Archive for August, 2009

Regarding the Canon 7D

(Updated below.)

Online rumors today place Canon 7D’s tomorrow announcement to mention 1080p at 24p/25p/30p, and 720p at 50p/60p. *If* this is true, and if the bitrate used is the same as 5D’s (~40 mbps), then we are looking at the best video dSLR in the market today.

Sure, quality-wise and low-light won’t be as good as in the 5D, but by the time you resize down to 1080p the 18 MP of native sensor’s image capturing, the quality difference will be almost visually eradicated between the two cams. And given that the 7D will purportedly have audio-in, HDMI-out, all the manual controls as the 5D, overall it makes it a better camera (because of the added frame rate choices, which are so important for video).

I already talked to JBQ about the 7D, and he agreed with me that this is the camera I need. This is the major step up I needed over my HV20. And since we already have EOS lenses, it will be a “relatively cheap” upgrade for me.

There is no way Panasonic or Nikon can match any of that in the near future. End of story. Who ever went with the GH1, and its horrendous 17 mbps bitrate, made a mistake (especially since the 7D will have a similar price, according to rumors). Sure, the Panasonic cams have continuous AF, but that’s the only thing they do better, and it’s not enough to save them from the unfortunate situation. The low bitrate, and the need for pulldown removal for its PF24 footage are the reasons I decided to not go for the GH1. I like the products I actually buy to be near-perfect and convenient, and the 7D comes closer to that ideal than the GH1 does.

And I know a lot of people who already have the 5D Mark-II, and won’t be happy if they don’t get the same frame rate support too (although it might be impossible in their case, because of the 5D’s hardware design). Make sure to check the video below, right on the spot about the situation:

I will update this post tomorrow, after getting the real scoop from the official press release and not rumors.

UPDATE: And so the official specs are out. The 7D can do all of what the rumors said, and even more:
1. It now shoots in REAL 24p and real 30p (meaning, 23.976 and 29.97 fps). Canon has just gain my respect back for doing that. It shows that whoever is managing their dSLR department LEARNS FAST.
2. The 7D can shoot at 50 mbps, while the 5D “only” does 42 mbps (compare this to HDV/AVCHD ~25 mbps). This, according to dpreview’s preview article. I will know for sure when I get some real footage directly out of the camera. But so far, it seems that indeed, the 7D has even more bitrate than the 5D! Update: The bitrate is actually 48 mbps. Still, better than in the 5D, and way better than HDV/AVCHD.
3. The camera can do both PAL and NTSC frame rates. This is VERY important for Europeans who want to either shoot 24p/25p slowed-down music videos, or theatrical motion pictures.
4. It costs just $1900 with a kit lens, or $1700 without. This is DIRT CHEAP for what you get for your next video camera. Think that a consumer camcorder like the HF-S10 had an MSRP of $1500, and it is such a bad camera compared to the 7D in terms of visual quality and manual controls. The only thing a camcorder can do better than the 7D is continuous autofocus.

The only thing missing for me though from the 7D, or at least not mentioned in reviews so far, is zebra support. It’s the only additional feature I would like, and it’s easily fixable by software alone.

In conclusion, let me say this: BUY THIS CAMERA. This is NOT ONLY the BEST video dSLR in the market, but also, the BEST video camera/camcorder in both its price range and a price range up to $7000, hands down. So basically, you get an amazing camera, that has SUPERIOR image quality than any of the prosumer camcorders below $7000, it has shallower depth of field, it is smaller, and it costs a FRACTION of what these camcorders do. Sure, prosumer camcorders can do other stuff that dSLRs don’t do, but when taking into account only the BASIC MUST-HAVE features in a video device, the 7D simply does them better.

And let me say something else too. I think that RED with their upcoming Scarlet camera has a huge competitor now. Not only the basic Scarlet model is much more expensive, but it also has a smaller sensor than the 7D. Sure it does 3k, but unless you use it for cropping to reframe a bad shot, *you don’t need* 3k. I think that the 7D is the camera that will give RED a really, really, really hard time in the lower-end market. Jim Jannard, RED’s billionaire and very active in the community founder, already started a forum post complaining about his 5D not having all what the 7D does in video mode. I felt by reading his message that he wasn’t really talking about his 5D (he’s a billionaire anyway, he can buy whatever he wants), but he tried to make existing 5D owners to despise Canon for releasing the cheaper 7D and offering more video features in it. At least, this is how his comment stroke me as. Sneaky. Update: That forum thread is now deleted, hah!.

As for the GH1. It’s a complete joke compared to the 7D. Completely and utterly a joke. 17 mbps and pulldown removal simply kill the usefulness of this camera. Unless you already have a buttload of lenses for it and so it doesn’t make sense to switch to Canon, you better sell the bloody thing and get a 7D. Same goes for any other Panasonic and Nikon existing *or* upcoming camera. They just don’t compare to the 7D. And especially for Nikon, the future looks gloomy since they haven’t been able to do anything useful with video so far. They still use MJPEG for Christ’s sake.

Pre-order a 7D at Amazon.

Review: The Kodak Zi6

The Zi6 is Kodak’s answer to Flip’s ultra-popular line of digirecorders. It is able to shoot in VGA, 720/30p and its main distinctive feature is its ability to also do 720/60p. It can also capture 3 MP interpolated still images.

The Zi6 incorporates a USB male port in its body, so you can connect it to a PC without a USB cable. It has an SDHC card slot, an RCA-out and a component-out. It also wrist-wrap and tripod holes. Finally, there’s a slide-in ON/OFF button, and a macro/normal focus mode for the fixed lens that the camera comes with. On the front of the camera there’s the joystick that controls playback, recording, zooming digitally 2x, volume up/down, and cycling through the various modes. The button on the right switches from recording mode to playback mode, while the button on the left deletes or pauses the currently actively clip when in playback mode.

Overall, there is a good ease of use with the Zi6. The controls are simple and to the point. There are no manual controls whatsoever, or advanced notions. The device does the job as it was designed to do, and adding the 60p feature makes it more valuable than the Flip (even for more advanced video users this can be a useful feature at times).

Quality is what you would expect too, from a low-bitrate 720/60p cam. Not very good and not terrible either (I’ve seen worse). My main complain is that the footage is so over-contrasty that it can’t take any color grading in post. The lens is only a hair better than a good cellphone lens, while the binary nature of the focusing system doesn’t help with shooting versatility. I also noticed that in low-light conditions the camera drops frames (so you will only get a real 60p shot under a very good light). Interestingly, the microphone is not too bad at all, it is in fact better that Flip’s.

Battery life is so-so, with shooting capability of about an hour. The Zi6 comes with the rechargeable batteries and a charging station.

A Zi6 video by Karen Abad ♥s Dinosaurs:

My biggest complaint about the Zi6 is that it doesn’t make sense. Like the Flip, it is a product that offers no value other than ease of use. I placed the Zi6 next to the Kodak V1073 that I reviewed a few weeks ago, and the V1073 is almost half the size! I can’t understand why anyone would buy the Zi6 rather than the V1073, when the V1073 can shoot 720/30p too, it has 3x optical zoom, more controls, and it can shoot very nice (for the price) still images.

So it makes no sense to buy a brick like the Zi6 (or the Flip) when for the same money you can get a real digicam that does the job much better, and it’s physically smaller too! In fact, the Samsonite TM90BK camera bag did not fit the Zi6, but it did fit easily the V1073 and the Panasonic FX150. It fit nicely on the Samsonite C441 bag though, along a dSRL and two lenses.

Overall, the Zi6 has one and only one good point: its 60p ability. If you are in desperate need of some good slow-motion, on the budget, then this isn’t a bad deal. But don’t expect this camera to make it easy for you to shoot small masterpieces like some on Vimeo. It’s possible for some types of videos, but it won’t be easy.

Is Rock all said and done? Part II

Two months ago I wrote an opinion piece about this decade not having a defining artist with enough music influence to compare to monsters of rock of the previous decade. I know some of you disagreed with the opinion, and the rest completely missed the point. But I am now revisiting the topic, since there are some interesting articles discussing this same issue. Their writers also feel that there is indeed an “issue” with today’s oversaturated music industry.

Refe wrote an article here, published a response from an industry veteran here, and that same veteran wrote an article of his own here. The consensus seems to be that there is indeed a “problem” in this decade pinpointing new genres or influential artists that take the world by storm (rather than being niches). As the internet age is trying to define itself musically, the culture itself takes a hit. Maybe it is a social sign o’ the times. Please read these articles before commenting below.

And please let me rant a bit more, this time about Muse’s brand new album, “Resistance“. It sounds exactly like Queen did in the ’70s and ’80s. The album sounds like a bad cover of Queen (many others have noticed too, and one music reviewer even made fun of the fact). Now think about it: if a “progressive rock” band (that was the definition of Muse’ sub-genre so far) is copying a 30 years old band, how progressive is that? Obviously, not much. I can see the rotten state of music perfectly through the new music of Muse. It is to me a perfect example or irony.

I wonder if and when the internet age re-shuffles itself and the dust is settled down, maybe the new major genre we might look at would be electro-rock. Think of bands like the Passion Pit, Metric, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, MGMT. This genre encompasses electronic, dancy pop-disco melodies, and rock. It is accessible enough to pop audience, still has rock elements to appease the rockers, and it uses electronic samples which are in line with the internet and computer revolution (each generation uses whatever tools it can to make music, and electronic is today’s main tool). This is the only genre that I see as emerging right now as one that has enough strength to become ultra-popular. If this genre fails too to create major artists (e.g. the way grunge had Nirvana as its poster boys), I don’t see light at the end of the tunnel for music.

Then again, as Refe wrote, maybe the true legacy of this decade is to have true variety, through many niches of genres and artists. And maybe that’s a good thing — just different from what we were used to before.

The new Canon digicams

Canon announced today a few new consumer digicams. Some plain digicams, some super-zooms, and two somewhat higher-end ones. The two interesting ones are the higher-end ones, the S90 and G11. They have large sensors (1/1.7″), and somewhat faster lenses (the S90’s aperture size is almost as big as the HV20’s, which can mean quite some background blur). And coupling this with the fact that they allow for the same amount of manual image controls as the SX200 IS, they could make them the best sub-$500 video digicams in the market.

And that’s where Canon screwed up.

They offer HD 720/30p support to their cheap new models and their super-zooms, but only VGA to the G11 & S90. This is where HD video would have made some good difference with the big sensor and faster lenses. But noooo… Canon had to segment this new product line. I would have bought the S90, even if I just bought the SX200 IS a few weeks ago, but now, no way I’d buy any of that. That’s money lost for Canon.

Especially for the two high-end models, they could easily make it such as it could do 30 mbps 1080/720p at 30/25/24p (selectable), and with some manual controls (aperture, shutter, ISO) in addition to the current auto modes (that already include exposure compensation/locking, and manual focus/locking). Now, that would be a great stills-video combo gadget that most people would have loved to take with them on holidays.

Product segmentation sucks.

And don’t let me start on their “refreshed” camcorder line (which they do every August traditionally). The new “features” added on the HF-S11 (more flash storage, better OIS) are useless for most video enthusiasts (who already carry bags of SDHC cards and use tripods anyway). Instead of adding native 24p support to FREE US from the pulldown removal HELL, they added the “Advanced Video Snapshot Mode which allows you to create the perfect highlight movie to share with family and friends by recording a series of four second clips when in shooting mode as well as in playback mode.” Really? Really now?

The smartphone wives

If we were to liken the various smartphone platforms to wives, this is what we would probably get:

The iPhone
The iPhone wife is a very beautiful one. She’s tall, and she’s always taking care of herself. She’s the perfect woman to go out with and show off. She’s an accomplished professional, and a good house-keeper too. However, she won’t let you do everything you want to do: she won’t allow you poker nights with your friends, and won’t allow you to share anything with others. She’s very controlling, but after 3 years of marriage you are already addicted to that control. There’s a way to get her give you more freedom by occasionally shouting at her, but this can attract the wrath of your mother in law. Not recommended.

The Android
The Android wife is a versatile wife. She’s able to accomplish a lot of things, she’s smart, she’s open to all kinds of discussions, and she’s good in bed — a cool gal overall. Problem is, she’s pretty ugly, and most of all, she’s messy. The only way to get past the situation is to think of your wife — and introduce her to your friends — as one of the dudes. Then the pain gets easier.

The Windows Mobile
The Windows Mobile wife is one ugly cougar. She’s married to a 25 year old, and he’s her virtual slave. He stays with her because she’s rich, she has connections, and a lot of amenities at her huge house. He has even developed a blind-folding fetish because it was the only way to not look at her while having sex. He can’t wait for the day she dies.

The WebOS
The WebOS wife is a handsome wife, almost as good-looking as the iPhone wife. However, she’s retarded. She can’t do much by herself, and when you need something of her, you need to talk to her like you are talking to a child. Every time you go out with the iPhone wife and her husband, the WebOS wife keeps reaching and touching the iPhone’s wife shiny dress. The iPhone wife pulls back, but the WebOS wife gets all close to her again. A very uncomfortable situation to be in for a husband. Not to mention that the iPhone wife will keep boasting about her accomplishments over dinner, while your own wife still keeps drooling over the shiny dress and laughs when no one else is. Doctors say that there’s potential for intellectual growth there, but it might take time. Hang on in there.

The Blackberry
The Blackberry wife is a very religious wife. She brings the most money in the house with her two jobs. She takes care of the house, the paperwork, the cars, the children. At first glance she sounds ideal, but then you will have to put up with her ideals, her need to donate thousands of dollars per year to the church, and the fact that she will only have sex with you only once or twice a month since she’s tired most of the time. Sometimes you ask yourself why you put up with her bullshit, but on the other hand, having everything taken care of is pretty nice too.

The Symbian S60
The Symbian wife is a middle-aged wife that’s never happy with her appearance. She has had nose jobs, and boob jobs, and lip jobs. You keep telling her that she’s fine the way she is for her age, but she keeps wanting change — a change that’s usually for the worse. Every time she comes back from one of these surgeries she forgets stuff. She forgets all your history together, she even forgets how to cook, how to do the bed, how to give a good blow-job. Her identity crisis is what makes you consider getting a divorce, but she gains you back by saying that her next surgery will make everything alright, with minimal fuss.

Editor’s note: My husband says that I am an Android wife. 😉

District 9 a lesson at multiple levels

The new District 9 movie which has taken the critics by storm is a lesson at multiple levels. Not only for its social commentary, but also for its filmmaking style. The movie was shot with a Red One, and almost 2/3s of it is in documentary style shooting and grading (or lack thereof):

There’s no shallow depth of field, cropping, or aggressive color grading. It’s just a run and gun movie, and it works. The magic is all in the story, apparently.

When I saw the “Eviction” clip showing the guy pictured above I smiled, because the look is exactly like Canon’s “Cinemode” — a look easily acquired by a consumer camera. That scene looked like it was shot with my HV20, and this was a great feeling.

The real funny thing is though that a lot of people shoot in cinemode because the heard that this is how they will achieve the movie look, and then they are unhappy because cinemode looks so flat. But it’s that the beauty of cinemode: in its low contrast, low saturation look.

God is first?

I was just viewing an image online from a devoted “Christian” car. He/she had written on the car “First God, then people…”.

I don’t know about other religions, but I have a good understanding of Christianity, since I studied it both in school and church, like any other good Greek would do early in life. And at least for Orthodox Christians (and for most Catholics too), the New Testament is the *main* book of Christianity. Meaning, that while both the Old and the New Testament are accepted, the New Testament is exactly that: “a new deal between God and Man”. And as every new deal and contract, it has new rules. New rules that Jesus put forth for his believers that overwrote the old rules that were put forth by a jealous, revengeful, self-centric God. That’s why Jesus’ cult became so popular in the first place: because the new rules made more sense to people who have been asking for a humanitarian-based religion, in a world ravaged by war.

The new rules are these: love, forgiveness, love your neighbor as you love yourself, etc etc. Christianity aims to make the living world a better place. And this can only be done if you put people first, not God. If you put God first you end up being a mujahid, not a true Christian. If you put God first, you are missing the whole point of Christianity. This is no different than idolizing the never-present school board for giving out the rules on how to behave in the school playground, instead of actually enjoy playing with the other kids, and be nice to them in the process. Putting God first makes no freaking sense.

As I have written in the past, I am not a believer anymore, but I do consider myself an “atheist humanist”. The way I live my life is not different than what I was taught by the Church. If I can help a fellow man, I will. It’s just that I don’t believe in the supernatural, and I don’t do things because of fear of a being called “God”. When I’ll die (and I feel it might be sooner rather than later), I will just die. The end. This blog will be the only thing that’s left of me for those who choose to remember me. This is why I get so personal some times in public.

But one thing is for sure, even in my deathbed, when I will probably start praying despite being an atheist (part of the human nature, I guess), I will still not put God first. If he exists, he should feel free to put my praying requests at the bottom of his queue if I am on the wrong about my priorities.

I hate AT&T too

What the hell? Is this the worst day of my digital life?

I had enrolled for the “automatic refills” payment option with AT&T’s “Pay As You Go” plan last February. The auto-refill worked once in May, and when it was supposed to refill my account last week automatically, it DIDN’T!!!! What the hell is going on here? You setup the fucking thing to automatically refill $25 per 3 months, and it does that correctly once, and then it doesn’t??? How do you even make something like this work only once?

I will be calling them tomorrow morning, because right now they are closed (IMO, they should be having support people 24 hours a day, but hey).

Worst shit ever. I am really pissed off these last two days. Between Apple, AT&T, and Vegas crashing all the time on a time-critical project, I just feel that I want to head for the mountains and never come back to “civilization”. I hate its guts. I feel like when having PMS, times 100.

Update: AT&T doesn’t know what the hell happened. I show up as auto-refill on their computer, and then I am not. Their rep has no idea what happened, but I have my suspicions. Judging from their pay web site, I smell that they now require an SSN number to accept your credit card, while it wasn’t the deal before. The problem is, there are a lot of people in the US without SSN, because US has run out of supported numbers (US now gives SSNs to new residents only when it absolutely has to). AT&T never sent me an email, SMS, or called to let me know of the new requirements. They just stopped auto-refilling my account, while I thought they were doing so. And because of that, I lost all of my roll-over balance that my account had (about $14). Conspiracy theory anyone?

I _HATE_ Apple

So today I got an unlocked iPhone 3Gs, from a Canadian store (that was for a unit agreed to get acquired a month ago btw, before my decision to stop my Apple purchases a week ago). It came with firmware 3.0.0, and I went ahead to upgrade to 3.0.1. I wasn’t afraid of activation, since my iPhone 2G works just fine with my AT&T prepaid SIM card (the voice part at least). So when I got it, I simply put it on iTunes to update its firmware, and when it would ask me for a SIM card, I would just put in my AT&T one.

Well, things didn’t exactly went as planned. The iPhone 3Gs got activated all by itself, and I was wondering why. Well, when opened the SIM tray there was another fucking SIM card in there!!!! The Canadian store forgot their FIDO sim card in! The Fido sim card didn’t work in the US, so I really thought that this was just a bare iPhone that I received. But it wasn’t. The Fido SIM activated the iPhone with the Fido network, with a SIM that doesn’t really work anyway (at least in the US)!

So I go ahead, and I do what I have to do: jailbreak and unlock the phone. The jailbreakiness and unlockiness of the 3.0.1 firmware worked, and my AT&T card was recognized. So now, I thought, if I restore the firmware again, and not keep any data, it should default back to the AT&T network and won’t be locked to Fido anymore. I thought, I would be able to use the iPhone 3Gs as I do with my iPhone 2G, which doesn’t require special activation as long as I am on AT&T.

But this is not how it works.

Once you have activated an iPhone ONCE, then the iPhone’s “default clean slate” is not “clean slate” anymore. It’s now FOREVER locked to the FIDO network, and it now requires jailbreak/unlock EVERY TIME you upgrade the firmware. If the Canadian store had not made the mistake to put the FIDO sim in there, then I would have activated the iPhone with the AT&T sim card for the first time, and so it would be “locked” to the AT&T network instead (which is what I wanted). Every time there would be a new OS version out, it would just work.

Don’t get confused. There are TWO kinds of SIM locks on the iPhone. One kind is the “easy” lock, which is what the hackers are hacking at, the one that lets you use any SIM. But the other lock, is the REAL fucking lock, which is NOT MODIFIABLE once you have activated the iPhone with a certain network. That lock is much more lower level, and part of the baseband/radio firmware, and not the OS firmware. And that’s a part that no hacking tool can touch, except Apple’s own tools that are not freely available (unless you know of one that can really flash the actual baseband firmware of the iPhone, and not the OS part).

So basically, between the stupidity of the Canadian store to leave their fucking SIM into the phone, the stupidity of Apple to lock things in such a way, and my laziness to put my SIM in the phone immediately after arriving instead of waiting for the firmware upgrade, I am now left with an iPhone that can only be used with the jailbreak/unlock combination. Each time Apple releases a new firmware, I have to jailbreak/unlock the phone manually, and honestly, I rather not since I shouldn’t have to (since I use an AT&T sim, and AT&T doesn’t really mind). I am simply against jailbreaking because it’s just not safe. But now, I have to fucking use it in order to be able to use the phone. And no, don’t suggest to me to buy an iPhone with a full AT&T contract, because I simply don’t need such a contract — I barely do 5 phone calls a month. But I still want an iPhone, and I still want my prepaid sim. This should have worked.

I put the biggest blame on this situation on Apple, because locking phones this way SUCKS GOATS. I hope someone taps Apple’s ass, to feel how good a locking really is. Apple is THE ONLY company that could have bring REVOLUTION to the industry by saying “no” to the carrier-manufacturer phone locks. Apple is successful and big enough to give the FINGER to any carrier that demands locked phones (at least starting with iPhone 3G). But noooooo! Apple WANTS its EXTRA BUCK that it gets from the carriers by locking the phones like that. So instead of bringing revolution, Apple brings me headaches instead.

The filmic look with a digicam

I used the HV20 (60i) and the Canon SX200 IS digicam (30p) yesterday for the wedding I shot. The big surprise came to me from the SX200 IS (review). While it has lower resolution than the HV20, the overall look it produced was so amazingly filmic (low contrast, low saturation) that I still can’t believe that I can get that look with a $300 camera!

Of course, the camera’s color settings were tweaked, as mentioned in the picture above. With these settings, the picture looked like watching a real film movie! Even when tried to turn all these color settings OFF on the HV20 (and enabling Cinemode), the picture produced was still not as cinematic as the SX200’s! People were still “red-ish”, while with the SX200 I would get the beautiful yellow-ish cast on skin tones, as on most films! The groom’s suit is all contrasty-black with no details on the HV20 footage, while on the SX200 footage you can perfectly see details/folds on the suit — like a film would do so!

My JBQ says that the image produced by the HV20 is more accurate (his Canon 5D also produced a similar contrasty look like the HV20’s), but the reality is, who cares, when the SX200 IS looks so much better to my eyes? Like 24p, the film look is a habitual thing that people get used to and have associated it subconsciously to movies. I wish I could show you some better frame grabs to compare the HV20’s and the SX200’s skin tones and contrast (in order to see what I mean), but I have no image releases, so these pics should suffice.

Of course, the SX200 has its problems: it sucks under low light, it’s full of grain/noise. The kind of good footage it can shoot can only be produced outdoors, or with very strong artificial lights. And it has no manual controls to speak off other than color manipulation, exposure compensation/locking, manual white balance, and manual focus/locking (few controls compared to a good camcorder, but more video controls compared to other cheap digicams). But if your footage is shot outdoors, and you tweak its settings as shown above, you will get amazing results.

And judging from this example, the SX200 IS shoots more cinematic footage than the 5D Mark-II (image/color look-wise, not depth-of-field and detail-wise of course). For some weird reason, most of the 5D footage I have seen, is super-contrasty, even when tweaked down.