Saturday, February 8, 2014

The joy of writing

I've kept a technical journal ever since graduating and getting  real job some 27 yeas ago. I started with cheap mead comp books and eventually moved to moleskine leather bound journals as I advanced in my career and I needed something a bit more 'professional'.
One thing that was pretty consistent through this time was my use of rollerball pens as my writing instrument. While I liked nice pens, I usually used whatever my company had in the supply cabinet. Well, I just burned through the entire inkwell of a Pilot Varsity, which was my first experience with a fountain pen and boy, am I hooked! Thick, super inky black lines and a writing experience that is sooo smooth. Ink flows with little to no pressure as if the pen is actually gliding over the paper. Like so many things in this modern era, we've exchanged classic designs for convenience and low cost. The fountain pen is one of those things that has been lost in that shuffle, I for one am glad I rediscovered it. I'm just disappointed that I didn't do so years ago.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Nexus 5 GPS fix confirmed:UPDATE

UPDATE : while the Antenna fix helps, I ended up RMA'ing the phone back to LG - the new phone is now out performing my old Nexus4. So I now conclude that the only REAL fix for a poor GPS is a new phone.... 

Since upgrading to the Nexus 5 I've been happy in every respect EXCEPT for the GPS performance which was so bad it made me second guess leaving the Nexus 4. It often took minutes for the phone find its present location and position accuracy was horrendous.  Playing Ingress was pretty much impossible and doing any sort of navigation was a true test of my patience and had me wishing I still kept a Thomas guide in my truck.
Both my wife and I have Nexus 5s and both have the same terrible GPS performance so I was convinced it was inherent to the phone but the rest of the internet was silent on the issue. It wasn't until digging through the XDA Developer forums did I stumble upon a post that gave me some hope. Apparently there is a fit up issue between the back cover that contains the GPS antenna and its spring loaded connector on the main board.  That was all the excuse needed to break out the case cracking tools give this potential fix a try - and I'm glad I did - while I haven't performed any extensive field test my initial post fix comparison in the video above do indicate a positive affect.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

SIG SAUER 516 Patrol Rifile - POF drop in trigger to the rescue


Last year I picked up a Sig Sauer 516 patrol rifle off the prize table at the Superstition Mystery Mountanin 3 gun match. With it's 16" barrel I figured I'd turn it into a lightweight carbine which my son Ryan could use to shoot Tac Iron class. 
First impressions were very good, while the big news on the upper is its gas piston operation, the lower had some nice touches like large ambi mag releases, an oversized bolt release/lock buttons, and a setscrew under the grip which applies tension against the upper to give the rifle a nice solid, one piece feel. One thing that immediately stood out on this rifle was how absolutely horrible the trigger was. It wasn't excessively heavy but it was terribly notchy and felt as if they used a hacksaw to cut the sear - any long range stages would not be fun with this trigger.
Instead of breaking out the polishing stones, I elected to take the easy way out and install a POF drop in trigger system - 10 minutes after I started I had a 4.5lb trigger with a sweet, crisp, single stage break. The POF trigger also came with KNS anti walk pins which are a real premium touch. This is exactly the kind of setup I'd expect for the $2000 Sig charges for these rifles.

Friday, September 13, 2013

My new 'Cannon' is a Sigma

My Current Sideline Rig

I've been rocking the Canon 300mmF2.8L on the sidelines for several years now and it has served me well but I was always disappointed when the action came at me or when an spectacular catch happened just feet away from me, I'd end up missing an awesome shot because it was just too tight. I've tried using a second body with a shorter lens but it still wasn't quick or as spontaneous as I'd like. (and since I don't shoot for SI, I felt like a bit of a douche carrying two cameras around).
So this season I picked up the newly released Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM. Yes, that's a fixed 2.8 aperture, image stabilized, tele to super-tele zoom! I admit, I had my doubts, I've been burned by the inferior image quality of 3rd party lenses before and vowed 'never-again'. I've also read enough reports of just how poor previous versions of this lens (I think this is the 3rd) was that I never really considered it. But in 2013, Sigma has stepped up thier game and started putting out some really fine lenses. Their new 35mm F1.4 prime is truly a 'best in class' lens and has got owners of Canon and Nikon 35s asking themselves why they spent more and got less. So when I read that this lens would be built to the same standards, my curiosity was piqued.
So how did it perform? At first, poorly. I shot two games with it and had a really low 'keeper' rate due to out of focus shots.  But after doing a little research, I found that Sigma programs the AF system to prioritize focus accuracy over focus speed. So I used the Sigma USB dock to setup a custom profile for the lens - (there are two custom profile slots that can store different AF speed profiles and AF Microadjustments which is Sigma's work around for the Camera manufacturers not including 3rd party lenses in their in-camera micro focus adjustments). I set mine up for the High Speed setting and went off and shot another game. Keeper rate was MUCH better, pretty close to on par with the ol' Canon 300. This really is a different lens in this mode. Why Sigma doesn't ship their 'Sports' lens with High Speed AF as default is a mystery, but they do.
Now with the focus issue out of the way I could do some comparisons.

Very good - I only shoot this lens wide open and it does a good job. It's not quite as sharp as the Canon 300F2.8L but not much else is. I did find it sharper than the 300F4ISL that I used to own. One peculiar characteristic of this lens is that it doesn't seem as sharp on distant objects - don't know if this has to do with the resolving capability of the lens but I noticed that within 50 yards or so, subjects are tack sharp but as distance increases they tend to go soft - I never experienced this with the Canon.

While I don't intend to use this as a portrait lens, good bokeh is important to get subject / background separation and here a think the Sigma is a bit better than the canon. Specular highlights with my canon were often harsh and had an almost crystallized look to them which could be distracting at times, not a problem with the Sigma, nice round soft orbs of light is all you get here.
Color and Contrast
Since I shoot mainly night games under crappy lights I really can't comment on this one other than under the same conditions I'm finding I'm doing a little more 'tweaking' in Lightroom with the Sigma so I'd take it that to mean the Canon is better (at least in this situation)
Obviously, the Sigma is the hands down winner here since the Canon can't zoom. It is just so great to be able to track a subject coming at you and adjust framing at the same time. The 120mm is by no means wide but on a football field, it's enough to capture the entire coaches huddle or snap sideline portraits without having to back way the hell up. It should be noted that the lens is not a parfocal design so focus changes slightly as you zoom, but I don't think that matters much with AF.
Stretching for the Goal line
Sigma 120-300 @150mm

Here's a shot of a QB keeper play that went to my side, I was able to zoom out and put a little context to his outstretched ball by capturing some of the goal line. With the Canon this would have been 3/4 shot and while it might have been a nice tight shot of his facial expression, I like having the choice to frame the way I want.

In the end, do I think the Sigma is a keeper? Well, all I have to say is there's a big white lens is on craigslist right now...

Friday, May 31, 2013

My new ultra light, long exposure rig

It sure seems my DSLR equipment is gathering a lot of dust lately. For example, I wanted to try out some long exposure photography and when I looked at how much a 83mm, 10 stop ND the filter cost for my 24 TSE lens and then compared it to the price of the same thing for a 49 millimeter filter that would fit my X100s - it was a no brainer -  I was going to experiment with the 100 S.
the Fuji make sense in other areas too because if its leaf shutter design, there's practically no vibration, so a small, cheap tripod will be more than enough to keep this little guy stable for the duration of the exposure.
The whole rig weighs just a hair over 3 pounds and fits inside my Maxpedition Versipack with plenty of room to spare.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Odin TTL functionality on the Canon 1dx!!

Odin Firmware v1.23 for Canon 1Dx available

I've been a Phottix Odin fan since dumping the problematic pocket wizard flex units. The only problem was that TTL functionality with the 1Dx was nonexistent which left me reaching for my 5D mkIII when I wanted the convenience of TTL. Well, the 5D went on Craigslist to make room for some new glass and I was putting my faith in Phottix was doing more than lip service when they told me that they were working a solution for the 1Dx.
Well, they didn't let me down, I literally saw their post announcing the firmware update the morning after sending the 5D home with its new owner! (Can you tell I'm excited?)
I'll be downloading and testing the setup over the next several weeks-thanks Phottix.

Wither pocket wizard....

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sony RX-1 vs. Fuji XE-1 - My take.

I've been playing with both these cameras for the past few weeks with the intent of choosing one as an alternate to my DSLR rigs and main travel camera. I've never been happy with the compromise in image quality you would have to make with compact cameras, so up to this point I've been 'that guy' toting around my 5DmkIII on family outings. I even bought the (amazingly sharp) 40mm pancake lens to make my rig more compact but it's still far from being as small as either of these two cameras.

Build Quality
While both these cameras have a very high end build quality rarely seen these days, the Sony is clearly a step above the with Fuji with its metal lens cap and overall solid construction that makes it feel as if it was machined from a single piece of metal.
RX-1:holds amazing detail in shadows

Here's where I give the Fuji the edge as it most closely captures the feel of my beloved Contax G2. I prefer Fuji's choice of  separate aperture and shutter speed selection dials with the 'A' setting verses Sony's PASM. Call me old school but I really like looking down and seeing the shutter speed with a glance of a dial instead looking at the LCD screen. But one of the biggest nods in the Fuji's favor is the inclusion of a viewfinder - while I'm still not thrilled with the performance of the EVF, it's worlds better than no EVF at all. I really think Sony should have put a viewfinder on the RX-1, I understand they were pushing the envelope on just how small you can make a full frame camera - but I think the slight increase in size to put a viewfinder on the camera would have still resulted in compact design but  it would have made such a big improvement in the way you interact with the camera. I also think it would have resulted in a body size that would be much more proportionally balanced with the lens. I personally don't like the

Much has been said on the web on how slow these cameras are in AF in low light, I found neither one unacceptable and much better than I could have done manually. I found AF tracking of moving subjects poor on both cameras that may be disappointing to those who enjoy shooting active subjects.
With well lit subjects, I found both cameras equally snappy in their ability lock focus. General menu navigation and image review and zooming did appear to be slightly better with the Sony but overall, I'd call this one a tie.
RX-1 Beautiful color and Bokeh

 Image Quality
It all comes down to this right? What good is all the handling, ergonomics and compact size advantages if you don't end up with images that make you happy. Neither camera disappoints in this area, both produce beautiful and have low light capabilities that until now was unseen in the compact segment. But the adv pantage goes to Sony with it's extra Megapixels and that beautiful Zeiss lens that can really resolve some amazing detail and can go along way in making up for its fixed 35mm lens with some post processing cropping.
My comparisons may be a bit unfair since the Fuji had a zoom lens vs. a prime but the Sony was giving my 5DmkIII a run for its money so I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb to say that swapping out the zoom would have reversed my opinion.
FUJI XE-1 ISO 6400 Holds detail and color well,  Noise has a very film like grain quality

While +Steve Huff did the same comparison and chose the RX-1 as his personal choice. I came to the opposite conclusion, for me, the Fuji's controls, design of operation and VIEWFINDER won me over. It may be totally superficial but I felt as though I was more 'in touch' with the photographic process with the Fuji. It felt more like a tool in my hand for me to craft my art instead of the latest wiz-bang gadget - and that was significant enough for me to overlook the IQ advantage of the Sony. Some may find the price difference alone enough reason to choose the Fuji but I find that the hurt in the wallet is only temporary, but the sting of dealing with a camera you don't enjoy is much longer lasting. In fact, if Sony would have released the RX-1 with a viewfinder and better controls, I would have no hesitation in paying the asking price. But for now, the Fuji XE-1 will be at my side...
FUJI XE-1: 18-55mm kit lens is no slouch and capable of some sharp images.