A Common Habit That Costs Us Friends →

December 01, 2014 |

David Cain has an uncanny ability to make me see myself in his writing:

It was a lot less dramatic this time, however. There were no wars or illnesses or bad GPAs involved. It began when I went hyper-frugal to save up a job-quitting fund. I didn’t want to spend money on booze or restaurants or parties any more, so I said no to almost every invitation for nearly a year. Eventually the inviters stopped bothering, and I lost track of my biggest circle of friends. I did, however, still spend a ton of time with my girlfriend at the time, who is now my best friend. I would have been up the creek without her.

Then when I finally did quit my job in the fall, I stopped seeing a lot of another good friend, because we had worked out of the same office. He was, of course, another vital connecting piece, this time to my oldest and most important circle of friends. And they began to drift into the fog too.

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New and exciting does not equal best

November 28, 2014

Today, The Phoblographer published their 2014 Editor’s Choice Award List:

We’ve been very, very busy this year. Lots of new cameras and lenses were announced and we’ve seen tons of innovation this year across the industry overall. There have been many great products released this year in the photo world and we’re here with a massive roundup of the very best.

Interesting roundup. These are all great products, no doubt. However, keep in mind that this list only includes products that were reviewed by The Phoblographer in 2014. That means that, while being excellent, they’re not necessarily the ones you should spend your hard-earned money on.

There’s a marked tendency in the world of product reviews to praise the new and shiny over the slightly old. Usually, this approach works acceptably well: with newer technology come new features and enhancements that normally end up making for an overall better product. Everyone wins. However, it’s not always as cut and dried as that. Sometimes, a product is so good that it takes the competition a couple years — or more — to regroup and take a meaningful shot at it.

These are good times for photography enthusiasts. We’ve had a few exceptionally good years in a row now, with lots of fantastic releases from all companies. 2013 in particular was a remarkable year, with several product releases in the second half of the year that continue to lead their respective categories, even in the face of newer products from their competitors.

Olympus OM-D E-M1

The Olympus OM-D E-M1. Photo credit: Kent

Such is the case of the excellent Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera, for example. Released in September of 2013, it was a truly revolutionary product that put Micro Four Thirds cameras in the same league as high-end DSLR’s in terms of build quality and features for the first time. In fact, the E-M1 was the first camera that persuaded many professional photographers to give the Micro Four Thirds system a serious shot at becoming their preferred setup for high-paying jobs like weddings, product shots, travel photography, etc.

Today, the E-M1 may no longer be the flashy object of desire it was a year ago, but it definitely remains one of the strongest performers in its category. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 and the Fujifilm X-T1 — both released in 2014 — are currently its two main competitors. Both cameras received Editor’s Choice Awards from The Phoblographer, with the GH4 emerging as the winner in today’s list. Is the GH4, then, simply and obviously better than the year-old E-M1?

Panasonic GH4

The Panasonic GH4. Photo credit: Will Solis

The truth is, it’s not so simple. Like the E-M1, both the GH4 and the X-T1 are also crop-sensor mirrorless cameras roughly in the same price segment, and they offer similar features. A comparison between all three is then quite reasonable — at least on paper — and the main thing we’d find is that unsurprisingly, each camera has its own particular strengths:

  • The differentiating feature of the X-T1 is its bigger APS-C sensor that enables it to create a shallower depth of field, as well as having better low-light performance than the other two.

  • The GH4 has amazing video capabilities, and can record video in up to 4K resolution. At this price point and in a mirrorless camera, that’s insane.

  • The main features that the E-M1 has up its sleeve are its rock-solid build quality with weather-sealing and its 5-axis in-body image stabilization technology that to this day, remains unrivaled by any other camera or manufacturer, including full-frame DSLR’s.1


The Fuji X-T1. Photo credit: David Camerer

Each of these features is noteworthy enough to justify choosing one model over the others. But more importantly, each of these features is clearly aimed at a different type of user. So if you shoot tons of video, you’ll probably be better off with the GH4. If you shoot predominantly in low light and/or want the shallowest depth of field possible, you’ll likely be happier with the X-T1. If you shoot in rough weather or in unstable conditions, the E-M1 is the one that will suit you best. And if you do all of the above, well, you can always buy all three.2

The comparison game doesn’t end in the high-end mirrorless camera category, of course. If we go to a more mainstream price point, let’s say around $400-$800, it’s hard to argue that the Olympus OM-D E-M10 is not at least comparable to the Sony a6000 that is featured in The Phoblographer’s list. Once again, it will come down to a series of small technical differences between them, and which one better matches your particular style as a photographer.

All this without even getting into one of the most critical factors in every camera purchasing decision: the lens selection.

When you buy an interchangeable-lens camera, you’re actually buying into a system, and the lens selection available for that system will largely define what you’ll be able to do with it for many years to come. Before committing to a purchase, it is absolutely essential to become at least reasonably informed about which lenses are available for each system, their strengths and weaknesses, which focal lengths are best represented, the usual price points, the pace of new releases, etc.

In that regard, the Micro Four Thirds system has been leading the industry in the past few years with truly exceptional new lenses coming out every few months. This year, for example, the spectacular Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 was released. It’s featured on The Phoblographer’s list, of course, and it’s probably the most impressive lens released in 2014 in any category and for any system. It really is that good. So if you decided to go for a Micro Four Thirds camera — the E-M1 or the GH4 — this lens sounds like an obvious choice, doesn’t it?

Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm 1.2 ASPH

The Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 45mm f/1.2. Photo credit: Henry Söderlund

Not so fast. The Nocticron is, as I said, a truly spectacular lens, but if you want the fastest lens that money can buy in that focal length, you can do better: the Voigtlander Nokton 42.5mm f/0.95 is two-thirds of a stop faster and is an absolute beast of a lens, with a build quality that surpasses even that of the Nocticron. Besides, it’s such a unique lens that it’s arguably in a class of its own: manual-focus only, no image stabilization — which is not needed on Olympus bodies — and so hefty that it could double as a weapon. Seriously, the thing is tough. Not to mention that, while still pricey at $999, it is a full $500 cheaper than the Nocticron.

And, of course, if what you want is the lens that packs the most bang for the buck, it’s hard to beat the $257 price tag of the Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm f/1.8. I own this little gem and it’s one of my favorite lenses. There’s obviously a difference in quality between this lens and the other two, but the Olympus is already plenty sharp and fast for 99% of uses, I assure you. How important is that small extra bit of sharpness or micro-contrast to you? Is it really worth $1,200? And here’s the real kicker: you could buy the Voigtlander and the Olympus and still have $250 to spare. Not such an obvious choice after all, is it?

It never is.

No matter how cool or how hyped a new product may be, new and exciting does not equal best. Not always, anyway.

With that in mind, it won’t be much of a surprise when I tell you that, in my opinion, “best products” lists are always to be taken with a football-sized grain of salt. New stuff is always awesome, but the slightly older stuff can be just as good, if not better. It’s also more likely to have dropped in price since it was released, and it will always be easier to find in used-but-good-as-new condition. You owe it to yourself to do your homework and figure these things out before springing up a considerable amount of money on something that’s perhaps not really the best option for you.

And once you’ve figured out what you want, you can buy it without regret and go on taking awesome pictures. At the end of the day, it’s the one thing that truly matters most.

  1. The recently announced Sony A7 Mark II introduces 5-axis image stabilization for the first time in a full-frame camera. However, it hasn’t been tested yet so we still don’t know how it compares to the Olympus technology.

  2. Just don’t blame me the next time you look at your bank statement.

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Historic moments in photographs →

November 28, 2014 |

Bored Panda:

The photograph precipitated a dramatic change in how we perceive history. Amazing historic photos like these can make it seem like you were standing right there during that historic moment.

Books and paintings have documented history far further back, but there’s nothing like a photo to give you the sense that you’re looking at something real. A photo can still misdirect the viewer, but it’s still more faithful than a painting or book.

What a fantastic collection of pictures; it would be nearly impossible to pick one.

That said, this one of Nikola Tesla calmly sitting in his laboratory while being surrounded by lightning is pretty damn badass.

Via Josh Ginter.

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Web apps, native apps, and app ecosystems →

November 27, 2014 |

Glenn Fleishman compares the strengths and weaknesses of native apps vs Web apps from a development standpoint. In the end, what are the factors that may make a developer choose one over the other?

I’d argue that it boils down to several app ecosystem features, rather than native code advantages. When there’s a genuine choice between building a Web app or native app, and when audience and revenue are important, the ecosystem makes the difference.

Let me take The Magazine as an example, since I’ve lived with it for over two years, and most of that as its owner. What does Apple offer (and Google and other platforms as well)?

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The Sony A7 Mk II Gets Officially Announced in America →

November 26, 2014 |

Chris Gampat, The Phoblographer:

Earlier on this week, Sony announced the A7 Mk II in Japan. But today, they’re finally announcing it here in the US. The camera is the world’s first full frame mirrorless camera with image stabilization built into the sensor. It uses a five axis stabilization system they Sony claims is not the same that Olympus has despite the partnership between the two companies. The company also claims around 4.5 stops of stabilization from the new image stabilized sensor. It will work with all of the lenses that Sony has created as well as third party options, though they state that some lenses aren’t compatible.

Whoa. 5-Axis in-body image stabilization in a full-frame mirrorless camera that is compatible with Leica M lenses. The whole package.

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Vanishing Spirits — The Dried Remains of Single Malt Scotch →

November 26, 2014 |

Ernie Button has an amazing photography project going on:

The idea for this project occurred while putting a used Scotch glass into the dishwasher. I noted a film on the bottom of a glass and when I inspected closer, I noted these fine, lacey lines filling the bottom. What I found through some experimentation is that these patterns and images that you see can be created with the small amount of Single-Malt Scotch left in a glass after most of it has been consumed. The alcohol dries and leaves the sediment in various patterns. It’s a little like snowflakes in that every time the Scotch dries, the glass yields different patterns and results. I have used different color lights to add ‘life’ to the bottom of the glass, creating the illusion of landscape, terrestrial or extraterrestrial. Some of the images reference the celestial, as if the image was taken of space; something that the Hubble telescope may have taken or an image taken from space looking down on Earth.

Extraterrestrial? Sounds about right:

It seems the Macallan planet would be a pretty eerie-looking world. Who would’ve thought? By the way, this reminds me, I have homework.

Via Kottke.

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Twitter may be tracking which apps are installed on your mobile device →

November 26, 2014 |

Twitter, on a support page for their “app graph”:

To help build a more personal Twitter experience for you, we are collecting and occasionally updating the list of apps installed on your mobile device so we can deliver tailored content that you might be interested in. If you’re not interested in a tailored experience you can adjust your preferences at any time (read below). Additionally, if you have previously opted out of interest-based ads by turning on “Limit Ad Tracking” on your iOS device or by adjusting your Android device settings to “Opt out of interest-based ads,” we will not collect your apps unless you adjust your device settings.

This only applies to Twitter’s first party clients but still, it’s pretty worrisome and a blatant invasion of their users’ privacy. Even if most users were interested in having “tailored content” delivered to them, this is something that clearly should be opt-in.

Via Chris Gonzales.

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8-Bit Cinema, a collection of classic — and not so classic — movies retold in the fashion of 8-bit video games →

November 26, 2014 |

“8-bit Cinema” is a YouTube playlist by CineFix. It’s a collection of classic — and not so classic — movies retold in the fashion of 8-bit video games, which works surprisingly well.

Some really great movies are represented here, including The Matrix, Silence of the Lambs, The Dark Knight and many more. Unfortunately, their latest video is based on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — the 2014 version.

After the excruciating experience of Transformers, I vowed to never again watch another Michael Bay movie, so this probably is as close as I’ll ever get to watching TNMT. Bay is involved as a producer and he’s already ruined enough childhood memories for me, thank you very much.

I’m not even going to embed the video here out of decorum but, as a personal favor to you, dear reader, I’ll leave you with the 8-bit remake of The Avengers instead:

Via Laughing Squid.

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Shawn Blanc's first Baron Fig notebook →

November 26, 2014 |

Shawn Blanc takes a trip down memory lane through the pages of his recently-finished Baron Fig notebook:

A brand new notebook is too nice to be used. Paper is so full of character. It’s tactile. Real. Fragile. Permanent and impermanent at the same time. It just begs to be used for something awesome. And I never feel that my silly ideas and temporary to-do lists qualify. But if not those, then what?

My Baron Fig and I made a pact. I would use it for the most mundane, menial, impermanent things I could think of. And if I ruined this book by filling it with nothing of consequence, then I would order another to sit on the shelf and collect dust as it waited patiently for something more historic and epic.

But the truth is, when it comes to using our everyday notebooks, quality is found in quantity; meaning in the mundane.

It’s a beautiful article.

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