So last Sunday night I had a meeting that kept me from seeing the eclipse of the blood moon until it was fully eclipsed. I had taken along my camera to the meeting, cause I knew the meeting location would have a better sight line than my house does.
Here is how I took this photo:
This photo ended up being the best of the lot: no shakes, and the moon just starting to see some sunlight again.
Trincomali Channel, ho!
A friend runs a weekend boat course in which he teaches city slickers how to handle wooden boats that use multiple oars and optional sails. Here the two boats head off with a fresh crew arrived from the big city southward along Trincomali Channel off the west coast of Canada.
Samsung Galaxy K Zoom
Ever since in 2006 when my dad handed over his latest camera he didn't like, I've wondered why smartphones don't have room for optical zoom lenses. The camera he didn't like was the Samsung NV3, and he didn't like it because its LCD screen was not bright enough for outdoor use. I used it for several years, then passed it on to my daughter.
Samsung's NV3 digital camera with its 3x zoom lens fully extended
The NV3 is smaller than the size of a smartphone, yet has a 3x zoom lens that does not protrude from its thin body. Samsung fitted the zoom mechanism inside the body, using a prism to get the light rays to turn 90 degrees from the external lens. (Heh, it also embodied functions Korean companies thought important a decade ago: this camera could play back MP3 music and even display imported text files! No headphone connector; instead, those two chrome "dials" at either end of the top are speakers.)
Not that there weren't attempts, such as awkward ones to graft a third-party zoom lens onto smartphone bodies, or early attempts by Samsung to merge camera with Android. I tried one of the first attempts at the local electronics store, but the interplay between Android and camera functions left me disappointed.
Until a few weeks ago when I read a columnist who wrote that his Galaxy K Zoom was the ideal merging of the two functions. The phone is about a year old, and is based on the Galaxy S4 (I think) with its dual quad-core CPU. (One set of quad-cores runs fast, the other set is slower to save power.) I looked on eBay and found an unlocked one for $330 (it would be $660 locally). I ordered it in white. It arrived, and after my first photo expedition (the dim lighting of a newly opened museum here in town), I am pleased with the result.
Samsung's Galaxy K Zoom is both 10x camera and Android 4.4 smartphone;
available in black, white, or blue
As you can see in the photo above, one side is an Android smartphone running Samsung's interpretation of KitKat v4.4, while the back side is the camera. It takes full advantage of the touch screen, so that I can take a photo by tapping any spot on the screen or by pressing the dedicated hardware shutter button.
To activate the 10x optical zoom, I can use the usual zoom motion on the touchscreen (spreading two fingers) or press the volume buttons. Digital zoom extends the range to 20x.
I can use Samsung's camera app and its many options, or Google's app (for photospheres and HDR images) -- or any other camera app from the Android store. The user interface is clean, which is what I like, and Samsung did a pretty good job of making options easily accessible.
TIP: I use both camera apps, setting Google's to have HDR (high dynamic range) turned on. Some photos are better with HDR, some better without. By tapping either camera icon, I get either mode without having to switch modes before being able to take the photo.
(The one hiccough is that the flash is xenon, not LED. While xenon is brighter than LED, it cannot be used as a flashlight, because it cannot be left on, like an LED bulb. This is a function of my smartphones that I use a lot. The workaround is to use an app that make the entire screen white.)
Naturally, this smartphone is twice as thick as a normal one. OTOH, it has a replaceable battery and a microSD slot. I've ordered a double-size 4400mAhr battery from MugenPower (which includes the replacement back cover), and I inserted a 64GB memory card that I had laying around.
So why a camera phone? Androids do something that no regular camera does: transmit via Dropbox photos to my computer as I am taking them. I've tested four WiFi-equipped cameras, including one from Samsung and two from Canon; I guess their punny CPUs don't multi-task, and so they cannot send photos over their WiFi system until they are in Playback mode. Then their transmission speed is so slow that it is faster for me to hook them up with a USB cable to my computer.
I like walking into my hotel room and by the time I open my laptop computer, all the new photos I took are already there. In particular, I want photos to magically appear on my computer as I am taking them at conferences that I live-blog.
(I was particularly disappointed in the WiFi function of the Samsung point-and-shoot camera I tested, as it included Microsoft's competitor to Dropbox -- whatever it is called -- in the camera's firmware. But it was horrifying to use: the pictures were downsized before being send via WiFi. Samsung has equity in Dropbox, but I waited in vain for a firmware update to add Dropbox to the camera. The Galaxy K Zoom provides 50GB free storage with Dropbox, albeit just for two years.)
So, there you have it: an unlocked Android smartphone for the price of a point-and-shoot camera, with the 10x camera thrown in for free.
I gave my older Canon digital camera to my son, and so last fall I looked around for a suitable replacement. I picked Samsung's EX2F because it has one very special feature: the brightest lens of any point-and-shoot, an amazing f1.4. That's two f-stops brighter than just about any other digital camera, and nearly three f-stops brighter than Apple's new iPhone 5s.
Another time I might write more about what I liked and disliked about the EX2F.
(Increasing by one f-stop is like doubling the shutter speed; three f-stops allows 9x faster shutter speed und the same lighting conditions. I wish tech sites would trumpet lens size and ignore megapixel counts, which are irrelevant.)
I liked the idea of having the brightest lens available to a point and shoot, because I never use a flash in my photography. Flash makes ugly photographs. Bright lenses are available to digital SLRs; the largest I've read of is f1.1; but even an f1.4 lens is expensive because of the large amount of precisely-polished glass needed.
But even after several firmware upgrades, the rare $500 EX2F became frustrating to me. The big lens meant it was limited to 3x optical zoom, and I love a big zoom! Last month I searched for a relatively compact camera with a long zoom, reasonable price, and preferably Canon brand name.
I found it in the $250 SX500IS, a point-and-shoot with a 30x optical zoom. I've owned several Canon digital cameras since 2001, and so I opened this one up with some preconceived notions of what to expect. I found there were things I hated and others that I loved about it.
No USB charging. During day-long conferences when I am taking many pictures, I keep the charge up on my camera and cell phone by plugging them into the USB ports of my notebook computer. Canon doesn't do this; it provides a proprietary battery and an external battery charger. To recharge the battery during a busy shooting day, well, I can't. I had to buy and take along a second proprietary battery ($30) and the external charger -- instead of using a simple USB cable.
Not an external drive. This Canon camera is not seen as an external drive to computers. Instead, the company provides a CD with needed devices drivers and so it works only with Windows and Mac computers; not Linux, et al. Most other cameras appear as an external drive, and so files can be easily copies. The workaround is to pull the memory card each time I need to copy files to a non-Windows/Mac computer.
Other irritants. The box contained no printed manual; it was on the CD. But at the time I bought the camera, I had no computer with a CD drive. The CD contains Canon's software for stitching photos into panoramics, but (a) this software hasn't been updated since the first time I encountered it in 2001, and (b) the camera has no function for taking panoramics.
Zoom out preview. When I take a photo at 30x zoom (or even at 30x optical * 2 digital = 60x), it can be hard to find my point of interest, because the field of view is t-i-n-y. Canon provides a button on the lens barrel that temporarily changes the zoom back to wide angle so that I can see the full view; the current zoom-in area is shown as a small rectangle, allowing me to position the camera correctly.
F-stop adjust. I ranted earlier about the importance of a bright lens, and this camera has a mediocre f3.0 maximum brightness. But it does have a button to bias the f-stop, a function I have not seen on any other point-and-shoot -- not that I've seen them all. Press the +/- button and then use the dial to make the scene brighter (for backlit images) or darker (for overbright scenes).
Folders by date. All the recent Canon cameras I've owned segregate photos in folders by the shooting date. This is brilliant, and I wish all cameras did this. When on a vacation and taking lots of photos each day, each day's photos are neatly separated. Usually, at the end of the day, I copy the folder onto my computer as backup.
Over the few months I have owned the EX2F camera, Samsung has issued numerous updates to its software (firmware) that the Cloud function now works. (In the early days, the camera would try to connect repeatedly and unsuccessfully.)
There is, however, one more update Samsung needs to issue: to make the Cloud upload service work with Dropbox. Samsung make some sort of deal with Dropbox, and so I am hopeful this may well show up in the Ex2F.
Right now, the camera's Cloud upload service works only with Microsoft's SkyDrive. The first time I connected, the camera showed a rudimentary Web browser on the screen that reminded me of Web browsing with a Palm Pilot. There I entered the email address and password of my wife's Hotmail account, and told the camera to remember the settings.
The camera then prompts me to select certain photos or to choose to upload all photos. It works pretty well, but with one deal breaking problem: somewhere along the line, the photos are reduced in resolution to a fuzzy 2 megapixels, making them pretty much unusable.
I don't know if the camera does the reducing, or SkyDrive, but it renders the service useless.
TIP A drawback to using WiFi with this camera is that it wears down the battery pretty quickly.
My daughter wanted this image printed 11"x17", but our largest printer is the typical 8.5x11" one.
1. In the printer driver, I turned on the Borderless option (found under Resizing Options for the HP PhotoSmart series).
2. I opened the image file in Adobe Acrobat, because it does a good job of handling multi-page prints.
3. In the Print dialog box, I set the following options:
4. And then I clicked OK and waited for the printer to output the two pages.
Google Picasa is great software for processing photographs, but it is painfully slow copying files from digital cameras that have large memory cards. Mine has a 4GB memory card, which is small for today, but can hold 2,000 photos.
When it comes time to get the photos off the camera, Picasa slows to a crawl. The reason is that Picasa checks through all thousand-odd photos to see which ones have already been downloaded. This just takes too long, and I found a faster alternative:
1. Plug the camera into your computer's USB port. (Alternatively, plug the camera's memory card into the computer's card slot -- either way, doesn't matter.)
2. When Windows displays the AutoPlay dialog box, choose "Open device to view files with Windows Explorer." (If this dialog box does not open, then open Explorer on your own.)
3. The camera appears as a disk drive on your computer. Use Explorer to navigate to the folder containing the photos. In the case of my camera, Canon thoughtfully places each day's pictures in a folder of its own, such as "272Canon" shown below.
4. Right-click 272Canon, and then choose Copy from the shortcut menu.
5. In Explorer, go to the Photos folder under Favorites, and then choose Paste.
6. Now fire up Picasa, and it within a few seconds it will find the newly added photos.
After my Canon S1is suffered from the sensor problem, I bought a Canon SX100 is as a stop gap. It had the 10x zoom, etc I need. But I continued to keep an eye on a more capable one, especially with movable LCD screen.
A month ago, I made my decision: I bought a reconditioned S1is for $85 -- my third one. It has more features than the SX100is, yet is compatible with add-ons I've bought since I acquired my first S1is in 2004.
I discarded the SX100is (my daughter will take it over) after I found the following flaws in it:
So two features I use a lot are handicapped by Canon. Instead of buying a new $450 camera from them, I sent my $85 to an online camera store.
PS: I conacted Canon Canada about the failed sensor, but after a month they have failed to respond. Canon claims to provide free repairs of these units.
In the previous posting, I noted that my SX100's 10x zoom is better than the 12x zoom on the new SX200 model.
This is a case where the optical zoom number is misleading. The "normal" zoom level is 50mm (when there is no zoom). Divide the mm numbers into 50 to get the zoom multiplier (shown as "x" in specs).
So the SX100 gets you 0.5x closer to distant objects than does the SX200. The sole advantage of the SX200's relatively stunted zoom is that the wideangle is much wider, useful for photographs taken inside rooms or of landscapes.
When I bought the Canon SX100 as my next digital camera a month ago, I knew it would be superseded some time this year. I just hoped the new model wouldn't be host to many must-have features. Last week FutureShop began stocking the SX100 (and this week parent BestBuy claims to have it as an "exclusive").
Casting an anxious eye over the specs, I am relieved:
But then came the deal killer, the reason I am glad I got the SX100 instead: the new model has a maximum aperture of f/3.4 -- significantly smaller than the f/2.8 on the older model. For someone like me who takes flash-less photographs, bigger apertures are crucial.
One of the benefits of the Internet is that I can read the manual for my new camera before it arrives in the mail.
Canon camera manuals are poorly done, and hard to read. I think that's because they're trying to squeeze all information into 228 half-size pages. Anyhow, I am perusing the PDF file for the SX110 camera, and while most of it is repetitive from other camera models (especially Canons), there are a few new items that intrigue me:
In safety zoom mode, the camera balances the maximum digital zoom with resolution to ensure images are not overly grainy:
I think what's happening is that the SX110 makes use of the entire sensor surface at lower resolutions to magnify the image.
Multi-shot Self Timer
I seem to need to use the self-timer as rarely as once a year, and we all know the procedure: click the shutter, run over to the group, wait for the picture to be taken, and then run back to check if it turned out. Repeat as necessary.
When multi-shot is turned on, the self timer takes ten photos in a row.
Too Many Options
The drawback to digital cameras is that vendors can cram in too many options. One example is the SX110's many anti-shake modes: off, continuous, shot-only, and panning. I tend to use shot-only (anti-shake starts when the shutter is pressed half-way).
I am interested to see how this camera handles low-light situations, since I have a disdain for flash. I have become quite good at steadying the camera for evening, night, and interior photos with no flash.
Canon claims a max ISO of 1600, plus a simulated ISO 3200, although reviews say that ISO 400 is the max for clean images. Even 400 would be an improvement over my older cameras.
The SX110 has an ISO boost button, which ups the ISO (light sensitivity) in low-light situations. I think I'l find that handy. However, the G10 is even better, for it has a separate dial dedicated to ISO, just like film cameras used to have.
But ISO is not the only spec important to low-light photography; large aperture matters even more. This camera boasts f2.8, which is good for a consumer camera. (My old Canon G1 was f2.0, which let a lot more light come through.)
I tend to think of shooting modes as features invented by the marketing department. I find the clutter of modes annoying, but there are rare exceptions. The Fireworks mode on my current Samsung NV3 works really well, so we'll see what it's like on the SX110.
The continuous shooting mode is improved over my old S1is with live view. In the old camera, there was a lag in the viewfinder, so it was impossible to keep the camera trained on a moving subject, such as my figure-skating daughter.
Related to this is movie mode, which continues to be weak in Canon cameras. The max resolution is 640x480 -- good enough -- and the largest single movie file is now one hour or 4GB (improved over the S1is). However, Canon still lacks a pause mode, as found in my Samsung NV3.
I look forward to seeing how many pictures my 16GB SDHC card holds! Canon estimates 4,000 at the highest resolution and best quality -- and 122,000 at 640x480 and lowest quality.
(I used to own the first 1GB memory card for digital cameras, the 1GB micro hard disk from IBM. The drive broke down after a few years -- and there went $300.)
As I mentioned earlier, digital cameras have too many features. One that might come in hand is the ability to create folders. When on a trip, it would be handy to segregate photos by folders marked by the date -- the SX110 can create these date-segregated folders automatically.
My very first digital camera had a similar feature: the file name of each picture was today's date, with an increment counter. The first photo taken today would be 90411001 (2009, April, 10, 001). Very handy.
Curiously enough, the SX110 holds a maximum of 2000 photos per folder. I wonder how that number is arrived at.
This camera has no hotshoe, but you can buy a screw-on kit that reminds me of cheap film cameras of yesteryear. You screw in a bracket to the camera's tripod socket, and then attach the flash to the other end of the bracket. Usually a cable is required to signal the flash to go off, but there doesn't seem to be one for the SX110 -- maybe the signal is sent through the bracket.
My beloved Canon S1is went wonky some months ago. I was ready to shoot photos of a contractor-friend's latest project when I noticed the viewfinder was black. Annoyed, I press the Display button several times, but both viewfinder and LCD remained black -- except for a purple smear. The sensor was toast.
(Some Canon models are covered by an unlimited warranty, because Sony did a poor job making some of sensors for Canon. The S1 is not covered by this, unfortunately. Nor is it covered by a credit card extended warranty, for I bought it reconditioned off eBay through PayPal.)
What to replace it with?
Increasingly, I had been using the Samsung NV3, a pocket-size camera with internal zoom lens (nothing pokes out) and excellent video. The drawbacks: hard to see the LCD in bright sunlight, and a mode dial that turned too easily so I never was sure which mode the camera was in when I turned it on.
I had been eyeing the SX10 from Canon. It has a 20x zoom lens, the swivel LCD that Canon pioneered, and would make use of the big collection of rechargable AA batteries I've collected over the years for my G1 and two S1s.
(Over time, however, I have come to prefer proprietary batteries that charge right inside the camera through the USB cable. Externally charged AAs are a bit of a pain.)
But price was a problem. Over Christmas, Staples had the SX10 camera for $398, but the S1 was still working at that time. (Here in Canada, the SX10 list price is $449.) Recently, FutureShop sold it for $415, but had none in stock locally. ("300 have been ordered for the warehouse," the salesman told me.) Plus, I was greedy: I wanted the price to be under $400.
Canon Raises Prices
Then, a couple of stores raised their prices. Even Wal-mart jumped the price from $426 to $455. The Source (Circuit City in Canada) jumped the price from $440 to $480. While I was in Portland this week, I visited a camera store, where the salesman warned me that Canon was raising prices -- as Nikon already had done. Upon my return, BestBuy Canada had already raised their price from $450 to $480. It mattered not that they offered a 10% discount on all cameras today -- that discount brought the price down to $432, still too high.
I checked eBay for reconditioned units, but the camera is too new for that.
I decided against a digital SLR for two reasons: this class of camera is w-a-y too big and heavy for me, and their zoom lenses have pitiful range against the capability of point'n shooters.
After seeing the SX10 price increase, I bought the SX110 from FutureShop.ca today. I was torn, for it lacked the 20x zoom and swivel LCD of the SX10. But it had other benefits:
I'll use it for a while, and then see if Canon comes out with an SX20. I'll sell the SX110 to one of my daughters for half-price.
I was just reading about a worldwide glut in computer memory causing prices to drop.
I just wrote an entry in my Digital Camera Fan weblog about my mother-in-law wanting a digital camera, and that she would have to pay an extra $25 for a 2GB memory card.
I was in FutureShop yesterday overhearing a customer disappointed at the higher-than-last-week's-advertised price for 2GB SD cards.
And then it all came together: Was FutureShop upping its prices on memory cards during the frantic gift-giving season as a way to increase profits? I was used to 2GB SD cards going as low as $20 these days. Searching the futureshop.ca Web site, the lowest price is now $33, although you can pay $22.50 each if you buy a pair. (Give the other one to a friend.)
Even its price for the 4GB SDHC card, which had been as low as $56, has now shot up to $99. I checked out other electronics dealers, and found that FutureShop had the highest prices in 2 out of 3 cases. In order of lowest to highest prices:
-- cheapest 2GB card: $30
-- cheapest 2x 2GB bundle: $20 each.
-- cheapest 4GB SDHC card (with reader): $49. (*)
-- cheapest 2GB SD card: $30.
-- 2x 2GB bundle: not available.
-- cheapest 4GB SDHC card (with reader): $55.
-- cheapest 2GB card: $33
-- cheapest 2x 2GB bundle: $22.50 each.
-- cheapest 4GB SDHC card (with reader): $99.
BestBuy.ca (owns Future Shop)
-- cheapest 2GB card: $37
-- cheapest 2x 2GB bundle: $20 each.
-- cheapest 4GB SDHC card (with reader): $79.
Walmart.ca (in store stock and prices differ from Web site)
-- cheapest 2GB card: $54
-- 2x 2GB bundle: not available.
-- 4GB SDHC card: not available.
(*) This is an advertised special, so take the ad to FutureShop, and pay just $44 (price matching, plus 10% of the difference).
Over on my "The Digital Camera Fan" weblog, C.C. asked these questions:
Q: I bought Energizer charger yesterday which includes 2pcs of 2000mAh battery. It does not say 'trickle charging'. So does it mean its no use to store the battery in the charger after charging while not in use for my camera?
A: Here's how to tell: after the batteries are fully charged, leave them in the charger for a day, and then feel them. If they feel warm, they are being trickle-charged; if cold, then not.
Q: The manual says 15 hours are needed to charge 2000mAh AA NiMH batteries. so does that mean i have to recharge it another 15 hours when batteries are drained after usage?
A: Yes. Next time, you may want to look for a fast charger, one that recharges in an hour or less. However, these chargers cost quit a bit more than the "overnight" chargers.
Q: Is it safe to store AA batteries in the charger while not in use?
Stephen Wildstrom of Business Week Online reports on "Wi-Fi Where It Isn't Needed."
He describes the difficulties using Kodak and HP products with WiFi -- wireless acess to the Internet. This, it appears, is an example of the promise of liberating technology run its course and dropped off the edge of reasonableness.
He found the EasyShare-One (US$600 - steep!) camera was okay for sending photos to Kodak's online photo sharing service, Ofoto, and to printers. (The HP WiFi printer, he found, was terrible setting up for receiving photo files.)
But other than that, WiFi was hopeless:
- low-grade protection means that the connecting WiFi system has to have its WPA protection reduced to WEP. That's the way wireless networks operate: at the lowest common denominator.
- finding a WiFi network in public means entering in passwords, email address, etc using a tiny stylus on the screen.
- doesn't work with most public networks, which also require you to pay to use them.
In Mr Wildstrom's summary, using a cable or docking station is still the easiest and fastest. I can see, however, why camera makers fall for WiFi -- they are desparate to differentiate their products in a market where feature sets are almost identical.
Since the last post, I found that the DigiGR8 brand of cameras are made by Shuoying, which has a line of digital cameras, MP3 players, multimedia player, USB drives, and so on. They seem to be designed for OEM use, where another company adds their name to the product. Minimum order is 1000 pieces.
You can view the details here.
Our local Great Canadian Superstore (a supermarket chain) is carrying a DigiGR8 ("digi-great"?) digital camera for CDN$9.60. I snapped one up. Its made of transparent plastic, so you can see its innards. Size is just 2.25" wide, 1.5" tall, and 0.5" wide. It comes with a keychain, and is small enough for that purpose. (Click the thumbnail image at left.)
For the price, the specs are crude:
* Two resolutions: 352x288 and 176x144 pixels.
* 16MB RAM, holds 20 photos at the higher rez and 60 at the lower.
* 0.1 megapixel sensor.
There is no preview LCD for seeing the pictures, but there is a small text LCD that reports the current mode and number of photos remaining. Curiously, that LCD is located up front, next to the lens. Heck, it was the price of a USB cable!
The camera has several modes:
1. Delay -- takes a photo ten seconds after shutter is pressed.
2. Continuous -- takes a pictures non-stop until the memory is full or you press the shutter again. I think this creates an AVI "movie" file of the images.
3. How/low rez -- switch between HR (352x288) and LR (176x144) modes.
4. Flourescent mode -- switches between 60Hz and 50Hz.
5. Delete last photo and delete all photos.
The package also contains:
- leather carrying case
- AAA battery
- USB cable
- CD with driver and software
There's two pieces of software. One downloads the images; the other turns the camera into a Webcam. Both are fairly crude but work. Interestingly enough, the Webcam software appears to also work with the Snappy Video Snapshot, if you own one of those. (I do, but haven't tried it yet.)