Thursday, December 25, 2014

FreedomPop for home

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

iPhone 6 cases and screen protectors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 14, 2014

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

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




 DSL Reports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What roaming area?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panasonic GH3 Pros:

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

Panasonic GH4 Pros:

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

Olympus E-M1 Pros:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

Video seems so intensive in contrast to still photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Got an iPhone 6 last night and stayed with Sprint

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

Verizon First

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

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

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

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

Sprint Next but not Nextel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Copyrights and "Sharing"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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