Thursday, May 31, 2012

Last Thursday in May

Downtown
The Last Thursday of May 2012. The very last day of May. I've seen exactly 58 last days in May since I;ve been born. How many more will I get to see? My wife and I went up to our third weekly nutrition class. We've been going there to reset our knowledge of nutrition, especially as we hit these older stages of life. It's all about maintaining good nutritional health and quality of life. We want to live well, not live stupidly.

On the way up my wife drove so I could hang out the passenger side window and randomly photograph the scenery as it sorta rolled by in rush hour traffic.
Afternoon Traffic
The only shot I took on the driver's side was on the way home from work while driving down Alafaya in front  of UCF.
Centerpiece
After our class we stopped by a local chain and had our usual soap and salad. Heavy on the salad.
Night Traffic
And of course my wife drove home again while I played with just shooting totally out of focus.

Technical

Everything taken with the Olympus E-PL1 and the Olympus OM 1.4/50mm. Top photo was taken with the lens stopped down to f/4. When you stop the 50mm down and focus it out towards near-infinity the lens can produce remarkable images. This is in stark contrast to shooting at f/1.4 and focusing close as I did for the mandevilla photos. All the other photos were taken with the lens wide open at various focusing distances.

At Work with Linux: Fedora 17 KDE

I installed a second instance of Fedora 17 this time with the KDE desktop just as I had threatened to do yesterday. Same M.O.: a virtual machine instance using VMware Player 4.0.3 on a RHEL 6.2 host. This time the installation ran without a hitch. Just like Fedora 17 Gnome I had to install from the live desktop ISO then add gcc and kernel-devel. Perl was already a part of the installation.

With the basic tools in place I installed the VMware extensions which allowed for seamless integration of the virtual desktop with the host's desktop. As usual I also added google-chrome-stable to pick up Google Chrome 19.
The KDE 4 desktop is the absolute antithesis of the Gnome 3 desktop, to the point where I wished some of the Gnome 3 austerity would rub off on KDE. But I'd rather have too much than Gnome's too little, so I'm willing to leave well enough alone and be very very careful what I wish for.

As you can see above the desktop framework has plenty of 3D styled effects and eye candy. To counter-balance this I installed the white wallpaper you see in the first screen shot. So far the guts under the desktop environment match what's under the Gnome desktop environment (of course), so it looks like I'll be learning to live with KDE again. I think the rest of the lab crew can learn to love KDE 4 as well.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I'm Turning Into a Bokehnut

Mandevilla Bokeh Experiment 7
Version A-1
Mandevilla Bokeh Experiment 6
Version A-2
Mandevilla Bokeh Experiment 5
Mandevilla Bokeh Experiment 4
Version B-1
Mandevilla Bokeh Experiment 3
Version B-2

I can't seem to leave well enough alone. Once again the mandevillas combined with the late afternoon sun to create a glorious blaze of color in the backyard. I'm not the only one to notice, either. We're getting butterflies and at least one hummingbird.

All of these were taken with the Olympus E-PL1 and the Olympus OM 1.4/50mm. I tried a sequence with the M.Zuiko 45mm, but they came out too sharp. I never thought I'd write a blog post complaining that the photos were too sharp, even wide open. There's a time and a place for everything, but the 45mm may not be the right lens for this kind of photography, at least not all the time.

All of the photos were minimally processed. The only heavily processed photo is Version b-2, where I deliberately lightened the photo to increase the light-filled airy atmosphere. But all of the photos are different shots, separated by mere moments, if not mere seconds between exposures.

I need to find more flower subjects, more views, and practice more. You'll probably get sick of seeing this before I do, but after shooting so hard and dark for so long this is just too compelling a way to shoot for me to give it up just yet.

At Work with Linux: Fedora 17 on VMware Player


Along with the rest of the Linux world I installed a copy of Fedora 17 to sort of kick the virtual tires and drive it a short distance to see how it runs. As is usual for me these days I installed a copy in VMware Player 4.0.3 hosted on a workstation running RHEL 6.2. Maybe it was a case of the stupids, but it took two attempts to successfully install Fedora 17. The first time something I did screwed up the filesystem and it panicked when it couldn't find the kernel on boot.

Because of heavy traffic on the Fedora web site I wound up installing the live desktop because I couldn't download the full DVD. I completed the installation by adding and removing certain bits. Basically, what I altered was
  • immediately updated the installation with 87 packages, including the kernel
  • added perl, gcc, kernel-devel, xrdp, google-chrome-stable
Once all that was done I installed the VMware extensions. I had to add perl, gcc and kernel-devel to support the building of the VMware extension kernel modules.


Gnome 3.4.1 is certainly different from Gnome 2, and different from Gnome 3 on Fedora 16. In many ways it behaves like a poor copy of Ubuntu's Unity desktop. While I'm tolerant of Unity and can even see what the designers are attempting with it, I'm less tolerant of Gnome 3.4.1. I can make it work, but I have to ask myself is it worth the effort. I've yet to draw any firm conclusions one way or the other.


Support for 3D effects are finally back and can match some of what I currently have with Fedora 14 on my Dell notebook. I'm not too crazy about the choice of window decorations, but since there's no other choices being offered there's not a whole lot I can do to change it. At least Ubuntu's Unity gives you two choices, which is two more than Gnome 3.4.1. Funny thing is I like the light Unity theme. The stock Gnome 3.4.1 theme is too light and washed out.


I haven't had time to figure out the keyboard shortcuts with Gnome 3.4.1. That, along with a lack of desktops, means that I have to mouse over and click activities if I want a clear view of all open windows on the desktop. Again, the layout is "pretty" but not very user friendly, at least not at first blush.


This last screen shot shows some of the weird quirks when looking for an application. I typed in the first three letters of 'terminal', expecting it to quickly neck down to Terminal. Instead I got all of these applications. Fortunately Terminal was the first to bubble up to the first position, but I have to wonder why 'Date and Time' and 'User Accounts' and 'Details', just to name three, were provided as hits. Before I typed anything in the search box I had all the applications, and as I typed a letter the selection grew smaller and smaller. But still, this makes me wonder what's going on behind the scenes.

I really need to update to Fedora 17. Here's why:

  1. I'm still on Fedora 14. Granted, Fedora 14 still runs just dandy, but it's no longer getting any updates, and the kernel and some of the other bits I depend on are getting a bit long in the tooth.
  2. Fedora 17 has support for OpenStack Essex, and I really need to get that going in support of internal project at work. So far we've got an older version of OpenStack running on Ubuntu 10.04. We need to migrate to Fedora because we are a RHEL shop and sooner or later this will come to us via RHEL. And I'd rather were were integrated with RHEL/Fedora much sooner than later.
I'm very unenthused about about Gnome 3, so I'm going to have to run evaluation copies of all the other desktop versions to make an informed decision as to which one to use.

Update 30 May

Single greatest annoyance with Fedora 17: It Has No Bloody Off Button. I can log out and I can suspend it, but there is no explicit off. I shut it down by bringing up a terminal, su to root, and type 'shutdown now' at the prompt. No kidding.

I will keep this VM around to see if there are any updates/improvements to Gnome 3.4.1 that address this issue. What kind of morons release a DE without something as fundamental as the ability to turn off the bloody computer directly from the account desktop? Why, the same group that decided you need to log out of your account first so you can hit the power icon on the login screen. A change that can be best described as capricious and arbitrary, serving no real usability purpose whatsoever. Back in August 2011 Torvalds labeled Gnome 3 an "unholy mess." I don't think Gnome 3.4 is going to change his mind - or mine.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Mo' Bokeh! Mo' Betta!

Magnolia Blossom 1
We went out and purchased a new magnolia tree at a local Home Depot. You've not quite lived until you've seen a red Prius hauling a seven foot magnolia sticking out of the hatch. Fortunately I got it home without destroying it, even stopping by a local Whole Foods to pick up a triple-chocolate birthday cake for daughter #1. Once home the magnolia was safely move into the back yard. Its planting is one of my little after-work projects for next week.

The sun broke through the clouds for a while this afternoon, and I went out and photographed the little magnolia before the sun dissappeared behind the clouds or I managed to kill it. We got this one because it's blooming right now. This particular bloom has ended, of course, but some of the petals are still attached to the central part of the flower. I like photographing magnolias because of the smooth satiny way the dark green leaves reflect the light. I'm waiting for some of the other buds on the tree to bloom.
Mandevilla Bokeh Experiment 2
The sun came out and bathed the mandevilla bushes with a bright but suffused light. In contrast to the low-key magnolia I decided to photograph this high-key. The little edge of sharpness is enough to satisfy that "sharpness need" I seem to have for photographs. But I'm working on that. As Kirk Tuck once said, why does it always have to be sharp?
Pots 2
While I was at the Home Depot buying the magnolia I carried my camera in with me. Bad move. I saw the pots against the wall, so while my wife was out looking at plants I was out photographing the pots. She said everybody looked at me like I was a weirdo. I think she was just annoyed with me because I disappeared for a time, rather than walk with her looking at the plants. Next time I will walk with her to look at the plants, stopping to photograph the really interesting angles. Then they'll look at both of us as if we're weirdos.
Pots 1

Technical

All of it taken with the Olympus E-PL1 and an Olympus OM Zuiko 50mm 1:1.4. Various degrees of post processing in Lightroom 4 and Silver Efex Pro 2, except for the second photograph. It came out of the camera as-is. All Lightroom did was convert the raw file to JPEG.

Mellow Memorial

Rainy Mandevillas
Tropical depression Beryl is currently sitting over the north-central section of Florida, right where I-75 crosses into south Georgia. I know this because I can see it on the map as well as all the thunderstorms that are moving over my little section of Orlando, Florida. Because Florida is so flat, tropical depressions have a long reach across this state no matter where they come ashore.

I had wanted to head out and do some photography, but with the rain more or less steady I didn't feel like getting out and getting wet. Call me lazy. Then I came across an article extolling the virtues of the Nikkor 50mm 1:1.2 manual focus lens and the quality out-of-focus effects the lens would produce. Of course it was being used with the God Nikon, the D800/E, which I thought was a bit ridiculous. You spend $3,000 and up on a camera that demands the best in optical sharpness and what do you do, you write an article about using a f/1.2 lens in front of it. Wide open.

Whenever I read an article about a lens, such as a lot of Kirk's or Matthew's posts, I immediately go check the price of said lens on eBay and KEH. After the prices dampen the enthusiasm I go and check what I've got and can I achieve something similar. The same thing happened today with the Nikkor. After reading the article and viewing the photos I checked the price of the Nikkor on Amazon and B&H, then went back and grabbed the black OM Zuiko 50mm 1:1.4, popped it onto a pair of adapters, and put the whole assemblage on the E-PL1. Then, as the latest thunderstorm died down to a drizzle I went out back and shot some very wet mandevillas wide open.
Single Mandevilla
I picked these two shots as my favorites of the small group I captured. I post-processed them in Lightroom 4 to emphasize the lightness and pastel colors even further. Specifically I de-emphasized the blacks (+50) and on the top photo I brightened it by pushing the white slider +50. I kept the E-PL1's color selection on both. And to get that romantic vignetting in the corners I added that in post as well. The OM 50mm, at least in the center third, didn't provide that romantic vignetting.

I've discovered I really enjoy using the E-PL1 with a manual focus lens, even more so than the E-P2. That's because there's a button on the back, right on the top right corner, that puts the camera into a magnification mode while composing photos. I press it once to get the magnification box, move the area around on the screen to where I want to carefully focus, then press it again to magnify and focus. Then I press the shutter release. Handy for when you're doing something weird, like using a fast lens wide open.

I have to admit I like the results. Sometimes even an Eeyore gets tired of dark and sharp. And using an overcast day to achieve something light and ethereal is an interesting challenge.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Slow Sunday

Waiting
Today was a work day around the house. I ran some errands to a local Home Depot to pick up a few tools to try and replace an air conditioner that is literally built into a lower wall of the back extension. An air conditioner that's completely busted. It's a project that's taking a lot longer than I anticipated. So much for a movie and some riding around photographing. In the end the oldest, my wife and I congregated at a local Olive Garden next to Millenia Mall for an early evening meal. We weren't up for anything special so we made a meal out of soup, salad and breadsticks.
Demolishing Former Robb and Stuckey's
On the way out I spotted the former Robb and Stucky store that had closed down March of last year. The property is prime real estate right on the corner of Conroy and Millenia Blvd, directly across from Millenia Mall. Whoever purchased the property is in the process of demolishing the store. I' not surprised, as the store was very specific to Robb and Stucky's method of displaying and selling expensive furniture for expensive homes. It would have been difficult reusing the layout. It will be interesting to see what rises over this site. It wouldn't surprise me if it isn't turned into a gas station.
Shattered
I'm still playing with the E-PL1. Give it the right kind of lens and the E-PL1 can produce some richly detailed photographs. I still marvel over the price it dropped to. The Olympus E-PL1 is destined to become a classic along the same lines as the E-500.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

We're Still Paving Paradise - May Report

I checked on two construction projects near my home, the Palm Parkway bridge construction and the Drury, a.k.a. Dreary Hotel construction. I shot the Palm Parkway scenes in the early afternoon while taking the Dreary right at sunset.

Steel Beasts at Attention

I have something of a morbid fascination for these machines, which started back in the early 1960's when I first read Ted Sturgeon's "Killdozer". My dad had signed me up for the Science Fiction Book Club, and the first two books I received were anthologies containing science fiction treasures from the 40s and 50s. Buried in those tomes were that story along with Phillip K. Dick's "The Father Thing". Both of them scared the living daylights out of me. I quickly got over the fright, but both stories have left a life-long lasting impression. That experience is one reason I like to shoot brooding, menacing photos of construction equipment and keep away from arthropods of all stripes.

Swept Clean

Looking back from the expressway towards Palm Parkway, you can see that all the berms originally created to hold water have been leveled. All that remains is a lot of level sand, and the three main pieces of construction equipment near the parkway.

The Florida Henges

I had planed on just shooting over the fence to the land next to I-4, but the crew had managed to boggle the gate hing, which allowed me to easily slip to the other side and get a lot closer to the area. You can see the nearly fallen gate in the very back. These are the pylons that have been driven into the sandy soil, and that will become part of the bulwark for the Palm Parkway side of the bridge.

Across I-4

This shot is from the Palm Parkway side of I-4, across the expressway, and to the other side where similar construction is taking place. The I-4 divider has already been blocked off, in preparation for a set of pylons to be emplaced for the center section of the bridge. Beams will span from either side of I-4 and be supported by the center section to be built.

So far nothing else is happening on the Palm Parkway side with regards to other development. It's still the long and wide sandy stretch of cleared land surrounded by piney woods on both sides.

Dreary Inn Painted

The Dreary/Drury Inn has turned into the ugliest building I've seen in some time. There are a few much older buildings that would vie for the title of Ugliest Building In Orlando, but this one, with its faux Brutalist design and ugly colors is right up there with some of the best/worst.

Nouveau Industrial with Windows

The sun was quickly setting, so as I was walking up the sidewalk next to the construction site I was treated to this view that reminded me of an old industrial district near downtown Atlanta. Those crates in the near foreground behind the pipes look to be bathroom sets for the rooms, but stacked out front between the piping and the buildings makes it look nice and industrial.

Technical

I'm now into fully using both µ4/3rds bodies, the E-P2 and the E-PL1. While tramping around the Palm Parkway construction area it was a lot easier having both of those bodies slung across my shoulders than it would have been with an E-1 with a 12-60mm and an E-3 with a 50-200mm. I could literally tuck in the Pens with their small lenses (14mm and 45mm) in close and not worry about banging gear into anything, including each other. Although there are some who swear by the VF-2 and won't use a Pen without one, I prefer to frame with the back LCD and keep an eye on exposure using the live histogram. Anything out of the ordinary I can take care of in post. Sorry, but that's little different then when I used film; I could take care of any problems with dodging and burning and the selection of print paper.

The two lenses I used today across both bodies were the Panasonic 14mm and the M.Zuiko 45mm. Although there are many who swear by the superiority of the E-PL1's sensor vs that in the E-P2, I can't tell the difference. But I will say this, they both work fabulous for me. Picking up that E-PL1 for $150 has got to be the best camera bargain yet.

Eurotrash

IMAG0297-1I will more than likely annoy the very few Europeans that bother to read this blog with the title of this post, but in this instance I'm not referring to any "pretentious, narcissistic, metrosexual Europeans" but instead to the cultural refuse that floats across from the European side of the Atlantic to the American side of the Atlantic. In this instance, anything having to do with the 2012 Summer Olympics being held in London.

These photos were taken at a local Walmart earlier today with my very handy cellphone. I resisted the urge to further "enhance" them with a phone app, simply accepting what the built-in camera and stock software spit out with the press of the camera release. They're already ugly enough.

I wouldn't call Walmart the bastion of cultural excellence, but even Walmart's limited integrity is lessened with cheap products trying to leverage what little cachet the Olympics might still have. For $14.97.

While no Olympics has ever been without blatant commercialism, London seems to have gone out of its way to raise the bar (or lower the standard) on just how blatantly commercial an Olympics game can be.

London has made damn sure that no-one except those that have paid for the privilege can casually photograph or even blog/tweet about the games, especially the athletes on whom the games so vitally depend. This allows those who have paid for the privelege, such as Gillette, to sell advertising excrement such as THE GOLD COLLECTION Gillette LONDON 2012 OLYMPIC GAMES LIMITED EDITION shaving set.

IMAG0298-1

THE GOLD COLLECTION comes complete with 1 razor, 1 cartridge, 1 shave gel, 1 body wash, 1 deodorant, and a cooling lotion to keep some poor sod from getting too overheated from using these LONDON 2012 OLYMPIC GAMES LIMITED EDITION male toiletries. All this for the incredibly low price of $14.97.

I am amazed that a culture that can trace, unbroken, it's place in history back to the Romans, that gave us the Magna Carta, Oxford University, and many of the greatest intellectual treasures the English-speaking world has ever known and still depends upon would so extraordinarily diminish themselves by their behavior during the Games. I can understand when we Americans act like fools, we haven't been around the world long enough. But not England, and especially not London.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Watching History Unfold

Watching History HappenHistory was made today when a private spacecraft, Space Exploration Technology Corporation, or SpaceX's Dragon capsule docked with the International Space Station today just before noon local time.

It was amazing to watch history unfold in front of me on my computer monitor in near-real-time. I say near-real because of the delay due to the internet streaming the video, as well as the speed of light between the ISS and the earth stations.

When I stop to comprehend all that was happening, I realize I was watching video taken aboard the ISS, relayed down to earth, encoded, and then streamed from NASA across the internet to my corporation's network and then finally to my little Dell sitting there in front of me. Complete with audio. And the SpaceX Dragon team was using the same network (although with probably more direction connectivity between their California mission control and NASA) to communicate and control Dragon. All simultaneously with billions of other transactions across the country and around the world. The internet may have its issues, but when it works it truly is an invention of sublime beauty.

I couldn't be on the ISS in person, but technology allowed me to participate vicariously. This is literally the kind of technology I used to read about in high school, written decades before I found those books in the library. I still remember those stories, in particular how they concentrated on the technology, but not so much on how society in general might accept it. I always though that society would find technology, and specifically space travel, consuming most people's attentions. I was quickly disabused of that notion towards the end of the Apollo program. We took an incredible lead in space and spent the next forty years pissing it away. We spent hundreds of billions going around in LEO, first in the shuttle and latter in the shuttle and the ISS. With SpaceX, and all the other private commercial ventures trying to fly into space, we have a golden opportunity to reboot and really explore the solar system.

Waiting for Lunch

With ubiquitous technology I can follow events around the globe as well as above it with my wired and connected Android cellphone. So while I sit and wait for my take-out lunch, I can still follow news and events. And I don't mean just listening to the radio like I did as a kid with my portable transistor. I mean full internet interactivity with streaming video, literally in the palm of my hand. This is a capability that even all the Star Trek episodes could fully understand, and only very briefly touched upon in all their episodes.

While it's great to dream about flying above the sky, the realities of living on earth and in Florida tend to intrude. While we've had some recent thunder showers, the weather is getting hotter and dryer when it doesn't rain, leading to end of the spring flowers and a drying out of vegetation. Just the kind of conditions to create tinder for the fire season.

The Dwindling Flowers

Technical

Taken with the old-new Olympus E-PL1 (old in that it was introduced two years ago, new in that I just bought my copy a week or so ago). I'm using the Panasonic 20mm with it. It looks and operates wonderfully with all the little µ4/3rds primes. It is a fun little camera, and for $150 for the body (while supplies last) it's an absolute no-brainer to purchase. And I love the images that are coming off this sensor.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Life as a Series of Snapshots

EP235827

Sometimes when you're sitting by yourself munching fast food you can see a table and two chairs and build a little vignette about them in your mind. Why are they empty? Who sat in them last? Two individuals alone, or two individual together? Why are the seats so shiney? And on and on. The mental equivalent of the fast food I'm munching on.

EP235829

My informal science fair project with the flowers continues. They still live, and in fact the little plant has actually grown larger. It still flowers, and if you look closely you'll see a few dead flowers that have simply finished blooming. We've had a surprising large amount of rain recently, due probably to weak tropical storm Alberto that formed off of Jacksonville last week. When it finally moved out towards the Atlantic it pulled all the humidity with it and left us with a very dry and cool weekend. Now it looks like another tropical storm, Beryl, is forming out in the Atlantic and headed towards Savannah Georgia sometime this coming weekend. And then, to top it all off, there's another tropical disturbance trying to form down in the Keys. Looks like a busy and early hurricane season this year.

EP235822-Edit

Love texture pictures/photos. Love sepia. Reminds me of pencil and pastel drawing, especially with burnt umber and terracotta colors. Earth tones. It all seems like a million years ago.

P5240023

Late afternoon driving up to my nutrition class in Maitland. Crazy traffic, crazy lighting. Looking out through the bug-gut-smeared windshield (it's love bug season here in central Florida). Driving back after 7:30pm I was taken by the deep shadows and dramatic lighting all through the city. I'm spending one day of the three-day holiday tramping around with the µ4/3rds cameras, especially in the late afternoon in an attempt to capture some of that drama. Probably after I wash all the bug guts off the Prius.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Next Camera, Part 3

I'm going to pretend like I'm Thom Hogan and speculate about the rumored Nikon D600 that will allegedly be released sometime this summer.

I don't currently own any digital Nikon kit, only Olympus. The only Nikon camera I've ever owned was the film-era N90. It was an OK camera, a camera I purchased in a fit of passion that slowly faded over the 15 years I had it in my possession. I don't know if it was the N90's fault, mine, or some combination of the two, but my passion for it and photography in general had nearly withered away before the little Canon PowerShot A300 arrived and began to re-kindle a passion for photography. With the purchase of the Olympus E-300 my passion for photography came roaring back.

Somewhere in that sad tale is a lesson, I'm sure. Yet, in spite of my mistakes of history, I refuse to learn from them. So here I am getting all excited like I was a real Nikon fanboy about a rumored Nikon digital camera, as if I were going to rush right out and buy one.

Based on a little scouting around the web I've put together a simple table (below) that compares four (or five, depending) Nikon 24x36mm-sized sensor cameras. I don't compare too many features, but the ones that are  there I consider the most important.

Nikon FX 24x36mm Sensor Cameras (real and otherwise) as of May 2012
ModelD600D700D800/ED4
Price (body only)~$1,500$2,200$3,000/$3,300$6,000
Sensor Resolution24MP12MP36MP16MP
OVF Coverage100%95%100%100%
When ReleasedQ2 2012Q3 2008Q1 2012Q1 2012
Video CapableYesNoYesYes
DX SupportYesYesYesYes
Body ConstructionCompositeMagnesiumMagnesiumMagnesium
Environmentally SealedMaybeYesYesYes

The first line of features is the price. According to rumors, the price of the D600 will be around $1,500. Let's think about that for a moment. The Nikon D-300s, an APS-C sensor camera (DX), is $1,700 body only. The Canon 7D, an APS-C sensor camera, floats around $1,800. The Olympus E-5 is down around $1,600. And the Sigma SD1 Merrill, an APS-C sensor camera, is a laughable $2,300. When I think about the D600 being "around" $1,500, I could easily see it at $1,700, the same price as the current D300s, replacing the D300s and wiping out the Canon 7D (and just about everybody else foolish enough to sell APS-C sensored cameras) at that price point. That would leave a nice $500 cushion between it and the D7000, the real heir to the D300s.

The 24MP resolution of this rumored camera is also very interesting to contemplate. Why put a 24MP 24x36mm sensor in a relatively in-expensive FX body? Because they've done something very similar already with the 24MP APS-C D3200. Nikon is now playing an aggressive game in the camera market, because they have no choice. As many have already noted, APS-C and 4/3rds sensor technology have reached essential parity and are now "good enough" to substitute for the far more expensive FX-based bodies. That's a terrible place to be in. I'm not alone in my displeasure and unwillingness to pay $3,000 and up for a Nikon or a Canon, and Nikon knows this. They also know that even at $1,500 a 24x36mm-sized sensor body won't sell well if it doesn't have the same megapixel parity as their lowest-entry cameras. So they're going to release an entry-level FX camera with 24MP because that other Nikon, the one that released the 24MP D3200, is forcing them to.

One key observation about Nikon sensors. When Nikon released the Nikon 1 CX sensor based cameras, a lot of folks poo-pooed the camera and its itty-bitty sensor. They never went back and looked at the quality photographs that sensor produced, nor fully contemplated the fact that the sensor had PDAF sites on the sensor surface. The CX sensor has 73 phase-detect focusing sites, which when combined with the contrast detect focus capability of the sensor provides a hybrid focusing capability for both F-mount lenses (with the FT-1 straight-through adapter) as well as native Nikon 1 lenses. It's no stretch to see this sensor technology scaled up to the D600's sensor. The D600 with such sensor technology would have the ability to provide live-view autofocus while shooting video. And it would eliminate the need to have a separate phase-detect focusing system that all current Nikon DSLRs now have. They've already amortised the cost of developing this technology with the Nikon 1, and they would save money by combining contrast and phase detect autofocus on the sensor in the D600.

When it comes to video, that's a no brainer. Nikon, the DSLR company that released video first in a DSLR with the D90, will continue to release video in all their cameras, especially with this camera. And I suspect it'll be something to really write home about.

As for body construction and environmental sealing, here's where Nikon can save some money in manufacturing costs. Canon showed with the 60D that you could build a composite-based camera body with environmental seals, and Pentax has just release the K-30, another composite-based body that is environmentally sealed. While the D300s, at $1,700, is built out of magnesium as well as sealed, keep in mind that it has the smaller sensor, and it was designed and built in an earlier time when composites weren't as nearly as refined as they are today. A smallish, light, composite body will help keep costs down and make the overall package profitable at that price point.

The Long Game

I now believe that Nikon's DX cameras will be phased out by the end of this decade. I believe that Nikon is driving the FX to lower and lower price points, and that they'll fill in the very low end with CX mirrorless cameras. The demarcation is US$1,000.

Nikon could produce one more very-low-cost (say $1,000) FX camera, a composite-bodied camera that's a D5100 all grown up as it were. The CX would start at around $1,000 (there's a little bit of overlap) and have two or three models going to down to around $400. That pretty much takes out the need for point-and-shoot cameras, which are being decimated by smart phones anyway. And for all those folks with DX bodies, well, remember that the DX and FX bodies have one mount: the Nikon F mount.

Every FX body will mount the DX lenses and they'll pretend they're DX cameras. The D600 is supposed to do this automatically when the DX lens is mounted. And at those prices, what's not to like? The investment is in glass, and as long as those legacy lens owners have an upward path at a reasonable price, they'll come running. I don't see Nikon treating all its customers they way Olympus is shamefully treating its regular 4/3rds customers.

Always remember: whether the sensor is APS-C or 24x36mm, the mirror box and mount are FX sized, which makes every DX and FX body pretty much the same size and weight. If a body is oversized like the D4, it's primarily because of the built-in vertical grip along the bottom.

Everybody has complained about the lack of quality DX lenses compared to their FX breathern. Even Thom Hogan has complained from time to time. The simple solution is to get rid of the DX bodies and provide an inducement to move to FX, where it becomes a lot more straightforward for Nikon's development and manufacturing. And in the process they get to stomp all over Canon, and Sony, and Pentax, and Olympus, etc, etc, etc.

I have no idea where µ4/3rds in general, and Olympus in particular, eventually wind up in this. It's going to be really hard to sell against a $1,000 4/3rds sensor camera against a $1,000 FX camera, unless the 4/3rds sensor camera is a really sweet bundle. And then they're going to have to content with Nikon's CX mirrorless, which I firmly believe Nikon will use in that market segment. I expect that Olympus will be completely out of the camera business by the end of this decade, if not sooner. And I expect Panasonic will follow suit.

As for Canon, I have no idea how they'll react, but I don't think Canon will do all that well in the long term. While there are many rabid Canon fans who'll scream otherwise, there's no denying the price differential between Nikon and Canon at this point in time. Both of Canon's high-end cameras are $500 higher than Nikons, and I think that was a strategic mistake on Canon's part. If and when the D600 is released, it will be interesting to see if Canon can react quickly enough to counter with an equivalently speced camera at the same price point. Because nobody in their right mind is going to spend the same cash for an APS-C camera (the 7D) when they can get a real honest-to-goodness Nikon FX camera and join that special league.

References

More Nikon D600 specs - http://nikonrumors.com/2012/05/09/more-nikon-d600-specs.aspx/
Nikon 1 series - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikon_1_series

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Here There Be Dragons

At about a quarter to 4 in the morning, while I stood outside in my front yard, in my untied sneakers and bathrobe half asleep, the sky lit up on the eastern horizon as the Falcon 9 with the Dragon capsule lifted from Canaveral on its voyage into space and to the ISS. I came quickly to full wakefulness as the horizon brightend, standing and savoring this moment in history. I hadn't felt this excited about any launch since Apollo 11, when I was 15.

It's going to be a little while yet before the Dragon docks with the ISS. During that period the spacecraft will go through a complete checkout of its flight systems while on orbit before it's allowed to get close enough to dock. Even if it doesn't get that far, the launch of the Dragon is non-the-less one of the most important events in space history because it was conceived of, funded and built by a private company, SpaceX, and for a fraction of the cost that the conventional aerospace companies would have charged. It's a shame that the man-rated version wasn't ready for crew ferrying when the Shuttles were retired and sent to museums, but it will be soon enough. It's better late than never.

Elon Musk, SpaceX, and the Dragon have given something back to me I haven't had in a good long while: hope. Real hope for the future. I grew up believing that hope for us all lay in space, among the planets and eventually out to the stars. The space program was in full swing while I was in elementary and high school while growing up in Atlanta. The space program was a real inspiration for a too-tall and too-skinny geek with coke-bottle-bottom glasses. I had all the Life books on space and all the space models from Revell and Monogram and AST. I'd seen all the Really Cool movies ("The Day the Earth Stood Still" and "Forbidden Planet") so many times I'd memorized the scripts. I did the same thing with the first two seasons of the Star Trek episodes (I came to despise season 3). I shoe-horned in episodes of the Outer Limits, especially "The Inheritors."

I still remember the key plot from "The Inheritors": four ordinary soldiers fighting in Korea were all shot in the head with bullets made from a meteorite. The meteorite was special; it contained outer-space material that enhanced all four men's intellects, and gave them paranormal powers to control others. Their mission was to build a starship. One of the four, Lt. Minns, became the group's leader. He was also the money man. In the story he traveled to Wall Street and with his enhanced understanding of finances managed to quickly parley a small amount of money into a fairly sizable fortune, which he divided among the other three men to fund the building of the starship. All of them are building a starship which eventually took a small group of handicapped children as well as themselves to a new world, a world where the children are no longer handicapped and he men will be accepted for what they've become. At the episodes denouement we found out that the special meteorite was sent out by an advance but dying race to find a newer, younger race to come back and inherit what the dying race was leaving behind.

In hindsight there are some interesting parallels with that 1964 two-parter and SpaceX. In SpaceX's case, it was Elon Musk who made a large amount of money on via Wall Street through his development of PayPal and subsequent sale of it to eBay. Musk then used a portion of that to create SpaceX, the corporate vehicle with which to create the Falcon rockets and the Dragon capsules. Elon Musk may not be building a starship, but he's building something more important, the foundation for future rocket travel within our own solar system. Elon Musk is as intensely dedicated to the success of SpaceX and the Falcon as the make-believe Lt. Minns was to building his starship.

The flight of the Falcon and Dragon has rekindled a bright enthusiasm towards space that had all but completely gone out. I never really liked what Nixon did to the space shuttle, and I never really liked Nasa's stewardship of manned space flight after Apollo. Elon Musk and SpaceX are different; they're like the stories from science fiction where the heroic investors and engineers built rockets by their own wits and with their own resources and flew them into space. I'm so excited by what I saw and what I felt again. I'm pulling for the success of the Dragon and the continued success of SpaceX.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Next Camera, Part 2

The US$2,300 µ4/3rds system
Panasonic announced their latest lens, the H-HS 12035 Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm/F2.8 ASPH zoom lens. Brother, what a mouthful. And right now you can preorder a copy for your very own from Amazon for a mere US$1,300.

Something interesting happens when you add the lens to the Olympus OM-D E-M5; you wind up with a rather pricey US$2,300 camera. That's a good US$1,000 higher than the standard E-M5 kit with the M.Zuiko 12-50mm which also happens to be US$1,300.

I mention this in passing because of all the strident squeals from the forum monsters who proclaim how so much better the Panasonic zoom is over the Olympus kit zoom. Amazon and B&H both have this lens for a far more modest US$500, and bundled with the E-M5 it drops further to $300. Based on all the review images I've seen so far, from photographers who really know how to use the kit, the photographs produced by the combination are outstanding. So I wouldn't classify the Olympus 12-50mm as "junk".

No matter how much it calls to me I still can't afford it. Once again I'm looking at a (for me) large financial outlay, although certainly nothing as strenuous as the latest from Canon, Leica, and Nikon. And there's another way to look at the price of this lens (ignoring everything else about it at the moment): compared to the Olympus regular 4/3rds 14-35mm/F2, it's a cool US$1,100 cheaper, which I couldn't afford either. But half of impossible is still impossible, so I look as longingly at the Panasonic lens as the SHG 14-35mm.

So far the limited preliminary viewings of this lens and the one lone review show the Panasonic lens to be within striking distance, image-quality-wise, of the Olympus. What makes the Panasonic so much more desirable than the Olympus is that this lens is a native µ4/3rds lens that is 1/3 the weight of the Olympus lens as well as a heck of a lot smaller, forming a more balanced system as you can see above with the E-M5.

Panasonic is also working on a second lens in this particular series, a 35-100mm f/2.8 X zoom. This lens will more than likely cost at least as much as the 12-35mm, if not more. According to a tweet from Kirk Tuck, once the 35-100mm is released then "we'll have a full system with one body and two lenses." It remains to be seen which body he'll use, but I have a feeling it'll be a Panasonic, not an Olympus.

This kit is still expensive and still well outside my financial comfort zone. The irony is that when Olympus was producing kit I didn't want I had the financial means to afford it. But now that they've finally got something I really want, I can't.

But not to worry. I have a lot to work with. And I've discovered something: I've grown quite fond of the classic Pen design. I guess I've been a "closet" rangefinder nerd all these years. There's something really sweet about handling the E-P2 and the E-PL1. So much so that they're about all I use these days. Those little bodies with their jewel-like primes are a real joy to work with. That may be why events have turned they way they have. The E-M5 and the Panasonic zooms are going back in the other direction, back towards a complexity I'm not quite so sure I want. I hope that the technology developed for the E-M5 is fed back into the classic Pen series. That would indeed be a Pen to have.

But it may not all fit back, specifically the five-axis IBIS. One key reason for the faux pentaprism housing is to hold the sensors used to help stabilize the sensor. With no housing you have no extra room in the body to hold all the special bits. But that may not be such a bad thing. Take the E-P3 body, upgrade the sensor to the E-M5's sensor, and call it an E-P5. I could certainly see owning something like that, budget permitting.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Generations

Breakfast

If anybody ever tells you that all your parental responsibilities end when your children turn 18 has either never had children or never been a real parent. They may grow up and move out, but the bonds that develop between loving parent and child are never severed. Strained, perhaps, but never truly severed. Being a parent grows ever more difficult as your children grow older simply because they do become adults, with their own independent wills, dreams, and ambitions totally apart from yours. The best you can do is offer advice when asked, both sides knowing that the advice offered is from a different generational perspective, and the older generation realizing the younger generation may decide not to take that advice or modify it to suit the current situation. You can be there to help them the best you can when they need it. But if they don't ask for advice or help, then you have to stay out of their way, realizing that you don't have a complete awareness of their situation.

Mom and Daughter

I've come to realize that the best way to be a parent to an adult child is to give of my time and go to them when it's convenient for them rather than demand they come to me. When young adults are starting out they're incredibly busy and their money is stretched rather thin. That means they have neither the time nor the means to take numerous junkets to visit the parents as often as the parent (and the child) would like. Realizing this we've decided to go up and visit the girls on a semi-regular basis, when everybody's schedules can mesh.  It really works out best, as we get to see each other, and we get out of the house and travel.

Mother-Daughter Discussions

I've also come to realize that the younger daughter is reaching out to mom about adult woman issues. That's not to say I'm no longer loved nor appreciated; I am. But my daughter has reached another point in her life where she needs mom again, especially mom's insights. It's a good thing mom was an English professor for nearly 25 years. During that entire time she taught college-age students which, coupled with her unique innate abilities to understand young adults, is now helping both girls navigate some of the rougher patches in this part of their lives. If it sounds like counseling, it is only in the broadest sense. What is happening now is far more sophisticated and nuanced, as this is between two human beings who have grown up and grown older with one another. And I'm glad my wife is around, because I would be helpless in these situations.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Rapid Run

Blow-by

On the road again... back up to Tallahassee. A quick two day run-up (Saturday and Sunday) to visit daughter #2, drop off some "vital" items, fix what can be fixed in a very short period of time, and try to be a father. Post-undergraduate-school, these trips seem a little melancholy; they remind me of the time that's passed. But then all that is more than balanced by the good of being able to visit and socialize. While I certainly love to visit, the "getting there" is most definitely not half the fun. Trying to drive responsibly (65mph in the slow lane on a three-lane highway to save gas in the Prius) makes you the target of tail-gaiters and vehicles that literally blow past you, like this trucker that did both on I-75. Florida drivers are real assholes.

Going and Coming

We (Labs and I) stopped at the Archer exit in Gainesville to pick up a quick bite of lunch. The temperature was cool enough I could leave the pups out in the car with all four windows down. And being the natural-born clowns they are, they moved like ping-pong balls between the windows checking things out. At this point in time Max has his rear hanging out the window while Ruby is looking entranced at something out in the distance. Ruby has eyesight a lot better than mine, and I'm always squinting to see what she sees.

Fenced In

Part of the trip for the Labs is stopping at the rest areas along the way so they can get out and leave their calling cards for the next animals that come riding through. This rest area is on the east-bound side of I-10, just east of the junction of I-10 and County Road 255. The rest area has a nice big loop that takes you back to woods that surround the rest area. The last time we came through this area was open and a great place to let the pups out on their leads. This time we found it had been completely fenced off. I have no idea why this was done, except if to say if you look through the trees you'll find a lot of farmland. I find it rather interesting that it's labeled as Madison County Conservation Area. In my mind, conservation does not mean converting it into commercial farmland. The Google map of this area (with the rest area in the center) gives you a clear view of how the land is being used.


Protect Our Water - Tallahassee

Tonight we all got together at the Samrat Restaurant on Apalachee Parkway. This is a favorite of my daughter and her boyfriend. It was the first time for me eating there. I had the chicken sagwala and it was delicious. On the way out after dinner I happened to look up and see the large sign for the TAPP (Think About Personal Pollution) campaign. I've been expecting something like this for some time now, and more around Orlando than Tallahassee. As our urban centers grow larger and larger, we cover more land and grow more crowded. We get a lot of rain in Florida and it washes all the oils and other pollutants that collect over our man-made and man-modified surfaces, untreated into our waterways and down into the Floridan Aquifer where a good portion of the state gets its drinking water.

This aquifer, which covers all of Florida and extends into the southern sections of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, covers over 100,000 square miles and is heavily used by Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Gainesville, and Orlando, just to name four Florida cities. Back in the late 1980s, when the Orlando Sentinel newspaper was worth reading, it would run monthly stories during the summers about how we were pulling too much out of the Floridan and how salt water was encroaching around the shorelines, and how our declining rainfall averages (at the time) were exacerbating the problem. I have no idea what the state of the Floridan is today, but it can't be all that great. Our population has reached around 20 million and it's continuing to grow, putting ever greater pressure on what land is left and a critical water resource.

Technical

The top three photos were taken with the Olympus E-PL1 and the 17mm. Processed as raw in Lightroom 4. The bottom was taken with the E-P2 and Panasonic 20mm, also processed as raw in Lightroom 4. I am surprised by the quality of the E-PL1 photos. The E-PL1 may not look as snazzy as the E-P2, but its image quality is every bit as good, if not a little bit better, than the E-P2. But then the E-P2 is no slouch and stands head and shoulders above the E-PL1 with regards to handling. In the end they're both excellent cameras and in my mind are on an equal footing.