Saturday, 23 February 2013

Keep The Balance Right

Have a look at the photo to the left. What do you think?

Yes, of course, this really may be the best compact system camera you can buy these days. That is, unless you agree with Ken Rockwell and want warmer colours and a better built-in flash. To me, the former may not be a show-stopper, but I would probably miss the perfection of the built-in flash of my X100.

But I digress. What I want to tell you about is how pretty much the whole lot of these new compact system, interchangeable lens, cameras are mostly just plain wrong.

You see, regardless of undoubted image quality, versatility, and probably a few dozen other great features they all have, one thing where, for me, they fail is balance. Simple, honest, balance of both looks and, well, balance.

I mean, of course, with a small, probably wide angle prime, you still get something that is pleasing to hold, and doesn't feel awkward and front heavy. But go for a nice big portrait lens, or even just the kit lens these things tend to come with - especially the kit lens which, being a zoom lens, extends, too - you get something that just can't feel good to hold and balance, not to mention that it also looks a bit silly (well, it does to me, anyway).

You may now argue that the overall size and weight, especially compared to a DSLR, outweigh my objections. But do they really?

If you're going to mostly use your X-E1 with just a short wide prime then you could have saved yourself almost a grand if you went for the X100 instead. And with the X100 you also get a better flash, too.

If you plan to use mostly the normal zoom kit lens, then the overall size, due to the length of the lens itself borders on carrying a DSLR with a similar lens. While this may not be true inch for inch, it would certainly feel the same. I don't yet see very long zooms for compact system cameras, but these would be even bulkier.

And if you plan to use your expensive compact system for portrait work, then, first of all, you get to attach a lens that is similar in size to the kit zoom when zoomed all the way out. Unless you plan on doing candid street portraits, for which a DSLR may be too conspicuous and/or noisy, then again you may be better off - at least in terms of costs - with a DSLR and a portrait lens. For example, it seems that the excellent Nikon D7000, with a somewhat older, but still excellent, 85mm f1.8 prime, is again almost a grand cheaper than an X-E1 and its 60mm prime (which is at least a stop slower, too).

Finally, if you plan to haul a set of lenses for your compact and change them as you need them, then almost all smallness and convenience factor gets rubbed out by the fact you still need a large, well padded bag to carry the lot. You might as well take your DSLR instead

Objection! I don't own a DSLR. A compact system camera is all I need.

Overruled! Look at the first two or three reasons I gave. The balance is just wrong. It would feel awkward in your hand, and you may find the stability compromised, too. Of course, you may not mind, or you may prefer a compact to avoid shutter noise, but that's beside the point here. It would still be a suboptimal shooting solution. Especially so if you plan to have it as your only piece of kit, and let's see why is that.

So, your argument is you only need a compact with a nice selection of lenses. Fine. This, in theory, makes you a serious enthusiast (it certainly does not make you a pro). The only difference between a serious enthusiast and a pro should be that the enthusiast does not make (enough) money out of photography so cost is a consideration, often a serious one. Implied here is that a serious enthusiast cares about image quality at least as much as a pro.

Does that describe you? Yes? Perfect. Then, go and buy a DSLR, too. A small sensor one is fine, too. Just don't tell me that you can get all the shots you want, exactly as you want them with just a compact - and do it all the time, to boot. Of course you can't. So, you need both (at least, a nice even smaller digital camera, like Sony DSC-RX100 may come handy, too). And if you have both, you will probably eventually find that faffing around with an unbalanced compact may not be much better than taking out your DSLR, unless you shoot wide or normal primes. In which case I point you back to my argument that an Fujifilm X100 may be a better choice anyway.

Did I persuade you? Probably not. Do I care too much? Probably not. I am actually hoping you'll go out and buy all the compact system camera and lenses you want. This will nicely fund the development of other (more) worthwhile photography kit - which can only be a good thing. Where I win (and you do, too, only I get to win for free).

Heck, if you do buy all that kit, and then find I was right after all, you may be inclined to sell it cheaply second hand. That's where I come again and buy it - to add to a DSLR, an X100, and an RX100. Win, win, win, win!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Stamping On Your Face - Forever

Entertain a thought experiment:

After some, but not too much, getting to know somebody, somebody you think just may become that special somebody, you two go out for a quiet drink, a movie, then maybe a nice meal. That out of the way, you are invited for a night cap. You agree even if you forgot to bring your own condoms. After all, a special somebody would understand you may be apprehensive having sex unprotected so early on. Up in her flat, you have your drinks and you are in no uncertain terms offered sex. Ascertaining that your partner is also fresh out of condoms you politely decline. And then all hell breaks loose and after a little while you find yourself on the wrong side of the door, alone.

While you may reel for a while, you eventually get over it and get back to your old life, lonesome as it was. Until, that is, the moment when you get arrested for attempted rape. What? What rape? The only thing you feel might have been rape on that night was your ego. And it gets worse, your name appears in all the local papers, together with the big news of a local sex predator. A little while later, in between your attending your local police station to be bailed until the trial, and the trial itself, national tabloids get in on the act. You're a celebrity. Only it is the completely wrong kind. Your neighbours look away. Even speaking to your parents make syou feel they might have bought the whole lie, too.

Eventually, after a trial that somehow got reported less and less towards the end when it became clear you may actually be innocent, you manage to clear your name. Or do you? Yes, there is a court ruling, jury and all, saying you didn't do it.Your accuser gets a bit of a punishment, too (not nearly enough in your opinion, but you realise you may be biased so you don't take yourself too seriously). However, those same media who fed voraciously on your plight in the beginning forgot to at least say "sorry", let alone publish an equally hysterical account of how you have been wronged. What you realise you're left with is a stigma almost impossible to remove. Once accused of a grim crime you can never really be considered innocent. You know, the smoke and fire drill...

Still with me? Tried to live the little horror story above? Any questions? No? Good.

Now, between 1976 and 1988, in Britain, you were protected from just such misfortune by law. All defendants in sex related cases were granted anonymity until, and unless, proven guilty. Not so for the past twenty five years. And now, according to this BBC article we have a senior lawyer arguing for the return of such anonymity. This is admirable indeed, and I totally support it. Shame this was not raised much earlier.

What really got ot me, though, was the reaction of the relevant charity, Rape Crisis. While I understand they need to do everything possible to protect rape victims, I also believe that this should be fair to everyone else, too - and it has to be sensible and well targeted. However, according to BBC, these people claim that defendant anonymity will cause less rape cases to be reported in the first place. I must say I am totally dumbfounded as to how this is supposed to work. Unless, that is, the assumption of Rape Crisis is that a good number of rape accusations are in fact bogus, and raised with the express intent of causing pre-trial, and pre-sentencing harm to the defendant, even regardless of his innocence or otherwise. Either that, or Rape Crisis believes that British courts are so ineffective in prosecuting rape that at least some punishment has to be exacted in advance of trial, implying also that a bit of collateral damage is quite alright, too.

If former, then Rape Crisis is in serious crisis of credibility, if not worse. If latter, then the aim should be to repair the court system, not use loopholes in the bad one. Either way, the comments were worse than useless. They were positively harmful to everyone - rape victims included. I also question the BBC approach of soliciting only one opinion when reporting on this latest push for anonymity.

The moral of the story? Read everything with eyes wide open, and critical mind set to 11. And try to imagine the other side's angle, too. Oh, and do lobby your MP for defendant anonymity in sex related cases. It is only right and proper, given our stone age mind that sometimes just cannot accept that there just might be smoke without fire.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Is Your Phone REALLY Smart?

Or is it just a beefed up old clunker?

If you are reading this, chances are you own a smartphone. You know, the one that does all the clever stuff: e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, web browsing, calendar, even editing of some office documents, and you can add various other apps, too. After all, this is why it's called a smartphone in the first place.

All this as opposed to an older type, now called a feature phone, which could only do: e-mailFacebookTwitterweb browsingcalendar, even editing of some office documents, and you could add various other apps, too.


What happened just there? Are these new phones not so smart after all or were the old clunkers smarter than we think? Me, methinks neither. Neither are actually very smart, although the new ones have great potential (possibly the old ones, too, but I doubt there's much interest in development there).

So, what makes a modern smartphone not so smart, despite all the clever tricks it can perform? It should be obvious really. It doesn't actually do anything very smart on its own. If you want to type an e-mail you open the e-mail up and do it yourself. Same for most other activities you care to think of. The rest of the time, the time you don't actually touch your phone, it just sits there and does really very little. Yes, various services push notifications at you, but that again is not very clever I hope you agree.

Can it be different, though?

Why, of course it can! These things are not called smartphones for nothing. Same as they can be taught to show you where you are or wake you up at a certain time with a tuen of your choice, they can be taught to be more aware and do some really clever stuff. On their own. Without your intervention. Useful stuff. Something that actually saves you from having to fiddle with them too much.

Consider this:

You walk into your office and the phone in your pocket sets itself to your chosen pattern of notifications and other settings (e.g., disable Bluetooth). You step out again, and the settings change to very loud and Bluetooth is turned on so your phone can connect to your car hands-free system. Once it does, all sorts of other settings are changed to suit your needs. Step out of the car, walk into your house. Now Bluetooth is off again, and your ringtones are set to something less disturbing. While you go about your chores and the night sets in, your phone again changes into something very silent, something that will only make a soft buzz when it's time to wake up, and keep totally schtum in the meantime. Then, when it's safe again it will become louder and be ready to drive you safely to work again. And in all this you never had to touch the thing. You go about your business, it goes about its - for your pleasure, convenience, and benefit.

Oh, it could also do more: log your position into the cloud and e-mail at set intervals; record and log other events of interest, including making a safe record of all your phone calls and text mesasges; it can also respond automatically with location data to anyone who knows the secret question (and tell you who asked). And many, many other things that only you know are useful for you.

Can your phone do this? At least if it runs Android I know it can.

Lest it sounds like an advertisement, you should try either Automagic or Tasker (but I highly recommend the former). There are probably more, but these two are very, very good (did I tell you Automagic is my favourite). And yes, my phone does everything described above for me (and more!). It does it so much without my involvement that I have started finding it difficult to remember how exactly I have designed the algorithms involved. It's been that long since I did it and set it loose.

Designing algorithms! Oh, no! It must be sooo difficult. Err, no. It ain't. It's as simple as getting on the right bus at a bus stop. Or as simple as cooking pasta (well, there just may be some magic involved in cookign pasta just right). You should give it a go. Even the free version of Automagic will give you powerful tools, and it is quite straightforward to use (OK, Tasker may be more lay person friendly, but I think there's some false economy in there somewhere).

So, what are you waiting for? Let your phone be really smart, instead of just a miniaturised dumb laptop. Or a real old clunker that only ever does a bit of phone calls for you...