Videogame Ghosts

Lack of interactivity is something I’m noticing more and more in games. It’s not that the worlds used to be more interactive – it’s that as the detail in games has increased the level of interactivity has not kept pace. So while the Paris of Assassin’s Creed Unity is a really amazing thing – I’ve spent house exploring it – after a while I felt like a ghost. So many games we move though these amazing worlds without being able to really reach out and touch them.

Perhaps these lonely avatars wandering though Paris or Chicago of Watch Dogs are a metaphor for a lonely generation. Unintended of course. But I want to be able to give money to a beggar in Watch Dogs, or just talk to someone in Unity, tell a busker they are great, hold someone’s hand.

So many games with amazing game worlds and the only time we can touch them is with a blade or a bullet.

Lent Sacrifice

I’m not a spiritual person – I don’t give up things for lent as a religious observance. However this year I’ve joined my wife in giving up Twitter and Facebook for lent.

FB is easy. I don’t use it much anyway, there’s only so much bullshit “pass this on” rubbish one can take. “Friends are wonderful, if you have a friend share this to show how much you love them”, “Parents are great, share this if you’re a parent”. You know, that kind of shite.

However I love the discourse of Twitter and already on day one I’m missing it. I’ve had to remove the Tweetdeck icon from my taskbar and from my browser just so I don’t automatically open the program by mistake.

I will likely still post on Twitter/FB without visiting and reading the sites purely because my blog can auto post, I can share links via my browser and I will share links from my Flickr photostream. But the traffic will be one way, it’s just auto stuff, not me getting properly involved in the streams.

I live a long way from my family and have no local friends. I maintain existing friendships via social media – mostly Twitter. So it will be interesting to see how I cope over the next few weeks. It’s an interesting experiment – watch as Harry is shorn of his social contact and slowly goes insane.

Front Element Dust – One Man’s Quest

Maybe others have done this before, but I want to relate a little story of how I solved an issue with my Fujinon 18-55mm and a persistent blob of dust on the inside of the front element.

I had this big piece of dust on the inside front element of the lenses. This didn’t adversely affect the image in any way but was annoying me. I believe it was a dust mite, it even seemed to move around a little and would come towards the edge of the lens when I shone a torch there. But I could not shift it completely, it kept returning to the front element.

I read some advice about killing mites in lenses by freezing. So I sealed the lens in a ziplock bag and put it in the freezer for a few hours. I didn’t release the lens from the bag until it had returned to room temperature. Whatever the dust blob was it didn’t move again after this. But it was still sat there in the middle of the front element. I had killed the beast but not shifted it.

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Camera Gear Forums & Obsession With Sharpness.

It is mad how much stock people put in sharpness. On camera gear forums it seems to be the aim for many people – they’ll post what they think is an amazing shot – because it is sharp, not because of the composition, light, subject etc. People rate lenses and cameras on how sharp they are as the primary factor. I think it’s all bonkers.

Back when I used to have a little film camera and all my prints were 6×4 I don’t remember anyone talking about sharpness. Being in focus yes, but nothing more. But now folks can look at 100% images on large monitors they become obsessed with the pixel sharpness, throwing away images that would make pretty large prints before sharpness was an issue – even if sharpness actually is one.

But that’s gear forums for you. Go somewhere more about the end product and there’s less focus (no pun intended) on sharpness. Go to places that are about the art of photography – sharpness much less of a thing there.

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Two Weeks With The Fujifilm X-E2 Camera

Two weeks ago I sold my Sony NEX-6 and various lenses and purchased a Fujifilm X-E2. I won’t go over the reasons why again as you can read them in this post. The camera came with the 18-55mm f2.8-4 zoom lens. I also picked up the 35mm f1.4 and 27mm f2.8 thanks to Fujifilm’s current very generous cashback offer that made the 27mm almost free.

Having shot with the new camera for a couple of weeks I’ve some insight to share about the shift over to Fujifilm from the Sony NEX system. Much of my experience is positive, though there are some negative points too. Overall my experience with the X-E2 is very positive so far and my issues with the system are relatively minor. Given Fujifilm’s commitment to offer regular firmware updates for its cameras these issues are also less important than they would be on a Sony system.

The area I’ve struggled most with isn’t software related but one of handling. The NEX-6 felt great in the hand, even more so than the three different Canon DSLRs I’ve owned. The X-E2 is less comfortable due to its rangefinder layout. There’s less to get hold of in the right hand than a DSLR or NEX camera. There is an official grip available but the price is rather obscene. There are some inexpensive unofficial grips available from China on ebay and I may pick one of those up.

My other issue with the handling is the eyecup. It’s just not deep enough to block strong sunlight coming from the right hand side. Switching to using my left eye with the viewfinder solves this but that is my weaker eye so isn’t preferable. I may have to bite the bullet and wear a peaked cap when I go shooting.

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Jumping Ship from Sony to Fujifilm?

Next week Sony will announced its successor to the NEX-6 camera. I’ve owned an NEX-6 since the camera was launched in the UK and it’s been a mixed relationship. As many have discovered with Sony in the realm of console hardware the company is excellent at physical devices, but terrible at firmware. There are so many features that could be easily added to the NEX-6 by a software update yet Sony has failed to do so during the life of the camera. So next week’s announcement of a replacement is likely to be the deciding factor on whether I wave goodbye to the E-mount system and instead jump into the arms of Fujifilm.

I’m in the market to upgrade. I ditched my Canon DSLR gear for NEX-6 in 2012 and have certainly been happy with the result in terms of lighter, smaller gear and image quality. I have no complaints at all about the detail and dynamic range in the pictures coming from my NEX-6 – certainly much better than the Canon EOS 40D and EOS 50D I used to own.

But where I am disappointed is in terms of usability. There are so many little niggles I’ve discovered over the last year or so with the NEX-6. While the image quality is excellent the firmware is just too simplistic and lacking in options that could have been easily offered in firmware updates. For example no options on minimum shutter speed with auto ISO, no ability to turn off pre-focus, no decouple of auto-focus from the shutter button. As someone who used “back button” focussing on my DSLRs that’s a feature I do miss. I’ve also been disappointed with the lenses on offer – yes there are some very good ones – but these are very expensive, there’s little middle ground. F1.8 is as fast as it gets even if you’re will to hand over £800 for a Sony made Zeiss.

But what has this got to do with Fujifilm? The Fujifilm X-E2 and X-T1 have been making eyes at me and I can’t help but say I’m smitten. The X-system appeals to me both in terms of camera design aesthetics, image quality, ergonomics, firmware options (and updates) and the range of lenses.

I’ve come close to ordering the X-E2 a couple of times over the last week or two. But I am now waiting to see what Sony has to offer in the A6000. Despite the NEX-6 being fine hardware and most of its issues being fixable with a software update – I’m willing to give Sony a chance. So I want to see what it can offer in the new model – but it’s also going to have to impress me with some indication of where the lenses are going. I’d like to see a faster standard zoom than the 16-50mm kit even if that is larger and something like the Fuji 23mm f1.4 that isn’t a ridiculously expensive Zeiss offering.

To be honest I’m not expecting Sony to appease me. It’s a shame as I really like the NEX as a piece of hardware. And unlike my switch from Canon I think I’ll likely hold onto my NEX and lenses rather than sell them at a big loss. Certainly it’s worth having a range of focal lengths until I can afford to expand the glass I can afford after an X-system purchase.

So the A6000 is going to have to be pretty special rather than a minor upgrade to dissuade me buying a Fujifilm camera in the near future. The X-E2 with 18-55mm lens seems a very obvious sideways move for me. Though my head is being somewhat overruled by my heart and its lust for the exciting X-T1. Either way I’ll be buying a camera and kit lens and won’t be able to afford any new glass for a while.

What could Sony do to keep me? Nothing in terms of hardware, I believe the hardware is excellent. What Sony needs to do next week – and I think it’s very unlikely it will happen – is convince me that the company listens to users, is interesting in expanding functionality via firmware updates and has a lens roadmap made up of more than cheap lenses and very expensive lenses with little in between.

I’d rather not buy another camera for a very long time. But what I want is the right camera, one that doesn’t hinder what I want to do and one that treats me like a grown up. I’m not sure Sony is interested in selling me a camera like that.

Day of the Fondleslab

A few weeks ago my laptop died. The internal fan over the GPU stopped working and within short order the graphics card melted. The first I knew of this was when the screen corrupted. I’ve seen this kind of mess before and knew it meant the death of the computer. And since then I’ve been without a computer much of the time. Yes I do have a rather nice desktop machine but using it means being away from my family. Of an evening I may want to do some work but still spend time with wifey in front of the telly. Much as I love my Android powered smartphone writing and posting website content with it is not easy.

I do have a Netbook I bought several years ago. But it’s really underpowered and the screen is very poor – making for lots of headaches due to my eyesight problems. So what to do? Of course the most obvious thing is a new laptop. However I spend a lot of time using my phone for Twitter, Facebook and the web and so began to consider the idea of a tablet.

Great, get an iPad Harry, I hear you say. I say, no. While Apple’s tablet is brilliant for music production – something that made it really appeal to me – it’s pretty useless as a computer replacement. It’s a big glass vanity object for hipsters and posers. Getting anything actually done with the things is a pain, especially as Apple locks you down in terms of your ability to use it as a grown up – moving and uploading files. Can you copy over your files from your DSLR and back them up to a portable hard drive or USB stick with an iPad? No you can’t. Though the worst thing about the – actually rather impressive iPad – isn’t the hardware, it’s the reliance on the worst piece of software ever created – iTunes (may it rot in hell forever).

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Airships – You Know It Makes Sense

I hate flying. Flying on commercial passenger jets that is. Such planes are horrible, claustrophobic, smelly, unsafe, fragile tin-cans that hurtle through the sky at stupid speeds eight miles up. They are flown by companies seeking to cut corners at every opportunity and are making a complete mess of our environment – much more so than our cars or empty cornflake packets.

A few years ago I flew to Los Angeles from London for the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo and both ways it was just crap – hot, smelly, turbulent, crap. Admittedly a lot of my problems with flying stem from a lack of control, but even discounting this the experience of long-haul flight is just rubbish. Being rattled around in a tin can miles in the sky is frightening enough – but when the airline is too cheap to give you decent air to breath it makes matters worse.

When I returned from LA I promised I was never going to fly again. But that was not wholly true. I will be quite happy to fly across the Atlantic again when we do the sensible thing and bring back airships.

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Fiio E5 Headphone Amplifier Review

This isn’t my Cowon S9 32GB review. You’ve probably noticed that from the title. It was meant to be though. I just haven’t finished that yet. Along the way though I picked up Fiio’s wonderful little E5 headphone amplifier and I thought I’d post this mini review to tell you all about it.

But first, why on earth would you need an amplifier for your MP31 player?

There are several reasons. Firstly the headphone amp in many personal music players is cheap, nasty and the last thing on the mind of the designers of what might be otherwise an excellent quality PMP. Some lack power, meaning that even on small headphones you have to crank up the volume to hear in a noisy location but the result is distorted sound. Also small rechargeable personal music players – even the very good ones – aren’t designed to be able to power massive audiophile headphones with an impedance of 300ohms.

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