Sunday, September 30, 2012
|Apple's iPhone 5|
Saturday's latest shenanigans with T-Mobile were the last straw. In September 2011 I purchased a T-Mobile hotspot. I got this for my youngest daughter so that she could have internet connectivity at the house she'd moved into, as well as being able to carry it with her around Tallahassee. In spite of the glowing ads, service has been mediocre at best, but at least it gave her connectivity to check her email and Facebook. In late August she finally found a decent (read: affordable) wired connectivity solution in Tallahassee, so she didn't need the wireless hotspot anymore. I called T-Mobile to turn off the mobile hotspot feature only to discover that in spite of what we were told in September 2011, I couldn't turn it off without paying a $200 cancellation fee. Seems I didn't get a month-by-month contract but a two-year contract. I will, in the end, turn it off anyway. With a year still left on the contract, and with it costing me $40/month, I'll save $280 over riding out the rest of the contract run. Our other handset contracts come up for renewal next February and I don't need this outlier hanging over our heads. I tried to do this at the T-Mobile store at the Mall of Millenia, but we were told that while we could buy stuff from them, we had to call customer support to turn stuff off. This, of course, was the same store that sold me the mobile hotspot in the first place.
My current smartphone is the HTC myTouch running Android 2.3.4. Purchased in February 2011, it came with Android 2.2. Android wasn't upgraded to 2.3.4 until early this year, after Android 4 was released. Couple that with the lousy service in my own neighborhood (dropped calls, loss of connectivity outside of my house standing in my yard, etc, etc, etc) and my last two years with T-Mobile have been just short of abysmal. I've been a T-Mobile customer since 2000, when we switched to what was Voicestream Wireless at the time. That's twelve years. I have never wanted to drop T-Mobile until we made the fateful decision to switch to smartphones. If we'd stayed with simple feature phones, I'd be paying only half what we pay now in monthly fees and I'd probably still be reasonably happy. Own a smartphone through T-Mobile however is a royal pain in the ass.
We're tired of T-Mobile, and we're tired of Android. My wife wants an iPhone, and after watching the bumbling of Android across the various handsets and providers, I now want an iPhone as well. In spite of all the brouhaha surrounding the current iPhone 5 release, the phone sold five million its first weekend. The problems that critics want to fixate on are non-problems. iOS 6 may have its issues but I can match any problem in iOS with equivalents in Android. The only question is do I go with Verizon or Sprint? AT&T can rot in hell for all I care, along with T-Mobile. In the mean time I'll be investigating plans to match what we've currently got. But come February 2013 my wife and I will be getting iPhones and the family will be switching off of T-Mobile. We've had enough.
Saturday, September 29, 2012
So I gave it all a rest and just let it percolate in the back of my mind.
Today, as I was working through my infinite to-do list, I began to put together a series of price lists of basic camera gear, consisting of a body and one lens from Olympus (what I had before it was stolen), Nikon, and Canon. For me that one lens is a "normal" lens, either prime or zoom. A prime lens is usually one where the focal length equals the sensor diagonal (22mm for 4:3rds, 43mm for 35mm film). A "normal" zoom is one that zooms around the prime normal's focal length, such as 14-42mm for 4:3rds or 24-85mm for 35mm film/sensor. I usually opt for the zoom solution as it covers the prime focal lengths I'm interested in and usually work with: 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm. The tables that follow are the simple short lists of the three camera systems.
|Camera System Pricing - Base - Olympus|
|E-5, body only||$1,699.00|
|Zuiko 12-60mm f/2.8-4 zoom||$999.00|
|Camera System Pricing - Base - Nikon|
|D600, body only||$2,100.00|
|Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR AF-S zoom||$599.00|
|Total||$2,699.00 ($2,596.95 introductory price)|
|Camera System Pricing - Base - Canon|
|6D, body only||$2,100.00|
|EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM||$999.00|
|Total||$3,099.00 ($2,899 introductory price)|
All prices are from Amazon.
I'm well aware of the optical quality of the Zuiko 12-60mm. I owned it for 3 1/2 years before it was stolen. It is indeed a superb zoom lens and one primary reason I kept my 4:3rds system for so long. The other two reasons were the Zuiko 50-200mm zoom and Zuiko 50mm macro. With the E-3 and two zooms gone I'm no longer "bound" as it were to Olympus, 4:3rds or µ4:3rds.
What's interesting is the pricing. Nikon is currently the low-cost leader in this simple comparison, especially if you consider the introductory pricing. The Canon system is a good $300 higher (or more if not at the introductory price). I'm sure somebody will comment that the Canon zoom is superior to the new Nikkor, but don't bother. I don't care all that much, and I have a feeling that unless the Nikkor is grossly inferior I won't be able to tell the difference between any of the three unless I pixel peep, and that's not why I take photographs.
What I'm after now is a move away from the smaller sensors back to 35mm photography. I want to be able to use a focal length of say, 50mm, and know that it really is 50mm, not 75mm equivalent on APS-C or 100mm equivalent on 4:3ds. And I want to go back to using primes, specifically Zeiss primes. I can buy the same Zeiss primes for either mount (and for Sony too, for that matter), but in the end I feel the Nikon body is the better deal. I'm willing to wait for a decent 6D review or two before I finally pull the trigger, but unless there's something hugely better with the Canon I'm not aware of, it looks like I'm headed back to Nikon.
Sunday, September 23, 2012
This part of the day occurred after the rainy morning and mid-day. By the early afternoon the skies had cleared into a magnificent blue, with small dense clouds moving rapidly across the sky. Sometimes you'd find a view with the clouds backing the urban landscape, and sometimes the skies were nearly clear. Regardless it was all part of the personal sensorium. I scrambled to capture those views that kept grabbing my attention, whatever and where-ever they happened to turn up.
One lesson out of many I learned that day was to use one camera and one lens. So I used the E-PL2 with the 14-42mm kit zoom.
|E-PL5 with M.Zuiko 1:2.8/17mm prime|
Regardless of the brand or the camera model, one theme came through loud and clear: it's all about the money. With very few exceptions, everything introduced this year is anywhere from the very high hundreds to the mid-thousands. The one Olympus camera that I actually took a liking to, the E-PL5, is currently on pre-order for $700, body only. The "entry level" Nikon D600 (and Canon 6D) are $2,100, body only. The ridiculous Hasselblad Lunar (Loonie, Lunacy, I've read so many catty renames) is $5,000 (and up). Perpetually expensive Leica is still way too much money for me. Serious lenses from Zeiss for the various APS-C mounts and 135mm mounts are in the thousands themselves. The only cheap lens I saw under $100 was Olympus' 1:8/15mm "body cap" lens, which was introduced at a mere $50.
I'm going to ramble around the various camera segments (DSLR, mirrorless) and make some observations. Keep in mind that I have a unique situation: all of my regular 4:3rds equipment was stolen, and I have no heavy investment in any camera system at this point, not even µ4:3rds.
After getting over my initial disappointment with the introductory price of $2,100 for the D600, I have admit that the D600 is a sensible, if expensive, DSLR. I find it interesting that the D600 was introduced the same year as the D800/800e, but not at the same time. To be introduced so close together they had to have been in the same design cycle; that is, they were designing the D600 and D800 in parallel. Considering how the general market for DSLRs has changed mightily since the D700 and its contemporaries were introduced, I have no doubt Nikon felt this two-pronged approach was necessary.
I also believe the introduction of the D800 before the D600 was deliberate. The high cost of the D800/800e was a shock to a lot of people, myself included, and Nikon marketing probably knew this would happen going in. The world market, especially the US market, is still in a state of economic shock, and expensive cameras such as the D800 are considered more of a luxury item than ever. We'd grown used to seeing the D700 drop down over time into the low $2,000 range, and we were expecting the D700 replacement to be not much more expensive. When it came out at $3,000 ($3,300 D800e) more than a few were put off. I'm sure that Nikon was most appreciative of Canon's introductory price of $3,500 for the 5D Mark III, which made the D800 look almost like a bargain at $3,000. The early introduction and the unexpected good will from Canon helped to sell as many D800s as the market could bear. If the D600 had been introduced at the same time, far fewer D800s would have been sold.
I also back up this assertion with the surprisingly early introduction of product in large quantities all across the globe for the D600. DSLRs of this caliber are complicated and require considerable manual labor to build and test. Nikon was wise to wait until Photokina 2012 before officially introducing the camera. The almost instant availability and large stock mean that all the pent up demand for the real D700 replacement will be satisfied, and it may drive sales such that the D600 is Nikon's #1 FX camera for the next 12 months.
Will I buy one? That's a good question. It means moving back to a larger camera system, although it might actually be a bit smaller than the E-3 system I'd built up nearly four years ago. With a little more money I could have the same system using Nikon that I had with Olympus; a pair of bodies, two zooms, and a few fast primes, one of which would be a macro. In Nikon's case, it's all about the mount.
What's key to the Nikon mount isn't its hallowed lens catalog of existing lenses. I'm no fool; I can tell turkeys from eagles, and the Nikon catalog has a large collection of turkey lenses. What's left is quite excellent and helps to sustain the Nikon reputation. However, when you look at field-of-view coverage, mechanical build quality, and image quality, Olympus and Nikon are evenly matched (along with Canon, and probably Sony and Pentax). What differentiates the Nikon F mount in my mind is extensive third party support, specifically the Zeiss and Sigma catalogs. I still have the lone Sigma 1:1.4/30mm for the regular 4:3rds system which I use with my lone E-1. In spite of its focusing issues on the E-3, it was a great lens to have when I needed to cover very low light events, even with the E-3's limited high ISO issues. I would buy from Sigma again based on my good experiences with the 30mm.
And that points up the key limitation of the E-3 system. No third party quality lens makers are manufacturing for the regular 4:3rds system any more. Olympus' mis-management of the regular E-Volt 4:3rds system has turned it into a true orphan system. All the regular participants, notably Panasonic and Sigma, have discontinued all of their products for that system. Only Olympus is left to pay lip service to a once great camera system. And it is that past history that causes me to pause when considering any future investments with Olympus.
There were a few surprises in the mirrorless catagory, specifically the Sony α99 and RX1.
The α99 is the top-end SLT replacement for the highly regarded (and some would argue near-legendary) α900 introduced four years ago. The blogosphere was already expecting Sony to do something like this, based on prior statements about their view of SLT, so the camera itself wasn't that much of a surprise. The surprise is the price of $2,800 body only. If we consider that the 24MP sensor of the α99 is the same in the Nikon D600, and if we consider that the D600 is $700 less than the α99, then one has to ask what makes the α99 $700 more special? From where I stand, not very much. I personally thought it would come in around $2,000, based on the fact that the α77 is a "mere" $1,300, body only. If the α99 has been introduced at $2,200, then it would have been a far more solid contender for my hard earned dollars. As it is, if I'm going to contemplate spending $2,800 for an α99, then I might was well add $200 to the pile and purchase a Nikon D800. Or save $900 and purchase the D600, investing the cash into good glass. If I wanted Sony I'd go further downmarket and get the α77 with the 16-50mm lens, both of which cost $2,000 as a kit, a good $800 less than the α99. Sony shot themselves in the foot with the pricing of the α99. Whether it will be a mortal wound for the α99, only time will tell.
The RX1 came right out of left field. I had no clue they were releasing it. I had read the rumors about a NEX 9, a 135mm sensor sized NEX body that would have been the alter-ego to the α99 the way the NEX 7 is the alter-ego to the α77. After thinking about this for a bit, I believe the RX1 is the camera that gave rise to the NEX 9 rumors. And I find that highly entertaining, especially considering it's $2,800 MSRP, the same as the α99. I personally don't believe that Sony will introduce a NEX 9 the way the forum monsters want. The price of the RX1 should be a Big Clue as to how much a NEX 9 would cost. Consider also that if you bought a mythical NEX 9 that you'd have to buy all new E-mount lenses that would provide the required circle of illumination for the much larger sensor. The cost of a NEX 9 would be prohibitive to say the least, especially to the market at which the NEX series is aimed, and it ain't the real pros.
As for the Panasonic GH3, the answer from me is a solid no thank you. At $1,300 body only, it's the same price as the Sony α77. I'd rather have the older α77 and the larger α-mount (meaning Minolta) catalog, which is a lot more vibrant. Yes, there's now a lot of quality lenses for µ4:3rds, and I do own a few, but Sony is still the better long-term deal at that price.
I expected Olympus to introduce replacements for the E-PM1 and E-PL3 at Photokina 2012, and they did. There'd been all kinds of wild rumors about Olympus releasing a "pro" OM-D, but I knew that wasn't going to happen, based on watching how Olympus' release cycles work. They release a top-end camera, then a series of mid- and low-end follow on cameras using the same core sensor technology. It happened with the E-P1, E-P2, and E-P3, and it happened again with the E-M5.
This also means the end of the E-P# series of cameras. The E-PL5 has moved up fill in the gap where the E-P5 would have been if the E-M5 hadn't been introduced. That's why the E-PL5 now has an attachable front grip (as does the Olympus XZ-2, interestingly enough). With the same sensor as the E-M5 (but not the five axis IBIS), the E-PL5 may be what I purchase next, based on need, want, preference and price. I do prefer the Pen design, but I don't expect an E-P5 to ever see the light of day.
As for the XZ-2, at $600 it's only $50 less than the Sony RX-100. And based on all the photography being produced by the RX-100, I don't see how Olympus will sell many RX-2s, not at that price. Because of the surprisingly excellent results from the RX-100, I have been debating whether to purchase the Sony and forgo any further investing in the Pens.
I have reached a point where I am content to use the "trailing edge" of photographic equipment, purchasing gear as it is dropped for clearance (for example, the E-PL1 cost $150, the E-PL2 cost $250). I have all the lenses I really need. My favorite combination of body and lens right now is the E-PL2 and the Panasonic 1:1.7/20mm. I have other small primes and a pair of cheap zooms, all of which fits in a small, easy to carry bag. I pace my purchasing now, waiting for sales or closeouts. I'm no longer a bleeding edge first adopter. As much as I may appreciate the engineering effort and quality that may go into a $2,000 and up camera, I just don't have the drive any more to drop that kind of cash. But if I did, here's what I would consider:
- The best APS-C deal continues to be the Sony α77 body and 16-50mm lens, both of which are environmentally sealed. The combined cost of both is $2,000.
- The best serious compact is the Sony RX-100. It has its problems, especially with over exposure, but overall it's an awesome high quality little package for $650.
- The best mirrorless camera system is a toss-up between any µ4:3rds or Sony NEX 5 series body you can find on discontinued discount. The common denominator lenses for both are the Sigma 1:2.8/19mm and 1:2.8/30mm in either mount, each of them for just $200. Both lenses are inexpensive and provide excellent image quality. On a µ4:3rds body you have a normal and short telephoto, while on a NEX 5 body you have a moderate wide angle and a normal. Your call.
- The best dark-horse APS-C camera is the Pentax K-5 II. The K-5 II addresses low-light focusing issues of the K-5. Depending on what you want, you can save money with the K-5 on discount or spend more to get a more refined K-5 II. The camera is weather sealed, rugged, and has the same Sony sensor as the NEX 5, NEX 6, and many other excellent cameras on the market.
- The best dark horse µ4:3rds body is the Olympus E-PL5. With the excellent E-M5 sensor, it's image quality should match the E-M5, which has been trouncing quite a few Panasonic favorites since its release the first of this year.
Monday, September 17, 2012
I've written twice already about the D600, going so far as to speak of it along with another rumored Nikon camera, the D400 (the followup to the Nikon D300s). One of the key rumors was the D600's price of around $1,500, body only. I was somewhat annoyed when Nikon announced the official price of $2,100, body only.
I'm not going to go through all the D600 features, as that's already been done to death all over the net. The only feature that matters to me at the moment is the price. If a $2,100 camera is considered an "entry level" camera, then I'm in the wrong dimension, probably in the wrong time. How I miss the days when 35mm reigned supreme and bodies from all manufacturers were considerably less expensive...
Yes, I know that the D700, the camera it allegedly replaces, had a suggested MSRP at the time of its release of $3,000. That's what the Nikon D800 currently costs. The problem is the cost. If it had been released at the rumored $1,500, or even $1,800 (the price of the D300s) it would have been an instant no-brainer. It would have become everyone's nightmare in the camera marketplace (Canon and Sony in particular) and put incredible pressure on µ4/3rds. It would have made the lackluster Canon 6D look even more lackluster...
I'm still wading through all the announcements, adding up equipment prices to come up with ballpark system cost estimates. For example:
- The Nikon D600 + new 24-85 'kit' zoom is $2,700.
- An Olympus E-M5 + grips + Panasonic 12-35mm constant f/2.8 zoom is $2,500.
- The just-announced Panasonic GH3 + Panasonic 12-35mm constant f/2.8 zoom is $2,500.
- The Sony α77 + 12-50mm constant f/2.8 'kit' zoom + grip is $2,200.
- The Olympus E-5 + grip + 12-60mm zoom is $2,650 (I had this before it was stolen)
- The Sony α99, body only, is $2,800.
You may ask "how can you complain about the perceived high cost of the D600, yet talk about purchasing the α99?" If I'm considering spending two grand and up on any camera equipment then I might as well consider all my options.
Sunday, September 16, 2012
|Yellow Car, Amelia Island, Florida, Day 1|
After viewing the orders and the surrounding display we hit the road again, moving on down the expressway, avoiding downtown Washington DC, traveling through Virginia, until we finished the day traveling bu stopping in Wilson North Carolina. The next day we hit the road for the last leg, traveling over 600 miles until we were home in Orlando. I spent the day unpacking, cleaning around the house, and completely cleaning the Prius inside and out. When I finished the Prius looked as clean as the day I drove it home from the dealership.
|National Memorial Arch, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, Day 4|
|The First United Methodist Church, Emporium, Pennsylvania, Day 11|
Now we're home and I'm going through the thousands of photographs I took. I have no idea what the final tally will be, but the first card I have was filled on the trip and contained 1,733 photos. For me that's a lot, and I have four more cards to go through. And I'm post processing everything through Lightroom 4.1.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
|Monument to the first shot fired at the Battle of Gettysburg, Hwy 30 and Knoxlyn Road|
For the most part we drove slowly through the park, stopping to get out and observe, then photograph part of the area, then get back in and drive some more. As I said yesterday I don't know how anyone can get through the park in just 2 1/2 hours. It took us a day and a half to barely see all of it, and towards the end we began to rush as the sun really began to set.
|One of many tour groups in the park|
|Horseback tour group with President Eisenhower residence in the background|
|Working to maintain one of the many field pieces in the park|
|The Devil's Den|
This is essentially the end of the vacation. We intend to spend the next two days driving out of Pennsylvania back to Florida. Very few photos (I'm about burned out from the trip). But it has been an excellent road trip. I've experienced quite a bit, and learned even more.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
|Reynolds Ave N, Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg Pennsylvania|
The day started out innocently enough with a stop-over at an Amish store on 15 near the Susquehanna River. My wife picked up a few Amish-made items to take home. While she was doing that I was moving around and photographing some of the scenes around the store.