AnalogSenses

By ÁLVARO SERRANO

Candid, Episode #13: Hanging Out With Dan Hawk →

May 11, 2016 |

This week on the show we had our first ever guest: Mr. Dan Hawk.

Among other things, we go over a very interesting article by Drew Coffman, we chat about the basic elements of photography and getting to know your way around a camera, and then we take on the whole digital imitating film trend in recent cameras. After that, there’s a bit of friendly banter about camera bags and my own review of the leather Brixton, and then we all drool over Dan’s RX1R for a while.

Nothing to fear, really, unless you’re currently going through a bout of GAS. If that’s the case, stay away from this one. You’ve been warned.

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Captain Europe →

May 11, 2016 |

Ok, this was fun. What if all European countries had their own Captain America? Well, they would probably look like this:

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Uncharted 4 is the best (and possibly last) game of its kind →

May 10, 2016 |

Chris Plante makes an astute observation about Uncharted 4:

Uncharted 4 as a work of film is good, great even, and no less modern in tone and structure than what’s playing on television, let alone at a movie theater. And its minimalistic gameplay, early on, is just enough to keep the player engaged without distracting them from dialogue, which does the heavy lifting of playing catch-up on a story roughly 27 hours in. Were it a film, Uncharted 4 could make a handsome sum in royalties for the number of times it will undoubtedly appear at Hollywood conferences and summits, where it will be picked apart for lessons on how to create the future of interactive cinema.

And later:

In Uncharted 4, the series’ new directors, Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, have done what David O. Russell originally sought out to do. Their Uncharted is respectful to the core themes of franchise, but rather than design a game that people would want to play and replay, they produced something that will be watched and re-watched. Druckmann and Straley made a fantastic Uncharted movie, and, in some perverse fashion, the first great film adapted from the world of games. That it arrives in an era of Twitch, where watching others play video games online is nearly as common, Uncharted, intentionally or not, has finally, and cosmically, aligned with industry trends.

There’s no doubt the games in the Uncharted series are cinematic experiences just as much as they are gaming experiences. That said, I don’t think this creative trend is going to end anytime soon.

Uncharted 4 was released today, and it’s probably going to be the gaming industry’s best and most ambitious effort to date. This is the experience that will define the next generation of games. If you still haven’t got a copy, I don’t know what you’re waiting for.

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Candid, Episode #12: The Perfect Compact Camera →

May 05, 2016 |

This week we got into an argument over the new Leica M-D, and then we tried to figure out what the perfect compact camera would look like. It was an interesting conversation, and I hope some camera designers out there — ahem, Sony — are listening.

However, about halfway through the episode, my audio interface helpfully decided to give up and stop working. I’m not sure whether the problem was caused by Skype, Audacity, OS X, the hardware interface itself, or a combination of some or all of these factors, but the fact remains, for about half of this episode, I sound like crap. Sorry about that.

We tried to find a solution for the issue during our recording session, but unfortunately we didn’t quite manage to fix it. As a result, the rest of the episode was inadvertently recorded using my iMac’s built-in microphone — you know, the one thing every serious podcaster tells you to never use. So if I sound to you like I’ve been possessed by a terribly hoarse demon, now you know why.

The good news is, after the fact we managed to find an alternative recording workflow that allowed me to reclaim my voice, so any upcoming episodes should be back to normal — or as normal as Candid episodes have been in the past.

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My review of the leather Brixton camera bag by ONA was published today on Tools & Toys. It’s been a while since my last review, and it’s nice to be back.

If you listen to Candid, you may know I’ve had a love-hate-love relationship with this bag. On one hand, it’s clearly the best-looking and best-made bag I’ve ever seen or owned. On the other hand, though, it’s too heavy to be used comfortably as a walkaround bag, which was one of the primary uses I had in mind for it when I bought it.

Aside from the customary overview of materials, build quality, compartments and so on, this review focuses specifically on what it’s like to live with this bag, and the tradeoffs you need to accept in order to enjoy it. These are things you definitely should consider before buying the leather Brixton, and I was a bit surprised to see that most reviews out there barely account for them. Hopefully I managed to shine some much-needed light on that aspect.

I’m definitely glad I bought the Brixton — it’s hands down the best bag I’ve ever owned — but it appears my search for the perfect bag isn’t yet finished. That’s OK though, after all, half the fun is in the search itself.

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Bad design: on the ISO dial of the new Leica M-D

April 29, 2016

The latest member of the Leica family was unveiled this week, and it’s been making the rounds all over the Internet on account of its unique design philosophy. What can you say about a $6,000 camera that doesn’t have an LCD display, doesn’t shoot video, and doesn’t even shoot JPEGs? Lots of things, apparently.

The Leica M-D is supposed to be all about the process, and going back to “the sheer essentials of photography”. Simplicity. Photography in its purest form. Those are Leica’s own words, mind you.

The Leica M-D has an ISO dial where its LCD should be. Image source: Leica.

Simplicity is always a compelling marketing message, and I’ll be the first to admit that on paper, the M-D sounds great — or it would if not for that ludicrous price tag. However, cool concepts not always translate well into physical products, and the new Leica M-D seems to be the new poster child for this unfortunate problem.

The biggest issue with the Leica M-D — there are lots, but this one is particularly aggravating — is the new ISO dial. For context, here’s what Josh Ginter had to say about it:

Aside from the fact this entire camera looks to be, at best, a joke, and at worst, an insult, I can’t get past the positioning of the ISO dial. Are you supposed to reach over there with your thumb when your eye is to the viewfinder? Or are you supposed to set ISO before composing?

I couldn’t agree more with his overall assessment of the camera, but there’s a very good reason the ISO dial caught his eye: it doesn’t make sense.

The ISO dial on the new Leica M-D harkens back to the ASA dials on classic film Leicas.1 This will be instantly recognizable to any Leica enthusiast, and it ensures consistency in Leica’s design language. It also looks really cool. However, there’s a fundamental difference between those old ASA dials and the one on the M-D, and that’s where the whole thing breaks down.

The ASA dial on the back of a classic Leica M3 film camera. Image source: Rama.

Classic film Leicas, like the legendary M3, were fully manual cameras that didn’t even have built-in light meters. On those cameras, the ASA dial didn’t actually do anything; it merely displayed information for the user. It served as a reminder of the particular film stock that was loaded into the camera, so that if you didn’t finish a roll one day and went back to shoot days, weeks or even months later, you could still pick up right where you left off.

Different film stocks have different sensitivities to light — also called speeds — so you need to know what kind of film is inside the camera in order to adjust your aperture and shutter speed. Those old ASA dials were, simply put, a commodity feature, no different from writing that same information down on a piece of paper.

Since light sensitivity is a property of the film itself, you’re effectively setting your ASA by choosing to use one particular film stock over another, and so there’s nothing more to set on the camera. Practically speaking, your ASA will remain constant until you finish the roll and change to a different film stock.2

These intrinsic properties of film and the constraints they place on the photographic process informed the design of the ASA dial decades ago: it needed to be prominently displayed and easy to see at a glance, but there was no need for it to be particularly comfortable to adjust since users would only set it occasionally, whenever they changed film rolls. With that in mind, the placement of the dial on the back plate of the camera was ideal: away from the main exposure controls so as to avoid changing it accidentally, but right in your face so that you’d see it every time you lifted the camera up to your face to shoot. It was a brilliant design.

The ISO dial on the new M-D, however, is nothing of the sort. Modern ISO dials need to be easy and convenient to adjust, because with digital photography you typically need to change the ISO a lot more frequently. The requirements for this dial have changed completely, and unfortunately the classic ASA design translates very poorly to modern digital photography.

This brings us to a sad realization: the Leica M-D isn’t a modern camera designed with simplicity in mind, but merely a poor attempt at replicating the look of the classic film Leicas of old, with little regard for how that design works with today’s technology. This isn’t good design by any reasonable definition of the word, and it certainly isn’t SWEET. It’s just lazy, and that worries me. Leica seems to be a company without a clear vision these days, and the M-D strikes me as yet another warning sign that the company has lost its way.

This isn’t a trivial thing to solve, either. Leica’s main problem is that the very values that once made it a timeless brand are at odds with the disposable nature of digital technology. That’s a very tough mountain to climb. What does the word Leica mean in the digital age? We still don’t really know, but I certainly hope the M-D isn’t it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Leica, and I hope they can reinvent themselves and find a way to help shape the future of photography, just like they did in the past. They are one of the truly historic names in photography, and the world is better off with them healthy and thriving. However, I suspect it’s going to take a lot more than a repackaged film camera to do that.

It’s hard to move forward when you’re shackled to a brilliant, successful past. It takes courage to break free of that legacy and venture into unknown territory, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need to do. If I were a betting man, I’d say the future of Leica looks a lot more like the SL than the M-D. I may not like it, but that’s what my gut tells me.

Whether Leica has the courage to look forward and let go of their past, we still don’t know. In any case, I suspect it won’t be long before we find out.


  1. ASA is a parameter that describes each film stock’s sensitivity to light, and is analogous to the concept of ISO in the digital realm.

  2. It’s worth pointing out that later film Leicas, like the M6, did incorporate built-in light meters, and in those models the ASA dial was used to calibrate the meter properly. However, you still only needed to set the ASA once per roll of film, so the original design still worked nicely.

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Candid, Episode #11: The Most Expensive Advice in the World →

April 28, 2016 |

This week’s episode was packed with interesting stuff. First up we answer an excellent listener question about safety when traveling with photography gear. It’s a very important issue and potentially a very expensive problem if your equipment gets stolen during a trip, so we all share the different techniques we use to protect both our pictures and our gear, and minimize the risk of becoming a theft victim.

Then Josh briefly talks about his new MacBook and shares his first impressions of the new Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM lens, but the conversation quickly flows into a deeper discussion on the ethics of product reviews, trust, and bias. I have some strong feelings on this matter, as I’ve mentioned here before, so this was a great opportunity to explore them.

As product reviewers ourselves, we may have a different perspective on this issue than the general consumer, so hopefully our insights and concerns will help raise awareness of some of the existing problems with honesty in product reviews these days.

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April 24, 2016

Hello there, welcome to another issue of Morning Coffee.

Issue #40: I find your lack of honesty disturbing

Whenever I’m reading a product review, I expect one thing from the reviewer: honesty. I may not agree with every criteria or personal opinion, but a modicum of honesty is a must. It is essential for trust to be established, and let’s not kid ourselves, the reason most reviewers out there are able to make a living is precisely the trust they’ve built over the years with their audiences.

Honesty is also a two-way street. Just as we expect reviewers to give it to us straight, we too must hold up our end of the deal whenever we see some inappropriate behavior. We shouldn’t just blindly accept it and move on. We shouldn’t just give them a pass.

We probably shouldn’t use the Darth Vader disciplinary method, though.

Sometimes it’s easy to lose perspective. I’m well aware that reviewers, especially those who have a working relationship with the manufacturers of the products they review, are under tremendous pressure, and that pressure often translates into biases they may not be fully aware of themselves. That’s where we, the readers, come in. Sometimes it’s up to us to keep them honest.

This week I feel like I have to do just that, hence the lengthy commentary on the last linked piece below. There are some strong words there, but I assure you it comes from a good place. It’s not my intention to criticize those people’s motives, or to judge them. I want to make it very clear that I have the utmost respect for their work and trajectory, which is precisely why I expect better from them. We all do.

And now without further ado, let’s get to it.

Top Five: Moving to Medium, the upcoming tech bubble, the problems with East New York, color management in the Retina era, and reviewers vs the Sony 85mm GM lens

This week there’s a very strong selection, if I may say so myself. In no particular order:

On Medium | Marius Masalar →

My friend and co-host Marius finally decided to move his blog over to Medium, and he explained the reasons behind the change in this great piece. If you’re considering moving your existing blog or starting a new one on Medium, this is obligatory reading.

I personally disagree with Marius on the merits of using Medium as a publishing platform vs maintaining your own, but there’s no denying that the recent changes Medium implemented are making this more of a philosophical stance than a practical one. I definitely appreciate the convenience and polish of the Medium platform, and I’d go as far as to say that I’m not totally opposed to testing the waters myself down the road.

For that reason, I’ll be very interested to know what Marius’ opinion of the platform is a few months from now. If you don’t want to miss out on it, I suggest you subscribe.

On the road to recap | Bill Gurley →

This is a great piece on the many problems with the way VC-funded startups operate these days. It’s admittedly a bit technical, but totally worth your time, especially if you have skin in the game. Via Josh Ginter.

What the hell happened in East New York? | Kevin Heldman →

Terrific — and terrifying — investigative story by journalist Kevin Heldman. This is a co-production with The Big Roundtable, and it includes a 4-episode podcast you totally should listen to, plus a final written piece by Heldman. It’s incredible. Here’s an excerpt from the final piece:

For at least the last twenty years East New York has had the highest number of crimes and arrests in New York City — in every single category, for every single year. The crime is astounding: The average annual number of felonies committed in the seventy-six NYC precincts (averaging from 2000 to 2013) is about 1,059. East New York averages 2,622 felonies a year.

In misdemeanors, too, East New York is a leader. In 2013, the 75th Precinct recorded 12,510 misdemeanor arrests, by far the most in the city. (By comparison, in Brooklyn’s Bushwick precinct — gritty but gentrifying — there were 4,808 misdemeanor arrests that year.) Also in East New York in 2013 the police issued 1,890 violations (for lesser offenses like harassment, disorderly conduct, marijuana possession, and trespass) — the highest total in the city and more than double the city average.

In every single category, for every single year, for over 20 years straight. Wow.

Looking at the future | Craig Hockenberry →

The Iconfactory’s Craig Hockenberry published a standout piece on the importance of color management now that more capable high-resolution displays are starting to become the norm:

It also wouldn’t surprise me to see these wider color gamuts coming to the cameras in our devices. All iOS devices currently create images in the sRGB gamut, while professional gear can produce images in ProPhoto or AdobeRGB. High dynamic range (HDR) photos need a wider range of color, too.

We’re quickly reaching a point where more pixels don’t make better photos. Think about how much Apple likes to tout the camera and how better saturation improves photos. These new displays are the first step in a process were wider gamuts become a part of the entire iOS photography workflow. The number of places where your code assumes everything is sRGB will be both surprising and painful.

As a photographer, I’ve been asking for better color management in iOS for almost a year, and it looks like I’m finally about to get my wish. As a developer, I may be in for a painful transition, but I’m more than willing to power through the pain in order to reap the benefits.

Five minutes with the Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM | Josh Ginter →

Josh had a chance to test the new Sony lens for a few minutes, and he came away impressed with its quality. However, there were also a few caveats to consider, like its poor AF speed and loud noise. And then there’s the weight aspect:

In comparison to the Batis 85mm f/1.8 however, the GM is far and away the heavier lens. I went into my little hands-on after watching this video from Jason Lanier. If you skip to the 19:50 mark, you’ll see Jason hand both the Batis and the GM lens to different passersby to see which lens is heavier. Each person in the video says the weight difference is either “imperceptible” or “negligible”. Perhaps each person was amped up and filled with excitement when holding the lenses, causing their muscles not to feel a difference between the two. Regardless, I flat out disagree with each of those people. There is undoubtedly a weight difference, both on the spec sheet and in use. Spec-wise, the GM lens is 28.82 ounces, while the Batis comes in at 16 ounces. That makes the Batis just more than half the weight of the GM. It’s noticeable. Not detrimental, but noticeable.

I’m so glad Josh decided to set the record straight here. I’ve long had a problem with reviewers like Lanier or Steve Huff, whose reviews usually contain nothing but praise. The 85mm GM lens is definitely a great, stunning piece of glass, but it’s not perfect, and it is indeed heavy. However, you’d never guess it by reading or watching those reviews.

Take Steve Huff’s, for example, which I found to be particularly offending in this regard. He doesn’t even mention the Batis lens in the entire piece, not even in passing. In fact, Steve’s main conclusion in the weight department is that the Sony lens is lighter than the gargantuan Canon 85mm f/1.2 L lens. Seriously.

When it comes to product reviews there’s some wiggle room, of course, because certain aspects are subjective. You can prefer one type of bokeh to another, or find the AF speed fast enough for your needs, whereas others may find it lacking. That’s fine, but we as readers expect reviewers to be honest. And while it is technically true that the Sony GM lens is lighter than the Canon, it is profoundly misleading to use that statement to imply that the Sony lens isn’t heavy.

However, while Steve Huff’s claims about the weight may be misleading, Lanier’s are downright false. You just can’t say that there isn’t a noticeable weight difference between the Batis and the GM when one is almost twice as heavy as the other. That’s not misleading, that’s flat out lying to your audience.

And then there’s the matter of the AF noise.

Amidst the usual torrent of enthusiastic praise, Steve Huff states in his review that his copy of the lens wasn’t noisy at all. For reference, the folks over at LensRentals recently inspected 40+ copies of the lens and found that every single one of them exhibited loud AF behavior, to varying degrees. Call me nuts, but I’d take their word over Steve’s any day of the week.

When reviewers downplay, ignore, or flat out lie about the negative aspects of a product, they’re doing a great disservice to their audience. That being said, it is ultimately your responsibility as a reader to take any grandiose claims with a grain of salt and, if it comes to that, cull your product review sources accordingly.

Afterword

Life is back to normal these days, and even the weather seems to be in better spirits. The cold and rain of the past few weeks are finally giving way to sunshine and more gentle temperatures, and it won’t be long now before coats are once again stored in the closet, hopefully to remain there for good this time.

I really like spring in Spain, and everything it represents. I’ve said so before. It’s probably my favorite time of the year: sleeves — and skirts — become shorter, streets light up with people every day, and there’s always something exciting to do. If you’re a street photographer, this presents ample opportunity to capture the magic of life as it’s lived. It’s wonderfully energizing.

It also couldn’t have come at a better time, because I’ve been in a bit of a writing slump lately. Now that the days are longer, though, my spirit will hopefully rise to the occasion. It certainly won’t be for lack of trying.

Thank you for reading, and have a lovely Sunday.

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High velocity aerial filming →

April 22, 2016 |

Absolutely stunning aerial footage from a ground-breaking image stabilization rig, capable of capturing perfectly smooth images at 300 mm and over 300 mph. Insane:

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Candid, Episode #10: Photo Editing & Manipulation →

April 21, 2016 |

Our 10th episode ran a bit longer than usual, but is packed with interesting stuff. The main topic this week is photo editing: how much we edit, what tools we use, our views on the ethics of photo manipulation, owning vs. renting your software, and whether it’s ok to deliver RAW files to clients.

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