Gear (aka- I Just Bought a New Camera)

 

Gear.

I'll start this with a preface- Gear doesn't make the good photos- your vision is responsible for that. By now, you have heard this plenty of times so there's your reminder and lets just leave it at that.

Another thing that I have found to be true - There is great enjoyment that comes from using great cameras, lenses, film and software.

I also believe in balance. I don't believe in hanging on to gear I don't use so any piece that I add better be efficient and hold its own.

There are so many different types of camera kits out there and I've come to a personal preference - at least for this time during my photographic journey. The way I see it, here are the types:

  • Phone camera
  • Compact Point and Shoot
  • Enthusiast Compact
  • Interchangeable Lens Mirrorless
  • Full Frame Mirrorless
  • DSLR with Pentaprism
  • Leica Rangefinder
  • Medium Format

  • Film versions of all of these

Here's what I'm using: I shoot very casually with my iPhone. My dedicated cameras over the last few months have been a Interchangeable lens Mirrorless model and a vintage film SLR. They are roughly the same size, and size is a major factor in why I've chosen them.

As of today the Sony NEX 7 and the Sony Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 is my main kit. It’s a great 35mm equivalent set up. It allows me to know that there is literally no better lens I could put on my camera and very few Crop sensors that will give better performance. In fact, 1 year ago, the only way to get better technical images was to move to a Nikon D800- or perhaps a Sony RX-1. I also regularly use the Sony 50mm f/1.8 and the Sony kit zoom lens when my 24 just isn't wide enough.

I also use a 35mm film Olympus OM-1 that -as far as I can tell- was made when I was about 4 years old. My favorite lens is a wide angle 24mm, f/2.8. On this camera the 24 has a wider field of view as it is projecting the image onto a 135mm "full frame" of film. The Sony uses a sensor that is smaller, so the image from the same focal length is smaller.

Today I have two choices that I’ve been contemplating.

Smaller

First of all, I love this focal length. For that reason, I’ve been considering the Fujifilm X100S. It has the same 35mm equivalent focal length and the same size APS-C sensor as my NEX 7. There are so many people that are absolutely in love with the Fujifilm cameras for their handling, and the rendering of the X-Trans Sensor. The X100s' fixed lens design makes it significantly smaller than my Sony combo, which makes a compelling argument for getting one. It will fit right into my daily bag or jacket pocket without the need for a case.

There is the thought that the Fuji might make my current kit sort of redundant and that one of them would get far less use.

Full Frame

I really like the Sony camera line, the feel in hand and the photo making process with my NEX. I know that the Sony A7 full frame will be a natural and familiar upgrade path and will give even greater low-light, shallow depth of field and weather proof(ish) performance. The A7 body is about $400 more than the X100s, but that doesn't include lenses that will cover the full frame sensor.

The A7 would mean a move to a new lens or set of lenses that are large enough to cover the full frame sensor. I can use my current NEX lenses with it, but they would work in crop mode, giving significantly lower resolution than on my NEX 7 and negating some of the benefits of the larger sensor. That means that even after I save up the money to purchase this body, it will work best with my older manual OM lenses until I can afford to purchase an FE prime. I could sell some or all of my current E mount lenses ( 50mm f/1.8, kit 18-55, Zeiss 24, f/1.8) to buy one of the FE Zeiss lenses or a manual focus Voigtlander Prime.

Both

Both of these cameras serve different purposes. Because I feel so strongly about Sony as a company and an innovator, I think that I’ll likely move to the A7 (or more likely its successor) kit eventually. To me, the image quality and the raw malleability and information contained in the files is astounding. It is the way of the future. Although the pocketable Fuji kit is a little redundant paired with my NEX 7, it is a good compliment to the full-frame A7. So, it really comes down to strategy.

For now, I've decided to wait on the Sony Full frame upgrade and add the Fujifilm X100S. In fact I ordered it last Saturday and it arrived 2 days ago.

 

The Internet is a Utility

Sometimes I wish I had some huge platform that would make a difference so I could scream this stuff and actually change the way things are. I don't think I can say it any clearer than Nilay Patel-

THE INTERNET IS A UTILITY, JUST LIKE WATER AND ELECTRICITY

Go ahead, say it out loud. The internet is a utility...

It’s time to just end these stupid legal word games and say what we all already know: internet access is a utility. A commodity that should get better and faster and cheaper over time. Anyone who says otherwise is lying for money.

Image Management and Backup

 

I've had a few friends ask about hard drive backup/ photo library management in the last few weeks and as I was thinking it through I realized that I hadn't evaluated and updated my own setup in awhile. So I did. I sat down and mapped it out on paper. I thought about redundancy, making things automatic, efficient and offsite. I made a couple changes and I'll share it with you.

First let me give you some background so you can see how my particular needs may differ from your own.

What I use and what I do

I don't use my home/ photography machine for my day job. I'm a banker and spend my 9-5(ish) hours on a realtively new, but terribly set-up corporate PC laptop. What's that? You feel sorry for me? Thanks. My real computer more than makes up for it.

My home machine is an early 2013 13" Macbook Pro with Retina display. I've got the 256gb SSD. I use Adobe Lightroom as my primary photo managing app and I shoot all of my photos in RAW format. That means the data grows very quickly. For music I use iTunes connect and have most of our non-iTunes purchased music on my wife's computer, a 2011 15" Macbook Pro. She's backed up, but we also have physical copies (CDs) of all the music that wasn't purchased from iTunes - and iTunes connect has digital copies of it too. All of my writing happens in a text editor and all of these text files live in Dropbox.

So here's my storage setup-

My machine and external drive.

My RAW images are saved to the SSD on my machine and managed by Lightroom. iTunes content is stored on this drive as well. At the start of each year I start a new Lightroom catalog and move the previous year's Lightroom catalog to a 2TB external LaCie Porsche Designs drive. This drive contains my previous few year's LR and iPhoto catalogs as well as all video footage and iMovie project data. I store movies (not that many) here as well.

First Backup- Synced Folder

I have a free Dropbox account which is around 9.5 gb in size (Thanks friends that have signed up!). I save all documents and finished Images in my Dropbox folder. This is my first backup and not everything is covered, but because Dropbox creates a local folder on my machine and it is all saved to the Dropbox servers, all of my documents and final edited images are backed up once. I really like this setup because I can get to the stuff I'm working on from any computer with an internet connection and I can just log in to Dropbox when I get a new computer.

Second Backup- Cloud and Previous versions

For the next step I chose an automatic offsite backup in the cloud. This second backup accomplishes 2 things. First it is automatic and secondly it is offsite. There are a few options, but I really like Backblaze. They have a really great native interface that runs in the system preferences area of your Mac and gives some great control for upload speed and scheduling. Backing up one machine and attached drives costs $5 a month. That is not a typo. Cheap, fast and complete. Did I mention that they backup attached drives?

I have my entire machine and my 2TB external drive backed up with Backblaze. One of the other great features is that they have a really well made iPhone app that allows you to access most of your saved files remotely (as long as your iPhone has a way to open or view the file).

This backup option is pretty handy for downloading individual files and it also takes care of one really specific scenario. Backblaze keeps up to four weeks of file versions so if you've deleted or modified a file you can still get it back for a month. You can also download a complete copy of your data, but it will take awhile. I have another option for a situation where I need a copy of everything.

Third Backup- Physical Copies

I've already got offsite covered. I've got multiple copies of my most important documents and it's all happening automatically, but I've still got one more backup. I have a second LaCie 3TB drive where I've created a clone of my computer and the main external drive. I update this drive at least once a month and it usually lives at my office, so it is also offsite. I treat this as my bail-out for catastrophic failure. In other words, I don't have to download anything, I just plug this one in and everything is there and ready to go.

Quick Update: A few folks have asked what software I use to copy my data for this clone. I use SuperDuper, but I do it manually instead of automatically as it is usually offisite.

There's a certain level of comfort in knowing that you have a physical redundant copy of everything.

So, to wrap it up, here are the basics:

There are Four important pieces to having piece of mind with backups. Automatic. Efficient. Off-Site. Redundant. This setup covers them all.


A couple quick notes-

  1. Why not Time Machine? I used it for awhile, but it is slow, there is almost no user control and it has always bogged down my system and hogged hard drive space. No Thanks!

  2. You might be thinking that I don't have a lot of storage space for a photographer and you'd be right. I am pretty ruthless with the editing and probably only keep about 4x what I post to the world. I am starting to think about what to do when the archives and my current year are too big for a standalone drive, but I haven't settled on anything yet. I think that I'll likely move away from doing a cloud based backup for older stuff and just move to offsite clones of the archives, but that could change. Could be an array instead. I'll update when the time comes.

 

On "Rate This App" Popups

 

There's been a conversation over the last few weeks, prompted by John Gruber's post suggesting that he had considered encouraging his readers to leave 1 star reviews everytime an app displays a "Rate this App" Dialogue. It sure has stirred up a ton of debate as developers say that it's a necessary evil as the ongoing profitability of their business is closely related to app store reviews.

On the most recent episode of John's podcast with guest Daniel Jalkut, they further defined the reason why these popups are so frustrating for users. They just aren't about the user. You know- the person who installed, and perhaps even paid money for the app. Love this commentary by Marco-

I’d go further than Gruber’s moderate stance on The Talk Show. I think even interrupting people once with these is too much. I’m strongly against them — to me, they’re spam, pure and simple. They’re as intrusive as a web popup ad, they betray a complete lack of respect for users, and they make their apps’ developers look greedy and desperate.

I've felt a disdain for "Rate this App" popups since the first time I saw one. I'd go leave bad reviews but I don't want to spend time doing that any more than I want to deal with the popup.

I don't know if my behavior is normal, but I just don't leave very many reviews and I don't feel like they are necessary or all that useful with a couple exceptions. I've left a couple reviews to warn people when an app is broken or doesn't do what it says it does. I don't pay much attention to piles of overly positive reviews, but I've noticed a direct correlation between a lot of negative reviews and problems with usability.

In other words, I don't use app store ratings to choose apps, I use them to give me a final yea or nay before purchasing or downloading. So, I find the argument that the incessant quest for app ratings is necessary, kind of ridiculous.

Trying to secure more reviews, in a terribly curated and poorly indexed store isn't the way. If that's what it's come to, you need a better marketing strategy. A well designed app, a good reputation and word of mouth is the way to reach clients who appreciate these things and are willing to pay for it.

 

Sony Needs to Do Better with Lenses for the A7

 

So, now that the full announcement, previews, first image samples and first criticisms and praise for the Sony A7 and A7r are here I have a few more thoughts. The A7 is what I and many of my friends value- Top notch Image Quality but smaller and lighter than what has been previously avialable.

I'm gonna put one piece of criticism out there.

Lenses. What's the deal with Sony and lens planning?

How is it that Sony isn't just releasing amazing Primes right out of the chute for this system?

The 55 f/1.8 Zeiss is great, but why not go faster with the 35? We know it's possible because they already put out an amazing f/2 on the RX-1. I've heard rumors that the short mount distance on the RX-1 makes this lens work, but no one would have complained about an extra centimeter of length due to the interchangeable mount. And why not a 24mm and an 85mm? They could have totally changed the reputation among serious photographers regarding their lenses if they'd just done it right.

Instead, they are getting the same criticisms they've always gotten for the NEX system. Great bodies. Bummer of a lens selection.

Also,why does Sony refuse to go faster than 1.8 on mirrorless?

They need to take notes from Fuji who is pretty much universally praised for the quality of their X series lenses. That's a way to release a system. There isn't really a missing focal length in their native offerings and they are comparing favorably to the Zeiss Touit lenses. That says a lot.

Sony is saying that there are 15 full frame lenses on the way, but there aren't even 15 E mount lenses for NEX APS-C right now. There are a few more if you include third party offerings from Zeiss, Sigma and Rockinon, but they mostly duplicate Sony's own offerings.

  1. 16 f/2.8
  2. 10-18 f/4
  3. 20 f/2.8
  4. 24 Zeiss f/1.8
  5. 30 f/3.5 macro
  6. 35 f/1.8
  7. 50 f/1.8
  8. 18-55 zoom f/3.5-5.6
  9. 16-55 pzoom f/3.5-5.6
  10. 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3
  11. 55-210 f/4.5-6.3
  12. big video power zoom 18-200 f/3.5-6.3
  13. Zeiss 16-70mm f/4 zoom
  14. Sony g zoom 18-105mm f/4

I might be missing something…but 3 years in and they are still missing a few key lenses. No 75, no 100, no fast zooms at all. Every zoom is 3.5 and the only two that are constant are f4. Perhaps more importantly, the quality of the above lens selection is really hit and miss. There are some great lenses in that list, but there isn't the consistency to build a good reputation.

If they want to be taken seriously and convert pro Canon and Nikon owners they need to develop competitors to the long fast zooms. They might be big compared to current NEX offerings, but they should be able to make them smaller than FX and L lenses because of the short mount distance.

How about a 70-200 f/2.8, an 18-105 f/2.8 or a 14-24 f/2.8?

It seems to me that the majority of pros using full frame canon and Nikon care way more about sharp fast zooms than primes.

By contrast, almost no one uses zooms on mirror less cameras because they don't make any nice ones that are sharp anywhere but in the center.

The Sony guys are talking about using glass from other mounts using adaptors, but they need to develop native e mount lenses if they hope for people to switch. They can't make folks go elsewhere to for their go-to lenses.

So, if you've read my blog at all before, it's clear that I'm a huge Sony fan. They are pushing the envelope like no other company out there. I only put this criticism out as a fan who wants to see Sony succeed. They could really make a huge shift in the camera market and the perception of mirrorless systems in general with this new camera. I just hate to see them fumble on the lens part.

 

Sony Mirrorless Full Frame - The Future of Photography?

 

Image from Digicame-info.com  

I love gadgets. So it's no surprise that I make it pretty clear what I'm using, and occasionally, what I find intriguing. About a year and a half ago I bought my first modern digital Interchangeable lens camera and as I detailed here, I chose the Sony NEX system.

Sony is a company that has shown a willingness to push the boundaries. Here are some examples: Release of the NEX (First mirrorless APS-C system), RX-1 (First Full Frame fixed lens Mirrorless camera), Focus peaking system, and the Alpha SLT system. They make the sensors used in Nikon's flagship Full frame cameras and the sensor used in the iPhone 5 and 5s.

So, with the release and subsequent success of the RX-1 it isn't that much of a surprise that Sony is only a few days from releasing an interchangeable lens Full Frame Mirrorless system. It will use the same lens mount as the NEX system and the first 2 models will carry a center-mounted Electronic Viewfinder.

Digicame-info.com posted a couple photos which have been confirmed by Andrea at Sony Alpha Rumors. To my eyes, the camera looks like a hybrid. The body and top controls are like an RX-1, the grip and mount are from the NEX bodies, and the hump on top of the body for the EVF that looks like an old school pentraprism box.

There have been quite a few exceptional photographers that have moved to mirrorless systems as their primary kit over the past couple years. Trey Ratcliff recently started using the NEX 7 for his epic landscapes. Zack Arias is a hardcore Fuji X series user. TED photographer Duncan Davidson has been using the RX-1 as his main camera for day-to-day use. Aaron Courter, who is an exceptional Portland based photographer and a long time friend has been incorporating the Fuji X cameras into his personal work, wedding and portrait business with great success.

I'm in love with the Sony NEX. I never even considered a DSLR camera because of the size, the weight and what I perceived to be its imminent demise. Up until now, you couldn't really get the same image quality and crazy shallow depth of field from a mirrorless camera, but I think the A7 and A7r will be the start of a large scale move away from large DSLR bodies for most photographers.

Sure, there are some times when the larger camera really makes sense. The Mirrored design still allows for faster focusing in sports contexts and there is certainly an expectation in event photography that will take awhile to pass. In addition, the larger bodies do have many features still missing from the new breed of mirrorless cameras and certainly handle big glass much better.

This is a moment. It feels like the rise of ultra portable notebooks such as the Macbook Air which have almost negated the need for more powerful desktops for all but the most demanding of users. I believe we are witnessing the birth of the future of photography.

 
 

Goodbye Google Reader

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

13" Retina Macbook Pro

New Machine

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.

Size

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.

Memory

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.

Hard Drive

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:

Retina Display?

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.

Conclusion

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.

It's Not About the Gear

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.


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.

Good reminder.

Sony NEX Firmware updates

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.


photo 3.JPG

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.

Here's the link

 

Sony NEX 35mm F/1.8 Preview

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.

In addition, I've posted my full review after using this lens for 4 months.


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.

Switching from iPad to iPad mini

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!

And This is Why I Choose Apple...

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.

That easy.

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.

CBS Losing Journalistic Credibility

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

Favorites list for 2012

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

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.

Darksky

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.

6. Squarespace

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

I hit a spot this year with photography where iPhoto just wasn't cutting it anymore. Lightroom is the real deal. You can read more about why I use it here

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

Music

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.

Movie

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 Processing Workflow

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.


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:

Hardware

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...

Software

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.

Importing

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.

Editing

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.

Posting

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.

Deleting images

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.

Portfolio viewing

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.