Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Panasonic/Leica 15mm f/1.7

Since Panasonic has announced the availability of this lens on Monday, the silly comments have started.  (It's due in early June by itself, or in late June with the black-bodied GM1.)

We have the ever-present "f/3.4" comment from the people who probably don't have 135 Format (commonly, mistakenly known as 35mm) equipment, but can't really find another way to bash micro Four-Thirds.  My thought is always that they've never worked with Medium Format, either, and getting enough depth of field is a wonderful thing.  I've always had to work at getting enough DoF with Four-Thirds and micro Four-Thirds, though I'm almost always working wide open.

Then, there is the US$599.99 is too much for such a tiny lens for a tiny sensor.  I wonder how those who are Nikon users resolve the conflict with the Nikon 1 system--that they probably have in their bag, along with their APS-C-sized dSLR.  There are lenses in that system for around US$900.

I saw one complaining that Leica just sold the name to put on it.  However, they have to approve the design before allowing their name.  It makes me wonder how the 45mm f/2.8 macro and 25mm f/1.4 micro Four-Thirds lenses were allowed, if Leica approved them, which I'm sure they did.  The filter size of the Four-Thirds version of the Leica-branded 25mm f/1.4 is 62mm and the micro Four-Thirds version is 46mm.  That's a huge difference, even when the barrel size of an equivalent micro Four-Thirds lens will be smaller than its Four-Thirds relative.  It's interesting that the 15mm f/1.7 has a filter size of 46mm, also.

Is there a way to build tiny lenses and not compromise?  I'm sure there is, as long as the barrel geometry is not that of a pancake-style lens.  Panasonic's 20mm f/1.7 does a good job, but the compromises are many and software helps quite a lot to fix things, except the focusing speed, of course.  Too bad they didn't create a bigger 20mm lens with a more powerful focusing motor, but then, many people wouldn't love that compromise.

Does the aperture ring lock in Auto?

I expect that the 15mm f/1.7 will be sharp and quick to focus and it will make the Panasonic GM1 a good alternative to the FujiFilm X100s, with some extra flexibility allowed by the ability to use many lenses.  I still want to see the GM1 mounted to my Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0, on the tripod, of course, with the 35-100mm f/2.0 using the tripod collar.  I think I'd take it out with me just to get people's reactions.

I'm guessing that the GM1 will sell better now that there is a second lens made specifically for it, especially if the black body is available in the U.S.A. for "professional" use.  :-D  I just had a thought about the black-anodized bodies from the 1970s and 1980s where the black would rub off after so much use.  US$999.99 seems expensive for the combination but is the FujiFilm X100s at US$1299.99 expensive?  It's all about perspective, right?

I'd love a pocket-able pocket camera with high quality images.  (I've used an iPhone for various wide photography since it's always with me.)  I believe the GM1 with the 15mm f/1.7 will deliver.  Even the 12-32mm kit lens is quite good.

Update 2014.03.27: Please don't expect that Olympus will support the aperture ring.  They've had about 9 or 10 years to support aperture rings from Leica/Panasonic lenses made for Four-Thirds at the time of the Leica Digilux 3, Panasonic DMC-L1, and Olympus E-330 and they still haven't done anything about them.  It's not likely that it's even a thought in their minds.  If everything back then had them, and they didn't support them, it isn't likely now when very few have them.

Update 2014.04.10: It seems odd that the front element of the lens is so small.  I could imagine a smaller barrel, if they were willing to compromise/eliminate physical controls.   Would it have hurt to make it an f/1.4 lens and use more of that space?

Update 2014.06.08: I was looking for this today at Unique Photo, along with the GM1.  Unfortunately, it will probably be available at the end of the month, when I'm long gone from Central New Jersey.  The GM1 is so tiny, it needs a great lens with it, and this could be it.   It really needs the little grip also.

Update 2014.10.01: I'm still considering this, but now with the GM5.  I was reading a review on What Digital Camera--they gave it 89% which is quite good.  The trouble is that the showed pronounced purple fringing at maximum aperture and noted that the lens works best between f/4.0 and f/5.6.  It seems a bit expensive for such performance.  I'm not sure why Panasonic can't create lenses with better optical quality or why Leica would put their name on problematic lenses at all.  I'm not saying that it's a horrible lens.  I think I'm just too critical.  I've seen plenty of photos taken with kit lenses that were surprisingly good to me.

Update 2015.02.05: Yesterday, I went to the most local camera store and asked to buy this lens, which wasn't in stock at that store.  Had a gone 45 miles in a different direction, I would have had it in my hands.  They're delivering it to the store and I'll pick it up, which should also give me a moment or three to talk about video with the staffer who does that sort of thing and is available on the weekend.  They didn't automatically offer the $50 instant rebate but when I asked, it wasn't a problem, as it was in the book and clearly available on Adorama, B&H Photo, etc.

I look forward to having a wider, lower light alternative, considering my only other lens is the rather huge Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 for Four-Thirds with the 62mm filter size, which requires an adapter to be used on the GH4 or E-M1.

Update 2017.01.19: DJI, the drone maker, has a version for the same price as the Panasonic/Leica lens, which includes the aperture ring and lens hood.

I've had the Panasonic/Leica lens for quite a while and it isn't perfect.  This past summer, I got the Panasonic GM5 and the combination is quite impressive.  Obviously, Panasonic does something extra to fix problems with the lens and it's almost impossible to tell that there are any problems, until you put it on an Olympus body.  Thankfully, Olympus lenses on Panasonic bodies don't seem to give optical problems.

Regardless, the lens allows quite good photos and video.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Public transportation works--we need more

The continental U.S.A. is roughly 3000 miles wide.  It took me three 15 hour days to drive from Orlando, Florida to Los Angeles, California and an equal amount of time to return home.  Many of the states are the size of a country elsewhere.  There is a lot of what seems to be empty land.  Mobile phone service is generally available but not available everywhere.  Many people use satellite-based TV because cable companies aren't there, and antenna-based TV only works at short distances--shorter since digital TV arrived.

I've used public transportation on both coasts and in Japan.  In Japan, you can set your watch by it.  I did.  In the U.S.A., you might as well throw out your watch.  When the train or bus arrives, it's there, and that's all that matters.

In the midwest, where I went to school, my mum and I took the bus once.  It wasn't really good or bad, but we didn't have to walk.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I used trains and buses regularly (I likely still have my route pamphlets), and went one summer without a car.  It was demanding because I worked outside the city and after dark, services are less available.  What was a walk in the morning, and about 40 minutes on trains and buses, at night, took four hours on two buses, including a trip into the city and back out to the edge.

Transportation around New York City is no better, no worse.  Getting around Manhattan is easy--uptown, downtown.  Getting into town, you end up at Penn Station or Grand Central Station.  If you're going to Long Island, you board the Long Island Railroad at Penn Station, and wait and wait and wait and fall asleep and miss your stop.  I didn't fall asleep but I swear that it was the slowest train ride I had since being in rural Japan, taking a local train.

In San Jose, I used (Santa Clara) Valley Transportation Authority light rail.  It was smooth and fast enough.  Planners were thoughtful enough to put a connection to San Francisco through Caltrain.  At this same San Jose Diridon station, you can also use the Altamont Corridor Express to Stockton, as well as points along the way.   Caltrain was reasonably good, although I've seen plenty of mistakes since I used it.  I'm just happy I wasn't on a train with a problem, and that the temperature was moderate.

One thing I really liked about Caltrain is that they had dedicated storage for bikes.  I didn't pay too much attention to how you could lock your bike but they mounted the bike with the front wheel up.  I don't know that I would use it, but it was an effective way to keep the use of cars down.  Since then, they have introduced some bike-rental-sharing scheme.

When I was in the Bay Area, I didn't use my car that much but when I did, I was rarely stuck in traffic.  I did not drive into San Francisco, though.  On the other hand, I've driven through Manhattan, Queensborough, and Brooklyn and don't want to do that again, and that's with major public transportation.  I swear I used almost every bridge and tunnel in the NYC metro area, except for the George Washington Bridge and Verazzano Straits Bridge, all in one day.

Having lived in the Orlando, Florida area for 11 years after Philadelphia, I wanted to use public transportation.  There was a bus stop in front of my first apartment complex.  The bus that stops there went to a mall.  I did some research and the mile between my apartment and my work had zero Lynx buses, for some reason, even though there were buses on either side of the stretch.  The lack of sidewalks and the high humidity made walking an unlikely adventure, as I would need to clean up after walking to work.  In all those years of living there, I never found a situation where I could ride a bus.  The Orlando Sentinel used the headline "FloriDUH!" after the 2000 elections and I've used the nickname ever since.  What the planning people are thinking is beyond me.  They're working on implementing light rail now.  It looked great, but whether Lynx buses will match up with it or not is anyone's guess.  They're now trying to implement SunRail, their soon-to-be light rail solution from Volusia to Osceola counties.  I could only hope that they've planned to connect bus routes to the light rail stations.

While public transportation doesn't make sense in many farming communities, it makes sense for small towns and medium-sized cities.  I might use public transportation now, except that I'd have to walk two miles to Main Street or the shopping centers to get a bus that probably doesn't go where I want.  If they had not paved over all the trolley tracks, I wonder if the town would be very different now.

Maybe obviously, taking a mature city and implementing train or trolley service requires a lot of construction, especially with subways.  The other day I saw something about BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) finally after 30, 40 years making its way to San Jose from San Francisco, along East Bay.  The comments about it were rude, ranging from drugs making their way to San Jose to the horror of detours for construction.  I can't imagine that people would choose to be in a car waiting in traffic, rather than sitting in a train, for the same amount of time.  It is overdue, but at least, it's on the way to a finish, even though Caltrain already handles the western side of things.

I don't want to pay extra for parking or find my car damaged when I return, even in a company-owned lot.  I avoided that in Philadelphia, at least, paying for parking, by taking SEPTA trains into work.  At that time, $56 per month got me unlimited access to the city via trains, trolleys, and buses.  $64 got me a parking space.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, a $6 VTA day pass got me unlimited trips around Santa Clara county on VTA buses and light rail, and the $18 day pass got me unlimited Caltrain use between San Jose and San Francisco.  Besides, you don't have to remember where you parked your train.

I know that public transportation wherever it is, is no complete fix.  It is usually a huge burden on the taxpayers, even with great ridership.  It costs money to power it, and unions are often disagreeable.  I'm not just talking about the U.S.A.  It wasn't that long ago that the German rail workers union went on strike, and they probably had a fairly good deal already.  When I was riding a SEPTA bus, the drivers would often tell of how the union was going to strike many months ahead of contract negotiations--regardless of contract negotiations.

If the world has all these great minds that think about economies all the time, why is it that they can't find a good, balanced solution for transportation?  If power was free (solar, wind, etc.), would public transportation be affordable?  (I just remembered one serial dream I had.  I was explaining to the rest of my class my idea of self-propagating electromagnetic propulsion for trains, but unfortunately, I can't remember any serious details.)

Update 2014.04.11: I'm looking to move somewhere between San Jose and Stockton, California, so that I can use the ACE trains and live cheaply, until such time as I have money for a house, should I ever choose that again.  I'm not 100% sure of job prospects, but if I end up with a local retail job, I can always take the train to San Jose to visit museums and other attractions.  I think I'll have to drive the car to Palo Alto to IKEA, unless I'm also going all the way to San Fran on Caltrain.  Public transportation takes more research and preparation, which reminds me how I forgot to learn about San Francisco's MUNI ahead of time and ended up hurting my feet the several hours I was there walking.

Update 2014.04.20: Apparently, living out by California state road 99 and I-5, you have some options to get to the San Fran Bay Area.   The ACE train is one and there is a bus from Modesto (MAX) to the BART station at Dublin/Pleasanton.  Everything seems to result in a 4 hour trip, if you're going all the way to San Francisco.  The Caltrain trip from San Jose to San Francisco was somewhere between 1.5 hours and 2.0 hours, depending on taking express or local trains.  Obviously, the bus will take longer because it has to sit in traffic with all of the commuters who moved to the Central Valley to save money.

I also took a moment to look at getting to Los Angeles.  It seems that Amtrak goes from San Fran to Stockton by bus.  You leave Stockton on the train but just to Bakersfield, and then, you're on another bus to Los Angeles.  I'm confused.  Is the ground so unstable that they don't have passenger trains running the length of the state?  My trip up the state from Barstow to San Jose by car included switching roads in Bakersfield--from SR 58 to SR 99, which led to I-5, and across the Pacheco Pass Highway to US101, which took me to San Jose.  I'm sure that getting a train across the mountains could be difficult, and Pennsylvania has a "horseshoe" that PRR used and Amtrak now uses from Philly to Pittsburgh.  I guess it's not so simple in California.

In Los Angeles, I know that they have some trains.  I've seen the station at the far end, at Angels Stadium in Orange County.  I wonder if they're used much, other than for the baseball traffic.  There didn't seem to be any dedicated parking, other than that of the stadium.  Perhaps, when there are no games, people use it for Park-and-Ride?

Update 2014.05.01: Central Florida's SunRail went live today.  There were some minor problems, of course, and running on time couldn't be expected.  There was one photo of an older couple and a man with a walker was trying to get out of the train.  There was no ramp, so he put his walker on the ground that was lower than the platform, in order to get to the final step on the train.  I would imagine that he then picked up his walker to put on the platform, and likely fell trying to step over the gap.

It's still amazing to me that people don't test for wheelchairs and other devices.  One of my first experiences in Central Florida was when Montgomery Road was being widened from two lanes to four lanes with an additional turn lane.  They added sidewalks--with light poles in the middle of them.  I'm not saying that it only happens there, but Floriduh, you do it far too often.  At least, they somehow all agreed to get the light rail going.

Update 2014.05.07: The people behind SunRail are getting quite a bit of experience in their first few days.  While some may be experienced in other places, there is no place quite like Central Florida.  I'm just thrilled that they all cooperated and got light rail into production.  Someone mentioned that they were adding a third car to some of the trains today, to handle the rush.  That's certainly better than living people behind in frustration, when you have extra cars available.  Why not put them there in the first place?  It's likely the cost of the energy to drive them.  You would hope that something called SunRail would have solar panels on the top of each vehicle.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

One year with the Panasonic GH3 and 35-100mm f/2.8

When I bought the GH3, I was practically desperate to combat low light photography in a way I had not tried since ASA 400 speed film was considered high speed.

I photograph sports.  I usually do it well, but certain gymnasiums and swimming pools make the task much more difficult.  Many gyms have multiple levels of seating, which restrict the floor level to sports-related people, i.e., those involved in the game or meet such as athletes, coaches, and referees.  Equally, a swim meet I was supposed to photograph put the swimmers behind a wall of glass.  However, nothing is worse than poor lighting and it's more likely than not.  If you can't adequately see the athletes, it's likely that the camera can't capture the moment.

I met with quite a few lighting obstacles, especially with high ceilings and few lights.  There are many schools that were built in the 1960s or earlier, and often small communities struggle to pay the bills.

I've often felt that getting a few keepers out of hundreds of photos was still a good workout.  In the case of dark venues, I was getting very few keepers.  I had considered switching brands, tossing my old equipment, and hoping for the best.  I analyzed a number of other photographers' photos and found that Nikon and Canon weren't in much better shape than Olympus in the US$1000-$2000 range for camera bodies.  Being that I would be spending US$2500 on a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens to complete the combination, it had to do much, much better, if I was to spend US$4200.  I dare say that the D800 is still in the same normal ISO sensitivity range, up to ISO 6400, where the D7100 resides.  They may seem better, but are they really?

The crazy, but conservative alternative was the released but difficult to find Panasonic GH3 body.  With an adapter, it could be used with my current lenses.  I had never used a Panasonic body but I was impressed with the construction of the Four-Thirds Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens made for the Leica Digilux 3--made by Panasonic.

Every review I read said that the GH3 was an adequate stills body and an amazing value for video.  As most photographers know, the world is moving to hybrid photography, and the GH3 (and now GH4) is a good product to become acquainted with it.

I had been looking for lenses, but Olympus was answering the call for fixed focal length lenses and generally, Panasonic had a number of software-corrected zoom lenses that weren't good without bright light, starting with an aperture of f/4.0, such as my 45-200mm.  Panasonic also had their new fixed aperture lenses, the 12-35mm f/2.8 and 35-100mm f/2.8, but with an earlier X-series lens, it didn't seem that they might be adequately designed.  When I read the reviews for the 35-100mm especially, on LensTip, I cringed for sure.

After a grinding debate, I ordered the GH3 and 35-100mm f/2.8 lens.  They arrived, I tried them alongside the E-5 and 35-100mm f/2.0 lens combination.  I tried many settings but in moderate light, the E-5 was better for image quality and color fidelity.  However, the GH3 delivered in darker areas, although I trashed a number of photos over ISO 3200.  In fact, the shots from ISO 4000 and up weren't good enough to be grainy photographs of Big Foot, at least, not for me.

In using the camera body, I ran into some odd problems that I decided were new user problems.  At some angles, the viewfinder image was curved, and the color was always incorrect.  The standard setting pushed me to view every photo after I took it, causing a lengthy pause in the feed, although I kept shooting, as though I could see.    Such is the life of a Live Viewfinder, as Panasonic calls it.  I found the setting to turn off instant review, and the pause was minimized.

At every event, I would revise and refine the settings to my liking, just as I would do with any dSLR.  The images weren't bad but they were never really great.

I tried manually focusing, as the auto focus would often focus somewhere odd, but between the short 35-100mm lens, and the magnification (manual focus assist), I never could rely on manual focus, as I did with an optical viewfinder.  This became more of a problem with track season, and I had to modify my techniques to just do the job.  Then, my sunglasses in concert with the viewfinder would often produce a black view--100% obstruction of the scene.  Auto Focus was equally an opponent to good photos, as it would often choose the chain link fence behind the runners.  If you've ever photographed a chain link fence, you know it's more difficult to focus on it because it's not deep.

However, I've adapted, and I've found ways to make things work, and I've had some good shots.  If it's to be believed, the GH4 likely addresses all of the problems I've encountered.  I'm ready for equipment that doesn't get in my way.  Truth be told, switching from the Olympus E-1 to the E-5, I had my doubts, also but it was certainly less of a stretch moving from dSLR to dSLR, although it didn't feel that the same company designed them both.

I doubt I'll back away from mirror-less bodies now, even though Panasonic had not convinced me 100% through the GH3.  Once the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens is available, I'll likely trade the GH3 and Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens because, even without image stabilization, I'll get better shots.  How?  I've been shooting with the E-1, which has no image stabilization, and also with the E-5, which has simple two axis stabilization, as well with the GH3 and Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens.

It's been a rough road since I got the GH3 but I've found that it is capable of good photography when fitted with the correct lenses.  That could be said of almost any equipment, but I've truly been shocked at how good it really is with Olympus lenses attached, even through an adapter.


  • Strong, flexible video options
  • Comfortable body, especially with Four-Thirds lenses
  • Articulated rear display
  • Silent mode
  • Weather-sealing, magnesium alloy frame
  • Battery life
  • Five customization profiles


  • EVF magnifying glass effect, blackouts
  • Image quality above ISO 3200
  • File naming doesn't contain date
  • Too small for larger Four-Thirds lenses

Update 2014.03.20: I watched a video on Vimeo today between Zacuto Films and a Panasonic representative.  They were enthusiastic about the GH4 and they got some good answers from the representative.  I was amused at the quick disappointment concerning the 35-100mm f/2.8 lens feeling plasticky and how the 12-35mm f/2.8 lens felt like a good piece of equipment.  They sounded like my comments on the lens.  The Panasonic representative didn't say anything other than the X-series lenses were meant to work at a higher level.  I wish mine would.  I didn't mention it much in this blog entry because I've complained thoroughly about it in others.  You can get good shots with it, but you have to be very, very careful.  Despite the price, it should not be a US$1500 lens.  US$750 would be more than enough for a lens of this caliber, especially one Made in China.

In any case, the GH3 has been a good camera body and makes me think that Panasonic has mostly thought about the photographer, more in handling lately than Olympus has.  It was the perfect transition from the Olympus E-5--the E-M1 certainly isn't.

One thing that has consistently surprised me about a camera body with two displays is that the battery lasts a very long time.  It's not a huge battery, either, especially coming from the E-1 and the E-5.

The other day, I tried Silent Mode for the first time.  It was interesting, but of course, I couldn't tell much of what was happening since there was no feedback really.  I could tell that something was being written to the card but I had no idea how many frames had been taken.

Update 2014.03.29: Panasonic offers a lot, and the flaws can be a problem, but as with any dSLR, you learn and adapt.  The GH4 is better but more expensive.  It's an easy choice if your main intent is to make video content, but they've also made some improvements for still photography.  If you consider that the GH3 + 12-40mm f/2.8 combo has been my constant companion over the past several weeks and the E-5 and E-1 have remained in the bag (and usually at home), I think you'll understand how good the GH3 actually is.

If I could make changes, I would use Olympus' Super Control Panel and TruePIC VII processing, along with the VF-4 viewfinder.  Why not just buy the E-M1?  It's uncomfortable for use with the Four-Thirds lenses it was specially designed to handle.   The GH3 was more thoughtfully designed for photographers.

For those looking at the GH3 as it is dropped in price, think about how inexpensive it is for a weather-sealed, high quality full HD video device.  Sure, the Pentax K-50 is less expensive for a weather-sealed body and you can buy unsealed lenses on the cheap, if still photography is what you want, but the GH3 is of a bit higher specification overall and the lenses are almost always smaller.

Update 2014.04.17: Panasonic have permanently reduced the price of the GH3 to US$1099.99.  This should make high quality video available to many more people, and make the GH3 bodies a more affordable platform to small studios.  Of course, there have been discounts that have dropped the price lower but they were temporary.  However, this makes buying the Canon 70D and Nikon D7100 for video less reasonable choices, except for those heavily invested in lenses for those brands.

I continue to find the GH3 and Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens a compelling combination.  Many will find the combination pricy but I find fewer lenses of higher image quality fit my needs better than more lenses of lower image quality--and weather-sealing is necessary for me.  If you've ever lived in an area subject to loads of dust and sudden weather changes, you'll understand the importance of not damaging a lens worth hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Update 2014.05.23: I've used the GH3 a number of times to get a vertical shot from a very low angle using the rear display tilted away from the body, a position unavailable to the Olympus E-M1 or the FujiFilm X-T1.  That in itself is enough to remind me that the GH3 and GH4 have a flexibility I need.

Had I tried to do the same shot with the E-M1 or X-T1, I might as well be using the fixed display of a Canon 70D or Nikon D7100.

Update 2015.03.22: Since I traded the GH3 in June 2014, I'd been using an Olympus E-M1.  It worked well for still photography, but of course, was not very good for video.  In December, I got the GH4, and it reminded me of all the good things that I liked about the GH3.  Many problems with the GH3 were fixed in the GH4, but auto focus is still a problem.  Image quality is better in many respects but photos are still limited to a useful ISO sensitivity of 3200, for my use.  Fixing the chroma noise problem has made those look better, but it's not enough to help the overall problem above that sensitivity.

The 35-100mm f/2.8 lens continues to disappoint, especially as I'm recording video now.  The stuttering of the OIS, even after the firmware update for it, is extreme.

Monday, March 10, 2014

iOS 7.1 hasn't made things worse...yet

At 238 MB, it seemed rather small for the length of time waited for performance fixes.  I was expecting something three times the size.  Then again, when I first downloaded iOS 7, I was on my iPhone 4s and now, I have an iPhone 5c.

The brand new iOS 7 really downgraded the performance of the 4s--no, not to the sad level of the iPhone 4, but it was truly disappointing.  I had a game at a critical point and the phone was lagging badly, trying to run the game, and there was no chance of succeeding.

For those using an iPhone 4, it's likely safe now, but not a final step.  I was remembering my second generation iPod touch and how iOS 5 had killed the performance.  iOS 5.1.1 brought the device back to life, but I think it wasn't until 5.2.1 that it was actually almost as good as the previous 4.x version.  It never fully recovered.  I suspect more performance enhancements to make it before iOS 7.x is finished.

It looks as though there were a lot of little tweaks that they didn't quite finish before sending iOS 7 out the door and they've included those now.  I don't recall anything in particular but it looks a bit more integrated already.  Performance seems enhanced but not supremely fast.  At least, nothing seems to have become worse...yet.

Update 2014.03.19: I guess I'm lucky.  I'm new to using iOS 7.1 as a mobile hotspot and it seems to be just fine.  I guess I spoke too soon.  If I don't leave the hotspot functionality active, it isn't so good.  There is trouble with the MacBook Pro finding it after a few times, and I have to re-boot the phone.  It seems to occasionally connect, if I go back to the Personal Hotspot display, without re-booting. Those who were using the functionality prior to 7.1 are experiencing issues.  In an episode of He said-She said, Apple is not taking responsibility, and naturally, the carriers are not.

At least, there will be another update before iOS 8.0.

Panasonic GH4: to pre-order or not at US$1699.99

Apparently, the floodgates have opened, and pre-orders on the Panasonic GH4 are available at roughly US$1699.99, the full retail pricing.  I continue to think about the Olympus E-5 that was introduced in 2010 at the same price.  The extra US$400 over the GH3 full retail pricing probably isn't enough to offset the research and development work, but I think that the company will sell enough to business users to make a profit eventually.

If things are good, the first people ordering it should see their camera bodies around the end of April.  If it's as it was with the GH3, it could be longer--a few minutes delay in ordering could mean months.  I'm not sure Panasonic anticipated the demand for the GH3, though I'm not sure that demand that strong exists for the GH4.

I'm ready but cautious.  My GH3 may be flawed but I haven't seen anything about a production-firmware-laden GH4 yet.  Panasonic certainly isn't talking to me about it.

I was reading the marketing blurbs on the Panasonic web site.  Any time I see the word "professional" in marketing these days, I laugh.  It seems to be the way around actually committing yourself to dangerous comparisons that may get you a lawsuit.  I've seen people use an iPhone as a professional camera, so what exactly does that mean to the GH4 or the D4 or 1D x?

Can I use the GH4 instead of a US$3000 (5DMkIII or D800) body and get nearly the same results?  How does it hold up against a US$6000 body?

The answer is a qualified "yes", of course.  Yes, the video functionality will do well.  My question is all about the still photography functionality.  I'm impressed with the numbers but I really need to know how it really works in real world situations because I don't photograph test charts.   I photograph sports.

I'm looking to wait a while anyway.  I need to sell my GH3 or trade it for the GH4.  I want the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens that will be available later this year, so I may wait for the combination of the two and add my Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 and 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 lenses to the trade-in list.  I don't care about the image stabilization, if I can't get a good, clear shot anyway.  (Just ask me about all the years with the Olympus E-1 and 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5.  I did fine.  It could make sense to go with the E-M1 but I might as well wait for the replacement to see if they put a bigger battery in it and therefore, fix the grip.)

Happy shopping!

Update 2014.04.06: The GH4 should be arriving for some people at the end of April.  Hopefully, their production will be strong enough to meet demand.  I'm still hesitating until I can trade my GH3 but then, I'm packing in order to move across the country.  I think I want to trade the GH3 here, where the people at the store know me.  I could get a few dollars more.

Hopefully, the firmware upgrades to the inevitable minor issues will be quickly and accurately written and dispensed.  Of course, the camera body has more intense processing than the GH3, so the little problems could be magnified a bit.

I wonder if any of the newer options from the AG-AF100/AG-AF105 will present new problems.

I hope that Panasonic has a rock-solid version 1.0 firmware release but I won't hold my breath.

Update 2014.04.09: I've seen the initial reports on the Sony A7s 4K camera body.  I'd like to be impressed but it still sounds like checklist engineering.  I see far too many complaints about the lack of responsiveness with the A7/A7R and can't imagine that the A7s will be better.  Yes, it can do the things they list, but can it do them well?  My money will be on the GH4.

Update 2014.04.14: Tweeted at Roberts Camera concerning a GH4 in stock.  No such thing available.  Do I want to be added to the list when I will probably be gone in three weeks?  I don't believe so, but I want to trade the GH3, while I can do it in person.  I'm not sure why, but mail order and waiting just isn't for me.  Selling my house has filled me with anxiety already.  Maybe, I should buy/trade for that Olympus E-M1 while I'm waiting.  :-D

Update 2014.05.19: Over the weekend, I sent a message to Mike's Camera in Dublin, California asking if they did trade-ins.  They have both Olympus and Panasonic, supposedly.  They responded that they don't handle trade-ins, unfortunately.

I'm thinking of a mad, mad solution: trade for the Olympus E-M1, which Roberts easily has in stock.  Then, later, when the GH4 is in stock and properly updated to reliable firmware, I'll buy one outright, probably through Adorama, although I might buy it locally at Mike's Camera.  (I'd rather buy locally but there are times when it's just a bad idea.  Mike's is a company from Colorado with a few California locations, for some reason, and one is reasonably close to where I'll be.)

If for some reason when/if I go to Roberts they have an extra GH4 in stock, I could just go the shorter path, though I'm thinking that the E-M1's 5 axis IS will help on certain nights.  I'd rather have the successor to it, but I suspect that will take some time.  Olympus isn't even replacing the E-M5 yet.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Do carriers boost the mobile hotspot data usage numbers?

Back in mid-2012, when I was looking for a mobile hotspot, I noticed that at almost unusable speeds, I was tearing through the Verizon Hotspot's 10 GB data limit.  It didn't make any sense.  Except for the trip from the Verizon store, I didn't have access to LTE.  At home, I was barely able to get e-mail.  Yet, most of the allotment was being used very quickly.

Saturday, I bought one of their newest hotspots and I'm already more than 33% through my monthly allotment of 5 GB.  The firmware update was surely included in the usage, since obviously, that wouldn't go to the company.  (Why put out a device that is updated when you can charge for the update indirectly?)  I had 12 GB with Sprint, and even when I had 5 GB, it didn't go this quickly, though they seem to count all of their overhead as part of my usage.

3 full days

Since there aren't a lot of alternatives here, I will be using the mobile hotspot, either the hardware device from Verizon, or the software functionality on the iPhone 5c from Sprint.  I'm guessing that I'll be close on data at the end of the billing period.

The salesperson told me that Verizon charges $10 per 1 gigabyte over the limit, which doesn't seem horrible.  I expected something more like $1 per extra megabyte.

To be clear, I had already stopped the automatic update of tablet applications.  People often seem upset than Apple take so long to authorize an update to an application, but the other side is annoying.  I see developers on Android updating their applications daily.  I don't develop mobile software, but unless there is an emergency, why not get several updates into the app every week?

Of course, Google applications on (Mac) OS X can't be stopped.  These days, I rarely find that Chrome hasn't been updated ahead of a notice on a news site, unless of course, I don't have a connection while I'm out.  Picasa is the Google exception, and the company has major problems there.  The Update menu item doesn't work.  It never finds an update, even when there is one.  When there is an update, I receive a pop-up dialog box asking me to run the installation.  I do that, and when I go to one of normal user accounts (as opposed to Administrator), it asks that I download and install it there, also.  Obviously, it's the same software across user accounts, download it once.
1 full week

Update 2014.03.09: I'm about 40% through my monthly allotment in about 1 week.  That's scary.  I hope it isn't repeated the next month.
2 weeks

Update 2014.03.16: I'm about 80% through my monthly allotment, with half a month to go.  I can only wonder as to what is using all the data, since I'm not watching videos.  It looks as though Verizon doesn't count the same way as Sprint did.  I would rarely go beyond 6 GB in a month.  I'm going to end up using my Sprint phone as a hotspot, which could last me the rest of the month, but who knows?

Funny that ABC News was running a story about prepaid phone calls and how AT&T and T-Mobile charge you for the operational length of the call, rather than the talk time of the call.  They said that Verizon only charged for the talk time.  I hope that they're not making up for it here.

Update 2014.03.17: I've apparently used 0.765GB in almost exactly 48 hours.  This will be the second time I've tried to update this blog entry with the addition of the graphic.   Well, the graphic was still being held by Google, even though Blogger did not update this blog entry--small favors.  In any case, I can only imagine that Google Maps is responsible for using so much data.  I watch videos on my Unlimited Data phone, not through the hotspot.

Update 2014.03.19: I turned off the Mifi hotspot just after I read the total usage.  When I went to the local affiliate to pay my first bill, I asked them about the current number and he had just switched from that page, but he said that it seemed to be what I mentioned.  I was half-hoping that it would have still increased with it completely off, to prove that there was a problem.

Since I've been using the phone on Sprint as a hotspot for two days, usage has been minimal.   I also noticed that MacRumors was mentioning a problem with iOS 7.1 and hotspot functionality, but since I didn't use it prior to 7.1, I am probably not having any issue.

Update 2014.03.21: I've been using my phone as a hotspot and it's been a bit troublesome if I stop the hotspot functionality.
The next morning after turning off the MiFi hotspot

2.5 days after the first Sprint measure

It seems very different in usage but that may be because it's so slow most of the time, and in frustration, I leave the computer or tablet without achieving much, though it might be some other reason.  I still find it humorous that Sprint wants to confuse the issue by measuring in KiloBytes.  Maybe, it confuses them, too.  It's sadly amusing that on their Sprint-labeled Speedtest.net page, they mistakenly identify the results in MegaBytes per second instead of MegaBits per second.  I'm sure Sprint would have more customers if their data services were 8 times as fast.  With the Tri-Fi hotspot, I often had trouble getting e-mail.  Isn't that pathetic?  I always thought that a dedicated device would be so much better than a phone doing double duty but not so with the Sierra Wireless/Netgear devices, especially since they offer cradles to boost the signal gain.

I caved and changed from 5 GB on Verizon to 10 GB per month.  It's an extra $30, which is better than $10 per 1 GB or $50.

It's still easier to remember the phone than the mobile hotspot when I leave town for a quick trip.  It's still important to watch the usage, as I could suddenly exceed 10 GB.  e.g., I have the Asphalt 8 game on the phone and the Nexus 7 tablet.  It's 1.5 GB on one and 1.3 GB on the other.  Since they'll likely charge for their overhead, that 2.8 GB will probably balloon to 3.5 GB easily.  Try finding some free WiFi source to let you update that much easily.  I know of places but I'll have to drive 25-45 miles to go there.

How does adding an extra 5 GB get to 3.871?


 I had not used 5 GB and I changed to 10 GB so, they gave me a lot less than 5 GB.  For the sake of clarity, I should have had it start on the next billing period, don't you think?
I think Verizon may have a problem

I tried to call customer service but the sound was so awful, I couldn't really hear the menu options well.  Was that a tactic to get me to change my phone to Verizon?  I don't remember the problem in 2012.  I don't make many phone calls, so who knows?

Update 2014.04.04: I needed to back date (retroactive) the plan to the first day of the period.  They took my change on the 21st day of the month and used pro rata math to give me 3.871, which knowing my situation, no one knowledgeable and in their right mind would have done because it caused an overage.

Update 2015.01.31: This hit hard today, though I haven't been keeping track of my usage strictly.

Most of the month I've been using a FreedomPop home internet connection over LTE.  If I go over 2 GB on Verizon, it's pretty much the same as 10 GB on FreedomPop.  When I went over by 4 GB, uploading my new video work, I had to do something.

So, I didn't use the Verizon mobile hotspot until the 21st really.  I was updating the computer and phone and it showed 2.2 GB, which is a lot from 10 GB monthly.  Today, I got a message that I was over 75%--or over 7.5 GB.  In the last 3 days, I've been working on a few videos from skateboarding, and a musical performance the other night.  I find it difficult to believe that I used 6 GB, and only have about 1.4 GB remaining.  Thankfully, that was after the latest group of videos were finished and up on YouTube.  I was uploading to YouTube and Vimeo, so that's part of the problem, but Vimeo let me upload the full load of the second video and told me that it wasn't HD because I need to pay extra for more than a certain small amount.

In any case, it's going to be back to zero on the 2nd, but in the meantime, I have to be a bit more frugal.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Why do Apple and Google and Microsoft want to be in the car?

Do I want to integrate my phone or tablet more closely everywhere I go?

When I switched from my 1999 VW Golf GLS to the 2012 VW Golf TDI, the car wanted to know about my phone.  My mobile sound system can route calls and play my music.  In fact, it's not just the music on the phone, but iHeartRadio, Pandora, and Spotify that can be used.

Apple announced today, for the Geneva, Switzerland auto show that they were pairing with several car makers to extend their reach past simple integration for playing music.



Chevrolet had already announced Siri in the car, and Google and Audi recently announced Android in the car.  Ford had Windows in use for a while, but they seem to be moving away from that.  Were software crashes causing traffic accidents?  No, of course not but people made jokes.

Using my car's touch screen for various controls isn't very efficient.  If I don't remember something, I can go back and forth too many times trying to find some setting.  I wish the car makers and sound system makers such as Alpine, Kenwood, and Pioneer would come up with a unified graphical interface and let everyone plug into the back end.  That way, if you're in your car, a rental car, your friend's car, you know how things work.

I had a terrible time when I changed phones and it's not really resolved as much as I'm using a workaround.  I went from an iPhone 4s to an iPhone 5c.  iTunes let me use the previous configuration and name.  The car didn't like that but it wouldn't let me delete the name, either, so that I could re-use it.  So, after 10-15 attempts, I deleted a few characters and it works--most of the time.

Of course, the cable (30-pin still, but the new phone has the Lightning connector now) is a problem but that was a problem last year anyway since the tiny space for the phone is cold as ice in the winter, and  that's not good for the phone.

In any case, I think it'll be more than five years before the dust has settled.  It took a couple of years to get the iPhone connected to cars but many companies have the option now.  Getting an Android option shouldn't be difficult but it probably is at this point.  Collaboration--the world needs more of it.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

No more Sierra Wireless/Netgear mobile hotspots

Is this odd that it follows my "No more Panasonic lenses" blog entry?  It's been a week.

I've been fighting with my Sierra Wireless Tri-Fi mobile hotspot for quite a while.  I got it in June 2012, after auditioning similar LTE devices from AT&T/SBC and Verizon Wireless.  (N.B. you can't buy Sierra Wireless-named devices now--Netgear bought the company, so everything is labeled Netgear now.  At the Sprint store there was another Netgear mobile hotspot with a cradle, this one a tri-band (Spark) LTE device.  If it needs a cradle to work correctly, it's a poor design.  Don't buy it!  By the way, I'm not against Netgear networking equipment otherwise.  In fact, I use it.)

At the time when I bought the hotspot in 2012, there wasn't much LTE coverage, and what was there was already overwhelmed.  WiMAX was more likely to be available.

AT&T/SBC enabled HSPA in town, not HSPA+ but merely the so-so topology that was similarly constrained like EVDO Rev. A or B.  Since most people were accustomed to GPRS or EDGE, it was reasonably fast.  Today, it's likely bogged down with all the extra traffic, and there is no LTE.

Verizon offered LTE in town a couple of months after I took their device back to them but at the time I got the device, their 3G data speeds were worse than Sprint (getting e-mail was a problem), and their LTE speeds weren't great in an area that had already matured.

Today, the reality hit the fan.

I couldn't get a connection with the mobile hotspot at all.  The device sat there between 15 and 30 minutes and wouldn't connect.  I went to the store, which is about 2 miles from home.  I tried to check-in with Yelp on the phone and even that didn't work outside or inside the store.  (They're upgrading the towers for LTE, but if the phone doesn't work well, what's the point?  The Sprint store and Verizon affiliate store are very close to the tower but so are the shopping centers.  At Christmas, I could hardly get any service.)

In the store, I waited and waited, as Saturdays are busy.  When someone talked to me, I tried to be calm.  In the end, he told me to call customer service, and demand that my contract be canceled and that the ETF be credited so that I would pay nothing.

I drove near the Verizon Wireless affiliate, near the tower, so I could hope to make a clear call.  I called and navigated the menu system to "end contract" or some such menu item.  Janelle answered within the 30 seconds that they stated and we did a little dance.

In the end, she ended the contract, credited the account, so that I would pay nothing.  I also had her turn on the Personal Hotspot feature on the phone, so I could at least get e-mail.  She was extremely pleasant and took care of me well.  They've increased the prices for the hotspot add-on.  I think the 6 GB hotspot add-on was $49.99, instead of $29.99 for 5 GB previously, and I selected the 2 GB add-on for $19.99.

I walked into the Verizon Wireless reseller after the call.  They had one beat-up mobile hotspot on display.  When I got to talk to someone, I learned that they only had two others in the store.  I chose the Novatel Wireless device.  I'm trying to be a good American, okay?  The other device was the ZTE (890L?) mobile hotspot I tried in 2012, and I would rather have a newer, less intensive chipset for better battery life, especially since the batteries were half the size (1800 mAh vs 3600 mAh) of the Sierra Wireless unit I'd been using.  I read my initial blog entry and I had problems with that ZTE brand device but lots of firmware changes have probably fixed everything.

About $120 got me out the door, will 2 years of walk-in-trade-in insurance on the device.  $60 for insurance seems okay considering that it would have been $8 per month with Asurion, which would be $192 over 2 years.

Sprint LTE in Trotwood, OH

Verizon LTE in Richmond, IN
When I arrived home, I got connected with the computer.  I got 12.79 Mbps down and 4..25 Mbps up.  Unfortunately, it hasn't worked since then.  It went to do an update and it froze at 48%.  I powered off and powered on, and selected the update and it was downloaded completely, and took a very long time to do the actual update.  It still isn't working for me.  I just checked the tablet again.

Thankfully, while I was terminating the Sprint mobile hotspot, I had the representative enable the Personal Hotspot feature and that is working exceptionally well, as I would expect the connection to be.  Unfortunately, their add-on prices were enormous and I only went to 2 GB, Sprint overhead and all.  It's an emergency substitute and of course, when the Verizon mobile hotspot is close on data.  Verizon charges $10 for an extra Gigabyte which seemed very reasonable, as Sprint has been a pain for overages, not that I've had any for a long time, but they really promote you going with a heavy plan.

So, now, back to the Verizon store to see what the !@#$ problem is.

Who knows?  I took my laptop computer, my 2013 Nexus 7 tablet, and the MiFi mobile hotspot.  Everything worked perfectly in the store and here at home now.  I hope there are no further problems.

It's still fine, although it hasn't been quite as fast.  I suspect that as the evening progressed, more people headed to this side of town where more restaurants and shopping exist.  When the winter storm hits, I would imagine speeds will be increased--or not decreased as much as when things are busy.

I also returned to the Sprint store to tell them how much better the iPhone 5c handled hotspot duties than the dedicated hotspot device.  Isn't that sad that the device wasn't better?  They were surprised also.

Update 2014.03.02: The lack of the Tri-Fi hotspot seems to have left the iPhone 5c in a better state of communication.  It seems to be faster and smoother in communication with the towers.  Could the Tri-Fi have been interfering with this (and the previous iPhone 4s) phone over 1.5 years?   That's just scary that one device could be so disruptive, especially since it was meant to be so helpful by granting access to three different topologies/technologies.

3 full days
1 full week

Update 2014.03.04: As I wondered back in 2012, I wonder if Verizon cheats on their usage numbers.  It has been 3 full days, and I've already used over 1 GB (20%) without any video.   I've always felt that Sprint charges me for their overhead, as well as my traffic, but this seems ridiculous.  I didn't check to see how much the firmware update cost me, but I'm sure they didn't do that for free.

I tried to write a review of the Tri-Fi mobile hotspot and I was careful to only use the truth, but Sprint don't approve of service-related talk.  How can you discuss an item's connectivity without touching on how well it connects?

Update 2014.03.29: Thankfully, the Novatel Wireless MiFi-5510L has performed well.  Its touch-capable buttons are not very responsive, but what counts is the connectivity between the computer, tablet, and the internet.  That works.  Even the iPhone 5c as a mobile hotspot is quite good, though it can be stubborn connecting to the computer, another Apple product, at times.

I extended the Verizon plan to 10 GB, and at the switchover on the 21st, instead of saving 10 GB, it gave an odd, seemingly-unrelated number.  I checked earlier and it was just over 9 GB, even though it had several days away.  It is now completely off and disconnected.  Verizon's $10 per 1 GB isn't so much but I'd rather not use it since I also have the phone for overages, and for those trips where I forget the mobile hotspot device.  That gives me the original 12 GB I had on Sprint, but with two devices which hopefully will not be down at the same time.  Since Sprint didn't discount anything, I expect the cost to be about the same.

Sprint is testing the waters with LTE in town, so the phone seems to be much better even on 3G/EVDO.  At some point in the next few days, LTE will supposedly be deployed on Sprint towers.