Canon Powershot G16 vs G15

I have had the opportunity to compare the Canon Powershot G16 vs G15 cameras.  Both produce excellent images with stunning colors. Both have an extensive lineup of features allowing considerable control over image taking and image processing in camera. The G16 has an advantage in low light situations in that it uses a Back Side Illuminated sensor (BSI) Basically, a BSI sensor is a new technology that has the signal data paths on the reverse side of the sensor allowing more light to strike the photosensitive layer. It seems odd that the traditional image sensor has these circuits on the front side so this new tech seems like a no brainer. However, I am not familiar with manufacturing processes of these sensors so I cannot say what was involved to make the more efficient versions.
The other difference between the two cameras is in the Image Processor. The G16 uses the DIGIC 6 image processor while the G15 uses the older DIGIC 5.  The major differences between the two are in regard to speed. The faster DIGIC 6 gives the G16 a significant advantage in focus speed as well as in frames per second.  However, in practice, the G15 still has fast enough response to make image taking a joy.

So where is the biggest difference? In my opinion, it is in low light photography and specifically star photography. The G16 excels in taking star imagery. I was able in a couple nights to take stunning photographs of the Comet Lovejoy and Milky Way Galaxy with the Andromeda Galaxy included. The G15 doesn’t have a star mode nor does it have a night menu setting where the menu goes reddish orange to keep the eyes maintaining dark adaptation.

Finally, there may be slightly more noise in the G15 images but with Topaz Denoise or Lightroom, this is a non issue.

So while the G16 is a joy to use, I believe a G15 is so close for most subjects that it still is a marvelous camera. Compared to the early digital cameras or smartphones, the images that both these cameras can produce are orders of magnitude better. It is a wonderful time to be alive.

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Examining the latest tech in digital photography

I am always interested in learning what the newest technologies are being introduced for modern digital photography so I make it a habit to read all the information that I can get on the latest cameras and software. We are in a wonderful period of intense change and improvement in imagery. Back in the days when film was still king, it was said that digital photography would never surpass the light sensitivity or resolution of silver grains. Well, both of those fell almost a decade ago with the advent of 6 MP CMOS sensors. Yet we see an ever increasing number of new cameras with higher and higher megapixel counts and ISO sensitivity range. I wonder what the deal is here because image quality kind of tops out already. The only thing I can guess is that making sensor chips more dense just is the easiest way to make a new model so people will buy it. Then again, I do acknowledge that cropping a 6MB image isn’t nearly as successful as cropping a 20MB image. So are people cropping images more now? Or is it that they crop because it is a poor way to enlarge a scene?
Then there is bit depth. JPEGs are limited to 8 bits per color and are really 80s tech that were optimized for monitors of the day. Amazingly, this is the standard and all cameras even though they collect 14 bit RAW images, must have a JPEG processor to be sold. And we all like them! The tone compression that the processors go thru to pack the 14 bit range in an 8 bit package means that every camera make is different for this reason alone and many don’t measure up well.  Most serious photographers want to have the RAW data in full range for them to do the image processing in software like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. That is fine for one off stuff but a major pain for several hundred shots on a vacation trip. So what do I want? A decent image standard that is universal like the JPEG but has the full tonal range depth that the camera can provide. There have been several proposed in the HDRI world where several images are combined into a 14 EV range but none have been accepted in general photography.
Now, my final interest is in display.  Prints are never going to be able to represent the full tonal range of anything but the JPEG unless one of the newer 8 or 12 ink cartridge printers are used. TV sets can do much better but they are limited in resolution to 1080 pixels in the vertical dimension.  The 4K displays coming will help that area but still not as much as even the 10 megapixel images have and none of the photo sharing or archiving sites support them nor do any of the streaming devices except a few 4K TVs. The result of all this is that we have incredible power in our cameras and have for years but unless we have a specialized photo printer print them, we won’t see just how fantastic they are. I predict that in the next few years, we will see specialized devices for just this application aka media center PCs with extreme resolution video cards and super high res quantum dot displays. It’s going to be amazing.

 

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The Xbox One Just Beat the PlayStation 4 for the First Time in Months

This is the headline today and I predicted it. Here’s what I think is going on. First, Microsoft lowered the price by $50 to $350 which is a very good deal. In bundles, you can get a couple of decent games too and maybe even an extra controller for around $400. However, that alone wouldn’t make up the difference. The real difference is that the Halo Masterchief Collection was released. Halo lovers needed this game to justify leaving their XBox 360s behind. Plus, at a Microsoft store, any working 360 will get you $100 off in an upgrade.

I was sorely tempted to spring for this deal but I resisted. I felt that once I played the new games which are great and added new graphics and coop scoring to all games, I would have nothing else to play. The sad fact is that the games I want aren’t available, yet. The new Tomb Raider is a must have for me as is the Halo 5 Guardians. That is unless they wanged Halo 5 to be on line multiplayer only aka Destiny. If it does have a strong story arc with a coop mode, it will be hard not to buy one.  Even then though, I’d have a console with a handful of games.  It may be my best choice to sit tight and wait for another year or even more until Game of the Year editions come out. Then the DLC and bugs will be all taken care of and the price will drop.  So it seems, the near future still looks like a 360 PS3 gaming world for me.

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So I gave up on Destiny

I played the Playstation 3 version of the game over a few days and found it very frustrating.  Clearly, this game is meant to be played by a group of players who are friends in the PS network. I did one of these events with my daughter and her fiancee and while we had a good time, we could barely hear each other. Once again, it seemed repetitive and kind of silly just shooting some bad guys then racing to another area to do it again and again.  At the Tower, nobody can take off their helmets or speak to each other in any way so it is like being deaf. I am also really flabbergasted that Bungie wasted the Cross Buttons on dancing and sitting down. Really?  Then it became clear that this game is really slanted towards getting gear and then being a top performer. Casual gaming is just not practical. You must dedicate yourself to the game and become expert… IF you have the reaction times and skill… or walk away.  And that is what I have done. I traded in my copy to Amazon at half the price that I bought it for.  I am glad to have tried it but Bungie created a game that Halo lovers would not like at all. No story, no memorable characters, nothing but shoot run and shoot again. All the guns are essentially the same and who cares about how pretty it is when you can’t go anywhere other than the darn missions? Sad day.

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Dell U2713HM WQHD ultragraphics monitor

I recently upgraded to this 27″ monitor for AutoCAD and Lightroom work. Initially, it would not go past 1080p resolution which is what I had previously on my 23″ HP monitor. The specs said that the monitor would do this but I soon found out that my motherboard graphics chip, a ATI Radon chip, would not support the high resolution. SO I bought a nice new MSI AMD Radeon R7 240 2GB DDR3 VGA/DVI/HDMI Low Profile PCI-Express Video Card. I installed the card and again the possible resolutions would not go to 1440p. Lots of research showed me that to go to WQHD, you don’t need a gaming graphics card ( games rarely go beyond 1080p) but less expensive ones like the EVGA GeForce GT 610 1024MB GDDR3, DVI, VGA and HDMI Graphics Card 01G-P3-2615-KR will do just fine. I had installed this older card in a refurbished Dell Optiplex 760 earlier this year so I just swapped the cards and thought I would be in business. No joy.
It turns out that the Dell monitor is only supporting the 1440p resolution on Dual Link DVI-D interfaces with a dual link DVI-D cable and the DisplayPort. So I used the cable that came with the Dell monitor and bingo I have 1440p and the sharpest clearest IPS images ever.
The reviews on Amazon warn that this monitor with version AO are defective, having an orange bleed thru on the one edge of the screen with a loud buzzing sound.  Apparently versions A1 and A2 do not have this problem. My monitor is an AO and was manufactured in July of 2014 so clearly they are still making the AO version and it has none of these problems. It probably indicates where the plant that the monitor was made, not the tech in the unit.  So much for Amazon customer reviews.
I also have to sing the praises of an IPS monitor.  It means In Plane Switching and it refers to the tech of the LCD in the screen. The beauty of it is that it displays the same colors at a very wide angle so I can be sure of my color work no matter how I sit at the computer. Color fidelity is incredible too. However, IPS monitors are somewhat slow in response so they aren’t best for gaming but that isn’t my application.  I LOVE this monitor.

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GamerGate and it’s original meaning has been lost.

We are know about the sad events and statements on Twitter over women in gaming and that these come from the #Gamergate hastag.  While I am totally repulsed by these and fully support a vastly increased balance for females in gaming, the original issue posed was journalistic ethics in gaming.  I believe it amounts to being paid for publishing overly positive reviews for games and hardware that really are not deserving same. Well, I have looked into this and I see some truth to it. And I also see it in comments. Clearly, these gushers just can’t be so completely overwhelmed by their experience with the game or hardware to justify the hype.

Case in point, Forbes just released a review of Destiny, two months after it’s release and it is gushing. The article mentions the poor story arc and glosses over the other glaring problems such as the game is BORING. It says that it just isn’t and contrary to what I experienced, the game supposedly has something for everyone. Oh, bull! No, it doesn’t. If you aren’t dedicating tens of hours a week or more playing and are a very very skilled shooter, Destiny is pure frustration. You still can’t explore the supposedly vast universe. Every mission requires you to return to the ship. No exploring. EVERY mission ends up in some confined space. And oh the loot, well, I really don’t care to get loot and make my avatar look cooler or more accomplished at the tower where I can’t talk to ANYONE. But I can dance and sit down anywhere. WTF?

Clearly, this article has an odor to it. Even the comments call bullshit on it, except for some that seemed to have been captured by the same drug.

Now, this problem in commenting has two sides. I recently bought a new monitor. It is a nice one from Dell, designed for photo editing and graphics intensive applications. The comments said that version AO is defective and has a loud buzz with an orange light leak on the corners.  Versions A1 and A2 do not.  The implication is that the AO version is the first one and when it sells out Amazon won’t ship it.  Guess what, mine came in as an AO and it is fine.  It is also manufactured in July of this year but the bad comments go back two years. Basically, the versioning is not what the commenters say it is, rather it is more likely to be WHERE or what plant the unit was made in.  If there was a problem with the AO line, clearly it has been rectified. Or is this whole bad press thing in the comments just some shill trying to talk down the fine monitor?  You can guess what I think.

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Finally some sense about Destiny

Update: Rory Appleton of the Fresno Bee says that Destiny was not created for the current adult gamer as evidenced by it’s Teen rating. The first one of those to be given to a First Person Shooter in a decade. Rory’s notion is that Bungie did this deliberately to capture the 13 year old gamer and to keep that gamer for ten years. The 35 year old gamer is being written off as they expect them to stop playing soon but the kids will be so they just jettisoned the story arc and made it pretty.

From my view, the whole industry seems to be in love with on line multiplayer. Even upstart Valve is rumored to be entering the fray, leaving Half Life 3 in the lurch.  Clearly, video games that have no story arc are far cheaper to produce and much faster to code. However, I also think that their vision is short sighted in that if they continue to go for the brass ring of the marketplace, they will soon discover there are only so many ways to capture that income stream.  By offering many different on line MMO worlds, each requiring the bulk of a gamer’s attention, the reception of late comers to the market will falter.

UPDATE 2:
I learned that the creative genius behind the Halo series, Joe Staton quit Bungie last September to return to Microsoft.  He was in charge of story arc. Now, he had been with the company something like 15 years so leaving was a big deal and in the middle of the Destiny project. It doesn’t take a genius to suss out that he must have been unhappy about the decision to gut story arc so the 13 year olds wouldn’t be turned off.
Also, I learned that Bungie cut out chunks of story arc and possibly cut scenes before launch.  There is a rumor that they are in DLC to come which is apparently already locked on the game disc.  Still, I wonder if they couldn’t follow thru on the story arc at all because of Staton’s departure.

 

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Post processing image software

It is not a stretch to say that most people are familiar with Adobe Photoshop for image editing and post processing and when I got back into photography, I found that there are many new options besides Photoshop. Why should I care? Well, frankly, Photoshop is pretty complex and to process a batch of images in a timely manner, it really isn’t productive. Adobe recognised this and came out with Lightroom several years ago. Lightroom is optimized for handling ALL your photographs. It contains a database to organize the images on your hard drive and to process them as well. Not only that, it does hundreds of things more. I can tag images with GPS coordinates from Google map satellite data, I can edit and process a photo shoot in an hour or so then publish the results to Smugmug directly from Lightroom.  AND all my edits are non destructive so if I decide that I overdid some effect or need to re-edit the image, it is a snap to reopen it and the settings are still there to be adjusted.
However, Lightroom isn’t the only game in town, Topaz Labs offers 15 plugins for Lightroom/Photoshop to do even more advanced photo processing for special effects. It has plugins for high ISO noise reduction that are first rate, detail enhancement with almost no halo artifacts and incredible color controls for special situations. These are only a few of the amazing things that this package can do. They offer a thirty day trial with no restrictions and I took advantage of it. I was amazed at the technology and for a while, I planned on buying each plugin. However, as I learned more about the features of Lightroom, I found that I can do 99% of what I want there. I would have to be a professional photographer taking artsy images for advertising or art shows to really use Topaz. This could change as I get more involved with photography but for now, I am set.

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Destiny again!

I am obsessed with this game but not for the reasons that I thought I would be. I had such high hopes for a diversion away from this worrying world and to escape into a “Super Halo” one that when it did not happen, my mind has been spinning in all directions, most not pleasant. I now see Destiny as a gateway to a huge ten year long MMO where the people playing determine the game. It is a human experience currently dominated by those who have a very narrow ideal of what this video game should be. It is just a shoot ’em up game with no real need for story or character development. Instead, the goals are getting new gear and abilities to kill more efficiently against ever more difficult enemies. That is until, the end game when one plays against other players.
Sadly, I lack any interest in this aspect of gaming. It is more like the real world of death and destruction replayed over and over again in a nasty “Groundhog Day” sort of life.
I have read that Bungie, the developer of Destiny, is designing a game to appeal to the least common denominator of gamer for widest appeal. That of course means appealing to the baser instincts of the population. These folks are not going to appreciate intellectual puzzles or intricate philosophical conundrums posed by video game scenarios.  No, it is going to appeal to the 14 year old male who just wants to satisfy his need to shoot stuff. AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and…

I saw this kind of thing in Titanfall, a video game of mechs with no story campaign at all. Apparently, this is the trend for the industry because even 343 Industries is making Halo 5 into an exclusively online multiplayer experience. I hope that some studio will buck the trend and release a video game with an intense story arc with real characters for the rest of us.  If not, we replay the games of the past on our old consoles forever.

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Destiny

I wasn’t going to participate in the early adoption of the new video game, Destiny but as my daughter and her partner have eagerly begun, I changed my mind. I have played the PS3 version for several hours now and have only gotten to level 4 where I can now go to the Moon. As yet, however, I have not traveled there.
My initial impression is that this is a very different type of game than the Halo series. There is little in the way of a single player campaign story arc but just enough to allow the player to have some reason to continue. I have not played any multiplayer games so far so this is very new to me. I see avatars for many people in the tower area and some in the missions too. It is disconcerting to see them, frankly, as I feel somewhat self conscious in my comfy living room while these strangers “see” me.  One shot at me several times, I hope in the mistaken notion that I was one of the enemies. Destiny doesn’t indicate whether the person is friend or foe at a distance, a failing in my estimation. I got my first “Event” and rushed over to accept the challenge only to have another player swoop in and take the prize by taking the last shot after I had weakened the enemy.  Again, I didn’t care for that at all. I felt like it was high school all over again.
On balance, Destiny does play somewhat cramped, at least in the early levels of single player.  It seems repetitive too. I went to a new area of the old Russia and it looked almost identical to the first scene. And again, I had my major battle taking place inside an abandoned factory against an enemy that I had no knowledge of just who or what I was fighting. My companion, Ghost, voiced by Peter Dinklage, is useful but hardly the same excitement that Cortana elicited.  She brought a level of emotion into the struggle that is lacking in Destiny.
This all leads me up to my first major difference between Destiny and other video games that I like, namely it begins with little to galvanize interest. Instead, it starts with a battlefield of ruins.  While we get a glimpse of the last remaining human city, we cannot go there.  Why is this if we are supposed to be able to explore an open world? Additionally, we meet a masked being who says he represents the Traveler to tell us that all is probably lost. Most of the people we meet are masked. Why have avatars with so many choices of appearance when most of the time, we are masked? I hope that Destiny only gets off to a slow start and builds as the game progresses but so far, I feel that it has fallen short of the expectations that Bungie and others have set for it.

 

Update: I discovered that there is no pausing feature in missions. So if you start one, you must finish or just quit and replay the whole mission over when you can finish it.

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