Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sigma 50 f1.4 Art to Sell for $949, Manufacturers Officially Screwing Us Over


Sigma has just announced that its much-anticipated 50 f1.4 Art lens will be hitting stores late this month for $949. While not cheap in absolute terms, the $949 price tag is about half of comparable products from the camera manufacturers. If that weren't enough, it appears as though the Sigma will trounce the competition on the performance front, too.

Breaking news: the name brand companies are screwing us over.

It is not new news that name brand camera makers (Canon, Nikon, etc.) charge a premium for their optics when compared to third party (Sigma, Tamron, Tokina) products with similar specifications. However, unlike 20 years ago, third party no longer equates to third rate, far from it. In fact, third party offerings are now not only often equal to manufacturer goods on the spec sheet, but in the field, too, which begs a question: why do people keep paying for over-priced products?

Short answer: snob appeal.

I hate to say it, but when pitted against the excellent Sigma, the name brand alternatives from the manufacturers (Canon, Nikon, and Sony) simply can't compare to the Sigma for the reason of price alone. The top of the line fast 50s (58 for Nikon) all cost upwards of $1,700 and perform no better (in fact, worse) than the Sigma. Want proof? Start reading reviews as the Canon 50 f1.2L is nearly a decade old, there are already plenty of reviews for the 50 f1.4 'Noct' Nikkor. Findings? Both lenses are, unlike the Sigma, anything but sharp at widest aperture ( the reason you're supposed to buy them) and as for the Sony-Zeiss 50 f1.4 collaboration (itself still just starting to hit stores), even if it were as good as the Sigma, it still costs over $500 more.

In the end, what are people paying all of this extra money for? Short answer: a nameplate (at least Canon throws in a fancy red ring on the lens barrel) and the bragging right of being able to say that they don't have a mismatched set of gear..


So what's a snob who doesn't want to pay through the nose to do? Answer: boycott your manufacturer.

We in America live in a free market capitalist economy where the customer has the power. Don't like a product or think it costs too much? Tell people and, if enough people collectively decide to boycott something, the manufacturer will have to address the concern as by not doing so, it will lose a lot of sales and money. Bottom line: if every Canon, Nikon, and Sony shooter decided to boycott their manufacturer's fast 50 offerings, prices would drop in a hurry to be more in line with the Sigma, which has gone to show that it is possible to offer premium, manufacturer-grade fast 50mms for under $1,000.

Unfortunately, snobs being snobs (and snobs often being rich), this will never happen. However, that doesn't make the Sigma 50 f1.4 Art disappear into thin air, so buy this lens instead as Sigma has demonstrated that Canon, Nikon, and Sony have no right to pick our pockets to the tune of $1500+, that is unless we're stupid enough to let them do so.




Humble Requests:

If you found this informative (or at least entertaining), help me pay my bills and check out my Examiner pages for space news, cleveland photography, national photography, and astronomy for more great stuff.

If you think this was cool, why not tell a friend?

For something even better, follow this blog.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Current Digital Cameras are Garbage, Don't Waste Your Money


The latest numbers from CIPA are just out and disturbing as they show a 35% decline in worldwide digital camera sales compared to this time in 2013. What's worse? The Americas have seen sales drop about 50%.

According to CIPA's own numbers, production of digital cameras peaked way back in 2010, an eternity ago in the world of modern electronic technology. Back then, all of the manufacturers' current flagship models were still on the drawing board and are now at least a generation descended from 2010's best gear. So, with so much time elapsed and technology evolved, why aren't people buying?

My take: lame products.

I hate to say it, but the cameras of 2013/14 aren't much better than those of 2010. Being a Nikonian, let's look at Nikon's flagship models of these respective times: the D3s and D4s. So, what advantages does the D4s have over the D3s?

16 vs 12Mp (only a 25% resolution boost)
ISO 409,600 vs 102,400 (both are insanely high and make crappy pictures)
+/- 5 steps AE bracketing vs. 3 (that actually may matter)
1080p vs 720p video (never mind these aren't designed to be video cameras, anyway)

Everything else? Pretty much the same (and only 1 of these 4 changes really matters, to boot), which means that the D3s of 2010 is about 98% the D4s of 2014. Oh yes, then there's the price. You can snag a D3s, which is 98% of a D4s, for somewhere in the $3000s. The D4s? Expect to pay about double at $6500.

Gee, and I wonder why people aren't buying new cameras in the numbers they were 4 years ago.

The fact is that the cameras of 2014 aren't all that much different from those of 2010. Back in 2010, the image quality race was going strong, with giant leaps in picture quality still being possible. Come 2014, sensor technology seems to have reached a plateau. Yes, today's cameras may have more pixels, but aside from resolution, the pictures of today don't look appreciably better than those of 2010.

Picture quality being apparently stuck, manufacturers have been forced to look to other features to sell their products. Problem: instead of going for things like weather-sealing, more direct access controls, faster burst speed, faster processing, more aspect ratios, more custom functions, longer battery life, and better AF systems (which make the picture taking experience better), companies have gone for stupid stuff like GPS, wi-fi connectivity, face detect AF, art filters, faster video capture, touch screens, and more scene modes than you can fit on an aircraft carrier.

My message: if anyone from the manufacturers is reading this, we want more photo-friendly features that make for a better pictures/picture taking experience, not toys that we can use to try and impress techno geek friends with.

Implication: for anyone who's interest is actually taking pictures, there's no reason to buy a new camera as today's models offer no real improvement over 2010's.

End result: people with old cameras see no reason to upgrade and are holding onto their old cameras longer than ever before. Heck, until money starts growing on trees, why dump something that's a bit old but is perfectly functional for something new that costs twice as much and offers no real improvement other than a brand new shiny paint job?

No, photography isn't a dying hobby, the manufacturers just aren't giving us any good reason to spend our money.


Humble Requests:

If you found this informative (or at least entertaining), help me pay my bills and check out my Examiner pages for space news, cleveland photography, national photography, and astronomy for more great stuff.

If you think this was cool, why not tell a friend?


For something even better, follow this blog.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Review: Third Episode of “When Knowledge Conquered Fear”

|
The saga that is Cosmos: a Spacetime Odyssey continued on Sunday as host Neil deGrasse-Tyson explored a time “When Knowledge Conquered Fear,” which reveals the means by which the discovery of cosmic mechanics (Newton's laws of motion) were discovered, all starting with a childhood question asked by a young Edmond Halley: where do comets come from?

For thousands of years, humans were fearful of comets. Ever since the dawn of history, it was a recognized fact that humans were looking at and studying the sky, which was found to have familiar, regular patterns to its movements that the early humans undoubtedly found comforting in an ever-changing, dangerous world. In time, the study of the sky would lead to the calendar, which made the agricultural revolution possible.

Then came the comets.

Suddenly appearing as if out of nowhere, comets, with their unusual appearance, caused alarm among people because they were a cosmic wild card that didn't fit the familiar pattern. In time, comets became associated with the deaths of kings, plagues, war, and other, unpleasant happenings. By the 1600s and the life of Edmond Halley, these superstitions were starting to fade from thought, but a question still remained: where did comets come from?

By the time Halley was a young man, calculating orbits of celestial bodies was possible, as was describing how they move. As for the 'why,' that was still unknown. The rest of the episode details how Halley and a reclusive, shy Issac Newton became lifelong friends and collaborators and how Halley inspired Newton to publish his groundbreaking Principia, which was the final word in physics for about 250 years and which also answered the question asked by a young Halley: where do comets come from?

Thoughts?

The third episode is the best yet. Here, the new series really hits its stride, fully equaling the old. One thing that made the original series so special was its intertwining of science, history, and the human experience. In this episode, the story of Halley, Newton, their science, and feud with Robert Hooke all come together to make a whirlwind of a ride that is both informative and entertaining and that seems to fly by far faster than the official 60 minute time slot.

After watching episode 3, I can't wait for the remaining 10 episodes! Well done, Cosmos crew!



Humble Requests:

If you found this informative (or at least entertaining), help me pay my bills and check out my Examiner pages for space news, cleveland photography, national photography, and astronomy for more great stuff.

If you think this was cool, why not tell a friend?


For something even better, follow this blog.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review: Second Episode of “Cosmos: a Spacetime Odyssey”


The saga that is Cosmos: a Spacetime Odyssey continued on Sunday as host Neil deGrasse-Tyson explored “Some of the Things That Molecules Do,” which basically traced the history of life on Earth. For people expecting pure astronomy, this can seem like a bit of an oddball topic for a series about space science but, as Carl Sagan once said, the story of the cosmos is a story of us.

The episode is largely a tale about how life in its present form came about through time by way of evolution by natural selection, the still-controversial theory (still denied by a large part of the population) first proposed by Charles Darwin in 1859. In this episode, Tyson starts with the story of an animal familiar to all of us: the dog. By explaining how humans have bred all current dog species on Earth, an undeniable fact, from the gray wolf, Tyson showcases evolution by artificial selection (imposed by humans).

Evolution explained with human intervention, Tyson then traces the evolution of other species by way of natural selection, which is triggered by random genetic mutations in an animal's genes. To explain briefly, random genetic mutations occur all the time, often with no implications for survival as a whole. However, every now and then, a mutation occurs that aids an animal's chances for survival. Example: the polar bear, Tyson's next subject.

At one time, there were no polar bears, only brown bears in the arctic. However, once upon a time a long time ago, a bear was born that had a genetic mutation that gave it white fur. Being white and camouflaged against the snow, the bear had an advantage in its hunting. In time that bear reproduced, passing along its genes for white fur, which aided the chances for survival against its offspring that inherited the white fur. In time, these white bears reproduced, further spreading out their genes for white fur. In time, there started to be a lot of white bears in the arctic. With this advantage over their brown cousins, in time, all bears in the arctic became white.

The rest of the episode involves further lessons on evolution, extinction, and how life might have evolved on other worlds and how it may have began on this one. The episode ends with a segment from the original series that graphically showcased evolution from single-cell bacteria into humans.

Thoughts?

The second episode is better than the first, hands-down, as it was in Sagan's series. Here, Tyson really steps into Sagan's shoes, explaining complex scientific processes like evolution in ways that virtually anyone can understand. One thing that made the original series so special was its camera work and unique presentations. In this episode, there is some very not so boring documentary cinematography as well as the Hall of Extinction, which offers a distinctly unique way of capturing the attention of the viewer. In short, while the original series may have felt more like journalism with its brief, somewhat cursory glances, this second episode feels more like a novel: engrossing, entertaining, and captivating.

Hopefully, this will be an indication of things to come in the remaining 11 episodes.


Humble Requests:

If you found this informative (or at least entertaining), help me pay my bills and check out my Examiner pages for space news, cleveland photography, national photography, and astronomy for more great stuff.

If you think this was cool, why not tell a friend?


For something even better, follow this blog.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Review: First Episode of 'Cosmos: a Spacetime Odyssey'

I just got done watching the first episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmos: a Spacetime Odyssey. Overall impression: positive, though the cartoons do not do any favors to the series. Rather than write all about it here, check out my review on Examiner.

Needless to say, I will be watching next week and encourage you to do the same as Cosmos is far better than regular primetime programming!

Time Changes, New 'Cosmos' Premieres Today

Two bits of interesting astro news for the day in that (1) Daylight Savings Time returns and (2) Cosmos: a Spacetime Odyssey (a modern update to Carl Sagan's iconic 1980 Cosmos mini-series) will premiere tonight on Fox-owned networks all over the country and around the world.

First: time change.

At 2am this morning, the time changetook place as America sprang ahead an hour as Standard Time was be replaced with Daylight Savings Time, which will run through the first week of November. While most lovers of the great outdoors will rejoice, astronomers will not as, thanks to the time shift, dark skies will arrive an hour later than “normal.”

For astronomers, the time change will bring a change to observing patterns as, thanks to the time being pushed ahead an hour, one will have to stay up an hour later than yesterday to observe under dark skies. The good news: at least for now, daybreak will come an hour later but, thanks to the lengthening of the days, this bonus will not last long, so get out and observe in the morning soon!

Next: primetime TV.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, will premiere tonight on Fox stations across the nation. To create even more excitement, the series was a collaboration between Sagan's widow, Ann Druyan, Family Guy creator Seth MacFairlane, who took great inspiration from the original version, ans Steve Soter, who was instrumental in making the original a reality.

So, what of the series?

Unfortunately, to keep the hype at a fever pitch, tight wraps are being kept on the exact nature of the show. However, what has been revealed is that it takes a lot of inspiration from the original. Sagan's Space Ship of the Imagination is back, as are the historical sketches (this time cartoons) and the Cosmic Calendar, and the overall sense of wonder created by the original. New are recent discoveries in science and updated special effects.

As for what will be on TV tonight, the first episode it titled “Standing Up in the Milky Way” and reintroduces viewers to the Space Ship of the Imagination and Cosmic Calendar while telling the story of Giordano Bruno, an Italian burned at the stake in 1600 for teaching, correctly, that there are other planets circling other stars, which were merely Suns at a great distance.

The series will premiere tonight at 9pm EDT
on Fox, National Geographic Channel, FX, FXX, FXM, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, Nat Geo Wild, Nat Geo Mundo and Fox Life. On Monday (March 10) it airs again on National Geographic at 10 p.m. ET/PT
.

Tune in, I will . . .



Humble Requests:

If you found this informative (or at least entertaining), help me pay my bills and check out my Examiner pages for space news, cleveland photography, national photography, and astronomy for more great stuff.

If you think this was cool, why not tell a friend?

For something even better, follow this blog.

Nikon D4 vs D4s: is the New Camera Worth the Extra Money?


D4s ('s' for 'stopgap')or D4: which should I buy? That's a hard question to answer as Nikon recently announced the D4s, the new top of the line dSLR in its lineup, which builds upon the 'multimedia' D4, announced back in 2012. The individual areas of improvements over its predecessor are small but, according to Nikon, together, they were enough to warrant the creation of a new model. So, is the D4s, priced $500 more than the D4, worth the cost of an upgrade?

Well, let's see.

For starters, there is the sensor and processor itself. While still having the same 16Mp resolution as the D4, Nikon claims the D4s has a new sensor. As an aside to speculation, there's no word if it shares the same chip that the retro DF uses or an even newer chip. To accommodate the new chip and increase in continuous drive as well as the buffer, Nikon has developed a new processor, the Expeed 4, which Nikon claims ha a 30% processing power advantage over the D4. As a last improvement, the D4s has a H4 ISO setting, which translates into a jaw-dropping ISO 409,600, which looks good on a spec sheet but like crap in real life.

Oh yes, I've never played with the D4s but have had enough cameras to know that the top 2, or even top 3 ISO settings are always various levels of unusable.

To make use of all of the above, Nikon has improved the AF system, too. As a base, Nikon used the proven Multi-CAM 3500 FX AF sensor incorporated in the D4 but has recalibrated the AF algorithms for even faster, more accurate focus. As something new, the D4s has a Group AF mode that utilizes five AF points to assist the main point in achieving focus. This improved AF (along with processor) was one of the reasons that Nikon decided to up the continuous drive at full-frame to 11fps.

Outside the camera, workflow speed can be an issue, and is one that Nikon has addressed with the D4s. Feeling bogged down by massive RAW files? Well, no more with the D4s as Nikon has included a Small RAW option wherein one can shoot RAW pictures at approximately half the full resolution. File transmission speed an issue? When connected via LAN, users can now transmit files using Gigabit Ethernet (1000 Base-T LAN), which promises a huge boost in transfer speed. As an added plus, Nikon has reworked the D4S to be remarkably power-efficient. Thanks to the development of a new EN-EL18a Lithium-Ion battery, the D4S can go up to 3,020 shots (CIPA rating) shots in single mode and 5,960 shots (Nikon testing) in continuous mode on a single battery.

My take: if Nikon was worried about workflow, it should just have added wi-fi capability. Look for thus feature on the D5.

On the video front, Nikon has been hard at work as well. For starters, the D4s is capable of streaming uncompressed video via HDMI at up to the new rate of 60fps at 1080p HD. Additionally, the D4s can simultaneously stream to an external recorder via HDMI and record on its memory card at the same time, too. In the past, Nikon has allowed for shooting video with a crop mode, but only now has the company created a setting to view (in Live View Mode) the actual view as will be recorded by the camera. For anyone liking to do time-lapse videos, Nikon claims the D4s can do the transition from one shot to the other with extreme smoothness.

As for mechanical touches, the D4s has been tested to 400,000 shutter cycles and the mirror mechanism has been redesigned to minimize viewfinder blackout, too. Lastly, the LCD has the ability to auto adjust its brightness for a given amount of ambient light.

So, is the D4s worth it?

My advice here is to look at what kind of photography you do as even all pros won't be needing these new features. If you will be using your camera to make a living, ask yourself a question: will the new features on the D4s help me make money? If yes, by all mean buy it. If no, don't bother. As for all the serious hobbyists out there, with there being no revolutionary changes, save up and wait for the D5, which should bring bigger changes as the odd numbered D# line models have tended to be a lot more groundbreaking in their improvements than the even numbered ones.



Humble Requests:

If you found this informative (or at least entertaining), help me pay my bills and check out my Examiner pages for space news, cleveland photography, national photography, and astronomy for more great stuff.

If you think this was cool, why not tell a friend?

For something even better, follow this blog.