Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Strange Attractor Catalogue Launch

My post about the Just Listening CD release reminded me that I was in Cork not so long ago for another launch event, also celebrating a sound art publication by Farpoint Recordings. Until now I've neglected to write about it here, likely because of that annoying Facebook entity. (Items I write about there I might forget to write about here.)

It is a timely matter again, since Saturday saw the Dublin launch of Strange Attractor at the RHA Gallery. Since I couldn't be in two places at the same time I missed out on Dublin, so these photos here of the Cork launch (Saturday 12 November 2011 in the Crawford Art Gallery) must suffice. Read on for an overview of the book and DVD.
Monday, December 05, 2011

Just Listening - Ireland Calling CD Now Available

Just Listen - Ireland Calling
Despite the fact that I am one of the participants included on this CD, it has suddenly become one of my favourite releases of recent years. Just Listening - Ireland Calling has a cumbersome title, but is in all other ways an effortlessly pleasing release. Recorded live in Limerick this past April, this disc documents the Just Listen showcase of contemporary Irish experimental improvisation. And it is a rich scene indeed!

Organised by The National Sculpture Factory, the concert invited curators from across Europe (and beyond) to check out the best in local talent. Though the bulk of the festival was in Cork, the concert itself took place in the Church Gallery at the Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD).
Friday, November 25, 2011

LaTeX Tip: TeXstudio

I have spent the last few days designing documents with LaTeX, using the XeTeX engine. The process has produced some great results, but a good amount of digging was required to find out rather obvious things. This series of articles will hopefully save you this time.

I will assume you've installed TeX Live in the default location, which is C:\texlive on Windows 7. There are two distributions that use XeTeX and only this one worked for me, as I wrote previously. Of course you don't have to use Windows; these are cross-platform open source applications.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011

And The Winner Is... TeX Live

Well, after all that rubbish I went through earlier in the day, finally some results! TeX Live installed correctly the second time. Of course it decided to place itself in the root of C: drive, not where nice-behaving apps should go. But I'll see if I can re-locate it later.

Right now, it's down to the business of laying out equations. In this follow-up article I will compare renderings of two LaTeX engines and three typefaces.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reasons To Despair, Or, Installing And Using LaTeX

Shake me or something but it's 2011. I'm not sure why software is getting more complicated and more broken instead of the opposite. I suppose I "ask for it" by expecting to install a geek-level text-based document layout package like LaTeX and have it work like it should.

I recently decided (tardy by a couple of decades) to have a look at LaTeX, since I often need to produce different printer-ready output in an easy and powerful fashion. The various WYSIWYG packages designed for this purpose are either a) rubbish, or b) expensive. I'm getting tired of laying out basic files by mouse when a keyboard is more efficient. After many years of HTML I am quite used to tag-based layouts. I coded for an awful long time, so this approach doesn't scare me.

The final straw is that I've had to lay out some math formulae recently, and that is a horrible process in a graphical editor. LaTeX has been performing this task for three decades. It's open and free, so why not?
Tuesday, November 01, 2011

General Strike in Oakland

Tomorrow, 2 November 2011, in Oakland there will be a General Strike. The stated purpose is to shut down the usual flow of goods and money that signify a system dominated by capital in its most oppressive forms. This is in direct response to the attempted dispersal of the Oscar Grant Plaza occupation. Among other things the police brutality on this occasion resulted in critical injuries to a an American veteran of Iraq. I will not attempt here to justify or document any of these activities, since the Occupy movement is far too complicated and diffuse to be summarised simply.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sonic Vigil 6 (2011)

Sonic Vigil 6Where can you hear 14 of the finest improvising sonic art performers play for over seven hours for only a fiver? Only at Sonic Vigil, Cork's annual mega-festival of everything that is loud, delicate, ferocious, quiet, expressive, innovative and down-right thrilling!

I am especially pleased to announce that I am on the bill this Saturday 22 October at Triskel Christchurch in Cork City.
Monday, October 17, 2011

Stolen Mirror Publishing Launched

"The most prudent and effective method of dealing with the world around us is to assume that it is a complete fiction."
-- J. G. Ballard

Introducing Stolen Mirror Publishing. Our mandate is to develop innovative titles that encourage you to explore your relationship with language, sound and the world around you. Our catalogue will include limited edition books, compact discs and digital downloads. We have no outside funding and so can remain completely independent.
Monday, October 17, 2011

Photos From Cuisle Festival

Iztok Osojnik
The Cuisle International Poetry Festival has come to an end for another year. Four days of readings and activities to please every taste, with many world-class names and some truly incredible words. For my own part my own reading went very well, despite being the first on the schedule. Thanks to all who came out and supported the release of my book! And thanks to the organising committee: Sheila Deegan, Bertha McCullagh, Ciaran O'Driscoll and Mark Whelan.
Monday, September 26, 2011

Join Me At The Cuisle International Poetry Festival

I am pleased to announce that I will be kicking off this year's Cuisle International Poetry Festival with a lunch-time reading in the Captain's Room of the Hunt Museum. This is a brilliant setting in an award-winning museum. I am sure if you're a native of Limerick you've enjoyed the eclectic collection before now. You'll need no further urging to join me in this lovely room, Wednesday 12 October 2011 at 1pm.

On the occasion I'll be launching my book Tragedy of the Sun and Stars. Those present will have the first chance to purchase the limited edition. I'll be writing more about that book anon.
Monday, September 12, 2011

"Apophenic Ecosystem C10 C30" at TACTIC, Cork

tape loop

"The Uncanny is a Freudian concept of an instance where something can be familiar, yet foreign at the same time, resulting in a feeling of it being uncomfortably strange or uncomfortably familiar."

Liam Slevin has curated an exhibition of sound and video works based on this theme, opening Wednesday 14 September at 7pm. Exhibiting artists include Dominic Thorpe, Stephen McGlynn, Erin Gee, Jessica Conway, Dave Fyans, Sarah Lundy, Richard Forrest and Dan Guiney. I am happy I was asked to take part and will make it "down south" for the opening.
Monday, August 22, 2011

"Complementarity: An Archipelago" Published On-Line

(Somehow this post didn't get finished in a timely fashion. I just found it languishing in the land of "draft".)

This spring my interdisciplinary paper "Complementarity: An Archipelago" was published by Alan N. Shapiro, technologist and futurist, on his website.

An archipelago is a sea containing scattered islands. In this paper the term is describes a scattering of texts embedded in a particular context; a cluster without overt pattern but with some as-yet-not-fully-determined connectivity. The context the reader brings to this collection is the axis about which the islands spin. Thus the archipelago is a generative system embedded in a process greater than itself.

From quantum mechanics we know that particles also act as waves, depending on what we are observing. We can see light or an electron in one or the other aspect, but to get a full appreciation of their characteristics we need to balance both concepts in our mind at the same time. Niels Bohr called this duality complementarity.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Windows Running Slow?

Today I was helping my friend Tony Higgins on Facebook. His laptop running Windows XP had suddenly become very slow. And with the complex nature of how programmes interact in a modern operating system this is all too common. Here are the suggestions I gave him for how to sort out the issue. So read on for some tips that I am sure you can find in a thousand other places. But this article also gives me the opportunity to encourage you to listen to Tony's music. Check out his site!
Tuesday, August 09, 2011

"No Input Software" Paper and Concert This Week

The newly-founded Irish, Sound, Science and Technology Association (ISSTA) is having their first Convocation (the ISSTC, naturally) this week, Wednesday and Thursday. This is being run out of the University of Limerick, right on my door-step, so of course I will be taking part. First I'll be delivering a paper and then I'll perform a piece that instantiates the ideas in that text.

Wednesday 10 August 2011 at 11:30, I will be presenting a paper on my current activities: "No Input Software: Cybernetics, Improvisation and The Machinic Phylum". If you are interested you can register for the conference and enter into the dialogue! A total of 40 euro gets you a yearly membership to ISSTA, entry to all the talks and three concerts, so it's rather good value. For more information go to the ISSTC 2011 "Overture" website.
Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Autopoieses 15

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Autopoieses 14

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Autopoieses 13

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Autopoieses 12

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Autopoieses 11

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Autopoieses 10

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Autopoieses 9

Monday, August 08, 2011

Autopoieses 8

Monday, August 08, 2011

Autopoieses 7

Monday, August 08, 2011

Autopoieses 6

Monday, August 08, 2011

Autopoieses 5

Monday, August 08, 2011

Autopoieses 4

Monday, August 08, 2011

Autopoieses 3

Monday, August 08, 2011

Autopoieses 2

Monday, August 08, 2011

Autopoieses 1

Monday, August 08, 2011

"Deserted Village" to Première at GAFF in Gorey, Ireland

deserted village, Achill Island
If you are in the vicinity of Gorey, County Wexford, next Sunday 7 August, you should drop into the Gorey Arts & Film Festival (GAFF), a "new intimate 1 day event" that is spearheaded by Richard Carr, the man behind the open art publication StudentZine.

Helen Frosi of London's SoundFjord has curated a Listening Post as part of the festival. I contributed a composition created entirely from the ambiance of the deserted village, Achill Island, Co. Mayo. Listening to the sound of the sheep bounce from mountain-side to mountain-side was incredible. I wish I could recreate the same sense of embodiment in space, but instead must be satisfied with some rather more overt sonic manipulations.
Sunday, August 07, 2011

Olympus G. Zuiko 40mm f/1.4 Test Part 2

mauve flower after rain
Following on Part 1, I will present some sample images of the Olympus G. Zuiko 40mm f/1.4 and discuss its usability.

First, to consider the focal length. This lens is DOF/FOV equivalent to an 80mm f/2.8 on full-frame, which is a capable telephoto configuration. The equivalence for APS-C is 51mm f/1.8, which means that it corresponds to a typical fast fifty on the Pentax system I know and love. This is a field of view I enjoy, since I prefer something either tighter than the "normal" field of view (which is 21mm on the Micro Four Thirds format). That's why you'll find me shooting 43mm or even 77mm as a general "walk around" lens on APS-C.
Sunday, August 07, 2011

Olympus G. Zuiko 40mm f/1.4 Test Part 1

Olympus E-P1 w/ Zuiko 40/1.4
In this pair of articles I'll present one of my typical lens "tests", which involves shooting at different apertures in a controlled environment, and then roaming about the neighbourhood to take snapshots. The handling of the lens as well as its image quality will be under review.

The "Olympus G. Zuiko Auto-S 40mm F1.4", to give the lens its full title, was designed for the Olympus PEN F half-frame film camera, introduced in 1963. The innovative work of Yoshihisa Maitani (which involved over 50 patents) created an elegant well-built system that was immediately popular and sold millions. I happen to think it's one of the finest looking cameras you can get (the earlier Olympus Trip cameras are nice as well). Thus it was a pleasant surprise when Olympus tapped into this heritage to introduce their Micro Four Thirds cameras, about which I have been writing a fair amount lately. (Though in some ways technically superior, the Panasonic MFT cameras have the same old uninspiring SLR look.)
Saturday, August 06, 2011

Comparing Alternative Mount Lenses on the Olympus E-P1

The last article considered the range of alternative legacy lenses one can adapt to the Olympus/Panasonic Micro Four Thirds (MFT) system. My goal is to find something more compact than my Pentax 43mm Limited without giving up anything significant in terms of image quality.

In this article I'll use photographs to compare lenses designed for three different mounts, seeing how they look on the Olympus E-P1, and also crunching the figures to see which ends up winning the "I'm tiny! Buy me!" award.
Friday, August 05, 2011

Adapters for Pentax K Lens on MFT Cameras

As a resource, I thought I would supply a list of those brands of adapters I have located that allow the use of Pentax K lenses on Micro Four Thirds (MFT) cameras. You can be sure that these firms will also offer adapters for other such lenses. And they also might very well provide adapters to other camera systems. So this information might be more generally useful.

This is not a list of recommendations as I have not compared these brands. Even the cheapest adapters available from China on eBay are made of aluminum and brass and might very well provide an excellent fitting for your lenses. I have converted all selling prices to US dollars but this does not indicate shipping charges or ease of purchase depending on where you live.
Friday, August 05, 2011

Choosing An Alternative Mount Lens for an ILM Camera

In my last article I explained all about register and why ILM cameras allow such a wide range of off-system lenses to be adapted to their bodies. It's one of the main reasons these cameras (Olympus PEN, Panasonic G3 and family, Sony NEX) have proven so popular with aficionado photographers, many of whom have a standing investment in lenses from other systems.

In this article I'll list the systems we might want to use on our ILM and apply my own specific criteria of price, usability and form factor. Happily, a single mount choice will bubble to the surface. (If you apply different criteria you may get a different result.)
Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Register (Flange Focal Distance) and ILM Cameras

Olympus E-P1 with FA43 Limited
One of the best things about ILM cameras (don't know what they are? read my last post) is that the lack of the traditional mirror assembly means that a great deal of the depth of the camera (measured from the back plane out towards the front of the lens) can be omitted. This is not a new observation, since it is entirely the same advantage that range-finder cameras always had. They could thus be constructed to be relatively thin and pocketable, which is one of the main reasons they became a favourite of street photographers. (The fact they weren't much good at macro, close focusing or telephoto applications also helped narrow their application domain.)
Tuesday, August 02, 2011

How (Not) To Name Your Camera System

(This will be an entirely minor article, spun out of my head when contemplating far more important matters. You know how it is.)

An annoying thing about the new crop of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras is that we don't have a good name for them. Olympus and Panasonic call the cameras in their Micro-Four-Thirds (MFT) line "New Generation System Cameras", though Olympus is smart enough to de-emphasise this unwieldy term in place of the easier-to-market "PEN". Pentax opts for ILC (Interchangeable-Lens Camera) to describe the new Q, a term which doesn't distinguish this camera from SLRs. Ricoh's odd GXR design is the Interchangeable Unit Camera System. And Sony merely says "ultra-compact camera system" when they need to describe the NEX.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Harry Moore's Sound-Snippets Project

Harry Moore is an artist who excels at pinhole photography and putting together sounds in ways that make the process of their construction apparent. He teaches photography in Cork. I first saw him play with Tony Langlois as Sunfish. His cute-as-heck box camera attracted my comments at another gig. My occasional presence in Cork led to him asking me to join his latest collaborative project: Sound-Snippets. The project is now bearing sonic fruit, which you can sample at SoundCloud. Here's the description in his own words.

Sound-Snippets is a project. 10 different sound practitioners provide the ingredients for a collective piece. Participants provide four separate sound ‘snippets’, each no shorter than 10 seconds and no longer than 60 seconds. Each of the practitioners assembles the parts in their own style or methodology, providing a range of different versions from the identical material, using no effect excepting the following: volume levels including fades, cross fading or multi layering, duplication. The final pieces are then assembled into a presentation, the number of tracks matching the number of protagonists (10 participants = 10 different versions, all constructed with the same ingredients).
Sunday, July 17, 2011

Walk the Induction Circuit for World Listening Day

Induction Circuit
Induction Circuit is a self-directed walk that explores the secret domains and hidden sounds of Catherine Street (Limerick, Ireland). Setting off from a designated starting point with a music player and headphones, the participant is encouraged to experience new sonic geographies.

This piece was created for the Catherine Street DIG 2011. I am mentioning it again since tomorrow, July 18, is World Listening Day. This would be a perfect time for you to open your ears to the secret sounds around you.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Photo in the Limerick Printmakers Print Show

The annual Limerick Printmakers Open Submission Print Show is opening tomorrow night, Thursday 14 July at 8pm. I am proud to say one of my photographic prints was selected for inclusion. I won't tell you which one, although it is recent, very pertinent to Ireland today and is on my Flickr stream. It would be great if friends and other interested parties came out to celebrate!

And besides this is one of the more interesting shows of the year, with a very high calibre of work and every type of print on display: etching, lithography, silkscreen, installation works, etc. Andrew Boyle from Cork selected from over 200 entries. And if it's anything like the several previous years I've attended, it'll be fantastic.
Sunday, July 10, 2011

Vivitar Series 1 28mm Review Part 2

red berries, blue sky @ f/4
I said most of what I needed to in Part 1 of this review. This article gives you a few more images to look at, since I'm not about to subject the lens to formal testing.

All images on this page were shot at f/4. Though perhaps not exceptional in content or execution, they should illustrate the all-around usefulness of this lens. Just so you know, I've run my usual processing on these photos, including input and output sharpening. There's a little contrast enhancement and the colour of the sky has been boosted in the first picture. Further enhancement could no doubt bring out even more from this lens, but I wanted the pictures to be a useful illustration of the actual lens rendering.
Saturday, July 09, 2011

Vivitar Series 1 28mm Review Part 1

Schweppes in the kitchen @ f/2.4
It's been a while since I've posted anything relating to the Great Vivitar 28mm Bestiary, mostly because I view the work of compiling those lens variants to be complete. But this is not to say that I don't still shoot with these lenses. Today I ventured out with one of the very special models from that list, the only one to bear the "Vivitar Series 1" name. At f/1.9 it's also the fastest 28mm lens ever made, sharing that honour with the Voigtlander Ultron.

This is a solid mass of a lens, weighing in at 335g. It is 60mm long and, due to its odd flared shape, is 64mm wide at the end of the barrel. I say "odd" but the lens feels very nice in the hand, with a wide knurled focus ring that turns easily and smoothly and stops precisely.
Saturday, July 09, 2011

Replacing DVD Drive On ASUS Laptop

DVD drives are made to fail. They are built, like most computer components, to the cheapest standards possible. When your drive fails it's a simple matter to swap it out, though it might help to know exactly which screws to undo and which you can leave alone. Join me for a step-by-step guide that might save you a few minutes.

This walk through is for the ASUS X5EA, but it should be similar for other ASUS laptops. The DVD drive in this unit is the TS-L633C, manufactured by Toshiba / Samsung. It uses a SATA connector and has a custom fascia (AKA bevel) glued in place for this particular model.
Friday, July 08, 2011

Olympus E-P1 vs. Pentax K20D ISO Comparison

This is going to be an article for "pixel peepers" only. Part of me hates to do this sort of thing, since it could mislead some people into thinking that quantitative analysis is what photography is all about. But on the other hand it is good to have an idea of how various gear performs, so one can use it to advantage. The question of image quality at different ISO values comes up a lot on photo forums. I am sure there are many other comparisons like this already extant on the internet, but sometimes I prefer to do things for myself.

I've prepared a rather large image. Click through the following to get to Flickr where you can download it in full-size. This will then allow you to compare the Pentax K20D to the Olympus E-P1. Both cameras are two generations old; the Pentax system has seen substantial improvements to high ISO performance with the K-7 and then the current K-5 models. The Olympus cameras have seen only minor improvements through the recent E-P3.

ISO comparison
Thursday, July 07, 2011

Jiffy Squid

Smiling Fish Crispy Squid

One of the best moments in film happens unexpectedly in Mystery Train, Jim Jarmusch's 1989 poem to Memphis. Like most of his films, this has a laconic tone punctuated by moments of complete hilarity. The three linked stories revolve around a run-down hotel staffed by two misfits. Screamin' Jay Hawkins is sublime as a night clerk who becomes irritated by a radio advertisement for a local seafood emporium.

"Jiffy Squid? Turn that damn thing off!"

This encapsulates that wonderful moment when the radio, omnipresent throughout the film, simply becomes too real, too distracting.
Friday, July 01, 2011

Olympus E-P1 Review Part Three

In this article I continue my review of the Olympus PEN E-P1 begun back in early June with A Review of the Olympus E-P1 with FA 43 Limited and continued earlier today with Part Two. In this instalment I'll discuss the screen and viewfinder options, consider the size issue and look briefly at image quality and other attributes. I'll then examine the brand new E-P3 in light of the deficiencies I found with the E-P1 and summarise the improvements I still hope to see.

Screen, OVF, EVF
This was the first PEN model and there is no option for an Electronic View-Finder (EVF), only an optical finder keyed to the 17mm prime lens FOV. Thus one needs to rely on the rear-panel LCD for all composition. This is a known limitation of this model. The screen is a nice 3" in size but a low 230K in resolution, a fact many critics have noted. I have no problem with this, actually, and find it a decent LCD all things considered. Perhaps that's because I do not expect to do any critical viewing on a camera. This screen is more than good enough for composition. It makes manual focusing fairly easy, since it is obvious when the subject is crisp.

Use of a screen like this in bright light is going to be troublesome. Though there are certain accessory solutions (hoods, shades and magnifiers), nothing beats an EVF in these cases.

Using an optional external EVF has four significant problems: it blocks the flash mount; it increases the profile of the camera significantly; it is fiddly to attach, unattach and carry separately; and it is expensive. Olympus has so-far failed to provide an MFT camera with a built-in EVF. This is incomprehensible to me and is a situation that likely can't last. The Panasonic G3 provides a shining example; I doubt Olympus can ignore this competition for long.

Though one of the new Olympus cameras has an articulated screen, the top-end models so far do not. This is also a disappointment as such an LCD solves several problems and provides very real shooting benefits. First, it can be used to reduce the effects of glare, by tilting in a propitious direction. Second, it can facilitate self-portraits, shooting over crowds and so on. But maybe most important, it can allow waist-level photography for discrete street shooting. Even the simple tilt screen of the Sony NEX, though not fully articulated, accomplishes two out of three of these goals while maintaining a slim profile. Let's get one of those!

A Word About Size
Size is one of the main reasons a serious photographer would shoot MFT over some other system. But size only matters when there is a quantum difference in form factor between two otherwise similar cameras. You can either put a camera in your pocket (point and shoot) or you can't. You can either put your walk-around kit in a small discreet bag (MFT and some APS-C) or you can't. You can either hand-hold the camera (full-frame and Canikon APS-C) or you need a tripod (medium format and larger). Thus, size for me boils down to where you have to put the camera when not in use: a pocket, a shoulder bag, a dedicated camera case / rucksack, or a car boot.

MFT has the possibility of being a pocket camera but then only in its smallest sizes, without EVF add-ons and with the most compact lenses. It is only in these configurations that it has any significant advantage over the small and powerful Pentax APS-C cameras. For that reason I bought the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens alongside the E-P1. Though I was disappointed that further pancake lenses were not available.

Many of the illustrations on this page were made using a K-mount to MFT adapter and some of my favourite Pentax lenses. In doing so I forsake compactness. Not only is the lens larger, but the adapter must make up the difference in registration difference -- any size advantage MFT has is hence lost. Though fun, this might not be a compelling argument for the use of MFT over some of the smaller DSLRs.

The forthcoming Olympus 12mm f/2.0 and 45mm f/1.8 primes fill two important niches in their system. However, neither are pancake designs.

blue dory
But What About The Images?
I won't say much here, since I presented several photographic examples and discussed my favourite settings in the first part of my review. There I concluded "Colour me impressed. This lens/body combination is brilliant!" I was referring to the use of the Pentax FA43 Limited, but having since tried several Pentax lenses on this body my opinion stands for all of them. The Olympus sensor does a good job and is in no way inferior to the APS-C sensors on the second-last generation of Pentax cameras. However, it cannot compete with the latest sensors, found in the K-x and K-5, when judged at high ISOs. This is a big issue for the hordes of spec followers who examine every sensor minutely for improvements over the previous. For me, in normal shooting, I was happy to use the camera at up to ISO 800. And since that's all I really use with my K20D, I was losing nothing.

In most cases I have been shooting RAW, but I tried some JPGs; on the highest setting they were indistinguishable from the RAW files. That's quite remarkable. Of course RAW will allow more latitude in post-processing. And since the JPG files are not that much smaller, I'll stick to RAW. However, it is nice to know that if I need to do a quick shoot for a client who needs immediate results I needn't worry about the performance of the JPG engine.

I am also blown away by the metering on this camera. I am used to doing my own metering and have even dallied in zone work. This is the first camera I have used where I trust the automatic meter to accurately read a scene. Really. Of course it still isn't perfect and never could be. But I consider this a solved problem.

The auto-focus with the Panasonic 20mm lens is perfectly fine for me. Others complain about performance, but I say there are more important things to fix first. For example, the overall sluggish responsiveness of the camera, which lies somewhere between a point-and-shoot and a DSLR, can really get in the way of shooting. Though some will show shots proving otherwise, I think it's foolish to use this camera for action. There are far better choices. And though there might always be a difference between the performance of camera systems, I am sure that more memory and a faster processor will improve the MFT user experience significantly.

Auto white balance is as good as one could want. Other features worked as advertised. One can play around with funky processing modes or apply these after the fact. It kills time when travelling on a bus.

At least until your battery runs dry. The battery here is a lot weaker than I'd like. For a significant outing you'd need a backup. I get far more use out of my Pentax DSLRs. Maybe I'm spoiled.

I took one video. It looked good. That's about as far as I'm going with that. You'll have to read someone else for detailed video info.

Other Irksome Things
When attaching a manual lens one can configure the IBIS for the new focal length. But there are two problems with the implementation. First, this setting has to be found in the menu system. Second, this figure does not reset when an automatic lens is attached. Olympus should take a leaf from Pentax here: prompt for the focal length and automatically reset if the camera can read the lens value itself.

Bracketing is buried deep in a menu, so I find I never bother using it. Perhaps this should be on the drive menu or somewhere else convenient.

The shortest Sleep setting is one minute. This means that every time one turns on the screen for a momentary adjustment it must stay on for sixty seconds, draining the battery. I would appreciate five second and ten second settings.

dome dominion
Here are the improvements I'd like to see:

1. Tilt screen for waist-level shooting and glare control.
2. Integrated EVF.
3. ISO assignable to any soft controls or dials.
4. Dedicated focus assist button independent of view modes.
5. Left-hand control wheel.
6. Larger hand grip.
7. Improved responsiveness.
8. Better access to bracketing.
9. Configurable User menu.
10. On/off slider (not button).
11. EV comp button moved away from shutter button.
12. Non-photographic controls moved apart from others on back panel.
13. Re-configured and logically laid out menu.
14. Smarter IBIS settings.

As important are the things I do not want:

a) A smaller body. Too small and one has to start dropping important controls.
b) A built in flash. These are always useless for proper shooting. Any flash I use must be tilt/swivel. Besides, the presence of a flash would cram existing controls closer together.
c) The loss of any existing features.
d) Additional buttons for secondary features unimportant to photography.

All of these are very conservative requests. What I would really like is a camera with complete direct control over aperture, shutter speed and ISO (something like the Fuji X100). One with totally configurable buttons and switches. But that ideal seems somehow impossible to reach in an interchangeable lens system. The only reason for this failure is lack of vision on the part of the manufacturers. But there it is.

Olympus E-P3
What about the E-P3?
It might seem ridiculous to be reviewing a two-year-old camera when many newer bodies have been released. But, quite honestly, I don't think any of these have made significant improvements over the original digital PEN. Certainly the E-P3 is the best of the bunch. So how many of my boxes does it tick?

Almost none. The responsiveness has been boosted and there is now a Magnify button, which maybe solves point 4. The grip is interchangeable; one alternative is available. I haven't seen it but let's be generous and say it satisfies point 6.

The camera now has two Fn buttons, but these need to be assigned to AE lock and EV compensation to make up for the lack of buttons present on the E-P1. According to reports, it is still true that neither can be used for ISO! Incredible!

At most, then, the culmination of the Olympus line only satisfies me on 3 of 14 points and, incidentally, back-slides by wasting space and money on a flash unit.

Do you want a small camera with interchangeable lenses and excellent image quality? Depending on your budget, I advise you to buy a Pentax K-x or K-5 and some pancake lenses. You have access to a much larger system, excellent high ISO images and great ergonomics. Responsiveness, battery life and many other characteristics are superior to Olympus MFT.

The E-P1 system is smaller, but only if you limit yourself to a very few lenses. Otherwise it is not decisively smaller -- you still need a shoulder bag rather than a pocket to carry it. In return it gives up too much in ergonomics and usability. Neither is it really cheaper, at least not if you consider the latest model. This analysis could change in a very short time, should Olympus release a "pro"1 model made with photographers in mind, rather than targeting people upgrading from point and shoot cameras.

Nonetheless, the E-P1 is a fun camera. If you are happy with the available auto-focus lenses it is very usable. If you wish to use a wide range of off-brand lenses it provides a decent, though frustrating, back-end. Until I can afford a K-5 I'll keep mine. By then maybe Olympus will have done the right thing.

1 I adopt here common terminology, though I reserve the term "professional" to apply to people.
Friday, July 01, 2011

Olympus E-P1 Review Part Two

smc Pentax 1:1.2 50mm
I've been enjoying my Olympus E-P1 and forgetting that I needed to come back here and finish my review -- in any case this is more a usage report than any sort of formal test. There are enough full coverage reviews available from the big sites. While I like reading them to get some sort of a general idea about a camera, they almost always forget to mention those aspects of usage that are most important to me. Rather than this feature or that sensor improvement, I am most often concerned with the usability of the camera day-to-day and second-to-second. The pertinent question is always: Does this gear support my activity as a photographer?

Perhaps today is a good day to reconsider this camera, since Olympus has announced three new Micro Four Thirds (MFT) bodies and Panasonic has already made available their latest incarnation. The Olympus E-P3 is the natural descendent of the E-P1 I have in front of me. Since I am unlikely to get that unit for review, instead I will write up my take on its predecessor. Then I will see how many of the issues with the E-P1 are corrected in the E-P3.
Friday, June 24, 2011

The New Pentax Q -- Toy Camera With Premium Price Tag

Well, Pentax has done something peculiar and unexpected: they've announced the world's smallest digital camera system with interchangeable lenses, the Pentax Q. The sensor is extremely small, on par with point and shoot cameras. Called 1/2.3" size (who comes up with these things?), it measures a minuscule 6.17 x 4.55mm. Into this they cram a 12.4MP CMOS sensor. More about that in my analysis below, but first the distinguishing features.

Some of the Nitty, Some of the Gritty
How small is small? Try 98 x 57 x 31 mm and only 200g fully loaded with battery and SD card. It easily fits in the palm of your hand. That's something you might actually lose in your shoulder bag!
Friday, June 24, 2011

Backlink Hell

Sorry, readers. Somehow back-links got turned on (I didn't do it) and so every post was followed by hundreds of spammy links back to the current article. I am not sure why I took so long to notice this. I must say that the blogosphere is so swamped with spam sites that searching for anything remotely commercial has become quite pointless. I am sure the tide of spam will once again be pushed back, but in the meantime it's annoying.

Since I'm writing, here's a random photo.

dead sport
Saturday, June 18, 2011


sky blade [reimaginings]
Today I had a sort of brainstorm and set about reimagining the 4x6 photos I have lying around the house, using common household objects as totems.

"I hope you'll enjoy it."
Friday, June 17, 2011

BBQ Sea Bass Recipes

sea bass with ginger soy
Tonight I fired up our little BBQ to cook some fresh fish. Of course fresh fish is the only kind worth dealing with. You either have to catch it yourself or be sure someone else has caught it very recently. Same day is the best, but that's not always possible.

That said, there's nothing that wrong with frozen fish. In fact flash-freezing on the boat immediately after a catch is one way to ensure it stays decent until it reaches your table. Many fishmongers thaw out their fish for display, so if you buy it from them it's less fresh than buying it still frozen -- sometimes nowhere near fresh at all.
Sunday, June 12, 2011

Trinity Abstracts

/ \
This is a selection from abstract architectural details taken at Trinity College Dublin. I used the Pentax FA 77 Limited on the Olympus E-P1, as discussed in recent articles. There are more samples if you click through to the Flickr thread.
Thursday, June 09, 2011

Choosing An Optimal Aperture To Avoid Diffraction

Stopping down your lens aperture to get greater depth of field can result in such a small opening for light that diffraction begins to limit the image quality. This is a well-known phenomenon, but what is less appreciated is how soon this effect kicks in. Photographers who commonly stop down to f/22 or f/32 for macro shots (one typical example) will want to read on. And sensor size also plays its part, which is why I am considering this topic now, in proximity with my equivalence article.
Wednesday, June 08, 2011

FA 77 Limited on Olympus E-P1

Roisin candids #1
The adventure continues. After my recent posts using the FA 43 Limited on the Micro Four Thirds Olympus E-P1 camera body, I spent a couple days shooting its larger cousin, the FA 77 Limited. I must say that this combination is a little unwieldy, given the large size of the adapter as previously noted. But it's totally worth it in terms of image quality.
Tuesday, June 07, 2011

FA 43 Limited Compared On Two Camera Systems

Here are some photos taken of the same subject at the same distance, with the FA 43 Limited lens. Shooting the same lens on different systems will not get us photographic equivalence. Nonetheless I was curious to see the overall image quality. On a full-frame camera 43mm provides a perfect normal field of view; on the Pentax K20D it provides the field of view of 64mm; on the Olympus E-P1 it is FOV equivalent to 86mm.

Here it is on the K20D, shot at ISO 200 and f/2.8. As always, click through for larger images in Flickr if you wish to examine in more detail.

K20D with FA43 Limited at f/2.8

Here is the shot on the E-P1, also at ISO 200 and f/2.8.

E-P1 with FA43 Limited at f/2.8

To aid in comparison I took a 100% crop from the centre of the image at various apertures. First the K20D.

K20D with FA43 Limited

And then the E-P1.

E-P1 with FA43 Limited

I will make three observations. First, I used Auto White Balance with no processing; the difference in colour is apparent. Second, the increase in noise in the E-P1 images is apparent.

Finally, the E-P1 produces smoother bokeh. I have no explanation for that.