22 October 2015

critical mass for K-gear

An interesting challenge has come with my most recent lens sales.

My Pentax gear has reached a new minimum - three primes, three zooms - with great plans to update once our home-refi package is complete.  However, this situation also allows other brands to make a case for their gear with its different set of strengths and weaknesses; since I'm less deeply into Pentax it would be easier to make a transition.

I hadn't really thought about that!
Samsung and their NX300 made a strong run at my Pentax kit early in the year, and the NX500 sounded ideal.  Once it arrived and the complainers chipped in their tuppence I shook free of the spell and stuck with my K-r bargain purchase, and reloaded with more nice lenses. But now they are gone.

image from adorama.com
This time it's Lumix (Panasonic) and their G7 working on me.   
Wow: it's really pretty in charcoal! 

Ah, but what does it do?? How does it compare to the small K-s2 that was in the plans?

On the down-ish side, it uses a smaller 16Mpx 4:3 sensor.  A bit less resolution, a pinch more potential noise, and it's not free of the low-pass "AA" filter like recent Pentax models.  It's also nearly the same size as the K-s2 in len×wid×height specs.  The lenses focus with fly-by-wire imprecision compared to what I'm used to (though the Q does too and I manage).  Also, weather seals are absent.

Now for the upside, as I see it -
  • 4k video and its many benefits*, with autofocus available in all video modes
  • focus to EV-4 (K-s2 is stupid-good at -3, I didn't know -4 existed!)
  • much less overall weight despite similar size
  • far less bulk lens-wise, thanks to the smaller sensor
  • quiet operation (I've never heard a K-s2 to compare)
  • different technology but with very good results
  • easy in-cam panoramas and can shoot at 16:9, 1:1
  • prior Lumix experience (LC40 compact and G1, GH1, GF2) & raves from my brother about his G3
* 4k videos are sharper overall even on most HD televisions, and the G7 allows you to extract an 8Mpxl still image from anywhere within the video - so it can be used as a burst mode at 24-30 frames per second but with reduced image size.  That's both cool and convenient.  Full HD is 2Mpxl (1980x1024), 4k is twice those dimensions so four times the area.  The result is 8Mpxl but 4k description - go figure.  Oh I just did!

The Lumix has a touchscreen for many of its features but buttons/menus that can do the same, which is a feature I really liked on the the NX300.  I used its touch-focus ability often for both still shots and video.  I also liked the sweep-panorama mode which can make a longer lens pretend to be more wide-angle - and that's on the G7 too.  This one has both flip-out screen and the EVF where the NX300 had tip screen and no VF.  I'd prefer tip and VF myself but catering to just me is not common (though the NX1 has this).

On the nearly-a-draw side, both have flippy screens with good resolution, and both have some form of viewfinder.  I prefer optical VF generally but I've heard the newer EVFs are mighty good.  It hasn't received its sensor performance ranking at DxO but 4:3 sensors tend to score below most current APSc models, but very similar to the K-r.. and I have always liked results from that sensor!!  This is only as relevant to images as you decide how useful the DxO system is, in any case.

I hope to be shopping at holiday time for bargains, so the estimated expense looks like this:
Pentax: K-s2 (or higher) body, HD16-85 zoom, and a prime/macro ~$1200?
Lumix: right now (no pre-holiday deal) I can get a body + 2 lenses = $895!  + a free boom microphone
Note - the Lumix deal has ended.. ah well.

My 50/2 and 100/2.8 would do well on the G7 with a $30 adapter, other Pentax lenses too with a more expensive one.

As to brand-name loyalty and legacy: I began both film and digital days with Kodak before moving up.  In 1973 I went from Sears/Kodak 126 box camera to a screw-mount SLR and then to Pentax about ten years later.  In digital my first post-Kodak camera was the talented 4Mpx Lumix LC-40.  Therefore both brands have a claim and good vibes in their not-quite-separate eras!

We'll see where this dreaming goes - but clearly it's drawn some rather serious research so it's not a fast-passing fancy!  The holiday prices could make a difference.. I saw on mu43.com that the G7 was once $599 so that's a good base to work from.

20 October 2015

a happy tech post!

About time, it seems..

Since my ASUS 7HD died I sought out options rather hastily.  I liked the more squarish aspect ratio of the first one but it wasn't quite what I hoped for.  My second try though is a winner.

The Lenovo A8-5500 is an 8-inch tablet that is the proverbial 'just right' size.  The 7" screen of the 7HD was a bit crowded, and the 10" Transformer was too big for me to use as a tablet (just fine as a laptop replacement when hooked to its keyboard though).  This 8" screen has the same resolution of the 7HD so it's plenty bright and clear, and performance (for what I do at least) is just great.

Once it was set up the tablet updated itself to 4.4.2 Android so it's quite up to date.  However it's clear that many devices can run the same Android yet look quite a bit different!  ASUS implements their own system enhancements (even more so now with the Zen UI).  Most reviewers like ASUS mods but clearly Lenovo won't be using it - they have their own though, in the pop-sideways panel of settings and most-used programs.  Nicely done, but I already have my most-used stuff in the bottom part of the screen, and I cannot reclaim that area by removing them, so the popout is a bit redundant.  Perhaps I'll find ways to use it better but for now: not really handy.

Lenovo also crowds the main screen with icons like iDevices and unlike ASUS.  I've dumped most of the icons into a folder or two, which makes screen space available for widgets.  I admit it: I LIKE WIDGETS - which often include shortcuts of their own (ugh: triple redundancy with side-panel and screen-bottom icons).

Battery life is very good, and I've thrown some switches that imply even more savings.  I like 10-hour charges for tablets, a feature which very few tech devices manage.  I've reloaded a few common games and my astronomy apps so it's pretty much a duplicate of the HD7 now.  Once I've added in an office suite it will be closer; it appears that Lenovo has added one I know little about but I'll give it a try before filling more memory with a new version.  Google Sheet is sufficient for most of my dabbling on the tablet.

we do as we must

As October winds down we should be signing papers to refinance our home and crush some debt, which in the future would allow a new WR body to drop in.  However we have not yet been invited to sign, and life's expenses continue.. so with more than a bit of reluctance, a few favorite lenses have been put on the block.

First to go is the DFA 50 macro.  I really like this lens.  I've tried Sigmas 50 and 105, Tamron 90, Promaster 100/3.5 over the years and the DFA is my easy favorite.  I got this at a really good price, so maybe it will return.  Sadly though, 50mm is such an easy spot to fill that it's not ideal for a refill.

I've often said that I've tried every macro but the DFA 100 and Sigma's 70mm.  Yet again my blind spot is in play: I have not tried the Limited 35mm and it's much loved despite the absurd distance from front element to subject to shoot 1:1 closeups.  It's something to think about though.  The concept of obtaining DA21 + 35 macro to go with my A50 f/2 and M100/2.8 would be a good primal setup.

The other lens on the block is the Sigma 18-50 f/2.8-4.5.  I don't want to let this go either, but again my price was excellent so I can find one again.  Better still: get the HD 16-85 and call my zoom set complete (along with 55-300).  Maybe some day I'll get the 150-450.. or maybe not!

We'll see where this leads in the end, but my path is reasonably straight on this -- for now!
Update - looks like both may be on the move tonight.

The 'dream kit' (all I ever do is dreeeeaam..)
zooms: HD-WR 16-85, DA∙L 55-300mm (maybe a HD-WR later)
primes: Ltd DA21, Ltd DA35 1:1 macro, smc.A50, smc.M100
Bodies: K-r for now, we shall see in the K-3ii vs K-s2 contest!

11 October 2015

seeking a missing mind (+ tech rants)

As I began to pack up the now-sold K-s1 camera this weekend, I felt it was going to be an easy process.  When the camera arrived I deliberately removed the camera and battery, and nothing else.  I had a charger and a spare battery from the K-r already available, and I hadn't read a Pentax manual in years.  How convenient to keep everything in its place where it would be easy to find, or re-pack!

.. and then, apparently, I blacked out.

So I pulled down the as-new K-S1 box, opened it and - it's pretty much empty.  No charger, no manual, not even the strap.  Why would this be?!?  Looking back on it I strongly suspect that the manual was packed with other tech gear for the Oregon Star Party.  So I toured the big garage, the travel trailer, and every known box with astronomy or photo gear I could find.  I even went to the other garage to look in the computer section, just in case.  Nothing, neither clue nor trail.  Inside the house I opened every camera bag, every sports bag, every suitcase - again, no sign at all.  The fact that we didn't make the star-party trip (for the sixth straight year) did not help, as everything sat in boxes for a while before being emptied; I don't even recall what I had packed my camera gear into (box, bag or camera pack) so the trail was old, and cold.  Even if the original Pentax charger was packed to come along (unlikely) and the manual added for light daytime reading: why is the strap missing?  Also curious is the missing Pentax original battery; all I have now is two generic ones.  I'm frustrated beyond words, and even gestures aren't helping.

And I shall barely mention the Android tablet, now missing for two weeks (cheap replacement coming), the 3-month-old Windows tabputer that suddenly cannot do WiFi, or the fact that Android phones that had such strong signals in the house now cannot reliably make a call from anywhere on our property!
Tech sucks.

So out the door goes my spare batteries, my best charger - and out the window go a few more brain cells which I won't even miss.  The K-s2 just got a bit more expensive since much of that will need replacing at some point.  Drat.

mind flash!  I suspect the K-s1 charger went out with the K-r that I sold last month!
this would not explain the strap or owners guide though..

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 10/12 update
While my mind went blank on camera gear, other tech items have also been quite decisively frustrating in the recent two weeks.

Tablet #1: I've been using an ASUS 7HD for a year or two with fine success.  Until recently of course, when it began to reboot or lock up quite frequently.  That's too bad as for the most part I really like the little thing for the basics: web, e-reading, quick updates to small spreadsheets and e-mail.  Given all its hiccups I wiped and restored it, then set about re-adding most of the apps.  For a week or two it was happy, then for two weeks or so it was rebooting again.  And now, for the past 10 days it is AWOL.  I know it was going out to the car to provide data for something, but it's not in the car, or the house, or anywhere I can think of.  Sure it's vanished for a day or two before but this is frustrating..

Tablet #2: While the 7" screen of tablet #1 has been nice, there were times it wasn't quite nice enough.  I bought an early model ASUS TransformerBook on clearance in town and I wanted to see how it would do as replacement for both tablet and laptop .  It came with Windows 8.1 which I bumped up to Win 10, and added Office 2010 to it - and the thing performs just fine. 

Well, it did for a while.
First off it's too big as a tablet.  The back is too smooth to hold easily, and covers for the T100 model are almost impossible to find.  Once snapped on to its keyboard it's a viable option, but definitely not a clean exchange for the 7HD.
And now it's dead too.  Not literally, just the WiFi part - so indeed pretty much literally.  It wavered a time or two but rebooting would bring the connection back up.. but those days passed about the same time the 7HD disappeared.  
Clearly a tech dark cloud has descended on our household (more on that later).

Cell phones #1-4: We are now both running iPhone 4s bodies.  My wife really likes the concept but has not done much executing, so that's a clear victory.  For myself though I prefer the Android ways of doing things.  Yes I'm up to iOS 9.0.x on my copy and it does fine, but some features just bug me since I know how easy they are on the 'droids.  So over the past two weeks I've been popping between my 4s, the 4.5" Android I had bought (and liked) for myself, and even the 5" galaxy-clone that I'd picked up for my wife before we had the iTalk.
That should have resulted in two happy people, not in lock-step with our phones but each doing what they like a phone to do best.  Only mine doesn't actually make calls any more.  That's odd since our Androids had a very good signal a year ago when we moved here, and before the iInvasion I could make a call from any room but one or two.  Now they are all flaky, even the porch outside gives me no clear signal.  Yes, that tech cloud again - somehow wreaking havoc with cell signals and WiFi tablet signals.  Bizarre.

And so here's our status:

  • Two iPhone 4s are in action: for now I surrender on this front!
  • I'll be calling ASUS about the Transformer soon, to see what can be done there.  In the end though,
    from tabletmonkeys site - cool name!
    neither is quite the answer I had quite hoped for.  Like Goldilocks I have ordered the 'just right' middle option: a new/other Lenovo 8" Android tablet.  My mind apparently is more compatible with Android than Win 10 or iOS 9, and the extra bit of real estate will help with reading, the size of my virtual keyboard and general visiblilty - while still keeping battery life pretty high.  I still like ASUS products but one reboots and one broke down, so trying another company isn't a bad idea.  Furthermore ASUS now has their ZEN UI that is obviously amazing - another layer of stuff atop Android may not be me-compatible though so I shall just say no.  I had considered (even ordered) a lower-spec bargain but these are old enough to be a low price with decent screen and chipset, so it will arrive in a few days to try out.
As always, WSS about how this turns out.  Hopefully I'll like my porridge, bed and 8-inch tablet!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 10/14 update
Yet another bizarre turn or two in my tech world! 
  • On Tuesday while dropping by my mailbox I encountered no mail - but my 7" tablet was resting atop the box in a large ziploc bag.  I know of no one in my neighborhood that knew this to be mine - but somehow it has returned.  However, it refuses to power up and removing the gel cover revealed plenty of water.  Something tells me it sat outside during our recent ¼-inch rainstorm.  It's been missing for over a week, so a heavy dew-fall or two would have done similar damage.  So the tablet is visible, but dead: long live the next tablet!  
  •  Closely related topic: USPS site says the 8" tablet arrives Thursday, but eBay says Monday - so I expect it will arrive neither day, and probably Saturday.*  Why have online ship estimates been getting worse recently?  It's been a while since a package reached me 'on time', but the disagreement is four USPS work days!  Yet another reason to wonder why I spend so much time at the computer pretending that I will learn something useful.
  • And now the iPhone is being stubborn about making calls in our home, just like the recent Androids!  the 4s is also more annoying when a call fails, beeping thrice loudly in my headset. It seems pretty clear that a cell tower has moved, or several trees have grown just enough to be troublesome.  And so I return to the 4.5" Android with all its little eccentricities that I prefer over Apple's little eccentricities..
Wonder of wonders - the USPS site was correct, and the 8" tablet is Out For Delivery.  Impressive 1-day flight from Florida to Portland, guess they weren't served drinks!

And then, this -

Clearly this ongoing chat about tech could happen to anyone, and a daily update on tech woes isn't my plan for this place.  I am therfore crushing the last three posts into one to avoid cluttering the blog with such talk.

Cameras are up next - honest!

the wheels turn

I accepted a decent offer for the K-s1 yesterday.  This bonus cash will tide us over until the home loan is in place, and it frees me up to pursue a WR camera body when the $ time is right (late November, perhaps?).  I still expect the next camera to be a K-s2 with all its fine features, but K-3 prices are falling fast so we shall see.  An 18-55WR is coming soon so I can just go body only and still be ready for wet times without forcing myself to grab a 20-40 or a 16-85 ASAP.

Now to find the K-s1 owners manual.
 This is the second or third time that I've lost a manual while selling a camera - why does this keep happening?!?

The debate continues on the two camera bodies.  The K-s2 is smaller with flip screen (I'd prefer tip over flip though), Wifi (not of great interest) and 20Mpx sensor like the K-s1 (nice!).  The K-3 has longer shutter life, more AF sensors, switches for items like metering area, and a few more pixels.  Since I've seldom passed 3000 on a shutter in my digital career that's probably not vital, but those switches are nice.  The INFO button brings up all items on both cameras anyway so what's the switch worth?  Most other items are a wash with common abilities (interval still/movie with composite settings, two dials, Flucard in hand for Wifi on the K-3).  The 'clarity' option on the K-s2 sounds interesting, but it wouldn't be a strong swing vote.

So all in all the K-s2 fits me best.  
If the K-3 price crashes though, the equations change!

06 October 2015

news and confuse

Given our timing on several fronts, I let go of some lenses this past week.  Timing is personal (soon but not-yet home refinance = 1 more month of bills) and camera-specific (the 36×34 'full frame' nonsense will make people forget DA lenses, for a while, and old coatings are getting to me).

So farewell to the not-quite-mind-controlling DA15, the large and unused JCPenney 80-200; perhaps the 24, 100 and 180 will follow but no strong bites yet.  When I need small the K-s1 and 18-55 will cover the bases, with 55-300 for long shots and the Sigma 18-50 for lowest light and video (its internal OS works better than digital stuff in Pentax cameras  for video).  For more bulk the K-r is still here, though I've also had a nibble on that.  Doing that deal would force my hand more quickly on the next body.

Coming next in lenses: ..well probably not the 16-85mm that the last post implied.  Maybe and maybe not.  The 20-40 LimiZoom has pushed its way back to the forefront as its 55mm filters step up easily to 58, which is the 55-300's filter size.  Handy!  And its size is quite nice too especially on a smaller body.

The confusion comes from letting the DA15 go in that case - but it brought in a decent infusion of cash to get us through the refinance month so I won't weep openly on its departure.  In fact the Rokinon 16mm f/2 or 10mm f/2.8 would be better for stargazing, although prices for those are DA15-ish right now and overall they are far bulkier.  That brings the F17-28FE back into play, as it's available for around $200 now.  We'll see about that.

And as to the next body?  No surprise, the body and lens decisions are connected. The K-s2 would prefer the Limited zoom but the larger K-3 types would make the 16-85mm feel less front-heavy.   Deals on the K-3 are quite impressive now, and if I do jump more into interval shooting the 200k-rated  shutter life is a real plus.  It can use the Flucard from my K-s1 so WiFi and sensors are similarly excellent.

Even more clear to me is the jump to the K-3 II model though, with an extra stop of stabilization and the chance to pixel-shift some images.  Not a frequent use, perhaps, but I've now seen examples of what it can do.. and it is quite the real improvement.  Pentax was quoted as strongly implying that the pixel shift system could be sent back into firmware for recent models.. like the K-s1 most likely!  Well OK .. to be more precise, during a chat about pixel-shift tech (with imaging-resource.com) they said this:
  • "But Ricoh believes in taking care of their customers" - and encouraged me to quote him on that. :-) 
So that might say pixel shift is coming to other bodies, or perhaps something else entirely.. camera shows are fun and all that, but they are not always the Ultimate Source of Truth about future intentions.

So here we sit: fewer (though seldom-used) lenses in hand, two different plans for post-home-refi kit improvement - and a current setup that does just fine even if those two plans don't happen for a while!  The fact that the holiday sales are a month or so away could make for excellent timing though..

Perhaps I should say something to that effect at the Fall Camera Gathering in some famous faraway city?

01 October 2015

walking the fine line

I'm quite happy with my gear right now.  If anything were to change it would be the K24mm, which has shown me the value of modern coatings. If it were replaced with a DA21 the problem would become the gap between 21 and 50mm, which a DA35 would fill nicely.  So that is the question that I must ask myself, again: for what I shoot, does the abundance of primes become more of a problem than a really good zoom?

I've always tried to limit any lens to a weight below 500g.  If anything beyond that limit is in my gear, I find ways to leave it behind.  The DA* 50-135 is an excellent lens, but the 410g 55-300 is good enough and substantially lighter.  No 120mm f/2.8 shot with that lens of course.. but I seldom shoot those anyway since I never had any practice before!  In a similar vein I've noted before that my 18-50mm Sigma covers the 21-50mm gap very well, and at around f/4 most of the time.

As the wet season approaches I feel the lack of a WR kit more keenly.  I do enjoy getting the in-storm images of water droplets and fierce weather, and the K-s1 and 18-50 would not be the best choice.  I also found during the lunar eclipse that the lack of interval timing/video troubles me, as it did receive some use at important times in the past.  The K-r did that for me during the eclipse so it's not a big deal - but I have two DSLR camera bodies and neither is foul-weather friendly.  That's sad.

image from Pentaxforums.com
Once the home refinance is complete and a few other items are taken care of, I will give this more thought.  I had once planned to pick up the 20-40mm Limited zoom as part of a future WR kit, but the Sigma 18-50 can replicate 20-40 and with the same aperture range and silent focus.  No WR like the Limited though.  On the other hand the DA 16-85 can do a few things I'm not able to do: all the good things of the 18-50 but with WR and Pentax' quiet focus motor, and that extra bit of range (on both ends!) that I use a lot.  To keep the 55-300 from being overly prominent this would be a good choice.  But it's near my 500g limit.

On yet another hand, my DA15/K24/DFA50 triplet is a clean 100g heavier than the 16-85.  Going with my lightest trio (the 50A non-macro) I am just about smack on the 500g barrier.  So with primes I can shoot with a lighter lens on the camera but the overall pack weighs the same or more!  And as for price.. well if I sold the Sigma and DA15 (gasp!), the K24  and perhaps the smc-M 100/2.8 .. the switch would be self-financing.  That puts me back near prime-free mode but it cuts way back on the feeling that I should have carried another lens or two.  The two DA zooms will manage 16-300mm, and the DFA50 can come along for closeups.. I'd be OK with that.

One more problem relates to video, and Pentax' fake (digital) stabilization instead of SR.  The 18-50 Sigma has internal OS so it can stabilize in a better manner than the camera.  Back in the K-r days the SR system did stabilize the video but those days have passed, for some unclear reasons..

The other big WR piece then needs to be addressed.  K-s2 or K-3?  While the K-s2 would address nearly every need I have, I'm not prepared to speak with certainty on this one.  Both weigh more than the comfy little K-s1, but the absence of a few big features (e.g. interval shooting of stills/video and custom settings on the mode dial) is being felt.  I'd be fine holding out a while on that decision and let the WR lens be on the K-s1 despite its relative nose-heavy feel.  Baby steps are OK for now.

And perhaps the next APSc Pentax will be a much better fit for my style, as it could incorporate the SAFOX XI AF system with the new Clarity function, and toss in the 200k shutter life. As always - we shall see!