Sunday, November 12, 2017

iPhone X

iPhone X. My home screen.I’ve only had iPhone X for 5 days and I already have a number of thoughts with regards to it that I want to jot down. But the short summary is that I love it. Such a big leap forward for me personally going to iPhone X from iPhone 6S.

Pre-Order


First — a couple of words on my pre-order ordeal. Things did not go as have envisioned them. I woke up at 2:55am to get ready for 3am pre-order process. I was planning to go with Apple’s upgrade program that has no additional costs and allows for an upgrade to the next phone by trading in your old one. I don’t think I would need to upgrade in a year, but it was nice to have an option since it doesn’t cost anything extra.

Back side.I tried using Apple Store app which worked very well in previous years. The store came up soon enough after 3am, I saw a phone that I wanted available to be delivered by November 3rd — first day — and the first couple of steps worked fine. I even didn’t get stuck on AT&T verification. However in order to get approved for Apple upgrade program one has to fill out a good deal of financial information to get credit verified.

And that’s where all the problems started. I had to fill in all this stuff numerous times and it kept failing to get to the next step. Eventually the delivery time slipped to 1-2 weeks and then to 2-3 weeks. In the end it said that all the information was accepted, but I would have to wait for an email with-in 8 hours that would provide me with further information. I tried going trough the process a couple of times more, but was not able to reach the final step at all.

When I saw the delivery time-frame slipping I decided to check what was happening at AT&T. Instead of being to do a pre-order there I was placed into some virtual queue which said that I had 30-40 minutes wait time — never seen anything like that. Anyhow, I apparently left this page open and when all my attempts over at Apple have failed I looked at this page and I had 3 minutes of queue left. So I ended up placing an order after 4am through AT&T which claimed that I would get my phone on November 3rd. In exactly the configuration that I wanted.

Lock screen.It seemed really iffy to me since the delivery time-frame on Apple’s site has gone to 5-6 weeks by then. But what do you know — I did get my phone on November 3rd, as promised. I guess everyone had to go through a similar AT&T queue and as a result the stock wasn’t sold out as quickly. First time I ordered an Apple product through AT&T and it worked out just fine.

And in the morning I did get an email from Apple saying that they couldn’t verify my information after all and I should try placing an order again. Glad I ordered via AT&T as a backup.

The Phone


I have purchased an iPhone X in silver with 256GB of storage. Initially I was going to go with 64GB as my current phone is, but then I thought that I actually like not having to remove photographs from my phone. And it didn’t make a big difference on monthly basis over the course of 2 year loan.

iPhone X. HealthView app.The phone is gorgeous. Silver back, completely black front, and shiny stainless steel sides. There is no visible separation between thin bezels and the screen on the front. It’s all 100% black. Same as on Apple Watch with OLED screen the display itself is indistinguishable from the rest of the glass. The only time when the screen actually shows is when it’s in a very bright sun.

The phone is too good looking to put into a case of any kind and I haven’t used cases since the very first phone I had because of the added bulk. But this phone being as expensive as it is I’ve bought into Apple Care Plus program for the first time for some insurance, just in case — but that’s yet another $200.

Some Specifics


The first most obvious thing is the lack of home button and Touch-ID along with it. The phone can be woken up by pressing sleep-wake side button or by simply tapping on the screen — à la Apple Watch. The swipe up gesture that replaces the click of a home button feels great. I somehow didn’t even notice any kind of re-learning process. It just felt right from the start. And it actually feels like a much more natural alternative to a physical and somewhat wobbly button of my 6S.

Ilya. Stage Light mode when it works looks great.Beside the regular swipe-up to go to home screen the bar can be swiped from side to side to switch between recently used apps. They stay in the queue in the same order that they have been opened in. So I can open Overcast, then open Waze and the swipe from left to right will bring me back to Overcast. And the next swipe from right to left will bring me back to Waze. Very convenient. The Control Center however has been moved to the very top right corner of the screen. I wasn’t using it often, but the new location it’s not ideal.

The notch turned out to be a non-issue. When you look at screenshots of the phone the notch seems to be the only thing that your eyes run to. When I use the phone — I don’t notice it at all — I’m looking at a gorgeous screen and the content displayed on it. Notch is just sitting up there, not being annoying. And even the bottom aligning of status bar elements doesn’t seem to bother me as it id on the screenshots.

The size of the screen is very pleasant. The actual phone is slightly bigger then the regular model of 6, 6S, 7 and 8. The screen itself is the size of those phones. It fits comfortably enough in my pockets and has a screen that is bigger than one on the Plus phones. And it’s an OLED screen which looks good enough — not that LCDs looked bad either. The best thing is the deep blacks that match the rest of the glass — when an app hasn’t been updated to fit on iPhone X it just looks like your holding an older black 6S-like phone. The only give-away is the lit up icons on the top and home indicator on the bottom.

Face-ID


So much fuss was made of Face-ID and fears of losing Touch-ID and it was all for nothing. Face-ID really just works. It actually makes the phone feel like there is no lock of any kind of it. You just use it as you normally would and Face-ID just does it’s thing. So it should be treated as if just didn’t exist at all.

Arosha. Portrait mode.The place where I can actually observe its speed is on locked apps such as 1Password. It authenticates you via Face-ID and it takes a fraction of a second — 2nd generation Touch-ID was probably faster, but here you don’t have to place a finger over a button or do anything at all. Totally acceptable.

In addition to all that there are several interesting things that Apple is dong with it. I had my previews of notifications disabled on all my phones for security reasons — you don’t want somebody to see a confirmation code that might come to you via an SMS message for example. So notifications of certain things were just not very useful. Now all the notification previews are off by default, but once the phone sees YOU — the owner — looking at the screen they just unroll and show the preview — great.

I also noticed that if the phone call comes through and you happen to be looking at the phone the ring comes through with a very low volume — if you’re not looking at it, it’s very loud. And another thing is that the phone no longer dims its screen if you looking at it.

Artur. My barber, portrait mode.Face-ID seems to a little less reliable in very bright sun light. It seems to take a little bit longer to work it’s magic in this specific case. But on the other hand even when the phone is mounted on the dash of my car and I’m off center it works just fine. And it does work through my sunglasses and my beard doesn’t scare it either.

Restore Process


I’ve been using iCloud backups to move over to new phones since the time it was possible. This time I did the same thing. And after everything was restored and all the passwords have been entered I was dismayed to find out that none of my Activity Achievements that I’ve been collecting over the past two and a half years have been unlocked, even though all the health data and filled in rings have been ported just fine.

Aleksey. Portrait mode.Luckily I haven’t dismantled my 6S yet. So I hooked it up to iTunes and made an encrypted backup from it. Then I restarted the whole setup process and restored from this iTunes backup. Luckily everything came back up correctly. Phew. And I didn’t have to re-enter all the passwords either. I’m probably going to stick to this process, although it’s a scary prospect if iCloud backup doesn’t get some things right, since that really is the process that I rely on in case something happens to the phone itself.

The Cameras


Now this is the crowning jewel of iPhone X. This is THE MAIN reason why I wanted to get my hands on this phone as soon as possible — a camera system that can measure depth and fit into my pocket at the same time. Like the saying goes — the best camera is the one that you have with you — and I always have my phone with me. And having as advanced of a camera system as this one on a phone is amazing for somebody who takes as many pictures with the phone as I do.

I love what Apple is doing on the software side to overcome the limitation of physics and tiny lenses. The portrait process with blurred background works really well. I do notice that it makes small mistakes here and there, but in most cases it does great. What separates iPhone X from iPhone 8 Plus is also the fact that you can take selfies in portrait mode as well thanks to the array of sensors in the notch. It has same issues though as Face-ID does with a bright sun light.

Home screen.Blog. New phone call indicator.Have a double optical zoom on a phone is also incredibly useful. I never use digital zoom that was available for a while on iOS since it just ruins the photo quality, so it might as well just not be there. But optical 2x zoom — perfect.

The different lightning modes that Apple is doing by using the depth information is also pretty great. I really like Studio Light and Contour Light modes. Stage Light — all black background — though doesn’t work as well yet. In certain conditions it does wonders, but most of the time it just ruins the photograph. Luckily all these things can be adjust in the post-processing on the phone since all the depth information is stored along with the photo.

Yesterday we went over to Coney Island with the family and I took a good number of photographs. So there is a good collection of samples. I did put them through my normal post-processing steps in Photoshop, but this is the first set of phone photographs that are actually good enough initially to go through that.

Issues


I’ve ran into a weird issue where my Automatic Pro OBD scanner in the car seems to cause Bluetooth interference which affects the call quality when it goes through the car audio system. I’m going to create a ticket on Autmatic’s site to see if they have any suggestions, but for now I had to unplug it from the car — annoying. Worked just fine with iPhone 6S.

Another thing I already mentioned — bright sunlight degrades the performance of the front sensors. It hasn’t been annoying yet, but we’ll if it becomes that as the time goes by.

Waze. Dark theme.Weather Line. Hasn't yet been updated for iPhone X app.While OLED screens do have their benefits burn-in is a thing. I keep Waze running for long periods of time — 3+ hours per day on my commute and I don’t know how it will affect the screen. I switch Waze into dark theme, which I like less, but now I have to be thinking about preserving the screen. The time will show how it holds up.

And the last issue that I think will go away — I have a little bit of pain between my thumb and the rest of my fingers that seems to be caused by the fact that I have to reach to the bottom of the screen and swipe up to use home indicator in place of a button. Again, hope my hand will just get used to it and the pain will go away.

Conclusion


Overall I’m very happy with this upgrade. Older phones somehow look very dated very quickly after using this new phone. The new one is just so much better in so many respects. As I said at the start — so far I’m loving it.
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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

iPhone 6

iPhone 6.It’s been more than a month now since I’ve gotten a new iPhone and I wanted to jot down my views and impressions to this point. This is not really a review, but a story about my personal usage of hardware and software that is available on iOS. I’ll start with the fact that I’ve bought iPhone 6 (4.7″ version) with 64GB1 (16GB was getting tight) in white. I just like to alternate my colors and I think this one looks particularly great in white.

Form Factor


As we all know this is the first time that Apple has released two new iPhones at the same time2 — iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Right from the start I knew that 5.5″ iPhone is not for me. I wasn’t quite sure how happy the fact that I had to go from 4″ to 4.7″ was. On one hand having a bigger screen was appealing. On another I really valued the portability of iPhone 5.

iPhone 6. Not possible for me to reach all places of the screen holding it this way.Now having the new phone for a while I can says that I wish it was a little bit smaller than it is. It just is big enough not to fit into my hand comfortably. I can’t grip it the way I want and as a result I end up resting the phone on my fingers when I use it with one hand and turns out I do use it with one hand quite often. The back side is quite slippery and I often feel that I might drop it. It makes it feel so insecure that I’m considering getting a leather case for it.

This is how I need to hold it to use with one hand. Unsafe.This brings me to the my next point — the actual design. It feels great. The rounded edges and tapered glass is so pleasant to the touch — a real contrast to the previous 4 hard edged phones. Sliding from the edge of the phone (back gesture for example) feels so natural. By putting a case on it this nice feel would go away. I’m not sure I want that trade off. The case would make it less slippery, a bit bulkier and would tuck the camera in. It would also hide a nice handy little mirror on the back of the phone in the form of Apple logo.

This is how I used to hold older iPhones. How tiny is this iPhone 4S though?Back to the screen size itself — it really is nice having a larger screen. Lately I have been doing quite a bit more reading on the phone since there is a lot of competition for iPad in our house between Arosha, Alena and myself. And being able to read on this new screen I don’t even have a need for iPad anymore. Also it’s amazing how quickly we get used to good things. When I had to set something up on Alena’s old 4S3 I was really shocked how tiny tiny that screen is. It really seemed astonishing to me.

iPhone 3G, iPhone 4, iPhone 5, iPhone 6.The phone fits just OK in my pockets and even here it could be a little bit smaller. I’m looking forward to the day when Apple makes the screen go from edge to edge and reduce the physical size of this device just a tad. iPhone 6 Plus is just way too enormous and would in no way work for me.

New Features


Since I’m going from iPhone 5 directly to iPhone 6 there is a slew of new features for me. I’ve covered the most obvious upgrade of the screen, but there is a number of less visible (no pun intended) features. I’m really enjoying Touch ID. I’ve always had my phone locked with a pass code and having an ability to replace that with a longer password and not having to type it in is great. Touch ID works very well — it’s precise and quick.

Touch ID.The processor is much faster, but I don’t really notice it as the old phone was plenty fast. However this phone has a new motion chip (5S had it too) that tracks your steps and now stairs you climb. I found it really motivational and prefer to take the steps every time I have a chance instead of riding an elevator.

I’m also looking forward to using a new Apple Pay system with an NFC chip that is present in the new phone. Hopefully it becomes a real thing and becomes widely supported. It just got rolled out this past Monday. Adding cards was a breeze, and it seems to work in more places than I originally believed. I had a chance to try it at a no-name gas station that had an NFC enabled pay machine and it worked. And judging from the Internet buzz that will be the case — any place that has NFC machines will take Apple Pay.

But one of the biggest and most enjoyable upgrades is the camera. That one deserves its own section.

Camera


I’ll start with the fact that this phone comes with a little bit of a “non-Apple” quirk with the regards to the camera — it sticks out of the phone. It’s clear that Apple was faced with a decision of either making it flush with this thin phone and thus degrading its quality or make a sacrifice in “design perfection” to preserve and improve the functionality of the camera. I’m very very happy with the choice they made.

iPhone 6 camera and flash.My iPhone is by far my most used camera. Alena and I take tons and tons of family photographs with it. By making it focus faster and improving night time photography it gives us even more value. I’m also quite impressed with the True Tone flash Apple has introduced in 5S and carried over to this new phone. Before I would always have the camera on off and would never bother with it as it would just ruin the mood of any photograph with its cold blue light. After a few tests of the new flash I have it set to auto.

Taken with iPhone 6.The auto HDR mode also works well. It’s easier to capture a high dynamic range photograph with an iPhone than my SLR. SLR would need to be set on a tripod, and then it would take some amount of work in post to get the desired image. iPhone just takes one button press. Of course that works if the light range is a tad more than a single SLR shot can capture, but if the light range is high enough — well, SLR is your weapon.

iPhone mounted on tripod via Glif by Studio Neat.The new camera also has very cool video capabilities — slow-motion video at 240FPS is quite impressive. Actually the fact that the phone can capture video at such speed is not just impressive — it’s amazing. Fast focusing during video also works very well. I also enjoy making timelapse4 and hyperlapse videos. iPhone being our only video camera sure gets it a lot of use. And there is zero need for anything else.

Taken with iPhone 6.During our latest trip to Pocono Mountains I also have discovered the fact that it can take great macro photos. I’m using Camera+ (3rd party app) for it — check it out if you like the samples.

iPhone 6.Overall I’m very very happy with what Apple has been doing with regards to the camera. Even though it’s no SLR, I have it with me everywhere and all the time, while that is far from the case with my SLR which I still love dearly.

Taken with iPhone 6, post-processed.A side note is that I use two camera apps the most — swipe from the bottom for stock camera and Instagram. Also on some occasions I use Camera+ as I mentioned above.

Software


iOS 8 brought a lot of nice behind the scenes changes — extensions being the biggest one. I already have a lot of great apps that have instantly became much more useful once they have been updated to utilize the new extensions. 1Password is one obvious example — automatically inputs your credentials into login forms not inside an internal browser, but in Safari itself.

Before update for iPhone 6 screen.After update to support iPhone 6 screen.A lot of developers are taking their sweet time to get their apps updated for the bigger screen. Most apps run in zoom mode, which essentially rends apps in 4″ screen mode and then scales them up. I don’t really notice any blur, but the ones that have been updated do take full advantage of the bigger screen. The biggest tell if the app has been updated or not is the status bar on top. It gets blown up when any non-updated app starts.

My Homescreen


The most important thing of any platform is software. Software is what makes the phone. Now here is a list of software on my phone that I find the most useful. It’s organized in a quite simple manner — dock has my most used apps, home screen has apps that I use on daily basis, second screen has software that I use almost daily, third screen has a bunch of games my fourth screen has a collection of folders that I don’t use as often, but still like having on my phone.

Homescreen.Second screen.

I won’t go over every single one, but I will make a short list of the most interesting stuff on my phone:
  • Instagram — I personally don’t use it for its social aspects, but for its integration with Twitter. This is the fastest way for me to take a photograph and post it to our blog thanks to that Twitter integration and my blog to Twitter integration.

    I also love the fact that we can order posters and calendars from our Instagram collections with services like Printstagram. I like the map that it builds with its geolocation feature.

    Having said all that I have to point out that I use the stock camera app a lot as well by sliding to it from the lock screen.

  • Google Maps — I have given Apple Maps a go when it came out. I gave it another chance when iOS 8 came out. It still doesn’t cut it. Google Maps along with its search capability is unbeatable.

  • Fantastical — the best calendar replacement out there. With a lot of meetings and appointments spread out between different calendars stock calendar app doesn’t cut it at all. Fantastical presents you with a great visual view as to how your day looks. It also supports natural language to create and manage events among many other great features.
  • Continue Reading

  1. All my previous phones have been 16GB, but the current version is a rip-off. []
  2. 5C doesn’t really fall into this category as it was iPhone 5 “recased”. []
  3. Alena got my iPhone 5 after we got it back from Apple with a warranty repaired sleep button. []
  4. Using old mini-tripod with Glif mount from Studio Neat works really well. []
In: Gadgets & Gear, Software   Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G Lens

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G lens.I’m happy to report that I’ve become an owner of a portrait lens that I coveted for several years now — Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G. Over the years I’ve read multiple reviews and saw a lot of images taken with this lens. But the price is quite steep, so we waited, pretty much since its release in August of 2010.

Alena. On the fly shot taken at f/1.8.Portraiture is what this lens was made for. The focal length of 85mm is great for rendering faces in a flattering way and the maximum aperture of f/1.4 is perfect for separating the subject from the background and washing out said background into a milky smooth blur. This is my first 85mm prime lens and my first f/1.4 lens. I think it will solve a number of issues for me in certain situations.

Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G vs Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S.I have a great manual 50mm that I love, but it’s not always ideal. First of all manual focus limits the number of quality shots I can take of Arosha — he is too quick. Also it makes me uncomfortable asking to take somebody else’s photo knowing that I’ll have to fiddle with focus for too long. Another issue is that it measures the exposure only at the center, making explaining to other people how to properly take a shot is close to impossible and is also a time constraint on when I’m using it.

Daniel. Taken at f/1.4 with +9 AF tune. Check out that bokeh.All in all, I got the lens from B&H fairly quickly and had to exercise a great deal of patience before getting my hands on it — it was my New Year gift from Alena and my parents. The lens itself is quite a lot bigger than my 50mm is. It also is quite heavy as it turns out. I saw the technical specifications on the lens beforehand, but it’s hard to know how it will feel until you actually touch it. It does pair up quite well with my trusty Nikon D700.

Cyclist. Taken at f/16. The blur on the cyclist is my hands shaking. Has nothing to do with the lens.However nothing comes easy. Soon after I had a bit of a disappointment. When looking through some experimental shots I took I noticed that the lens exhibits an obvious front focusing issue. In simple terms when you try to focus on the eye you end with focus plain falling on the nose and eyes are not sharp. The issue becomes quite a bit less noticeable by stopping down to f/1.8, but if I wanted to shoot at f/1.8 I would’ve gotten a lens that costs 1/3 of the price of this one.

LensAlign test target.Luckily D700 allows one to performing auto-focus fine tuning. And while it’s something that becomes quite complicated for a zoom lens a prime is much easier and more practical. I did some quite unscientific testing and arrived to +9 adjustment on the scale of -20 to +20 with 0 being default. But to make a final decision of whether to keep it or try to exchange it I placed an order for LensAlign kit — something that I wanted to get for some time now anyhow. I also bought of copy of their FocusTune software. FocusTune1 in itself is a great tool allowing one to tune the lens not by eye and not from a single sample, but from a bulk of shots.

One of FocusTune chart.I took a large number of test sets — each set consisting of 100+ shots and actually ended up with fairly consistent test results2. The recommended value that I arrived at on multiple instances is +6. I also read that pretty much everyone of these lenses will need to be tuned due to variations between the bodies and lenses — which in reality are extremely small, so exchanging the lens is as much of a gamble as anything. On most lenses it will just not be noticeable, but when you deal with a long and bright lens — you want it to be very precise.

Family. Taken at f/1.4 and +9 AF tune. Great bokeh again.Either way — our testing at +9 produced some nice shots and we won’t know how well +6 does until we go out on the upcoming weekend and do some testing in the wild. But if practice agrees with theory — and I don’t see why it wouldn’t — the lens is a keeper.

Arosha's BMW. Taken at f/1.4 with +6 AF tune and focus point on the plate.

  1. FocusTune actually doesn’t need LensAlign target to work. It can be used with a number of targets that can be printed out by the end-user himself. []
  2. I will not go into detail of properly setting up for a good end results as the author of the system provides great info on his site. []
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Friday, August 24, 2012

Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G Lens

I’m a lucky new owner of a brand-new Nikon AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR lens. I want to share a couple of thoughts on how that came about, choice, acquisition and planned use.

Wide-Angle Decision


Nikon AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR lens.I mentioned earlier that there exists a possibility of us taking a trip to Grand Canyon in the near future. As I was looking through my old shots of the canyon taken with my old D70 camera — a lot of them were taken at 18mm (the widest I had — 27mm equivalent on full frame) and a lot of them feel kind of crammed — like there just wasn’t any more room left in the frame. Landscapes are the primary reason why I would want to own a good wide-angle lens.

There is always an alternative to using wide-angle lenses that could work in a lot of cases for landscapes. Just take several shots with a normal lens and then stitch them together in a panorama. However there are certain problems with that approach — taking an HDR shot for example would be much more complex. Using a long exposure filter such as Big Stopper would be it impossible.

And then there is a number of other types of photography that can be done with a wide-angle lens forcing a photographer to get much closer to the subject, thus changing the perspective — an interaction of the subject with the background.

Budget


Wide-angle Shublik.I had my eye set on a prime Nikon lens for portraiture — 85mm f/1.4G — for a long time now. The problem of course is the fact that this particular lens costs $1,700, however all the reviews confirm that the lens is worth it. Or at least that was the case until Nikon released a new 85mm f/1.8G lens.

I read a number of reviews on the new lens and a lot of them show that it performs as well as its big brother in a lot of cases. It doesn’t have nano-coating which reduces the flares and it loses 2/3 of a stop as far as aperture goes. But the kicker is that it costs $499. Now that’s is a huge difference. For a professional photographer that 2/3 of a stop might be worth it, but I as an amateur just cannot justify paying an extra $1,200 for something that would be simply a nice-to-have at my level. I just can’t.

By settling with a f/1.8 lens I was able to free up a large chunk of change from the budget that was allocated for 85mm purchase towards the New Year.

Wide-Angle Lens Options


Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G vs Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G.Choosing an actual lens from the available options was surprisingly easy. I was not considering any 3rd party choices as I am extremely happy with all my Nikkors. Out of available Nikon option there were really only two lenses that were in the final “competition” — 16-35mm f/4G and 14-24mm f/2.8G lenses. The older 17-35mm f/2.8D lens has been bested and at this point doesn’t make much sense.

To break it up I ended up picking out 16-35mm lens over 14-25mm lens for the following reasons:
  • It has filter thread, while the other one does not. Even thought 14-24mm can be outfitted with filter it becomes a huge expense on its own with the need of a special and expensive mounting bracket and much larger filters.
  • Cost — $1,139 vs $1,996.
  • Better flare control — the other one has a very spherical front element.
  • Not as wide, but bigger range — really nice thing to have for walking around, without constantly swapping lenses out.
  • Weight — 680g vs 969g for 14-24mm and 900g for 24-70mm.
  • VR II — Nikon’s lens stabilization system that promises 4 extra stops. Not really a factor for me, but I guess it’s nice to have.

Arosha playing on iPad.The lens doesn’t let in as much light at f/4 as the other one does at f/2.8, but as far as landscape photography goes this is a non-issue at all, since most of landscape shots will be taken at least at f/8 and on a tripod. Even though 14-24mm is a superb lens and 16-35mm has a lot of distortion at 16mm (easily fixed in post), 16-35mm was clearly the best choice for me that offers great sharp results with a lot of versatility.

Buying The Lens


These days it seems that after doing all the research and making a decision, actually buying a Nikon lens is the hardest task of it all. There was no stock at B&H, Adorama, Amazon or any other vendors that I’m familiar with. The price at Adroma was at $1,159, at B&H it went up to $1,179 and there was still no stock and Amazon kept getting them 1 item at a time (returns?) and was pricing them at $1,259.

Difference in perspective. Flash heads at 16mm.I saw a mention on one of the forums that Samy’s Camera has them in stock, but since I was unfamiliar with that store I decided not to risk it. Meanwhile I kept checking all the verified sources and ended up stumbling on a seller offering these up for sale through Amazon for $1,139. And what do you know? It was Samy’s Camera. They had 4.8 out of 5 stars rating with more than 2,800 votes in the past year.

Considering that it was the best price that I’ve seen and having the safety of ordering through Amazon I placed an order. The lens was shipped to me the same day and I received it soon after. I’ve done some minor testing within the confines of our apartment and I like how it handles and performs so far very much. Here is another good vote for Samy’s from this happy customer.

Difference in perspective. Flash heads at 70mm.Now I just need to get outside an do more shooting and start learning to work with a wide-angle lens — I didn’t have one in a long time and for some reason I never used the one I did have for my DX camera. We’ll see how I do with this one.
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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Manual 50mm Lens Observations

Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S lens mounted on Nikon D700.I’ve been thinking about putting more of my thoughts together on my new Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S manual focus lens for a couple of weeks already, but I wanted to provide a good number of sample shots along with it. I believe I have enough material now. A collection of photographs taken with this lens can be viewed in the posts tagged with 50mm f/1.2 tag.

The Feel


Looking through the lens at f/1.2.The first big surprise with this lens to me was its weight. My old Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D lens used to weight 156 grams. This one weights 360. When you take it out of the box you realize right away that you are holding something special.

The lens which was in production since 1981 is still made of all metal — black enamel over black anodized aluminum and stainless steel. All the markings on the lens are engraved and filled with paint. When you look through the lens at wide open you see a lot of glass and very thin lens walls. It’s an illusion caused by optics. It’s not really as thin as it appears.

Focusing ring is rubber covered metal. Each lens has a serial number engraved on the front of the focusing element. Numbers after 400,000 denote lenses produced after 2006. They are still made in Japan.

Manual Focus


Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S lens mounted on Nikon D700.This is the fastest lens that Nikon currently makes and the only available version is a manual focus one. There is no auto-focus. This makes it a specialty lens. Majority of people most probably are better of going with the latest 50mm f/1.4G lens or a very good and cheap 50mm f/1.8G or f/1.8D lenses.

I wasn’t sure how manual focus would work out for me as I never had a lens specifically made for focusing manually. I had very little luck focusing my old 50mm f/1.8D lens by hand. This lens’ focusing ring however can’t compare to any of the lenses made for AF. Even my $2,000 Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G lens’ focusing ring feels extremely cheap compared to this retro manual marvel.

The focusing ring movement is very smooth. The ring provides a very pleasant tactile feedback-resistance. When you rotate the ring fully you get a nice distinct ding sound and a dead stop of the ring — no play whatsoever. All this gives you an ability to be very precise and at f/1.2 it means everything.

Camera indicates that the lens is in focus with a green dot.However the best part for somebody as inexperienced with manual focusing as I am is the fact that D700 light meters and focus confirms through this lens just fine. What that means is that when I get the lens in focus it will show me a green dot on the LCD screen. If it’s not in focus it will show an arrow pointing left or right, telling me which direction to rotate the focusing ring in. And from experience it seems to be pretty accurate.

Lens is not in focus and the focusing ring should be turned left as indicated by left pointing arrow.Having said all that it is close to impossible to use on fast moving targets like kids and animals. Nor Aroshka nor Shublik are photographable with this lens in most situations. Although with a little bit of practice now I do manage to catch Arosha’s eye in focus in time on some occasions. Also one must keep in mind that at minimal focusing distance of 50cm at f/1.2 the depth of field is under 7mm. So even if you do get focus confirmation, but you or your subject moves you will lose focus.

Overall it came out to be much less “scary” than I thought it would be and the lens is very much usable and fairly easy at that. And it will only get better with practice.

Performance, Rendering & Bokeh


The quality of bokeh and general image rendering is a very subjective topic and you should make that determination yourself by looking at the sample photographs. As for myself — I am pleased with the results.

Taken at f/1.2.Alena was doubting my decision to buy a manual lens, but after looking at the results I can’t tell you how many times she has said that the photographs taken with it are top notch.

Taken at f/2.As for sharpness of the lens — I did not do any sciencific tests. Just by reaching f/2 lens seems to be alreading performing at its peak. Having said that I will say that I am very happy with the results starting right from f/1.2. A lot, if not majority, of my shots were taken wide open.

Taken at f/1.2.The only negative is the amount of purple fringing that the lens is producing wide open. It’s easy to fix in post-production, but some basic proficiency with Photoshop is required. Left uncorrected fringing will surely ruin the shot.

Conclusion


Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S lens. Too bad I forgot to take off the back cap before taking the photo.I’m very happy with my purchase. I’ve already taken several great photographs with it that I added to my portfolio. The fact that you have to manually focus the lens makes you think more about the composition which in turn makes you better with the craft of photography, instead of just pointing and shooting.

For most people one of the AF versions of 50mm will work better, but the artistic possibilities that this lens opens the door to are vast.

Article Illustrations


Most of the shots for this article were taken with my old (t)rusty Nikon D70. The LCD shots were taken directly through the viewfinder of D700, hence the “awesomeness” of the quality.
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Saturday, May 14, 2011

RS-Sport Camera Strap

RS-Sport camera strap.I walk around with my camera a lot and even though the stock strap that comes with a camera was never a huge issue for me I decide to find something a bit more comfortable and functional. I never used to wear a stock strap over my neck and most of the time wore the camera as a messenger bag. Here is my mini-report with pictures1 on what I ended up getting.

The strap doesn't move when shooting.My main issues with the stock strap:
  • Too short.
    It’s long enough when I’m wearing the camera over a t-shirt, but during colder months I just can’t fit into the stock strap forcing me to put it over my neck. Nikon D700 with Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 lens will make the neck hurt in no time.
  • Awkward angle.
    With a big lens attached the camera hangs in such a way that lens sticks out away from the body. When there are a lot of people around you start bumping into them with a lens. Or in small places you start bumping into objects with a lens. Not good.
  • Not comfortable.
    During long hikes the shoulder starts to get soar. Also by lifting the camera to take a shot and putting it back down the strap gets moved along with the camera. This causes the strap to start cutting into my neck with it’s sharp edge.
  • All over the place.
    There is nothing holding the camera in place. When doing something it swing around in random directions and when leaning forward it flies down forward as well.
  • Camera name.
    Now this is a minor quip, but I don’t always feel comfortable advertising, not so much the make, but the model of the camera — D700 in big, bold, yellow letters.

Camera hanging at the hip.These are the main problems that I had with it, although there are several more minor ones that are not worth listing.

After a bit of research I decided to go with one of the straps offered by Black Rapid. They offer a rather large selection of these straps which are the variations of the same basic theme. Here is the quick rundown:
  • RS-4 — basic straight strap.
  • RS-5 — bulky strap with a lot of storage space.
  • RS-7 — curved strap.
  • RS-Sport — curved strap with under-arm strap.

ConnectR-2 and FastenR-3 connected to tripod socket of the camera.Since I wanted to get something that was as comfortable as possible and do not need any storage room on my strap it left me with two most ergonomic choices — RS-7 and RS-Sport. RS-Sport was slightly more curved and from reports it was more comfortable. It comes with an additional under-arm strap2 (BRAD MOD) which holds the whole thing in place and just does not let it move. The under-arm strap can be bought as an accessory for RS-7 as well, but it comes out more expensive this way. Continue Reading

  1. All the photos for this post were taken with good old Nikon D70. []
  2. The under-arm strap can be completely removed if the owner so desires. []

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

iPad 2 — First Impressions

Black 32GB Wi-Fi only iPad 2.I’ve been an iPad owner for 2 full days now. I thought I would’ve posted something about getting an iPad on day one, but was completely unable to pull myself away from it. So here I am, writing this post on iPad1 at my parents’ house.

Which One?


As you know I wanted to get an iPad for quite some time now, however after the keynote on March 2nd my enthusiasm somehow went down. And it’s a good thing too for my sanity, since the release date was set to the next Friday. As the time went on and I kept reading the reviews of those who were present at the event and of those who got early review versions I got more and more anxious. I really wanted to get my hands on one as soon as possible.

iPad 2. 32GB. Back.I knew one thing for sure — I do not need a 3G version. $130 is too steep of a price for someone who will use this device in Wi-Fi zones most of the time. The fact that Wi-Fi version is missing a GPS chip is regrettable, but not a big deal in my case. Plus with the addition of Hotspot feature to iPhone I’ll be able to get it online while on vacation for an addition $20 a month if I want to. I also decided early on that I will get a black version even though a white one looks equally attractive. Since I was planning to carry my photographic portfolio on it a white border would just be too distracting.

As for the size I kept swaying back and forth between 16GB and 32GB version. In the end I figured that I might load several movies onto it, store a lot of my photographs in high resolution, upload pictures from my camera during vacations directly to iPad and I just don’t want to micromanage the free space. I’m glad I decided on 32GB version as in these couple of days I just put everything I wished on it without giving it a 2nd thought.

Release Day


Apple decided not to do online preordering this time around2 and the only way to get one on the very first day — March 11th — was to stand in line. I read that beside Apple stores Targets, Walmarts and Best Buys would get some stock on day one. Those reports however indicated that those stores would have very limited quantities — 10 of each model or so.

iPad 2 box. Getting ready to open.The best bet would be an Apple Store. There are 4 in Manhattan and 1 in Staten Island. Manhattan stores had lines from 10:30am (some earlier) for 5pm release. I decided to try my chances on Staten Island, but hearing how enormously long the lines were I thought my chances were pretty much non-existent. I can’t compete with people who got there in the morning.

I cut my work day short and got into to the car 10 minutes to 4. On my way to Staten Island I stopped by a local Best Buy just to see how things were. Around 200 people were already waiting. If they really did get 10 models of each my chances to get the one I wanted were zero. When I got to Staten Island mall where the Apple Store is located I decided to drive by another Best Buy located on the same very mall. I called Apple Store beforehand and was told that they had about 200 people waiting as well. But at least these guys should have decent stock I thought. Anyhow, Best Buy did have a line as well, but to my surprise there were only 30 people or so.

iPad 2 out of the box and cover next to it.I parked my car and got into the line. It was 4:40pm, 20 minutes before the release. I asked if the tickets3 were already given out. They were not. But 3 minutes later employees came out with stacks of paper. Soon after they got to me. I asked for Black 32GB Wi-Fi version and was given a ticket for exactly that model. I was also told that it guarantees that I will get it if I don’t leave the line. Needless to say I was ecstatic.

Less than an hour later I was inside the store looking at accessories and waiting for my turn to pay. They only had non-leather covers in blue, pink and green. When someone would ask for a leather one they were given some Griffin case and most people would buy it without realizing that it’s totally not what they really wanted. When I got out with my iPad in hand there was still a line of about the same size as when I joined it. People waited for a chance of others not using up their tickets and some leftover stock.

Smart Cover


Cream leather cover on iPad 2.I decided to go by the Apple Store and see how things were going there since I was on the same mall anyhow. I also wanted to try to get inside and see the covers in action and pick one up in a sane color. I figured I will try leather and polyurethane and grab the one I like. I was hoping for polyurethane to be nice enough as the leather version cost more than double.

I got to the store by about 6:30pm and the line was enormous. I only saw the portion that was inside the mall building, but some Apple employee told me that it was extending outside as well. And it seemed to be moving very very slowly. When I inquired if I could get inside the store in order to get something other than iPad itself I was directed to a different line. Luckily the line had 3 people and I was inside the store in no time.

Smart cover on iPad 2.To my surprise I was told that they do not have any open covers on display and I can only look at them inside boxes, but not touch them. Considering how much noise they made about it it was weird not to let people try it out for themselves. But after reading all the raving reviews I was pretty convinced that I’ll get one.

Anyhow after a close visual inspection of the textures I didn’t want to take a chance with polyurethane. I have no idea how it would feel in hand and with leather I had a good idea. Plus all the non-leather colors where quite bright and I wanted something calmer. I ended up buying a cream leather cover.

iPad propped up on Smart Cover. Cover view.I’m going to go ahead and say that I agree with all the raving reviews and I’m glad about buying one of these covers. I can’t say anything about polyurethane, but leather is very pleasant to the touch. The cover attaches perfectly every single time with no effort whatsoever. Removing it is even easier. Every time the cover attaches to the same very place and lines up perfectly with the screen.

iPad propped up on Smart Cover.I found it more pleasing to hold the iPad with leather on the back of iPad — the cover can be folded in half — instead of cold aluminum. I also used the cover as a mini-stand — it seems to make typing a lot easier than having it just lay flat on the table. And of course it’s much more pleasing to carry it with leather cover protecting the screen. I don’t think I’m going to buy any other cases for the iPad. I don’t really care much about the back of it getting scratched.

First Order of Business


After getting home and syncing my iPad, which by the way took no more than 5 minutes, I opened up our blog in Safari. There was a bit of misaligning and weird stretching going on. It also was using a low-resolution icon that I made for original iPhone on the home-screen.

iPhone 4 and iPad 2. Side by side.I created a new iPad specific icon and added two lines of code to let iPad know where to pick the right icon up and that the blog content is exactly 1024 pixels wide (as it was built to work on exactly that resolution) which made it look perfect on iPad screen. Exactly as it is intended to be seen.
<link rel="apple-touch-icon" sizes="72x72"
href="apple-touch-icon-ipad.png" />
<meta name="viewport" content="width=1024,
maximum-scale=1.0" />

Configuration and Customization


iPad is a very personal device. And as such I proceeded to create a pair of 1024×1024 wallpapers from my personal photographs to use on the home-screen and on the lock-screen instead of the default ones. I also loaded a small portfolio of photographs that I have prepared earlier. I plan on significantly expanding it. The photos look gorgeous on the screen of iPad.

iPad wallpaper.
I also proceeded to install my favorite iPhone applications — Reeder and Instapaper. The version of Instapaper that I bought earlier for iPhone was already a universal app, which means that a single binary works well on iPhone and on iPad. Reeder for iPad I had to buy, but I gladly paid $4.99 for my mostly used app.

iPad wallpaper.I will note that I tried installing a couple of iPhone apps that do not have iPad versions and the experience is pretty horrendous. You get stuck with an iPhone keyboard which even in double size doesn’t compare at all with iPad version. It’s way too clumsy and quite unusable.

The other apps that I installed that I either owned already that were universal apps or that are free — New York Times, Twitter, iBooks, Calcbot, WordPress, Dropbox and Gowalla among others. Although I don’t think I will get much use of the latter one for the fact that iPad is more home and office bound. Continue Reading

  1. Using Simplenote for iPad. []
  2. I got both iPhone 3GS and 4 online. I guess Apple wanted to ensure lines for iPad after Verizon iPhone release when everyone just bought one online and there were no lines. []
  3. Best Buy posted on their site that they will give out tickets to people in line at 4:30pm for the iPads that they had in stock. It was nice of them to let people know ahead of time if they will be waiting for a reason or just to take a chance. []
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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lowepro Fastpack 250 Backpack

Lowepro Fastpack 250.When we travel I end up lugging around a lot of gear. Most of the bulk comes from the fact that I have 2 bags — one for laptop, one for camera and lenses. I wanted to merge them together and the arrival of D700 kind of forced me to. The older SlingShot1 bag that I used for camera gear couldn’t fit D700 with 24-70mm lens attached.

Here is a short list of things that were a must:
  • Notebook compartment for 15 inch MacBook Pro
  • Good sized camera and lens compartment
  • Additional compartment
  • Ability to take out the camera body out of the bag easily without a fear of anything else falling out
  • All of the above in the smallest possible package

Lowepro Fastpack 250 next to Lowepro SlingShot 100 AW.I had good experience with my current bag and I liked the idea of taking the camera out without taking the bag off. Naturally the first thing we looked at was Lowepro SlingShot 350. In my opinion that thing is just hideous and just too huge. After that I read up on a lot of different stuff and in the end we had two main contenders — Tamrac Aero Speed Pack 85 and Lowepro Fastpack 250. I actually realized that when you have so much weight it better be a full backpack as opposed to a sling shot type bag, to distribute the weight better.

Both of these bags meet all of my criteria including the fact that you can take out the camera without exposing any of the lenses. Judging purely by design I would probably give slightly higher marks to Tamrac bag, but everything else went for Fastpack.

Lowepro Fastpack 250 loaded with gear.Fastpack has a lot more pockets and it really comes in handy when you’re carrying trip plans, passports, filters, wires and so on. Another huge plus for me was the flap that goes over the lens compartment. While traveling you can put put all the zippers under it and thus prevent anyone from trying to pull a fast one on you. We tried both of them on at B&H and Fastpack just felt more comfortable and more secure to me. Overall they are both very good bags and it will probably come down to your own preference.

This past weekend I tried walking around with it having several heavy lenses and a camera inside. It felt very good. I was able to take the camera out without taking the bag off and I think I’m going to be pretty happy with it. The real test comes at the end of April, during our California road trip. I’ll have it fully loaded for the plane and will remove non-camera gear for hikes.

Lowepro Fastpack 250. Side view.

  1. Lowepro SlingShot 100 AW. []

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Vaja ivolution Top SP Case

Front cover.Never posted a note about the 2nd Vaja1 case that we ordered — ivolution Top SP. Alena uses this case on her phone.

This is my own personal opinion of the case and since I’ve never extensively used it myself treat it as such.

Rear cover.I think it offers superior phone protection when compared to my case at least with regards to having all corners covered.

The leather itself is soft and very pleasant to the touch, much nicer that the shiny plastic on iPhone itself.

Bottom. The front cover swings down.The screen is protected really well, but as you can see it doesn’t cover the bezels on the sides of the screen itself, which is a good thing — no issues using the screen near the edges.

Originally I thought that it would be hard or impossible to open the case with one hand, but by now I have no issue with that — just takes a little bit of practice.

Screen is fully covered when closed, yet easy to use when open.The phone in the case can not be docked, if that’s your thing.

As you can see the wear shows after about 7 months of use, but Alena keeps it in her purse along with all other stuff. The wear however is purely cosmetic.

Cosmetic wear on the sides. Access to the side buttons.The cost was $85. There are a lot of color choices for the case itself and for the central stripe. This case gets thumbs up from me. A very good, functional and stylish case by Vaja.

  1. I can’t link directly to the case because Vaja uses Flash on their site. []
In: Gadgets & Gear   Tags: , , , , , , ,
Time: 11:28   Comments: 1 Comment   Post a Comment  
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Friday, August 7, 2009

Vaja Classic Retro Case

Front side of a case with iPhone inside.It’s been 2 weeks since we have received our custom cases from Vaja. I’ve been using classic Retro Dockable case daily and I’m at a point where I’m ready to write a form of a review for it.

Back of the case.Here is exactly what I ordered — Plain Vitelino leather1, “Passion” body color, “Sabbia” stripe color, kickstand2, ultra clip3. The total came out to $1114. You can also have them engrave the case with some custom text, but I didn’t get that.

I will start by saying that I’m practically in love with it and this is the best case that I have personally used, seen, or touched. If with other cases I was trying to have “as little” case as possible, this one evokes an opposite emotion. I enjoy it’s bold look and feel.

Cover and stitching close up.The craftsmanship is superb with perfect stitching and perfect tight fit. Leather is very pleasant to the touch. Vaja has a multitude of colors available to choose from, although their Flash “case builder” does not give a true representation of actual colors.

Open case with a phone inside.Functionality-wise it has its pluses and minuses. I feel that the phone is well protected, yet the switches, the speakers, microphone and dock connector are easily accessible. Camera is unobstructed. The screen cover is held down with magnets, but it can easily be flipped open with a thumb, so one hand operation is still possible.

Kick stand.The kickstand on the back allows the phone to be placed on the table with a screen facing you either in vertical or horizontal position, even though it does add some bulk to the case.

I’m still not 100% sold on the belt clip idea, even though I find the implementation great. I used to always wear a phone on a belt clip before the Treo. And I got used to carrying my iPhone in the pocket. The size of the phone doesn’t seem to place itself on the belt. Otherwise the connection between the case and the belt clip is very secure, yet it is possible to unlock and remove the phone with just one hand.

Empty case.Inside, the case has a small plastic protector covering the area around the speaker (all sensors work without any issues), but the the area for the screen itself is just an opening, which is great — there is no reason to have additional screen protectors when there is a leather cover on top of it.

Case flipped open.This brings me to a couple of problems. When placed in the case the screen ends up being recessed and not flush with the case face. As a result some actions that have anything to do with touching the edge of the screen became harder than they used to be. A good example of this would be moving icons from one screen to another. Although soon you learn that you can drag your finger over the edge of the case itself, but still, not as easy as without the case.

Top with, with connector, speaker and microphone on the bottom.Also since the home button is covered it’s not as easy to click and you don’t really get any tactile feedback from it. There is something glued to the back of it, but it doesn’t seem to be big enough. It’s a minor issue as well.

In conclusion I want to say that this is a great case and if I had a choice, I would order it again without any hesitation. You get what you pay for and it certainly is true in this case. Get it?

Update: There is a very thorough video review available by a guy named Omar C.

  1. $6 option. []
  2. Kickstand is a $20 option. []
  3. Belt clip mount, $5 option. []
  4. You can find coupons online to get a decent discount. []
In: Gadgets & Gear   Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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