The best laid plans …

Today was supposed to be sunny and dry; a good day for dropping a dead tree and bucking it up and loading the trailer and thus getting some more firewood in. Instead, it’s raining. Imagine my surprise that the forecast was wrong. I wasn’t. Nevertheless my plans are ruined and I have to sit here and wait out the weather before I can even slice up the logs I’ve already got out there and bring in another load.
I’m bored, and that’s dangerous.
It’s too wet to do any photos because I can’t afford an environmentally sealed Pentax K or anything like it. I tried to take some pictures of the eagles circling the lake before the rain got too strong, but the Nikon failed to focus correctly on each and every shot. This keeps happening. It’s one thing when the subject is still and you can go back to it. Flying birds are there then gone: miss them and you’ve missed them.
Anyway WordPress is still allowing access to this primitive editor that works, so I’m annoying you with a post while it still functions. I actually have a few images saved up and may even share some. But mostly when I’m bored I go “camera shopping”. And then have to stop myself from actually ordering anything. It’s difficult.
Let’s take a moment to make fun of camera reviews, shall we? Revisiting the Lumix GF2 and a certain web site’s evaluation of it I take issue with their opinions. Vis:
CONS:
No wireless connection (that’s a pro not a con)
No image stabilization (debatable: if you remember your “one over” rules IS isn’t really that necessary for still photography, and you hardly notice it)
No built-in viewfinder (now that is a con as the LCD screens are useless in bright light. Curiously they list the lack of VF as a con under “Portrait Photography” when in fact that’s one form where it is not needed and the LCD screen is probably better)
Low resolution 12MP sensor (uh, sounds like Spec Snobbery to me)
Poor low light performance (yeah – physics again. Seriously low-light performance requires full size sensor and big glass and it all costs a ton of money. Simply pretending that you can get ISO 6400 out of a MFT or 2.3 sensor doesn’t make it happen)

So remember not to use any commercial review’s opinion as an absolute. Half the time they are just parroting popular opinion and never are they understanding your personal needs. For example the particular site evaluates cameras for Portrait, Street, Sports, Daily, and Landscape photography but utterly misses Wildlife evaluation which is quite a different thing yet majorly popular.
Since this wandered off into comparisons, here’s the Kodak sunset vs. the Nikon sunset:

Taken with the Kodak P850, no adjustments other than sizing.

Taken with the Nikon P610, no adjustments other than sizing.

Are we headed for self-driving cameras?

I was reading a review of the Sony A7iii written by someone who’d traded his Nikons for this thing that cost nearly as much as my Nissan Xterra, and without dissing the writer I want to make some points about what he said against his new toy. Here are his “cons” and my “comments”:

  • Comfort in the hand.  To me both of the Nikons were more sculpted to fit my hand than the A7iii. I hear ya. One of my biggest complaints about cameras is that the bodies seem to be design for non-humanoid lifeforms. Give me an Exakta trapazoid any day.
  • The D5500 had a very useful touch screen that had a number of uses.  You could tap the back of the screen to take a photo.  You could flip through photos you had taken or enlarge them with pinching in our out.  And you could go through the menus.  The Sony does not do any of this.  And it is remarkable that Sony has not included it as they make millions of cell phones every year that do. I call this one point for Sony, as I hate those LCD screens. Some of that has to do with my eyesight problems, but if you’re a Display Fan try shooting like you can’t see what you’re doing ’til you get it on the big computer screen. Then welcome to my world.
  • The D750 had marked buttons on the body to instantly get to the function you wanted to adjust.  The buttons were laid out so you could find them without looking.  I would have to say that now after a LOT of practice I now know where the Sony buttons are by sight or feel. Oh my yes! Lack of intuitive control placement is a major problem with camera design. You shouldn’t have to spend weeks learning which insignificantly sized and illogically located button can be programmed to do what vital function. Photographers know this. People who design cameras clearly do not.
  • The D750 had a top lcd panel that gave you an overall view to how the camera was set up.  I used this top panel all the time when using this camera. Well the Canon has this on the back screen and it’s kind of useful. But not so much so as giving separate and marked controls that don’t need a detached readout.
  • The Nikon menu systems are easier to use than the Sony system. Mind boggled. My Nikon’s menu system is daunting compared to the Canon’s, which also doesn’t make a lot of sense. The idea that Sony’s is worse …
  • The Nikon DSLRs both have better battery life than the A7iii.  However, the Sony battery is big and it is not a problem for me. Battery life is a major issue with cameras. Usually it’s due to powering zoom or focus motors. My Kodak eats power from both (especially with the constant focus active) and feeding an electronic display. The Nikon improves on this by not focusing until asked to. The Canon creams them in battery life because no EVF, no power zoom, and only focuses when asked to. It’s not rocket science.

His last telling comment was this: “So if I had it to do over again would I make this switch?  No.” He was missing his Nikons. I don’t know about you but I’d be really sad if I just forked over that kind of cash and was disappointed with the result. I can’t help but think much of his disappointment is due to the issue I mention frequently: camera designers aren’t photographers. This isn’t just a “familiarity” thing – he’d used the Sony for a year – it’s a “I can’t get used to the way it functions” thing.

One other comment about the review: his favourite piece of glass for the Sony was a 15-year-old Sigma lens originally meant for another camera. That doesn’t surprise me either.

What I really took away from this fellow’s brave and honest review was that it pays to be skeptical of all the hype about new equipment. And if you’re considering making a purchase, reading the on-line reviews is not enough. It’s pretty important to hold the thing in your hands for a while when you’re going to be shelling out thousands of dollars for it. If the camera shop won’t let you, bugger ’em.

It would seem cameras are turning into the photographic equivalent of self-driving cars: a whole lot of inadvisable technology trying to take the place of a functioning human brain. My advice is to use that brain first before you buy and make really, really sure that what you buy will add to your repertoire, not just subtract from your bank account.

And now a picture of the moon, because I like pictures of the moon.

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Taken with Nikon P610

 

Nikon W100 snapshots

I bought this camera for three reasons: 1). it’s ‘waterproof’ and I thought I might have some fun with it at the lake; 2). the LCD screen on my venerable Kodak V1003 ‘take everywhere’ camera is fading into oblivion, and; 3). it was on deep sale, being a discontinued model. Now it looks like I may never see the lake again (talk about a series of unfortunate events), the results from it aren’t as good as the Kodak, and this may have been a waste of money.

Let’s talk about its features. It has a lot of them. Pity most of them aren’t much of an aid to making good pictures. This thing is a toy: it has all sorts of tricks it can do for people making party pictures, but comes up quite short when taking serious shots. The results are low in sharpness and contrast, it’s very ‘cool’ on the colour spectrum, and it doesn’t handle difficult lighting well.

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Now, I could go to work on them and snap ’em up a bit – but that would be cheating. Frankly the Kodak does better right out of the camera. Some of the softness in the W100 pictures is due to the lens being hidden behind a piece of glass as part of the waterproofing, but still … It’s got 13 MP to work with and it should be snappier than it is. Not horrible, but definitely disappointing.

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These were all taken in the morning, but not that early; the sun had been up for over 3 hours already. Yes we have a UV issue here at 3200 feet above sea level, but this is just not that much of a problem for any of my other cameras. See the bad job it did on the green grass around the toadstool? Can’t handle the high-contrast light, and this is a sensor which definitely favours blue-green. You can also see in this shot how much trouble it has with sharpness. Note the full size images are 4160 x 3120 and look even worse.

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The street scene with the more medium-distance subject matter is better; less haze in the way which helps the sharpness. And that needs all the help it can get. The pine tree was more even-lighting than the toadstool and is … fair. Really ‘fair’ is the best results I have gotten from this camera.

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Again the more medium-distance subject of the trucks (a rare 1960 Mercury pick-up hiding back there) works out better. Far and near shots are difficult for the W100. The clouds … well you can get away with fuzzy clouds because they don’t really have sharply defined edges.

Perhaps Nikon slacked off on this model thinking it was only for people party pictures. That would explain all the built-in ‘effects’: if you’re going to purposefully muck about with your images it doesn’t matter how good they are to begin with, right? Oh I also shot some movie footage with it. Yeah that was a laugh too.

On the whole not only does the Nikon W100 not live up to expectations it fails to equal the quality of the cheap old Kodak V1003, and frankly I have to say it is not a suitable replacement for it. I may have to buy another camera. Although I think I’ll wait until it becomes impossible to use the Kodak at all.

Good Omens, the video version, a review

There is no question that the savior of this ‘series’ is the fact Neil Gaiman himself pounded the keyboard to turn out the script. Anyone else would have mucked it up horribly. If you’ve read the book you know turning it into a video production was a tall order; it’s difficult to get all the nuances available in print on to the screen. For the most part this Amazon production has to be called a success.

So let’s get nasty and find the faults, shall we?

First of all there is the modern failing of going a bit overboard with the special effects. This seems to be something producers simply can’t stop themselves from doing. It’s bad enough when working with a show that’s basically dross anyway, but when you use it to damage an excellent story you’re guilty of narrative crime that should earn you eternity in cinematic hell. Fortunately this is really only very bad at the very end. But it is bad.

The second biggest problem is in some of the casting. I hate to say it, but there’s a pretty obvious helping of political-correctness in filling some of the parts. It’s like some overly sensitive casting directed said “ooh! We need another black woman in here to show how modern and liberal we are”. Gods dammit, I’m a liberal and this was just hitting me in the brain like a pitchfork. Read the damn book and accept that sometimes characters are white males, okay? In fact in some instances they seem to have women trying to play men. It’s particularly funny when they’re being demons as they utterly fail to pull it off. Men are simply more naturally demonic. Try arguing with that.

Most of the casting is at least acceptable if not absolutely spot-on. A bit of the directing of the main characters was overdone, and they should have let the actors have their lead there; they know their craft well enough. Look at David Tenant’s ‘snake walking’. Subtle. Sam Taylor Buck is perfect as Adam, although Amma Ris as Pepper is a casting error. She pulls it off, but the Them are supposed to mirror the Horsemen and they don’t. They could have changed War to be like Pepper, but they got War perfect to the book to begin with. The other two aren’t even given a chance to demonstrate much personality at all. More time should have been spent building the characters of Brian and Wensleydale so the audience would empathize with them, and so that the characters were mirror their appropriate opposites. They could have cut out some special effects to fit this in.

As far as the Horsemen are concerned, War started out perfect, Famine was entirely believable (well-played by a black man – they could have made his counterpart, Wensleydale, a black boy to keep the mirror thing going), and Pollution was weird – not well-cast or played. I suspect the actress spent her whole time wondering what the hells she was doing there. Death was a giant disaster; badly depicted and poorly voiced. I could have done better myself, frankly. The fact they changed these characters’ appearances toward the end was also a mistake; there was no reason to do it.

Two of the oddest bits of miscasting are … the dog and the car. How’s that for failing to get it right? The dog (Dog) should have started out as a larger breed before fitting to Adam’s plan. As-was it was bad special effects that didn’t look believable. Afterward he was just okay. I understand from the ‘liner notes’ that the Bentley was switched to a 1934 model to get the “right look”. Well it isn’t right at all. You could see Crowley driving a 1929 4 1/2 Litre or Super Six, but not the luxury saloon depicted. It just doesn’t make sense for the character.

On the whole the demons come off more realistic than the angels. Good heavens they should have made some sensible behavioral distinction between the two. Angels would have been simple and good and confused, rather like Aziraphale. Gabriel almost made it, up until the end when they ruined his character with a single inappropriate word.

Overall the scenes and pacing work, except where they get confused about whether this is a serial (it is) or a movie (it isn’t) and the tossed-in flashbacks, although not excessive, do nothing for the narrative. It would have worked better as a long movie rather than a miniseries. Or they could have spent more time on scenes important to the story and less on superfluous special effects that add nothing. Although I quite liked the lizard on Ligur’s head. Very fashionable. It will probably catch on in popular culture.

One of the best bits is the title sequence, of all things. Some slightly silly and simplistic animation set to what I believe is a musical style known as “La Folia” (reminiscent of a piece in The Addams Family movie) which roughly mirrors the story elements and just seems suitable. Like a comic version of an Edward Gorey work.

It’s nice to note Mr. Gaiman tied up some loose ends for us that the book doesn’t, and he did it in the style of the original. “You know what to do; do it with style!” say Crowley, and he did.

On the whole it’s quite a good, entertaining watch. I think Mr. Pratchett would have been pleased. I’m not sure the same can be said for the other attempts at bringing his works to the screen.

(Note: I’ve taken pains to leave out a lot of detail that might spoil it for viewers, and in doing so I’ve left out a few issues that should be commented on. But as no one is paying me for a professional opinion, bugger it.)

Addendum: as of this writing it’s available for “pre-order” on DVD from Amazon, but at a rather substantial price. Although I might buy it one day, not for almost $30. It’s good, but not that good.