From 7 to 8

First and foremost, I was using an iPhone 7 and yes, I watched the Apple keynote announcement and was not particularly excited about the new iPhones. The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, same design, improved specifications and that’s about it. The iPhone X on the other hand was the limelight for the show.

In many ways, the iPhone X is the iPhone that I had always dreamt about. I had always wanted Apple to reduce the bezels and size of the iPhone, a phone that houses a screen of around 5” size is ideal for me (4.7” can be a little small at times). I’m probably the few people who applaud Apple for getting rid of the home button. I have sweaty palm and greasy fingers, so Touch ID doesn’t work well for me at times. All in all, it ticks all the boxes for me. But sadly, I am not getting one this time.

As great as Face ID looks, I am skeptical and reserved about its effectiveness. The phone design does look a little ugly, but I can probably get used to it. The OLED panel used is sub-standard compared to others. Ditching the home button means Apple needs to engineer a new way to interact with the phone. From the demo showed, those swiping and pausing actions doesn’t seem fluent to me at all. I’m one of those who want maximum speed and fluency in navigating through my phone and apps, so I’ll probably wait out for the next generation until all the tiny bits of issues are ironed out.

Anyway, Apple has its fair share of history in releasing subpar first generation product. The first generation MacBook Pro with Retina display had so many issues especially on its screen (and I’m one of the victims). First generation Apple Watch was equally flop with painfully slow performance. And Apple has also screwed the first generation iPad Pro 9.7” user big time by introducing a much improved version while discontinuing it altogether.

So, just as I had decided to wait for next year, my Telco strikes me with a hit by increasing my monthly charges because my current contract with them has already expired. Damn. Anyway, so happened that my mom is looking to replace her iPhone as well, so I decided to pass her my old iPhone and re-contract with the iPhone 8 Plus instead. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from this phone, it must be since its almost identical with the 7 Plus right? But I was wrong…

This piece of heavy and bulky glass-metal… object is much more than what I thought. Performance wise, you won’t feel a big difference between the 7 and 8 despite what the benchmarks figure suggested. Perhaps some apps will launch a fraction seconds faster and that’s about it. What makes the experience in using the 8 different lies on other stuffs.

For instant, the camera is a step up from 7, and its noticeable, really. Especially low light and high dynamic range scene, the 8 really shines with Apple’s “deeper pixels”. Focusing is also much snappier, and now there’s a little haptic feedback when you press the shutter button, which is pretty neat. The portrait mode is better according to others, but I have not used it as I didn’t owned the 7 Plus so no comment. The portrait lighting effect though… seriously what the hell is Apple doing to even include it in… perhaps they just run out of “selling point” to sell their iPhones… Video capabilities on the other hand received some big upgrades by giving 4K at 60fps and 1080p at 240fps slow-mo. I didn’t spent too much time on videos all along, so I can’t comment much here but it’s all good on paper. Slow sync flash is also an awesome addition if you do use the flash a lot on the iPhone.

Next, wireless charging. I can’t believe I’m actually kinda “clicked” with it. I have always commented that it is useless because technically you still need to place your phone there to charge. But after playing with it myself, I can see the potential for it. Well, if you use a charging pad separately, it is indeed not really “wireless”, but what I can see is in future, more and more furnitures and appliances will incorporate wireless charging into them, and it will eventually be very convenient indeed. For example, your office desk has a corner where you can charge your phone by just laying it there, the side table lamp in your room which also charge your phone and so on. The charging speed is still the bottleneck for this technology, and hopefully this will be addressed in the future. Another “plus” point is that you will now be able to use the lightning earphone while charging your phone wirelessly.

Another seemingly big upgrade to the new iPhones are the AR capability. Although the old iPhones that run iOS 11 should also support AR, but it is said that the new hardware will give a better experience. I can see some use of AR such as the Ikea app that scale the furniture and fit virtually into your space and some measurement app that measures and map room size in real life. However, beyond education and such uses, I really don’t see AR as a big hit yet. I don’t see why it’s fun to game in AR (other than Pokemon), and why one want to add some fake object into your picture or video. Sony has been pushing such AR in their phone all along and it’s just crap.

All in all, as many reviewers have said, if you are coming from iPhone 7, the upgrade is not huge, but I would still say it’s noticeable. For those who came from 6 or 6s, it’s worth to grab the 8, unless you want to save some money by getting the 7. Let’s see how the iPhone X performs when it’s released, and we’ll see what Apple has to offer for next year’s iPhone lineup. Till then.

Some Thoughts on the Microsoft Surface

When iPad was released, the mobile computing world took a hit as more and more people are getting a tablet as their daily driving machine instead of a full fledge laptop. Microsoft decided to release a hybrid device that was both laptop and tablet at the same time, and it’s the Surface and Surface Pro line.

The initial release was very much affected by the half-baked software of Windows 8, but soon with the release of Windows 10, Microsoft started to gain back the trust from users and subsequently boosting their sales by introducing other devices in the Surface line, such as the Surface Studio, Surface Book and Surface Laptop.

I purchased the Surface 3 for my wife last year when she was looking for a laptop for occasional use. As her iPad was aging as well, I thought the tablet style of the Surface 3 will be a good all purpose device for her to cover both entertainment and serious work. She never use it often, and so do I. However, as my master study started this year, I decided to give it a try and use the Surface 3 as my go-to device for studying.

After using it for awhile, I must say I really like the idea of Surface’s tablet/laptop hybrid form factor. For my study, couple it with the Surface Pen, I can scribble on pdf notes and slides, something conventional PC/laptop does not provide. Even though some laptop do provide touch screen, they are still not as intuitive and effective in taking notes with your fingers versus a pen input device. But sadly, that’s about it that I can compliment this device for. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the form factor, they keyboard cover, even the kickstand design of a Surface.

Seriously, what’s left behind is the software. Microsoft has done a good job getting the hardware right, there isn’t much to complaint about. I would prefer to see USB-C charging available in future models, this will open up possibility for you to charge the device on the go with your powerbank. I would like to see implementation of kickstand to use the device in portrait orientation too. Inclusion of discrete graphic GPU would be good to have, but I’m willing to sacrifice a bit of graphic performance in order to strike the balance on portability and form.

On the software side, Windows 10 is still far from being touch friendly. There’s a tablet mode on the Surface which turns it into iPad like interface, where you basically run the apps from Microsoft’s app store. My personal opinion is that the whole app store should be ditched all together. Instead, force the developer to design more touch friendly interface into their software. The same goes to Windows itself, it’s just a total mess when you want to touch something now. In this regards, I feel that the macOS is designed to be more “touch friendly” than Windows, it just doesn’t make sense.

Adobe softwares are yet to make full use of the potential of Surface form factor and ecosystem, so are other major software titles. Microsoft Office on the other hand, has made a pretty slick touch-base user interface. Perhaps they get all the experience while developing the Office Suite for mobile devices and baked them for touch enabled laptop/PC. With the support of major softwares over touch-friendly interface and improvements on Windows core interface itself, I believe the Surface product line will have a very bright future.

For now, I’ll still use the Surface 3 as my daily study device. Will it eventually grow so much in me that I will ditch my iPad mini and Macbook Pro for a single unified Surface Pro? We’ll see how things unfold in the future. Till then.

Panasonic DMC-LX10: My Impression

LX10 in action. Shot with my Leica M-P.
As my wife has been constantly complaining that the Fujifilm X30 is too bulky and heavy for her to carry around for trip, I ended up selling off the X30 and grabbed a Panasonic LX10 for her instead. I’m not the one who will be using this camera most of the time, but I had spent some time understanding the camera and setting it up for her use, and here are some of my thoughts about the LX10.

Fringing can be a problem under high contrast area. Easy to fix if you shoot raw, but in camera jpeg doesn’t get rid of them that well.
First off, I feel “overwhelmed” by the abundance of features and modes in the small little camera. I have been using camera with bare minimal functions for quite awhile, hence I do get a little lost when I dive through the functions and menus. Anyway, after fiddling it for awhile, I start to grasp what this camera can do. The nifty features are those surrounding the “4K Photos”, such as pre-burst, photo burst and post focus. A little gimmicky, but it will get the job done when you need it.

Focusing speed was reasonably quick and reliable
The camera body was a little too small to my liking. Yes, it’s a compact camera and it should be small. It’s just my problem and the fact that I’m too used to holding larger camera bodies. My thumb keep pushing on the “4K Photo” button accidentally throughout my time using it, perhaps things will get better after getting familiar with its size. The body is a little slippery, but with a wrist strap attached, it has never bother me much that it might drop accidentally.

Dynamic range is not bad for 1 inch sensor, but don’t expect too much from it either
The touch screen is pretty responsive and very useful in various situations, from selecting focus point to quickly selecting some parameters, shortcuts or functions on screen. This is perhaps the best feature it has which separates it from the closes rival of Sony RX100 series. The screen is usable under the sun, though you would expect it to be harder to see when the sun is bright. Nevertheless, I don’t have much problem using it. It also flips up for selfie, and the camera will engage in selfie mode with some dedicated settings such at timer shutter release automatically.

There are a few scene mode and picture profile mode in the camera, and I particularly like the one which gives me high contrast monochrome output.
Control wise, you are getting aperture ring, a control ring at the front around the lens and a control dial on the far right of the top plate. It surely satisfies control freak like me who prefer to have dials and ring for direct setting change. You can customize what each dial / ring do, but at times the choices are limited as I did bumped into issue where I simply can’t set it to work the way I want. Nevertheless, there’s workaround and it’s still a joy to use the camera.

Shot with macro mode
As for the image quality, I would say it’s really not bad. The 1 inch sensor performs very well and delivers punchy but not over saturated colours. Couple with the Leica branded lens covering 24-72mm at f1.4 to f2.8, this camera can shoot almost everything that you throw at it. You can get very close too as it can focus down to 3cm in macro mode. Pretty amazing I would say.

At 24-72mm, this is a very useful range for all purpose shooting
Other features such as video recording (up to 4K at 30p), wifi capability, built in flash and etc. were not tested extensively, so I will not be commenting on it. All in all, this is a pretty decent camera, especially for those casual user who used to take pictures with their smartphones. The learning curve is not as steep compared to, say the Sony RX100 series, as user can just tap away to setup the camera and shoot.

Rather pleasant out of focus area
I would certainly recommend people to consider this camera. In the same price range, you can probably take a look at the Canon G7X Mk II and also Sony RX100 Mk III if the LX10 doesn’t click with you. They are all capable cameras with pros and cons of their own, either way you won’t go wrong with any of these cameras. That’s all for now, I’ll share more thoughts in future post, if any. Till then, happy shooting!

A Photographer’s Life by Jack Dykinga

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Source: Amazon.com
Just finished reading this book. I would consider this as a biography of Jack Dykinga, with very nice sharing and insight to his life as a photographer. Of course this does not represent the life of all or most photographer, but what was shared is true enough and applicable to even now.

Who is Jack Dykinga? Well, honestly I don’t know. I was attracted by the book at first, hence read it and now I get to know him a little better. He may not be as big famed or renowned by most as he belongs to the bunch of pre-social media era photographers. Most of his works are shared through prints, exhibitions and books publishing.

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Source: B&H Photo
The book covers story about how Jack got himself his first camera and then into photography, all the learning he went through and ended up working in a local news agency. During his career of photojournalism, he compete against the finest photographers from other agencies and earned himself the Pulitzer award.

This book covers all the ups and downs of Jack, and it also talks about how his mind and value to photography changed, resulted his shift from photojournalism to photographing landscape with large format camera, hoping to raise awareness to preserve the nature from being exploited. The book also touched on the struggle he faced when transiting from film to digital, and how he ended up hosting guided photography workshop and tour to the national parks across America.

There’s one sharing in the book that particularly caught my attention:

John White, another Pulitzer Prize winning photographer at the Sun-Times once told me he photographed every sunrise. In disbelief, I inquired why? He simply said he didn’t want to miss the really great one

And indeed it echoes a lot with my heart and belief. Persistence is important. A lot of masterpieces were not made just by one attempt or one shot. Sometimes you just have to keep shooting to get “the one” image, sometimes you just have to keep disappointed until “the one” image came by. Sometimes you are lucky, sometimes not so. Sometimes you might even need to keep shooting to spark the creativity in you, or to pull you away from your downfall and creativity block.

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Source: The Photo Society
All in all, it’s a very nice read and I will certainly recommend those who are interested with photography to read this book. Till then.

Medium Format – Shooting with Fujifilm GW690III

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Recently everyone is raving about the launch of Fujifilm Medium Format camera… I can’t resist the temptation and hence wanted to get one for myself… but I don’t have the money to spare… so I bought something “equivalent” at about 20 times cheaper instead 😛 Enter to the world of medium format with Fujifilm GW690III… Okay, joke aside. Actually I bought this camera quite some time ago, just that I haven’t really spend much time using it, hence I didn’t share much about it. I have shot a couple of rolls of film with it and thought that perhaps I can share a little of initial impression for now.

I’m always curious about “medium format” and wonder what’s so special about it. It’s common for you to see remarks such as “the medium format look” or “the medium format bokeh” on the internet, but is that all medium format offers? I wonder. Hence, I decided to check it out by myself. Getting a digital medium format is not cheap, and I certainly wouldn’t spend that amount of money just to test out something. After much research, I decided to go with the compact medium format cameras such as the GA645, GF670 and GW690 series released by Fujifilm. I happened to come across a used set of GW690III in a bargain price and hence bought it over.

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GW690III is a 6X9 medium format rangefinder camera with a fixed 90mm f/3.5 lens. This lens translate to around 39mm in focal length (35mm equivalent), it has 1/500s leaf shutter that syncs with flash at all shutter speeds via a hotshoe or PC port, therefore making it a versatile to be used for different type of shots. All in all, it is a simple camera with no built-in light meter, no lens changing, no auto film advance and no removable film back. You just load your film, set your aperture and shutter speed, focus your lens and start snapping away. You only get 8 shots out of a roll of 120 film though, so every shot counts.

Operation wise, the viewfinder is fairly bright and clear, but the rangefinder patch is a little small and dim, hence it might be hard to focus at times. There are two shutter buttons on the camera (one on top and one in front) which are convenient as user get to decide which is more convenient to be used. It also features a shutter lock mechanism which prevents the shutter from firing accidentally when it’s in your bag. You will need to pull out the built in lens hood in order to access the shutter speed and aperture adjustment (both on the lens). All in all, the camera is fairly compact and reasonably light (or heavy) for what it offers.

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About that gigantic 6X9 negatives. I’m not too sure whether there’s any difference in terms of the tones and gradations between full frame and medium format negatives, but what immediately stands out is the amount of details it managed to capture. I can still recall my jaw dropped when I view the scanned negatives for the first time on my computer screen. The depth of field for medium format is certainly shallower when compared to full frame. Perhaps these are the reasons why professionals like to use medium format to capture their portraiture or fashion work. The bokeh of this lens is pleasing, though not remarkably magnificent.

There are of course some “down side” in shooting with such large negatives. When shooting full frame, I can easily achieve focus from foreground to background when I stopped the lens to around F11 or so. But with medium format, I’ll need to go much further to somewhere like F22 or more in order to get the maximum depth of field that I need when shooting landscape. However, this does mean that I’ll either need a higher ISO film (for shorter shutter speed) or to shoot with longer shutter speed on a tripod. Those are the things you’ll need to take into account and workaround. Yes, this is what the camera does best – to slow you down and make you think before you shoot.

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All in all, I do enjoy shooting with this camera very much. For hobbyist like me, this is perhaps the best-bang-for-the-buck option to get myself dipped into the world of medium format. Honestly, I don’t really see myself switching over to shoot medium format more often. However, it does gives me a good refreshing feeling when I picked it up and shoot a roll or two. There will certainly be occasions where it will become invaluably useful. I’ll try to shoot more with this camera in the days to come and we shall see what I can squeeze out of it. Till then, happy shooting!

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