Thursday, May 29, 2014

Understanding lens design

I was looking at an article on Olympus' micro Four-Thirds 7-14mm f/2.8 lens.  As the ultra-wide-angle end is at 7mm, they've had to use a pronounced convex front element, which of course, doesn't allow a filter.  It should be obvious that drastic measures are needed to correct for distortion.

Somehow, many people, who probably won't be buying the lens anyway due to the price, think it's a simple matter to design such a lens to accept a filter in front because on formats with larger sensors, the equivalent focal length lenses can accept a filter.

Those lenses don't reach 7mm at the wide end.  There are other lenses from other optics makers which have similar convex front elements, but this is lost on those who just want a fantasy.  "Ultra Wide Angle lens for US$500?  Sure, we can do that.  Oh, and you want it pocket sized?  Easily done."  :-D

Similarly, the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens doesn't have fast auto focusing, even in the second generation lens.  Why?  There isn't enough room for such a motor in a compromised (pancake) design.  The Leica 15mm f/1.7 designed by Panasonic should be really quick since it is a better shape and has more (relative) room.

I can't imagine why people can't understand that optimal (is there ever a perfect?) optics require room.  If you put things into a compact package, there are many compromises.  We've seen this from what Olympus and Panasonic took from Four-Thirds to micro Four-Thirds.

Panasonic's micro Four-Thirds 7-14mm f/4.0 and 8mm fisheye lenses mimic Olympus' Four-Thirds lenses.  They seem very well built, although they lack weather-sealing.  The trouble is that they made them so compact that there are many optical problems, many of which are ameliorated by software.  Similarly, Olympus' 12mm f/2.0 lens fixes things in software to allow such a tiny design to work.  (I'd rather it be the size of the 75mm f/1.8 and eschew any software fixes.)

Many people have complained about the size of the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens.  I find it extremely small.  They find it extremely large.  The difference is that I've been using the 14-35mm f/2.0 lens with a 77mm filter size and the 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 with a 67mm filter size, both excellent lenses.  The 12-40mm fits in-between the two in ability and price, but only uses a 62mm filter size.

There are still compromises, I'm sure, but I haven't found them.  The fact that Olympus went to 12mm from 14mm says a lot.  There is a lot of extra work to get 12mm working correctly, especially in a zoom.  That the lens isn't huge also says a lot, especially when its zoom range is bigger than that of the 14-35mm lens.  I expected the lens to have a 67mm or even a 72mm filter size.  It is much more compact than I would have expected.

I'm waiting to see the weather-sealed lenses from FujiFilm--the 16-55mm f/2.8 and 50-140mm f/2.8.  What I thought I saw was that the 50-140mm lens had a smaller filter size than the 16-55mm lens.  That makes me wonder about compromises made to the 50-140mm lens to allow it to be more compact than it should be.  Nikon's 70-200mm f/2.8 lens has a 77mm filter size, though they don't have an APS-C sized version for an easy comparison.  However, if the 50-140mm lens is responsive and sharp, I don't think most people will notice a problem.

Am I more practical about these things?  Is it really difficult to see that larger lenses can have better optics because there is more room for the correct geometry?  When will companies produce a line of (almost) no-compromise lenses for small format camera bodies, when pigs fly?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Lytro Illum upsetting to some, bringing the future closer

I was just looking at another article on the Lytro Illum camera, where they put it into the hands of a few professionals to see what could happen.

What gets to me is the negative comments about the camera, its technology, and how they show the hidden fear of the unknown.

Are people so afraid to change?  If Nikon and Canon were to stop making cameras, would they fall apart?  (That reminds me of people who were panicking during a BlackBerry blackout.)

I'm still a bit skeptical about using the camera, but at least the Illum model is shaped like a camera.  I want to use one, and given that I'm moving to a nearby area and can be there in a couple of hours, I'd like to test one, if the company is willing.  They can go with me while I try it.

On display at a local store

I think it's selling for US$1599.99.  That doesn't sound horrible.  My Olympus D-300L was $US999.99 and my C-2500L was originally $1499.99, though I only paid $850 for it because it was an open box deal.  They were experimental, as far as I'm concerned.

I don't really do a lot of casual photography.  I generally do sports or business photos, but there are times when I try to take a walk and find something interesting to photograph.  Since I'm moving to another area of the country, to a place I've never lived, I should have plenty to photograph.  I might as well try something totally new, correct?

I'm sure I'll have a handy, conventional camera with me at all times.  When I was walking up and down San Francisco, California, I was using my Olympus E-5 and 14-35mm f/2.0 combination--something small, correct?  :-D  I also had my bag of goodies on my shoulder, including the Panasonic GH3.  Nothing was light that day and I was dragging by the time I returned to the motel.

So, it might be good to go light, especially if I'm in a somewhat difficult environment.

What the Lytro people are doing is nothing short of amazing.  They're collecting a massive amount of information to allow the photograph to be re-constructed.  Of course, this can't be done with some Adobe product at this time.  They're still having trouble with FujiFilm's X-Trans sensors.

Next month, I will have moved and will be close to the San Fran Bay Area, so I could be at the Lytro headquarters in Mountain View (I think), to see what they're doing, and hopefully, they'll agree to a visit and a trial.

Update 2014.05.23: I've seen plenty of fearful comments about mirror-less cameras, also.  It seems that those who really don't know photography that well are afraid and speaking out about it.  I rarely see professionals who are afraid to try new equipment.  They may not like it, but they're willing to try it.  Wedding photographers seem to be the most resistant of professionals but I understand that.  When you have a whole wedding party yelling at you, you've got to deliver what they want, no matter what it is.  I've been asked to do two weddings and I wouldn't even consider photographing them.  I would do things my way, and that would not be the correct way.

I'm still wondering what all these hobbyists are going to do when they have no choice but to change.

If you've seen a Star Trek series, you've probably seen a holo-imager--a camera that apparently goes beyond 3D capture.  I see Lytro's technology as a start to get to such devices.

Update 2014.12.11: It was interesting to see Intel advertising Lytro's technology as their own.  Do they have no shame?  It reminds me of all those early 80x86 processors with the divide errors that never happened.

Update 2015.11.19: I've seen the Lytro Illum available at about half the price.  I'm concerned about buying one because the company might not make it.  Without the computer-based software, how would it work?  Would I have to keep an old computer to use it?

Besides this, quite a while ago, Panasonic revealed a patent about multiple focus planes.  Today, there was a rumor that a few days from now, they'll be implementing the patent in the GX8 that I have.  What's more is that Olympus has been ready to do this in the E-M1 firmware, version 4.0, which is about to be released.

These are both simplistic versions that require several photos but the technology will be a decent compromise for 2015.  The Lytro technology will likely prevail 10 or 20 years from now, although I hope that it will be sooner.  As soon as mirror-less interchangeable lens cameras will be dominant, things can go further.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

AT&T buying DirecTV

For me, this is awful.  I'm not even sure whether this is the company I knew as AT&T or the other, SBC, also known as The New AT&T.  The lines have blurred that much.

In any case, there must have been something amazing in the deal for the people at DirecTV to accept it.  I can't imagine what.

Currently, since I'm moving, and don't even have a TV, my DirecTV account has been suspended until the time I call and either cancel or reactivate it.

There are no good alternatives.  If I go with a Cable TV provider, the rates will increase rapidly, and they will likely play games.  I didn't like Time-Warner Cable or BrightHouse Networks as they played games with the truth and my connection, and seeing as how Comcast couldn't fix their own problems, I certainly don't want them.  Dish Network was my mum's provider (after Comcast) and the installer didn't tell her that there would be no clear signal because of trees, so she got a lot of crap.  When she called, they would either tell her that there was no problem or they would hang up on her or both.  That doesn't sound like a company I want to know.

However, depending on where I live, I may not have a choice.  If I rent an apartment not set up for it, they might not allow DirecTV.  Equally, a homeowner renting his/her house, may no appreciate the dish on their house.  I'm sure I'll learn all about it in June.

If SBC is the company buying DirecTV, I'm sure that there will be billing problems.  It wasn't that long ago that they were sending out 3000 page phone bills, operating as though they were still in the 1950s.  In 2012 I ordered a mobile hotspot, and while it was on its 3 day journey, they charged me for data usage.  Besides, this is the company that regularly complains about their smart phone users costing them money.

I saw something earlier about the NFL rights being something special and that it is the main reason for the purchase, and that they've set a clause that says that the merger will cease if DirecTV doesn't continue to have the rights.

I really hope that things DirecTV remain the same, no matter who is in charge.

Update 2015.12.09: The purchase has been finished.  The name is likely to change in January to combine all of the new AT&T's entertainment branches into a combined brand.

The company has been pushing DirecTV customers to go to AT&T Wireless for phones.  Considering their problems with billing, customer service, and that the administration calls their customers a problem far too often, I have no desire to deal with them.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Should I be amused when apps help me with my location?

Today, Google Wallet let me know that one of my rewards cards' stores was close.  I'm not sure whether to be concerned or thrilled.  It's more than the other, Key Ring, ever let me know.

Last week, the Speedway app let me know repeatedly that one of their filling station/convenience stores was near.

It's definitely useful, but should I be concerned?

I've said in the past that the best privacy on the internet is to delete yourself and stay off the internet.  That remains true.  It is the safest way to privacy.  It's also not a good answer when you have a phone or other mobile device.  You will connect to the internet at some point.

Apple has been working with a company to provide in-store proximity alerts.  i.e., when you're in the vicinity of a product they think you'll like, they send you a message of some sort.

Now, if this happens as part of an explicit choice I make--fine.  If it happens without my control, and I have no choice, that doesn't work for me.

To a certain extent, I get check-in alerts when I use the Yelp app.  Stores with which they have an advertising agreement will put up a coupon of sorts that you can use or discard.  In general, as I use the Yelp app, I am agreeing to such advertising.  Obviously, they're a business trying to make money.  They can't host all the information for free.  I've only made use of a few of the deals, such as service discounts with my car dealer.

While I appreciate the notice about things around me, I'm a bit concerned that it will become so rampant that I will start to remove apps in order to control the flow of information, especially if they give me no effective option to shut off alerts.  (I've had plenty of apps where you tell it to stop, and it ignores the setting.)

Monday, May 12, 2014

How little depth of field do you really need?

I photograph sports.  I've been past the cutesy, gotta do all the trick photos phase for quite a long time.  I just want to get the job done, precisely, correctly.

Since digital photography arrived en masse, a number of people have been going on and on and on about proper depth of field, and how only a larger sensor can do it correctly.

As far as I can tell, these people aren't photographers.  No, holding a camera in your hand and pointing it at something and then, pressing the shutter release doesn't make you a photographer.  You don't have to quote the rules of photography, either.  We get it, you've been practicing to impress someone.  You've just bought a 50mm f/1.8 lens for almost nothing and it's so much better than your kit lens that you don't know how you've lived without it.

I've seen a number of photos recently that don't have enough depth of field.  For whatever reason, these people have been pushing the need for a narrow depth of field that other people are taking the need seriously.  It's a bit ridiculous.

If I'm photographing a person, I want more than just the nose in focus.  The entire face should be in focus, unless we're selling reconstructive surgery.

If I'm photographing a product, I want to focus on the product so that the markings on the product are clearly legible.  (If you don't want serial numbers, license plates, or addresses, blur them after you get the rest in focus.)  The customer should be able to see what they're buying in great detail, not think that they're buying a cheap knock-off of some device.  "Wait, does that say Rolecks?"

If I'm photographing a landscape, which I don't normally consider doing, I want the deepest depth of field possible.  Of course, if I'm photographing one tree in that landscape, I want to get just that tree into focus.

I can understand the desire to set yourself apart by using tricks, such as the slowed-down water look.  It's cute and people will ask "how did you do that?" but once you're past that phase, will you know how to tell a story with an ordinary subject on an ordinary day?

I've seen many people finally responding to the flamebait about the same aperture on a smaller sensor.  If the same aperture requires the same shutter speed, how is the smaller format really different in light gathering as far as the final photo goes?  It isn't.  You can get the shot with both formats.

Yes, we know that the effective depth of field will be different but the light is the light is the light.

For all those purists who think that a larger sensor is critical for casual photography that will never be printed, please buy the latest Pentax 645z.  It should buy you bragging rights beyond anything you've previously owned, even 135 Format camera bodies.

Yes, it's easy to become cynical, jaded, etc. after so many years of just getting the job done.  However, it's sadly amusing to see people write things into the "how it should be done" book when it's not really necessary.  My suggestions for people would be to put down the cameras and imagine and think and then, go shoot with every available setting.  We need more stories.  We need fewer tricks.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Web Browser Wars continue

I remember using Spyglass Mosaic as my first web browser.  It was possibly the worst software product I'd ever seen, and as a software developer, I thought that the developers had no pride in their work.  How else could they have released it?

A while later, there was this Netscape Navigator, which was about 150% of Mosaic, but somewhat based on it.

Up until that time, my telecommunications experience had to do with 300/1200 bps modems and the various Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) that occupied someone's floppy drive, plus being able to communicate over 2400/4800 bps modems with large systems, all using text.

In those days, things were a lot more technical, and I did a lot of human interface work, to let anyone use a computer easily.  I'm not responsible for your being able to use a computer easily, most likely, though.

When Apple made an agreement with the KHTML folks (don't get started on this, please!), a lot of things changed.  After WebKit and Safari, along came Google Chrome, another offshoot.  Various mobile browsers have been switched to use the WebKit bits, and more recently, Opera because of Google's somewhat proprietary work.

Thinking back, I've used:

Netscape Navigator/Communicator
Internet Explorer
Opera/Opera Mini
Apple Safari
Google Chrome
TenFourFox (PowerPC-based adaptation of the latest Firefox versions)

I also used some browser on BeOS and the various crap browsers on feature phones running Brew and whatever browser Android 2.2/2.3 had available.

I'd probably be using Camino now, if it had gone multi-platform.  It didn't, but it inspired Firefox, which did, and I've been using Firefox regularly since version 0.76 or some such.  I remember trying version 0.40 and it wasn't ready, even though Camino 0.5.0 was quite good.

Lately, it seems that the browser wars are back, mostly between Chrome and Firefox.  For all the hoopla about Chrome being so fast, I still find Firefox to be faster and better for me.  Even on Android 4.4.2, I find it better.

It seems odd that it took until version 29 for the desktop version of Firefox to become touch-friendly.  There are many machines which support touch, and there have been hardware add-ons to enable touch on a flat panel iMac for quite a long time.  Visually, Firefox version 29 seems to pick up a lot from Thunderbird, the e-mail application started by Mozilla as an offshoot of Communicator/Sea Monkey.  (My list of e-mail applications is similarly long.)

My real question is: why do people have such strong viewpoints about the way a browser looks?  I find that a browser should display web pages brilliantly, and stay out of the way.  If the browser application displays a lot of information that is irrelevant, I don't need it to do that and there had better be a way to turn that off--a way that is simple.

I really just want to use the browser to view a few pages--I don't keep 20-30 pages open all week long, as I've seen some people do.  If I want news from that many sources, I have Twitter.  Just now, I have the browser window open to this blog editing session and that's it.  I can concentrate on it, and if I need resources, I can open more tabs and then, close them when I'm finished.  I'm obviously doing it incorrectly because Firefox works very well for me, and Chrome doesn't.

Is the flat look taking hold?  When I first installed Mac OS X Public Beta in 2000, the loads of blue overwhelmed me.  The liquid effects, of course, were blue, but the browsers tended to be blue also.  Since iOS 7, everything seems to be flattened, as though a steam roller is smashing everything.  It's not hideous or beautiful--it's just the current state of things.  I liked when things were more colorful, but gray and flat they are now.  Happy browsing!

(I would say something really amazing about Opera, but it's in a huge state of flux, and I'm still tied to version 12.x)