‘Thing Explainer’, the new book by Randall Munroe →

May 13, 2015 |

Randall Munroe, writing on the xkcd blog:

Today, I’m excited to announce that I’m publishing a collection of large-format (9″x13″) Up Goer Five-style blueprints. The book is full of detailed diagrams of interesting objects, along with explanations of what all the parts are and how they work.

The titles, labels, and descriptions are all written using only the thousand most common English words. Since this book explains things, I’ve called it Thing Explainer.

I love these schematic drawings. The book will be released before the end of the year, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

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Olympus announces two new PRO lenses, special edition E-M5 Mark II →

May 12, 2015 |

Olympus officially unveiled a lot of cool stuff today, to be released by the end of June:

  • The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO zoom lens, which completes their Pro zoom lineup and offers all of the same advantages of its longer siblings. More information on the Olympus site.

  • The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 8mm f1.8 Fisheye PRO lens, which is the widest high-end prime for the system with a 180-degree diagonal angle of view. More information on the Olympus site.

  • The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II Limited Edition, which comes in a Titanium color — reminiscent of the classic OM-3T/Ti from 1994 — and bundled with a premium leather strap, leather card case, and numbered owner’s card. It comes in a kit with the Olympus 14-150mm f4.0-5.6 lens, and it will be limited to 7,000 units worldwide. More information on the Olympus site.

All in all, it’s been an interesting day for Olympus owners. Every item announced seems to continue the excellent run Olympus has been in for the past few years and if the rumors are anything to go by, it doesn’t look like they’re planning to stop anytime soon.

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Shawn Blanc on avoiding burnout →

May 12, 2015 |

Shawn Blanc:

They tell you to ship early and ship often. As a writer, shipping means getting your words onto the page and then getting them out there into the world.

My focus was so intent on the frequency of my publishing that I rarely felt liberty to do anything that took me away from getting at least one or two links up every day. This was folly.

Food for thought.

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The Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens over at Tools & Toys →

May 12, 2015 |

My friend Josh Ginter totally knocked this one out of the park. He makes a great case for zoom lenses in general, and this one in particular:

Yet, somehow, the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro makes next to no compromises at all. From build quality, to image quality, to ergonomics and handling, this lens is the most uncompromising lens I could have hoped for. I prepared myself mentally to be let down in numerous aspects of the lens, but every time I turn my head, I’m continually surprised with the results.

Sure, there are some compromises which can’t be overcome. The Micro 4/3 sensor physically can not produce the same depth of field as a full-frame sensor, and this can rear its head when shooting portraits with unfriendly backgrounds. Physics are physics.

But that really is the limit to the 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro’s compromises. This lens is fit and finished with professionals and enthusiasts in mind. And it delivers. It would be my absolute favourite lens if I hadn’t already picked it up its big sister, the 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro.

Josh is of course right that Micro Four Thirds cameras don’t have the same ability to blur backgrounds as Full Frame cameras, but the fact that Micro Four Thirds cameras have greater depth of field for a given F-number is not always a disadvantage.

In any situation with poor lighting conditions — concerts, interior scenes, etc. — the usual way to maintain high-enough shutter speeds to freeze movement without raising your ISO setting is to shoot at wide apertures. The problem is, on a Full Frame system and with a fast lens, shooting wide open will yield an extremely narrow depth of field, so most of the scene will be out of focus. That’s great for creating artistic effects in controlled environments, but if we’re trying to capture a group scene with plenty of movement, it may become a problem instead. The only way to keep things reasonably in focus with a Full Frame camera in these conditions is to use moderate apertures like f/5.6 and beyond.

With a Micro Four Thirds camera, on the other hand, we can shoot wide open while keeping more of the scene in focus and still enjoy all the other benefits that come with fast lenses. In this case, we could shoot at f/2.8 and gather two full stops more of light than a Full Frame camera while achieving the same depth of field. That means we can keep our ISO setting lower for longer, or use significantly higher shutter speeds, both of which could very well mean the difference between getting the shot or missing it.

This just goes to show, having greater depth of field is not always a compromise, and in fact can be one of the greatest assets of the Micro Four Thirds system in the right conditions. As ever, the important thing is to be aware of the capabilities of our tools, and use them to our advantage.

The Olympus 12-40 Pro lens is an extraordinary piece of glass in every way, and the fact that it doesn’t render the same depth of field as a Full Frame lens does not make it inherently better or worse, simply different.

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The Killing of Osama bin Laden →

May 11, 2015 |

You may have come across this fascinating piece by Seymour M. Hersh elsewhere on the Internet, but I feel compelled to link to it anyway:

It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account. The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.

He paints a very different picture of the whole affair, especially regarding Pakistan’s involvement. Well worth your time.

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Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 vs. Fuji XF 23mm f/1.4 →

May 11, 2015 |

To round up today’s photography-heavy links, here’s an interesting lens comparison by Jordan Steele:

Ok, so this is one of those comparisons that really isn’t particularly fair. You’ve got a $1,600 Zeiss prime up against a $900 Fuji prime, and the test bed cameras aren’t the same resolution. There are lots of problems with testing like this, but I’m going to do it anyway. Why? It’s fun! Today I’m comparing the Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4, mounted on the Sony A7 II and the Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4, mounted on the Fuji X-T1. Both of these lenses have approximately the same field of view, and they both have the same fast f/1.4 maximum aperture. They are also both highly regarded lenses for their respective systems, so let’s see how they stack up. And please, please take these tests with a grain of salt. This is a fun comparison, and both of these lenses are really quite excellent.

They are indeed. These are two of the finest 35mm-equivalent lenses available for any system, and both are compelling enough to be system sellers on their own. But how exactly do they stack up?

I said up front that this wasn’t really a fair test, and it really isn’t. The Zeiss was tested with a higher resolution body, and the lens itself is nearly double the cost. However, despite the resolution difference, it’s easy to see that the FE 35mm f/1.4 is exceptional. It takes an extremely good Fuji 23mm f/1.4 and makes it look mediocre in comparison. Zeiss has done something rather incredible with the lens.

Some of Jordan’s comparison shots are actually hard to believe, especially considering how well-regarded the Fuji lens is by every reviewer out there. Judging by the results, the Zeiss lens is truly in a league of its own, and may very well be the single best 35mm lens available today for any system, at any price.

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Canon announces new 50mm f/1.8 STM lens to replace “nifty-fifty” →

May 11, 2015 |

Great news from Matthew Gore over at Light and Matter:

However, this is not just the same old lens in new clothing. The optics have been updated and now carry Canon’s latest coatings for improved light transmission and reduced chromatic aberration. The new lens can focus down to 14 inches (.21x magnification), and while the old lens had only 5 aperture blades which created “unique” pentagonal bokeh, the new STM lens has 7 rounded aperture blades for smoother, more natural blur.

This is great. The new lens also appears to be slightly smaller in size, although a bit heavier due to its metal mount — the current “nifty-fifty” is an all-plastic design.

The Canon 50mm f/1.8 II is the best-selling lens in the world by a huge margin, so any improvements they can make — particularly without raising the price — will be extremely welcome.

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