Wednesday, November 28, 2012

ProCamera Review for iPhone

I'll be the first to admit that a lot of the pictures that you see on this blog are actually taken from my iPhone, thus proving that the best camera is the one that you have with you at the moment. What's really remarkable about the camera unit on the 4s and iPhone 5 is how well the images hold up, beating output produced by consumer cameras from the earlier part of the last decade. In good light, iPhone output is serviceable for casual keeper photos if you aren't too picky, and even in poor light, the files downsample well enough for blogging and web photos.

ProCamera with various features activated.
That said, there's still room for improvement, which is where the ProCamera app fits in. To be upfront, you shouldn't expect dSLR-like levels of control and quality, but what you get instead are a lot of usability improvements in an interfrace that looks like the iOS camera app, only augmented. These features include (but are not limited to):
  • Live histogram
  • Exposure and focus targeting can be de-coupled
  • Ability to use the camera's flash as a spot light
  • White balancecontrol
  • Ability to adjust JPEG output compression levels
  • Framing grid and virtual horizon
  • Volume buttons as the shutter release
  • Self Timer
  • Burst mode for multiple shots
  • Electronic image stabilization for stills
  • An improved zooming interface
  • QR Code reader
  • Location Tagging

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Fried Rice Recipe

Absolutely nothing camera or tech related, but I thought I'd put it up for American Thanksgiving anyway.

If you live in a Chinese family (like I do), rice is your birthright. In fact, "Have you eaten rice yet?" is an idiomatic phrase in Cantonese used to greet people, indicating how important rice is to the people and to the culture. So that means that even for something as wholly western as a turkey dinner, there's bound to be rice if you are eating at a Chinese dinner party. Turkey also means leftovers, so here is one of my favourite ways to combine the two: fried rice.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Black Friday Deals, 2012 (Updated)

I love American Thanksgiving, if only because it puts a definitive and immovable start date on the year-end holiday season. In Canada, we have no such November date, and consequently, the commercial entities begin pushing Christmas on us the day after Halloween. However, when it come to Black Friday and the Canadian equivalent, Boxing Day (December 26), I prefer our version because it pretty much signals the end of the spend-spend-spend portion of the holidays, with New Year's being more of a denouement than a climatic event. However, in this puttering economy, you can't begrudge anybody the need to save on every dollar possible. That said, I think we lose a little bit of meaning in our holidays when you wrap up dinner and then immediately head for the nearest store lineup. Relax, slow down, enjoy the company and the conversation. Have some more pumpkin pie. Enjoy life without having to buy things... That's a bit of idealism, of course, something that I haven't adhered to. However, I do want to say that my years living in the U.S. are fondly remembered, especially with all the Thanksgivings spent there.

 Of course, as a Canadian living in the States, that meant having two Thanksgivings every year, so what's not to like about that? Did did I mention that I still love American Thanksgiving, because it means that productivity in Canadian companies that do business internationally grinds to a halt on Wednesday afternoon because all of our U.S. business partners are rushing off to the airport to get home? That said, here's a run down of some camera related stuff.  All prices USD. Happy hunting. (Note: This post will be updated through the week)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Kobo Arc e-Reader Tablet Review

By any measures, the Kobo Vox was a letdown that mercifully did not see much exposure, thereby limiting any lasting damage to it's company. This isn't a snarky comment so much as a fact of business life. As a an extension of the Chapters/Indigo francishe here in Canada, Kobo is ostensibly a way for a company that sells physical and tangible books to not get left behind by the electronic publishing revolution. To that end, the Arc is a much better second attempt at the tablet/reader hybrid market, and is out in time for the holiday shopping season. (Can I just say, enough already with the earlier and earlier commercialization of Christmas every year? Christmas is for December, and only December, okay? If there is one thing that I like about America, it's that the holiday season has a definite start right with American Thanksgiving. Here in Canada, the retailers would have you believe that Christmas starts the day after Halloween.)

Though Kobo is now owned by Rakuten Inc. of Japan, the e-reader brand is very much associated with the Chapters/Indigo chain here in Canada, who were the original majority owners of the company. That is to say, it is the Amazon Kindle of the Great White North. Most Kobo devices have a simple charm to them, with a design that is pure and austere, unlike the vaguely over-sized calculator appearance of the Kindle devices. The majority of Kobo's devices are E Ink based, and offer crisp to read text, but sluggish performance if you use them to do anything other than read books. They also quite frankly suck as touch devices, and generally have unresponsive screens... a pain if you are only used to full-on tablets. However, as dedicated e-readers and at the price that they are sold at, they more than do the job.  This also illustrates the need in Kobo's lineup for somebody who wants to read books, but who also wants some of the functionality of a tablet. The original Kobo Vox tried to fill that void, trying to be a value priced version of what the Kindle Fire was. It basically suffered the fate of all neither-nor devices: neither good enough as a heavy duty reader, nor was it fastest enough to do anything significant with it as a tablet.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sony SLT-A99 Review

The SLT-A99 was launched at Photokina 2012, and were it not for the Nikon D600 and it's industry leading pricing, the Sony would be a camera that we would be buzzing about today. Unfortunately, the SLT-A99 also got upstaged by the RX1. People like specs, and theylike talking about specs... but in the wake of this year's Photokina show, I don't think there is any better example that there is more to product buzz than just specs.

This is an "out-there" kind of a camera. Any Nikon resembles any other Nikon, but the SLT-A77 and now the A99 are making a break from the traditional Minolta-looking cameras of yesteryear... these cameras are even a bit more smoothed-out than the A65. What the online reviews so far don't convey is that this feels like a big camera. It's not quite as heavy as the D700 or D800 , and though it's wider than the D600, it's actually shorter and  narrower than that camera. The camera grip feels great in your right hand, but over all, the way the D600 is shaped and the lighter weight just make it seem like a less ostentatious camera. And a little bit ostentatious is the way I would describe the A99. Nikon's of all sorts look like traditional cameras, through and through. The A99 loses the stodginess of the A900 in favor of a more melted-blob shape. It feels like a Canon in some ways, but more gadgety.  If I were to compare the two, the Nikon D600 would be the like the Honda Accord; the A99 is little more in the stylistic vein of the Hyundai Sonata.

Two small likes to single out: I like the flip out LCD, and especially the top mounting of the microphone, where it is moved away from the noise of the lens motors. No pop-up flash, but I'd like to make a case for pop-up microphones; if you are going to shoot serious video, you are not going to use the on-bard microphone, but if you are going to have an on-board microphone, it has to be usable. I think Nikon falls down in this regards, and still hasn't addressed this since the introduction of video in the D90.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Nikon D5200 Launch Impresions

And now finally, a DX camera update from Nikon. It's been a long DX drought, cause célèbre for Thom Hogan, and a long period of inactivity for photography bloggers who specialize in the middle ground (yours truly). There's a reason why this blog is "mostly photography"... Nikon made it easy to talk about other things during the DX lull. DX is not dead,of course. It was just waiting to see if you would have bought a D600 instead. Of course, this wasn't the camera launch that the enthusiasts and semi-pros were hoping for, but an important camera for Nikon nonetheless.The D5200 is impressively spec'd, basically taking a D3200-like sensor (but with upgrades in the imaging system), and pairing it with the D7000's 39-point autofocus system and more advanced exposure meter. This is a lot of sophistication for a camera in this segment of the market.In fact, I find it a disappointment that the shape of the camera body is so similar to the D5100. The sum of these parts make this a significantly greater shooting experience than the D5100.

I want to stress "D3200-like" in describing the sensor. Nikon's literature describes it as"new", though they've not always been transparent in describing their sensor origins. (In fact, the never are, you only learn about the sensor after the fact after the whole internet has dug around.) Nikon's literature describes the D3200 sensor as "24.2" megapixels, which we now know as being different from the 24mp sensor used in the Sony NEX-7. They're using "24.1" to describe the D5200 sensor. Depending on how the chip is utilizes, this could still be the same sensor, but the pixel count isn't the tip off that this is something new (or at the very least very upgraded): it's the video specs that do that. The D5200 can now do 1080i at 60fps, all in all, it seems very similar to the NEX-7 chip. Nonetheless, that's still a lot of data to move off of the chip; it's going through the same EXPEED 3 processor that Nikon uses in the full frame camera line. The addition of the WR-R10/WR-T10 radio-based wireless system further pushes this class of camera into more and more serious videography territory.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Apple iPad Mini: Hands on First Impression

"So does that mean that we're going to be calling the original iPad the 'Maxi-pad' from now on?"
                      - Kyrie O'Connor on NPR's Wait! Wait... Don't Tell Me!

Continuing on with this year's tablet rollouts. (Yes, this is still mostly  photography blog!) today was the iPad mini retail roll out. The lines aren't as long as before, but at this stage in the game, we are talking about a maturing market; the increasing segmentation is a sure sign of that. In any case, my suspicion is that things like the iPod and the iPad, which most customers don't opt for a cellular plan, don't get the major spikes in launch day traffic that the iPhone does, which is of course, is very much subsidized by the telecoms.