Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Switching Car Brands

I've been driving for quite a while, legally, and a bit before I was legally able to drive.  My first experience in the driver's seat was in Sunnyvale, California on El Camino Real, a road I use occasionally.  I must have been 3 the first time and I broke the turn signal lever as I moved it wildly.

I got my first car Christmas Day 1976, a 1967 Pontiac Firebird with a lot of little problems.  In those times, we had a lot of huge cars.  My mother had a 1970 Lincoln Continental 4 door with 7.7 liter engine.  It wasn't as pillow-y soft as other huge cars on the road, but it wasn't a race car either.  My driving instructor was surprised to see it.  We needed to inform my mum that I was driving that day, so we stopped next to her and told her.  As we pulled away, my instructor said "You're going to drive that?"  Of course, I already had driven it.

I've owned the following cars:

1967 Pontiac Firebird, 3.8 litre I-6, 3 speed manual
1974 Mazda RX-3, 1.1 litre 2 rotor, 4 speed manual
1980 Ford Mustang, 2.3 litre turbo I-4, 4 speed manual
1985 Volkswagen GTI, 1.8 litre I-4, 5 speed manual
1986 Volkswagen GTI, 1.8 litre I-4, 5 speed manual
1990 Volkswagen Corrado, 1.8 litre supercharger I-4, 5 speed manual
1985 Mazda RX-7, 1.1 litre 2 rotor, 5 speed manual
1999 Volkswagen Golf GLS, 2.0 litre I-4, 5 speed manual
2012 Volkswagen Golf TDI, 2.0 litre diesel I-4, 6 speed automatic

The two American cars were not exactly ready for the road.  I remember my 1967 Firebird being passed by a Volkswagen Beetle back around 1979.  The Mustang had a Pinto engine with what seemed a 10 minute add-on turbocharger rigging.  It would go to 130 mph but it took (almost) all day to get there, and when I got rid of it, it had 5 cracks in the cylinder head.

Since the Golf TDI has been returned to Volkswagen, I've been looking for a suitable car.  The most likely brand would be Mazda, but the previous Mazda 3 hatchback is what I like and they're difficult to find, and other than the Mazda 2, they don't really fit me.  Subaru would be interesting, but they're too expensive, as I'm trying to get as close to US$10,000 as I can.  (Sadly, I'm coming from a US$27,000+ car, so nothing will really compare.)

I narrowed the list to cars available from the current dealership or those from the same company, since I know what to expect from their service departments.  Since I'm not willing to get another Volkswagen, it came down to Nissan and Hyundai.

The Nissan Versa Note, which sounds like a collaboration with Panasonic on a notebook computer, is a good size for me, and not horribly expensive.

The other choice is a Hyundai Accent hatchback.  It's about the same size outside but with a compact car rating, not subcompact because the interior is a bit more roomy.  I considered an Elantra, which is bigger, and a few with the boot/trunk are less expensive, but the model seems bigger than I want to go.

There is one of each that is a bit about US$12,000.  I would have preferred the least I could spend but getting a car with a warranty is important.  Getting something I like seems somewhat important also.

These cars are about the same size as my 1999 Volkswagen Golf on the outside but not so much on the inside.  When I drove the Elantra, it seemed wider, but it may be that you sit down and the windows are short.  It's sort of Dodge-like, especially with the slit for a rear window.

The driving experience was very Toyota-like.  Look at that list of cars.  Do you see a Toyota, Nissan, or Honda?  In my view, Toyota is like General Motors and Nissan is like Ford.  Honda isn't so dissimilar to Chrysler, except in reliability.  I'm not saying that everyone should have a car that wants to go fast around curves.  Some people might not be able to handle that.  When I first took my 1990 VW Corrado on my usual 10 hour trip to visit my parents, it only took 8.5 hours.  I didn't have to slow down much.

This Hyundai Accent has 14 inch wheels.  This will be a first.  The last time I contemplated 14 inch wheels would have been in the 1970s or maybe, the 1980 Ford Mustang.  I ended up with the TRX package with the 390mm wheels and tires.  I'm not sure but I feel as though I should change to 16 inch alloy wheels with H-rated tires.  It might not help, though.  The car also has rear drum brakes, something I have not had since the 1980 Mustang.

It could keep me out of trouble, though.  No more 90-100 mph, unless I'm on the back of a transport going that fast.  The Active Eco contraption has a switch, so it might be interesting to see how much the personality of the car changes.  However, it's still not going to have 230 lb-ft of torque as the Golf TDI did.  Of course, if they fix the emissions control on those vehicles, the TDI might come down more than a few.

Having a more passive car should be frustrating, but maybe, it will bring peace.  Then again, I might spend some of the money on enhancements.

Update 2016.12.20: I've got the 2015 Hyundai Accent GS.  It's not awful but it's not great.  I'll learn to like it once I get my phone charger in there and set my radio stations and find some way to play the music from my phone.

I'm a little uncomfortable that the rear windows don't have extra tint.  When I drive with bags of photographic equipment in the bag seat, it's better I don't let people know.  Most of what I have, they probably wouldn't recognize anyway, and would have trouble selling, but they might break into the car anyway.

Tax, of course, wasn't cheap, and the dealer wasn't flexible on the price.  They do a search around the area and try to find a good price.  They saved me going to the DMV and that was practically worth any price.

The stereo isn't very good and Best Buy had a number of capable Kenwood models for under US$200, but fitting them properly may add a lot to the cost.  $200+ for parts and installation?  It's odd that all of the Kenwood, JVC, and Pioneer models they have support Chinese but not Japanese.  My Volkswagen was similar.  iOS and Android-compatible models start at about US$500.

The car, having the narrow tires on steel wheels, feels like an SUV ready to tip over during a turn.  I may come to a calmer experience with it but for now, I will be too reactive to avoid disaster.

Update 2016.12.22: I filled up the Accent for the first time yesterday.  It was an odd feeling because the filler door is on the driver's side and there is a release next to the driver's seat and I haven't pumped gasoline for almost four years.  The fill up only took something like 4.4 gallons--it was around half on the gauge.  I think the tank has something like 11.2 gallon capacity.  I drove a bit and it moved away from full rather quickly.  I saw the instantaneous mpg rating at 37 mpg for a moment or two, but it wasn't like I could hold that in normal traffic.  It seems 30 is about all it will do, even though the Active Eco system is engaged.

Update 2016.12.23: Driving in the rain was less dangerous than I thought it would be.  It wasn't confidence inspiring, either.

175/70-14 tires aren't exactly great in the rain when they're geared for low rolling resistance.  However, the traction control wasn't activated on slick roads.  It was activated last night on dry roads when I accelerated too quickly.  I'm looking for a better solution to the tires and wheels but it won't be easy to find a strong and low cost solution.  At 75 mph, it feels nervous.  Well, if I must, it feels nervous at 55 mph.  The engine screams like something from Suzuki, but the tires definitely don't feel a good match.

When I updated my insurance, I was surprised.  My payments went from roughly $112 to $125 each month.  I'd think a South Korean car would be much cheaper to repair than a German car that was made in Germany.  Is Volkswagen so much better that a ~$27,000 2012 car would be cheaper than a ~$15,000 2015 car?

Update 2016.12.24: I went for fuel again.  Filling up took a bit longer but not long.  31 something mpg was all I got so far.  I turned off the Active Eco technology.  I'm not noticing much of a difference in performance or economy, although it waits for less pressure on the pedal to shift to the final gear.  Using the pseudo-manual Shiftronic mode could make things even better with some control of the process.  Unfortunately, this car doesn't have the shift paddles behind the steering wheel, as the TDI did.

Got my rear half of the car windows tinted.  It was relatively inexpensive at $179 something.   They did great work on my TDI.  However, I notice that the previous 20% and the current 20% seem quite different.  I suspect that they used 5% on the TDI.

Update 2016.12.29: Filling up lasted a bit longer.  I went for a drive to San Jose, which is about an hour's drive in itself, and then, all the side trips took a bit out.  During the trip up the foothills, I didn't push it quite as much as the TDI, which I usually let go at 90 mph.  I'm still not sure about the skinny tires on the Accent, but it handled 75-80 mph fairly well and 85 mph here and there elsewhere.

With Active Eco off and the extra trip, I got 32.91 mpg versus 31.20 mpg with it enabled.  It's by no means conclusive, but it is interesting.  I'm probably acclimating myself to the quirks of the engine and gearing.  They really should have put a Continuously Variable Transmission on the car to get the most out of it, but at least, they put a 6 speed automatic in there instead of 4 or 5 gears.

I don't believe I saw a quick 37.x mpg as I did with the Active Eco, but it didn't seem to make a noticeable difference anyway.  I've enabled the technology again to see if it actually helps.

It's odd that the trip computer button has no light on it.  I suppose you might only want to find it in the daylight but I suspect that on a trip, you might want to find it at night.  Still, having a trip computer at all is surprising at the price point of this car.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Imaging Resource: Olympus E-M1 Mk II COTY

Camera of the Year seems a big choice.  How do you choose?  There are so many things to consider.

Imaging Resource has decided on their choice: the Olympus E-M1 Mk II.

It's quite shocking, especially since I use micro Four-Thirds equipment every day I shoot.

I had a year with the Nikon D7200 and I ended up getting rid of it because the differences were negligible.  With the right lens, I could shoot at ISO 4000 and get images that were similar in image quality to ISO 3200 on micro Four-Thirds.  I say "with the right lens" because the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 barely worked when it was dark.  The D500 is better than the D7200 in many ways, as well as the D300 and D300s, but it is more of the same in many ways.

In my opinion, humble or not, the FujiFilm X-T2 is the camera body that FujiFilm should have introduced as the X-T1.  The only reason the X-T1 seemed to catch on is because a lot of people in the 20s had never seen a camera with so many external controls.  They didn't really care what it could do, they were having a cameragasm.

That said, any of the choices were good, and it's a shame that the Pentax K-1 wasn't in the list.  I had the K-50 for a while and it was a very agreeable piece of equipment.  No one could say that it was way up there, but it competed at a level much higher than its price would suggest.  The K-1 does this also.  Its poor continuous AF is the only reason it hasn't been awarded.  Given that it has a 135 Format-sized sensor, I'd say C-AF is of little interest to those who have been chanting "full frame full frame" for years.  Their flowers and kittens will look fine with the K-1.

With all that, I'm still surprised that the E-M1 Mk II is Camera of the Year at Imaging Resource, but I value their opinions.  They really try the equipment and don't make petty remarks to suggest that they're brand fanatics.  If this had been DPReview or even the current What Digital Camera without Nigel Atherton, I would be skeptical.

I'd love to replace my E-M1 with the newer model.  It seems every bit the E-5 replacement that I wanted, without all the drawbacks I have found in the E-M1.  The one drawback is the price, and that has to come with a sensor with the 121 cross-type focus points, CDAF and PDAF.

Update 2016.12.13: Well, the Pentax K-1 did make it into the Best Professional and High End Cameras article, behind the Canon 5D Mk IV.

The Olympus E-M1 Mk II got Best Professional Mirrorless, solidifying the anger against it, especially from FujiFilm fanatics.  Sony was nowhere to be found.

Monday, November 21, 2016

My Volkswagen diesel controversy is almost finished

After months of speculation, perspiration, and anticipation, I've finally received a final offer from Volkswagen on my 2012 Golf TDI.  I feel the first relief that it will be finished soon.

About a year ago, I filed for the Goodwill package in November.  I also filed for it in January, because it never arrived.  I never got the package, even though they said it had been sent.

I could swear that I sent the information about the car months ago.  I went back and forth about whether to receive the buy back or just select a repair for the emissions control.

It was more recently that they asked for the legal documents.  It seemed an eternity to get a response, even though it was supposedly a ten day window.  Thankfully, uploading photos of the documents speeded the response.

Today, I received the final offer letter.

It was necessary to print, sign, have it notarized, and send it back as a .pdf format file.  Once again, uploading will speed the process.

The next step seems to be the exchange of money and the car.  They are offering to electronically send the funds, which is quite a bonus.  It would have been quite a walk from the Volkswagen dealer to the bank and then, to look at cars.  Funds availability is my question.  Hopefully, they'll be available nearly as soon as they will have been received.

Update 2016.12.02: Got a notification to schedule an appointment to finalize documents.  There is no word of payment to me.

The first appointment was on the 17th of this month, which suggests to me that the buy back will happen ever further out, maybe in January.

Update 2016.12.17: Finished with the appointment very quickly.

The designated person from the dealership worked the software, took photos to confirm everything, and took my car and information.

There was no check or EFT, and being that it is Saturday, I guess I shouldn't expect anything until Monday.  After that, I will still have to wait 2-3 days for availability most likely.

Someone from the dealership was nice enough to drive me the 15 miles back to my city, since there is no public transportation between counties.

Volkswagen has taken receipt of my car, and I have nothing.  I just left a review on Yelp for the headquarters in Auburn Hills, MI.

Update 2016.12.19: This morning I was disappointed to not find an e-mail telling me that money was on the way.  I called the phone number related to the court settlement and the hard to understand woman was kind and reassuring, but she couldn't help much.  She told me that once I responded to the e-mail with my banking details, it would take about 24 hours for the money to be deposited.  Then, it would be 2-3 days for it to be available.  This didn't help my emotional state.

It arrived this afternoon, 27 minutes after the 5 p.m. EST this-will-be-processed-tomorrow deadline.   I might have money Thursday but I should have money Friday.  If it comes too late, Christmas Eve arrives, and the Egg Nog hits the fan.  Two days without a car has been enough.

Update 2016.12.20: It's finished.

When I checked this morning, the money was in the account.  It didn't say pending, but I wasn't 100% sure and I called the toll-free number to check.  The available balance included the money from Volkswagen.

I contacted the salesperson from Saturday and he picked me up and we finalized the transaction.  I now have a 2015 Hyundai Accent GS.  It's a step down, to be sure, but it's not a bad car.  It's just not the car I wanted as my final car.  I've been kicking myself for weeks, thinking that I should have bought an inexpensive used car and driven across the country, traded it when I bought a new, California-compatible car, and I'd still have that.  Oh, well.  It's done.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Ballistic Cases for Apple iPhone 7

Since the iPhone 5c, I've settled on one brand of case: Ballistic.

Sure, I tried Otterbox and it saved me headaches, but as the size of phones has increased, Ballistic's hard and soft surfaces seem to fit my pocket better and their crash testing seems correct.

How much is a case worth on a US$749 phone?  You only have to look at a few drops and the repairs to see that US$34.99 isn't much to prevent repairs over the life of a phone.

This time, I bought two Tough Jacket cases, one white and black, and the other black.  At the time, they were on discount at US$19.99 each.  Now, they're US$34.99 each.  Signing up for their newsletter will notify you of discounts.

Apparently, you can use these for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s, as well, but you can't use the earlier phone cases, as it partly covers the camera lens.

I don't get anything for doing this but here is the link: https://www.goballisticcase.com/

Friday, November 4, 2016

The perfect imaging sensor size: There isn't one.

Every time I visit web sites or online forums, I see the silliness that 135 Format is a virtual panacea for all things photographic.  It isn't.

I've photographed quite a bit since 1977, with several formats of film and several types of cameras.  While you could take a photo with any of them, they didn't all work the same nor did they give the same results.  However, when you needed a photo, you could generally get the photo with any of them.

This is true today, as well.  Any of the current sensors are good and much better than film, in most cases.  (As with CDs versus vinyl records, some people hold to film having that analog look.)  Sure, they all have slightly different characteristics, and some differences are very slight indeed but you can get the shot, except in some extreme cases.

Over the years, I've seen a lot of people who spend 15 minutes getting a photo of a flower, but they can't get it right.  They need the next lens or the next body or something else, and they end up with a huge collection of equipment that they don't know how to use well.

I suspect that these are the loudest voices in the online forums and in the comments of web sites.  It's a bit difficult to get past all the silliness of these people when they're constantly annoying with the same, tired argument.

To me, a real photographer can pick up some equipment, experiment, and get great shots quickly, regardless of the film or sensor size.

I've been reminded that anyone who picks up a camera is a photographer, but I'm not sure I believe that.

In any case, learn how your equipment works--take it off Auto.  Make mistakes and learn from them.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Got the Olympus 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6

As much as I like ultimate image quality, there is no such tangible thing.  Sure, you can buy a Medium Format system and tweak every setting but unless it conveys the emotions you feel, is all the work worth it?

Since I photograph sports, the Panasonic GM5 seemed an odd choice.  It’s tiny and because of that, it’s big on compromise.  e.g., the mechanical shutter only goes to 1/500 of a second.

At the time, I got the GM5 with the 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens and the 42.5mm f/1.7 Power OIS lens.  I already had the Panasonic/Leica 15mm f/1.7 and the 25mm f/1.7 lenses.

For a while, I’ve struggled with telephoto shots.  Since I have a heart defect that is killing me, I can’t just run (or walk) where I want to be.  Sometimes, I have trouble standing.

Now, I have the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens, plus my Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 and SHG 35-100mm f/2.0 lenses.  Even the small Panasonic lens is rather too big for the GM5.

As the Olympus 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 is often available with a US$100 rebate, I decided to try it.  It seems to be the tiniest telephoto zoom lens I’ve ever seen.  Panasonic’s 35-100mm f/4.0-5.6 may be smaller but I had so little luck with the 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 that I didn’t want to spend the extra money.  Besides, the extra 50mm of reach was useful.

The salesperson referred to it as “the cheap lens” and kind of choked on his words.  I didn’t see the manager, but I nodded and grinned.  US$100 is a low price for a lens, with rebate, of course.  At US$200, it’s probably overpriced, but they run the rebate so often, does anyone pay full price?  The Panasonic 35-100mm f/4.0-5.6 designed for the GM5 was US$250.  This 40-150mm is the third US$100 lens, after the Panasonic 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 and the 25mm f/1.7.

The one thing I noticed right after removing it from the bubble wrap was that it had a plastic mount.  I remembered all the original Canon Digital Rebel/300D bodies with part of the kit lens still mounted while the rest of the lens was not attached.  I’m a bit rough on my equipment but I treat the GM5 with more care, so maybe it will be fine.

The lens is light, consistent with its small maximum aperture.  It looks fairly big on the GM5 but not any worse than my 35-100mm f/2.0 on the Olympus E-1.

40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 35-100mm f/2.8

50-200mm 40-150mm 35-100mm f/2.8 and f/2.0

Olympus 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 beside GM5 and 12-32mm

Panasonic 12-32mm beside Olympus 40-150mm on GM5

Panasonic 12-32mm beside Olympus 40-150mm on GM5
Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0 on GM5
At US$199.99, I want to compare it to a Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 I had for Nikon that cost exactly that.  With over 11x zoom, the Tamron was quite useful and I knew that there would be deficiencies.  The Olympus lens is just under 4x zoom range and should be quite clear, for the same price.  It isn't bad, but at the 150mm end, the results so far haven't been consistent.  I've tried it on the GM5 and E-M1 so far but not on the GH4 or GX8.  I may have to re-work my grip on the GM5 for maximum stability, especially while shooting at skate parks.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Apple's newest MacBook Pro lineup: what is it?

My eyes have been crossed ever since the Apple announcement last week.  I'm just not sure what the company was trying to accomplish and how they ended up at this point.

The Touch Bar looks like great technology and in the video editing portion of the demonstrations, I was enthusiastic.

However, they removed some products, such as the 11 inch MacBook Air and the 15.4 inch MacBook Pro with only Intel graphics hardware.  At least, I believe that's what they did.  My eyes are still crossed.

I recognize that the MacBook Air has become less popular and they make the MacBook Pro line thinner and the MacBook exists just to draw people closer with its bling-y looks.  Supposedly, my iPhone 7 is faster than the MacBook and MacBook Air.  The MacBook with Intel Core M processors is slow indeed.

US$2399 and $2799 seem about right, but maybe a bit extra.  My mid-2012 refurbished machine came at a slight discount in January 2013.  It's difficult to believe that someone would pay $1999 for a MacBook Pro with Intel Iris Pro graphics hardware but there is one in the refurbished list for $300 off at $1699.  I'm thinking that they were introduced at $1499.  Then again, I remember paying for a Wall Street-era Apple laptop computer with passive display for $2600 something around 1998, and that was the cheap 233 MHz model.

It still feels as though the changes in specification aren't enough.  However, I remember when 66 MHz or 133 MHz seemed as big a change as we were getting when Motorola couldn't enhance the PowerPC G3 or G4 further.  Intel is mostly at that point now.

The updated Radeon graphics hardware is appreciated in the higher level machines.  Switching to USB C for everything makes sense.  Leaving the headphone jack does not.  Where are the Lightning connectors, so I can use my ear buds, etc.?  Does the new iPhone come with a USB C adapter?  No.

If I had the $2399 to spend easily, would I replace my current machine with the newest one?

Update 2016.11.04: A lot of people are complaining that the RAM is limited to 16 GB.  One person wrote Phil Schiller who replied that the current technology is such that more RAM would diminish battery life.  It seems that Intel isn't very good at designing processors--or this is a situation of planned obsolescence.

Others are complaining about the ports.  I'm finding it interesting to require a dock or a lot of cables to convert to the proper connector.

Further, a company called Plugable has noticed that their products are not compatible with Thunderbolt 3 in the new computers, because they use a Texas Instruments controller.  This isn't the first time I've heard of TI doing a half-ass job but it certainly is a problem that will be rectified with new controllers from the company.

I'm just not sure these new machines are compelling enough, especially for the wait.

The Touch Bar is useful.  For all the time that I used a touch screen Windows-based Lenovo Flex 3, I never really found the touch screen completely useful.  The display housing would bounce at my finger pressure, and Lenovo has better hinges than most.  In tablet mode, it could be useful, but who wants a 5 pound, 14 inch tablet?

Microsoft continues to make waves with their Surface lines, but will they actually sell many?  I don't believe so.  For the artist, Wacom has been the name for a very long time.  Of course, that's like saying "No gets fired for buying Microsoft." and things have changed.

For most people, the tablet market is only for replacements now.  I wouldn't expect to see more powerful tablets because of the heat, and the weight for heat dissipation hardware.

If Apple had announced a touch screen-enabled display, I would have expected the MacBook Air and MacBook lines to go away immediately, and a lot of "Macs don't need touch screens" kinds of quotes to be dug up from the past.

So, do you need an updated MacBook Pro that isn't much different?  It may all come down to killer Touch Bar additions.

Thinking back to when I was a IRC channel operator and then, moderator for the world's largest Apple-related forums, I remember people building lists of unachievable things for Apple to do with their next revision of whatever machine was next.  They had to be big and powerful and slim and light--at the same time.  Oh, and they had to all be 12 inch laptop computers, similar to the one IBM Japan made for Apple.

Naturally, almost nothing came true because what they wanted wasn't realistic.  This time, the machines are good and powerful, and didn't have anything that anyone wanted, of course.  I gave up on the forums around 8 years ago (after iPhone arrived), although I made a cameo appearance as an Olympic torch bearer for 24 hours or so.  I didn't understand it, so I can't explain it to you.

Why are brand fanatics so--fanatical?

Update 2016.11.13: Got my hands on the new 13 inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar.

The speakers on each side of the keyboard are, as they say, long overdue.  The track pad is !@#$ huge.  I can only think that the size of the track pad is to overcome the touch screen alternative.  My experience with the capable Lenovo Flex 3 14 inch tells me that touch screen is a good idea but even the best hinges have trouble keeping the display steady when you're poking it.  You can put it into a 14 inch tablet mode, which was seemingly heavy and hot.  The new, huge track pad may be a good idea, even if it looks odd.

I can't say that it is much more powerful.  These days feel like the days when Motorola was lucky to eek out an extra 66 MHz to the clock speed.  For the most part, all of the i5 processors are powerful enough to handle most jobs.  Handling video production is another matter.  My mid-2012 15.4 inch MacBook Pro with 2.6 GHz i7 struggles at times--at 100 degrees C.

I'd be happy to try one of the 15.4 inch models.  Certainly having a newer GPU would improve processing power when working on video.

Update 2016.11.23: Saw the Touch Bar-included MacBook Pro models, 13 and 15.4 inch.

There is a US$900 gap between the two sizes, especially since there is no Intel-only graphics 15.4 inch machine.  It's unfortunate that there is no room for better heat dispersion in the 13 inch model since it's so (increasingly) thin.  I'd be more than happy to have a thicker, small model to fit around US$1799.

The Touch Bar was usable, quick, and easy to understand for the function key replacements.  I suppose I should have tried to see if Final Cut Pro was installed to see the timeline enhancements in the Touch Bar.  Instead, I looked at the US$2399 of the 15.4 inch machine in front of me and considered that my mid-2012 machine was just fine.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Beginning again with iPhone 7

Just a day later, Sprint sent me a Gold iPhone 7.  Considering how many people are waiting for Jet Black, I feel as though I've jumped in line ahead of them.

This was an easy choice.  My iPhone 6 is nearly two years old.  It has been good enough for a long time, but I've noticed trouble charging it.  Thinking back, I stopped using a cable because it didn't seem to charge the phone well.  Maybe, it has always been a slight issue.

In any case, the extra power and extra battery life will help.  I tried one running Asphalt 8, which I play, and it was smoother.  It could have been the demo version, but I suspect it would have been a bit erratic on any iPhone 6 also.

Set up is a bit dodgy, considering that I'm doing everything myself, including the activation from home.  Sprint's instructions are not incredibly clear--but they know what they meant.  It's similar to their vanity Speedtest.net pages where they don't know the difference (8 times) between MB and Mb.  I sometimes wonder if their performance in some areas should be rated in the impossible mb.

I connected the new phone to the computer and let iTunes restore the data and settings from the old phone.  After that, I clicked to activate on Sprint's web site.

Now, the phone is resolving all of the new apps and data.  It's taking quite a while because I have so much.  Going from 64GB to 128GB will give me breathing room.  I had around 8GB free in general.

It shows iOS 10.0.2 is ready to be installed, and before the phone was even ready to be used, a new set of carrier settings was placed on the phone.  I suspect that there may be a few.  T-Mobile and Verizon both needed updates.  Hopefully, 10.1 will provide a lot of bug fixes in the near future.

The Home button works much, much, much better than the demo units I've tried.  It reminds me of the MacBook Pro trackpads.

The phone itself seems very close to the iPhone 6, so it will probably be okay in my current Ballistic case until my iPhone 7 cases arrive on Friday.  The company had a good deal and I bought one black and one black/white case at US$19.99 each, instead of the US$34.99 that I paid for the other Ballistic case two years ago.  Considering the price of a repair when dropping one of these US$749 phones, the price of a heavy duty case isn't much.

I will likely get a glass screen protector, as the last one has been good.  It is only cracked a little around one edge and definitely seems worth US$29.99.  With more competition, perhaps ZAGG has dropped their price or increased its ability to be smudge resistant.

I'm not always enamored of Apple but their phones have been just short of great, for me.  Their operating system quality often makes it more difficult than it should be.  It's been that way on the computers as well.  After all the fuss about downloading operating system updates without permission, they did it to me on my Mac with macOS sierra.

I'll talk about my first impressions of use shortly.

Update 2016.10.31: The phone is up to iOS 10.1.1 now.  Since 10.1, App Store can't count and the badge count is smaller than the actual update count.  At first, it was only showing non-Apple apps to be updated, but now, there doesn't seem to be a logic.  It's just an incorrect number.

I didn't get the glass screen protector.  With AppleCare + handling screen replacement at $29, and it was $129 for the warranty, I'm not so sure whether to bother.  The case is working very well.

 The phone's construction is very good and phone calls are fairly clear.  The last phone that I felt was extremely clear was a Sanyo PM-8200 flip phone that was oh, so thick.  Ten years have passed and we apparently want everything thin, thin, thin.  It's better through the ear buds.

The audio adapter works fine.  I've tried it on my now dead Sennheiser ear buds and my Beyerdynamic studio style headphones.  There is no crackling sound.

I'm not sure about the battery life.  I don't believe that it has improved.  Given that the iPhone 6 wasn't as powerful or efficient, I expected more.  The iPhone 7 is definitely more powerful and games work more smoothly but is the battery life better when the phone is idle?  It feels as though the battery is being drained more quickly than the iPhone 6.  It isn't awful and it may be corrected by firmware sometime in the future.  Perhaps, I set my expectations too high.

The display is good, better than expected, at times.  I've been using personal computers since 1981 when I first attached a black and white TV to my machine.  Displays have usually been awful, especially if they were compatible with a wide variety of machines.  Phone displays are rarely great, despite what numbers they calculate in a laboratory.  Do you live in a laboratory?  I don't.

The only displays I've seen that look truly great are those of the LG 4K OLED TVs.

Unfortunately, the software quality has a large effect on how the phone works and Apple is still trying to get this under control.  When I got the iPhone 6, I was concerned but the 64-bit processor was introduced in the iPhone 5s, and I felt safe enough to take the leap.  It seemed that they were more concerned with the size of the displays.

This time, there are a lot of little glitches and I'm sure they'll work them out eventually.

I enabled two-step authentication on my MacBook Pro with 10.12.1 and the next time I went into a game, Game Center wanted me to enter a code.  I couldn't really read the whole window because it was squeezed to fit.  I really wasn't sure what was supposed to happen since the phone was the target of the text messages.

Once, I asked for the code to be sent again, I got no text message and authentication automagically took place.

I must say that I'm fairly happy.  It's better and it's faster and the extra $1.50 per month and the $100 upfront don't hurt too much.  Paying for AppleCare + again and getting new cases added to the expense but every two years, that isn't that horrible.

Update 2016.11.22: At iOS version 10.1.1, things seem okay but not quite good.

The phone seems powerful but not at its full potential.  There are inconsistencies where it will lag but not such that I could point to one app.

LTE seems much better with the Qualcomm chipset.  It hangs onto the signal much longer than the iPhone 6 did.  I suspect that throughput will also be much better, but I haven't been in a lot of Sprint signal friendly areas lately.  I got 68 Mbps at the local skate park with the iPhone 6, but I haven't checked with the iPhone 7 the one time I was recently there.

I noticed that the display brightness was set far too low, probably to show impressive battery life.  Unfortunately, I also need to be able to see what's on the display.  According to the battery monitor, most usage applies to audio.  Using the ear buds might help battery life then.

Update 2016.12.17: I'm learning how frustrating it can be to wear gloves and work an immovable Home Button.  I have to remember to use the power switch to temporarily disable the phone until I can remove my gloves to actually use the phone again.

iOS 10.2 is out and beta testing for 10.2.1 is underway.

I haven't seen a noticeable performance increase at all.  It may be better, but it seems as though they implemented bug and security fixes this time.  I feel bad for the people on version 9.3.5 who will never get the security fixes.  I would have paid for the fixes in order for my phone not to be commandeered.

The phone seems to work well most of the time.  It holds onto my LTE connection well.  Since it's in a case, I don't notice (or care) how slim it is.  It doesn't seem to be overly hot when running games.  The display color seems better.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

BlackBerry to be a software-only company

Years ago, their phones were known as Crackberry because people were so addicted to the devices.  Now, you can barely see one.  Today, the company formerly known as RIM (Research in Motion) has given up on the hardware end of things.

Is this surprising?  No.  The people at RIM and Nokia both laughed at Apple's iPhone, considering it less than even minimal competition.

While both companies made some attempt at fighting Apple, it didn't work.  Nokia had already had the Symbian operating system, which was supposedly so much more but obviously, wasn't enough.  (It always looked to me as though Nokia had young children creating their icons.  I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out my Nokia flip phone before looking at the manual.)

RIM bought QNX, a real-time operating system from the early days of the IBM PC.  They shaped it into a mobile operating system but as their hardware sales dwindled, it didn't make enough of a reputation to get important applications written for it.  Microsoft is still struggling with this problem, even though it's quite well known.

In any case, that famous BlackBerry keyboard may be no more.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Olympus E-M1 Mk II: Take my money now

I've been an Olympus user since around 1990, starting with an OM-1N.  I'd also had an IS-20DLX, D-300L (one of the first two Olympus digital cameras), C-2500L, E-1, E-5, and most recently, the E-M1.  I've shot a lot of high school sports with the E-1, E-5, and GH3 and skate park sports with the E-M1, Panasonic GH4, and GX8.

I attended an event to try a pre-production E-M1 and various lenses.  I wasn't happy with the compromise.  If you used the E-5 and was suddenly pushed to use the E-M1, you wouldn't be happy, either.  Thankfully, these things are optional.

The E-M1 has a tiny battery capacity--far less than the E-1/E-5's or GH3/GH4's capacity.  Add to that an electronic viewfinder that is always enabled, and the rear display that is accidentally activated too easily, and you have a requirement for several batteries per day.  I have 3 batteries for the E-M1 versus 2 batteries for the GH4.

The E-M1 Mk II has a larger capacity battery and a reworked grip, since that is where the battery resides.  (The external battery grip supposedly takes only one battery.)  This has a lot to do with 4K video recording but also with the enhanced auto focus processing.

The enhanced AF processing is important.  They're dedicating a quad core processor for auto focus.  They also claim 121 cross-type phase detection points and 121 contrast detection points.  That could help greatly.  Will that be as good as a dSLR?  Olympus will try to make it work.  I changed my methods to get focused shots, instead of depending on continuous/predictive AF and tracking that didn't really work.

On the other hand, Panasonic claimed that they didn't need phase detection pixels at all for the GH4, but their AF is a headache for me.  When I think I've got something in focus (sports don't slow down), I end up with something much larger in the background in focus far too often.

The E-M1 viewfinder was fairly good at 0.71x of 135 Format.  The Mark II viewfinder is supposedly sized at 1.48x and runs at 120 fps, which seems to be double the refresh rate.  The magnification is incredibly big, but the camera body isn't out and we may find that it isn't quite like that in real life.  Update: it's actually 0.74x apparently--slightly larger and/or more magnified than the original E-M1 viewfinder.

Increasing the mechanical shutter's maximum burst rate from 10 fps to 15 fps seems exceptional, but for me, the 200,000 shutter actuations (as good as the GH4) hits home.  I exceeded the 150,000 actuations with my E-M1 and had to have the shutter replaced.  At 10 fps, photos can be created very quickly and at 16MP, they take quite a bit of space.  At 15 fps and 20MP, that just makes things more intense.

The enhanced in-body image stabilization is rated at 5.5 stops, which allows the hi-rez 50 MP mode, good for still scenes.  Supposedly, the mode can handle some gentle motion.  Hopefully, it's as good as that of the latest Pentax bodies.

It looks like they've addressed most of my concerns, including the single SD Card slot, to make the E-M1 Mk II more like the E-5 successor that I expected three years earlier.  Then again, the E-5 was about 3 years late.

Of course, the Panasonic GH5 is equally compelling but for different reasons.  I wish I could replace my E-M1 and GH4 right now.

Update 2016.09.24: All of the previews I've seen so far seem as though the E-M1 Mk II is better than anything else near its size or specifications.  Don't put the marketingspeak in front of me, though.  I doubt salespeople from a company.  I'd love for it to be so amazing, but it has to work that way in my hands for me to believe it.

Update 2016.11.01: Okay, at US$1999.99, I'm not quite as ready.  If it had been $1699.99, as I had expected--E-1, E-5 price--it wouldn't have been quite as off-putting.

I'm sure that they can't get the image quality out of it that is worthy of that price.  That said, if I was still making money and needed one, I would pay for it at full price, perhaps with a little resentment.

Is the newer sensor with 121 AF points that good that it is worth the extra US$300?

Of course, I can just wait to see what happens--anyone can--and I believe at this price that a lot of anyones will be waiting to see.

Update 2016.11.10: I'm amused to see some comments about the body.  I swear that you could take photos from a Nikon D810, a Sony A7R Mk II, and a Canon 1Dx Mk II, crop them to a 4:3 ratio and some people would complain about the photos' quality because of the "tiny/toy sensor".

I suspect a lot of people know very little and judge only on hearsay.  Did Ansel Adams brag about the size of his film?

About 10 years ago, I asked people why they only considered Nikon or Canon--they responded with something like "oh, my mother's ex-roommate's brother's friend's uncle uses one." and I would laugh because they didn't try anything and they didn't research anything but it was "clearly the best".

A lot of the comments I see relate to slow and casual photography--flowers and such.  Yes, a used Sony A7 will probably outdo the E-M1 Mk II, with the correct lens.

However, working at 10 or 12 fps, micro Four-Thirds excels.  I will admit that my heart defect gets in the way now, but it's very easy to use the E-M1 or GH4 to get good, and occasionally great, skate park shots.   When I could move easily, there wasn't anything else that could keep up with me.  The speed of the focusing has a lot to do with it and the stepper motors used are often extremely fast, especially in the fixed maximum aperture lenses.  This also helps with video, of course.

From what I've seen of samples, the E-M1 Mk II outputs much better ISO 3200 shots--the maximum I use.  I tried the Nikon D7200 ISO 51,200 and 102,400 and they were useful in getting shots that I couldn't get any other way.  It looks like the E-M1 Mk II does a decent job at ISO 6400 but not enough that I would regularly use those photos.  However, other people have told me with the original E-M5 that they went all the way to ISO 12,800 and the output was fine.  YMMV.

As far as the Sony A7 Mk II goes, I see it like this: the A7 Mk II is great for photographing flowers but the E-M1 Mk II will be great for photographing flowers travelling on a lorry going 100 km/h.

Update 2016.11.19: I got to handle the E-M1 Mk II and 12-100mm f/4.0 lens today.

The lens was quite good--surprisingly good for an 8.3x superzoom.

Handling the E-M1 Mk II, I wasn't happy.  Yes, it has a bigger battery but the grip is not great, for me anyway.  The battery looked odd, as if it was pulled out of a dumpster and re-purposed.  I saw some comment that the grip looked misplaced on a retro-styled camera body.  I agree.  They should have gone with an E-1 or E-5 style body but they would have to introduce a 3rd line of micro Four-Thirds camera bodies.

Usage didn't seem any different, but there is more customization--such as swapping the power switch and the multi-function lever.

The dual card slot was on the far edge of the rear of the camera behind a door similar to the one in the current body.  It seemed an extreme position.

In fact, a lot of the E-M1 replacement looks as haphazard as the original--or any of the micro Four-Thirds Olympus models.  I have no idea what they're thinking.  I appreciate the internals though.  I still like the E-1 dSLR best but it was technologically out-of-step even two years after it was introduced and the company took too long to introduce a new flagship.

Actually, they can take my money for a lens instead.

Update 2016.11.30: The reviews are looking fairly good, as expected.  The nasty comments are also expected.  People with other systems aren't happy that Olympus gets a lot of attention.  They don't know anything of the 1970s when Olympus was bigger and better than Canon.

It's comforting to know that the C-AF mode can keep up.  I wouldn't be using it since I had already modified my technique years ago when I started using the Panasonic GH3.  Imaging Resource did a good job of working with the E-M1 Mk II, giving a little insight into actual use and the pitfalls.

Update 2017.02.13: Apparently, the E-M1 Mk II is very picky about UHS-II cards, not working with many of them.  Then again, I see posts about some cards being recalled.  There probably have been too many made with sub-standard components, in order to make extra profit.  That doesn't excuse Olympus for their failure to be compatible, though.

I've seen a lot of comments of how the E-M1 Mk II doesn't work as well as it should.  The production models don't seem to be as agreeable as the test models.  I can understand that.  Before the E-M1 was available, I was using some, with a group, and when I got mine, it seemed that things that had worked well on the pre-production versions weren't working so well on mine.  Firmware updates have solved a lot.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

For me: tvOS 10 good, iOS 10 on hold (iPhone 7 and iOS 10 now)

Yes, September 13, 2016 has come and gone.

tvOS 10:

No one seemed to mention that Apple TV generation 4 was getting an update on the 13th but it was there just the same.  It would seem to have been about 500 MB, although I didn't check too closely.

I'm usually leery of updating too quickly but tvOS is so unstable that I want every update at this point.  It's a lot like the early days of Mac OS X where I was eager to be able to print for the first time, copy reliably to a CD-R, or some such basic functionality.  Way back then, I had to switch back to MacOS 9 a lot.  With tvOS, you just have to live with what is there.

The update itself went smoothly.  The only real change I've used is the dark theme.  There was an informational display prior to being able to use the update and the only other one I remember at this point was searching with Siri.  I tried using Siri initially but it didn't really help.  I still don't have it enabled on my phone, either.

Performance has been improved somewhat.  The Galaxy on Fire: Manticore Rising game is a great indicator of how well the Apple TV and tvOS are working, as were the older games in the series.  I haven't seen as much of a slowdown when things get busy.  I believe I saw only one Network Connection Lost error while I was playing.

Within a month or so, Apple should make another update available to fix some bugs and improve performance further but it's going to be a rather long time until they get a production quality product.  Sadly, it may take until the 6th generation Apple TV product before it's truly Apple-like.

iOS 10:

If people look at my history, they'd see that I'm generally slow to update iOS because of so many early adopter problems.  With almost every major release of iOS or Mac OS X, there have been problems connecting to WiFi.  This wasn't really a problem for me with Mac OS X because in the early days, I was connected by Ethernet cable.  Of course, trying to use a networking cable is quite impossible at this point for an iOS device.

Thankfully for many people, iOS 10 was not easily available.  Some people have had trouble with getting the update from the servers and Apple has already updated (10.0.1) the update, due to (bricking) problems.  I remain skeptical and slow to update.  When version 10.1 is made available, I'll be more willing to update my phone.

While there are some enhancements, I didn't see anything compelling for me.  What would compel me to update would be some huge security flaw in 9.3.5 and it seems as though things are stable with security problems being fixed in 9.3.4 and 9.3.5.

Update 2016.09.20: macOS Sierra (10.12) has been made available, so it seems that everything is finished, except for the bug fixing.

If Siri access is the main reason for the new version, I'm not sure I would bother.  I don't use Siri or the phone, and when I tried it on Apple TV, it was less than helpful.  I used to use the PlainTalk interface way back in MacOS 8.5 around 1998, which was especially helpful when I was getting ready in the morning.

According to reports, iOS 10 is being implemented much more quickly than iOS 9 was.  I saw some article title which seemed to be complaining that iMessage has become the MSN Messenger of iOS.  Having used MSN Messenger, I hate to think about that.  However, it doesn't surprise me.  After years of working to make things simple, Apple seems bent on making things convoluted.

Update 2016.09.26: Encrypted iTunes backups created on a Mac or PC are protected by a password that can potentially be brute forced by password cracking software. The backup method in iOS 10 "skips certain security checks," allowing Elcomsoft to try backup passwords "approximately 2500 times faster" compared to iOS 9 and earlier operating systems. 

 iOS 10 is up to 10.0.2 already, with several bug fixes.  I suspect that there are plenty of more minor bugs and the fixes are being collected for version 10.1 instead of being sent in incremental releases.  I'm not ready to take chances.

I got a quick look at it on an iPhone 7 display at Target last night and didn't notice enough of a difference to form an opinion.

The iPhone 7 click-less Home button was interesting but didn't feel like the same technology used in the Mac click-less trackpads that work so well.

Update 2016.10.05: Verizon customers are having trouble keeping LTE active.  Apparently, the problem has not been solved with the iOS version 10.1 beta release.   Apparently, this is a problem that has been there for some with earlier phones.

I'm still not seeing a reason to change my iOS version.

Update 2016.11.05: About three weeks ago I switched to the iPhone 7, and naturally, iOS 10.  It's up to version 10.1.1 now.

It's not exactly finished.  Software Update, for example, can't count and has different numbers outside than inside.  IMO, humble or not, iOS is almost right when they move to another major version.  iOS version 9.3.5 was good but still needed some work, but here I am waiting for them to get to a stable, quick, fully-functional version.  iOS 10 should be really good around June.

Having iMessage plug-in apps is interesting, but are they really useful?  Automatic birthday celebrations are interesting also.  I suppose I worked in software development too long to find these things great.

I was browsing my photos that had been saved to my Mac and found that there were video files for most every photo.  This has something to do with Live Photos.  Unfortunately, the Camera app defaults to this behavior and until iOS 10.2, you're stuck with it each time you start the app.

I paid for the Camera+ app a few years ago and it's back on my phone now.  It's good to be able to handle post processing in the same app I'm using to capture the image.  I just have to remember to save to Camera Roll.  I also have Snapseed but that works after the fact and is still confusing after quite a long time.

Notifications are driving me up the wall.  For a brief moment (iOS 10.1?), the notifications were separated by app and I could clear notifications for a single app and leave others.  This doesn't work right now and I either leave or clear them all.  I believe there is a way to slide to the left and delete individual notifications, though.  I seriously doubt that Apple will ever get these working smoothly--it's only been 9 years, right?  It's like the MacOS/Mac OS X/OS X/macOS Finder application.  It has traits of the 1984 Mac's Finder but was re-worked in 2000 with the NeXTStep fusion.

tvOS 10 is interesting.  I've been able to make folders of apps.  It works fairly smoothly.  Otherwise, I'm still seeing performance problems.  I thought that the A8 processor was capable of handling the iPhone 6 Plus, so why can't it handle the Apple TV box and output a 1920x1080p signal without slowing down?

Apple have a long way to go.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Time for a Phone Upgrade? (Oops! Did it!)

I dislike when people use "upgrade" when they mean switch.  However, it's become part of common use English, unfortunately.

It's been almost two years since I switched phones.  I was unhappy with Sprint but the Verizon salesperson tried to sell me a more expensive plan, I guess to help his quota.  This upset me and, having done my research, I explained the plan he should have been suggesting, and it was like someone was talking to him in the ear piece--everything he said from that point was robotic.

The iPhone 5c was a good phone and I miss it, but the two band LTE wasn't enough with Sprint and since Sprint offers three band LTE many places I go, the extra bandwidth is useful, especially when their service is bad.  It still doesn't help with those areas where Sprint still hasn't added LTE and, in California, those places are many.  They decided to spend the money to help the area around their Overland Park, Kansas headquarters where almost no one pays.

In any case, seeing 68 Mbps not far from home is great.  Verizon has LTE Advanced service around here, but not here.  I've seen around 40 Mbps at home and it might be even better not far from here.  I wonder if I could see over 100 Mbps with a newer phone in one of those LTE Advanced service areas.  My problem at home is that I'm on the edge of a roaming area for Sprint--about 6 blocks from the center of town.  They have refused to add a tower near the shopping area that would help.  They occasionally turn up the power on the tower near the skate park but they don't have enough capacity to make it work well.

The iPhone 7 Plus is actually faster than some of the latest 12 inch MacBook models using Core M processors.

 Since the iPhone 7 pre-orders will be available in a few hours, I'm wondering if I should consider it.  I looked at the Sprint website a bit earlier and it said that I was eligible for an upgrade.  However, they didn't mention iPhone 7 at all.

I usually stay away from the latest Apple hardware but the iPhone 6 has been good.  I considering the iPhone SE but I remember how I struggled with seeing small details on the display.  The iPhone 6s would be fine, I'm sure, but don't I want the extra power and extra battery life?

I believe that the iPhone 6s is unnecessary and the iPhone SE is too small for my eyes and the iPhone 6s Plus is too big for my pocket.  (If you're wondering, Android 6.x didn't work well on my 2013 Google Nexus 7 tablet, so I doubt I want it on my phone, even though the LG V20 looks desirable.)

Who knows?  If I wait, I'll lose the chance to get an iPhone 7 pre-order.  If Sprint's web site never shows it, I'm thinking that the Apple web site will show Sprint as an option.

Sprint really wants my iPhone-related money.  They changed their Sprint Zone app on iOS, at least, to display whether a person is ready for an iPhone upgrade.

While the desktop web site timed out a bit, the mobile app + mobile web site seemed to be working quite well.  I'm still trying to figure out about my leased phone, since it says that there needs to be a trade-in.  I'm two months from the end of the lease, and after two years, I really don't want to keep the phone, even though it works just fine.  Verizon quoted me something around US$35.00, which is much less than I could get elsewhere, if I put work into it.

I'm still thinking about it.  Pre-orders have been live for more than 1 day.  Supplies are becoming somewhat scarce.  Apple have changed the selections--AT&T and T-Mobile versions cannot be used on Verizon or Sprint because they supposedly don't include CDMA functionality.  You can go the other way with an unlocked phone on Verizon or Sprint.

Update 2016.10.10: Okay, so I looked at the diminishing battery life on my two year old iPhone 6, plus the fact that I'm having occasional trouble charging it and decided that paying around US$1.50 per month for an 18 month lease isn't a bad thing in order to replace the phone.

The 32GB model was a bit short on capacity and the 64GB model now has 128GB, so that's what I ordered.  According to Sprint's information, they had the Gold models ready for immediate shipment.  Compared to two years ago, that's quite the reverse.  The silver was the only easily available model.

I tried one at a Target store the other evening and it was quite powerful on a game I already use and one I have considered buying--namely, Asphalt 8 and Warhammer 40,000 something.  The phone was impressive.

Less impressive was the new, immobile Home button.  Unlike the trackpads on the latest MacBook Pro series, it doesn't feel as though it is moving at all.  I realize that the depth isn't available but then, the haptic feedback is supposed to provide this feeling of depth.

I also ordered a couple of different color cases from Ballistic.  The price for each was only US$19.99, which was incredibly inexpensive, considering I paid US$34.99 for my last Ballistic case.  While I won't see much of the gold, one of the cases is completely black, while the other is gray and white.  Sure, I could get something really colorful but the 6+ feet of drop protection is more important to me.

No Floppy Drive? No Headphone Jack? What Are Apple Thinking?

Apple has been pushing the envelope for a while.  Remembering the iMac and then, the PowerMac, Apple removing the floppy drive was viewed as horrific.

How would we transfer information?  CD recordables weren't that common.  There was a new bus--USB, instead of Apple Desktop Bus that connected the keyboard and mouse.  We could connect other peripherals but there were only 40-some available at the iMac launch.

When I got my PowerMac G3, with the ugly blue front panels, I needed some way to load things from floppies.  I bought some Imation (3M) drive that could utilize floppies and a special, high capacity drive.

Here were are about 17 years later and Apple has removed the headphone jack on the latest iPhone models.  They've included an adapter so that you can use your current headphones with an analog cable.

This change was important in order to make the iPhone dust- and water-resistant.  With higher resolution audio, getting rid of the analog headphone jack made sense.  For years, people have been using a personal headphone pre-amplifier to listen to Classical music.  This change should make everyone happier in the long term.  Hopefully, high resolution audio over Bluetooth will be satisfying also.  Certainly enough people use Bluetooth speakers and car audio systems that communicate over Bluetooth.

I can imagine that early reactions will mostly be negative, even from people who don't use their headphones at all (such as those who hold their phones slightly away from them, on the horizontal).  People don't like to change.

Update 2016.12.19: I've had my iPhone 7 for around two months now.   There have been a couple of times when I wanted to lie down and listen to music with headphones while I was charging the phone and I couldn't.  Oops.  I ended up buying an Altec-Lansing Bluetooth-enabled speaker.

It has not been a huge problem.  Even the included ear buds are good.  I've tried the adapter with my Sennheiser CX300 Mk II ear buds and the sound is good.  There is no scratchy, static-y sound using the adapter, something I experienced with some ear buds and the headphone jack.

Even Walmart has Bluetooth-enabled headphones and ear buds.  Prices go anywhere from US$20 to around US$300, from what I've seen.  I suspect you still have to go somewhere around US$100 to get high quality sound.  Finding good, strong music transmission will likely be the problem.  Somewhere, I have a pair of Motorola headphones--S9, perhaps--from nine or ten years ago.  They were never great but they would do in a pinch.  I used them while mowing the lawn mostly.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

One year with the Nikon D7200

It's been one year since I bought the Nikon D7200 and Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8.  It has been a very rough journey learning to get the best of it, even though I've used a number of SLRs and dSLRs and other cameras over the last 40 years.

Back in 2004, I made the jump to a digital SLR, looking at Nikon, Canon, and Pentax ahead of buying an Olympus E-1.  I weighed a great many factors and chose an all-digital system without a legacy.  The images that came from it are still quite wonderful and the body worked nearly like an extension of my arms.  I've yet to find another camera body that feels so right.

By 2007, the Nikon D300 arrived and I was re-thinking a lot of things.  I was fairly invested at this point and declined to jump to Nikon.  When Olympus brought forth the E-3, I was unhappy that it was two years late and two years behind the rest of the market.  In late 2011, I bought the Olympus E-5.  By then, the D300 was older and the E-5 used my equipment quite well, with a fairly modern sensor.  Had there been a D400 at the time, I probably would have jumped ship.

Not quite four years later, I bought the D7200, still waiting on a true D300 replacement, with the well-regarded Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens.

I have struggled with the camera body and still struggle with it now.  The last Nikon I used to any larger extent was the F2 film body.  When I recently talked to a Nikon representative, he hinted at the inconsistent nature of the company's interface since they started with dSLRs.

The rear of the body is an ergonomic mess.  The left-side column of five buttons is difficult to use without looking carefully at the buttons.  The button at the bottom, a stylized "i" seems to be for information, but across the rear display is a button marked "info".  Is this confusing?

Sadly, the menus are even more confusing.  They're possibly as bad as the Olympus menus, but at least, Olympus has the interactive Super Control Panel.  Nikon gives me the Informational Panel that is not interactive.  Auto Focus was extremely interesting, due to its reliance on both menu selections and the AF controls to the bottom left of the lens mount.

Thankfully, major functions in the form of four buttons replaced the mode dial on the left shoulder: Quality, Metering, White Balance, and Mode.  The first three are better there than as some sub-functions on those 5 left-hand buttons on the rear of the body.  They can easily be found by position on the D500.

When I first gave up the mode dial with the E-5, I thought that it was the stupidest thing I'd ever seen.  The E-5 relies greatly on the top display, as do the D300 and D500.  Years later, the top display works just fine, thankfully.  Even the top display of the E-1 is still working well.

Well, in a twist, due to my heart defect, I've given away all of the Nikon-related equipment.  Someone else with only Nikon equipment will make the best of the D7200, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6, and Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8 lenses.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Panasonic GM5 is tiny but quite usable

I'm adapting to the Panasonic GM5 after years of using SLRs and dSLRs.  To say that it is small would be an understatement.  My first photo of the camera was in front of a $1 bill.  The GM5 was smaller.  It's smaller than a smartphone, as well.

25mm, GM5 with 42.5mm, 15mm, and 12-32mm
Smaller than a $1 bill

It seems impressive that internally, it is much the same as the Panasonic GX7.  The big compromise is that the mechanical shutter can't go faster than 1/500th of a second.  If there is any chance you would mistake this for a camera for sports, you'll notice the shutter speed limitations immediately.  For many people, this might not be a problem because the electronic shutter goes to 1/16000th of a second, jello effects included, as necessary.  Thinking back, my first SLR had a top shutter speed of 1/750th of a second when 1/1000th of a second was a premium shutter speed.

The other significant compromise is the battery capacity, at 680 mAh.  I'm not sure whether the GX8 battery is worse for the size or not.  The GH4 is the only micro Four-Thirds body that doesn't seem to have a lower than expected battery capacity, at 1860 mAh.  I joked when I bought the GM5 that I should buy another 14 batteries.  Pressing the DISP button enough times will shut off the rear display for normal use, and you can still press the Play button to display your photos and video.

GX8 isn't huge but the GM5 is tiny

GX8 behind the GM5

GH4 behind the GM5

Olympus E-5 behind the GM5

As you can see from these photos, it is tiny.  All of these camera bodies use the same size (13.0mm x 17.3mm) of sensor, although the dSLR contains the mirror box which makes everything much bigger.

Four-Thirds 35-100mm f/2.0 obscures the GM5
There is no grip on the front of the GM5--the textured surface may help a bit, as does the thumb hold at the rear, beneath the mode dial.

The optional grip on the GM1
I'm not quite sure about the use of the optional grip.  Currently at US$79.99, it isn't horribly expensive but it doesn't do much, providing more clearance for larger lenses so that the combination doesn't fall backward.  There is also a third party grip, made of aluminum, that looks very useful, but doesn't add any extra clearance below the body.

I was quick to order the strap you can see in my photos of the GM5.  US$37 + shipping seems a small price to pay for the security of photographic equipment.  I pay about the same for my phone cases, although I can feel safe dropping my phone.  Nauti Straps are made from cable used in the sailing industry, so they're quite strong.

I've also ordered two batteries and a small case, so that I can carry the miniature kit with me.  The Lowepro Urban Reporter 150 Messenger Bag for Micro-compact DSLR or CSC Cameras is currently US$29.99 at Adorama and seems appropriate for the GM5 and a few lenses and supplies.  Strangely, I've been using the lens bag for the 42.5mm f/1.7 to hold the GM5 + kit zoom lens, and it sits just above my GH4 in my big bag.

I'm still working on taking time to go out with the GM5 and a few lenses to get some photos.  At the moment, I either take everything with me or just the GM5 and one lens.

The 25mm f/1.7 isn't always resistant to flare, even w/hood.

Update 2016.08.10: Trying the GM5 in lower light but not complete darkness is frustrating.  Around sunset, it didn't want to lock focus as quickly as the GX8 or GH4.  Obviously, the small size doesn't allow as much processing power, but smart phones still do well.  The GM5 actually seemed better in the dark, but it might be that I had lower expectations at that time.

It is still a lot of fun.  I have a bag for the GM5 and easy pockets up top for the 15mm f/1.7, 25mm f/1.7, and 42.5mm f/1.7.  There is also room for the Olympus 8mm f/1.8 fisheye, extra cards, and the two extra batteries that are so necessary for a few hours of use.

As you can see from these photos, the GM5 can capture action shots, with some anticipation.  It isn't a sports-oriented camera body but it can be used in a pinch.  These were taken with the kit 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom.  The 32mm isn't nearly long enough but considering the tiny lens and the idea of keeping a complete kit so tiny, it's more than good enough.  I also carry the 42.5mm f/1.7, 25mm f/1.7, 15mm f/1.7, and 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens and they keep it competitive, but as I've already mentioned, it isn't the fastest in lower light conditions.

The 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 is unusual for a kit lens.  It is quite sturdy, and seems to contain more metal than most kit lenses.  Of course, this body/lens kit had a suggested retail price of US$899.99, so that might have something to do with it.

Oly 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 and GM5 with 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6

Pana 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 and GM5 with Oly 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6

Olympus 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 and Pana 35-100mm f/2.8
Update 2016.11.16: I've added the Olympus 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 lens to my bag and it's tiny for what it is, but seems quite big on the GM5.  However, the Olympus 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens is much, much heavier, probably weighing as much as everything else.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

More Panasonic equipment--GM5 + 42.5mm f/1.7

The week just past, Mike's Camera had a tent sale at two locations in Northern California.  Sadly, they were rather painful locations for me.  I don't understand why the company avoids the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area.  There is a great deal of money there.

I went to a location between there and the state capital, at Pleasant Hill.  The store is similar in size to the store in Dublin I frequent but is more likely to have equipment, as is the store in the state capital.  Best Buy is ramping up their efforts to sell equipment and have some very useful areas in some stores.  If you were ever in a Circuit City, you know how they really liked to display all of the equipment well, rather than hide it.

Further, the tent sale actually had a tent, but ahead of that they had popcorn and friendly greeters, including someone from the store I visit.  She told me that the salesperson I knew was there and pointed toward him.

Is a sale better with pleasant feelings?  Do you feel more willing to spend money?

They had a lot of equipment, some of which was very inexpensive.  The Olympus E-M10 (not Mk II) was surprisingly inexpensive, not that I would want it since it is rather redundant.  The Panasonic GM5 was there, for US$399.99.  Compared to the original (still on the Panasonic web site) price, that was US$500.00 off.  I've been wanting the body for a while.  It's a great way to get photos indoors fairly easily without attracting much attention.  I have used my phone but the quality isn't acceptable as the light is insufficient.  Yes, the Four-Thirds sensor isn't huge but it is quite a bit larger than a sensor in a phone and it is larger than the 1 inch sensor of similar sized cameras.  I couldn't care less if there is a GM7 coming to replace it.

They had a lens that I wanted--the 42.5mm f/1.7 Power OIS--with an instant rebate of US$100, rather than the US$50 that Adorama was giving.  Photographing at skate parks, bad light is often an issue.  I prefer to use zoom lenses, but there are few lenses that could fit.  Even the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 doesn't work reliably for me for sports.  It's a very good lens, but it is part of the Art line, not the Sport line and hasn't been quick in general, and doesn't always respond in situations with lower light.

The 42.5mm f/1.7 lens seems quite good, and a lot of metal is involved (similar to the 15mm f/1.7), unlike other lenses at this price point.  The thing that concerns me is that there are no switches for auto focus or the image stabilization.  Each body has an AF control but I've never seen a menu item for OIS.

AF is more than sufficient.  The filter size is smaller than the 25mm f/1.7 lens or the 15mm f/1.7, at 37mm instead of 46mm.  It is the same size as that of the 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens that comes with the GM5.  That is my first kit lens for micro Four-Thirds or Four-Thirds, unless you count the ZD 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 that I bought with my Olympus E-1 in 2004.

No, this isn't the 42.5mm f/1.7

GM5 + SHG ZD 35-100mm f/2.0

Can you find the Panasonic GM5?

I've had a chance to use it a bit.  It's reasonable, especially for the size.

With the 42.5mm f/1.7, 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6, and 15mm f/1.7, it has been good.  I tried it briefly with the Four-Thirds ZD 35-100mm f/2.0, but didn't really give it the full treatment.  It was sufficient, but I wouldn't count on it with Four-Thirds lenses.  The balance between those lenses I have and the GM5 is quite far from good.  However, with the aforementioned micro Four-Thirds lenses, it is definitely balanced.

GM1 with Four-Thirds Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4

GM1 with Panasonic/Leica 15mm f/1.7
When I first saw the GM1 size comparison, I called it micro micro Four-Thirds.  I've recently started calling a lot of the equipment pico Four-Thirds because it is so tiny as to require huge compromises to get the best image quality.  Forgive my attempt at arrogance, but it isn't for everyone.

25mm f/1.7, GM5 with 42.5mm f/1.7, 15mm f/1.7,  12-32mm

I still like a dSLR and I have three at the moment, plus the Panasonic GH4, GX8, and Olympus E-M1.  The latter feels too small, and the batteries of the last two are low on capacity.  Then again, the E-M1 is much bigger than the GM5 and the battery is just shy of 4 times the capacity.

Why would I buy the GM5?  For certain settings, not drawing attention is a good thing.  A camera that can provide very good image quality in a tiny package is useful.  It can be used for 1080p video clips that I can integrate with the GH4 and GX8 video clips.

Having the mode dial furthest right felt odd.  However, I'm beginning to understand the desire to attain balance through careful placement of controls.  The shutter release being further into the top deck means that my hand has to press against the side of the body more firmly.  Since Panasonic didn't have any legacy of film cameras, design is modern and functional without styling cues that can often cause unusual handling problems.

While the GX8 is fairly similar to the GH4, the GM5 is very different.  The controls are very small but I have been able to work them with fingers and thumbs.  A couple of the buttons are recessed but they work as you would expect.  Considering what I've seen from Sony and FujiFilm, I've been pleasantly surprised at how well Panasonic have made this body work.