Archive for the ‘Hardware’ Category (feed)

Canon: a piece of shit company

If you’ve been reading this blog for a few years now, you KNOW how I had been a Canon fan girl for their consumer digicams in terms of video. Their previous digicam non-DSLR cameras were steadily getting better and better video controls, and that was something to cheer for. They were outperforming all other manufacturers by getting the *basics* of video right: exposure compensation, exposure lock, custom low colors, good frame rates at good bitrates, and some models even had manual focus and focus lock.

I was even, unfairly, called biased by certain people, for pushing these Canon digicams. But I’m not biased about hardware, I’m a hard realist. There were definite, true, and important reasons why I’d suggest Canon in the past (if your goal was artistic videography).

Well, the newer Canon cameras, starting last year, weaned off such abilities! FEATURES WERE REMOVED one by one, model by model. We are now at the point where the expensive, high end P&S digicam S110 does not even have exposure compensation/lock. This is obviously done so their more expensive dSLRs sell better, and their camcorder department doesn’t die. It’s an ARTIFICIAL way of keeping business afloat. That’s not what the market wants, it’s what Canon wants. Consider that the video section on the S110 manual WAS REMOVED too. Yup, removed. Where there used to be a whole chapter on video usage in the manual (in EVERY ONE of their P&S models), now there’s *none*.

For all that is worth, I can not suggest Canon to anyone anymore, when it comes to video mode in P&S digicams. What makes it even worse is that the other digicam manufacturers haven’t step up to the challenge to take over what Canon left behind. Most of the cameras from the other manufacturers also miss exposure compensation & lock, or they use fucked up frame rates. When it comes to semi-serious videography with these pocket cameras, they ALL SUCK, even if that was NOT the case 2 years ago!

I mean, they got to the point where they offered 1080/24p and 720/30p at good bitrates last year. What they should have done this year is to keep the old features and push their frame rates to 1080/30p/25p/24p and 720/50p/60p (just like in their dSLR range). I’m not asking for other crazy features here, neither I’m asking for full manual control. But when they go out on purpose and they remove the most basic of controls, exposure compensation and exposure lock, something that has been there since early 2000s, there’s something sinister at work there.

So, what to do? Get a dSLR or micro-thirds camera that happens to have the whole nine yards when it comes to video. Or if you prefer a camcorder, get the ones that cost over $1000 that also come with the whole nine yards. Since you can’t go for a good-enough $200 P&S digicam for video, shell the cash and get something appropriate for over $1000. At least you won’t be ripped off by buying a P&S digicam for $500 and not even get the video features that were present in a $100 Canon digicam just 2 years ago! So my suggestion is, either go all in, or try to find older models, second hand.

I personally still use my older, SX230, which is the BEST small camera for live shows, amazing mic quality on loud shows, and it still has all the other needed video features too. But it’s not the best in terms of other things (e.g. it has a slow lens). The S100 from last year is also good video feature-wise (if you ignore its hardware faults), the last of its range to support all the basic video stuff that are needed to make a video look professional, and not like a piece of shit cellphone video.

And let’s not forget that Canon only announced the full HDMI-out for the 5D MkIII recently after a third party firmware group said that they hacked in that feature. So basically, someone has to squeeze Canon’s balls before they actually offer what their hardware CAN do, but they refuse to put the software behind it to support it. Even if HDMI support might have engineering costs, this is not a case of “software costs” to the video features mentioned above, because the software for the specific features WAS ALREADY THERE. Instead, they’ve been CONSCIOUSLY removing them PROGRESSIVELY. As in, a strategy.

So, fuck you Canon, you are corporate shills and you suck donkey balls.

MobiSlyder test

MobiSlyder is the small brother of the popular Glidetrack slider. It’s meant for cellphones, P&S digicams, digirecorders, and small dSLRs. The MobiSlyder comes with an articulated mount for full flexibility with your phone, a mobile device mount which has a variable size and can fit both small and big phones, a 1/4″ standard mount, and an adhesive & 1/4″ ball mount.

I tested the slider with my Canon SX200 HS digicam, which worked great. The slider was really smooth, it was like pushing a feather! Very nice sliding, especially for that price!

I also tested with my Galaxy Nexus phone, which is a rather big phone at 4.7″ diagonial screen. The phone also had a plastic case which added to the bulk and weight. The mobile device mount was able to fit the Galaxy Nexus fine, but the articulated mount had problems supporting the weight (even after tightening it). The mount would just collapse under the weight occasionally.

Another problem was that the slider is a bit noisy, as you can hear below. I usually don’t care about capturing sound for my projects, so for me this is not a problem. Also, I’m more likely to be using the standard mount with my digicam rather than the phone too.

10 new useless cameras from Canon

Well, either Canon has lost its mind, or they now segmentize their products too much. They announced 10 new P&S cameras recently, and they all have very disturbing video-related features. Removed features, that is.

– Except the SX260 HS, none of the other new models now support exposure compensation and exposure lock in video mode. That was a feature that was standard in all older models. Without these features, videos look like amateur hour.
– All their low-end cameras now do 25p instead of 24p. This is very dubious, because this is not a case of Canon throwing a bone to the Europeans and their PAL system. This is a case of Canon cutting off the “cheap 24p camera” pathway.

Basically, we had 2-3 years of Canon P&S superiority when it comes to video, and now Canon very consciously is removing video features so they can sell more high end products (e.g. dSLRs), or trying to save their failing camcorder division.

As the market stands today, I can’t recommend anymore ANY new P&S for video (from any manufacturer). A dSLR is the way to go for anyone serious about video (with lenses, you’d need a good $1500). I’m personally eager to see the new T4i.

For those who are interested in old P&S stock, Amazon currently sells the Canon A1200 (720/24p @ 22 mbps with exposure comp/lock and color controls) for $79 (last year’s model). Here’s a documentary shot with this little camera, unfortunately not uploaded in HD though.

New Canon cameras at CES

Canon announced today a few new P&S digicams and camcorders. What do these new models mean for video? Apparently, absolutely nothing.

The flagship of the new announcements is the G1 X, a large sensor G-series camera. The only new video-related feature it’s got is its upgraded bitrate: it now uses the same bitrate as in the Canon dSLRs, at around 45 mbps. But there’s still no manual control, or 1080 @ 25/30p and 720 @ 50/60p (in addition to its 1080/24p and 720/30p). Video-wise there’s absolutely no reason to buy this camera compared to the Canon S100 I’m afraid. Sure, it’s got a bit more bitrate, but that extra 20% more bitrate isn’t worth an additional $400 IMHO. Yup, there’s a big sensor in there now, but if you can’t manually control the aperture, and instead we have the camera go automatically to high shutter speeds outdoors (and closing down the aperture), what’s the point of it?

Update: According to this article, the G1 X does not even have exposure compensation for video. It’s one, big, fat, expensive, JOKE. Update 2: DPreview updated their article saying that exposure compensation does work, but only when the camera is in movie mode, and not when you simply click the record button in any of the other modes. This is how it’s supposed to work, but the way they wrote the original article showed that the dpreview guys are in need of a video-specific reviewer…

Regarding the cheaper 520 HS, 310 HS and 110 HS, there are highly disturbing news I must report. Not only exposure compensation + lock is STILL MISSING from these models (remember, up to 2010, Canon P&S digicams did have this feature for video, but then it was removed from most of their new models), but bitrate was also botched down! Where in the past all Canon P&S HD digicams would feature 21 to 24mbps bitrate for 720p, and 35 to 38 mbps for 1080p, now we have TWO of the NEW models (520 HS & 110 HS) offering just 18 mbps for 1080p, and about 12 mbps for 720p. In other words, Canon made their consumer digicams WORSE than they were last year (again, video-wise).

I made quite a few frienemies by evangelizing the Canon P&S digicams over the last 2-3 years, but starting last year and continuing with this year’s models, I can’t suggest these cameras anymore with a straight face. Canon is trying to save their camcorder department by butchering what it was the best P&S video digicams in the market. They had the basics right, but now they aren’t better than other manufacturers. We were going so well in terms of adding video features on digicams in the last few years, and then, not only there’s a stop, but there’s regression too. Sad…

As for their new camcorders, none of these new models offer anything really new, that’s just recycling we see there. The HF G10 from last year at $1500 still remains their best semi-consumer camcorder ever released, but they didn’t update it this year (it would have benefited from a bigger sensor and a full-size hot shoe).

Conclusion: Buy older Canon digicams if you must have a digicam for video, the ones that still have the basics in place. These basics are, I list them again:
– Exposure compensation + lock
– Focus lock
– Custom colors for “flat” look (at least for saturation, contrast, sharpness)
– 720p at over 20 mbps, 1080p at over 35 mbps
– 24p and 30p options

I mean, really, is that too much to ask? I never even mentioned manual control for A/V, or built-in ND filters, or mic-inputs, or any other “crazy” feature. Just the damn basics needed to make a video that doesn’t look like total amateur hour! Even the iPhone can do most of that now via third party apps!

So, which P&S digicam to buy? If you only shoot random family videos, anything will do, but if you want to do art, go for last year’s SX220/SX230 HS which sells at $200 now (1080/24p, 720/30p), or last year’s A1200 which sells for $90 (720/24p). If you have the extra money, you can consider the S100 too at $430 (same video features as SX230, plus ND filter). For camcorders go for the one I mentioned above, the HF G10, the rest are laughable for anything serious (at least from what you would expect from a camcorder compared to a digicam).

But the best advice would be to wait and see what the new T4i dSLR will be able to do in February. From leaks we know for sure it’s going to have the new Digic imaging processor, but if an updated sensor/body comes with it to complement it (which would translate to less rolling shutter, no line-skipping, continuous autofocus), then there’s no reason to get a P&S digicam. Save your money, work extra hours if you have to, and go for the T4i in that case.

I wish I was able to suggest P&S digicams instead, for young people who just start with video (I will be teaching a videography class soon to kid-artists), but these new models don’t allow me to do so. They’ve taken a step back.

Cellphone camera apps

Android and iOS are taking over the world as the devices of choice for most people, and especially on the iOS front, still photography with an iPhone is taking off. The quality is “good-enough” to get something respectable out of it that FlickR audience would appreciate.

For video though, things are not as peachy as for still photography on smartphones. Video requires a few extra features to make it usable for artistic usage. These are:
– iOS: 24p/25p/30p fps selection (the FilmicPro app hacks this, but it’s not the real output of the camera). Low contrast/saturation/sharpness “flat” mode. iOS supports exposure compensation + lock, tap-to-focus and focus lock, and high bitrate.
– Android (most models): 24p/25p/30p fps selection. Higher bitrate (24mbps). Low contrast/saturation/sharpness “flat” mode. Exposure compensation + lock, and focus lock. Some models have tap-to-focus, but not much else.

So between the two, iOS wins so far easily on video by offering more control, but it’s still not perfect. I mean, we’re not even asking for full manual control here, just the basics to be able to get good video out of these phones. iOS only needs a few things to get it right, but the Samsung/Google/HTC/etc camera engineers really need to get a freaking clue about video and select hardware for their devices that support these features.

I know some people will argue that cellphones are not great to use for art, but I disagree. It’s the artist that matters, not the hardware. However, the artist can NOT fully open his/her wings and use the hardware to the fullest if the BASIC FEATURES are missing. For still photography things are easier, since fewer features are needed for people to get a good output. But for video, some extra stuff are needed, that are easily doable with modern hardware, but somehow they’re not taken into account by the engineers or project managers so far.

Canon’s New “Revolutionary” Cinema Camera Underwhelms

The media have been invited today in Hollywood to witness Canon’s game-changer cinema camera. Canon hyped the announcement last month by claiming that they will write Hollywood history. The C300 is a beautiful small-factor camera, but if we are to judge from the Twitter responses of many industry professionals, the camera seriously underwhelmed them.

The C300 has a 4k CMOS sensor, but it only records at 1080p (if 4k capture is available via HD-SDI is not known at this moment). The camera comes with a PL mount version and an EF one, to accompany Canon’s new 4k-resolving lenses. The price is considered high at $20k by many. An unnamed as-of-yet dSLR from the same C-line was also mentioned by Canon in the press release I received, saying that this new dSLR will be able to record at 4k, but by using the (archaic) MJPEG codec.

This really feels like a big joke today. Either Canon has lost the plot, or they don’t know how to put together specs for people to comprehend. They never made clear if the C300 can capture 4k or not, they mentioned nothing about the codec used, and they never mentioned the 4k dSLR at the event!

What really bothers me is that if the C300 does not do 4k for one reason or another, it should have had the ability to shoot 2k. I mean, come on. 2k is the resolution of most cinema projectors, and it’s so close to 1080p resolution-wise, that not a lot more RAM or processing would be required on board. Not pushing this camera for 2k, while they’re trying to get Hollywood on their side, shows how outside of the loop Canon is.

Finally, there’s not even over-cranking support in 1080p mode. Not to mention that I’m not too hot on the mpeg2 codec. In this day and age all video editors have OpenCL/CUDA support for h.264, and a good h.264 codec can deliver 2-3 times better video than mpeg2 at the same bitrate. Just use the right h.264 10bit 422 encoder at 50mbps, which should be leaps and bounds better than mpeg2. But no. We had to go back 10 years. (Continues below…)

In my opinion, Canon has two options with the C300, and two options alone:
1. With a firmware upgrade, allow RAW 4k capture via the HD-SDI port.
2. If this is not technically possible in the current design, drop the price by 50% at $10,000.

Failure to do any of the two will result in a big FAIL for Canon. This is my honest opinion on the matter, no matter how good a visual result this camera can deliver. It’s still 1080p, and Hollywood has moved to 4k. That’s the reality.

There are some who say that this Canon camera goes against the SONY F3, and not the RED. But this is bullshit. First of all, it’s much more expensive than the F3. Secondly, it doesn’t matter what the F3 can do. Canon was all about a HISTORIC moment, this was the camera some Canon execs last year were saying it will kill RED. But in reality, this is just a camera created by a company that rode the high horse without realizing it. All this shows that the video success of the 5D MkII, their first video dSLR, was a happy ACCIDENT, and not a planned visionary feature. Canon has no idea what it’s doing with their video cameras. Either they didn’t ask anyone for input, or they got input from the wrong people (wedding videographers?).

As for the unnamed dSLR, please don’t get me started at the MJPEG joke. Really Canon? MJPEG? In (expected) year 2012?

The Canon T3i remains the best-camera-for-the-buck ever released (at $800). Because let me be clear, the C300 is indeed better than the T3i, but not 25 times better. Not by a long shot.

In other news, RED changed a few specs around on the Scarlet (4k video and with great resolutions/frame-rates combos). Some say it will arrive by December. Price starts under $10k, but it’s realistically expected to go to $13k after adding LCD, lens mounts etc. If that’s true, RED won the battle today. As much I don’t like RED’s vaporware, at least they’re genuine dreamers. Canon seems to be comprised from corporate shills instead, who don’t understand the new market that has emerged in the last few years inside Hollywood and outside of it.

Update: Haha, this is getting better and better. So, there is no 4k recording via the SDI port on the C300, and the codec is actually just crappy 8 bit all the way (SDI & CF). Full specs here. In the meantime, RED is pissing off its EPIC users, since the Scarlet can do most of what the EPIC can, for a fraction of the price. And we should not be forgetting AVID, who also today announced an uninteresting (to me) editing solution. This has been a very interesting day indeed.

Canon S100: best P&S for video right now

The successor to the S95 is here. Canon just released the CMOS-based S100, the first camera with the brand new Digic V chip in it (which hopefully alleviates most of these issues that plagued older Canon cams). The camera has a 1/1.7″ sized sensor, an f2.0 lens, and a 5x zoom. Personally, I would have preferred to sacrifice the zoom down to 3x and get an f1.8 lens instead, but hey.

The biggest new feature I was waiting for this year was full manual control in video mode, since the main competitor to Canon’s S-series, the Panasonic LX-series, do support this since last year. Canon didn’t give us manual control though. So, according to the manual, here’s what you get with the S100 in video mode:

– 1080/24p @ 38 mbps and 720/30p @ 24 mbps (new).
– Force aperture to open-up with the built-in 1/8 (3 stops) ND filter (new).
– Use external RCA monitor as a recording display (new, HDMI port is playback-only).
– Wind filter for the stereo microphone (new).
– Zoom while recording (new).
– 120 fps slow-mo at 640×480 (new).
– Shoot using preset focal lengths (no step-zoom) (new).
– Exposure compensation (P mode).
– Exposure lock.
– Autofocus lock.
– Manual focus.
– Miniature Mode.
– Auto & Custom white balance.
– Custom colors (set sharpness, contrast & saturation to minimum values for “flat”).

Personally, I will buy one (especially since I gave away my SX200 IS to my brother, so I’m without a good P&S atm). It’s not 100% what I wanted (faster lens, manual video control, additional 1080/30p option), but it’s the closest one out there to what I want. Unfortunately, the LX-series don’t offer enough bitrate and sensible frame rates to me, so I can’t consider them. I expect Canon’s new Digic 5 to produce a clearer picture in video mode than any older Canon camera too (and this includes dSLRs).

MOG/RDIO/Pandora/Online-Radio in your living room, the cheap way

I’ve been trying to convince my husband, JBQ, to get us a Sonos player for a while (over a year now). I pushed the issue again last night, since now we are RDIO subscribers, and we would like to listen to our RDIO collection without having our TV “on” (we currently use our Roku XD|S for RDIO, connected to our main HDTV, and an analog cable from the Roku to our Yamaha receiver that powers our big speakers in our living room). But the $350 price tag of the Sonos (for their cheapest model) is still prohibiting for us.

It was during dinner that my husband had the idea: “why don’t you buy a second Roku, just for music, and connect a PC monitor to it that would be sitting next to our amplifier? I bet it’ll be cheaper than a Sonos“. And of course he was right again:

Sonos solution:
$350 – ZonePlayer 90

Cheaper solution:
$60 – Roku HD
$60 – 17″ 1280px LCD monitor
$5 – HDMI to VGA (or DVI)
$3 – Audio cable to connect to your amplifier/receiver
$2 – Android or iOS Roku remote app (optional)
= $130

There. My husband just saved us all $220 bucks. Enough for two Kindles, to read a book next to your loved one, while listening to music.

To me, the important thing here is that we won’t have to have our TV ON in order to listen to music. I hate having to do that, turning ON a huge 50″ TV just to put an album to play. The unobtrusive, smaller PC monitor can always stay ON, since the Roku has screensaver support. And if it dies after a while, it only costs $60 anyway. As for the Roku, it never turns off, so you can use its remote app on your mobile phone/iPod at any time.

In some ways, this setup is similar to the prototype Be, Inc. announced in 2001: HARP (“Home Audio Reference Platform”), based on their BeIA/BeOS operating systems. Here we are, 10 years later with a similar idea, but in a much smaller size than HARP:


Be’s HARP platform

Of course, the Sonos solution offers other advantages, like multi-room support, no need for an external PC monitor (free Android/iOS remote app, otherwise it will cost you an extra $350), and iTunes streaming support among others. However, if you just want music in a single room only, and you never buy any music (since you either use Pandora, or you now subscribe to unlimited services like we do), this solution is far cheaper and works well-enough. The RDIO app on Roku is crashy, but RDIO knows about it, and I believe an update is pending. MOG, Pandora, Tune-In Radio, ShoutCast, Soundcloud, and MP3Tunes all work great, and more applications are added on Roku as the time goes by. Definitely more than for the Sonos platform.

Personally, I think Sonos needs to either rethink their prices a bit, or move to a cheaper platform (maybe a next generation, cheaper Sonos, based on Android?).

Update: Some folks over at the Roku forum suggested the new AppleTV ($99) or an Airport Express ($95) instead — that is, for existing users of iOS devices that run the latest software version. This way, they can run/stream any of their music apps via their iOS device, and then redirect audio output via Airplay on the Airport Express or AppleTV, that are connected to an audio receiver. The signal is sent encrypted, in the Apple Lossless format, so there’s no loss of quality on the way to your living room’s big speakers.

Since I already have a 4th Gen iPod Touch that supports Airplay, I might wait for a new AppleTV model, or a major software update for the current one (with third party apps and all), and then go for that solution (although my receiver has no optical-in, so that would be another $35 to get a converter). However, for users who don’t own any of the devices needed, that would be $300 to $330 ($200 for an iPod Touch, $99 for AppleTV or Airport Express), so my original suggestion still stands.

I have a dream…

As much as the dSLRs have redefined indie filmmaking and democratized it even more, I feel that paying $800, plus the cost of lenses, is still prohibiting for many people. What I envision is a Canon S95-type P&S camera, specifically made for filmmaking students & film enthusiasts, and as a “test” camera for professionals, that costs no more than $300:

Video recording properties:
– 3072×1728 (3k, windowed): 12p fps, up to 30 secs of recording
– 2048×1152 (2k): 25p, 24p
– 1920×1080: 30p, 25p, 24p
– 1280×720: 48p[->24p], 50p[->25p], 60p[->30p] (option for unlimited real-time recording, or slow motion with up to 30 secs of recording)
– 960×540: 72p->24, 75p->25, 90->30p, 96->24p, 100p->25/50, 120p->60/30/24 (slow motion only, up to 30 secs of recording)

Other features:
– Full manual control (shutter, aperture, ISO), P, Tv, Av, auto modes
– 50 mbps VBR bitrate h.264, 4:2:0, with optimized h.264 encoder compared to the current Canon cams.
– 192 kbps VBR AAC or PCM, stereo. No mic input (size restrictions, let people buy external recorders, as they should anyway)
– Customizable colors (ability to get very low contrast, saturation, sharpness if desired, also skin tone/R/G/B), movie look profiles, including a port of Technicolor
– f/1.4-2.2 IS lens, 28mm-105mm (~4x zoom), physically large aperture. The Olympus XZ-1 is today the closest P&S camera with a similar lens (examples: 1, 2, 3).
– 2/3s 10MP CMOS sensor with vastly improved rolling shutter, high quality internal resizer
– 3.5″ 24bit touchscreen at 640×360 or higher resolution
– Option to turn off the touchscreen after recording started if an external monitor is connected (to save battery in-camera)
– mini-HDMI out, live, uncompressed RAW output up to 2k (“4:2:0 makes the most sense with a single-plate sensor, since that’s fundamentally what the sensor sees, and anything beyond that is interpolated“, my husband says)
– mini-USB connector & charger
– USB-to-USB cable to provide 3D support with genlock
– 37mm or 43mm filter thread
– standard tripod mount
– SDXC slot
– manual focus with ejectable mini-wheel that also supports a larger follow-focus wheel addon. Hidden when not ejected.
– autofocus in macro/std/wide modesl & focus lock
– smooth continuous autofocus, smooth exposure jumps when in auto
– Touch-focus, and touch-exposure in addition to a traditional exposure scale and possibly zebras
– miniature timelapse support as in current Canon cams
– some timelapse options
– gridlines and crops for various sizes including 2:35:1

Six Months with the Roku

In the six months after buying the Roku box (my full review), quite a few things happened: I canceled our Comcast subscription, bought an indoors antenna, we bought a GoogleTV (wish we hadn’t), Netflix added lots of new streaming content, bought a laptop with HDMI-out, while Roku added Hulu Plus and USB local playback support. So how things are going on? Great! Just great.

The Roku is now my primary way of getting entertainment: Netflix and Vimeo are my primary channels, with Hulu via my laptop (mostly for Stargate:Universe), while our aerial antenna is used no more than 3-4 times a week (The Event, V, Vampire Diaries, Fringe). The Roku has a few bugs (e.g. some horizontal lines for videos that are wider than 16:9, rebooting occasionally after becoming slow), but overall it offers the best experience. It’s richer in content than our AppleTV, and way simpler to use than the Frankenstein GoogleTV.

Research found that many people can’t cut the cord because they have kids/wives that require specific kid/reality programming, but Netflix now carries lots of that on its streaming service. For $10 per month you should be able to get a lot of such programming, which surely beats Comcast’s $90 per month I used to pay for the basic package of HD+DVR. Add an indoors antenna too, maybe get a laptop with HDMI-out for the free version of Hulu (if you can’t wait for the shows to show up on Netflix), and you’re in business!

Here’s my matrix, with 100 being the best:

TV OnD Movies Live TV Youtube, Vimeo Online apps (e.g. Pandora, podcasts) App SDK UI Local playback UPnP, DLNA, Airplay
Roku 75 75 20 90 90 75 75 60 10
AppleTV 60 50 20 40 20 10 90 60 70
GoogleTV 40 70 30 60 50 20 (web-only for now) 20 80 70
Boxee Box 40 50 20 60 50 60 40 90 90
WD TV 40 50 20 60 50 60 50 100 90
Sat/Cable 70 40 100 0 0 0 50 30 0
Antenna 0 10 80 0 0 0 N/A 0 0

Winner in my book is the Roku. Best $60 I ever spent (by far the cheapest of them all, except for the indoors antenna that cost me $36).