AnalogSenses

By ÁLVARO SERRANO

How a pioneering journalist won a race around the world in 1889 →

November 17, 2014 |

Brian Phillips tells the fascinating story of Nellie Bly, a female journalist who 125 years ago set out to win a bet she made with her newspaper:

“It is impossible for you to do it,” he told her. “You are a woman and would need a protector.” Even if she could travel alone, he said, she’d want to take too much baggage. “There is no use talking about it,” he insisted. “No one but a man could do this.”

“Very well,” she said. “Start the man, and I’ll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him.”

She was 24 when she said this. The next year, a few months after her 25th birthday, the paper said yes, and she set sail.

She brought one suitcase.

So great.

Via The Loop.

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The case against the Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 lens for Micro Four Thirds

November 17, 2014

Today I read The Phoblographer’s review of the Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 lens for Micro Four Thirds. It’s a nice review as usual, and I quite enjoyed it. They really liked the lens too, and they even gave it an Editor’s Choice Award. If you’re in the market for a wide-angle lens for the MFT system, it sure seems like a no-brainer. However, upon further consideration, there’s a little bit more to it than that.

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The Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 lens. Photo credit: WEIVER

I’ve been in the market for a wide-angle lens for my Olympus OM-D E-M10 for a while, so naturally when this lens was announced it instantly became a front-runner in my list of candidates — alongside the excellent Olympus M. Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 and the drop-dead-gorgeous-but-insanely-expensive Voigtlander Nokton 17.5mm f/0.95.

Now that I’ve had the time to think about it some more though, I’m having mixed feelings about it. After months of experimenting with a 35mm wide-angle lens and my Canon AE-1 Program I’ve found out I really enjoy this focal length, and therein lies the problem with the Panasonic lens: it’s neither here nor there when it comes to its focal length.

If you were to build a nice set of prime lenses, the standard focal lengths would be as follows:

  • 12mm and 14mm: super-wide-angle (24mm and 28mm full-frame equivalent).
  • 17.5mm: moderate wide-angle (35mm full-frame equivalent).
  • 25mm: normal (50mm full-frame equivalent).
  • 42.5mm: portrait (85mm full-frame equivalent).

As a starting point, these would be the first few bases to cover. There are longer and shorter lenses out there, of course, but those would be considered specialty lenses. The problem with the Panasonic lenses for MFT is that they sometimes disregard these lengths and instead use some slightly different, slightly awkward values.

Take the excellent Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens, for example. It’s an amazing lens in every way, except its 20mm focal length lies awkwardly in the middle between a true normal lens (which would be 25mm in Micro Four Thirds terms, or 50mm in full-frame photography) and a standard wide-angle (17.5mm MFT or 35mm full-frame equivalent). It’s a bit wider than a normal lens, but not really wide enough to be considered a proper wide-angle lens.

The new 15mm f/1.7 lens presents the same problem: it’s wider than a typical wide-angle, but not quite as wide as a super-wide-angle (12mm/14mm MFT, or 24mm/18mm full-frame). This may not look like a big deal — it’s admittedly nitpicking to a degree — but it does bother me a bit. When you’re in wide-angle territory, every millimeter has a noticeable impact, more so than in the normal and portrait ranges. This is not to say that it’s a bad lens, of course. Far from it. Actually, I might even be interested in it at some point in the future, just not before I’ve completed my set of standard-length lenses.

I guess what bothers me the most is that I can’t help but feel that these decisions were made solely for the sake of market differentiation. Using non-standard focal lengths makes the lenses instantly recognizable and unique but, does it actually make them better? Is there a significant improvement in quality to warrant their existence? Honestly, I don’t think so.

Of course, if Panasonic wants to experiment with slightly different focal lengths in their product lineup, they have every right to do so. There’s certainly a reasonable case to be made for variety; it just strikes me as odd that they would do it before shipping a proper wide-angle lens for the system. And it definitely strikes me as odd in a Leica-branded lens.

The other Leica-branded primes for MFT — the legendary Summilux 25mm f/1.4 and the even more impressive Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 — are both standard-length lenses and they’ve received nothing but praise. Why mess with a successful philosophy and why now?1

The Leica name is supposed to stand for absolute excellence and tradition. I would love nothing more than a true 17.5mm Summilux lens for Micro Four Thirds but alas, such a lens does not exist yet. And that’s too bad.

I keep going over it in my head and the more I think about it, the more I’m leaning towards the Voigtlander. It’s built like a tank, it’s crazy fast, sharp wide-open and its image quality and color rendering are amazing. I also love that it’s manual-focus only and the dedicated aperture control ring. It’s already a classic lens for the MFT system, and deservedly so. Too bad it’s so damn pricey, but you definitely get what you pay for. If you like fully-manual lenses akin to those for the Leica M-System, the Voigtlander is hard to beat.2

Voigtlander 17.5mm f0.95

The Voigtlander 17.5mm f/0.95 lens is a thing of beauty. Photo credit: Spawnbleed

However, as amazing as the Voigtlander is, it boggles the mind to think that in November of 2014, there’s still not a single 17.5mm autofocus lens available for Micro Four Thirds cameras. The closest one is the aforementioned Olympus 17mm f/1.8 — which, admittedly, is a really good lens and it’s close enough for the difference in focal length to be negligible. If you absolutely must have autofocus, this is your only choice. If you can live without it though, my advice would be to pick up the Voigtlander instead.

The Olympus is a solid lens but it was released in 2012, two full years ago already. In that time, this 15mm f/1.7 lens is the closest Panasonic has come to the standard wide-angle length. For a system that’s exploded in popularity over the past few years, that’s not enough.

The 35mm full-frame equivalent is one of the most important focal lengths in everyday use: it’s remarkably versatile and it’s perfect for street photography, among other things. It’s a shame that, after several years of exceptional lens releases, this essential focal length remains so poorly represented — relatively speaking, of course — in the Micro Four Thirds system.


  1. I’m aware that there’s another Leica lens with a non-standard focal length: the older Elmarit 45mm f/2.8. However, it is by far the least popular of them and has effectively been rendered irrelevant by the Nocticron.

  2. The only real drawback here — other than the price — is the lack of electrical contacts. This means there’s no information about the aperture being relayed to the camera’s metering system to calculate the exposure parameters. Instead, these parameters need to be set manually. If you shoot in manual mode most of the time, then this is no big deal. If, on the other hand, you rely on the camera to do it for you, then the Voigtlander lenses may not be the best choice.

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The warped astrophysics of Interstellar →

November 15, 2014 |

Adam Rogers tells the story of how renowned astrophysicist Kip Thorne helped Christopher Nolan portray gravitational singularities — worm holes and black holes — in a scientifically accurate way:

Von Tunzelmann tried a tricky demo. She generated a flat, multicolored ring—a stand-in for the accretion disk—and positioned it around their spinning black hole. Something very, very weird happened. “We found that warping space around the black hole also warps the accretion disk,” Franklin says. “So rather than looking like Saturn’s rings around a black sphere, the light creates this extraordinary halo.”

That’s what led Thorne to his “why, of course” moment when he first saw the final effect. The Double Negative team thought it must be a bug in the renderer. But Thorne realized that they had correctly modeled a phenomenon inherent in the math he’d supplied.

This is what happens when incredibly smart people trained in different scientific disciplines are locked in a room together for a few months. Fascinating.

Via Tools & Toys.

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How The Phoblographer lost 4,000 Facebook followers in 24 hours: the story of their Facebook hack →

November 13, 2014 |

Chris Gampat:

“Hey Jules, So I was trying to verify our Facebook page, and during the process it kicked all of my email addresses off as an Admin. Can you make me an Admin again. It looks like someone else took it over.”

“Oh man, sure. I’ll call you back.”

That’s how it started–the longest 24 hours of my career as the Editor in Chief of the Phoblographer began with simply trying to get our page verified.

“I’m not an admin either.” stated Managing Editor Julius Motal to me as chills went up my spine, the adrenaline kicked in, and the stress began to take a hold of me on Sunday November 9th at 7pm NYC time.

It’s been a rough week for The Phoblographer.

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Cycling Without Age in YOUR City →

November 13, 2014 |

Speaking of bicycle culture by design, Mikael Colville-Andersen tells us the story of Ole Kassow and his wonderful Cycling Without Age project:

Watch this TED x talk. It is inspiring. It is moving. It is important. Watch it and share it.

Not just because it’s about bikes but because it is about caring for our elderly, rebuilding a volunteer-minded society and it is about how individuals with passion and vision can change things. Change things quickly, effectively and massively.

I know this individual. I work three metres from him every day. Ole Kassow is his name.

Humanity at its best.

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The Floating Basket Homes of Iraq: A Paradise almost Lost to Saddam →

November 13, 2014 |

Messy Nessy:

It was Iraq’s ‘Garden of Eden’; unique wetlands in southern Iraq where a people known as the Ma’dan, or ‘Arabs of the marsh’, lived in a Mesopotamian Venice, characterised by beautifully elaborate floating houses made entirely of reeds harvested from the open water.

Incredibly beautiful images and a sad, sad story:

During the 1991 uprisings in Iraq, Saddam Hussein drained the unique wetlands of southern Iraq as a punishment to the marsh arabs who had backed the uprising and allegedly given refuge to militiamen the government regarded as terrorists.

The Iraqi government aggressively revived a 1970s irrigation project that had initially been abandoned after it began to disrupt the flow of water to the marshes. Very quickly, their food source was eliminated, their villages were attached and burnt down and their lush paradise systematically converted into a desert. What little water remained was reportedly poisoned.

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9 Things Drivers Need to Stop Saying in the Bikes vs. Cars Debate | Wired →

November 13, 2014 |

They’re all excellent points. For example, number 2 (roads are designed for cars):

So I looked into it and, as it turns out, roads have been around for many thousands of years. And for much of that time, they’ve carried a wide variety of things: feet, carts, horses, wagons, streetcars, buses, bikes, and automobiles. It’s only in the last six or seven decades that we’ve decided cars should get priority.

The roads don’t control us, we control them. We can design them to carry whatever types of traffic we feel are useful, and provide for safe and convenient passage of those different modes (…).

But for so many years, we’ve auto-oriented our roads and put every single other mode of travel at a disadvantage. More troublingly, we’ve auto-oriented our minds, making it hard to imagine that things could ever be any different.

A healthy urban bicycle culture doesn’t happen by magic; it happens by design.

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One Star Reviews Flood 'Monument Valley' Following Paid Expansion Release →

November 13, 2014 |

Eli Hodapp, TouchArcade:

I don’t know how many of those angry single star iTunes reviewers read TouchArcade… But, seriously guys? It seems like the hive mind of the App Store is continually pushing developers in to this unrealistic corner of demanding absolutely everything but not being willing to pay anything. The fact of the matter is Monument Valley is an amazing game, made by real artists, working in a real studio, getting paid real salaries, with real families they go home to and support. They’re selling their game for a total of six bucks if you buy both the game itself and the expansion. I don’t fully understand what happened to get us on this horrible Biff with the almanac timeline of Earth where this kind of thing is unacceptable to iOS gamers.

The seemingly capricious nature of App Store reviews is what scares me the most about developing for iOS (or Android, for that matter). The fact that a bunch of entitled idiots can spark a chain reaction and absolutely destroy your sales — and your livelihood — overnight is completely unacceptable. What a shame.

Much respect to the guys at TouchArcade for bringing this up.

This is not unique to the US App Store, by the way. 1-star reviews complaining solely about the price of the expansion pack are showing up in Spain’s App Store as well. The game had 499 reviews and a 4.5-star rating before, and is now down to 3 stars in the current version. That’s the difference between success and obscurity in the App Store.

The bigger problem is that this happens every day, and yet we almost never even notice. Not every developer has a TouchArcade to defend her.

Don’t be cheap. Making good, quality apps costs money, and developers deserve to be paid for their hard work. If we refuse to pay even two bucks for a quality game, then we’re condemning ourselves to a grim future for iOS apps. If developers can’t afford to do this for a living, the diversity and quality of the App Store catalog will only suffer as a result, and that’s bad for everyone.

I don’t play many games on my iOS devices, but I just bought Monument Valley and, after playing through the first five levels, gave it a well-deserved 5-star rating and a glowing review. It’s a beautiful, engaging game with amazing scenarios and extremely clever mechanics. Well-worth the asking price in my book.

Via Daring Fireball.

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