Posts Tagged ‘expensive’

What Exploratorium

4 October 2011


Dear J-

Back in San Diego we sometimes go to the Reuben Fleet Science Center, which is okay as far as children’s science museums go: it’s got a fair number of neat hands-on demos and exhibits and there’s an ever-reliable room of fun where figgy can run around and go shoppinig with a little cart to her heart’s content. It’s definitely not an all-the-time sort of place but I thought that after going to the very good but very crowded Tech Museum of Discovery in San Jose last time we might as well try the very famous California Academy of Science in Ssan Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Bottom line: if your kid is expecting to participate, don’t bother.

I have to admit that I’m a little disappointed, as the old Exploratorium that I remember going to nearly twenty years ago had the kind of interactive exhibits I remember loving, between swirling clouds of mist and rippling fabrics, hand-crank generators demonstrating the relative efficiency of lightbulbs and (didn’t they? or am I just thinking of the Pacific Science Center?) the bike ride on a high rail demonstrating center of gravity. If that position has been usurped by San Jose then we spent way too much time and money today driving up to San Francisco and precious sanity besides: do you want to do this? No? Well, why are we here, anyways?

I admit I have a ready answer for that last question, though: because I wanted to go. I wanted to try it out, I wanted to see what it was about. I’d read glowing descriptions of how wonderful and enriching it was, and there is indeed some interesting stuff there but it’s really geared towards the above-four set: let’s say eight year old geeks or ten year old kids. We may be back later, when they’re better able to appreciate it, but not soon and not for lack of things to do in San Jose. That lesson’s pretty apparent: despite my love for the City there’s little that can’t be done down here more quickly and cheaply.



Leica’s Bid

23 September 2008

Dear J-

Leica’s Project AFRika has borne fruit, the S2 and S-System, which are an interesting break from tradition — the full-frame 24mm by 36mm format was dictated by the Barnack camera using surplus movie film; rather than stick with that, Leica have picked a new 30mm by 45mm sensor and built a system around it.  At a projected €15-20 000, it’s clearly priced out of even well-heeled medium format afficionados, but for those who make a living with their cameras, it presents an interesting proposition:  the portability of a 135 camera with the quality of medium format (37.5 million pixels spread out on the larger sensor mean that noise should be lower, and the proven Kodak design eschewing an anti-aliasing filter should lend it startling visual acuity).

But let’s first go over what it is not.  It is not a replacement for the R-System (the rumored R10 may have some trickle-down technology).  It is not, in all probability, going to cannibalize much sales from the high end full-frame 35mm dSLRs, as Sony, Nikon, and Canon have established a beach-head at $3 000 with visual quality that’s more than good enough.  It’s clear to me that Canon have been fairly complacent with their products; now the 1.3x crop sensor 1D line face competition from nearly-as-fast (Nikon D700) 1x crop cameras from the lower end, and the high-end full-frame contingent have a migration path, albeit expensive, to a larger-sensor system with no penalty in handling.

Everything that they said about the benefits of a larger sensor and the attendant shallow depth of field control pays off in spades for the 0.8x-scale Leica S2 (that is, multiply the focal length of the Leica lens by 0.8 to get the equivalent 135-format focal length).  But it’s priced high enough that again, it’s unlikely to rob many sales from that 1Ds line.  I can only guess at the rejection rate for the huge sensor.  One thing that does intrigue me is the deployment of autofocus in a Leica-designed body.  There have been numerous reasons given for not forcing AF into the R-Series, chief among them being that the tolerances in Leica lens manufacture preclude building in sufficient play to allow for low-powered AF motors.  Aperture rings have disappeared.  What sort of continuous speed can we expect?  And will the sour grapes ever end?  (Leica, finally building a camera that professionals can justify with their heads, not just their hearts, have now caused untold consternation amongst gearheads, who declaim the new S2 as another boutique camera aimed at wealthy collectors; believe me, the advantages are palpable — part of the reason I bought into medium format once, long ago, was the series of photographs reproduced from the early SLR-on-steroids Pentax 6×7 in Yoshikazu Shirakawa’s Eternal America.)


German Glass

25 June 2008

Dear J-

Several electrons have been spilled here regarding the use of German lenses and whether or not the premium they demand is justified or not.  You have to realize, of course, that no nationality has a corner on optical design; certain lenses will perform better than others at different stops (apertures) and focus distances, and not every lens is a consistent performer.  But I’ll stand by my original assertion that for 90% of the world’s photographers, it’s technique and not equipment that hold back wonderful images.

Still, there are those (and I begin to count myself amongst those, even though I know the current equipment is perfectly adequate) who’ll willingly pay a premium when the lens bears that Zeiss or Leica name.  Part of the reason I bought into the 4/3rds system was the ability to play with German lenses — the original intent, after spending multiple luminous moments with the Zeiss gem that comes on the Sony DSC-V1 and -V3 (and, reputedly, on the Casio EX-P600 and -P700) was to get a Contax/Yashica mount adapter as a supplement to a Nikon adapter, but a good deal came up on a Leica R adapter.  I know, rationally, that my photographs aren’t incredibly better just because of the brand of lens I put in front of the camera — and the results seem to bear it out, there’s nothing extraordinary about the Nikon/E-1 combo in relation to the Leica/E-1, at least to my untrained eye.  But there is something else at play here, whether it’s the tactile rock-solid feel of the Leica R lenses, or the way they balance, or the fact that, since most of my photos all year were taken with the Panasonic DMC-LC1 prior to shifting over to the E-1, I’ve become accustomed to the Leica direction of operation.

Funny thing is that I was that same guy who sneered at folks overpaying for that red dot — why, if the Leica R lenses were so much more expensive and slower than the Nikon exotica, would anyone pay the difference?  I can’t say that I’ve found some magic justification, either.  All I really know is that I’ve been shooting a lot more frames lately; whether that’s the camera or the lens, it’s having a decided effect on the proportion of keepers, or rather, displayers.  You can’t approach photography as an investment hobby, which is unfortunately the direction that rangefinder photography has drifted into; that’s like telling an auto mechanic to take good care of their wrenches as they’ll have collector’s value in the future.  Undeniably, there will be historical value; unfortunately, they make such good tools that you’re compelled to use them, wrenches or lenses.

The two Leica R lenses I do own were cheap because of their cosmetic condition; they duplicate focal lengths and abilities I’ve already got in Nikon mount so truthfully, I have no business owning them.  It’s strange that they already feel far more natural — reproducing the scene as-I-saw-it and not interfering with the process — than anything I’ve used before.  I may be compelled to make it a trio or more, especially as several of those lovely Telyt 400 f/6.8’s have materialized at reasonable prices … I could always use a bit more hand-held reach.


Outside and About

8 June 2008

Dear J-

I’ve inexplicably received a subscription to Outside magazine. I suspect that it may be due to renewing a discount card at the local used video game store and, in response to the list rattled off by the bored-looking clerk (“Uh … there’s Official Playstation Magazine, Official Nintendo Magazine, Official XBox Magazine, …”) I responded that I didn’t need any of those, so clearly, they gave me the magazine targeted towards twentysomething slackers and video game folks. Either that, or I’m mis-representing a nice gift someone got for me.

As magazines go, it’s not bad, but not terribly memorable either: the last magazine I consciously subscribed to was Games, with many fond memories of hours spent poring over the different clever puzzles and game reviews it contained. Well, forty bucks later, I was having flashbacks again, but this time because the magazine was running, in lieu of new content, what they termed “Classic Games Puzzles” — which I recognized from twenty years ago. Plus I started to remember something distinctly less pleasant: I wasn’t very good at the puzzles then, and still wasn’t very good at the puzzles now, preferring (thanks, Mr. Larson!) to stick with what I call whodunits — logic puzzles, which showed up maybe once every quarter in Games. The next time I was at the newsstand, I invested five bucks in a book of logic puzzles and have since concluded that was an excellent buy, having lasted me nearly as long as a full year of Games.

But this is about Outside, a study in contradictions. On one page you have spiritual transcendence: the world is both bigger and smaller than we think it is, its natural wonders overwhelm and awe us; yet on the next, gear reviews aimed mainly at separating fools and money (if I’m spending $2 000 on binoculars, they’d damn well better go out and get the sights for me — while I sleep — download them, and put on a slide show when I get back, Nikon ED glass or not). So I note with some amusement how Marc Peruzzi’s (the resident grump) column (“The Big Idea”) in the July issue decries the ubiquity of surf culture, focussing on the money (selling out) and hypocrisy (how can surfing be so noble if it’s neither risky nor mellow?) of it, like that of any other sport. There are those (in other words, the majority) who feel that the NBA Finals were rigged in a way — Kevin McHale, GM of the Timberwolves, pulling a blockbuster trade of Kevin Garnett to the Celtics (McHale’s former team) and forming them into something formidable, just as Jerry West, formerly of the Lakers, retires just before Memphis sends their best player, Pau Gasol, to the Lakers, who promptly rip back through the playoffs following a few years of aimlessness with Captain Kobe at the helm.

What bothers me more about Peruzzi’s column is not so much the content (or malcontent, if you will), but the sneering attitude behind it. The whole thing faintly reeks of holier-than-thou (it’s a sweet, cloying odor) and of being able to pass judgement because, somewhere, somehow, someone’s decided he’s more hardcore than you, or whomever he criticises. It’s not the facts he cites, which are sufficiently compelling, or the advertisers he skewers, but the personal anecdotes he brings in just make him look like an ass and detracts from the overall tone of the essay. Oh, and note to the editor — putting this at the end of the column:

EDITOR’S NOTE: See page 110 to get styled for summer’s coolest sport. Shakka-gnar, brah!

only serves to prove that either you don’t actually read the content and/or you’ve missed the point.