New York, New York

I was thinking recently about the nature and the trees that I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by. The clean air. The wide streets. The weather of Palo Alto. It’s great.

There IS something about New York though that I missed. The grittiness, almost as if no film grain needs to be added. Contrast is up, saturation is down, and low-light is good. That’s New York to me. Fast paced cuts, jump cuts, hand-held. That’s what I remember New York was like. There’s an appeal that I can’t deny.

We were there to attend and film a TedX event at the United Nations Plaza. We were covering a fantastic rock band that donates 100% to charitable causes such as VH1’s Save the Music. I had the little EOS M and 22mm pancake and took some photos and video where I could.

I guess the grass is always greener on the other side.

Warning: NSFW

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12 Hours of L.A.

I had to fly down to LA for a shoot recently and settled on a couple of things. This roller luggae case by Lowepro (here) and this monopod by Sirui (here). I had to be absolutely sure that the airline wouldn’t check my gear, otherwise I wouldn’t fly. No way I trust them handling $15k (yikes I didn’t realize until now) plus worth of camera  bodies and lenses. The smallest of this Lowepro series met Virgin’s carry-on specifications and I could convert it to a backpack if they gave me trouble and also could use it to fit more stuff once landed if needed. Also, my trusty Manfrotto 561 monopod was just too big to lug around especially since we were already packing a heavy duty tripod, light stands and light panels. The Sirui holds something like 22 pounds and I can attest that is supports a lot. I mounted a 5d3, battery grip, lcd monitor and 70-200 2.8 is mark ii and it didn’t break a sweat. It didn’t even slide down which the Manfrotto does occasionally before retightening.

The trip was super brief but I snuck in a few shots and clips here and there.

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Day at the Park

Getting into portrait photography. Just as another speedlite and grid arrived I was off to watch the SF Giants play. I knew I wasn’t going to be bothered nor bother folks with flash but I still wanted to snap some stills during the game.

Brought my 5d Mark iii and left the 7d in the trunk. Why? I didn’t know what light levels I was to be dealing with and though the reach would have been nice on the crop sensor, the 5d’s resolution allows me more cropping options kind of making it moot for stills. The 8 frames a second would have been nice too, but 6 frames ain’t too shabby and getting clean files were more important.

That’s it!

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Main objective was to shoot stills, but couldn’t help switching to movie mode here and there. Footage was scarce but wanted to chop something up. blah blah blah:

Richie FaReal

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Hailing from Oakland and residing in the South Bay, Richie FaReal developed a wide taste in music. Heavily influenced by Blues, live instruments and artists like Stevie Wonder, Richie has become a top talent producer in the Bay Area. Oh, he can rap too. I’ve been a fan of underground hip-hop, mainly freestyle battles and if you don’t have word-play and multi’s then you better have cadence and swag. Richie FaReal’s got it all. I’ve quickly become a fan of his music.

Onto the insider info on the Video EPK below. We shot it in ONE day!!! The goal was to make it look like it spanned several months so Richie came with change of clothing and we set out all over San Francisco. We started in Deloris Park, went to outside SAE, a dive bar, and random side streets. I found some old clips I shot for an episode of the Frat tv where he had some facial hair that helped to sell this idea. We ended at his producer’s home setup.

Now, my main camera used was the 5d mark iii with a 16-35 2.8 ii and a neck strap. I had a Zoom h2 that he kept in his pocket and we just let that run, Plural Eyes took care of the syncing. I also shot the Music videos too, there are full versions somewhere, but they provided some nice value and breaks to the piece.

Richie’s been featured on a lot of magazine’s recently but I decided on this post since the most recent one, 2dopeboyz, attached the full Video EPK! Check it out below. For the full article on Richie Fareal click here. For booking him click here.

It’s all about the lenses?

70200s

I count five. Maybe six conversations I had with myself on the drive up to purchase the Canon 70-200 2.8l is ii. I had the mark i version. It was heralded, legendary and considered the best. The mark ii was considered better, more consistent sharpness throughout the entire range but was nearly twice as expensive. Also, we’re talking stills. This would probably be a no brainer, resolving power for a lens can be seen easily when looking at a raw still file. Would I be able to tell the difference when shooting video, which is what I use all my gear for. Could lenses make a difference on an image that isn’t even really true 1080p?

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From the pictures above I think it’s safe to say yes. The top one was the original mark i. This was shot at 200mm on a 5d mark 3 wide open. I took a screen shot from the .mov file. The mark ii is sharper with better microcontrast. Now that the most pressing question was answered a new one propped up. Could I have saved the money and just sharpened the image in post. I loaded the clips into FCPX and ran an unsharp mask and a sharpen filter on top of that.

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It’s closer, but not quite. If I sharpened it further, I would have gotta some pronounced, sharpened noise as well. The mark i is the top one by the way.  The 70-200 range is great for getting that cinematic compressed background look. The mark ii focuses closer which comes in handy indoors. I couldn’t tell the difference when it comes to stabilization ro build quality. Lastly, you can still sharpen the mark ii.

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Good call on the upgrade, right? Mike, hello?

Sony a99 Rumor

 

For those that haven’t checked out sonyalpharumors.com, it’s a must if your into all things Sony. This guy works hard scrounging rumors from resources all over the globe and puts them together into intelligent product rumors.

I’ve been checking his website daily for a99 updates and here’s what the rumor is:

  • 24.3 Mpx Full frame CMOS Exmor sensor
  • SLT technology
  • New Bionz imaging engine
  • 14 bit RAW recording
  • 10 fps
  • ISO 100 up to 25.600
  • 50 ISO extended (with lower dynamic range)
  • 102 AF point AF (11 cross).
  • AF range
  • MF assist
  • Dual Phase detection system (with AF phase pixels on sensor)
  • 30 sec and 1/8000 maximum shutter speed
  • Time Lag 0.05 sec.
  • Shutter life guarantee of 200,000 cycles
  • 2.360k OLED electornic viewfinder
  • 3″921k LCD with same tilting system of the A77
  • Full HD video recording at 1920×1080/60p AVCHD format
  • HDMI output
  • Built-in stereo mic
  • Built-in flash with guide number of 12
  • Auto HDR capability
  • New multi-segment low pass filter
  • Photodiode expansion technology
  • Light concentration technology
  • Selective noise reduction
  • Ultrasonic anti dust system
  • In body image stabilization
  • Two memory slots: SD and SD+MS cards
  • USB: 2.0
  • Announced on September 12, 2012
  • Available in stores in late October 2012
  • New accessories to be released with the a99: battery grip, flash, remote control, microphone etc.
  • Very light, weather sealed magnesium alloy body.With 730 g this is the lightest FF body on market!

The specs add up to the most innovative and feature rich full frame camera and with the right price may be able to compete with the high end Nikon/Canon DSLRs if it’s any good in lowlight.

 

Mountain Lion Update

10.8.1 is live and fixes a few annoying bugs. Personally, I’ve noticed battery life diminished and audio was spotty when connecting to a Thunderbolt display upon upgrading to Mountain Lion. 10.8.1 aims to fix this.

Other key improvements:

• Resolve an issue that may cause Migration Assistant to unexpectedly quit
• Improve compatibility when connecting to a Microsoft Exchange server in Mail
• Resolve an issue that could prevent iMessages from being sent
• Address an issue that could cause the system to become unresponsive when using Pinyin input
• Resolve an issue when connecting to SMB servers with long names
• Address a issue that may prevent Safari from launching when using a Proxy Automatic Configuration (PAC) file
• Improve 802.1X authentication with Active Directory credentials.

 

Learning about the Mega Pixel myth, the hard way

I can’t remember the first camera I operated but I think it was a Kodak disposable. The first piece of equipment I chose was a Panasonic Mini Dv camcorder that took 1.3 megapixel stills. I started getting excited when my cell phone options began to include image taking capabilities and I made sure I got the iPod Touch 4th gen (the first with a camera) when it came out so I could start capturing pictures and video. The iPod stills weren’t that bad until I found out they didn’t even qualify as one megapixel.

I didn’t pay much attention into what effect a megapixel has on an image until I knew my equipment was deficient. I planned on nabbing an iPhone 4 because I heard that it packed a pretty decent 5 megapixel camera. I was all set and ready to go. It turns out my pictures still seemed somewhat dissatisfying to me. I began looking into a point and shoot pocket sized camera and wondered why anyone would buy one when smart phones could do the same thing. The same thing crossed my mind when I saw Costco stocking super zooms and DSLRs. I didn’t the slight increase in image quality was worth carrying all those lenses and that meaty body. My assumptions were obviously all wrong.

The Mega-Pixel Myth…..ever heard of it? It basically states that anything above 5 megapixels yields photo print quality and the human eye will not easily distinguish the resolution differences. So all those camera ads touting the newest camera punching an extra 2 megapixels actually adds no discernible difference in quality.

Life is about options and the iPhone didn’t give me much. It’s in phone camera app gave me a focus lock, HDR, and that’s pretty much it. Even third party apps that added exposure locks lacked any serious control over basic settings that most pocketable point and shoots came standard with.

My phone did offer zoom though. I thought that was great until I actually used it and wondered why it turned out such shitty images. Turns out the iPhone and other forms of digital zooms relied on a processor to guesstimate what the image would look like closer. Many dedicated pocket cameras and all those Costco super zooms had optical zooms that didn’t require guessing because the actual lenses where at play here not some program.

The biggest problem I had was where I was taking these photographs. Outdoors I could usually produce some decent shots but indoors or at night time these images would become saturated in graininess. DSLRs had the large sensors that are roughly the size of a stamp versus the ibuprofen sized sensors found in pocket friendly cameras. These large sensors were more receptive to low light conditions. They also had many setting options like aperture (controlling how much light passes through the lens), shutter speed (which also affects light entering the sensor once the shutter button is pressed), and ISO sensitivity. I could also select what kind of lighting situation Im under, change white balance (no more orange tinged indoor shots) and the biggest selling point of a DSLR, the type of lenses I could use. Telephoto, 50mm, wide angle, and macro are just a few of the many available lenses that suit all sorts of situations while providing a nice shallow depth of field. These lenses more than megapixels are what produce sharper images.

So I went out and bought a used Sony a300 knowing all of the above and happily new I was going to be able to capture beautiful photos. Then I got caught up in one article after another and started getting bother that my first DSLR only had 10.2 megapixels. I had pixel envy at the newer Canons and Nikons that sport 16, 18 and 20 plus MP. I took my time and pounced when I saw a deal on a brand spanking new Sony a57 sporting a whopping 16.1 megapixels. I popped on my favorite Minolta 50mm f1.7 lens and snapped some pics. I opened Aperture on my Mac and was surprised that I wasn’t blown away. I took my old a300 and took the same shot with the same lens and settings and remembered, the Mega Pixel Myth. See for yourself.

Composition and creativity do more for a photograph than the density capabilities of a camera. Check out the cheap camera challenges of pro photographers at Digital Rev. At the end of the day, I was part right in getting excited over my iPhone. It’s a device that I need to have and Chase Jarvis made famous the saying “the best camera is the one that’s with you.” With the amount of money I’ve spent though, I’m making sure I take my a57 everywhere, including bed. Good night.

Sony Alpha a300 on the left vs. Sony Alpha SLT-a57 on the right
Sony a300 10.1 megapixels
Sony a57, 16.1 megapixels
Sony a300 10.1 megapixels

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If your curious as to how the above image was made let me say this….it’s not worth it! Hopefully, we’ll get to cover the details in future posts but if you must…..

1. Soaked paper in dark brown colored tea for a couple hours
2. After fully dried, roughly tore a a rectangle.
3. Burned the edges with a lighter
4. Snapped a picture (covered desk lamp with a paper towel for soft light and on top of black laptop sleeve so I could easily quickly select it in post.)
5. Opened Photoshop CS5 and wrote text on top of image. (originally wrote everything in cursive but I couldn’t make anything out. Is it just me or has anyone else forgot how to read and write in cursive? Can we just abolish it?)
6. Gaussian blur 9.5, overlay, opacity 50%
7. Levels adjustment
8. Refine edge into new layer
9. Blend option, drop shadow distance-69, spread-17, size-109
10.  Should have just typed in WordPress, would have been easier to read
11. Lesson learned

Behind the scenes

Sony A57 Review

So it goes, “a picture’s worth a thousand words.” It looks like Sony remembered that video is the master of pictures in motion. That’s my take on Sony’s new mid-range A-mount camera in it’s Alpha series. The Sony SLT A57 is a fast, quality camera with impressive video capturing capabilities.

RECAP: A DSLR (digital single lens reflex) is the digital version of the same flipping mirror technology that has dominated serious photography of the past half-century. You look into a view finder and when you snap a picture, the mirror that you were actually looking at flips out of the way so a sensor can make a copy of what you saw.  Sony, with it’s SLT line, fuses a forgotten technology with it’s background in electronics to make a completely innovative camera that threatens the royal DSLR family of Canon and Nikon.

Instead of a flipping mirror, the a57 uses a semi-transparent one that doesn’t need to flip which enables this $700 camera to take rapid 8 (full control), 10 (aperture control), and all the way up to 12 (cropped resolution) frames per second. In this respect, the transparent mirror is allowing Sony’s SLT cameras to compete with others 4x it’s price. That stationary mirror is paired with an acclaimed 16.1 megapixel CMOS sensor that has a very fast phase detection auto focus.

The A57 has all the other details a DSLR would afford you. The things that work especially well are its ISO performance, up to 16000 for quality in low light conditions. It has a host of fun borderline gimmicky options like auto-portrait framing where the Bionz processor takes a look at a photo and crops it using the rule of thirds. The in camera digital zoom works unexpectedly well allowing my kit lens to get some respectable macro shots. It houses a larger battery than it’s predecessor, the well-received A55, allowing up to 550 shots on a fresh charge. Memory Pro Duo and SD cards (class 10 recommended for keeping up with a57‘s decent buffer) are accepted in the larger rubberized grip.

Sony’s newest offering is larger than the model it replaces inspiring confidence that the company was listening to customer feedback. It turns out mid-range DSLR customers didn’t want smaller and delicate in their models but something more substantial with plenty of grip options and spaced out controls for one-handed activation for most features. Sony’s live view has been excellent since it entered the DSLR market after acquiring all things Minolta. It’s fully articulated though it’s majorly annoying that it’s hinged on the bottom, which means even on a tripod it’s difficult to do self capturing. The electronic view finder (since its not a true DSLR, no flipping mirror remember, everything’s recreated digitally) is easy to use and greatly enhanced from the A55, though still no OLED inherited from the higher end A65 and A77.

If you have a collection of Minolta Lenses or have one of the first few Sony Alphas that didn’t record video, then the A57 represents digital SLR movie making in it’s prime and now would make right for an upgrade. Video capture is where Sony’s camera shines utilizng its in-body camera stabliziation (they call it Steady Shot) and its constant phase detection auto focus. Regardless of price, few DSLR’s can compete with how fast and accurate the A57 is when recording in movie mode. There’s no flipping mirror so auto focus is never turned off or in need of readjustment unless you want full shutter and aperture control. For indie film makers, probably the most important thing of note is that Sony’s new SLTs record in full 1080p at 60 frames per second and now also 24 progressive frames a second. The A57 records video at a bitrate up to 28 mbps which is a bit less than a hacked Panasonic GH2 or Canon’s T3i but neither do 60 at 1080p. Unless your going to do extensive and repeated digital manipulation to your videos, my opinion is 28 mbps is of very high quality.  In any case, shooting video with a DSLR and the many lenses that offer up a shallow depth of field can yield expensive looking results.

There’s a lot of fanboy-ism when affiliations are made to a camera manufacturer. Nikon and Canon make excellent products in the DSLR market, Panasonic does well with its micro four thirds system and Sony’s stronghold as underdog may well change with it’s SLT line of semi-transparent mirrors. With any of the above you get large image sensors and full manual control options over exposures which is why they yield better results than cheaper point and shoots or typical smart phone affairs. In my opinion, what it really boils down to are the lenses. Not the mirrors, definitely not the megapixels and not the brand’s name. If you have a bunch of Canon or Nikon lenses then stick with Canon or Nikon. However, if you have old Minolta lenses (don’t forget all Minolta Maxxum A-mounts work with all Sony A-mounts) or are starting from scratch then consider the A57. It’s the cheapest Sony camera that does 24p and, like all Sony DSLR and SLTs, have both in body stabilization (negating the need for the more expensive stabilized lenses) and a built-in auto-focus motor. The last two things simply mean that you could save money in the long run if you plan on buying a few more lenses.

Did any of this make any Flipping sense?

Note: Sample photos and test video clips are here and here.

You will HATE Apple?

Everyone around me knows how I’ve gone off the deep end with my Apple fandom. I’ve gone as far as buying a mini-macbook air pocket mirror and photoshopped Call of Duty on the screen. Why? Because it makes me happy. Because the neurons in my brain don’t always fire correctly. So when an article comes across my lap with any message other than “Apple creates world peace and happy babies,” it gets my attention.

To summarize the opinion in question it’s – “you will hate Apple one day.” Now this person acknowledges that Apple can choose to sell pies and the masses will fall in line for a slice but one day this beloved company will make you angry. I respect the thought and to a degree we are witnessing small cases already. Tim Cook has had to deal with fallout from the overseas labor practice review and then there was the recent Greenpeace stunt. Scrutiny over the speed in which security updates to recent flash/java disguised trojans surfaced over the web. “So this is the ship they say is unsinkable.”

It’s easy to dole out an opinion that contains the words “one day.” This form of statement can be tossed into infiniteness where 250 years down the road one would still be able to say “just you watch, one day it’s going to happen.” Let’s shrink that view and say “you will hate Apple within the next 25 years.” Great that sounds more like a respectable opinion. And I disagree.

Apple is still in second place. This is a good thing. Target fed off Walmart’s shadow and continued to grow while the smiley face was hit with negative media reporting. The same goes for Lowe’s second fiddle to Home Depot and AMD’s silver to Intel’s gold standard. Being in second place allows the type of legroom to be original. AMD had to strengthen its server CPU business and continues to set the standard in GPU’s through its ATI division. Without the weight of maintaining a lead, Lowe’s continually impresses consumer polls with it’s attention to organization and customer service. With an accented pronunciation, Tarzhay’s innovation in design and use of celebrity often gets hyped when it’s competition is scrutinized over labor standards. That’s effort, energy and resources that Walmart could have used in preparation for a more important battle with online retailers. Taking into account the post-PC market the figures back-up Apple’s placing. Windows accounts for 40% of market share, Android 35%, iOS 22%, and Mac OS X 2%. Apple comes behind in both mobile and standard operating systems. Let’s face it, leaders in the market Apple competes in have plenty of problems that Apple doesn’t. This frees up the resources necessary for Apple to remain innovation and design leaders.

The once loved list of IBM, Walmart, Nokia, and more recently Facebook, Best Buy, and Netflix never had a guy named Steve Jobs. Do not underestimate his leadership within Apple posthumous. He was a legitimate rockstar. A model for Iron Man’s Tony Stark. He was a legend that died well before his time. Let’s look at that list. Kurt Cobain, Jerry Garcia, John Lennon and Bruce Lee all passed away at too young of an age and, in part, that’s the reason their enterprises are still strong. They remain above long lasting scrutiny. Game of Death was a shitty movie but the Dragon was in it and it’s an inspiration for movies today. Hollywood will make Steve the subject of several biopics which helps to further entrench his mystifying aura. I’m not saying Apple gets a free pass but they get a certain leeway and cult status that won’t evaporate anytime soon. Don’t underestimate Steve Jobs.

In another way, Job’s manic work ethic and control issues ensure that Apple’s pipeline is fully stocked. He notably delegated the iPhone 4S to another team so he’d be able to focus on the next iteration. In 2010 he locked up the rights to use Liquid Metal which will slowly be appearing in upcoming devices like the MacBook Pro refresh. Don’t forget about the vaunted Apple Television that will help the company completely take over the living room. Even on accident Job’s opened a pathway into becoming THE dominant player in the the gaming market. Do you think Microsoft and Sony are worried about each other? They’re captive to the plans outlined by Job’s before his death. This is the pipeline that piqued China’s interest, we all know how important they are and Apple is one of just a handful of American companies they like.

AAPL’s one of the few companies that zombifies it’s buyers. It’s a huge brand like Coca-Cola and Disney. People buy AAPL shares just to have it. Their happy when the stock goes up and they don’t worry when it does go down. Apple no longer needs a person like Guy Kawasaki to be an evangelist, the buyers do that. Write an anti-mac comment on a forum to see the flame war blaze. I’ll be one of them that come out of the woodworks with digital fatigues ready to defend the thing I type on. I think that’s why I’m compelled to write this. That and my brain not working right thing.

Now I’ll be realistic here and admit that labor practice standards are a significant issue. So is the Greenpeace stunt in protest of Apple’s coal use. Tim Cook, if history is correct, will be well suited to transform some of these issues into net positives. Nike had a similar situation when the sweatshops were exposed and they remain a top ten global brand today. Even if Cook chooses to do the bare minimum in responding to media concerns, Apple has positioned itself for longevity.

The hippy haircuts may be gone but so long as Apple maintains some core mantras the future looks bright. I’ll leave you with number 12 of Guy Kawasaki’s list of things he learned while working for Steve Jobs. “Some things need to be believed to be seen.” I believe I’m right, you’ll see…..one day.

Breaking Rumor – Macbook Pro Refresh

Here’s the scoop from a face to face with an anonymous source from Apple. Unlike the new iPad, the Macbook Pro refresh will stick to the Job’s Doctrine and get a slimmer design. It will still adhere to the overall aluminum unibody aesthetics of others in the Apple family of products but get a thinner profile by ditching the optical drive. In it’s place will be a sort of dual storage setup. Part of the Macbook Pro will have a smaller SSD (Solid State Drive) and the other will have a user removable/replaceable standard hard drive. All displays will be upgraded to Retina-class.

I will update as more information is revealed.

Competing in Global Markets

The following is from a course and is an example of what not to do:

PepsiCo attempted a Chinese translation of “Come Alive, You’re in the Pepsi Generation” that read to Chinese customers as “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Dead” Coor’s Brewing Company put its slogan “Turn it Loose” into Spanish and found it traslated as “Suffer from Diarrhea” Perdue Chicken used the slogan “It takes a strong man to make a chicken tender” which was interperated into Spanish as “It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate” KFC’s patented slogan “finger-licken good” was understood in Japanese as “bite your fingers off” On the other side of the translation glitch, Electrolux, a Scandanavian vacuum manufacturer, tried to sell its product in the US market with the slogan “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.” all this obviously makes me feel better for my failed attempt to market a new mother’s day sandwich called “comer a su madre.”