Recently in Equipment->Reviews Category

I've been a fan of the backup service Crashplan (crashplan.com) but the service had been crashing on my Mac Book Pro when I upgraded to Mountain Lion (OSX 10.8). I wasn't sure what was going on and googled around.

Changing the memory buffer size for Java has seemed to fix things. I used the instructions here: http://afterhours.bitsandbugs.net/2012/04/18/crashplan-crashing-here-is-the-fix/

Nothing worse than a backup system that doesn't work! I just had one of my Seagate 700 megabyte drives fail on my desktop at work, crashplan is churning away restoring it. It's having some trouble on some files, which is the subject perhaps of a followup post.

Karen

I was at the CP+ convention last month when Fuji unveiled the X-Pro1 and played with the camera a bit. I have to say that I was very disappointed in its lens work. Basically I found both the auto-focus useless as it hunted far too much, even in a well-lit environment. I was never sure of whether the focus was achieved unless I was in EVF mode, which seemed to defeat the purpose of an optical viewfinder.

In manual focus, the stock Fuji lenses seemed to be very "detached" from the focus ring. I didn't have the confidence that I could snap focus like I could with a Leica M rangefinder.

The worst aspect though of manual focusing was that there was only one manual focusing aid -- the magnified view option. This is good but is now a bit dated.

----

I decided instead to get a Ricoh GXR base camera and plan to get an M-module very soon. I've already tested this setup and I found that the contrast-highlight manual focus option on the GXR is very fast and accurate -- as accurate as my rangefinding focus. Will report on this setup more as I get more experience with it.

Karen

----

Comparison Reviews


GH2GX1OM-DXPro1GXR
Sensor SizeM4/3APS-C
35mm Equiv.2.0x1.5x
Sensor Megapixels1616.312.3
Viewfinder MPix1.44
800x600
VF2: 1.44
800x600
1.53
800x600
1.440.92
RearMonitor KPix4606101230920
RearMonitor TouchYesNo
FlashYesNoNoYes
Mic-InYesNoYes (custom)No
Body Weight (g)394272425450370

Note: The GXR is the GXR A12 mount for Leica M

One of my pals asked me which I thought was better: the Panasonic GH2 or the new GXR A-12 with M-mount. I own the GH2 and tested the GXR / A-12 at a camera show recently.

Here were my thoughts:

GXR or a Panasonic is a hard question, I think....

If you were only to put Leica lenses on it, I think the GXR is better:


+ Lower crop factor (1.6x vs. 2.0x) and bigger sensor
+ Better manual focusing options
+ Ability to code EXIF data to custom lenses
- The eye-level viewfinder was good but not *great*

If you wanted to use the Panasonic / Leica DG lenses as well as others then the Panasonic is better:


+ Much broader supply of auto-focus, auto-aperture Microfourthirds lenses from Panasonic, Olympus, and Leica
+ Ability to mount many more types of lenses (Nikon F, Pentax K, Leica R, C-Mount, original Olympus Pen, etc.)
+ More body options (GH2, G, GF3)
+ GH2 eye-level finder is very good (but not great).

I was also really impressed by the Fuji X100 viewfinder but I want it with an M mount rather than a fixed lens.
I was not so impressed with the Sony NEX but there are many people who like them.
The new Nikon 1 is a failure, I think. The Pentax mini series has some nice 'toy' features.

As for used camera lenses, in USA: KEH camera and B&H camera are the best.

In Japan, my favorites are Camera Alps in Shinjuku and Fujiya in Nakano.

Karen

Am I the last person in the world to realize that DxOMarks has been benchmarking camera sensors for a while?

DxOMarks GH2

Click for the full report.

Now this is measuring just the optical performance of the imaging sensor -- which at this point is not everything. You have to consider the entire camera package and whether it does what you want it to do. For me, the video capabilities of the GH2 outweighed the poorer performance of its imaging sensor.

Darn you Jason Romero.....

Previously, I was content in separating my photography and filmmaking equipment into separate cognitive and physical categories. Still cameras took great photos, but they weren't fit for video work. Video camera took great video, but couldn't take exhibition quality photos. But then Jason had to destabilize that by posing a question about the latest generation of digital cameras.

PanasonicDMC GH2H After much soul searching and time on DPReview and other sites, I've come to the conclusion that there is a 95% solution. It isn't perfect but it's pretty darn close: the Panasonic DMC-GH2H.

It's a micro-four-thirds (MFT) DEVIL (digital electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lens) camera that happens to shoot fantastic 1080p video. I already own a MFT camera, the Panasonic DMC-G10 which I'm fairly pleased with -- especially because I can use all of my classic lenses on it with inexpensive adapters.

But what convinced me that the DMC-GH2 was the 95% holy grail was:


  • External microphone in (albeit 2.5mm) with recording level bars and manual audio level controls. No live monitoring via headphones, though.
  • 1080 / 24p recording. AVCHD at 24 Mbps (which is decent, same as HDV) onto SDHC/SDXC cards.
  • No cap on video clip length, unlike the Canon EOS series. While a 10 minute maximum on video clips is fine for documentary / live action work, it doesn't work for ethnographic video where sometimes you want to document an entire ritual without pause, especially if you a filmmaker+anthropologist at the same time and can't operate the camera when taking notes.
  • Flip out LCD monitor with touch screen. This allows touch-to-focus control and obviates much of my concerns about the SLR form-factor for extended video shooting.
  • Seeing the test video clips (below). Wow.

Here are some clips on Youtube shot with the DMC-GH2. Click on the thumbnails to go to the full-size shots, and watch them in HD. Beautiful.



After helping our intern with our infernal Epson inkjet that kept on jamming on perfectly fine paper, I found this cartoon on Oatmeal that sums up my feelings perfectly. This is just one of the hilarious-but-true panels:


Read more:
http://theoatmeal.com/comics/printers

OlympusLS11.jpg

In my rush to pack for Japan, I forgot to bring my usual digital audio recorder. I decided to pick up a new one in Japan since there were several options that weren't available yet in the United States.

I decided to not go with my previous Roland- Edirol or Samson-Zoom choices. Those companies make great digital recorders designed mainly for studio recording, but I don't need XLR jacks this time around since I'm not shooting any video. My main frustrations  with the R-09 and Zoom H4 as field recorders were their comparatively large size and the short battery life, surely there must be better options now.

Oh, I should note everything I'm mentioning is only available in Japan. I'm not sure when or if they will ever make it to the states.

 


 

Olympus: I first looked at the Olympus Voice Trek data recorder series. These are highly rated by journalists and fieldworkers alike. Many of my graduate students use their sub-$100 series. On the higher end,  I liked the DS-750, it had almost everything I wanted including the ability to recharge its NiMH AAA batteries itself, when plugged into USB.  4GB internal memory, linear PCM 48 kHz / 16 bit recording. The price, Y17,000 or around US$200.

Unfortunately, I'm the type of geekette that always has to have best of class. In the Olympus lineup, that meant the new LS-11 which just came out.  Much better mics than the DS-750, 96 kHz / 24 bit,  more internal memory (8GB) and a wireless remote control. Drool.  Street price, Y36000 or US$400. Gulp.  And while the two AAs would power it for an amazing 22.5 hours, there was no internal recharging capability like the lesser DS-750. Well, harumph.

 


sanyo-icr-ps605rm.jpg

 

Sanyo, which is not known for its audio recorders in the USA, had some very nice models. I wish they sold them in the USA because I think they would be a huge hit among field recorders.  I ended up settling on the newest, latest, biggest, baddest model: the Sanyo Xacti ICR-PS605RM (egad, what a mouthful).

The PS605RM has 6 ... count 'em ... 6 mics.  Four mics in a W-XY configuration and two that are omnidirectional. This allows for a wide variety of recording modes. When recording with the 4 W-XY mics, the frequency range is 40 Hz to an amazing 47,000 Hz -- digitizing at a 96 kHz sampling rate at 16 or 24 bits. Although no one except your dog might be able to hear pure tones above 25 kHz, there is some small evidence that even ordinary people can "sense" such ultrasonic overtones in musical instruments. Total overkill, the way I like it.

Although it doesn't look like it, the PS605RM is actually smaller than the Olympus models and is powered by a single rechargeable AAA battery (enclosed), which keeps it chugging for 26 hours in MP3 mode (15 in linear PCM). Incredible.

No fancy wireless remote, but there is a nice binaural mic option which I'm going to try.

Also, the Xacti can recharge directly from the computer with a slide-out full-size USB A plug. So no cables needed for downloading files or for recharging. The only thing I forget more often than batteries is the darn USB cable, so this is great.  It can also take a 16 GB micro SDHC card if the internal 4GB isn't enough.

It comes in a nice bundle with a windscreen and tripod/clip adapter.

We'll see how it functions in some field tests this summer. I especially want to plan with the binaural mics, since I want to make some recordings that show Tokyo as a blind person would hear it.

The cost was just over Y30,000 or around US$350. A tad expensive. The next lower model was a full Y10,000 cheaper. But it didn't have the Klingon shaver look....

 

p.s. The binaural mic is the Sanyo HM-250 -- around $75 but unfortunately only available... yes... you guessed it... in Japan.

p.p.s. And I haven't forgetten iPhones, more after the jump.

I was recently asked by several people to recommend digital camcorders. While I've previously recommended tape-based HDV camcorders, I'm now recommending SHDC flash memory based camcorders for most people. Flash memory is now very cheap and so is hard drive space.

I personally use a Canon Vixia HF100 high-def digital camcorder to tape meetings and talks here at school.

CanonHF200.jpgThe current model is the HF200 which is listed at around $750. You also have to budget for a
16 gigabyte SD card ($50~), tripod ($100), and microphone ($50).

http://www.usa.canon.com/consumer/controller?act=ModelInfoAct&fcategoryid=177&modelid=17994

If your budget is less, then I think the Canon Vixia FS21 at $400 would be
just fine. You lose high-def but if you're just uploading to the web,
then high-def is overkill. You'd still need to get an 8 gigabyte SD
card, tripod, and mic.

http://www.usa.canon.com/consumer/controller?act=ModelInfoAct&fcategoryid=2544&modelid=18057

Be sure to buy a good tripod as most cheap tripods have plastic heads that herk-and-jerk when you try to pan or tilt. If you've ever used a good fluid head, it's hard to go back to el-cheapo tripod. Personally, i wouldn't touch a tripod under $300, but I realize that's not in most people's budgets.

The AVC format that these cameras used makes it fairly easy to dump the video to your harddrive and then onto a DVD for archival purposes. AVC isn't terribly great for intensive editing since it's highly compressed, but it's not terrible either with today's fast CPUs.

dictate.jpg
I just received my new copy of MacSpeech Dictate, version 1.5. I have to say that I'm impressed. Although I was not happy about the $50 upgrade fee, the accuracy of the speech recognition is much improved. You can guess of course, that I am typing this using the speech recognition software. So far there have been no errors in recognition.

Yes, this is how it should have been from the very beginning. Now, you can spell out names using the international radio alphabet (foxtrot alpha!). However, I found that this doesn't work perfectly, for example I have to type f-o-x-t-r-o-t a-l-p-h-a because I could not get MacSpeech to recognize when I wanted letters and when I wanted words.

Also, training new words,isn't as easy as Dragon Naturally Speaking. You can't just say "correct that." You have to train new words individually in a separate panel. Also because there is no "correct that" command, it can be frustrating when the speech recognition does actually make a mistake.

The overall verdict so far after my short time testing it is that the basic speech recognition is improved greatly. The ability to add the words is fantastic, although he should have been in the original release. However the inability to correct words on the fly is a huge impediment and limits the ultimate usability of this program.

Overall, I'm glad to see some improvement being made in it, and I hope that they continue to work on further. Perhaps one more release and it will be at the level where Dragon Naturally Speaking was five years ago.

One of my colleagues asked for a recommendation for a digital video camera for the field. I recommended against getting a Mini-DV or HV camcorder and instead going all digital with a flash (SDHC) based camcorder:
canon-hf10-1.jpg


These days, instead of using tape, I recommend going all digital. That way, you can simply dump the video files to your PC and don't have to bother digitizing them. You will need a large hard drive, but a 500 gigabyte pocket hard drive is cheap and fits in your laptop bag easily.


I recommend these models:

  • Canon Vixia HF-10 or HF-100 (this is the one I use)
  • Sanyo Xacti (small, handheld, the microphone isn't as good on this, but size is excellent)

Be sure to get a large SD card -- at least 4 gigabytes. Eight or 16 gigabytes is preferable.

Karen

Do you think this was good advice? Please post any suggestions or comments (or questions)!


Equipment: Canon A-1 SLR

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It's been a very long while since I posted a classic camera review but I bought a Canon A-1 over the weekend at an antique mall. I haven't finished my first roll yet, but I'm very impressed by its handling. It's a considerably better camera than the Canon AE-1 Program that I used to own.

The link to the review is: http://www.photoethnography.com/ClassicCameras/CanonA1.html

Comments more than welcome!

Looks like Edirol came out with a hardware update to the R-09 when I wasn't looking: http://www.edirol.net/products/en/R-09HR/

What's new, I can't really tell but it looks like it has better internal mics, a wireless remote (no more keypress fumbling sounds), 96 khz resolution on the top end, and a preview speaker.

Oh, here's a comparison of the two on Roland's page: http://www.roland.com/faq/en/R-09HR/R-09HR_Comparison.htm

Battery life appears to be the same which is a letdown. Surely they could've fixed that! All in all, important fixes for someone looking to buy a new flash recorder but not enough to entice be to replace my current one.

There's a more positive review of the Leica M8 by photojournalist Bruno Stevens:

Not withstanding all its technical qualities, the best point of the M8 is that it is a true M Leica. The ability to shoot discreetly in a crowd, to be inconspicuous on a street, and finally to point a small innocent-looking camera in the face of the people you photograph instead of a big black brick, the ability to see 'over' the frames of your pictures in the clear viewfinder, the incredibly small size and weight of a system such as described above (just ONE spare lens for four focal lengths) makes the M8 an absolute winner in my view.

Read more: http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0709/camera-corner-the-leica-m8-on-assignment.html

The difference I think is that Stevens mostly worked in B&W which mitigates the most serious flaws that Kamber raised.

Photojournalist Michael Kamber gives the Leica M8 a realworld fieldtest in Iraq. His conclusions are pretty negative:

The Leica M3 of the 1950’s was an instant success, not because Leica held to quaint design and outdated technology (i.e. the M8’s removable bottom plate) in a misplaced effort to attract classicists, but because they used new technology to build a camera that was on the cutting edge of its time. The M8, in contrast, is years behind other cameras—a photojournalist’s tool that cannot white balance, consistently expose a picture or deliver reasonable low-light performance--and one which has poorly designed controls.

As I said earlier, I do not write this because I dislike Leica, quite the opposite. I have used their cameras for 23 years and invested tens of thousands of dollars in their products. When working in war zones, however, my first rule is to eradicate all the uncertainties from my kit. There are enough uncertainties when the shooting starts. The M8 introduces numerous uncertainties into the photography equation. For a working photojournalist in a combat situation, I would judge the Leica M8 to be unusable.

Read rest of article: http://web.mac.com/kamberm/Leica_M8_Field_Test,_Iraq/Page_1.html

HellFreezesOver: My Eee PC

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P1020200.JPGIt's official, hell has frozen over and I've bought a Windows XP legtop. I've been wanting an ultra-mobile PC for a while, Apple was dragging its feet on the rumored iTablet (I don't like tablet computing anyway), and it didn't look like the iPhone or other smartphone was going to cut it for Real Work™. Meanwhile there's been a lot of activity on the Windows/Linux side with the OLPC initative, the Intel Classmate, and now the Asus Eee PC.

Back in the US this week for the AAAs, I decided to pick up an Eee PC 701 for $399 and loaded it up with 1 gigabyte of DDR2 ram and a 16 gigabyte SDHC card for storage. Yale has a site-license for XP so I installed that instead of the default Xandros Linux. Why? Because there is some Japanese software/hardware (namely the new portable ScanSnap 300 that I want to run that only works with Windows (not Wine, I tried).

The Eee is quite a marvel, tiny compared to my PowerBook G4 15" above (click on the photo to enlarge it) -- but still usable. I bought a Zaurus two years ago as my UMPC and its keyboard killed me. I'm hoping that the Eee PC will be the ideal field machine. You can touch type on it, it is extremely lightweight and small, it has no moving parts (solid state memory disks only), is totally silent, and reasonably fast.

Skype works great, especially video skype with the built-in webcam. Thunderbird and Firefox are snappy. I installed StarOffice which seems to work fine -- I'll try Office 2007 next week and let you know how it goes.

PlanexGW-US54GD.jpgI travel quite a bit with my laptop and am always on the lookout for open access points to check my mail. It's a bit of a pain to dig out my PowerBook only to find out there's nothing in range.

I've been interested in the Planex GW-US54GD WiFi Dongle / Detector / Access Point for a while, but it used to cost around ¥8000 or around USD$75 which was a bit rich for such a gadget. I found it recently on sale for ¥2980 ($25) at a store in Kyoto, so I picked one up. The Japanese name of the product is 電波男 (Dempa Otoko or Wave Man -- a pun on the otaku film/novel 電車男 (Densha Otoko or Train Man).

ZoomH4Controls.jpgI've been recording some Ainu music and dance performances on the side. I needed a second mic unit, so I bought the Samson Zoom H4 to complement my current Edirol R-09. I was waiting for the H2, but its ship date seems to have been pushed back to late August. The H4 was ¥27620 or approximately $230 by mail order.

Here are my preliminary thoughts on the Zoom H4:

Size: The unit is much bigger than I thought, the H4 seems almost twice the size of the R-09. It seems needlessly large, as though they could have reduced it to half the length if they wanted to.

External Mics: The H4 seems to have excellent sound recording when using an external XLR mic such as my Sennheiser ME64. The preamps are very quiet. The H4 supplies true +48V phantom power (+24V selectable) to the mic. One thing that seems odd is that I haven't found how to make the unit record in mono if there is only one mic attached.

Internal mics: Preliminary tests suggest that the internal X-Y configuration condensers are quite sensitive and separation is quite good. However, the internal pre-amps have a considerably higher noise floor compared to my Sennheiser ME64 condenser mic when plugged into the external XLR jack of the H4. Also, I'm very surprised that the internal mics on the H4 don't have any type of shock mounting. This means that any button press or even the faint sound of your hand sliding on the unit body gets transmitted to the mics. I would have liked to have seen the internal mics at least a little more isolated from the case.

Recording Mode Selection: I like the easy one-button selection and display of the current recording type (MP3 / WAV), bitrate, and bit depth. I switch between using MP3 compressed formats and uncompressed WAV files depending on what I'm recording. This requires going through a menu structure on the R-09 but only one-click on the H4.

Levels / Attenuation: You can't change the sound levels / attenuation without going first to the input menu, selecting levels, and then clicking through a couple more items. All of these button clicks are transmitted to the internal mics and to your recording. I would've preferred a simple one-button level control as on the R-09.

Lack of peak meter: The R-09 has a separate peak LED that lights when the recording levels are too high and are clipping. While the H4 has level meters, they aren't always visible and it's not easy to tell when it is clipping.

Batteries: Battery life is about 4 hours with two alkaline AAs. The H4 does not officially support NiCad/NiMH rechargeable batteries. Exacerbating the lack of support for rechargeables, it does not have a battery level meter, so you can't tell if your batteries are good or half-finished. Also, the H4 can't turn itself off if you leave it on by mistake. The R-09 supports NiMH and alkalin, has a battery meter, and can turn itself off when unusued.

Accessories: The Zoom comes with a tripod adapter, wind shield, and thin case. The Edirol doesn't come with any of these. Unfortunately, the Zoom's tripod adapter has no shock mounting and since the internal mics are also not shock mounted, any vibration coming through the tripod mount will show up in the recording.

DMC-LX2.jpgOne of the doctoral students asked me in May which digital camera he should get for his summer predissertation fieldwork. He was leaning towards getting a digital SLR but I suggested he instead look at high-end compact digital point-and-shoots -- specifically the ones in the 8-10 megapixel and $400-600 range. He ended up getting the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2.

Just as I believe that film rangefinders are superior to film SLRs for ethnographic work because of their portability and inconspiciousness, I think the high-end compact digital camera has now come of age. They now have just as many megapixels as their dSLR brethren and if the engineers can work on the noise reduction of high-ISO images just a little bit more (and put back in optical viewfinders), they'll be perfect.

Fast forward a month later and I'm in Japan looking at the various options for my own fieldwork this summer and fall. After a couple of hours playing with the various cameras at Yodobashi Camera in Umeda (Osaka Station), I ended up choosing the same camera -- the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2. Here are the things that I particularly like about it:
Kudo.jpg

  • 16:9 frame format (4:3 and 3:2 selectable)
  • 24mm equivalent on the widest angle, about 100 mm on the tele
  • 10 megapixels
  • SDHC compatible -- I bought an 8 gigabyte SDHC card for it
  • Movie format (MJPEG)

There's some shutter lag, but if you prefocus you can take sports photographs with a little practice (see photograph of one of my informants playing ball). I'm also playing with the movie mode and finding it isn't nearly as unusable as I thought it'd be.

Now the big news is that the new Mac OS 10.4.10 update now supports the Lumix RAW format of the LX2. I'm storing all my fieldwork photographs in Apple Aperture and using its powerful organizing indexing functions.

MS Mouse 8000.jpgI bought the Microsoft Wireless Notebook Presenter Mouse 8000 the other day. I'm quite fond of Microsoft input devices, I have their USB keyboard / mouse combination at work and at home. I bought the Presenter 8000 because I'm giving a lot of talks and I thought a little presenter mouse would be good. The 8000 operates normally as a 4 button scroll-tilt mouse, but then it also has presenter buttons on the underside.

It's a bluetooth mouse so I thought I would be able to just use my internal bluetooth drivers on my Mac PowerBook G4. Unfortunately while most of Microsoft's mice are totally Mac-compliant, the 8000 doesn't properly register itself as a Bluetooth mouse and you need to hack it somewhat to get the Mac to recognize it. I found the solution on Mac Rumors: http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=249841&page=2 in a posting by viper0440 (scroll midway down).

There's a very nice review of the new Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1 ballhead on the-digital-picture.com:

For many years, the Arca-Swiss B1 Ballhead was the standard by which all other ballheads were judged. The Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1 Ballhead replaces this model and delivers the same performance in a smaller size and at a significantly lower price. There is not much to dislike about this change.

The reviewer compares it against the old standard, the Arca-Swiss B1 (which I have and love and review here on my website) as well as the Really Right Stuff BH-55.

Read more....

spiderbrace.jpg Jason Romero sent me a link to the BoingBoing blog entry about a review of the SpiderBrace on CoolTools. This is not a bad looking brace and the price is right ($70), but I'd have some concerns using it with my Canon XL-H1:

  • Both forearms getting tired since it doesn't look like it redistributes any more weight to your back rather than to your arms
  • Lack of camcorder controls at your fingertips

From the picture, the Spiderbrace really seems designed for the new HDV mid-size camcorders that are coming out rather than full-size HDV camcorders like the XL-H1.

samson_h4.jpgGizmodo blogs about the new Samson Zoom H-4 field recorder, which seems extremely promising. At only $300, it is about $100 less expensive than either the Edirol R-09 (which is what I have) or the Microtrack 24/96 (which is very popular). The interface for the Samson looks absolutely fantastic and it has two XLR balanced inputs, which none of its competitors have.

The mike placement of the Samson is a spitting image of the Sony PCM-D1, which costs about $2000. The X-Y configuration is designed to give you a better sound field by reducing the possibility of the stereo mics being out of phase with each other.

Samson's product home page is here and they also have a copy of the manual online, which gives some of its specs. After the jump is a comparison of the Samson H4 against the Edirol R-09. The main defect that I can see is the lack of a time/date stamp on the files. This makes it much harder to use as a field recorder -- or as the audio component of a dual-system video recorder.

I'm thinking of picking one up as it seems very promising. No one has it in stock yet though. There are also only a few reviews online, but check the video review on Neo-Fight.tv.

After much vacillating, I decided to get the Edirol R-09 digital recorder to record audio in the field. The other choice was the MicroTrack 24/96. The R-09 and the MicroTrack are almost identical in size, weight, and price. See my previous blog entries on this topic (here or here or here). The main factors were:


  • Replaceable AA batteries rather than proprietary
  • Built-in mic (one less thing to lose)
  • Time/date stamping

There are some notes and a more extensive chart comparing the two after the jump.


Core-Sound.com has a comprehensive review of various flash-memory based field recorders. They cover the: CoreSound PDAudio, Marantz PMD670, Marantz PMD671, Sound Devices 722, Fostex FR-2, M-Audio MicroTrack 24/96, Edirol R-1.

Now, CoreSound makes the PDAudio, so take some of their qualitative comments with a grain of salt. It's also considerably more expensive than the other solutions at around $1500. Check my older blog articles on field recorders.

StudioDaily.com has a review by Bruce Johnson of the Canon XL-H1 camera:

While Canon has turned out dozens of great still cameras and lenses over the years, when the DV revolution came about the company was relatively unknown in the video world. Canon’s consumer cameras were a mixed lot — anyone remember the original ZR? Now that was weird. And even when the XL1 came out, it certainly wasn’t perfect. I ought to know, I bought one and own it to this day. But give Canon credit, it was committed to fixing its problems and improving the camera. Learning from its fixes on the XL1, many additions and modifications on the XL1s, and many more on the XL2, which I also own, here comes Canon again with the XL H1. It’s no exaggeration to declare it a worthy successor to its older siblings.

I've reviewed the XL-H1 here too. And in other news, the new version of Apple Final Cut Studio 5.1 is supposed to support 24P/30P on the XL-H1, although I don't see it on their Qualified Devices list.

As usual, DPReview.com is the first to break the story on the new Canon EOS 30D being released at PMA. It's basically an updated 20D with the exact same CMOS sensor -- the only changes are a slightly larger LCD, slight modification of the body (to make it feel closer to the 5D), and ... (drum roll please) .... spot metering.

Price looks like it'll be around $1300. I'm only slightly excited about this -- the mods are so small that they should have just called it the 20D Mark II and not get us all confused with the much older EOS D30.

David Pogue reviews the Sanyo Xacti HD1 for the NYTimes. Registration required and it will not stay up for very long, so read it quickly!

The HD1 is a solid-state (flash memory card) 720p camcorder that will retail around $800. Battery life is only an hour, a 2-giga SD card only holds 28 minutes at max quality, and Pogue makes it seem that there are considerable tradeoffs in terms of image quality as well. Well, it's a version 1.0. We can all hope that the Xacti HD2 will fix all the bugs of its predecessor.

VideoSystems.com has a review of the newly announced Panasonic HVX-200 high-definition camcorder. It uses the P2 solid-state memory cards in lieu of HDV tapes. The specs: 1080p @ 60p with RGB4:4:4... All for only $6000 (albeit the P2 cards are going to bankrupt you).

SonyHDR-HC3.jpgInformation and specs on the newest Sony HDV camcorder - the HDR-HC3 - have been leaked on CamcorderInfo.com. The new HC-3 appears to be a new lower-end consumer version of the wildly popular HC-1 model. The HC-3 looks like it will have less pixels, is smaller, and won't have as many manual controls. The killer for independent filmmakers is the lack of external microphone and headphones jacks, as well as no way to adjust the shutter speed.

Adam Wilt reviews four HDV camcorders on DV.com (registration required): the Canon XL H1, JVC GY-HD100U, Panasonic AG-HVX200, and the Sony HVR-Z1U:

The Canon XL H1 was the resolution champ amongst the 1/3" cameras, with a crisper, visibly more detailed image than its compatriots. To my eye it showed slightly more noise than the HVX200, with the noise being a fine-grained luma noise compared to the HVX200's slightly softer, more chroma-oriented noise. I preferred the Canon's noise signature as being less video-like, but Barry preferred the HVX's noise for exactly the same reason--you'll want to judge for yourself. In any case, there was potential to reduce the visible noise in the Canon's image that we didn't explore; we'll have to do that in a later test.

The Canon clipped highlights a bit more harshly than the HVX did; it was comparable to the Sony as best I remember. Again, had we set the Canon's knee to "low", we might have eked out a small increment in usable highlight detail; how much so I can't say. Something else to test on another day...

Rant: MacBookPro == iBook?

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The new Intel-powered Apple MacBookPros seem very tempting on the surface for photographers and videographers. They have brighter screens and are rated for 2-3x the speed of the Motorola-powered PowerBook G4s. Intel versions of FinalCutPro are due in March.

However, from my own personal perspective, the new MacBookPros are more akin to iBooks than to PowerBooks. In particular, they are missing certain essential professional features:


  • Two FireWire ports/channels. The new units only have one FireWire 400 port. They need at least two ports so that you can connect an external FireWire drive on one channel and a DV/HDV camera on the other in order to capture video. With only one channel, that means the external drive has to be USB2.0 which is not as suitable for video work. Theoretically you could use the ExpressCard/34 to add another FireWire port, but these are supposed to be professional machines, right?
  • 1080i/p incompatibility. Apple should have increased the pixel density so that the new (brighter) screens were 1080 pixels in height, rather than reducing them to 900 pixels which will mean that 1080i/1080p playback is squished and not pixel accurate (which makes gauging critical focus difficult).
  • ExpressCard/34 which is only 34mm in width. I don't mind the switch from PCMCIA but they needed to use the wider ExpressCard/54 standard so that you can have a CompactFlash adapter that fits into the internals of the computer. With the smaller /34 standard, you have to have an easily lost external dongle for CompactFlash. This is a major bummer for professional photographers.
  • The name stinks.

I'll wait until the next iteration to upgrade from my current 15" PowerBook G4.

Link: DVEStore Theatre

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The DVEStore has a product review section that is quite unique -- all of the reviews are QuickTime movies. This of course makes sense since we're talking about video equipment.

Pete's ScratchPad has a great geeky review of the Canon XL-H1, testing it against motion artifacting as well as the SD lenses (older 20X and 3X). He kindly provides some MPEGs as well as frame grabs and lens tests.

HDForIndies has a very negative review of a screening of some XL-H1 footage by Canon. Apparently there were some problems with the 24F demo that Canon is providing so it may not be representative.

My own complaint? The Canon XL-H1 uses center-weighted metering for motion video. It has a tendency to overexpose and given the sensor's tendency to bloom, this is a Bad Thing. I found myself having to dial back the aperture during the conference yesterday. Also, the little $1600 Sony has a live histogram, the $9000 Canon doesn't?

John Jackman gives an extensive user-based review of the Sony HVR-Z1U (a HDV camcorder) in action. He shot a short historical drama in the Sony's 1080-50i and then converted to 24 fps for final output to film. The review has extensive notes about the ergonomics and performance of the Z1 and a critique of the final output by professional DPs. Interestingly, he didn't choose to use the Z1's 24F mode due to the image degradation and artifacting that Adam Wilt has written about, instead using the PAL 50i and converting to 24P.



On Friday, UPS had a large box for me - the Canon XL-H1 that I have had on back-order from B&H for the past month finally arrived! It's arriving just on the nick of time, I'm leaving Tuesday for a 3-week field trip to Japan. I was just about to cancel with B&H when they told me that they had shipped. I don't usually like taking untested equipment to the field, so I'm bringing along my Sony HDR-HC1 as a backup and second camera.

Judging from the serial number, I think I have one of the first 100 units in the United States. Here are some of my notes after using the camera for the last 24 hours. Feel free to post questions and I'll try to respond as best that I can (it may be delayed since I'll be in the field starting from Tuesday).


Read for further comments on the camera and its use.

ArsTechnica has an excellent in-depth review of Apple's new Aperture program for digital photographers. It looks like it's definitely a version 1.0 program, hopefully Apple can resolve all of the issues for the 1.1 release.

I checked out the M-Audio Microtrack 24/96 today at my local Sam Ash. Looks like a nice unit, very small. I think it's overpriced at $400, maybe $250 is closer to what it should be worth. The definite downer for me is that it uses a proprietary Lithium-Ion battery. If you're in the field and you run out of batteries, then you're screwed unless you can recharge it (AC or USB). I'd prefer something that I can feed NiMH AA batteries into in a pinch. :-(

Replacing the LithiumIon will cost $75 + shipping, via Maudio. I do like the little mike they provide, although I wish it was built-in and not a separate unit as I know I'll forget to bring it to an interview if I got this unit. I have some further thoughts on other field recorders by Marantz and Edirol after the jump.

Link: HD for Indies

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I found a blog called HDforIndies.com which is an equipment review/discussion site for independent filmmakers. It's a wealth of information on DV/HDV and recording equipment. The only problem is that I can't get Netnewswire to subscribe to their RSS feed -- it keeps asking for a username/password. I'm not sure if this is a bug on the HDforIndies site or in Netnewswire. Can someone try to subscribe using another program?

ef_24~105_4lis_usm.jpgLuminous Landscape has a wonderful review of the new Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS lens. It sounds like a winner, except for the slightly increased barrel distortion. Contrast and resolution apparently is higher. The new lens was released this October and has the new 3-stop IS; increased weatherproofing; increased contrast/stray-light control; and features 18 optical elements (3 aspherical) in 13 groups.

I have the old EF 28-70mm f/2.8 L lens and while I'm generally happy with it, it does suffer slightly wide open at wide angles in the corners. I was thinking of replacing it with the new 24-70mm L lens, but for fieldwork, it looks like the 24-105mm f/4 L IS is a better choice since it is smaller (83.5mm Dx 107mm L), lighter (670g), and has longer range. The MSRP is ¥145,000, B&H has it for $1249.

The buzz on the EOS mailing list is the significant vignetting in the corners seen on wide angle shots at open apertures with the new full-frame Canon EOS 5D. William Coburn was kind enough to show an example using a 20mm lens at f/2.8 versus f/5.6: http://infohost.nmt.edu/~schlake/5d/2point8vs5point6.jpg

Now, some of this is undoubtedly due to the lens itself (most wide-angles suffer from corner darkening at full apertures), but digital sensors are susceptible to more vignetting (or more accurate, light-falloff) with wide-angle lenses* due to their surface microlens design. I decided to hold off buying the 5D until I had gotten more user reports and I'm glad to have done so. Let's see how this shakes out.

* The Epson R-D1 digital rangefinder camera has a software tool to reduce vignetting because of this problem. And people with Photoshop CS/CS2 can correct this in the RAW plugin too.

HDR-HC1.jpgCamcorderInfo.com has a very extensive review of the new sub-$2000 Sony high-definition camcorder, the HDR-HC1. This is one of several new consumer/prosumer high-definition video (HDV) camcorders on the market. The high-end is defined by the Sony HDR-FX1, which is a fantastic $4000 HD unit that really opened up the market to prosumers. JVC also has two camcorders aimed for the prosumer/consumer markets: the GR-HD1 and the JY-HD10U. There's a nice comparison of the high-end Sony vs. JVC on HDVinfo.net.

I'm still recovering from the two week field trip to Tokyo, Akita, and Hokkaido that I took a few weeks ago. I've finally finished processing and scanning the film, but haven't gotten around to organizing the some 50 gigabytes of data. I'll be posting a full gallery from the trip to this blog, here's a sneak preview:

This is from the disability protest organized by several groups on May 12, 2005. This particular photograph is of Hiroko Nakamura (no relation), the head of the Center for Independent Living in Matsue (Shimane Prefecture), reading a statement to the representatives of the Lower House of Parliament. Taken with a Leica M7 and 35mm f/2 Zeiss Biogon on Fuji Acros 100 film

Revisiting the EF 100-300mm f/5.6 L: Although I rarely use super-telephoto zooms in my work, once in a while I have an assignment where I need one. I was disappointed with the optical performance of the 75-300 IS and sold it a few years ago, but the classic 100-300 f/5.6 L was available at a very reasonable price at a used camera store in Japan, so I recently bought it. The following is my review of this excellent little lens that was first introduced in 1987.

What happens when you pump up a wimpy SLR full of steroids and protein drinks? You get the beast from the east, the former soviet-union Kiev 60 medium format SLR. You really need to see this camera against something like an Olympus OM. It's easily four times the size and most probably five times the weight of its Japanese rival.

Greg W. has written a Kiev 60 SLR fan site. He unabashedly calls it the "best page around for the Kiev 60 camera." I'm not sure about that, but it is definitely in the top five. There's a ton of useful information and some startlingly good photographs. It almost makes one rethink their elitist loyalty to German and Swedish cameras.

From Nuts & Bolts by Bill Pierce - The Leica, the SLR, and the Eye of the Photographer - The Digital Journalist:

"Last month I mentioned that Dirck sent a number of us an email about the two 35-MM still cameras that he uses on assignment, the Leica rangefinder, and the Canon EOS. I was bowled over by the simple intelligence of his comments. I think most of us are used to being told, 'The new Whamoflex is the best camera in the world, and anybody who uses anything else is an ass.' Of course, it isn't true. No single tool is the best in the world. Try building a house using just a hammer. 

The Leica and the EOS are a relatively popular combination. They are very different cameras that don't step on each others toes. Each outperforms the other in specific situations. "

(Via The Leica Users Group.)

MacWorld has a "first look" preview of Adobe Photoshop CS2: "Photoshop CS2 includes a bunch of powerful new filters and editing tools, tighter integration with and support for Illustrator graphics, support for 32-bit images, and significant improvements to its camera RAW workflow."

Adobe has the officially Photoshop CS2 page online now.

Digital Camera Watch (Japan): Cosina/Carl Zeiss T* Biogon 35mm F2: ""

The Japanese online magazine DC Watch has posted an extensive hands-on review of the Carl Zeiss T* Biogon 35mm F2 using the Epson R-D1 digital rangefinder. This follows their earlier review of the Planar 50mm f/2. I've posted a rough translation of the salient points of the biogon review below. This lens is just becoming available in Japan, I've already received a phone call letting me know my pre-order has been filled by Map Camera in Shinjuku.

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