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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Oh dear, Olympus….

just a pointless rant

in General Rants , Friday, November 11, 2011

I’m not completely unaware of the current misfortunes of the Olympus Optical Co. That the company is being steered into the abyss by a bunch of arrogant management jerks is no great surprise - that’s one thing that there’s no shortage of.  If anything it might serve to at least tone down some of the more unpleasant aspects of Japanese culture, such as the pathetic obessession with “loss of face”. But never mind all that. What I’m find really disturbing is the general level of idiocy revealed on the various interweb fora, where people (I use the word reservedly) are practically foaming at the mouth in outrage at Olympus and of course Olympus cameras (I really am starting to believe that, yes, most people in the world ARE more stupid than me, at least on the evidence I see). 

But it does sort of make me wonder if maybe I need to think about changing camera systems.  But not for long. I am worried that Olympus will go out of business, which is certainly possible, but not because I’ll lose face because I’ve got an Olympus (actually the logo is taped over. Has been for years. Helps avoid idiot conversations), but because the ONLY company making a reasonably large-sensor camera with a 4:3 aspect ratio might stop doing so. And then what ? Yep, only choice will be the mindless apeing of the 35mm frame, a ratio which only came about by happenstance in the first place.  Well, maybe Panasonic will carry on, or buy Olympus, who knows.

I’m finding I take more and more vertical format shots, without really being conscious of this. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t in “35mm format” - it’s too narrow.  Without Olympus, the next step above compacts is, er, the Pentax 645D, which I’d love to own, but is way above my pay grade.

Drm 2011 11 07 0012713

Steppin’ out… actually taken with my Ricoh GR, not an Olympus

Actually for selfish reasons I sort of hope Olympus does go down the plughole. Then the lemmings will rush to buy Nikons or whatever and even fewer people will be shooting 4:3, and I’ll have less competition. Not that I’m competing.

 

 

Vuescan is NOT struggling

The other side of the coin

in Scanning , Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Following my recent tirade against Vuescan, Ed Hamrick, the creator and publisher of the application, took the time to defend his point of view rather than just completely ignoring me. It’s only fair to reproduce his message in full:

Hi David,

So, apparently my posting on SilverFast struck a nerve? Business isn’t bean-bag - and competition can be brutal. Yes, I know it offends the sensitive :) but that’s life.

If you’re vaguely interested, VueScan isn’t struggling.  My free upgrade offer is going strongly, and I’m selling $3M per year of VueScan licenses.  It’s a good business.

And you dismiss the one-line comments people make about SilverFast.  It’s actually quite interesting.  Every one of the comments in the list of 1000 comments came from someone
who had actual experience using SilverFast and instead deciced to buy VueScan.  People really, really dislike SilverFast - it’s hard to use, the bizarre three-letter and four letter acronyms aren’t helpful, the blizzard of icons in the user interface are non-intuitive, and they’re really dumb with their pricing.

I actually read the comments, and personally pay very close attention to my user’s criticisms of VueScan.  I answer every e-mail from a customer personally.

I get approached all the time with bundling offers.  Plustek wrote to me last week to get pricing for a bundling deal.  They’ve approached me every year for 4 years They don’t like SilverFast either.  However, bundling is a stupid business strategy and I don’t do it.  I might offer free bundling to Plustek just to help drive LaserSoft out of business, but LaserSoft really isn’t much of a competitor.

And yes, most of the scanner market is well-served by MFP’s.

My web site doesn’t push VueScan Mobile at all - it’s below the fold and only comes up if you come to the page from an iPhone or iPad.

You’d be amazed how many grateful letters I get every day from people saying thanks that they don’t have to use SilverFast any more.

You ask why I have the free upgrade offer?  It’s simple, it’s a way to help drive LaserSoft out of business. That’s why I’m considering offering free bundling deals to anyone currently bundling SilverFast.

At least your review of VueScan was somewhat fair (although you made some trivially simple mistakes because you were hell-bent on finding problems).  You might also try a shorter USB cable.  Many of the cables shipped with Minolta scanners have gone bad over the years and problems with high-speed programs (like VueScan) can be solved with a new USB cable.  SilverFast 6 doesn’t have
these problems because they’re using Rosetta because they’re a PowerPC application and slow (and come on, Intel Macs were released 6 years ago).

Some guy named Erik Vlietinck at it-enquirer.com , who’s a complete witless incompetent, made a review of VueScan vs. SilverFast where he claimed that VueScan did a preview at half the speed of SilverFast.  When I posted a comment that perhaps he was using a higher resolution
preview than VueScan, and that he could solve this with the “Input | Preview resolution” option, he deleted my comment to his review and deleted my user name.  What a weasel.

Let’s see if you have the balls to post my response.  I doubt that you do :)

Regards,
Ed Hamrick

I don’t really want to get into a further argument here. I probably went over the top in my original post, but I was genuinely annoyed at what seemed to be, at least to some extent, a serious and unprovoked case of a pot calling a kettle black…  So, I’m feeling a bit guilty, but I’m used to it.

But one thing I will say: I didn’t go out of my way to try to find fault with Vuescan. If it worked better for me than Silverfast, well, I’m not going to cut my nose off to spite my face.  But it didn’t.  I’d say they’ve both reached the boundary of what can be achieved at this level.  It must add that Ed misunderstood my connection issue - it was the Canoscan that Vuescan couldn’t find, not the Minolta. True, I didn’t put any effort into debugging it, but then again, with Silverfast it just works and always has.

Finally it comes down to individual preferences, and I’m more comfortable with Silverfast. But… consider that I chose Olympus over Canikon, Mac over PC, Aperture over Lightroom ... I tend not to go with the flow. Vuescan is vastly popular and by all accounts deserves to be.  But neither Silverfast, nor the Laserscan people, are the Evil Empire.  There’s a fine line between marketing and dishonesty, and few companies can truly say they’ve never, ever crossed it.

I don’t want Lasersoft to be driven out of business. I’ve spent years using and learning how to get the most out of the software, and for me it is ultra-reliable and enjoyable to use.  So, hopefully, Ed can enjoy his well earned $3M and leave the scraps to the competition… and let naive idiots like me subsidize them.

 

The Olympus EP-2 is a horrible camera

A rant

in Olympus E-System , Wednesday, September 07, 2011

I’m on vacation in Sicily. It’s absolutely not a photo trip, but Sicily can be painfully photogenic at all sorts of level, so good casual opportunities do come up.

WARNING: high levels of sarcasm ahead, may offend.

It started with a week on the island of Favignana, which was good enough for the likes of Selgado, Burri, and a gaggle of other Magnum photographers, so it should be good enough for me. But ... they, very luckily for them, did not have an Olympus Pen-since-1959 EP bloody 2 “camera” with them. I am coming to loathe this all style and no content device. It is by far the worst camera I have ever used. Considered as a device to prevent photography it would rank pretty highly. But that wasn’t what it was intended to be, alledgedly.

It’s difficult to know where to start, but perhaps I’ll be slightly unfair and start with the add-on electronic viewfinder. Now, this camera is unusable without the EVF. In fact it should be returned as unfit for purpose without it, because the screen is abysmal. I loathe using a back screen as a framing tool, but on my Ricoh GRD at least it can be done, quite effectively even. On the EP2, forget about it: the screen is dim and coarse. So, EVF it is. And this EVF is rated as one of the best in the business. But guess what, it still sucks. It doesn’t pixelise, it has very low delay, it even has pretty good dynamic range. But it doesn’t have enough. Under harsh contrast there is just no way I can get a fix on the highlights and shadows. It burns or blacks out stuff which my eyes do not, making it impossible for my brain to instinctively make exposure decisions. It just gets it the way. And of course, when I apply exposure compensation, it reacts. No! Don’t do that! I know you can, but if I’m sussed enough to understand what exposure compensation means, then it really is not going to help me if you keep moving the electronic goalposts around. And that’s just for starters. I could go on for a lot of paragraphs about how an EVF screws up DoF preview as well. And then of course there’s the idiot fact that the camera has to be turned on to look through the viewfinder (this is “progress”, I believe), which is unfortunate given the gusto at which the EP2 drains its battery (very easily twice as fast as the E400 with the same battery). Of course, all this applies to any EVF camera, not just the EP2, but the scary thing is that this EVF really is - relatively - very, very good. But it ruins photography as an enjoyable experience, and that’s scary.

So, what about some specifics? Let’s start with “manual focus assist”. This zooms the center of the VF area so you can focus more easily. Well fine, provided (a) the object you want to focus on is in the middle, which if you’re slightly beyound idiot level it quite probably isn’t, and (b) you’re not interest in the object’s context. Ok, so you can turn it off, provided you can remember where the option is in the labyrinthine menu system - I’d happily swap it for the “art filter” position on the mode dial - and it is genuinely useful in Live View mode, on a tripod, when you’re moving the focus point around. It is absolutely a pain when it engages when you as little as think about glancing at the focus ring, ruining another shot. And yes you can turn it off. If you remembered to, and if you’ve got several minutes to waste in the menu system.

Ah yes, the menu system: ever since the E400, Olympus cameras have had the “super control panel” screen for direct access to shooting parameters. It’s actually pretty useful and has been widely copied, like a lot of good innovations from Olympus. I’m fairly sure the EP2 has it to, but I cannot for the life of me work out how to get at it. If it is there, and not just a figment if my immagination, it is anyway but 1 of 3 completely seperate systems for configuring the camera. One well designed one would suffice.

(ok, finally I worked it out. Press “OK” several times to cycle through the modes.)

The electronic level is very nice. It would be even nicer if it could be combined with the display of basic shooting info, like Aperture, Exposure, that sort of thing.

Then there’s more general stuff about the ergonomics and user interface. In A-mode, which is pretty much all I use, if you press the exposure compensation button, the value highlights in the display and you can change it with either the thumbwheel or the control dial. I try to avoid the control dial. If you click the button a second time, both the aperture and compensation values highlight, and now you can change the aperture with the thumbwheel and compensation with the dial. Or is it the other way around? And why, anyway? The opportunity for error is endless, especially if you have to use the control dial.
The control dial is a truly stunningly bad example of industrial design. Like many similar devices, it also functions as a 4 way pad, with the 4 buttons providing a quick entry point to things like ISO and White Balance. Useful, but not when the thing is so fiddly and sensitive that when you just had that shot lined up of Elvis climbing out of his flying saucer, you discover that you’re in 12 second self timer mode. Or something even more obscure. Even when you’re intentionally using the dial, the slightest misapplication of pressure can have you at ISO 3200 in a microsecond. Reversing out, however, would take a while longer.

Finally, because otherwise this could go on for ever, a word about the standard 14-42 lens. In order to pretend that it is small, Olympus made it collapsible. This provides yet another potential roadblock in getting the shot. And attaching a filter to it, especially a polariser, is an exercise in frustration. Turning the polariser almost always throws the focus completely off, and triggers an error message. And when you remove the filter it feels like you’re in serious danger of dismantling the lens inner barrel. Yet another ghastly Pen experience.

kodak_films

Kodak Films? Unfortunately, no ho bisogno, grazie

Ok, you can get good results out of the EP2, all being well, but for me at least it provides little enjoyment and kills spontaneity. So much that the whole point of the thing seems weak.

On a general note, in 2 weeks, some spent in very photogenic tourist spots, where everybody has a camera, I have not seen one “compact system camera”. No micro four thirds, no Sony NEX, no Samsung. Plently of Lumix and Fuji bridges, plenty of Canikon DSLRs, even a sprinkling of Olympus DSLRs, some high end compacts and of course hordes of digicams. But the world takeover by compact system cameras? I see no evidence of that on the streets.

So, what ‘s the alternative? I don’t always feel like carrying a DSLR around, even a small one, and compacts have their own compromises and lack creative control. Film seems tempting. A small SLR, maybe, but even an Olympus OM isn’t all that light. Or maybe a Voigtlander or Zeiss Ikon rangefinder ... but again, these involve compromises. Maybe somebody will make a CSC actually designed to encourage photography, but I’m not holding my breath.

But as far as the Olympus EP2 is concerned, I think I’ve had my fill. The worst, and possibly the prettiest, camera I have ever owned. And it seems I’m stuck with it.

 

‘ere we go, ‘ere we go, etc

in Unsolicited, rabid opinions , Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"As a professional photographer, author Martin Evening knows firsthand what photographers need for a more efficient workflow. He's been working with Lightroom from the beginning," The Adobe Lightroom Book By Martin Evening ISBN: 0321450035 Publisher: Adobe Press 0321450035_xs.jpg" Mind the Gap! Stand Clear of closing doors! The Bandwagon is fuelled up and rolling out! I wonder how he's going to fill the first 200 hundred pages with a recycled manual - since there isn't one ?
 

The Lightroom Shuffle

in Unsolicited, rabid opinions , Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Hey ho. Key Lightroom cheerleader Michael Reichmann today posts: "...It is said that these will all come when when Beta 4 is released, at which point both the Windows and Mac versions will have parity. In any event, the few small missing items are not critical for anyone wanting to become familiar with the new software, which is likely to become one of the most popular raw image processing programs on the market." (my italics) Interesting bit of spin buried in there: as first heard on Lightroom Podcast 8, v1.0 at least is being subvervisely spun away from being a DAM-based product to "just" a RAW developer. Call me a conspiracy theory nut, but I just don't believe it is an accident. More like a clever bit of expectation management engineered by Adobe marketing. It also seems to be taking rather a long time to get to market - Beta 3 expires in Jan 07, and it seems a little unlikely that the expiry date would be set beyond a commercial release date - especially as their is a Beta 4 on the way. From what I know about software product management - which is quite a lot, actually - I'd say that they are suffering from considering far too many inputs and listening to far too many opinions. The product manager should not devolve the responsibility for a clear product vision to a forum of beta testers. I'm sure I would get tarred as totally negative if I posted this anywhere with high visibilty, but still, if this product was from anybody but Adobe, I cannot believe that it would attract quite such unquestioning praise and devotion from the "old boy" network. I wonder how they've diviied up the books ? Scott Kelby seems to have jumped the gun in a rather unsporting manner with his doubtless zany "Lightroom for Digital Photgraphers". (er, yeah ... so who else would it be for ? Fly fisherman ? Traffic Wardens ? Small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri ??) Anyway, bad news for whoever drew "DAM with Lightroom" out of the bag.
 

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