Sunday, October 15, 2017

What the Camera Industry Did not Learn from Apple

Back in the years leading up to Steve Jobs' passing in 2011, Apple was well and truly on an ascendant path. New products every year, incredible growth in unit sales and an expectation that there was always going to be something new on the horizon. It's not so much today in 2017, where their product lineup can best be described as evolutionary and their strategy to be one of consolidation. But never mind that; those of us roped into corporate strategy meetings at the time were subjected to one too many gatherings that basically revolved around the theme of "How can we be like Apple?" Actually, what our corporate masters meant was "How can we make more money like Apple"...  because why bothering making the tough choices that Apple made and doing all of the hard work when you can just emulate their success? /sarcasm

Here's one of those "be like Apple" moments in history:

Source: Apple via CNBC

There's a gem in the data and it's clear as day. Do you see it?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Vancouver in Anime Form

This one certainly caught the locals' eyes here in Vancouver.

This is the short anime commercial "Warm, Winter Canada," complete with famous Canadian tourist destinations rendered in anime form. (Banff, Vancouver,  Niagara Falls, Toronto) The promotion piece was produced by studio CoMix Wave Films of "Your Name" fame. What's amazing about the Vancouver portions of the film are how instantly recognizable they are, but in a romanticized way. Take these two cuts from Granville Island:

First, the entrance to the public market:


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Nikon D7500 Review and Buyer's Guide

A little bit of old, a little bit of new. The Nikon D7500 with hte AF-D 50mm f/1.4.

The usual logic of DSLR upgrades is to wait at least two generations before upgrading if value for money is the main consideration. As such, there is an easy case to not upgrade to the Nikon D7500 if you already own a D7200. In fact, there is a solid case to still go for the older camera in 2017, as the D7500 isn't so much of an up-grade as it is a side-grade. In years past, Nikon came out with the metal-bodied semi-pro version of their serious DX bodies first, then the lighter enthusiast-grade plastic bodies later. The business sense behind this is that cameras like the D100,  D200 and D300 bring in more margin by virtue of the higher price point and the fact that users of these cameras tend to be willing to by that the start of the model life-cycle without the benefit of instant rebates or discounting. Once the sensor generation was established, the platform gets migrated to the broader D70/D80/D90 level where sales volume takes over.

That was a predictable pattern until the D7000, which split the difference between the enthusiast and semi-pro levels. While many waited (not so) patiently for the D400 (eventually to arrive as the D500), the D7xxx series became the unified face of serious enthusiast and semi-pro, and did so credibly. Even if they weren't as rugged as the D300, the D7000 and it's successors were nonetheless more capable by the sheer fact that time had moved on, and along with it the underlying technology.

During this time Nikon did everything it could to steer what used to be D300 users up to full frame; from the ill-fated D600 up to the well-rounded D750. However, there is only so much money to go around, and only so much of it that can be spent on full frame. Nikon's commercial viability depends the enthusiast/semi-pro class of DSLR's, as this is a large portion of their total sales volume.

So is the D7500 the step-down of the D500? Yes, very much so... but just as the D7000 broke the predictable 1-2 roll-out pattern, the D7500 is yet another fork in the product pathway for Nikon.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Banality of Professional Equipment: Meditations on the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM II

"Beyond the scope of this blog" is the standard excuse I've used over the years whenever I've written about things that I have no business writing about. True professional photography is certainly one of them; and if ever I had proper reason to shoot with an Canon EF 600mm f4 IS USM II then perhaps I would be more versed and qualified to pontificate. However, even for the non-working photographer,  there are a few things that are easy to pick up on when you do get your hands on upper-level equipment. One of the most counter-intuitive is just how easy things can be with pro-grade equipment.

Certainly a EOS 5D Mark IV (like the one above) or a 1Dx Mark II (like the one below) have more features and customization than lesser cameras, but when the time comes, the actual act of shooting becomes so much simpler because of their capability. You would think that there would be some grand sense of the moment using a lens that costs over $11,000 USD , but once you concentrate on the task at hand, things become.... easy.... uneventful even. This is really what "professional quality" should mean; the equipment should be more sophisticated in order to make the job easy.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Some Quick Thoughts about the Nikon D7500 Ergonomics

Note: The full review is now available here.

Body-wise, you can think of it as a D750 shrunk down to DX-size. The hand grip is deeper for those that like to curl their fingers in a little more around the grip. My guess is that most people will find this comfortable, but there will be those who prefer the more traditional feel of the fatter D7200-style grip. You cannot tell from pictures alone, but the shape of the grip puts the Fn1 button right at the tip of your middle finger. Some people will like this and others will hate it, either way, it is a tactile difference from the D7200. The lip on the front of the grip where you hook your middle finger under is fairly pronounced for a D7xxxx camera, but not as large as on the D500. There isn't much of a "hook" on the thumb-rest, but the deeper grip makes the camera secure in your hand. This makes it a good handling match when paired with something like a AF-S 200-500mm, but the D500 will feel more at home with the larger exotics like the AF-S 600mm FL.

The ISO button at the top of he camera by the LCD is a change that carries over from the D500. The reach to it is fairly comfortable, but there is something "Canon-like" in moving more controls over to the right side of the camera. I.e., the traditional Nikon layout was to press a button with your left hand and twirl a dial with your right, whereas Canon tends to put a large dose of the shooting controls onto the right hand side. The Canon way lets you change parameters easier with the camera held up to your eye, but also tends to place your fingers in more strained positions. The traditional Nikon way is much easier on your finger joints (at least my my opinion, but I did work in healthcare previously) but necessitates pulling the camera away from your face.  The D500 and D750 venture out from that, but not by much. To be honest, I prefer to use the easy ISO setting with the ISO control on the back dial during aperture priority, and find this more friendly on the fingers.

Fresh out of the box, the buttons and dials feel a bit tight. The quality of the click articulation is not as bad as the D5500/D5600 (very click-y, not soft), but it doesn't quite have the same up-scale feeling as on the D750 and up. I honestly can't remember if the D7200 is better in this regards, or if it's a case that the buttons loosen up with use and settle in with a better articulation feeling afterwards.

The tiny little SD card door-flap is disappointing, but it's something that can be lived with.  A lot of people have bemoaned the lack of the 2nd SD slot, but it can be worked around, especially considering the choice and availability of larger SD cards today.  Are two card slots a "pro-feature" that is missing on the D7500? For perspective, a D500 has an XQD and SD slot... if you are serious, you would use the XQD slot to get the full benefit of the camera, meaning that you would effectively have "one" serious card slot and one for backup. Same thing goes for D810 and Canon 5D Mark IV users with their mixed compact flash / SD slot bays.

The flip out screen is familiar if you've used a D750, no surprises there. Screen is okay, again no surprises. The number of dots is less but the resolution is the same as the D72000. We're back to RGB only LCD (D7000 era); the D7100 and D7200 had RGB+white, which made the screens brighter for outdoor use or lower power consuming for indoors. Under most lighting conditions, the D7500 screen is not noticeably different than the D7200, if I'm honest, and this will be especially true if you are parsimonious with the brightness setting. If you are counting dots, the D7500 is comparable to its contemporaries, the Fujifilm X-T2 and the Sony A6500.

You do notice the weight, or the amount cut compared to previous cameras. It doesn't make the camera feel "cheaper" or more "plastic-y"... just less dense. Its very much like how the D750 first felt; lighter than it should be, but once we got used to it there was no looking back. The drop in weight is very much welcome for this class of camera. This would be an ideal camera for DX primes... if there were such things. (Yes the AF-S 35mm DX is one.... one....)

Overall feeling? There is a lot to like about it. From a handling point of view, it feels like a camera that properly slots below the D500 and above the D5600, in other word, an traditional enthusiast-level DSLR.

Monday, May 22, 2017

About that Girl Being Dragged off the Dock by a Sea Lion in Steveston...

By now if you spend any amount of time reading the news or watching videos on the Internet you would have seen the video of the young girl being dragged by her dress into the water. This was in the harbour at Steveston Village, and long time readers will know that a lot of the material in this blog was shot in and around the area. The event itself is surprising in how dramatic it was, but perhaps not surprising in that it happened at all.

Both the sea lion and the girl were ok, but in the words of a marine life specialist, both are were probably shocked by the turn of events. The sea lion mistook the back of the girl's dress for food and everything else happened afterwards. Social media, of course, has not been kind to the family. There is ample signage in the area telling people to not feed the wildlife, but that obviously goes on, especially during tourist season. In all honesty the circumstances are not unusual, but the fact that it went as far as it did is.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Two Views and Reviews: Spherical (360) Video

360 video (also known as spherical video) is an admittedly niche area of the camera market. The technology is advanced enough to hold your attention as a novelty, but it lags traditional video by such a wide margin that it also remains a novelty. It is most definitely not the future of consuming video, and in many ways seems to be a solution in search of a problem.

Why? The simplest explanation is "our brains don't work that way." 360 cameras record everything in all directions, but the basic tenant of communication is that our brains focus on one particular subject at one time. Your eyes subconsciously scan a wide field of view but your brain assembles one sole point of focus in your vision as. Likewise, your ears hear a wide spectrum of frequencies, but your brain selectively picks out what you want to hear specifically.  This is why you can carry on a conversation with one person in a crowded room even though your ears are picking up the simultaneous speech from everyone around you.

Naturally, 360 doesn't work for storytellers, educators and communicators. These people require you to focus on one point in space; as most photographers and videographers instinctively know, it is not just what is in the shot, but what is left out of the shot that makes the picture. Derek Muller of Veritasium fame explains:

Note that as an educator, Dr. Muller's point is that having a new technology or new way to consume content does not necessarily lead to more content being consumed. Your own physics teacher may have filled up multiple chalkboards (whiteboards?) with equations, but his laser pointer is focused on only one set on one board.

Martin from YouTube channel TechAltar is a bit more charitable about the uses of 360 video. These devices work much better from the point of view of immersion rather than story telling, and work best for quick snaps viewed on mobile devices.

The following two videos illustrate the differences. The first is from Kelly Blue Book with an immersive "story-less" video of a drive in a Lamborghini. The comments and feedback are quite positive.

The  converse is true of the following Consumer Reports review, which is a highly structured format designed to convey a fair degree of information to the viewer. Theoretically it is nice to have an immersive view of the car being discussed, but you ultimately focus on what the presenter is saying rather than exploring your surroundings. If you are actually doing the latter, then your brain tends to turn off the former. The comment section is also quite telling about how successful 360 is for this type of video.

So yes, it is cool and there is a niche for it, even now with the early state of its technology, but improving the resolution isn't going to be the driving factor for greater adoption of 360 video. That would come from getting better at figuring what works and what doesn't work for the format itself.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Leica Launches the M10

Hello it's been a while....

That is true of the frequency of posts going up on this blog lately, as it is of new M-system news from Leica. Today, after numerous rounds of leaks Leica launched the successor to the Leica M Type 240, the M10. With the simpler name comes a an exquisitely paired down body and control structure. This one is pretty much one for base; in many ways it's what Apple would call the "s" version of the M240; the same, but better. It will most certainly please the faithful, and it touches upon many of the wants that have collected over the past generation. Just like how the SL is minimalist in a modern design sense, the M10 is a minimalist callback to tradition.