Tuesday, March 30, 2010

F80EXR – Still 3 weeks away!

Vistek.ca is showing the F80EXR estimated arrival at 23 April 2010 … still a bit over 3 weeks away.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

F70EXR – Text Mode

I added a brief note to my “how to shoot it” article for EXR cams today, but I thought it worth illustrating exactly what text mode does for you. I had thought that it just enabled macro mode (which it does) and added some sharpening (which it does I think) …

But in fact it does two other useful thing:

  1. It increases contrast considerably. This creates very crisp looking text and darkens other colors while lightening whites, i.e. the paper. Very useful.
  2. It performs the equivalent of custom white balance by presuming that the background of the text, i.e. the paper, is white … or at least neutral. This is *very* useful, as it makes the text extremely legible.

So … some examples … straight from the camera:

First, I shoot in P mode. My usual settings. Macro mode.


No doubt that nasty color cast is visible to you. The text is readable, but could be a bit clearer, especially at the top right.

Next, I shoot the same settings but with flash enabled.


That’s quite a bit better. The close in area is covered by flash and the white balance is of course set for flash, so the box and paper below are actually white. The text is now perfectly legible. So this is a useful mode in a pinch, but the flash cannot be used when extremely close in, and it clearly did not cover the bottom left area as there is some yellow light creeping in again. Still … not a bad performance.

And by the way … Fuji’s super intelligent flash really is exactly that. Most cams would blow out the reflective ink box from that distance.

Finally, a shot in text mode. Macro is enabled for you and flash is not.


Wow … now that’s almost perfect. The white balance has been correctly set for the whole image! And the text is very legible. Note, though, that the top right background area has been darkened a bit by the contrast adjustment, so in this instance you might actually give the nod to the flash image in P mode.

But clearly, for general purpose text photography in any light, text mode will give you the best results. Crisp text against clean white backgrounds … ideal.

ePass Canada … yet another tiresome web site …

I’m not impressed by the programmers at the Canada Revenue Agency. I’ve struggled with this web site in the past and it is no better today than it has ever been.

In order to file your taxes electronically, you need a 4 digit code. They used to mail this to me each year, and for the first time, this year they have not. Which means that I need to go onto my government account to fetch my code.

Sounds simple enough, but this account is one of those I almost never access, so I forget the password … it must have one upper case, one lower case and one digit. Mediocre security at best, but certainly good enough to keep me from guessing my own password.

Now, they have a simple 3-question recovery process, which did not work for me. I tried every combination of answers I could think of, then went through and tried creating a new ePass (they do not have a password reset process, so you must pollute the system with a new ePass whenever you get stuck – what idiot thought that one up?)

I got frustrated and closed the browser window, only to sign back in and try something else. After a moment, it started complaining that I had pressed a button twice or opened multiple windows, which is not supported. What bozo thought that one up? It’s the fricken Web … who cares where it is accessed from so long as it is the same host and the appropriate security questions are answered correctly?

And suddenly, it arbitrarily decides that I have had too many attempts at something (it does not actually define whether it was the failed creation of new accounts, which started happening because it said I had two browsers opened, which I did not at that time) so it says I am now suspended for 24 hours.

So let me get this straight … the programmers'’ incompetence at creating a usable web site has now blocked me from filing my taxes for 24 hours. Duh …

Friday, March 26, 2010

I’ve Been Mugged

Well, sort of. Well, not really. Well, read on …

I was reading an interesting article about the 2-year-old whose mother made no attempt to shut him up during the taxi out to the runway, thus rendering the safety announcements just so much unrecognizable noise. The captain was annoyed enough to turn the plane around and eject the urchin and his mother. They did get an apology and a $300 voucher from the airline, though, so all was not lost for them.

But here’s the thing … people do this kind of thing all the time. Impose. Inject themselves into our lives for no damn reason. They make a lot of noise shouting into their cell phones; they treat the theater like their bloody living rooms; that kind of thing. Can you tell how much they annoy me?

The following excerpt is from that article and it characterizes this behavior as “small muggings” … one of the best descriptions that I have ever heard.

More and more, we're all victims of these many small muggings every day. Our perp doesn't wear a ski mask or carry a gun; he wears Dockers and shouts into his iPhone in the line behind us at Starbucks, streaming his dull life into our brains, never considering for a moment whether our attention belongs to him. These little acts of social thuggery are inconsequential in and of themselves, but they add up -- wearing away at our patience and good nature and making our daily lives feel like one big wrestling smackdown.

I definitely find that people who just have to be in front annoy the shit out of me. Seriously. Have you ever stepped off a plane – exhausted - and walked to customs, only to have several people brushing by you so they can wait 5 less minutes than you? I think Bruce Cockburn says it best … “if I had a rocket launcher, some son of a bitch would die”

By the way, this happened to me last night at about 1:45am after a long, long flight from Jacksonville, FLA with a delay in Chicago … and I was livid that these pricks thought so much of themselves.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

EXR Camera Reviews – Will Anyone Ever Get It Right?

Just saw a CNET blurb in my inbox and the review of the Z700EXR ultra-compact caught my eye. This being a tiny Z series cam with an EXR sensor (that I admit I had forgotten even existed), I took a brief look.

The review concentrated on the touch screen and its fingerprint magnetism and then did a very brief discussion of the image quality at all ISOs and at 400 ISO against the F200EXR (should have been compared against the F70EXR with its smaller sensor.)

But the real kicker is that they went up in the ISO range without any mention of the mode in which they shot. Did they leave the cam to its own devices? Or did they set it up correctly? Which of course is P mode, half resolution, DR400.

Of course, we’ll never know and the review will exist forever to confuse people about what the Z700EXR can really do.

It’s pretty frustrating. I have yet to see anyone do a decent job of reviewing the EXR cams as a shooter’s cam … DPReview coming the closest I think.

The Sun Comes Out in Jacksonville

The weather was pretty disappointing when I woke up this morning … cloud everywhere. That lasted right up until about 7pm …

Note: As with all my Jacksonville images, these are straight form the F70EXR, shot with the settings I published in my how to shoot articles.

I hung out of my window before leaving for dinner and shot a panorama the waterfront. But since I have no image processing tools on this machine, I’ll just show the images at either end. Left, which is east:


And right, which is obviously west:


I went downstairs then and wandered about the front of the hotel at the edge of the water.

I’ve always been a sucker for palm trees, although I must say that they are less convincing here than in Orlando and various places in California.


There is an interesting sculpture just east of the hotel that makes my sphincter spasm when I look at it … see if you can figure out why …


The sun was getting really low and made for a really nice image from the water level … or more specifically the water front level.


As we began walking, we went under this same bridge:




There are manatees in this river, which means that boats have to be very careful …


The Jacksonville Landing has a small stage (behind me in this next shot) and several restaurants. This fountain looks very nice, even though it could use some dramatic lighting.


Dinner was at an Italian place, directly left of me in the above image. Chicken Parmagian followed by the best Canole I have ever eaten …


And a repeat of the fountain shot at night, showing how badly it screams for some lighting …


Now we can see the stage.


The group walking ahead of me … one of them is curious …


The lighting in this area is very nice … with the bridge brightly glowing blue, it is easy to create dramatic effects.



A pleasant evening … tons of conversation (these guys always work over dinner), a pleasant meal, fresh air, and being accosted for some spare cash on the way back … what’s not to love :-)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

On The Road Again – Jacksonville, FLA

Yup … just got back from Helsinki a short while ago and I’m off for most of a week in Florida at an Object Management Group (OMG) conference. My area of interest is the UML action language, known as Alf (specifically the Action Language for Foundational UML) … and yes, the alien of the same name that you 40 and 50 year olds know so well is our mascot :-)

Anyway, I have never been to Jacksonville before. Looks like they have a wicked zoo and some other waterfront attractions. Since I love water fronts, I am very happy …

I just realized as I was typing this that I forgot the USB cable for my cam, so no real-time imagery … sorry. More later .. or tomorrow; I land in FLA around midnight and there is every possibility that I will be in no mood to share the experience.

Update: I had forgotten that my laptop comes with an SD slot, so it turns out that I can in fact post images in real time.

Here’s a view of the street below me.


A nice area … looking down the river to my right, the blue bridge is shown.


Across the river, I can see a few nice plazas and hotels and such …


So far so good … I popped downstairs at around 1:45 and found out that the kitchen and everything is closed up, JAXX (lobby bar) is also closing … but the bartender is a really nice guy and gave me a coke for free, and one of the other personnel (young woman) popped over and gave me a bag of pretzels. Great staff … no doubt one of the reason why OMG always uses Hyatt. I noticed the same amazing service in San Antonio as well … maybe it’s a southern thing …

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Postdata at the Black Sheep Inn

It might seem that my review of this excellent concert took a long time to get written, and that I have not blogged much at all this week. Well, that’s all true, and the reason for it stems from the two boys catching a Norovirus, a rather nasty form of stomach flu that can knock you on your arse totally for days.

Things have calmed down now and I have a bit of time, so here are my thoughts.

This concert was hosted by Amanda Putz, recorded by CBC Radio 2, and will be published in audio form in about a month. But you will see and hear the whole Postdata set and about half the Fader set on my YouTube channel well before that. The quality of the HD video and stereo audio from the Panasonic ZS3 that I used for most of it is stellar, with only the final two songs of the night recorded in SD and mono by the F70EXR. Still acceptable, but a huge step down unfortunately.

Here’s the playlist, which will increase in size until the entire concert is visible.

Update: It is now complete in 7 parts. Remember to play it moderately loud, as the audio sounds even better that way.

I recorded non-stop, so there are only a few short glitches near the end as I was forced to switch cameras, but the rest of them run end to end with every spoken word and every song in its entirety, at least for Postdata.

I’ve been having significant issues with Nero 9 lately, and it is driving me nuts. I mastered Rita McNeil on the MAC and those turned out beautifully, but the MAC is showing terrible video quality from the Panny, while Nero on the PC shows the video to perfection, but screws up the length as marked. It seems to add the offset to the length and confuses YouTube (although this could easily be YouTube’s issue as well … I don’t trust a lot of the script-kiddies that pass for WEB developers these days.)

Windows Live Essentials Movie Maker doesn’t seem to be able to import the raw AVCHD, but even having it import and rewrite the MP4 output file to WMV format manages to ruin the video, although it cuts the size almost in half. Anyway, I will eventually get the rest of the video mastered. As I do, I will expand the list above.

Update: I finally chose to purchase the very inexpensive Pinnacle Studio HD 14 and am extremely satisfied with how it handled these videos. Editing is a breeze and the output looks just as good while taking half the bandwidth. I.e. best of both worlds … smallest file from all of these and yet imports and edits AVCHD easily. Excellent application – recommended.

So the boys and I arrived rather early … about 5:30pm. I drove Jon downtown for an exam and waited with Nick while Jon finished up and then joined us at a gas station on King Edward street, which was the perfect exit to the city to go north to Wakefield during rush hour.

We drove the 30 minutes or so up to the Black Sheep and arrived at about 5:30pm, and then waited 3 hours for the concert to start. This was fortuitous since we were able to have dinner -– the best poutine I have ever eaten (try the pulled pork variant) – and then watch the entire sound check. It was like a mini concert since they all got up on stage at one point or other and played a few songs to get the sound just right.

The Black Sheep has a small stage, but an excellent sound system. Really first rate for a small venue. Everything is crystal clear, and this is picked up really well by the Panny.

The Black Sheep has terrible lighting … they think of it as ambience, but I think of is as a huge pain in the ass for documenting the concert. Even the D700, a spectacular low light camera, was challenged somewhat to capture clean images.

While there was still some light, I took out the D700 to play a bit and captured this image of the venue’s mascot, a cute Pug. They also had a couple of small-ish cats who were quite cute, but this dog stole the show. Here he (or she) is at the back of the venue up on the sound console.


Nick enjoys photography quite a bit now that he works at Henrys and is exposed to it every day, so he grabbed the D700 and shot a bunch of images with it while we waited. Here is his still life of a Bud with lens cap and the stage in the background …


As it got darker, he caught this quick image of the candle girl walking around and lighting up all the tables. Quick thinking, I gotta say.


He then experimented a bit with foreground / background focus and lighting. These two still life images differ only in the use of the built in flash on the second shot with a heavy layer of tissue diffusing the image.




After we ate, there happened to be a french fry lying around and of course the firebug in Jonathan got the best of him. I asked him to  pose when I noticed how the fry looked once lit …


Nick had had a few beers and got right into the spirit here :-)


And we waited some more …


I positioned one of our two candles to light his head from below, which balanced the light from above. Interesting …


And then Julie Fader and her band …


… arrived and gave us a very nice set. I really enjoyed her stuff and was a bit surprised that the boys  did too. I bought her lone CD from iTunes when I got back. Note … randy Randy Lee is the violinist.


Note that the lighting was incredibly low for her set. I had to boost the shadows on that image something wicked, so it’s a bit noisy, especially in the blue channel.

Between sets, Nick farted around with the D700 a bit more and captured this really nice image.


And then Postdata came out …

Postdata is made up of Paul Murphy and his brother Michael and is an acoustic version of Wintersleep … sort of. Paul is the main writer for both bands and the similarities are there in both the music and the sound. Michael was unavailable for touring, so Tim D’Eon, also of Wintersleep, stepped in for the live shows. (Michael appeared in Halifax, near where he studies law, and Nick thinks that would have been an awesome concert to see … I agree.)

Tim sat behind several synthesizers all evening, as shown here.


When not sitting where he is in that image, he was crouching on the floor behind the equipment playing a guitar.

Paul of course stood and played acoustic guitar all evening, with the notable exception of electric where noted in the set list that follows Paul’s image.

Note: Nick shot all the images I have of Postdata, since I was busy recording their complete set.



This was a fairly long set, perhaps because the CBC recorded? I was very pleased with what I was hearing … these guys were right on and the music was full and rich, a real feet with two guys. Tim played a little blow keyboard that mimicked a harmonica pretty well, and once in a while he added synthesized chorus, which I personally love listening to …

Near the end, I ran out of battery! I had to record the finale and encore with the Fuji F70EXR, which has inferior video and audio. But at least I had the cam with me and caught the rest of the set. A few minor glitches there, but all in all a pretty decent overall result.

Paul’s encore, Astronaut, brought the house down … what a special treat for their fans!

One more thing … I asked permission to shoot images and record video ahead of time and Paul was most gracious in granting me permission. These guys are true easterners … as nice as it gets.

Paul seemed to remember Nick, who spent time back stage and in the pubs with Tim and other band members several times while he lived in the UK last year. Tim and Nick also reconnected while standing outside for a smoke once or twice …

This band (and the much louder Wintersleep – I’ve heard them called a sonic assault) is a must see when touring. Really. You will never regret seeing them live, and their CDs grow on you very quickly … they have been playing on my car CD player non-stop since Tuesday …

Sunday, March 14, 2010

F80EXR – High Res Sample Image Analysis and Review

Ok, I can’t resist any more. I really wanted to wait until my F80EXR arrived before commenting on it … yes, I have one a preorder.

Now, this camera offers the potential to replace both the F70EXR and the ZS3 because of its addition of HD video. Of course, I am skeptical that it can actually do that as Fuji don’t have decent audio engineers, but it has a few other tricks that make it a mildly interesting upgrade, notably the orientation sensor that the Fuji guys allegedly say is in there. (I can never sit through their videos long enough to actually know this, but the comment was left on my blog a couple of times, so I am willing to stipulate that they said this, if not to the actual truth of the comment.)

So … back to my mini review. For those who have followed my comments on this blog or on the Fuji Talk Forum (I no longer post there), you will remember that I consider Fuji’s high res modes on the F200EXR and F70EXR to be evil. Far too much noise reduction, causing a real problem with fine detail.

Well, they took an already overcrowded 1/2.3” 10mp sensor and added 2 more megapixels. One presumes that they felt that they simply could not compete at 10mp (curious, since the ZS3 is also 10mp.)

So I thought I would take a very close look at one of their sample images to see how much this affects the daylight performance of the camera in high res mode.

The image in question is one of a woman who is standing in very bright sunlight. The image is shot at 100 ISO, the camera’s lowest ISO; so this represents the best that this camera can do in high res mode.

Here is how the image looks when displayed in small size:


That’s not actually too bad looking. The hair and eyes look pretty detailed and the color is really nice. But if you wanted to print this large -- and why else would you delude yourself into thinking that the extra 2mp made any positive difference? -- then you would see where the camera’s weaknesses begin to show.

First, the hair looks great at this tiny size, but unlike a dSLR -- which can show every strand under this kind of light -- the camera has clumped the hair into a mass with very little real detail.


This would look considerably less impressive on an 8x10 print than it does on this blog in small size.

The second weakness is skin texture. This is, of course, extremely fine texture and here we see how smooth the skin is. This leads to a bit of the classic plastic mannequin look, and this is in broad daylight! It will be much worse as ISO climbs.


And finally, shadow detail will take a terrible beating from the noise reduction with such small pixels. There is no denying how bad her right eye looks close up.


I’m pretty sure that anyone can see how much that resembles a paint-by-number canvas.

Now remember, my recommended settings for EXR cameras does not include high res shooting … at all. Never. So this issue does not bother me too much … my tests will be pretty much exclusive to my settings, medium (6mp) size in the case of the F80EXR. Hopefully, a much better performance than this.

In summary, I think they pushed this sensor a couple of megapixels too far … but I still think the cam has the potential to replace my favorite compact to date, the F70EXR, as my day to day shooter.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Moon (2009) - Review

Reviewing the moon … well, it’s big and far away and makes tides.



I saw this on DVD with Jonny late last night. This was supposed to be good, and it did not disappoint. Jon was especially taken by the fact that the director is David Bowie’s son :-)


Sam Rockwell plays the lone inhabitant of a moon base on the far side, whose sole purpose is to “mine” the moon for HE3, the energy source that saved the world …


He is only two weeks from returning to Earth and spends a lot of time obsessing about his wife and child. I think you can see why here:


This movie was shot for $5M … a paltry sum by today’s standards. The cast is very small … two major players, Same and Kevin Spacey as the robot, Gerty. This movie reminds me of movies like Solaris and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the smallness of cast and locality reminds me of the character movie Tape.


Gerty is kind of a HAL-ish robot companion that is able to move stuff around with robotic arms that hang from the ceiling, and has a screen with an emoticon on it that renders its emotions all the time. Clever, that. Kevin Spacey’s voice had the perfect soft tones to play this homage to HAL.



I found the set convincing, as were the effects. Jon found the effects a little cheesy, but what do you expect from the use of small models instead of big-budget CG? I liked it.

image image


So I have managed to get this far without revealing any plot points. Good. The plot is interesting and the twist well worth waiting for. Good stuff, especially for a rental.  A steal.