Archive for the ‘ Review ’ Category

A month with the Pentax K-1

Just over a month ago I bought a new camera. It is a Pentax K-1 full frame DSLR. My previous camera, a Pentax K20D, was over 8 years old.

Bee

I was an early adopter of the K20D when it was released and was thinking I’d wait for price breaks and firmware updates before buying a K-1. Surely after being happy with the K20D for 8 years I could wait a little while longer, right? Haha… nope!

The K-1 is such a HUGE step up from the K20D that I couldn’t resist. Even though the first shipment was sold out everywhere I stumbled upon one that had been put on hold and never picked up, and the store was happy to sell it to me, so I pulled the trigger. I’m sure glad that I did! This camera has really sparked a renewed interest in photography and in the past month I’ve taken hundreds of amazing photos.

Alice Dog

Below is my basic impressions/review after one month of normal everyday use.

Likes
– Image quality, obviously: high resolution, incredible dynamic range, high ISO noise performance.
– Screw drive AF motor greatly improved.
– AF accuracy greatly improved.

Neutral
– No physical SR on/off button (I’m slowly getting used to this, but I have turned it off and forgotten to turn it back on a few times).
– The 3rd “function” dial is much stiffer to turn than I would expect. On paper it seems like an innovative idea but in reality I almost never use it.
– No on-board flash (doesn’t matter most of the time as I have an external flash, but having an on-board flash has saved me in the past).

Dislikes
– No AF.C physical button. Turning AF.C on/off is confusing compared to all the other settings. I don’t find the AF selector button on the front of the camera easy to find with my fingers (yet) without looking which means taking my eye out of the viewfinder.
– Smaller/simpler top LCD. It has the basics, but considering how little I use the 3rd “function” dial I’d rather have a larger top screen with more details.
– Not enough customization options for custom buttons, and not able to use AF button as a custom button (ex. if not using rear AF I would like to change this button to toggle between AF.S and AF.C or use it to change AF point selection mode).
– Status screen not turning off after a set timeout period or when bringing the camera up to your face (like bringing a smart phone up to your ear) = I have it permanently disabled.
– Battery life is not great.

Not sure yet
– Pixel shift & astrotracer – I haven’t used these yet, but I’m fairly sure I will like them once I use them!

The bottom line
I was thinking about how to phrase this, and at the end of the day I can say “this camera takes pictures of what I see.” Prior cameras have “taken decent pictures” but not necessarily what I saw… highlights would blow out easily, shadows would be too dark, images wouldn’t appear as detailed or subtle as I saw with my eye. My old cameras have been “tools” (or “toys”) where as this camera seems like an “extension” of my vision/perception of a scene. The dynamic range is so good and the results are so effortless that I just can’t put the camera down! I’ve gotten so many amazing shots (and such a huge percentage of keepers) in the last month. In fact I’ve probably gotten more good shots in the past two weeks than the past two years combined!

Punch Bowl

If you are interested in more details about this camera, you can check out this excellent 25 page in-depth review of the Pentax K-1.

If you want to see more photos that I’ve taken, I set up a Flickr stream with plenty of photos from the new camera.

Rifflandia 2014 Review / Feedback

After Rifflandia comes “Restlandia” for a few days, then “Reflectlandia” for a week or two, and now I have arrived at “Reviewlandia.” :)

Let me start by saying I have been to Rifflandia four years in a row now, and I attend the music festival because I love music. I suppose a secondary reason for attending would be the local cultural experience, i.e. to support local businesses, try new food options, learn about the sponsors and vendors, bump into friends and acquaintances around town, etc. But mostly I attend because I’m a fan of music. I do not attend Rifflandia to party, or to get drunk, or to stand around chatting with friends the whole time while artists are performing. So, now you know where I’m coming from. Here is my review of my 2014 experience:

Layout:

I liked the Royal Athletic Park (R.A.P.) layout this year. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I heard about the site wide liquor license, but it worked quite well. There was a lot more open space to move around and a lot more area available to sit on the ground. There were more routes available to get from point A to point B and less bottlenecks throughout the field.

Water station placement was too close to the side stage which made it difficult to refill my water bottle when the side stage was busy and overflowing with spectators. I knew where it was though as it’s always generally in the same area, so I didn’t have any problems pushing through the crowd, but I imagine it would be difficult to locate and navigate towards for some people who might not know where it was, or if they were traveling with children or groups, or if they had mobility issues.

The washroom placement was both good and bad. They were in the shade, there were lots of them, and the lineups moved quickly. That said, the staircase used to access them was a horrible bottleneck. To get to the washrooms from the field you had to fight your way up the stairs that were the only way in and out of the stadium. The front gates and security lineup funneled directly to the top of these stairs, with everyone making a return journey from the washrooms merging in with the eager new arrivals making it very difficult to leave the field. Once at the top of the stairs you had to look to both the left and right to determine which washroom area was less busy, causing everyone who finally made it to the top of the stairs to temporarily be in the way of everyone else trying to get down the stairs, thus causing further bottlenecks.

There were a lot of people openly smoking cigarettes in the crowds in front of the stage, in the food lineups, and wandering through the middle of the field. I do not like showing up early for a set to find a perfect spot to stand only to be smoked out when a late comer pushes their way through the crowds with a cigarette in hand. And if I’m standing in a food lineup I can’t just walk away.

(We politely confronted a belligerent smoker in a food lineup who claimed smoking was allowed anywhere since it was outdoors. We did not know the rules. We saw there was a dedicated smoking area, but you had to show ID to get in and couldn’t take alcohol with you. I don’t understand making smokers jump through so many hoops and encouraging them to break the rules. Were they breaking the rules? Was it a non-smoking venue except in designated areas or was it free reign? In BC we’re just used to smokers having to go to designated public areas away from doors, windows, air-intakes, etc so why would they be allowed to smoke in a crowd of thousands of people?)

Whether the people openly smoking in the crowds were under-aged and couldn’t get in to the smoking pit, or didn’t know about the smoking pit, or were just being assholes, I have no idea. I think there should be a zero tolerance policy for smokers and second hand smoke next year. There should be a big sign at the entrance that says smoking is only allowed in the smoking pit. Smokers shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get into the smoking pit. Security guards who search packages of cigarettes for drugs should inform the person of the smoking rules and tell them there is a zero tolerance policy for second hand smoke. Anyone caught smoking outside of the smoking pit should have their wristbands immediately removed. Every non-smoker will see the smoking rules when they enter the park so there’s no ambiguity about the rules and no hesitation by non-smokers to report infractions to security staff.

Food & Drink:

There were more picnic benches in the food area this year (yay!) and less congestion because of the lack of beer garden fencing. The lineups seemed to be shorter, or at least moving faster than last year. Maybe I was just lucky at the times I went, or maybe it was because everyone didn’t leave the beer garden at the same time in search of food after a main stage act finished their set. Lots of options, reasonable prices, and a lot of happy faces and full stomachs leaving the food trucks. Other snack/treat options like hand made popsicles and lemonade were a nice touch and reasonably priced too. The little bags of candy were a rip off though.

I was disappointed that the price of beer at the park went up again. It has increased 61.5% over 4 years. If it continues this trend a single plastic cup of local beer will cost $10.50 in 4 years. Not that I ever drank a lot before, but when it’s 27 degrees and sunny for 3 days in a row and beer costs $5 each I’ll have 5-6 in an 8 hour day just to stay hydrated and will hardly feel a buzz. When it costs $6.50 I’ll have 2-3 per day. Maybe that was the point, to cut down on consumption with the site wide liquor license. Oh well, I don’t really care, at least it only went up $0.50 this year instead of $1.00. If it goes up $0.50 or $1.00 next year it might start to feel like a gouge when beer costs as much or more than most food truck entrees.

The speed of the drink ticket lineup and drink pickup lineup was amazing as usual. Staff and volunteers were friendly and efficient. There were tonnes of options for beer, cider and hard lemonade. I’m still struck with a sense of awe each year when see the custom Phillips beer-tap-truck.

Lineup:

I was extremely excited to see The New Pornographers outdoors (“under an embalmed clear sky”), in my hometown, without having to travel to Vancouver or Seattle. That was a dream come true show for me and worth the price of admission by itself. Other than that, I was not very impressed with the lineup this year. Sure, there were a few highlights, but it was definitely the weakest lineup of the past four years in my opinion. I know some people were complaining about this, selling their tickets after the lineup announcement, etc. but I’m not complaining, just reflecting.

Part of the Rifflandia experience is learning about and exploring new artists. Venturing outside of your comfort zone. Becoming a fan of something new. And part of the point of a super pass wrist band is the “choose your own adventure” experience. Depending on your priorities and venue capacities at any given moment it can either be a dream come true show you’ve been waiting for for years, or it can be a “go with the flow and surprise me” experience or a “try before you buy” preview of a band that you are curious about. The format works well for me. I’ve been to a number of subsequent shows and/or bought a number of albums after seeing a band play a short set at Rifflandia. I found a few new artists this year that I will follow in the future.

I could be wrong, or it could be a fluke, but I get the impression that there has been a bit of a shift towards attracting the “young university party crowd” to Rifflandia. This is smart from a business perspective, but waters down the festival a bit for permanent Victoria residents like myself. It just seems like each subsequent year for the past few years has had more Hip Hop and DJ sets than the year before, and not just at night venues but also during the day at Royal Athletic Park. Perhaps this is because Atomique Productions also puts on Rock The Shores in July so there’s a bit of a demographic split between the mid summer crowd and the early September back to school crowd.

I’d rate the lineups in this order:
1. 2011
2. 2012
3. 2013
4. 2014

Although I did not experience it first hand, I’d put 2010 in third place between 2012 and 2013.

Sound Quality:

I’m not entirely sure how to approach the topic of sound quality at Royal Athletic Park. There’s the sound quality in the park and there’s the noise complaints outside the park. Both are important in my opinion because they go hand in hand and I’m not convinced many people really think too deeply about either, let alone at the same time. There were a lot of noise complaints in 2013 and not just from near by residents but also from residents on the other side of town. I was hugely disappointed with the sound in 2013 and totally agreed with people complaining from 10km away. I could barely put up with it inside the park.

This year, off the tip of my tongue, I’m inclined to say it was 100x better! That may be an exageration though. :) Let’s say it was about 10x better in 2014 than 2013, and 5x better than 2012. It was about equal in quality to 2011 with perhaps a slight edge to 2011. Sound quality is important to me because I like to actually hear lyrics and instruments instead of just bass distortion, and it’s also important that the festival doesn’t get shut down due to public outcry or for political reasons. I am not a sound engineer, but I think heavy bass and distortion generates more noise complaints as the sound travels further and because it just sounds like noise rather than music. I don’t think there was any difference at all between peak decibel levels or noise curfews this year; the reason it was better is because the bass wasn’t maxed out. In 2013 it seemed like the bass dial was turned to 10 out of 10 on day one and not adjusted at all for the entire weekend. Whether it was an acoustic set, ten piece rock band or a hip hop / DJ set, the bass was fully maxed out. It’s no surprise there were less noise complaints from residents this year because the sound board was decently run. I hope next year is just as good or better.

At night, I went to ANIÁN and even though it was an open air outdoor venue right next door to Phillips Backyard I didn’t even notice any noise pollution from Phillips. It wasn’t just covered up by increasing the volume at ANIÁN, the actual sound quality was quite good and I was very impressed.

Outside Royal Atheletic Park:

During peak hours (ex. Saturday late afternoon) the lineup to get into the park is so long that people have to walk down the road to get in line because the lineup fills the entire sidewalk. This causes drivers to be frustrated with pedestrians in the middle of the road and creates an unpleasant and unsafe environment while waiting to get inside. It would be nice if the lineup was better managed by staff and maybe roped off so half the sidewalk is lineup and half is navigatable. Better yet, if there were more than two security guards during peak hours, or multiple entrances, maybe the lineup wouldn’t be so long…

Report Card:

R.A.P. Layout – B (would have been an A if not for the washrooms)
Food & Drink – A
Lineup – C
Sound Quality – A

Thanks Rifflandia for another great year! See you all in 2015!

The Feeling

Do you remember that feeling? You know, the feeling you had on the last day of school when you were 10 years old?

Imagine: it’s a perfect sunny day. You’re out in the field behind the school with all the other children. Some of them are older than you. Some are younger. Some of them are your friends. Some are your enemies. Some are your neighbours. Some of them you don’t know at all. But none of this matters. In this moment you are happy. Everyone is. Everyone is excited; smiling, talking, running, jumping, playing. Basking in the warm summer glory of the last day of school. Everyone is connected then, in that moment, by that feeling.

I had almost forgotten about that feeling. I didn’t think I’d ever experience it again. But I did! I found it! Or rather, Rich Aucoin aroused it from within me.

Describing a feeling within a moment, or perhaps a moment that creates or awakens a feeling, is quite difficult. Words don’t really exist to describe the complexities of how everything can come together to form a perfect moment in time that you instantly recognize in your heart and soul as happiness. Yet it’s not exactly happiness either. It’s more like being at peace with the universe and truly living in that moment.

All I can do is describe the scene, and you can judge for yourself whether it’s comprehensible:

We’re in a small night club, with hundreds of strangers all around us. There is a white bed sheet hanging on the wall behind the stage. The sheet is covered in images and lyrics being projected in sync with the music. A strobe light is flashing. Everyone is jumping up and down with both hands in the air, shouting along with the music. Some people know the song. For others it is their first time hearing it. It doesn’t matter though, everyone is singing along. And jumping.

Oh, and did I mention that everyone in the room is under a giant rainbowcoloured pinwheel-patterned parachute? It floats up and down in the air as it glides over our outstretched fingertips. It feels as though the whole crowd is moving in sync, not just with each other, but with the universe. Everything seems to be going as planned. We can’t argue with the universe, so we keep jumping and singing along. The parachute is like the pulse of the music, floating effortlessly through the air as the sound fills the space between us all. We feel like a single entity then, as if we’ve all become the physical embodiment of the music. What if the music goes away? Will we remember this perfect moment when it’s gone? Will we ever feel this way again? We can’t take any risks, so we keep dancing, jumping, singing, and smiling as furiously as we can.

That’s the best I can do to describe the experience of Rich Aucoin’s live show. Please just trust me and go see him; you have to experience it for yourself. I wholeheartedly agree with words of Kirk Hamilton:

Without a doubt, and without hyperbole, Rich Aucoin’s live show is one of the best I have ever seen. It’s fun, and uplifting, and will leave you with a full heart and grinning for days on end. One of the lines he had everyone chant was “When you give it all up, you get it back”, and I can’t think of a better way to sum up the show; Rich more that gives it all up, and deserves everything he gets back.

Thank you for the experience Rich. In your own words: WE ARE SO LUCKY!

Halo: Cryptum

Being a gamer, a fan of the Halo series of games and a long time fan of author Greg Bear, I was very excited to read his new book Halo: Cryptum. I found it was a bit slow to start but I very quickly became glued to it. I don’t normally like large franchise book series, let alone recommend them, but if you like Greg Bear’s hard science fiction style and/or have any interest in the Halo story then I highly recommend checking it out.

UBC LipDub Video

My wife showed me the UBC LipDub video from her school this weekend. I love the Old Spice Guy parody bit at the beginning! The rest of it is pretty incredible too – one long continuous scene involving a thousand person dance mob, a bus, a swimming pool and a helicopter! I’m very impressed with the directing and production. Check out the YouTube video when you have ten minutes to spare.