AnalogSenses

By ÁLVARO SERRANO

Tesla Model S P85D breaks the Consumer Reports Ratings System →

August 27, 2015 |

Apparently the car’s not half bad:

In rating it, however, we faced a quandary: The Tesla initially scored 103 in the Consumer Reports’ Ratings system, which by definition doesn’t go past 100. The car set a new benchmark, so we had to make changes to our scoring to account for it. Those changes didn’t affect the scores of other cars.

Of course, such high praise is inevitably followed by the customary but:

To be clear, the Tesla’s 100 score doesn’t make the P85D a perfect car—even at $127,820. It has imperfections. The interior materials aren’t as opulent as other high-ticket automobiles, and its ride is firmer and louder than our base Model S.

What’s more, a lengthy road trip in an electric car with a 200-plus mile range can be a logistical hurdle if a quick-charging station isn’t along your route.

Not that I have the highest regard for Consumer Reports and their ratings system, but it does look like the Tesla Model S P85D is one hell of a car.

Via The Verge.

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Bond By Design: The Art of the James Bond Films →

August 27, 2015 |

Gorgeous upcoming book on the art and design of the EON Productions’ James Bond films:

Accessing EON Productions’ vast archive of more than 50 years of art and design, featuring the work of legendary Bond film designers such as Ken Adam, Peter Lamont and Syd Cain. The book provides a unique, spectacular and fascinating insight into the longest-running film franchise of all time. Reveals the craft behind the creation of famous sets, such as Stromberg’s Atlantis base in The Spy Who Loved Me and Drax’s shuttle launch site in Moonraker, as well as technical drawings of Bond’s gadget-laden Aston Martin DB5. Includes two exclusive, full-colour prints of Bond film designs.

Bond By Design also brings the James Bond story right up to date with behind-the-scenes artwork from the newest film, SPECTRE.

Bond films have always featured impressive set designs, and this book gives an incredible sneak peek at the creative process behind it all. A must-have for all design-conscious Bond fans out there.

The book will be released in the U.S. on October 6. You can preorder it on Amazon here.

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Canon announces new EF USM 35mm f/1.4 L II lens →

August 27, 2015 |

This one really does deserve a finally. After 17 years, Canon has finally updated their venerable 35mm f/1.4 L lens. Allison Johnson, writing at DPReview:

Canon has announced the EF 35mm F1.4L II USM, the second generation of its popular wide-angle prime. It uses newly-designed Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics, which claim to correct chromatic aberration better than any other existing technology.

The 35mm F1.4L II includes a total of 14 elements, two of which are aspherical and the other being ’Super UD’. It offers 9 aperture blades for pleasing bokeh (and gorgeous 18-ray sunbursts, we hope) and a minimum focusing distance of 0.28m/11in. It also claims to be more durable than its predecessor, with dust and water-resistant construction. The Mark II is considerably heavier, though, weighing in at 180g/6.3oz, or 31% more than the original model.

This is a much-awaited announcement for Canon users, especially since Sigma introduced their excellent 35mm f/1.4 Art lens, which bested the Canon in just about every way and managed to do it at half the price.

It will be interesting to see how well this new lens compares to its predecessor, as well as the rest of its competitors, including the aforementioned Sigma. I’m also particularly interested in seeing how it compares with the Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 Distagon, a lens that’s been on my radar for quite some time and that’s been called the best 35mm lens ever by none other than Steve Huff.

The new version of the Canon 35mm f/1.4 L lens will be available in October for $1,799. You can check out Canon’s official press release here.

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Banksy’s Dismaland →

August 26, 2015 |

This is amazing. Legendary artist Banksy has created a very, ahem, unique theme park:

The castle’s derelict, Cinderella’s pumpkin has crashed, and the seagulls are on the attack … Banksy has opened a theme park called Dismaland at a disused lido in Weston-super-Mare. The show has been shrouded in secrecy for weeks, and locals had been led to believe it was a film set for a Hollywood thriller. Take the first look inside.

Mark Brown, writing for The Guardian, explains a little bit more about how the project came to be:

The name is a play on Disneyland, but Banksy insisted the show was not a swipe at Mickey and co. “I banned any imagery of Mickey Mouse from the site,” he said. “It’s a showcase for the best artists I could imagine, apart from the two who turned me down.”

Works by 58 handpicked artists including Damien Hirst and Jenny Holzer have been installed across the 2.5-acre site. Julie Burchill has rewritten Punch & Judy to give it a Jimmy Savile spin. Jimmy Cauty, once part of the KLF, is displaying his version of a fun model village complete with 3,000 riot police in the aftermath of major civil unrest.

It’s absolutely crazy. For some reason, there’s something deeply unnerving about abandoned theme parks. Banksy’s vision seems straight out of many people’s darkest dreams.

Sounds like fun.

Via Daring Fireball.

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The ONA Prince Street messenger bag at Tools & Toys →

August 25, 2015 |

I’m a huge fan of ONA camera bags, and the Prince Street is number two on my list, behind only the Brixton. Both bags are extremely similar, with the main difference between them being size.

I’m also a fan of Mike’s reviews, and this one is no exception. The photography is gorgeous as usual, and every detail about the bag has been carefully considered and deftly explained.

I probably won’t end up buying the Prince Street, but I sure enjoyed my time reading Mike’s take on it. An excellent piece of work any way you slice it.

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MirrorLessons reviews the upcoming Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II →

August 25, 2015 |

Mathieu and Heather from MirrorLessons have already gotten their hands on the upcoming E-M10 Mark II and they’ve wasted no time before reviewing it. From what I’ve seen, the update is somewhat underwhelming. The Mark II retains the same 16 MP sensor and TruePic VII image processor, there’s still no weather sealing, and there’s still no battery grip option. This update doesn’t really try to grow the list of things the E-M10 was already capable of, instead it is a refinement of the original concept.

Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of this camera is how it repositions the E-M10 series within the Olympus lineup as an entry-level product. While the original E-M10 was so good that it even had a leg up the E-M5 with features like WiFi and a more modern image processor, this time around there’s no such thing going on. Everything the E-M10 II can do, the E-M5 II can do as well, but not the other way around. With this camera, the Olympus lineup falls back into a good/better/best model once again, which will be made all the more apparent once the upcoming E-M1 Mark II is announced.

Now, Olympus did add a few interesting new features with the E-M10 Mark II, like their excellent 5-axis IBIS and an electronic shutter option that goes up to 1/16,000th of a second. The EVF was also slightly improved, although probably not enough to constitute a huge difference over the previous one.

Still, for my money the original E-M10 remains an excellent value. Despite these few nice additions, you won’t get better image quality out of the Mark II, which means owners of the previous generation don’t have many compelling reasons to upgrade this time around. That said, if you’re looking to buy your first Micro Four Thirds camera, the new E-M10 Mark II is definitely a solid choice.

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Jordan Steele reviews the Sony A7R II →

August 24, 2015 |

Jordan’s review is fantastic, as usual. Lots of interesting thoughts on the camera’s small quirks, and lots of incredibly gorgeous pictures. I was really impressed by how well images shot with old Canon FD glass look on the A7R II. In particular, this picture of Jordan’s son, taken with the Canon FD 85mm f/1.8 lens, looks amazingly sharp at the point of focus, with the background melting away into a gorgeous bokeh. Really impressive stuff.

Given that old Canon FD lenses can be easily purchased today for pennies on the dollar, this quality is enough to make you wonder if the investment on modern, Zeiss-branded autofocusing glass — not to mention the manual-focus Loxia lenses — is really worth it.

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August 22, 2015

Another week goes by and we’re getting closer to September, when the Internet suddenly comes back to life. And with a rumored Apple event taking place on September 5th, including, presumably, the launch of new iPhones, it sure looks like things are going to be speeding up pretty quickly this time around.

That said, if you’re still trying to relax and enjoy the last few weeks of Summer, fear not, because I’ve got just the thing.

Issue #11: Relay FM’s first birthday, a life on the run, Amazon and the “New Economy”, and Curiosity’s selfies on Mars

This week’s issue contains slightly fewer links than past issues, but each piece is absolutely killer. Enjoy.

How Relay FM proves that podcasts aren’t an overnight success | Romain Dillet →

This week was the first birthday of Relay FM, the podcast network founded by Myke Hurley and Stephen Hackett. In that time, the number of shows they publish has quadrupled and today, both co-founders refer to Relay as their main job. However, as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

In this excellent profile for TechCrunch, Romain Dillet takes a look at what it takes to succeed in the podcasting business and how, despite its relatively quick rise to popularity, Relay FM is a project many years in the making:

In 2009, Myke Hurley’s first podcast was an interview show. He would go home after his regular job in London and record interviews with guests working in the tech industry. Many of those episodes later became shows of their owns, forming the now-defunct 70Decibels podcast network. In these shows, Hurley would talk with the same person every week and release it. One of these shows was the 512 Podcast with Stephen Hackett, named after his blog 512 Pixels.

I’m so happy things are looking up for Myke and Stephen. Here’s to many more Relay birthdays.

A brief guide to recreational time travel | David Cain →

Fantastic, thought-provoking piece by David Cain, as usual:

When you’re with friends or close relatives, in an ordinary moment—maybe at dinner or while a group of people is talking—zoom out for a second and observe the person as if you’re only remembering them, from some time in the future when this person no longer around. Don’t worry about why they’re gone, just look at them as if they’re out of your life now, and you’re only remembering what they were like, their voice and their mannerisms.

If you can feel this person’s gone-ness for even a moment, then when you come back and remember that this isn’t a memory, and that you are actually seeing them, live, the gratitude you will feel can be staggering. It seems like a small miracle has happened: this wonderful person is still here, and you are living in that precious time when your lives are overlapping. You are just that lucky.

Is it time to put a stop to bull running and bullfighting in Spain? | Allison Jackson →

Whenever I read a piece on bullfighting written by a foreign journalist, I usually cringe. However, Allison Jackson does an excellent job in this piece. Bullfighting is a very sensitive and nuanced topic in Spain, and it’s really easy to misjudge exactly what’s wrong with it. The sheer brutality of if, and the blood, are so overpowering that it’s hard to look past them in order to see the social and historical aspects of this so-called tradition, where the root of the bigger problem lies.

The reason bullfighting continues to be popular in Spain is there are very rich and powerful people whose entire lives, social status and fortunes were built on it, and still massively depend on it. Until that changes — either motivated by political will or because society gradually evolves to strip those people of their perceived worth — banning bullfighting is going to be a tall order.

The Shawshank Fugitive: The crime and escape | Rick Neale and J.D. Gallop →

What an incredible story:

A story whose twists and turns — incarceration at the infamous prison featured in “The Shawshank Redemption,” an escape from a prison farm, life on the run using a fake identity, a new shot at freedom personally granted by West Virginia’s governor — culminated in a simple knock on a trailer home door in Melbourne, 56 years later.

Freshwaters answered the knock. Through the opened door, a Brevard County Sheriff’s deputy held up a black-and-white picture of Freshwaters as a young man. He asked if Freshwaters, now 79 years old with a white beard, glasses and thinning white hair scooped into a ponytail, recognized that man.

“I haven’t seen him in a long while,” Freshwaters replied.

Amazon and the realities of the “New Economy” | John Cassidy →

I really enjoyed Cassidy’s take on the New York Times story about the way Amazon treats their white-collar workers:

Perhaps Times readers, who tend to be well educated and reasonably well off, like reading about bad things happening to people like themselves. But I think it goes deeper than that. As the “New Economy” celebrates its twentieth anniversary—on August 9, 1995, Netscape’s initial public offering took place—it is becoming harder to ignore some of its negative aspects. Behind all the technological advances and product innovation, there is a good deal of old-fashioned labor discipline, wage repression, and exertion of management power.

On the emptiness of social media fame | Eric Kim →

Photographer Eric Kim meditates on the ultimate relevance — or lack thereof — of social media popularity. Good stuff:

The irony of social media is that no matter how many likes/favorite you get, it is never enough. I remember when my goal on social media was to get 100 likes. Then it became 200 likes. Then 500 likes.

Now I get (on popular posts) 1000+ likes. The funny thing is now whenever I get anything less than 1000 likes, I feel like shit. For example I recently shared something on Instagram that got (only) 500 likes. I felt like a failure by comparison.

And what is really a “like” anyways? It is just someone tapping a little heart icon on your photo. It doesn’t mean anything. When you die, you can’t take your “likes” with you. Your “likes” won’t keep you warm at night, or pay your electric bills. Does anyone really want etched on their gravestone: “Here lies John, he had 1,000,000 followers on Instagram.”

The story behind Curiosity’s self-portraits on Mars | Emily Lakdawalla →

Wow:

Curiosity’s arm-mounted MAHLI camera took 72 individual photos over a period of about an hour in order to cover the entire rover and a lower hemisphere including 360 degrees around the rover and more than 90 degrees of elevation. It took 2 tiers of 20 images to cover the entire horizon, and fewer images at lower elevations to cover the bottom of the image sphere. The arm was kept out of most of the images but it was impossible to keep the arm’s shadow from falling on the ground in positions immediately in front of the rover.

I love science.

Afterword

This past week has been quite uneventful, to be completely honest. I’m slowly racking up more hours of use with the A7II and I feel like I’m starting to get better at choosing the proper focal length for each scene with the 24-70 zoom, which is a new way of shooting for me. I really am loving the convenience of a high-quality zoom lens for general purpose shooting, although I do feel that, for the most part, primes are still where it’s at for me.

On that note, I expect to order my first native prime lens for the system this week. It will be the Sony Zeiss Sonnar 55mm f/1.8, a lens that has received nearly universal praise despite its relatively high price, particularly in light of its rather modest maximum aperture of only f/1.8 — as opposed to f/1.4 or even f/1.2.

As far as maximum aperture goes, though, I don’t think there’s much difference in depth of field between f/1.8 and f/1.4 at that focal length, which is why the speed issue is, well, not really an issue for me, personally.

And as for price, $900 does seem a bit steep, but it’s worth keeping in mind this lens has scored almost as good as the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 in lab tests, an absolute monster of a lens costing nearly $4,000. If the FE lens really does offer close-enough performance for one quarter the price, it’s easy to understand why people are loving it.

I’m really excited to try it and see if there really is such a huge difference in IQ between the Zeiss 55mm lens and the 24-70 zoom, which, might I add, already looks pretty darn good to me.

To give you another reference for the 24-70, here are two shots of the same scene. The first one was taken with the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 lens on my E-M10, and the second was taken with the Zeiss 24-70 zoom on the A7II.

The Olympus was set at f/2 and the Zeiss at 34mm and f/4, with ISO being the minimum native value each camera supports (200 for the Olympus, 100 for the A7II). Both images were exported straight from RAW, with only white balance adjusted to Auto. No sharpening or any other processing has been done. Both images were shot handheld and image stabilization was on.

These conditions should create as level a playing field as possible between the two systems, while still being a real-world scenario, so let’s take a look at some 100% crops and see what we find. Images are retina-scaled, so if you’re reading this on a non-retina Mac, right-click on any of them and click “open image in a new tab” to see it pixel for pixel.

For all images, the Olympus is on the left and the Zeiss on the right. Center crops show both lenses have similar levels of sharpness, with the Zeiss showing slightly more detail thanks to the A7II’s higher resolution sensor. Even so, considering one is a prime lens and the other a zoom, this is already impressive for the Zeiss.

If we move slightly off-center, differences get more pronounced:

Here the Zeiss is quite a bit sharper, retaining far more detail than the Olympus. Check the intricate details on the street plaque to see how much of a difference there is.

So far it looks like a clean sweep for the Zeiss. However, the Olympus improves again in the far corners:

Here both lenses are again similarly sharp, with no discernible differences between the two. Both show similar amounts of detail. There are two things to consider here:

  1. Full Frame lenses, especially zoom lenses, are notoriously soft in the extreme corners, which could explain why the Zeiss has lost the advantage it had over the Olympus in the middle of the frame.

  2. The fact that, even in the extreme corners and wide open, the Zeiss manages to be at least as sharp as the Olympus, is downright impressive. The Olympus is not only a prime lens coupled with a smaller sensor, it is not even being shot wide open.

My main takeaway from this little experiment is that, while the Olympus did a great job in the center of the frame, the Zeiss is clearly the better overall lens. Of course, it also costs twice as much and is a completely different type of lens, so comparing the two doesn’t really make much sense.

The point is, the Zeiss 24-70mm is definitely a sharp lens, easily up to par with some well-regarded Micro Four Thirds primes, even down to the extreme corners. If the Zeiss 55mm turns out to be much better than this — and everyone says it is — it’s going to be a pretty sweet lens indeed.

Of course, I fully intend to test it as soon as I get my hands on the new lens, so we’ll find out soon enough.

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

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First contact: a walk around Plasencia with the Sony A7 Mark II

August 18, 2015

This past weekend I went to my hometown, Plasencia, to visit my family. It was the perfect opportunity to take my new Sony A7 II and the Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 lens for a walk around the old town. Having never owned a proper wide angle lens before, this was also a first for me.

Plasencia is a small but beautiful city in Western Spain. Founded in 1186 by King Alfonso VIII of Castile, the city presents a very special mixture of Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures. In my walk I mainly visited the Jewish borough, which is known today as Barrio de los Caballeros and includes many of the most beautiful architectural highlights of the city, with the exception of the impressive Roman aqueduct.

Let me show you around for a while.

Plasencia is a walled city, with most of the wall still preserved in great condition today.

Narrow, stone-walled streets are a typical sight in the old town.

In some places, you can see where new buildings swallowed up the old stone walls of the city.

This Palace was built by former Dukes of Plasencia, Don Álvaro de Zúñiga and Doña Isabel Pimentel, in the 15th century.

The picture above is a great example of what a 24mm wide angle lens can do. I was standing really close to the building and still managed to completely fit it in the frame. I definitely need to get used to this focal length and learn to work with the distortion, but so far, I’m really liking the new creative choices it puts at my disposal.

Church of San Nicolás, 13th century.

Church of Santo Domingo (St. Dominic), founded by the Zúñigas in the 15th century.

This picture of St. Dominic’s required massive shadow and highlight recovery, and the end result is still pretty decent. It seems the sensor in the A7 II really has some nice dynamic range to work with.

Miriam in front of San Nicolás.

This picture of Miriam was taken at 61mm and f/4. I wasn’t even fully zoomed in to 70mm and the Zeiss 24-70mm zoom still managed to achieve some degree of subject separation. Granted, at f/4 this is clearly not a fast prime, but in a pinch, it works.

The great thing about having more pixels is that you can crop a bit more and still get plenty of detail in the final shot. Here, for example, I just cropped the sides and magically turned a landscape picture into portrait orientation (I know, I know).

Palacio del Marqués de Mirabel, front entrance.

At 24mm and f/4, the possibilities for subject separation are slim to non-existent. Here I was standing close to the lens’s minimum focus distance and still didn’t manage to throw the background out of focus a great deal. Clearly I have to learn to work with the constraints of this lens, not against them.

Plaza de San Vicente Ferrer, front entrance of St. Dominic’s.

Casa de las Dos Torres, early 14th century.

This building is officially named Palacio Monroy, but is commonly known as the House of the Two Towers. Back when it was initially built, the building featured a second tower at the right side, which was demolished in 1913. It is the oldest mansion in the city.

New Cathedral, 16th century. I ran into a wedding photo-shoot near the New Cathedral, which was fun to see — I actually knew the groom from high school!

Plasencia is perhaps unique in that there are two cathedrals in the city. The Old Cathedral, known as St. Mary’s, was started in the 13th century and finished in the 15th century, and represents a great example of the transition between Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles.

The New Cathedral was started in 1498 and work progressed until 1578, when construction was halted. Work on it began again during the 18th century, but it was never fully finished. This is obvious in the central area of the above picture, where the brick wall that was used to close the unfinished structure is clearly visible.

Plaza de los Naranjos.

Plasencia’s food market is located right in the old town, surrounded by medieval churches and close to the city’s Plaza Mayor (main square). This makes for an interesting contrast, and it’s an example of something that makes Plasencia’s old town special: it is still mostly inhabited by long-time residents of the city, not exclusively devoted to tourism.

Plasencia’s traditional food market remains in use.

St. Dominic’s convent.

Plasencia has always been a deeply religious city, with more churches per citizen than many other cities in Spain — and the world, for that matter. Even more, beyond regular churches, there are still several enclosed religious orders active in the city. This is a picture of St. Dominic’s convent. Those small barred windows at the top represent the only contact St. Dominic’s nuns have with the outside world.

An elderly woman attending mass in the church of San Esteban, 15th century.

Plasencia’s Plaza Mayor, or main square.

Plasencia’s City Hall is located right in the main square. The palace was built during the 20th century, but was based on the style of 16th-century architect Juan de Álava.

Plasencia’s Palacio Municipal, where City Hall is located.

Another thing that separates Plasencia from many other Spanish cities is its main square. In most other medieval cities across Spain, the main square has been almost completely taken over by tourism-oriented businesses. Unfortunately, that means long-time residents can’t enjoy these places anymore due to artificially inflated prices. In Plasencia, however, the main square remains local territory, fiercely defended by its people. Every day you see familiar faces all around, and every bar has someone inside waiting to greet you by name.

I really love Plasencia’s Plaza Mayor and its bars. Alas, that’s a story for another day, for our walk is now reaching the end.

Afterword: first impressions on the camera and lens

All these pictures were casually taken in the scope of a couple hours, while I was still getting used to operating the camera’s basic controls. With that in mind, please excuse any technical errors you may have noticed.

I fully intend to do more walks like this in the future as I get more comfortable with the camera. For a first contact, though, I’m pretty happy with how things went. If you’d like to see the full resolution pictures, they’re available as a Flickr album.

Miriam with my OM-D E-M10.

To be perfectly honest, my first impressions on the Sony A7 II could hardly be any better. After just a few hours of use, it feels like a compelling upgrade from my Olympus E-M10 in every way. It’s still early days, though, and the camera is not without its quirks. I expect to slowly get to know my way around it better in the coming weeks.

I’m similarly impressed with what I’ve seen from the Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 lens so far. The build quality is excellent, and the lens handles like a dream. In a couple quick comparison shots I’ve taken, it’s also clearly sharper than my Olympus 17mm f/1.8 prime on my E-M10, when both lenses are shot at comparable settings (17mm f/2 for the Olympus, 34mm f/4 for the Zeiss). That’s impressive performance indeed. I’ve noticed soft corners at 24mm wide open, but that’s something I’m more than happy to live with in exchange for everything else the lens has to offer. Only time will tell if it becomes an everyday shooter for me — after all, I’m a primes-first man — but for now it’s shaping up to be an excellent travel lens, at the very least.

On the not-so-great aspects I’ve noticed, I’ll say handling of the A7 II’s RAW files in Lightroom seems finicky, to put it mildly. I’ve struggled to find a camera calibration profile I like, and there are wide reports on the Internet of people being unable to replicate the colors they get with their JPEG shots when shooting RAW. This is apparently an issue that affects all A7-series cameras, by the way. That said, I don’t mean to knock Sony down over this — after all, it could very well be a Lightroom-related issue. In any case, I suspect it’ll be a matter of learning how to process the files better, but it’s a problem I never really faced with the Olympus camera, so there’s that.

Finally, I’m looking forward to spending more time with the camera and really getting to know all its features better. I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what this thing can do, and I’m super excited to find out what lies ahead for me.

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