Like many others, perhaps like you, I’m trying to figure out what to use as a replacement for Google Reader. I’ve used it for a few years as a way to keep up with the many authors, photographers and tech sites that I enjoy. In the past 2 years, I’ve begun to use an app called Reeder that adopted the Google Reader API, but gave me the content in a much more visually appealing fashion.
It works well on iPhone, iPad and my Macbook. I’ve used the actual Google webview at work as I can’t install software on my work machine for banking and investment compliance reasons. It’s been a pretty good solution thus far, but the Google Reader API was the engine driving all of this.
Since the news broke last Wednesday, there have been so many conversations about the future of RSS and of all the apps and services that have come to depend on this free service that Google is shutting down.
I tried out a few different alternatives over the weekend and I've found a few important things to consider in replacing it.
It would be really nice if I could use apps which are familiar. For this to work, would require a replacement for the Google Reader API. This would probaly be the option with the least amount of friction for most folks. The only piece that would be missing is a web view for times when viewing on your own device isn’t possible.
There are already some alternative apps for reading RSS feeds, but they use their own backend for pulling in content. The issue here is that Google has built a pretty amazing and efficient way to pull in all of the stuff you want to see and keep track of what’s new. When you use other systems, they ‘get’ the content for you, but there is no cental record of read status.
I’ve been trying out Feedly for a few days and it shows some definite promise. They're working on a replacement for the Google Reader API called Normandy. I really like the web view, but it is dependant on a Browser extension. That doesn’t work for me as I can’t install extensions at work. The apps are clean and show good visual design, but are perhaps a bit overkill compared to my RSS readers like Byword and NetNewsWire.
I’ll update as I continue working through this stuff. In the meantime, Google Reader will keep working until July 1st.
If you subscribe to this site via RSS, just keep watching here and I'll give you some alternatives. If not, you can follow me on Twitter or sign up to have posts delivered to your inboxdaily.
This past week I visited the Apple Store near my office and walked out with a 13" Retina MacBook Pro. No, it wasn’t an impulse buy, but something I’ve been considering for a long time. Things just finally came together. It really is an amazing machine in a lot of ways.
I have been using Macs and Apple products exclusively since 2006 when I bought a Black Macbook which I will likely be decommisioning. The trackpad has had problems for a couple of years and it can’t run anything newer than OSX Snow Leopard. We’ve had it set up as a desktop with a monitor, keyboard and mouse, but we haven’t really used it much. We replaced it with a 15” Macbook Pro in early 2011. So, I'm not really replacing anything with this new one as we are keeping that one. It really is a great machine too and will be used even more by my wife when she works from home.
She works in Excel quite a bit and one day last week I asked if she could save and close the individual pages when she is done as I'm always unsure if they need to be saved. Her reply without even looking up from her iPhone-
"You need your own computer."
As you can probably guess, I did a silent fist pump in my head and started planning. It's a good thing I asked about that doument too because the top page had already been updated and saved on her machine at work.
Why This Model?
When I was putting together my mental list, I had a few non-negotiables.
First of all, I've owned both the 13" and the 15" form. I knew that this time around I wanted a smaller machine. The larger screen is nice, but I don't feel that it's worth the extra size and weight. I actually considered the 11” Air, but I’d need an external display and be stuck at a desk for photo editing.
Secondly, one of my most used applications is Lightroom. It uses a lot of RAM and I've found that 8gbs works well but 4 isn't enough.
Third, I don't think that it makes sense to buy a computer with a spinning drive at this point. SSDs are faster, with less moving parts and Apple is clearly moving this way with every line they make.
After all of these items were considered, the only two machines left for consideration were the 13" MacBook Air and the 13" Retina.
The only real question left after these items are out there was this:
I weighed out the pros and cons of each and decided that in 2013 it doesn't make sense to buy a computer I hope to use for the next few years without a Retina display. It is clearly the way of the future and I believe that all of Apple's computers will ship with them within the next year. I could have had a technically faster machine for the same price had I chosen the Air, but it didn’t feel right.
Isn’t this one less capable than the 15” model?
The 13" MacBook Pro (non Retina) is Apple's best selling Mac to date. It has also been knocked by folks in the tech community for being a less capable machine. The Retina model shares some of these and I’ll just tell you here that for what I do, these “limitations” don’t matter.
The criticisms I’ve seen are: Screen size, integrated graphics card and limited RAM options.
There are plenty of reviews out there on this machine, but it feels to me like most of them are written from the perspective of a hypothetical power user. I’m not that guy. I use mine for editing and handling photos in Lightroom, writing in Byword, and Website management in Chrome or Safari. Of course, I use many other great apps, but they all pretty much serve these three purposes.
I think the average consumer assumes that the only difference between different size Macbooks is the size. That isn't true however as the larger machines almost always come with superior features, parts and specs. The 15” model is more powerful and that premium you pay isn’t just for the larger size.
Here are a few examples: The 13" Retina comes standard with 8gb of RAM with no option to upgrade to more. The 15" can be ordered with 16gb. The 13” uses a dual core processer while the 15 gets a quad core. That is going to make a difference with tasks that are CPU intensive. Another difference is that the 13" has no discreet video card and all processing for the display is handled by the primary chipset. The 15" has a discreet, stand-alone graphics card which frees up the CPU for other tasks. More drive space is included with the larger machines too. Pretty much across the board, when you choose a physically larger machine, the base model will come with more storage capacity.
Here’s the official Apple comparison spec page if you want all the details.
If you are doing video editing, code compiling, heavy Photo shop or gaming, perhaps you should consider the 15. The quad-core processor and discreet video card will make a noticeable difference. In addition, if the 2560 x 1600 isn’t enough and you truly do need 2880 x 1800 maybe go for the bigger model. If you love the idea of a fast, light weight and agile machine with a smaller footprint, you should seriously consider this one.
Here’s what it really comes down to- This computer is only about a half pound heavier than the 13” Macbook Air which has gained a reputation for being so lightweight and well designed that it spawned the Ultrabook name and race. Truly, this machine has more in common with the Macbook Air than with the 15” Retina model. As I’m typing this out on this svelte aluminum body with backlit keys, the display is perhaps the one thing that feels like it’s unmistakeably from the future.
I Picked up a 13" Retina MacBook Pro today. Posting from it now and though I'd seen them in the store, actually using the Retina class display is pretty amazing.
I've been listening to a new (to me at least) Podcast called On Taking Pictures. It's cohosted by a couple of really entertaining guys named Jeffrey Saddoris and Bill Wadman.
First of all, I really recommend it. Second, they have a recurring theme that I need to hear. Taking great photos is not about the gear. I don't need the latest piece of new tech to make better images. I need to take more pictures. That's the main reason that I started my 365 Project this past October.
Of the many friends I'd call photographers, I can only think of a couple that aren't really into gear. I also know of quite a few people who are really into camera gear, but don't actually take many pictures. They own a nice camera as just one more gadget.
In other words, the gear thing is prevalent among us, but remembering that it's not about the gear is not.
Sony just released firmware updates for the F3, 5N, 5R, 6, and 7 models. Most of these updates are tweaks that improve compatability with different E-Mount lenses. I just updated my firmware and there is one big feature update that I'm pretty excited about.
With this new update there is now a much greater spread between Exposures in the bracketed shutter mode. Previously, you only had the option of 0.3, or 0.7 EV compensation.
Now, the options are 0.3, 0.7, 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0.
I've used the in camera HDR some, but was always frustrated that I had no way to do it in RAW format, or to merge the images manually. These greater Exposure spreads have been available on the newer models so this update just brings the 5N up to parity.
Quick Note: If you are looking for more information about custom controls, Lenses and tips for the Sony NEX series, take a look here for my guides, reviews and links.
This week I picked up a lens for my Sony NEX 5N. It's the 35mm F/1.8. This is a Prime, Fixed focal length lens with in-lens Optical Stabilization. I've been thinking about this lens for a few months now and am hoping that it fills a large spot in my day-to-day photography. These are just some initial thoughts and I plan to post a more detailed review after I spent more dedicated time putting it through its paces.
As I outlined in a previous post, this lens has a 35mm focal length, but my camera has a smaller APS-C format sensor so the field of view it offers is very similar to the classic 50mm lens on a 35mm film camera.
I've been using it out and about this week and so far I'm very impressed. It is a bit smaller in actual size than the kit 18-55mm Zoom Lens or the 50mm Prime (they are roughly the same length). I'm able to fit it in my compact bag with the lens hood on, which I can't do with any other lens that I own. I like this as I prefer to keep the hood on. Partially for stray light blockage, and partly to protect the lens. I used a filter for awhile, but I've found that I like the images without it a bit more.
The field of view is close enough to the 50 that portraits are easily within reach, but it's also wide enough that I can just leave it on my camera and not feel too constrained. Anyway, most of the photos from this week were made with this lens. I can't wait to see its capabilities.
I stopped by the Technical annex at Powell's today and they had a few great old typewriters in the windows.
They also have a collection of more...modern antiques.
A couple weeks ago I was selling some stuff on eBay and thought I'd just take a look to see what I could get for my iPad 3. I was intrigued by the iPad mini from the announcement, but wasn't dissatisfied with my Retina display model. I'd read a bunch of reviews and it seemed clear that folks who are generally more discerning about the display and fonts and such were choosing to move to the smaller model.
I made the switch.
I primarily use mine as a reading device with some occasional games, writing and web browsing. Though I haven't really written it or said much about it, the bigger iPad seemed too big from day one. I overlooked it because the functionality was so good, but now that there is a version that is half the weight and 30% smaller it seems ridiculous not to switch. Because of the weight and size it wasn't great holding it while using it for any length of time. I found myself propping up the old one up or using the Smart Cover to stand it on a table surface most of the time. I had kind of been considering a Kindle paperwhite for more long-form or book reading, but not anymore.
There is one observation that I haven't read elsewhere. People have mentioned that it's awkward to hold the larger iPad in one hand, but I think the reason is balance. The weight on it isn't balanced to the average hand size. All the extra weight acts as a much larger lever on your grip, making it feel a bit unsteady in your hand. The smaller mini, has the wieght of a book, or a Kindle. There is a reason that the Kindle sells so well. It really is a great form factor.
In terms of the display, I do miss the Retina quality, but not so much that I'm regretting making the switch. I was disappointed that none of the accesories were transferable. Dock, Camera connection kit, Waterfield Case and Smart Cover. All were sold with the old one. There isn't a dock for any device with a Lightning connector and I wasn't really using the camera kit. I'm still debating about a sleeve case.
I bought the Smart Cover and it really is a better design than the model for the full size iPad. They've redesigned the connection point so that it doesn't scratch the iPad, and is much more secure. I had the old Smart Cover pull off and give me a scare a couple times as I was relying on it more than I should've. Also, did I mention scratching? My only real disappointment is that it isn't available in black leather. I went with the dark gray poly as it's the closest. Black is my favorite.
I kind of knew I was ready when I found myself recommending the mini to 3 different friends. Pretty happy about the switch!
If you know me, you also know that I love Apple products. I've had every iPhone- most of them the first day available. Our home computers are Macs, and my kids each have one of our older, non-activated iPhones that they use for games and iMessage with grandparents.
Over the weekend my iPhone 5 started having some issues with the power button. Every third time or so, the button wouldn't register and I kept finding my phone still on, when I had tried to turn it off.
I set an appointment at the Genius Bar in the Apple store for this morning.
The Genius asked what was wrong, I showed him, he tried it, and without any questions said, "We'll just replace it. Wait here while I go get one."
Once I had the new one in my hands, it was restored to my iCloud backup from last night in about 10 minutes.
Also, this isn't an isolated incident. Over the years I've had the same service with different devices...even once when it was my fault and they knew it.
This, Friends, is as good of a reason as I can think of to buy Apple.
So, CBS forces CNET to withdraw a fancy new DVR device by Dish Network from its CES "Best in Show" awards because they are involved in a lawsuit over its ability to automatically skip commercials. It's called "The Hopper".
Here is CBS's statement-
CBS has nothing but the highest regard for the editors and writers at CNET, and has managed that business with respect as part of its CBS Interactive division since it was acquired in 2008. This has been an isolated and unique incident in which a product that has been challenged as illegal, was removed from consideration for an award. The product in question is not only the subject of a lawsuit between Dish and CBS, but between Dish and nearly every other major media company as well. CBS has been consistent on this situation from the beginning, and, in terms of covering actual news, CNET maintains 100% editorial independence, and always will. We look forward to the site building on its reputation of good journalism in the years to come.
Hear that Whooshing sound? It's all journalistic credibility CBS had leaving the room.
via The Verge
It's only the second year I've written up a favorites list, but I have done it before, so I'll call it my 2nd annual danhawk.com favorites list.
1. Sony NEX 5N
If you visit my site even somewhat regularly, you already know that I use and love the Sony NEX 5N. I've owned a couple of film cameras and a couple of nice point-and-shoot camera over the years, but this is the first one that I've really loved to use. I really like the way that Sony approaches the feel and the overall direction for the NEX system. I've posted my own review and a bit about the lenses in the system. As I'm learning, a lot of the actual quality in fine photography is in the lenses, so number two has to be...
2. Sony E Mount 50mm F/1.8 OSS
I really love this lens. The Sony 50mm 1.8 more consistenly produces amazing images than any other lens I've tried. I've made it no secret that I'm strongly considering the new 35mm f/1.8, but the more I use this 50, the less I feel like giving it up.
3. iPhone 5
Looking through last year's list, I see that the 4S was on the list. It now feels like a pretty minor upgrade when compared to the jump forward in the iPhone 5. As always changes to the iPhone are incremental, but they did a couple things that were pretty big this year. Bigger Screen and thinner body. These changes make a lot of difference to me and make the iPhone 5 even nicer to use.
4. Retina iPad
There has been a lot of action this year with Retina screens, but the one that has been important to me is the New iPad (3). I've had a iPhone 4 since the day it was released and it was certainly nice, but the retina display on the New iPad is a game changer. My primary uses for it are reading and writing and the Retina display does this better than any other screen that I've seen.
5. iOS apps Darksky and Byword
As you can see from my last two favorites, I really like iOS devices. Part of what makes them so useful are the great apps that are available.
Byword is a writing app which is available on iPad, iPhone and on the Mac (which I'm using to write this post btw). One of the best features is the syncing between devices using either iCloud or Dropbox. I use Dropbox as it allows me access the files from just about anywhere. The other big thing is that it is really distraction free. It is just a screen with text. Simple. Markdown is supported which is great for drafting things that are intended for the internet.
Living in Portland means that being aware of when it will rain is pretty important. Darksky is the perfect app if you live in the Northwest. It answers one basic question: Is it going to rain soon? I use this every day, often 4-5 times.
In August of this year I moved my site to Squarespace. It was on Wordpress.com before, but it just wasn't a great fit. Though the service was free, I had to pay to use my own domain and they started placing ads on my higher traffic posts. I decided it was time for a switch and that I was willing to pay a little to get what I wanted.
Squarespace is easy to use, looks great and they are incredibly responsive to support requests. They have a graphic system for building your site, a bunch of great templates, and their committment to keeping your site up even through acts of God is impressive.
7. Lightroom 4
8. Levi's Jeans
Last year, right at Christmas time I made a decision. Levi's are the only Jeans that I will wear going forward. They are the Gold Standard. I've had so many pairs of other jeans that have worn out in weird places, shrunk too much, lost color too quickly, or had the belt loops rip off. It's hard to go wrong with 501s, but my wife found the 569 style and they fit me perfectly. 2 pairs, and they both pretty much look brand new.
9. Reading long books with my sons
This year we read 4 Harry Potter books, The Hobbit and a couple books from the Chronicles of Narnia. Awesome! Lord of the Rings next? A lot of these have been driven by their desire to see the movies. I simply made it a rule that we had to read the book first.
10. Music and Movie
John Mayer, Born & Raised- iTunes or the Actual Disc. I've been a long-time John Mayer fan. I own every album of his available and this is a really great addition. The quality songwriting, hooks and guitar work are all familiar, but there is a soul to this one that is new. It sounds like he has been studying The Eagles, and Neil Young as it has a 70's California Country vibe. My favorite track is probably A Face to Call Home. Go listen to this one end to end. I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed.
I think I'm gonna have to go with Looper. Here is a trailer. I was just blown away by the completeness and originality of the story. There are certainly familiar storytelling elements and thematic elements that are common to time-travel based movies, but everything feels more raw. It is less sci-fi and more gangster. Less technical and more nuanced. Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are fantastic.
Of course the best things from this year are not things at all, but experiences, opportunities to grow, and of course, family. I'm a pretty lucky guy in that respect. My Kids are healthy, intelligent and happy. My wife and I are more in love than ever and it continues to surprise me how our love continues to grow and mature year after year.
I'm also thankful that so many of you follow what I'm doing here. I really love both photography and writing and when I look back over the year, I'm surprised at the growth, contemplative about what I could have done better, and proud of what I made.
Thanks for paying attention!
Photo workflow is one of the things that has been hardest for me to figure out since getting more serious about photography. I'm a little nerdy about this sort of thing. Perhaps a little too much trial and error.
Anyway, here is what I'm using these days:
I run an 8GB card in the camera and carry 3 spares. I find this is just the right size as I don't capture a lot of video and even when shooting RAW, I rarely fill up even one card.
(Please note that as of March 2013, I am using a 13" Retina Macbook Pro with 8gb of RAM and a 256 GB internal SSD)
My main machine for all of this stuff is an early 2011 15" Macbook Pro. I have the 2.0 GB Sandy Bridge processor and the stock 500 GB Hard Drive. I am lucky to have an SD card reader built in. I just pop the card out of my camera whenever I need to transfer files and slide it into the side of my laptop. Slick.
I am running 16GB of Memory which I added pretty recently. I was running the stock 4GB or RAM, and was routinely dealing with pretty serious processing lag and the spinning beach ball. This made a ton of difference.
I keep all of my working files for this year on the internal Hard Drive, but I use a LaCie Porsche Design 2TB external drive for keeping all of my older images, and movie files. I'm currently using an iOmega 500GB external drive for Time Machine backups and am in the process of rethinking my backup process to include an offsite drive that will be powered by Crashplan. I know that the Time Machine drive should be a lot bigger if I want historical backups but I'm not really using it as a way to go "back in time". The software I'm using is non-destructive so as long as the image is still on my machine, I can always get back to an unedited version. In other words, I am only really interested in minor historical backup, but primarily, I'm prepared for a catastrophic hardware failure.
I'll get into all of this more a little further down, but basically, everything important is backed up. I'm also hoping to switch to an SSD for my boot disk, but that's primarily about speed and long term reliability. Oh hardware...
I use Lightroom 4 for my photo editing and management.
I used to use iPhoto for everything and it was pretty good, but I found it to be a little underpowered in a couple ways. It tends to bog down a little with larger files-the type that you get with a 16 megapixel camera. With an iPhone, the files are approximately 3.6 MB. With the Sony, the JPGs are a little over 5MB. If I am shooting RAW, the files are more like 16.5 MB.
So, not only was the application not quite up to the task, but I found I was pushing the machine a little too hard.
One other really important feature which I mentioned above is the way that Lightroom does non-destructive editing. In simple terms, the original file is left untouched and the edits are saved as metadata and your are essentially looking at a preview when you are working in the application. It applies the edits when you export the images.
I'm not gonna sugar coat it- Lightroom has a pretty steep learning curve if you aren't familiar with Adobe Photo software. I'm about 6 months into it and just now figuring out some stuff that seems like it should be right in the file menus. It is powerful however, and I recommend it highly. It is worth the effort.
I import all of the new photos right into Lightroom 4 and then immediately cull through the images and remove any that are out of focus, poorly composed, or beyond development help. The more I do this, the easier it is to spot these right off the bat. I have Lightroom set up to leave the photos on the card. Awhile back a friend let me know that the card behaves better with less chance of corruption if you don't delete them on the computer. Instead, once the card is back in the camera after import, I simply go into the camera menu and format the card. Clean start.
After I have gone through my first pass, I go through in the Library module and name the photos I'm pretty sure I'm going to edit and publish. When I was first getting started, I would wait until after the editing to give a title to photos, but I have found that choosing and naming them early on has some psychological benefit for me when working on them.
I usually start with minor adjustments to exposure, contrast and highlights to capture the basic mood that I remember from the scene. I don't make a lot of changes to color early in the process as I find it is much easier to overcompensate and kind of get lost that way. I'll make an exception if the white balance is really off, but most of the time, this can be fixed with just a very slight adjustment to the Temperature slider.
Once I've got the basic feel, I will then make minor corrections for noise and sensor spots. I then consider whether the image needs to be cropped and if it will benefit from any other less conservative color processing. This is also when I'll do more technical things like correct for color casts or distortion at the edges of the frame when the image is a wider angle.
Lightroom has a good side-by-side before and after view feature and you can cycle between a bunch of different options. I find this very useful for going over what I've done and making sure I didn't get off track at some point along the way.
Once I've got the edit taken care of, I then crop the image for a Retina class desktop if appropriate. I export all of my finished images that I intend to post to my site on Dropbox. I really value the peace of mind this offers. I can access a full resolution copy of my image from any location and then there is a copy that isn't in my house or with my Mac.
I have a folder titled "Lightroom posting" and a sub folder called "Desktop images". I try to keep the naming scheme pretty straight forward so no numerals or symbols. If I'm posting for viewing on the site, I generally stick to a long edge size of 1500 Pixels as that is the maximum image size I can use with Squarespace as a visible photo in a post. If I am posting a desktop wallpaper, the files are certainly bigger, but they are straight linked downloads and open in a new window. 2880 x 1800 for the Retina desktop and 2048 x2048 for the iPad. iPhone is 1136 x 640.
I know people have differing opinions on this, but I feel you need to edit pretty ruthlessly. If the image is out of focus, blurry, or the exposure is unfixable, there is very little chance you'll want to post it later. In addition, when you save these images, just remember that 63 raw images is approximately 1GB of hard drive space. If you can remember this detail, it makes your decision process a little easier.
I'm planning to add a new piece to my workflow after the first of the year. I've found that I'm a visual person when it comes to image organization, and I really appreciate the way iPhoto organizes images. Trying to find an image without knowing the title or the approximate date it was taken is really difficult in Lightroom unless you have been really diligent with adding tags. I don't want to add this step (which feels unnatural and forced) to my workflow when I can do it visually.
Starting January 1st, I'll be placing all of my edited images in an iPhoto library. I'm not using it for editing, but when I'm looking for an image to post or email, it really has an intuitiveness that Lightroom is missing. It also makes it easier for my wife to find and post the photos she is looking for without having to open and deal with Lightroom. It really doesn't require a lot of extra work and all you have to do is drag the image to the iPhoto icon on the dock.
A Work in Progress
I hope this helps you to think through your process, or lack of one. I've spent quite a bit of time thinking it through, and as you can probably see, I'm still in the refining process. What's great is that there are so many different options and your optimal prcess will be slightly different from mine. I'd love to hear any suggestions or tricks that you use.
Crashplan is doing a cool Black Friday sale. All of their plans started this morning at 100% off and the discount is decreasing every two hours. Go buy it now. I just did and paid $7 for what normally costs $120.
If you’ve never setup a cloud backup, you don’t have an excuse today.
Thanks for the heads up Stephen Hackett!
It has been awhile since I last said anything about the lenses that I'm using on my Sony NEX camera. In fact, since I picked up the 50mm f/1.8 back in June, a few new lenses have been announced and a couple new bodies as well.
I thought I'd share some things I've learned in my 8 months with this camera system.
The Current Official Lineup
Sony has been slow to roll out a comprehensive selection of lenses, but they have been coming.
Here is what's currently available or very close to available. (Please note that the Sony NEX cameras use an APSC sensor which is smaller than 35mm film and its digital equivalent, Full Frame. As a result, a 24mm lens on my camera, feels like a 36mm lens on a full Frame camera. Just multiply the e-mount Focal length by 1.5 to get the full frame equivalent. )
- 10-18mm F/4 Wide angle Zoom,
- 16mm F/2.8 wide Angle Pancake
- 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 Zoom
- 16-50mm F/3.5-5.6 Pancake Power Zoom
- Zeiss 24mm F/1.8 Prime
- 30mm F/3.5 Macro
- 35mm F/1.8 Prime
- 50mm F/1.8 Prime
- 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 Zoom
- 55-210 F/4.5-6.3 Zoom
There are also 2 Sigma E-mount lenses that are very inexpensive, but have received very good reviews.
- Sigma 19mm F/2.8
- Sigma 30mm F/2.8
Finally, there were a handful of new high-end Zeiss lenses anounced at Photokina, and industry trade show this fall. Each is priced at $1000+
- 12mm f/2.8
- 32mm f/1.8
- 50mm f/2.8.
If you were to forget about price, there really isn't much gap in that lineup. Unfortunately, lots of folks can't really afford to drop $2-3000 for a full complement of Prime lenses.
When I bought my camera, I purchased the kit with the 18-55 zoom, which has been a very versatile lens. It does the snapshot thing well and is resonably sharp when you use higher aperture settings. It also still has pretty good depth of field when you zoom in and get close to your subject.
Until I purchased this camera, I had never spent considerable time with a camera that could produce narrow depth of field and the bokeh effects that you see in some of these images. This is the primary reason that I purchased the 50mm lens and one other non-Sony, non-Emount lens.
Before I chose the Sony 50, I actually found an old Olympus OM-Mount 50mm F/1.8. The OM camera that this lens was made for, was a great compact SLR 35mm film camera that was produced in the 70's and 80's. Obviously, this lens can't "talk" to the camera, so Aperture and focus are manual. You Also need to use an adaptor as they use different mounts.
From the moment that I started using it, I was hooked on "fast lenses" which is a term used to describe lenses with a large aperture. The lower the number, the larger the aperture. Though this lens is great for still subjects and patient composition, it can be difficult to use when your subject doesn't want to, or can't hold still. As you probably already noticed, the Sony 50mm has the same aperture size. Best of both worlds right? Well, the individual character of the lenses is a little different, as you can see in the images below. Particularly the out-of-focus areas and the color warmth. Especially in the second set of images.
I like both, but I use the Sony more because it makes more sense to carry in my bag alongside the 18-55 Zoom because of the autofocus.
Just this fall, Sony announced the 35mm Prime which I'm pretty excited about. It has all the features of the 50mm, but it is just a little wider focal length which I've kind-of been wishing for. I love the low-light performance, the sharpness, and the narrow depth of field that I can get with the 50, but I find myself having to back up a little too often, or needing to switch to the zoom to get the shot. You can't really just back up on a lot of landscape shots.
I'm a little reluctant to trade in my 50, but I'm pretty doubtful that I'd continue using both. Though backing up isn't a good solution for the 50, stepping forward is easy to allow a 35mm to take care of stuff the 50 would do (close range portrait and still life). I also think that the focal length of the 35, would be better as a walking-around-lens. In other words, I'd leave it on most of the time as it is a good medium focal length, and will have better picture quality than the Zoom.
Why not keep both?
I've learned over the past few months that photographers can easily get hooked on Glass...that is, the pursuit of the perfect lens(es). Because I have heard this from so many different people, I've been cautious about it. I'm aiming for a very small kit, with only 3-4 Lenses. Two will be more specialty lenses- A wide angle prime for Landscapes, and a telephoto zoom for sports. The other two will be the lenses I carry every day. That will likely be a mid-range zoom and a regular mid length prime lens.
Right now, I have the two zooms, and the two 50mm lenses are middle prime. I'm gonna take my time before committing to any changes, but I certainly don't need 2 -50mm lenses, and maybe not even one if the 35mm is what I hope it will be.
I just posted an article about minimalism this past week so it can seem a little goofy talking about new gear, but the goal is to simplify my setup. To have a very clean tool box. I have redundancy in my current setup and it would be nice to clean it up. Move out the parts that aren't optimal and replace them with things that are.
A side note- I've heard from many photographer friends that one of the best ways to learn what works well for you is to limit yourself to one great medium prime lens and learn to shoot and frame without the option to zoom. Most of them cite the 50mm as a classic focal length. The 35mm Sony is the equivalent of 52.5mm on an old SLR Film camera. That's the primary reason I'd consider switching to the new 35mm.
That could simplify it even further and negate the usefullness of the mid-range zoom. Hmmm...
I really like Dan Moren's acticle on iCloud from MacWorld.
Looking at iCloud in particular, it seems that Apple's approach to sharing is almost antithetical to the concept itself. The online service rigidly defines what you can share and how you can share it; its primary directive often seems to be to keep you inside Apple’s ecosystem.
Here is how I feel about it:
iCloud is for backups and for syncing data between devices for some apps- a good example would be a podcasting app like Downcast or Instacast.
Dropbox is for files that you want to access from multiple applications/devices/platforms/operating systems.
A good example of this would be Byword, where I write most of my posts, notes and any other type of writing. I could use iCloud for this, but then I wouldn't we able to access it from a device that isn't mine and/or doesn't have Byword installed.
Another example would be my photography workflow. I save incoming photos in Lightroom on one of my hard drives. My final edits however, are saved to a folder on Dropbox so that I can easily access and post them from whatever device I happen to be using.
I also love that I can share anything I'm working on with anybody else by just sending them the dropbox link.
If you haven't started using Dropbox yet, here is a link to signup for free. If you sign up, you and I will both get some extra storage for free.
I've been thinking about the differences between the iPhone and the iPad, and I think that with the iPhone 5 arriving and iOS 6 being rolled out this past week, there is now more differentiation between the various iOS devices than before.
I've been a big believer in both for a long time. I've had an iPhone since the first one came out on June 30th 2007. I was a little late to adopting the iPad as I felt that version 1 was a little underpowered.
Whenever someone asks whether they should get one of them, there a couple questions that I ask that hopefully help people figure it out.
- What do you currently do on your home computer?
- Do you have an E-reader?
The computer question is a big one and here's why- Both the iPhone and the iPad are really just computers. Smaller, more portable, perhaps less powerful, but computers nonetheless. The E-reader question narrows down one usage case.
Here is how I use mine.
iPhone is the always-in-my-pocket device. I have grandfathered unlimited data with AT&T so I don't ever need to worry about what I download, watch, listen-to or send with it. AT&T does have some limits that they've put in place after the fact, but for all practical purposes, I don't need to worry about it. I use the iPhone as an on-the-go device.
I chose the wi-fi only iPad when I upgraded to the New iPad. Primarily because of the way that I use the iPhone. Oh, there's also the fact that I'd only activated and used the 3G one time in the previous year on my iPad 2.
I've put that differentiation in place between my devices. Aside from this, it really comes down to screen size.
I prefer to use my iPad for reading. I still have Reeder, Instapaper, iBooks and Kindle installed on my iPhone, but primarily as a backup or second option in case I don't have my iPad with me or there is something I want to read when I don't have a wi-fi connection.
My wife has a Kindle that I bought for her last year. She really likes it, and a lot of people swear by the dedicated E-reader. I have yet to pick one up and try it out as I don't want to carry another device and the iPad Kindle app is great.
I will occasionally look at email on my iPad, but most of the time it is easier to read and respond to it on my iPhone. There are a few reasons for this. I have always-on push enabled on my phone, so arrival of email is instantaneous. I find that unless I'm sitting down at a desk, I can type faster and less-awkwardly on my iPhone. In fact, with the exception of a couple times a week when I'm logged into Gmail from my Mac at home trying to really clean out my inbox, I think of email as "living" on my phone.
I write notes on my iPhone, but I like to sit down at an actual keyboard when I'm writing anything longer than 100-200 words. Right now, I'm using the Apple Bluetooth keyboard and Byword to write this on my iPad. The keyboard is identical in termsof spacing and feel to my Macbook Pro and my old Black Macbook before that. It's pretty nice from a protability standpoint and I also really like the fact that there's nothing to distract me.
Do I really need to even write this one? I capture photos with my iPhone. I DO NOT shoot with my iPad.
I use both devices based on which is more convenient at the moment. Most every photo editing app I use is a universal app that works on both, and the interfaces are pretty much the same. Sometimes I'll gravitate towards the iPad app because of the larger display.
Truthfully though, I only really use the editing on these devices for images that are intended for Instagram posting. Otherwise I load it into Lightroom on my Mac. If there were an editing app with the power of Lightroom available for iOS devices, I'm sure I'd start using them for more.
I have my full music collection on my iPad so connectivity isn't really an issue. I usually play music from my collection on the iPad in my office, or at home. In the car, the iPhone, as it's always with me. I don't have as much music on my phone though because of...Spotify.
I recently started using Spotify and have it on both devices. I use the phone in my office where I don't have wi-fi, and my iPad when I'm at home or in a location where I've got decent wi-fi.
I use Tweetbot for Twitter on both devices. I probably use the iPhone more because of the push notifications and the smaller size of the content. The iPad app is great, but it still feels heavier to use so it is my second choice.
Facebook is probably 50/50. I use the iPad when I'm connected and the iPhone when I'm out and about. Because so much of what I do is posting higher reolution photos, I probably use the desktop browser more for Facebook than I do either of these.
I find that while both of these devices are really powerful, they fit different purposes. As the iPad continues to evolve over the next couple years, I predict that it will continue to replace my "real computer" for more and more tasks. It shines best for reading, writing and for anything that requires or benefits from undivided attention.
The iPhone is the exact opposite for me most of the time. It is best for at-a-glance tasks and on-the-go activities. Connectivity is one part of its strength, and though the iPad can be data connected (if you bought the LTE/3G version). It still doesn't feel quite as connected unless you stop and turn it on. I tried it with notifications turned on, but it felt inconvenient and nowhere near as good as the iPhone in your pocket.
I've heard others predict the demise of the desktop as we know it due to the iPad, but I don't think that's how it will happen. I think that we'll continue to see the iPad (and iPhone) become more powerful and capable until it really sits at a point of parity with Macs and PCs. The choice of which one to buy, will have more to do with specialized use cases, and less to do with power.
I like the way these products are developing and hope that they continue to get better and better at their respective roles. Can't wait!
Marco Arment, who is the creator of Instapaper, one of my favorite and most used apps and services just released a new "app" which is really a magazine available on iOS devices.
Marco had a couple of great posts almost a year ago on publishing, magazines and ads. That article is Double Dipping. I've been quietly wondering if anything would ever come of it.
This feels like his response.
Coincidentally, I finally signed up for the Esquire iPad app yesterday. The difference is drastic.
I really love the writing in Esquire, but I can't, for the life of me, figure out why they can't ship something better than this. It's not like they don't have a large enough team. The publisher is certainly large enough to pay a developer to build it, if they don't want to hire someone. 9 months in and they still don't have retina quality text...and it is completely ad-ridden despite the fact that the yearly subscription cost more than a print subscription.
Marco's The Magazine on the other hand is a pleasure to use. The interface is easy to use, the content is fantastic, and it is obvious that readability is the absolute number one priority. Of course, Marco is just the guy to make this happen.
Perhaps even more important than the stuff I just mentioned is the fact that he is doing this with no ads. It is completely subscription funded and writers are getting paid.
The Magazine supports writers in the most basic, conventional way that, in the modern web context, actually seems least conventional and riskiest: by paying them to write. Since I’m keeping production costs low, I’m able to pay writers reasonably today, and very competitively with high-end print magazines in the future if The Magazine gets enough subscribers.
It’s a risk, but I’m confident. Here goes.
Good Luck Marco. I'm hopeful and signed up! If you own an iOS device and like good writing, go check it out.
What can I write that hasn’t been written on one of the myriad of tech sites. Heck, I even linked to one of them already. I’ll start with a quote that sums up how a lot of people are feeling so far.
I don't know how else to convey the niceness of this thing. This iPhone 5 review unit is the single nicest object in my possession. I own things that cost and remain worth more (e.g. my car). But I own nothing this nice.
I’m 3 weeks in with the iPhone 5. I waited to write this up after some significant use because that’s really the only way to know it beyond what’s on the spec sheet. Speaking of the spec sheet, here’s a list of what’s new-
Brand New Maps app
Siri is expanded with sports, Restaurant and Movie info and is now able to open apps.
Facebook Integration system-wide
Phone updates-updated options when you need to decline a call.
Mail now has pull-down to refresh
Safari now has synced tabs with your desktop or laptop Mac
Camera now has a Panorama feature
New iTunes and Appstore designs that are way easier to use.
Thinner, Lighter design
Unibody Construction with Aluminum back.
LTE wireless data
Headphone jack moved to the bottom
Improved color saturation
New A6 processor with claimed 2X speed
OK. That’s out of the way. So, What’s it like to actually use it?
My first impression as a long-time iPhone user-
This device feels amazing in my hand.
I really can’t overstate this point. Like all Apple products, the iPhone 5 is an object that looks great in photos and sounds great in descriptions, but really takes on a personality when you hold it in your hand. The consensus among my friends and internet connections was that the iPhone 4 design felt like the culmination of iPhone design. As if, this is what they were aiming for from the iPhone’s start back in 2007.
This one feels even more complete. For the first day or two, the 5 almost felt too light. Almost like there was no way that it could be real. When you carry the same phone in your pocket every day for over two years, it has a certain status and becomes your natural reference point.
The iPhone 4 and 4S feel SO heavy compared to the 5. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with the previous design. After all, the previous models has a piece of glass as the back panel and the entire sides, top and bottom is a piece of stainless steel. Glass and stainless are quite a bit heavier than the aluminum that takes their place on the 5.
The 5 is also thinner. A good reference for size - the 5 is a thick as just the stainless steel ring/sides of the 4/ 4S. When I first saw it, I couldn’t help thinking that it looked like they had just pushed the display inside the frame. When holding it, the effect is dramatic. The 5 is 12% smaller, but it’s 20% lighter. Not proportianate. You can feel it.
I chose the black/slate model. This thing looks amazing and has a certain Stealth vibe. The buttons, screws, and even the pieces surrounding the headphone jack and lightning plug all have a matching matte black color. The transitions between glass and aluminum are pretty awesome. Fit and finish are exceptional. The Facetime camera is now centered above the speaker which makes more sense to me. Symmetry is good.
I wish it came with a black Lightning cable.
I do have one issue that many people have experienced over the past few weeks. The anodization on the back is pretty thin and it can get scratched easily. I’m usually pretty careful with my phone, and I’ve got a couple silver spots on the angled edges.
If I had known this before hand, I don’t know that I would have chosen the white model (which isn’t anodized and therefore, not susceptible to this type of scratching) as I really don’t like the white bezel next to the display. I’m thinking that the obvious solution would be for Apple to make a model with black Glass and a silver aluminum body. I’d have chosen that one if it were offered.
The camera on the iPhone 4 was great. The 4S was better, and the 5 is even better. It is an iterative update, but I can verify that it seems to have better exposure metering in normal light, and some drastic improvements in low light situations. Apple calls it Low light Boost Mode, but what’s really happening is a boost in ISO. If you know anything about photography, this makes perfect sense. For those that don’t, just know this- It takes better pictures in low-light. This has been one of the most common criticisms of the previous iPhone camera that I’ve seen in the past. Good move Apple.
The larger screen allows for a larger shutter button and more space for the still/video slider. This larger target is nice. Video playback just uses the whole screen now instead of letterboxing. Still photos are still the standard 3x4 size.
Panorama is something that you needed an app for in the past. Now it’s a built in feature and the implementation is better than anything I’ve seen on the app store. Instead of lining up each successive shot, you just start the camera and move it across the subject. It stitches the photos together quickly and results are pretty good.
[This section already appeared in part a couple weeks ago in another post.]
Though it isn’t the most talked-about feature, in real-world use, the addition of LTE for data is a game changer. Although LTE has been available on other phones in other markets for a few months, the network was just turned on the Thursday before the new phone launched here in Portland. I am able to get download and upload speeds while I’m downtown near my office that are superior to the best connection I’ve ever had on my Comcast Broadband connection at home over wifi. Dude. There literally isn’t a wifi connection that I will likely come across that is faster than my data connection.
One side effect- My battery is draining a bit faster than I’m used to because I’m doing things that just weren’t possible before. Better get another Lightning cable.
Though it would be easy to assume that data is the main difference, I’m noticing that the hardware is also significantly more capable. Apps are faster to open, camera opens faster, and web rendering is lighting fast. This morning before leaving the house, it crossed my mind that I didn’t have a lot of music as I hadn’t ever plugged into my Mac. I pulled up the iTunes store, and selected around 100 tracks to download from my purchased list. I figured that whatever didn’t get loaded over wifi would trickle in throughout the day over data. I was wrong. All of those songs were loaded and ready to go within 7 minutes. Keep in mind that this is the same wifi router and know that I expected it to take 30 minutes or so because of the limitations of the hardware.
I really love the speed. I don’t even consider whether my iPhone will actually open the video, or site because of its size or bandwidth requirements. Done.
Every iPhone I’ve had has had decent reception here in Portland. Occasionally, I’ve dropped calls in the elevators in my building, or a call won’t go through the first time and I’ve had troubles when visiting family in more remote locations, but these are pretty common problems from what I’ve seen. With the iPhone 5 I’m noticing less problems with connecting calls or with dropped calls. No Antennagate this time around either. Seems to work pretty well in the elevators too.
Perhaps the biggest change is the new 4 inch screen. I’ve heard quite a few people say that the screen is longer and narrower. Not true. The new screen is just a tad longer than the previous models, but the width is the same. It can be a tad deceiving as the longer screen makes it feel kind of skinny, but once you turn it on the size difference is obvious. There is just enough room for another row of app icons.
Many apps have already updated their designs to take advantage of the extra screen real estate, but there are still quite a few that haven’t. It makes a pretty big difference in apps that display information in a scrolling list style like Facebook, Tweetbot, Mail, and just about any reading app.
Some apps have added new information to the display. The new built-in weather app is a good example. They added a daily forecast right into the main view which makes the app a lot better in my opinion.
As I was writing this, I looked through about 20 apps on my phone and only found 5 that were updated. That will change over the coming months, but in the meantime, black bars on each end of the screen is something to get used to.
I didn’t really expect to be as impressed with the new phone’s screen as I am. I knew that Apple was claiming better saturation, but that’s not the only thing that’s new. Apple is using a new process for sandwiching all the touch sensitive components in there and it makes a big difference. From what I’ve gathered, the touch sensitive layer is bonded right to the glass this time. What that means is that the actual pixels feel like they are right on the glass.
The iPhone 4 felt like a huge step forward in this same way, but things always get better. The surface presence of the pixels on the iPhone 5 makes the iPhone 4 and 4S feel like you are looking through a huge slab of glass.
The color difference feels best summed up by saying that the blacks feel twice as deep as on the 4S. On previous models, black always had a bit of a backlit presence, but not so much on the 5. This does wonders for the saturation and contrast of anything you look at on your iPhone.
Both of these new improvements seem to make the biggest difference to me when reading text. We are one step closer to the resolution of glossy magazine print.
Basically, the iPhone 5 is a major step forward all the way around.
Design, Connectivity, User Interface, Size
If you are a fan of the iPhone in any of its previous iterations, this new version will please you. If you have been holding out waiting for LTE, a bigger screen or the end of a contract, I can safely say that now is a good time to jump in.
As I’ve already stated, I DO buy a new iPhone each time they update. Yes, it's true- I'm a gadget nerd. I don’t recommend that everyone upgrade unless there is a new feature that is compelling to you but at this point, there isn’t much that isn’t significantly better on the new model.
I love the way that Apple continues to move the iPhone forward in ways that just make so much sense.
So…if you upgrade, great. If not, there will likely be another great update in a year or so.
I had a friend ask me about LTE coverage today because he saw that I was pretty enthused about having it on my iPhone. He asked if I was getting better coverage with the new phone on LTE than I was getting over AT&T 3G previously.
Here's the thing- Neither the AT&T nor Verizon version of the iPhone 5 uses the LTE network for voice calling. It is for Data only. Though they have both indicated that it is coming in the future, Neither carrier offers it yet.
What this means is that the voice coverage is identical to what you have on a pre-LTE iPhone.