to reimburse me the fuel, even though he was given a voucher to do so.  My next service will certainly not be there, especially since it's 12 dry hours from home.

The car really hasn't given me a cause for concern.  If I look back at the first 30,000 miles of other VWs, I had a vapor lock problem with the 1985 GTI, plus a bent wheel.  The 1986 GTI had a missing weld and a bent wheel and both front brake rotors had to be replaced.  The 1990 Corrado had a bent wheel but it was quite a bit more reliable.  The 1999 Golf GLS had 30 or so trips to the dealer for the power window regulator clips, plus an appetite for daytime running lights, and various electrical problems including the central locking system.

The only serious problem I've had with it is that it's all grown up.  I found myself driving 90 mph when it felt like 65 mph with the 1999.  It is very stable, though not flawless.  The electrically-powered steering took some acclimation, but it's quite reasonable, and I don't have Asphalt 8 (video game) moments with it.

You might ask why I'm already over 20,000 miles.  I took a trip from here to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, plus a trip to San Jose, California.  Those totaled 1884 and 5702 miles respectively.  Obviously, that's not a lot of the travel.  The rest is rather local within the tri-state area.  In fact, January 31st and February 1st, I was in southern Ohio photographing three basketball games.  The trip is about 4 hours each way.  I'm getting an average of about 10 mpg better than the 1999 Golf GLS, which is a good improvement.  If I could drive more slowly on the highway and avoid little towns on the state roads, I'd do better.  (I'm just past a total of 30,000 miles, meaning that I've added nearly 25,000.  The MFI shows that I have another 2000 miles until the final free service.)

This was also my first car with an automatic gearbox.  Yes, they had a manual available but between white and red, I chose red--and the better discount on the demonstrator.  I might do it differently given the choice again.  For some reason, I was completely uncomfortable with the transmission during the test drive.  I suppose that shouldn't be surprising.  Every Volkswagen I've had, the gear change was radically different in feel and it took a while to acclimate myself.  Not only that, but the clutch was usually different also.  I didn't want to be troubled with gearbox and/or clutch problems.

One thing is still certain.  The car was certified as meeting ULEV II standards, so I can move to California without giving up the car, and that's a plus.  It also means that it's not polluting as much as the old car, nor does it have a load of batteries to be recycled as a hybrid or fully electrically-driven vehicle would have.  I can be concerned about the environment without being an activist.

Am I in love with my car on Valentine's Day?  Not exactly, but I am satisfied.  It's all dressed in red--maybe I should take it for a car wash.

Update 2014.05.06: I took my car for its 30,000 mile service a week ago Monday.  I made an appointment, but they were so quick with it that I'd almost think that they didn't do anything.  Supposedly, the change the oil and filter, rotate the tires, and other maintenance-type things.  I suspect that they changed the fuel filter again, since the disaster at the previous VW dealer in Arkansas and my 20,000 mile service.

I'm heading toward California once the sale of my house is complete.  While I was uncertain at the time I bought the car, I'm glad I settled on this certain model because it is a 50-states certified model.  It's just too bad it's not much bigger in the back.  I'm still not sure how I got to Florida in my 1985 Mazda RX-7 with my Japanese futon in the back and various things crammed in the front.  I know that I had many things crammed into my 1999 Golf GLS when I moved up here.  That Jetta Sportwagen looked like a winner but I bet it doesn't have all that much extra room.

Update 2015.11.24: At just over 80,000 miles, I've been busy.

When I sold my house in June 2014, I took a trip to New Jersey, to stay at the shore several days.  It rained most of those days.  As I wouldn't be on the east coast again, most likely, I took a weekend trip to Orlando to visit friends.  That was 1100 miles each way.  Returning to New Jersey, I had a nice day, picked up my things and started for California.

How did I put on 40,000 miles in just over a year, especially when I drove a lot of short trips?  I really don't know.  I'm about 70 miles from San Jose, California and I go there often.  I've been to San Diego once, on one tank with some to spare.  I've been to Orange County a couple of times.  It is a big state.  I haven't got as much fuel economy as I might have.  90 miles per hour is too easily achieved.  Still, 35 miles per gallon and change is good.  If I told it down to 60 mph, I'd see 42 mpg, probably, but traffic doesn't work that way in general.

The car has been good.  Despite the emissions scandal, I still like the car.  I'm disappointed in the company, but I suspect that they're not the only company to cheat.  Apparently, Renault is being investigated at the moment, but it's difficult to believe that any company has not cheated.

 I haven't had any major repairs, though the windshield had to be replaced once.  About two weeks after having tint installed on the rear windows and colorless film on the front windows and windshield, a pebble propelled at the windshield started a crack that took over half of the glass.  It couldn't have happened before the extra cost film, could it have?

As the year is ending soon, I'm wondering about so many things.  Hopefully, the car will continue to be good, even after VW makes their modifications to the emissions control hardware and software.  I don't need a car that coughs and sputters.

Comcast buying Time-Warner Cable

While I really dislike Time-Warner Cable, I really hate Comcast.  Why would they be good together?  They'd have monopoly security.

They've got agreements with municipalities for exclusivity from other cable companies.  This is the way it has been since the early days of Cable TV.  They had to pay to wire the area, so they wanted a captive audience.  In some cases, they've made sure that homeowners' associations would have a no-antenna rule, so that you couldn't have off-the-air programming in your fancy schmanzy development.  Thankfully, that didn't stop using DirecTV or Dish Network.

I've got through the various local cable companies and many have been personable and reliable.  There was only one, American Cablecom, which handled the Audubon, PA apartment complex where I lived, surrounded by a large cable company, that things weren't good.  The company had a 28 day repair clause.  If a channel was down for more than 28 days, they would have to give credits.  They would certainly show up on the 27th or 28th day each time.

When I lived in Altamonte Springs, FL, the tiny cable company was so bad that people in the apartment complex were hoping that Time-Warner would buy the company.  They did, and service became somewhat better, and Time-Warner's marketing people showed us that they were nasty, vicious, and deceitful.  Besides that, there was never a problem with service--it was all in "your set".  When they sold the area to Bright House Networks, nothing changed but billing since the same local people were in charge.  I swore I'd never have another bout with Cable TV.

Back when I lived in the Philadelphia, PA area, I was lucky enough to avoid Comcast.  People hated Comcast.  People hated to call Comcast, if there was a problem.  You've heard that Philadelphia is one of the rudest cities in the U.S.A.?  It can be.  I swear that the people working for SEPTA (transportation authority) and Comcast are the worst ever, and I know how to swear very well.  :-D

When I moved to my current location, Comcast had bought the smaller cable company that bought the local cable company.  My adoptive mum was on the phone constantly as things did not work.  It wasn't their problem.  Toward the end, she would try to change channels, and in 3-5 minutes, the channel would be changed.  The service technicians swapped the equipment 3 times and there was no change.  At least, she didn't have to have someone yelling on the phone that the problem was in her set.

Now, with all that blah blah blah, does any customer really want Comcast and Time-Warner to become one huge entity?  More than ever, I'm thankful for DirecTV.

Portrait lens: 85mm f/1.2 and equivalents

Since the recent announcements of the FujiFilm and Panasonic/Leica 85mm f/1.2 equivalent lenses, I thought I'd take a look at such lenses from the camera makers themselves.

I'm not taking a look at the (usually ridiculous) Depth of Field argument.  I'm more interested in trying to understand why these lenses work and why anyone but a professional would buy one.  My gut feeling is--if you complain about the price, you don't know how or don't have a way to make money with the lens.

I'm not a portrait photographer, though I've tried modeling-type photography, and I've done many what I'll call quick portraits.  When I'm photographing high school sports, it's often easy and desirable to get a quick portrait of the athletes.  I often do this with either of two lenses which have effective 135 format ranges of 70-200mm for one and 100-400mm for the other.  Using them at about 1 meter/3.3 feet works well.

The 135 format has had an 85mm lens for portraiture for a while.  Canon has an f/1.2 lens and Nikon has an f/1.4 lens.  Barely touching on Depth of Field, we don't want it so thin that only the nose is in focus, unless we're working in reconstructive surgery, of course.  Of course, at a distance, it's less likely that we'll isolate facial features and likely that we'll just isolate our subject.

I'd suggest that any of these lenses are going to do the job, although I wonder which will do it best.  It's becoming more difficult to find really bad lenses, unlike 10 years ago and earlier.  For those who really feel that they want to pick up a 30 year old lens because it was great, you might want to re-think that.  I'd suggest that any lens was great because it was better than other available lenses from the time and had a photographer been given current equipment, he'd likely never go back.

  • Canon 85mm f/1.2 US$2199.00
  • Nikon 85mm f/1.4 US$1699.95

  • Nikon 1 32mm f/1.2 US$899.95
  • FujiFilm 56mm f/1.2 US$999.99
  • Panasonic/Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 US$1599.99

Besides these few, there is also the Samyang/Rokinon/Bower 85mm f/1.4 lens that generally (there may be a Nikon version having a focus confirmation) has no electronics with an exceptionally low price, US$349.99, I believe.  This one exists for many mounts.  It's not likely to be used as a backup for a wedding photographer's main system, just because it has no electronics.

The prices of the Nikon 1 system, FujiFilm X-system, and Panasonic/Leica micro Four-Thirds lenses are quite high, but they do have a rather large maximum aperture at f/1.2.  Shooting in natural light will be enhanced, as you'll be able to shoot at more difficult times.

It's a bit surprising that the Panasonic/Leica lens is somewhat larger than the FujiFilm lens, but I'm hoping that the companies have put more effort into resolving optical anomalies optically, rather than through software tricks, even though Panasonic was recently given an award for their software tricks.  Is FujiFilm's lens too small to be optically amazing and will it need tricks to correct for optical problems?

Obviously, the Nikon 1-system lens is the odd man out.  I don't expect professionals to be using the system, but it could be handy.  That said, US$899.95 is a large price for "handy".

If I were leaning toward buying a combination at the moment, I'd buy the FujiFilm X-E2 with their lens.  While my first guess is that the Panasonic/Leica design is better (to go with the price), the GX7 is too small and the GH3 isn't good enough photographically to make use of the lens.  Of course, there is the Olympus E-M1 and it is much better than the GH3 and rather a bit larger than the GX7.  However, the FujiFilm combination ($2399.98 X-E2 vs $2999.98 E-M1) is less expensive and the sensor has much more to it (ignoring size, concentrating on the filter pattern), especially if raw development software can take advantage of the advantages it offers.  At roughly US$4100, the Nikon Df and Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G lens would be a high image quality alternative, with the sensor and the image processor of the D4.  It all depends on how little depth of field you really need.  See what I wrote here.

Of course, a wedding photographer is probably already equipped with a Nikon D800 or Canon 5DMkIII and won't need another system but it would be useful to keep another focal length at the ready, without much weight involved.  I often keep the Panasonic GH3 around my neck while using the Olympus E-5, so I can cover telephoto and wide views.

Update 2014.03.16: I've seen a few people rate the FujiFilm and Leica/Panasonic lenses and they are both rated very well.  I wonder how they would be rated if they were switched to the people who rated the other brand well.  For US$999.99, I'd feel a bit better if there were imperfections because finding imperfections at a full price of US$1599.99 would make me unhappy.  I guess that explains why I have two lenses worth more than US$2000 each.  They're practically flawless.

I bet the E-M1 and Leica/Panasonic lens would be amazing and matched well.  Equally, the X-T1 and the 56mm lens would be matched well.  The lower density sensor with FujiFilm bodies would equal better image quality, but which lens is actually better.  In any case, who needs a dSLR to get those special wedding photos now?

Update 2014.03.19: FujiFilm lens review here and Leica/Panasonic lens review here.  The Panasonic lens seems to be the slightest degree of better (except vignetting wide open), but is it US$600 better?

Update 2015.05.21: Recently, Panasonic introduced a budget portrait focal length lens: 42.5mm f/1.7 with Power OIS.  At roughly US$400, it should be a good deal for the majority of users who don't need a more razor-thin depth of field.

Further back, FujiFilm introduced a different APD-version of their 56mm f/1.2 lens that produced a more pleasant bokeh.  It's priced about the same as the Panasonic/Leica lens.