AnalogSenses

By ÁLVARO SERRANO

Spielberg in 30 shots →

March 08, 2016 |

Fantastic video montage by Jacob T. Swinney:

Before I knew what a director was, I knew who Steven Spielberg was. I believe that this is partially due to the fact that Spielberg has crafted some of the most iconic shots in all of cinema. Many filmmakers have that one signature shot that will forever solidify them in film history– Spielberg has dozens. This video showcases the work of Steven Spielberg in 30 memorable shots, one from each of his full-length films. From something as magical as a silhouetted bicycle streaking across the moon, to something as simple as tiny ripples in a cup of water, this is Steven Spielberg.

Via Coudal.

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March 05, 2016

Hello there, welcome to another issue of Morning Coffee.

Today I’d like to talk to you about one of my favorite fictional characters of all time.

Issue #36: Arsène Lupin, gentleman thief

I’ve recently started reading The Teeth of the Tiger, one of the most critically acclaimed novels by Maurice Leblanc, featuring gentleman thief Arsène Lupin.

The great thing about these stories is that most of them are now in the public domain, so you can download them and read them free of charge. The Teeth of the Tiger in particular is available on the Project Gutenberg site, and you can download it here.

If you like classic adventure stories, I can’t recommend this one enough. I still haven’t finished it, but so far I’m enjoying every single page like a 12-year-old.

Arsène Lupin first appeared in a story published in French magazine Je sais tout in 1905. The character would go on to appear in a total of 24 books, including novels and short stories, becoming one of the most important literary symbols in early-20th century France.

It’s hard to overstate Lupin’s role in the history of French literature. He is to France what Sherlock Holmes is to Britain: a national hero — or, in this case, antihero.

Lupin is also one of the greatest examples of a Robin Hood-type character: while he is no law-abiding citizen, those he steals from are always worse villains than he is. It’s clear he also possesses a strong moral compass, as he is often willing to give up his exploits to help an innocent in need.

Cunning, athletic, charming and with a larger-than-life personality, Lupin perfectly embodies the archetype of the infallible hero: no matter how dire the situation, or how unlikely the odds, he always finds a way out, and he always gets the prize. He is also an escape artist and a master of disguise, and can imitate any voice or forge any signature. It just seems there’s nothing in this world Lupin doesn’t excel at.

Reading Lupin’s stories is definitely a guilty pleasure. You know he’s not going to die, and you know he’s always one step ahead of everyone else, even when it doesn’t appear so. That allows you to simply relax and enjoy the ride, watching with a smile as all the pieces in his meticulously crafted puzzle fall into place eventually.

But through the years, Lupin has had to endure his fair share of suffering, too. A hopeless romantic, he’s been bruised and battered time and time again, and that has left him with just a hint of melancholy behind his world-conquering smile. This journey adds depth and layers to what would otherwise be the most one-dimensional character ever, and the stories are much better for it. Things never get borderline depressing, but there’s just enough drama to keep the reader emotionally invested. It’s an age-old formula that works like magic, which is why it’s still incredibly popular these days.

I love reading classic adventure and mystery stories, and together with Sherlock Holmes, Lupin is my favorite character. I’m certainly not alone in feeling this way, and Maurice Leblanc himself felt the two characters shared more than a passing similarity, which is why he went as far as to introduce Sherlock Holmes himself in one of his early Lupin stories.

The intellectual duel between sleuth and thief was, unsurprisingly, a resounding success, but Leblanc was later forced to change the detective’s name to Herlock Sholmes — which is totally different — due to a nagging copyright issue.

Of course, what with this being a Leblanc-written story and all, the fact that Lupin is painted in a slightly more favorable light is understandable, but even in the story’s context, that is something that could be chalked up to the age difference between the two men: when they meet, Sholmes is an old man, while Lupin is just entering his prime. Even then, Sholmes is still a formidable match for the gentleman thief, with most of their encounters ending up in a draw.

The rich world of late-19th and early-20th century France is a wonderful canvas for Lupin to exploit: with lots of hidden relics, political mysteries and vast fortunes to find, there’s always another target to hit, all while the comparatively inept Inspector Ganimard tries his best to stop him. Watching Ganimard fail time and time again is another guilty pleasure of mine, and one that I enjoy immensely.

Lupin is a refuge for those who dare to dream. He represents a grand ideal: the triumph of imagination over procedure, the power of charm versus duty, and the wonder of adventure in its purest form.

Now, while I love the literary Lupin, my first contact with the character was through his purported grandson: the cheeky Lupin The Third.

Lupin The Third is the main character in the eponymous 1960’s manga by Japanese artist Monkey Punch. The character reached worldwide fame thanks to the later anime adaptation in the 1970’s.

He is the greatest thief of our time, and he claims to be the grandson of the original Arsène Lupin. He sports a trademark bright-colored jacket — which changes colors across seasons — and drives a classic yellow Fiat 500. He shares many of the original Lupin’s character traits, albeit in a more modern, more humorous take.

This anime series was tremendously popular in Spain in the late 80’s and early 90’s. As a kid, I fell in love with everything about it, and now as an adult, I appreciate it in an entirely different way.

The realism with which some things like classic cars and cities are portrayed is fantastic, and it shows how much thought and care were put into designing and making the show.

The music, composed by Japanese jazz musician Yuji Ohno, is absolutely stunning, and while the show is certainly silly, there are also some adult undertones and even some sexual innuendo that obviously slipped by unnoticed by my younger self.

Speaking of which, 2012’s excellent mini-series The Woman Called Fujiko Mine did a fantastic job exploring those undertones in a darker, more mature way. This is no story for children, and it clearly shows how rich and varied the world of Lupin can be in the right hands.

And last but certainly not least, 1979’s The Castle of Cagliostro, which marked the directorial debut of Japanese legend Hayao Miyazaki, was a delightful story about a captive princess, a hidden treasure, and a classic Miyazaki tale through and through.

The Castle of Cagliostro was Hayao Miyazaki’s first film as a director.

Just like his literary counterpart, the cultural impact that Lupin The Third has had in Japanese animation as a whole is profound. Characters like the massively popular Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop were clearly inspired by Lupin, and the show’s emphasis on having a quality soundtrack is something that’s been picked up by many others since then.

Why am I telling you all this? Because, since I started reading The Teeth of the Tiger I’ve been revisiting the anime, and much to my delight, I recently discovered two very interesting things about it.

The first thing is a live-action film based on the original manga that was released in 2014. It’s a bit silly in all the right ways, with lots of humor and impossible situations that are very true to the spirit of the anime.

This is definitely no Oscar material, but I thought the characters were very well portrayed, and the actors were all great in their respective roles. A popcorn-eating movie if I ever saw one, but hey, it’s a Lupin movie, so I’m not complaining.

The second one, and by far my favorite, is that in late 2015 we saw the release of the first proper Lupin The Third animated season in over 30 years. I started watching it yesterday, and I’m happy to report it’s good. Very, very good.

The story takes place in Italy, and begins with Lupin getting married. In the embedded opening theme below you can see that our protagonist is sporting a blue jacket this time around, but he’s still driving his trademark yellow Fiat 500, and he’s still very much the Lupin we know and love.

I think it’s safe to say, Lupin is back in style. Can’t wait to watch the rest of the episodes.

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

Top Five: Life and death in the App Store, doing a TED talk, visiting Old Town Panama, dissecting a photograph, and the Millenium Falcon

This week we have compelling pieces all around: about the App Store, photography, travel, movies and even the art of procrastinating. Enjoy.

Life and death in the App Store | Casey Newton →

This great piece over at The Verge has been making the rounds in our small tech circle all through the week, so chances are you’ve come across it already.

For those of you who haven’t, it’s the story of app developer Pixite, but it’s really about how the App Store’s business model enforced by Apple — no paid upgrades and no trial versions of apps — is hurting small and independent developers big time:

For all but a few developers, the App Store itself now resembles a lottery: for every breakout hit like Candy Crush, hundreds or even thousands of apps languish in obscurity. Certain segments of the app economy remain vibrant — ludicrously profitable, even. Apps for massive social networks, on-demand services like Uber, and subscription businesses like Netflix and Spotify remain in high demand. Then there’s gaming: Last year, 85 percent of all app revenues went to games, according to App Annie. Supercell, the top-grossing developer of Clash of Clans, reported revenue of $1.7 billion in 2014. (It spent $440 million on marketing.)

Doing a TED talk: the full story | Tim Urban →

This fun and interesting story on how a natural born procrastinator deals with the most terrifying assignment of all — preparing for a high-stakes TED talk that’s almost a year away. This hit a little too close to home for comfort, but it was still a wonderfully enjoyable read.

A guide to falling in love with Old Town Panama | Messy Nessy →

Here’s a nice article for those of you suffering from the travel bug these days:

Today, the Casco is entering its renaissance. Boutique hotels, hip eateries and nightspots are popping up all over town in between shells of dilapidated colonial townhouses squatted by several families settled into comfortable chaos. So many buildings look as if they might collapse any second– except they won’t.

I love the Old Town’s decadent air.

Dissecting a photograph: the split rock | Nasim Mansurov →

Even the simplest-looking photographs have hidden meanings and lessons for us to learn. This in-depth look at what is apparently just a picture of a rock at sunset shows you the many different factors that make for a compelling image. If you’re interested in learning about photographic technique, the rules of composition, and the importance of proper planning, this is well worth your time.

The complete conceptual history of the Millenium Falcon | Michael Heilemann →

You didn’t think I was going to leave this one out, did you? So amazing.

As a side note, I love this early-script description of Han Solo as “a cowboy in a starship — simple, sentimental and cocksure of himself”. Just perfect.

Afterword

It’s been an exciting week. Tomorrow I’m going on a hiking excursion to Navacerrada, the tallest mountain pass in central Spain at 1,858 m above sea level.

We’re going to be walking alongside the mountains with snowshoes and I hope to take that opportunity to capture some great pictures of the spectacular views.

As a bonus, this will be Miriam’s first time seeing actual snow. Madrid doesn’t typically get a whole lot of snowfall in winter, and as you can imagine, Venezuela even less so. She’s incredibly excited about the experience, as am I.

On the work front I’m currently finishing up my review of the Rode PSA-1 boom arm, one of the most popular choices among podcasters.

I love this arm, and with it I can record Candid comfortably and without worrying about my posture. It’s a wonderful investment, and I can’t recommend it enough. I have a lot more to say about it, so stay tuned for the full review.

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

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Ah, the wonderful world of adapted lenses. If you’re a Sony E-mount shooter, you’ve probably been down this road at some point, or are considering it now. The E-mount system is still relatively young, and there are a few gaps in the focal range for which no native lens exists yet. Trying to find a DSLR lens you can adapt seems like a great solution, at least on paper.

Moreover, recent Sony cameras like the a7 II1 and a7R II can use their on-sensor phase detection AF points with adapted lenses, meaning you should be able to retain near-native AF speed. Unsurprisingly, most adapter manufacturers are claiming just that, making it seem like a really attractive proposition.

So far, going the adapted lens route is looking like a no-brainer, but of course, things are rarely that simple in life.

The good news is, there are plenty of adapters to choose from, spanning a wide range of features and price points. The bad news is, there are plenty of adapters to choose from, spanning a wide range of features and price points.

Finding the right adapter to buy is a particularly tricky proposition, because it depends on a lot of unstable and/or vaguely specified factors: your existing lens lineup, your camera body, your requirements in terms of AF performance and EXIF data, and a few others. Some or all of them may change at any point, which could drastically alter the value proposition of any adapter.

To adapt or not to adapt, that is the question

You may need some guidelines to help you decide whether an adapted lens makes sense for you to begin with. Here are a few points you may want to consider:

Do you want to adapt lenses you already own, or lenses you intend to buy? If you already own the lenses you want to adapt, then the value proposition is a lot better, because you’ve already made the bulk of the investment. If you’re in the middle of a system transition, for example, the ability to keep using all of your existing glass on the new camera is a huge plus, and will make your life a lot easier.

If we’re talking about buying new lenses, however, the situation is a lot more complicated. Which brings us to my next question:

Does a native lens exist in your target focal range? If so, I strongly urge you to go with that one instead. Even if the native lens has a less-than-stellar reputation2 and there are some super-awesome lenses for other systems you’d rather use, I’d still push you to the native lens first.

The thing is, nothing beats the convenience, performance and reliability of a native lens. Using an adapter — any adapter — means accepting some hard compromises: reduced/poor AF performance, occasional flaring issues, lack of weather sealing, etc. Also, these may all be present at the same time. They often are.

If there’s a native lens you can buy, go with that one.

Are the lenses you want to adapt supported by your adapter of choice? This is a crucial factor, and one that must never go overlooked. Most adapter manufacturers maintain up-to-date registries of the lenses they support. You can check yours against those registries to decide.

The problem with adapters is, they’re all kind of hacky solutions. Neither Sony nor Canon license their AF technology to third-party manufacturers, so adapter makers need to reverse-engineer both systems in order to get their adapters to work.3 Clearly, the odds of something going terribly wrong at some intermediate point in the chain are significant.

Plus, if we’re talking about adapting a third-party lens from, say, Tamron, then the situation is even more hacky, because now we have two third-party manufacturer’s approximations of Canon and Sony’s AF technology instead of the real deal. I’m no expert in reverse-engineering, but that sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Finally, is your preferred adapter firmware upgradeable? Given the many issues you’re likely to encounter during your ownership, the ability to upgrade the adapter’s firmware is a very important feature. More expensive adapters like the Metabones T Smart Adapter (Mark IV) offer this capability, and to their credit, Metabones has been very proactive when it comes to releasing firmware updates so far. If peace of mind is important to you and you don’t mind paying a significant chunk of money for your adapter, this is not a bad way to go.

However, even the Metabones adapter with its flashy price tag is unpredictable at best, and as more and more cameras and lenses are released in the future, that’s likely to remain true. And to be quite honest, I just don’t find it reasonable to spend $400 on an adapter; I would very much prefer to put that kind of money towards a lens instead.

Which brings us to the Commlite EF-NEX adapter.

On paper, the Commlite adapter offers almost the same features as the Metabones — except for the firmware upgradeability — for a whole lot less money.

I got this adapter because I wanted to use a Canon EF 35mm F/1.4 L USM lens I rented on my Sony a7 II during a recent trip to Paris. Luckily, that lens is officially supported by the Commlite adapter, so I decided to save some money and buy this one instead of the Metabones.4

The Commlite adapter currently retails for about $70. Should it perform as advertised, it would be a much, much better value than the Metabones.

Let’s take a closer look and see what we find.

Features

The feature set of the Commlite adapter is impressive for the price:

  • All-metal construction, including both the lens-side and camera-side mounts.

  • Removable tripod collar included.

  • AF support.

  • Lens-based image stabilization is supported, as is the camera’s IBIS.

  • Electronic aperture control from the camera body.

  • EXIF data transfer (aperture and focal length only). The actual lens model used is not transmitted to the camera, though, which means the built-in Lightroom profiles can’t be automatically applied. You can still manually apply the lens profile if you want, though.

Other than that last point, this is a comprehensive feature list, and it certainly points towards the Commlite being an impressive value. The only features that are missing, at least on paper, are weather-sealing and a user-upgradeable firmware. But at this price point, we certainly can’t complain.

Build quality

The Commlite adapter is very well built. It’s made out of a solid chunk of metal, and it has a textured matte finish that looks professional and discreet at the same time. On this front, there’s absolutely nothing to complain about. This adapter looks about as well as these things could look, really.

Both mounts are chrome-plated, and feel similarly solid. On the lens side, there’s a red and a white dot that mark the proper mounting places for Full Frame and APS-C Canon lenses, respectively. On the camera side, a white dot does the same job.

There are gold-plated electrical contacts on both sides of the adapter, which are there to enable electronic communication between the camera and the lens, with the adapter acting as an interpreter.

The lens release lever is the only plastic part of the adapter, but this is understandable. It still feels more than solid enough, and performs its intended function without issues.

The supplied tripod collar is a nice touch. It’s also made of metal, and gives a much nicer balance to the package when you set the camera down on a desk, for example. Of course, it greatly improves the balance when used on an actual tripod, as well.

When mounted, there’s almost no play between lens and adapter, or between adapter and camera, giving the overall package a reasonably compact and robust feel. I suppose this could be slightly improved, but it’s perfectly reasonable as-is.

AF performance

This is where the spell breaks. Sadly, the truth is that, at least with the Canon 35mm f/1.4 lens, AF performance with the Commlite adapter is pretty poor.

It’s not just a problem of speed, either. That by itself is something I could have lived with, provided it wasn’t unbearably sluggish. It mostly is, but the real kicker is that AF accuracy is incredibly, maddeningly, excruciatingly bad, too.

This lens and adapter combination makes for one of the most frustrating photographic experiences I’ve ever seen. Even in stellar lighting conditions, the Canon lens would often simply refuse to lock on to anything. I tried, to no avail, to change the AF region from center lock, to flexible spot, to wide, and from single-shot to continuous AF. In every one of those cases, the lens would focus reasonably well on one shot, only to once again become stubborn in the next.

It’s quite difficult to explain this behavior with words, so I made a small video showing the adapter’s AF performance:

This kind of unpredictable behavior makes it impossible to trust this adapter to get the job done when it matters. For that reason, I would never use it for any sort of critical work where AF is a must.

By comparison, when I used the very same Canon lens on my venerable Canon EOS-3 film camera, AF performance was impressive: very, very quick to focus and dead on, even in dimmer lighting conditions. So clearly, it doesn’t appear to be the lens’s fault.

Of course, as you’ve seen in the video above, this unpredictable AF performance also applies during video recording, so there’s no way I would ever recommend this adapter if you need to use AF for video.

Your mileage may vary with other Canon lenses, but as far as I’m concerned, no matter how you look at it, when it comes to AF, this adapter is not a tool you can rely on in any serious situation. For what it’s worth, I also tested the adapter with my old Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 lens, and the results were similar.

That said, if you’re willing to make the significant compromise of living without AF, there are several nice things to say about the Commlite adapter.

General use

The adapter’s poor AF performance pushed me to use manual focus for about 90% of the time it stayed on my a7 II camera, for both stills and video. The good news is, MF works brilliantly with this adapter.

The Commlite’s built-in electronic integration means you can just flick the AF/MF switch found on most Canon lenses and the camera will switch between autofocus and manual focus modes accordingly. This is a nice touch, and it would be super useful if the adapter was any good in AF mode. Alas, as we’ve seen, that is not usually the case.

Once in MF mode, all the built in focusing aids work exactly as they would with a native lens: peaking and magnification work wonderfully, and together they make for a very enjoyable experience. Alternatively, you also have the option to use the built-in depth of field scale available on most high-end Canon lenses.

Image stabilization also works like a charm, even for those lenses that don’t have built-in stabilization, like this Canon 35mm. And since the adapter provides electronic integration, there’s no need to manually enter the focal length for the camera’s IBIS to work. Everything happens automatically, which is another nice touch of this setup.

Aperture control is also a non-issue in practice. The camera’s aperture dial works perfectly well, and the camera recognizes the lens’s maximum aperture of f/1.4 with no problems whatsoever. And since Canon lenses usually don’t have aperture rings on them, there’s no possibility for conflicting settings here. Light metering is also excellent, and the camera captures consistently correct exposures without any issues.

Finally, the tripod collar gives you a nice mounting point that creates a much more stable setup, which is definitely a welcome feature, especially considering most Canon L lenses are quite large and heavy.

Final thoughts

All in all, the Commlite adapter is a nicely made product, capable of delivering a great user experience, provided you can live without AF. If you’re willing to put up with the adapter’s stubborn AF behavior, which means patiently waiting for lenses to lock focus on a regular basis, then I suppose there’s plenty to love here.

I realize this may be a case of bad luck, and performance with other Canon lenses may be much better. That may well be the case but the fact is, this lens is officially supported, and AF performance with it is still abysmal. Sadly, that gives me zero confidence in whatever Commlite says regarding other lenses.

Using the adapter in MF mode, however, is a pleasure. Everything works exactly as it should, and the entire process feels almost as nice as using a native lens would. In this mode, the Commlite adapter will give you access to a wide range of high-performing Canon glass that is not natively available for the E-mount system yet.

Given the affordable price of this adapter — again, only $70 — this is still a remarkable value proposition many people will be glad to consider. If you want to have a chance to rent nice lenses occasionally to take with you on a trip, or for a studio job where AF is not critical, this is a great and affordable way to do it.

Unfortunately, my guess is that, for most people looking to adapt Canon lenses, AF won’t be something they’re willing to give up along the way. And those people, I’m afraid, will have to keep looking.

For what it’s worth, other adapters like the Metabones might offer improved performance, but I’m still not convinced. The hacky nature of the adapter business makes it very difficult to trust these things to perform well into the future.

If you decide to go the adapted lens route, my advice is to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons: that is, to keep using lenses you already own while you transition systems, or to make occasional use of exotic lenses that are not yet available natively for the E-mount system. Anything else, the way things are today, is asking for trouble.

If after reading this review you still think the Commlite EF-NEX adapter is the right choice for you, you can purchase it on Amazon by using one of the following affiliate links. Thanks for your support!


  1. Provided you have updated your camera to firmware 2.0 or later.

  2. Sony Zeiss FE 24-70mm F4, I’m looking at you.

  3. There are only two exceptions to this. Sony’s own LA-EA3 and LA-EA4 adapters were officially designed by the company in-house, which in theory should guarantee compatibility with Sony-made A-mount lenses at the very least. In practice, though, there are some caveats. In the case of the LA-EA3, there have been numerous reports of issues with 3rd-party lenses, including the Sigma Art primes, for example. The LA-EA4 is a different story, since the adapter itself includes its own phase-detection AF mechanism that overrides the camera’s. However, this adapter uses a translucent mirror mechanism that unfortunately means losing 1/3rd of a stop of light in the process.

  4. The native 35mm f/1.4 lens for the FE system isn’t available to rent in Spain, which is what made me look into adapted lenses. That said, if I were to buy a 35mm f/1.4 lens today, I would definitely go with the Sony lens.

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Candid #3: Micro Four Nerds →

March 02, 2016 |

In this week’s episode, we talk about how different sensor sizes impact your photography and whether or not the size of the Micro 4/3 sensor will lead to doom or gloom for Olympus and Panasonic. To top off the busy week, Josh compares the infamous Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5mm to his new Zeiss Batis 85mm.

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Images of Earth from a year in space →

March 02, 2016 |

This is remarkable. Alan Taylor compiled a fantastic selection of images taken from the International Space Station by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko over the past year. Via Kottke.

We live in a beautiful world, indeed.

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February 28, 2016

Hello there, welcome to another issue of Morning Coffee.

Before we begin this issue, I want to let you know I’ve decided to limit the Star Wars talk to once a month. I love Star Wars as much as the next guy, but I don’t want to overdo it, and I do believe some things are best enjoyed in infrequent doses.

Don’t worry, we will cover the rest of The Force Awakens, but for now, it’s time for a change of pace. This week I want to talk to you about my favorite sport.

Issue #35: The one-handed backhand, and the future of tennis

Earlier this week I read this article by Richard Mills for Sports Illustrated.

It’s a great article on the reasons why, sadly, my favorite tennis stroke is becoming rarer and rarer with each passing generation. One-handed backhands used to be a lot more common in the past, but ever since the courts started getting slower and the game became more physical, it’s been slowly but surely fading away, and these days it’s almost considered a relic from a different era.

I can only think of a handful of active players with great one-handed backhands in the ATP circuit, and of those, there are only two players whose backhands could arguably be considered their stronger wing: Stan Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet.

As for the rest of the players who currently wield a one-hander — Federer included — the backhand is clearly their weaker side. Whenever they have a chance, they use their naturally stronger forehand to dictate play from the baseline, or to finish off rallies. When their opponents are on the offensive, it is usually the backhand side that they attack, and rightly so.

The one-handed backhand is a very difficult stroke to master, requiring exceptional timing and coordination to be executed well. Aesthetically, it has no equal, and when done properly, it can be a devastating weapon. It also teaches players to be more in tune with the ball, and helps them naturally improve the slice and the volley, two strokes where using only one hand is a must. Clearly, there are plenty of reasons to persevere in the learning and mastering of this beautiful shot.

However, due to its narrow margin of error, the one-handed backhand is prone to faltering under pressure. By contrast, the more popular two-handed backhand offers far more consistency and power, while allowing the players to defend and recover without giving up much of the initiative in the process. And since the game today is much more about power and speed than it is about finesse and technique, it’s no wonder the one-hander is becoming and endangered shot.

But there’s reason to hope. There have been players in the past for whom the backhand was not a weakness, but a fearsome weapon. Players like Alex Corretja, Cédric Pioline or Gustavo Kuerten — my favorite player of all time — who won three French Opens by effortlessly gliding over the clay courts of Roland Garros firing winner after winner off his backhand side with surgical precision.

Even Federer’s backhand, the shot that’s long been considered the Swiss’s weakness, was awe-inspiring in his prime. Despite struggling against Nadal’s high-bouncing balls on the clay, Federer was capable of creating winners out of nowhere from virtually any court position with it. In Federer’s case, it really needs to be said that his backhand could only be considered weak because of his comparatively monstrous forehand, perhaps the most decisive stroke in tennis history. In the hands of any other player, Federer’s backhand would probably have been considered a fantastic weapon, quite simply because it was — and still is, most of the time.

All that may not be enough to save the one-hander from extinction, though. Unless the game evolves once again into a more technical sport, its days in the pro circuit appear numbered. The volley will probably go down the same path, too, which would be a shame. Variety is tennis’s greatest asset, and if the sport’s decision-makers don’t get their act together, it may soon be gone for good.

In order to preserve variety in tennis, some courts need to get faster once again — grass is the most glaring example — while others need to remain slow. Only that way we’ll see variety return to the professional game, and only that way we’ll be able to ensure its survival.

The reason why tennis evolved this way over the past couple of decades is because TV sponsors and tournament organizers wanted matches to be longer, and more spectacular. They wanted sponsors and spectators to feel that their money had been well spent. And slowing the courts down is one way to achieve that, because with slower courts, offensive strokes don’t hurt rivals nearly as much, and rallies become longer, and more intense. And people love a good fight, don’t they?

The problem with that approach is that, if certain shots become irrelevant — or, rather, useless — why would players bother learning them in the first place? Especially shots that are naturally difficult to learn and require tons of practice, like the one-handed backhand, or the volley. And if players don’t learn to master those shots, pretty soon everybody is playing from the baseline in the exact same way, and it all becomes a matter of seeing who’s stronger, or who can keep going the longest.

In their quest for longer matches and a better ROI, the sport’s organizers may have killed the very thing that made tennis an interesting sport to watch in the first place.

Indeed, the sad consequence of their short-sightedness is that today’s tennis has evolved into a gladiatorial-like sport, where matches are often decided by sheer physical endurance, rather than actual tennis skills. Personally, I think that trend is making the sport incredibly tedious to watch. A 6-hour-long battle between two evenly matched opponents is a great spectacle, but it needs to be a rarity for it to be considered interesting, or even noteworthy. If there’s one of these every month, people are bound to get bored eventually, and I’d say we’re getting dangerously close to that scenario. I know I am.

All this doesn’t even take into account the fact that these longer matches will eventually take a toll on the players. There’s a very good chance that, as players push their bodies to their limit, we may start seeing more and more career-ending injuries, and that’s something nobody wants.

There’s still time to rectify the situation, but it will require some difficult and profound changes to be made at the sport’s highest levels of influence. I do hope the pendulum swings back in time, but make no mistake, the clock is ticking.

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

Top Five: Donald Trump, Apple vs the FBI, the iPad as a Mac replacement, lessons from Deadpool, and a Canon 35mm lens shootout

Lots of cool stuff among this week’s links. Grab’em while they’re hot.

How America made Donald Trump unstoppable | Matt Taibbi →

Chilling article over at Rolling Stone:

A thousand ridiculous accidents needed to happen in the unlikeliest of sequences for it to be possible, but absent a dramatic turn of events – an early primary catastrophe, Mike Bloomberg ego-crashing the race, etc. – this boorish, monosyllabic TV tyrant with the attention span of an Xbox-playing 11-year-old really is set to lay waste to the most impenetrable oligarchy the Western world ever devised.

It turns out we let our electoral process devolve into something so fake and dysfunctional that any half-bright con man with the stones to try it could walk right through the front door and tear it to shreds on the first go.

And Trump is no half-bright con man, either. He’s way better than average.

I do hope America reacts before it’s too late. Trump in the White House is a future I don’t even want to imagine.

Apple, the FBI, and security | Ben Thompson →

Ben Thompson had a thorough overview of the recent legal dispute between Apple and the FBI. There’s a lot at stake here, and we can’t afford to lose this one.

Working on the iPad: one year later, still my favorite computer | Federico Viticci →

Federico Viticci is still happy using his iPad as his main computing device. Good for him, but I find myself in staunch opposition here. I mean, whatever works for you personally is great, and I’m all for choice, but I reject the narrative that the iPad is the better computer for most people, or that it is just a matter of time before we all ditch our Macs and go all-in on iOS.

To be clear, I’m not saying the iPad isn’t a great device, I’m just questioning if it’s good to replace a computer for most people, to take care of 100% of their computing needs. That’s a tall order, and one I’m not convinced the iPad is ready to fulfill yet.

This bit is particularly troubling:

In some corners of the Apple community, too, the iPad has suffered from faltering evangelism due to an unwillingness to recognize iOS as a valid productivity environment. Across multiple blogs and publications, the “you can’t get work done on an iPad” argument morphed from intriguing criticism to inconclusive meme that failed to understand the improvements of iOS 8 and iOS 9. For example, a common take on using the iPad as a primary computer I’ve seen is to dismiss it as “jumping through hoops” or, more amusingly, as “masochism”. Some of these opinions stem from a one-sided (and often patronizing) perspective: they usually come from programmers who have to use Macs – and only Macs – for a living.

There’s so much wrong with this paragraph that I don’t even know where to start. Assuming people dismiss the iPad because they don’t get it or are unwilling to open their eyes is an untenable position, and the very definition of patronizing if you ask me. The truth is, many people tried it, weren’t convinced, and moved on. It really is that simple, and that’s OK. The iPad doesn’t have to be all things to all people.

And it’s not just programmers, either. Anybody with non-mainstream computational needs — which is not to say, uncommon needs, mind you — will be better served by a traditional computer in most cases.

Clearly many people can get by on an iPad, and even prefer it. But Federico is not your typical user, either, as he seems to imply. He’s an advanced user by any reasonable criteria, and he’s proficient in his use of technology in a way that the vast majority of people simply aren’t.

For many people, working on the iPad is certainly possible, but I would still argue that it is far from being better than doing it on a Mac. And let’s not forget that just as iPads are becoming more capable, Macs are becoming more portable, too, so some of his stated reasons for preferring the iPad in the first place are becoming irrelevant:

OS X is a fantastic desktop operating system, but it runs on machines that increasingly don’t fit the lifestyle of users who, like me, can’t sit down at a desk every day. I can’t (and I don’t want to) depend on Macs anymore because I want a computer that can always be with me. The majority of the world’s population doesn’t care about Xcode. I want to use an OS without (what I see as) cruft of decades of desktop conventions. I want powerful, innovative apps that I can touch. An iPad is the embodiment of all this.

Other than the touch part, the new MacBook checks every one of those boxes, too. My point is, it’s not as clear cut as it seems.

But the thing that bothers me the most about this piece is perhaps the next paragraph:

The tide, however, is turning. Over the past year, it’s been fascinating to observe how, gradually, using an iPad as the primary or only computer has turned from a nerd chimera into an acceptable narrative. Contrary to two years ago (before the changes of iOS 8), I’ve read dozens of stories from Mac users who have started using an iPad as their main computer – in some cases, going as far as not using MacBooks anymore. Students, doctors, educators, artists, photographers who prefer iPads to Macs, designers, independent writers. I’m missing hundreds of other stories.

To say that the tide is turning based on such anecdotal evidence is, to put it mildly, greatly optimistic. I can’t help but feel a bit frustrated that this narrative — that the iPad is finally ready to replace Macs for the general population — continues to be pushed from certain people in the tech community. I honestly don’t see it in the real world, and iPad sales numbers certainly point towards a very different story.

These people, as well-intentioned as I take them to be, are not average users, and creating the perception that regular users not only can get by with an iPad, but that it will actually be better for them than a traditional computer, strikes me as a dangerous trend.

Again, if it works for Federico and the rest of them, who am I to judge? I’m happy that more people are finding ways to get more stuff done on the iPad. I just don’t think that will become the norm anytime soon, and suggesting otherwise seems premature at best.

Hi-Ho silver lining! 6 lessons Hollywood can (hopefully) learn from the success of Deadpool | Adam X. Smith →

This was interesting to read. When a different movie breaks new ground and finds success, it’s easy to fall into the trap of simply copying the same formula and hoping for the same results, but the truth is usually more complicated than that. I hope studio executives everywhere are paying attention.

Shootout: The Canon FD 35mm lenses | Jannik Peters →

And to finish this week’s issue, here’s a great comparison between three of the classic 35mm lenses for the Canon FD system. If you shoot film, or enjoy using vintage lenses on your digital camera with an adapter, you probably know that Canon FD lenses are some of the best bargains you can find on the Internet.

These pieces of glass were remarkably popular in the 70’s and early 80’s, and can usually be found in pretty good condition for pennies on the original dollar. And the good news is, many of them are pretty good optically, even by today’s standards. What’s not to love?

Afterword

I’ve been recovering from a nasty stomach bug for the past few days, which is why the site has been a bit quieter than usual lately. I’m almost fully recovered by now, so things should return to normal soon.

I’m still trying to rest as much as possible and get my energy back, though, so I plan on spending the rest of my Sunday lazing on the couch and filling up on movies. If it’s cold where you live, I humbly suggest you do the same.

Thank you for reading, and have a lovely Sunday.

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Warning signs that you are a side character in a movie →

February 24, 2016 |

Hilarious piece by Nick and Hallie Bateman for The New Yorker:

If your best friend is an average guy who just goes to work, has a pet fish, and spends a lot of time on the Internet, you’re fine. But if he’s insanely attractive, has a high-­profile job that he never seems to go to, and enjoys an excessively eventful personal life, you might be playing his best friend in a movie. When was the last time you went home? Do you even have a home, or do you just sleep in the bar booth where you and Matthew McConaughey always chat?

So great.

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Candid, Episode 2: “Film & Fuji” →

February 24, 2016 |

The second episode of Candid, the new photography podcast that Marius Masalar, Josh Ginter and myself are hosting every week, was published earlier today.

This week we dig into the appeal of the “film look”, and try to figure out why these days people tend to apply all kinds of filters to their digital pictures to make them look more film-like. We also explore the differences between film grain and digital noise, and we go all-in on Fuji’s X-Series system with an in-depth look at their new X-Pro 2 and X70 cameras.

I really like how this episode turned out. It has a bit of everything: some good old-fashioned photography talk, a healthy dose of gear nerdery, and plenty of interesting discussion to boot.

As usual, if you enjoy the show, please help us get it out there by spreading the word on Twitter and rating/reviewing the show on iTunes). It really helps a lot.

Thanks, and enjoy!

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February 20, 2016

Hello there, welcome to another issue of Morning Coffee.

This week we’re going to take a break from Star Wars, and focus on the latest family-friendly movie to arrive at theaters worldwide: Deadpool.1

Deadpool is a fun movie. A really, really fun movie. However, it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s full of bad language, sex, violence, blood, and generally speaking, everything that’s wrong with humans as a species. As fun as it is to watch, this is not a nice movie.

Beyond that, though, what interests me most about the film is the story behind its production, and what its commercial success could mean for the filmmaking industry as a whole.

Don’t worry, this entire issue is spoiler-free, so you can keep reading even if you still haven’t watched the movie. But seriously, what are you waiting for? It’s really good.

Issue #34: A different kind of superhero movie

Deadpool is not your typical superhero. He’s a foul-mouthed, amoral character that is not beyond killing to get what he needs — or just for the fun of it, really. He is definitely not your typical Marvel superhero, and couldn’t be farther from the watered-down depictions of Marvel characters that we’ve seen in movie adaptations so far.

The problem is, those decaffeinated adaptations have been breaking box office records year after year after year, so who’s ever going to dare argue that they’re doing it wrong?

Conventional movie-making wisdom says that PG-13 movies are much more likely to be a hit at the box office than R-rated movies. Therefore, it’s perfectly understandable that big Hollywood studios like Disney — the rights owner for most Marvel characters — would be adamant in their use of PG-13 ratings for these types of films.

There’s a very good case to be made that superhero movies need to be family-friendly. I get that, but the problems it presents as far as storytelling and consistency go are significant. While it’s technically possible to depict a hostile alien invasion that destroys half of Manhattan and crushes entire buildings without showing so much as one innocent person dying in the process, it’s hard to argue that it is a very realistic approach.

I’m not saying they need to show dead bodies and blood just for the sake of it, mind you. On the contrary. There are plenty of great storylines in Marvel’s rich history that would allow screenwriters to come up with interesting plots without having to rely on apocalyptic scenarios for dramatic effect.

However, for better or worse, it looks like the recent trend towards darker, more mature superheroes in comic movie adaptations that began with Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is here to stay. And Marvel has been trying — however mildly — to give their own heroes the same gritty vibe, all while refusing to give up their prized PG-13 rating.

In my opinion, something has to give. There are only so many alien or robot armies you can conjure up for the good guys to fight without making it look like they’re killing people. As long as they continue to pursue those darker storylines but refuse to own up to their consequences, Marvel movies will continue to exist in that weird, undefined space that the PG-13 rating represents. Creatively speaking, it’s the worst of both worlds.

The biggest problem, however, is not that a movie refuses to embrace darkness when it is not a driving part of the plot. Disney and Marvel have every right to keep telling superhero stories in a way that is accessible for younger audiences, and those movies will keep being made. Maybe they’ll get over that gritty phase and return to more normal storylines, or maybe they won’t, but that’s not a huge deal in and of itself.

The real problem is when a movie that clearly needs to be R-rated gets watered down in such a way that its essence gets compromised, just for the sake of having a better shot at the box office. That’s what happens when bureaucrats and accountants take control of film studios, and it’s a very serious problem that’s been going on for decades in Hollywood. When these businessmen have so much power and influence that they can effectively exert creative control over a film’s production, you have a recipe for disaster.

Sometimes, a movie calls for an R rating. For example, the original Terminator film was a dark, terrifying story about a nearly indestructible killing machine, and fit the R rating like a glove. Its much-lauded sequel, Terminator 2, was another masterpiece in horror moviemaking, and once again, made extremely good use of its R rating.

However, by the time Terminator 3 rolled around, with its newly-revised PG-13 rating, things started taking a turn for the worse, as the story became more about chases, explosions and robot fights than about the sheer psychological horror of knowing an unstoppable machine is trying to squeeze the life out of you with its cold metal hands. And with just a brief look at the latest mess in the franchise’s troubled history, it’s easy to understand why sometimes, a PG-13 rating just won’t do.

To sum things up: the two R-rated Terminator films are classics, while every other film in the franchise has been mostly forgettable. Coincidence? I think not.

Enter Deadpool, perhaps the one Marvel character that could put this ratings assumption to the test.2 Clearly, Deadpool as a character can only work in an R-rated movie. He needs to do all sorts of grossly inappropriate things on screen that are not only there for the audience’s amusement, but because they are the essence of the character. That’s who Deadpool is, and showing him in a different light would make no sense whatsoever. I know that because we’ve already seen it, and we’re all still trying very, very hard to forget about it.

It’s no surprise, then, that Deadpool is a movie that almost didn’t get made.

Ryan Reynolds, the actor who plays the title character, had been trying to get Fox to greenlight the film for over a decade, only to be given vague promises and uncertain propositions. His only non-negotiable request was that the movie would be R-rated, which turned out to be a significant hurdle in the negotiations. Unsurprisingly, the project was put on ice several times over the years, until Reynolds took matters into his own hands.

Once he had a script, he convinced Fox to let him shoot some test footage, which was then “accidentally” leaked online, prompting many Deadpool fans all over the world to flood Fox with requests to get the film made. Eventually the studio caved and greenlit the movie, albeit with a rather conservative $58 million budget, no doubt as a result of the studio’s doubts on whether the movie could be a commercial success.

How ironic, then, that Deadpool has turned in the biggest opening weekend ever for an R-rated movie — beating 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded — and also the biggest opening weekend ever for Fox as a whole — beating 2005’s Star Wars: Episode III, and all films in the X-Men franchise, including 2014’s Days of Future Past. If this doesn’t prove that an R-rated movie can still be a commercial success, nothing will.

There’s nothing wrong with PG-13 movies, but sometimes, an R rating is necessary to tell a story. If Deadpool’s biggest accomplishment is to be the film that convinces studios to once again give these stories a chance to be properly told, it will have been well worth it.

In the meantime, we can all find some comfort in watching the merc with a mouth on the big screen, just like we always wanted: irresponsible, irreverent, violent, and lots and lots of fun.

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

Top Five: The Jedi Council and the Supreme Court, a visit to the end of the world, and the history of malt liquor

Some really interesting pieces in this week’s roundup. And now without further ado, let’s get to it.

Lessons for the Supreme Court from the Jedi Council | Adam Gopnik →

Terrific essay over at The New Yorker:

In the “Star Wars” realm, various reasons have been produced for this weird amnesia, though the actual reason is obviously that George Lucas hadn’t entirely figured out the backstory when he wrote that first movie, or known that he’d ever be held so tightly accountable for its details. And then, when he did work that Jedi Council into the prequels, some twenty years after the first movie was released, it turned out to be the most grossly inept rubber-masked gang in the history of high-minded quangos. You could practically be wearing a T-shirt that says, “Hello, I am a Sith Lord,” and they wouldn’t sniff the dark force coming from your armpits. A rational person would conclude that, despite their own relentless self-promotion of their extra-rational, hyper-reasoning, instinctive sense—their communion with the Force!—this was not in fact a council into which you should put a lot of confidence. That distant galaxy seems to have an undue cultural investment in the wisdom of the Jedi Council, even in the face of its ineptitude.

It looks silly and humorous at first, but there’s quite a bit of depth to it, too.

A brief visit to the end of the world | David Cain →

David Cain does it again:

I realize this sounds morbid. We don’t like to think about the end of the world. But that’s why we probably should, occasionally but deliberately. We are so attached to civilization, stability, and freedom that we don’t want to even imagine life without them. For that reason, we stop noticing these huge, essential pieces of our happiness, and we fill our heads with worries about the state of the smallest pieces—missed appointments, insensitive comments, and other day-to-day ephemera that probably won’t matter a month from now.

The Peacetime Dream is the holy grail of backdrops for a human life, and it is a peculiar tragedy that we still aren’t great at finding happiness in it. Ironically, what would perhaps help us most is to look out at our neighborhoods and picture what they might be like as ruins.

The sleazy and spectacular history of malt liquor | Dave Infante →

Fascinating story:

And it all started with malt liquor. To Vultaggio, malt liquor was a good business proposition. Serving the underserved. Getting product to market. In the years that followed, malt liquor came to represent a lot more, to a lot more people, in a hell of a lot more places. Since its creation, malt liquor’s fortunes have been entangled with America’s sorest social bugbears, from race, to class, to poverty, to whether or not capitalism ought to give a shit about any of those things.

Maybe you’re familiar with its baggage. Maybe not. As Kihm Winship (who wrote one of the few good histories of malt liquor) put it, it is “a story without heroes.” But what a story. Thanks to the people who made it, sold it, protested against it, rapped about it, and of course drank it, the history of malt liquor is a spectacular and uniquely American shitshow. And here it is, in all its glory.

Finding good content | Ben Brooks →

Ben Brooks wrote a thought-provoking piece on why we continue to support sites that clearly have no respect for our time, and wonders if there’s a way out:

That’s what we used to do. We used to vote with our attention and then at some point we stopped caring and decided it wasn’t the job of the media to determine what matters, it’s our job to wade through it. So instead of media outlets hiring smart people who can distill complicated subjects, they just started hiring people who could write somewhat passable sentences and a lot of barely passable sentences in a day.

We have a name for this: we call it 24/7 cable news — but it applies to everything, even blogs. Especially blogs.

I agree with Ben about the importance of changing this dynamic. He proposes AI as a likely way forward, and though I’m not so sure about that — I believe human curation and great editorial teams are must-haves for any serious publication — I would be willing to give it a try and see where it leads us. It can’t be any worse than the current situation, so there’s that.

Review: Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 Distagon T* | Jordan Steele →

Jordan Steele delivers high praise for the latest lens in the Loxia family:

However, if you are fine shooting with primes for ultra-wide work (and especially if you love the 21mm focal length), then there’s no need to look any further. The Loxia 21mm is truly exceptional, and supplants the Fuji 14mm as the finest wide-angle lens I’ve had the pleasure to use.

I’m not really comfortable shooting at the ultra-wide angle end, but even I have to admit this is clearly the most interesting Loxia lens so far.

Afterword

What a week.

In case you missed it, my in-depth review of the Sony FE 70-200mm F4 lens was published on Tuesday over at Tools and Toys.

If that wasn’t enough, on Wednesday I made my podcasting debut, alongside Marius Masalar and Josh Ginter. Candid is a weekly photography show that explores the skills and technology we contend with on the road from hobbyist to professional. Each episode is roughly an hour, and it has a casual, relaxed tone that I really enjoy.

Working on the show with Marius and Josh has been a treat so far, and we’re all having tons of fun with it. Hopefully you will, too. And if you decide to listen and like what you hear, please take a minute of your time to spread the word, and review the show on iTunes. It really helps us a lot. Thanks!

We’re now working hard on the second episode of the show, and we’d love to have you along for the ride. And of course, if you have any feedback, we’d love to know about it.

Have a great weekend, and as always, thank you for reading.


  1. Note: Not actually a family-friendly movie.

  2. With the exception of The Punisher.

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