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.


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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Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GMaster Emergency Tear Down →

April 21, 2016 |

The new Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM lens still hasn’t really shipped in volume, and already there are numerous complaints out there about its particularly noisy AF. Now, I normally wouldn’t give a whole lot of credit to such complaints, but the situation took a turn for the worse when some people started noticing what appeared to be scratches on the inner surface of the lens barrel, which led many to assume this was a serious issue that could potentially even damage the lens.

Luckily, the good folks at LensRentals took some time to look at 40+ of these lenses and even disassembled one of them. For the most part, they have good news:

About half of these lenses have some visible lubricant on the inner focusing barrel that looks like scratches but isn’t. It is not scratches. Yes, I know the focusing sounds like scratches. Yes, I know the lubricant looks like scratches. And yes, I am certain that some person somewhere is going to have a lens with real scratches on the inner focusing barrel. Because given enough lenses, there will be one with anything.

So it looks like whatever is causing those marks, it isn’t likely to damage the lens. However:

Does this mean the lens is problem free? Absolutely not. I don’t know if that lubricant might affect images (I doubt it, but it’s possible it could cause some glare when focusing close up). I suspect in a few cases lube will have gotten onto a lens element and caused a streak and that is much more likely to affect images. If you see streaks on a lens element than I’d return yours or send it in to be cleaned.

It might be that 6 months from now we find out that all of these lenses should be absolutely silent when focusing. I’ve looked at lots of them, but they obviously were all early production run lenses. There may be a fix Sony comes up with. I suspect, though, that a firmware fix will be slowing down AF to make it quieter.

In the meantime, optically this is a superb lens and a lot of people are making great images with it.

Food for thought. As impressive as this 85mm GM lens is, I don’t think it is completely safe to buy one now. If you’re considering it, I’d advise waiting until the situation has been clarified by Sony.

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April 16, 2016

Hello there, welcome to another issue of Morning Coffee.

Today I want to talk to you about one of my favorite means of transportation: trains.

Issue #39: The 9:50pm night train to Lisbon

The allure of long-distance travel is something I appreciate well, but no other form of transportation captures my imagination like trains.

Like most things in life, my love of trains probably comes from every book I’ve read, and every movie I’ve seen. Many of my favorite scenes in fiction happen on trains. Heck, some of my favorite books occur almost entirely on trains.

In my mind, a train is not just a way to get from point A to point B, but a place for the unexpected to happen. It’s a vehicle — quite literally — for strangers to meet, an excuse to share a few hours of honesty in the middle of everything else. A truce with the real world.

It seems that on some trains, the only baggage people carry is packed away in their suitcases, and once the cars start moving, everybody gets a clean slate. By some sort of alchemy, things that elsewhere would defy reason suddenly become possible. Likely, even. Every day, people who normally wouldn’t give each other the time of day become best friends in the dining car of some night train, as drinks are dispatched and borders left behind.

Europe is a continent that begs to be explored by train, particularly in the summer. Go to sleep in Budapest and wake up in Berlin. Spend a Sunday in Madrid’s La Latina, then sleep your way to Paris for some croissants and café au lait in the morning. Leave Paris at night and wake up in Venice, then continue on to Istanbul. The geography of the old continent lends itself beautifully to such crazy itineraries, but it’s the trains — and the people on them — that make the experience fun.

If you’ve ever watched Before Sunrise, you probably know what I mean. Who hasn’t dreamed of meeting an interesting person on a train? Especially if that person looks like Julie Delpy.


Another one of my favorite train scenes in fiction occurs in The Club Dumas, a novel by Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte. It’s a mystery novel full of adventure, intrigue and really wonderful characters, and probably the book I’ve read most times in my life. We all have a book we enjoy revisiting every now and then. A guilty pleasure, of sorts. The Club Dumas is mine.

In that scene, Lucas Corso, the book’s main character, is on the night train from Madrid to Lisbon, when he “accidentally” runs into Irene Adler, the young female character who remains elusive and mysterious — is she friend or foe, we wonder — for the entire book. The exchange that ensues between them, however brief, perfectly encapsulates what I love about trains. It’s so deliciously meta — they talk about their own love of trains, after all — that it somehow ends up working incredibly well.

Best of all, the Madrid-Lisbon night train is an actual, real-life train you could hop on today if you felt so inclined. But why would you? Planes are, after all, faster and yes, cheaper, so why would anyone want to spend more money and time to get somewhere?

Well, you know how they say the important part is to enjoy the journey, not the destination? On a train you get to do just that. It’s traveling at a different speed, both physically and mentally. It gives you time to think, and to assimilate the travel experience, to really take it all in.

Whenever I travel by plane, I dread the entire experience, and I can’t wait for it to be over. It’s not that I dislike planes per se, but the way air travel is designed and arranged. It’s a hassle. All the airport security checks, the nonsensical baggage rules, the insane regulations. It may seem faster on paper, but when you account for all the time you waste in the airport both before and after the actual flying part, you end up saving very little time, if any, especially on shorter trips.

By comparison, everything is more relaxed on a train. For starters, train stations are often in the cities themselves, not a few miles away. You can even walk there sometimes, depending on where you’re staying. Also, you can get to the station 15 minutes before your train leaves and still know you have plenty of time to make it. No one will bother asking what size your suitcase is, or how much it weighs. And speaking of baggage, there’s virtually no chance for it to get lost along the way. If you’ve ever had a bag lost by the airline, you know what I mean.

But the best part comes when the train starts moving. None of that “seat in the upright position” crap. You can do as you please for the duration of the trip: cell phones, tablets, laptops, you name it. It’s all cool. You can also walk, and even talk to people. Imagine that. If you get bored, just take a stroll to the dining car, or the bar, and start talking to someone. Anyone. Unlike on planes, I find people actually love talking to strangers on trains, particularly after the first drink. It’s like an unwritten rule; that special alchemy I alluded to earlier, working its magic.

Some of the most interesting conversations in my life I’ve had on trains. I remember talking to a young man who had just enlisted in the army and was heading in for the first time. He was scared, but also emboldened by a sense of duty I found admirable. I also remember meeting a girl on a 3-hour train trip, and exchanging mailing addresses. I assumed that would be that, but much to my surprise, I arrived home one day, weeks later, to find an actual, hand-written letter from her in my mailbox.

These things you would only expect to see in movies, or in cheesy romance novels. And yet, they do happen out there in the real world too, apparently. Trains have a way of getting people to connect like that.

In Porto Alegre, Brazil, there’s a beautiful stairway filled with colorful tiles with hand-written messages on them. One of them reads “Não esqueças que os estranhos são amigos que ainda não conheces”. It means “Don’t forget that strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet”.

Next time you find yourself on a train bound to some exotic location, don’t just stay in your seat. Go to the dining car, or the bar, and pay attention to the people around you. It won’t be long before you see a complicit smile, or an inviting gesture. That’s the moment when the magic happens, and all you got to do is smile back.

Enjoy the ride.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the week’s most interesting pieces.

Top Five: The rules of the Internet, the voyeur’s motel, bad art, a week in New York City, and Acros vs fish

I really like this week’s selection of pieces. I’m doing away with the individual commentary this time, though, so just click on the links and enjoy.

The secret rules of the Internet | Catherine Buni & Soraya Chemaly →

The voyeur’s motel | Gay Talese →

For the love of bad art | Katharine Schwab →

A week in New York City and the iPad Pro 9.7 | Mike Bates →

Photo essay: Acros underwater | Marius Masalar →


I’m still riding the tail end of a monstrous cold that’s had me on the ropes for over a week now, but I’m glad to report than I’m feeling much better already. It’s been rough, but all that’s left of it now is an irksome cough that I hope will fade away as quickly as possible.

I’m starting to feel more energized, too, so you can expect more activity around here over the coming days and weeks, too.

Until then, thank you for reading, and have a wonderful Sunday.

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