Heads Up for Everyone

NavdyMaybe twenty years ago, I remember my friend Harry, who knows a lot about cars, telling me about a magical idea called a “heads up display.” Harry explained that data and images would be projected on every car windshield, and if I understood him correctly, instrumentation would move from the dashboard to an ultra-simple visual presentation directly in the driver’s field of view. No more looking down, no more looking away from the road. I became vaguely aware that some truck drivers were using this technology, but I wondered whatever happened to the consumer side of the idea.

Next year, we can all buy a dashboard mounted video projector called a Navdy. It costs less than $30o, and it does what Harry promised, and more. Navdy projects very simple graphics and just a few words directly on the windshield, directly above the steering wheel. The projector is set up so that your point of focus on the data is also your point of focus while driving, so the information is always easy to see (I’m curious how those with bi- or trifocals will respond).

We all know that picking up a phone while driving (or stopped at a light) to read a text message is a bad idea, and that sending a text is an even worse idea. So now, the text shows up immediately in front of you, perhaps with a little iconic picture of your texting buddy (who is, hopefully, on a coach, not driving a big rig while texting). To reply, you either speak (Navdy will recognize what you have to say) or gesture (a favorite but simple way to interact with Navdy).

You can use your existing cell phone (Android or iPhone). There is no monthly service fee. You only need to buy the device.

So what else does Navdy do? It can display your fuel level, speed, and other information about your car. It allows you to make phone calls and to respond to them without touching a telephone. Ditto for text messages. If your phone is playing music, you can stop and start the stream. It responds to voice control, just as Siri does (hopefully, it’s better than Siri).

New idea? As an add-on, sure. But those who follow the car industry report several million HUDs (Heads-Up Displays) already in cars that are on the road, and have been for several years.

Although there are lots of questions about what we should and should not be doing while driving, whether Navdy is a help or a hindrance or something else entirely, whether this sort of thing will become standard in every vehicle, and, of course, whether most of us will actually be driving a car in a future where cars are probably going to be driving themselves. In the mean time—there’s at least a ten year gap between today and the future—this is a device that will become a buzz item in 2015.

Do watch the video. It’s irreverent and fun.

 

 

Post-CES 2014

Sony-wideIn the old days, I used to go twice a year: once to Las Vegas in the winter and once to Chicago just before summer began. There were so much to see!

This year, CES came and went, and although I wanted to be there just for the fun of it, I was surprised because I didn’t notice the usual flood of stories and cool products that I wish I had seen for myself. I suppose there are a few reasons why: many of the products of the past were driven by their own unique hardware needs, so the physical design and functionality of so many products were unique. Now, many of these innovative ideas use the same portable computer—the smart phone or the tablet—so the form factor and the functionality is less original. Often the innovative idea is iterated as software or accessory, not a whole new thing. (On the far side of this timeline, my basement is no longer quite so full of old stuff that seemed like a great idea at the time, and so, my garage sales are less frequent and less thrilling for the neighbors).

In past articles, I’ve written about the new 4K HDTVs, and now, we’re starting to see digital cameras (including a $2,000 camcorder from Sony) that can create content for the new format. New screens are curvy, which is cool, but so far, not so useful. Still, this is among the things to come that we will own within a few years—whether as part of a phone or a living room TV set.

This was supposed to be the year of the wearable computer, and that’s going kinda slowly. Pebble updated its cool smart watch, which is now smaller, heavier (but still okay), and comes with twice the memory (4MB up to 8MB). For details about this Bluetooth device, and a taste of other wearable devices from the same company, be sure to read a very helpful article on The Verge. Their article about Razer’s Nabu wristband is also interesting, perhaps more as a trend report than a piece about something you’ll be buying this summer; ditto for the backgrounder about Nuance, which is bringing Siri-like technology to wristbands another small devices.

Sony A5000Happily, Sony is beginning to regain some of its juice. The image that tops this article is a fun piece about Sony’s CES presentation using 4K technology and a fair amount of hands-on creativity. The company will introduce a new short-throw HDTV projector this summer that will allow, for example, useful projection onto tabletops (though what I really want is the touch-screen desktop surface used on Hawaii Five-O). Sony’s still cameras (which shoot video, of course) are becoming more and more impressive—and smaller. New to the line is the A5000, but if you haven’t checked out the RX-100, I encourage you to do. It’s my favorite camera (right now, anyway).

Lots of heat re: 3D printing, which is increasingly ready for prime time. Once again, The Verge does a superior job in explaining what this technology is all about, what happened at CES, and why this may become important to you in 2014. For example:

Unsurprisingly, everyone at the CES 3D printer zone thinks that consumer-level 3D printing is on the cusp of something big. “It’s just kind of a whole ecosystem that has to be built up, and it’s kind of slowly growing out,” says Abdullah. “I don’t think we’ve hit that tipping point obviously, but I think that we will get there soon.” Chang describes 2014 as “like the year when the Apple II came out.”

Yes, TV sets will become that much larger, and digital cameras will become that much smaller. More of us will be wearing digital wristbands of some sort, no doubt communicating with one another or with some super server as we track what we eat or where we go or how thoroughly we exercise. Somehow, with each passing miracle, these seem to be less newsworthy. And yet, it’s fun to see what the latest Jawbone portable Bluetooth loudspeaker can do, or how successfully Beats is invading popular culture (now with its own music service). So we are we not all completely crazy about the potential of 3D printing or wall-sized video projections? Because we’ve got a 5MP phone in one pocket and a tablet that’s much smarter than most of NASA’s old school gear in the hand that used to tote around a MacBook Pro but doesn’t anymore because that’s just too heavy or too much of a pain to connect using the smart phone’s portable internet hub. We’ve become so sophisticated, everything exciting seems commonplace, or predictable.

Me, I think I preferred the naiveté and twice-annual festival of wonder.

All I Want for Christmas (or immediately thereafter)

Heck, the stores are too busy, and there’s no law that requires all of the good stuff to show up on December 25. Here’s a rundown of fun stuff on the holiday list. And yes, I’m allowing myself just about anything I want, regardless of whether (a) I need it, and (b) something else on the list is, pretty much, the same thing. On Prancer, on Blitzen… (and be sure to scroll down to the Niagara Falls video—it’s amazing!)

Nikon’s new $3,000 Df DSLR, recently announced, available in black or silver. It’s expensive—and it doesn’t include a full-frame sensor, and it’s not 20MP like the best new cameras, but just 16MP instead. Still, it looks really cool, very much like a 1980s era Nikon SLR. There’s all of the expected stuff that you’ll find in most DSLRs costing half or two-third as much, but it’s the holiday, so why not?

A $350 Tascam DR-60D 4-channel linear PCM recorder, or, in short, a digital audio recorder that mounts on a tripod just below your DSLR, it and can record up to four microphones simultaneously. It records with 4 AA batteries.

A Phantom 2 Vision Quadcopter—not the one for $350 that takes a GoPro camera (though that’s cool, too), but the FPV model that costs over $1,000 (FPV = “first person view”). It can fly for nearly a half hour, and the wireless controller (an app for your iOS or Android device) can be 1000 feet from the remote helicopter in flight (but it must be line-of-sight). The app allows you to start and stop video recording from afar. With all sorts of cool stabilization features. This is easily the coolest gift on the list. The more I learn about it, the cooler it seems. Take, for example, this little film made ABOVE Niagara Falls…

Sony’s $800 DEV-3 Digital Recoding Binoculars. I’ve often wondered why most or, at least, many binocs don’t include a video sensor and some storage. Here’s the start of a whole new thing…you can record in HD, or shoot 7MP images, record on SD cards, and enjoy 10x magnification. Is it a camcorder with a 10x zoom? No, better than that. Is it kind-of-like a digital still camera with a pair of 10x lenses? Well, that’s probably closer to it, but the long-term viewing experience through a pair of binocular lenses is far superior to a camera experience. It’s a very good pair of binoculars, and also, a high-quality camera.

For just $200, Røde’s iXY stereo microphones snaps into a iOS device for much-improved sound recording. It’s a much better way to record music, meetings, etc.: a pair of crossed half-inch cardiod condense captures and onboard  analog-to-digital conversation in a small package. And, of course, it’s all controlled by an app. You can record up to 24 bit / 96 kHz with the device (warning: a paid app upgrade here for better recording—an odd way to charge customers for quality.)

In the “I already have one, but maybe you don’t” department: you can now buy Zoom’s H4n portable digital recorder for about $170, and that’s about $100 less than before. It’s a terrific little recorder, well-suited to all sort of professional needs. In fact, I wrote a whole article about it a year or two ago.

Finally, I think I’d like to experiment with a Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera, and the starting place might be the $1000 Pocket Cinema camera. The key here is 13 stops of dynamic range, and my ability to use existing micro four thirds lenses (and legacy lenses via adapter). The result of the extended dynamic range (and other features): that irresistible film look. It’s a pocketable camera that can be used to shoot an independent film. Then again, I think I might prefer the $2,000 model. Or, perhaps, because it’s the holiday time (the best time of the year), maybe one of each. Here’s the start of a three-part review worth watching. at least for those who want every possible detail.

Old Reliable for Holiday Gifts

Formula One SpeakerWhen I wrote my weekly newspaper column, I always wrote an article about the newest goodies in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. It’s a retailer whose history precedes the U.S. Civil War—not many companies still around from those days (Brooks Brothers is one, another good story for another day). The old New York store was gone for a while, but last week, it reappeared. So, too, did the company’s paper catalog, something I haven’t seen in a decade or more. Nice to find it in my U.S. mail.

Flip open the first page, and there it is, something goofy that I can’t imagine ever buying, but I’m happy to know that you can buy a pair of iPhone Binoculars. “The view through the eye piece transfers to the iPhone camera’s lens, turning the phone into a viewfinder for sharing the sights with friends or taking pictures of the action.” It costs a hundred dollars.

Next page, an iPhone slot machine, complete with the one-arm pull-down level. For $40—phone not included—it’s a fun thing that you might not find anywhere else. That’s always been the magic of Hammacher. One more iPhone thing and then we’ll move on: The Tricloptic iPhone Camera Lens. Huh? It’s a set of three lenses on a wheel that attaches to the back of the phone: a fisheye, a wide angle and a telephone lens, also for $100.

The 50-Foot Snowball Launcher looks tame here, but in the field, it’s a cold, powerful weapon.

The 50-Foot Snowball Launcher looks tame here, but in the field, it’s a cold, powerful weapon.

There’s a $25,000 billiard table built into a 1959 Corvette (actually, it’s not a real Corvette, but it was finished in a body shop and it includes four white wall tires with “genuine steel rims and chrome covers.” And, an $1,800 Super 8 to Digital Video converter. They’ll sell you a Chewbacca or R2-D2 bathrobe ($100 each), but I think the 50-Foot Snowball Launcher is a much better buy for just $30.Then again, the $40 Lexicographer’s Extended Scrabble Board (441 spaces on a 21 x 21 grid, larger than the 15×15 that you have at home) is probably a gift that people would actually use more than once (especially if they’re up for very long Scrabble evenings). The 3D Clue Game isn’t nearly as cool—I wanted to be able to walk my characters into the rooms, and maybe make use of a secret tunnel for real, but “players move their pieces across the tempered glass playing surface with a view down into the chambers.” Bummer.

Also in the category of things to buy for the person who has everything: The Indoor Flameless Marshmallow Roaster, which looks to me like an upside-down fondue setup ($70).

There’s a watch that talks ($99 for “The Best Talking Watch”—I didn’t realize we had options) and a set of two motorized Spinning Spaghetti Forks, a laser chase toy for the cats ($30), and a Handheld Digital Microscope (50x—pretty impressive—for $200).

I could go on, but it’s more fun to browse on your own. First thing I found on their website: the goofy Formula One Speaker Dock ($8,500) that’s pictured at the top of this article.

Your New Digicar Subscription

Ford Model T, circa 1910. Buy it for $850 or rent it for 10 cents a mile.

Ford Model T, circa 1910. By 1916, you could buy one for $850 or rent one for 10 cents a mile.

Robotic cars that drive themselves–that’s the comic book version of the future currently in advanced stages of development at Google, Mercedes-Benz, and, I would guess, just about every significant vehicle and technology maker on earth. Before the end of the 2020s, these cars will be as common as a Toyota Prius. In theory, cars that drive themselves will reinvigorate the automotive industry.

But that’s not the big story.

For a moment, think about your telephone(s). In your pocket or bag, you carry an expensive digital multi-purpose device that multitasks as a telephone, messaging center, emailer, web browser, camera, clock… so on. At home, you may still pay for a relatively stupid device that is little more than an old school telephone. Which one will go away? Easy answer.

Now, transpose that thinking to the car of the future. It’s foolish to impose old expectations on a new paradigm. A digital car will probably reinvent the whole idea of cars as well as our relationship with personal vehicles. We saw the start of this idea with rental cars. ZipCars showed up in the US around 2000, an idea borrowed from Europe. City dwellers and college students are Zip’s best customers because the opportunity to pay a membership fee for occasional use of a car is more sensible than owning, maintaining, parking, and otherwise caring for a physical product. In essence, ZipCar transfers the customer relationship from product purchase to service/subscription.

From last weekend’s Wall Street Journal:

Brace yourself. In a few years, your car will be able to drop you off at the door of a shopping center or airport terminal, go park itself, and return when summoned with a smartphone app.”

Presumably, the new cars won’t crash–saving enough lives to repopulate Newport, Rhode Island or Key West, Florida every year, and then some.

From the same WSJ article:

private vehicles spend 90% of their time parked and unoccupied

Let’s pull together several ideas. Texting while driving is just plain dumb. And yet, for most people, driving a car is less interesting than playing with an iPhone. If there was some way to move from place to place and allow texting (or emailing, playing a game, or learning), that might be preferable to our 2013 status quo. Me, I’m happier reading a book than doing daily battle with aggressive trucks exceeding the interstate’s speed limit. Let my digicar’s radar system, wide-baseline stereoscopic camera, massive processing power (think: computer chess applied to the calculus of high-speed traffic or crazy curvy country roads). Let vehicles talk to one another (“hey, I’m in the wrong lane–would you please slow down so that I can make that right hand turn coming 2.348 feet at longitude X and latitude Y?” “sure, anytime, have a nice day”)

How does EZ-Pass and privacy fit into all of this? For those who still honestly believe that their travels are not easily recorded, stored and compared with every shopping receipt, it’s both another loss of freedom and another realization that privacy is something that one cannot easily or simply protect in a digital age. Certainly, this information could become the property of bad people (or governments or large corporations, who may or may not define ‘reasonable’ as individuals do).

A digital car would certainly know where it is going, where it has been, and where it needs to go. And it would know, and record, passenger identities. When traveling, we’ve been balancing time, money and privacy for a long time. Here’s the current situation–consider how similar a digicar service and the “rental” of your airline seat can be:

If I want to travel from Times Square to Hollywood, I can drive for about 40 hours (more, if there’s traffic, but my digicar might know how to circumvent it). If I drive 8 hours/day, that’s 5 days of driving, 4 hotel nights (about $500), and 2,800 miles (100 gallons of gas, or about $400 worth), plus wear-and-tear of about $200 (if all goes well)–5 days of my life plus over a $1,000 of my money. I could take the train for 20 hours and spend about $450, but if I want to sleep on the train, it’s 43 hours and $1,200, plus the time and money required to get to and from the train stations. If I fly, my time expense is about 8 hours door-to-door and my dollar expense is $500 including ground transportation. Train and air travel requires me to surrender personal information about my identity and my precise travel plans; car travel does not (except when I use a credit card to fill the tank, which I will do about 8 times, pay a toll with EZ-Pass, or sleep in a hotel, or eat, making it easy to track my progress).

A long paragraph for a short idea: we routinely exchange privacy for time and money. Are we ready to surrender those expensive machines that sit idle all but 10% of their lives. Is the car of the future more likely to be a product (buy one at your local Ford dealer) or a service (lease one with an app, or sign up for a rental subscription service).

The answer is pretty clear to me. After the vehicle drops me off at the supermarket, I don’t much care what it does or where it goes, and, in most situations, I don’t  care whether it’s Holly, Dolly, Lolly, Molly or Folly The Digital Car that picks me up when I’m ready to go home. I just want to know that it will be there, on time, clean, reliable, capable, and right-sized for my needs (smaller if I have no bags). If I need the car for an extended period, I’m sure I could pay a higher subscription rate, perhaps by the month or year, perhaps by the trip. Will I be able to reserve? Will the vehicle show up? What if we get lost? What if there aren’t enough cars?

How many cars is enough cars? Right now, we’ve got about a billion cars for about seven billion people on planet earth–but that’s only because China’s ratio is about 7 people to one vehicle (in the US, it’s about 1.3 people per car).

More cars, more roads, more paved-over nature, more crowded national parks, more traffic jams, more stress on an interstate infrastructure that’s already stressed. Fewer cars? How about more efficient use of the whole idea of cars? Think about my imperfect math: if every car’s use was doubled in its efficiency, and was used 50% of the time, maybe we could reduce the number of cars on the planet by a third or more. If the cars were smart enough to avoid accidents, there would be no more time or energy spent on drinking and driving, or texting while driving, and no more arguments between teenagers who are probably too young to drive and parents who are terrified every time their child backs up out of the driveway.

For details about specific companies and their progress, click on the Wall Street Journal’s car below.

WSJ Car

Shooting with an iPhone

richardson-featured

So the new iPhone 5s includes an 8 megapixel camera. What can you do with a camera phone?

Turns out, quite a lot, especially if you happen to be an extremely skillful photographer whose credits include National Geographic.

Confirming the “it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer” theory, have a look at this work, read the article, and take the time to read the comments.

Here, then, is a sample image, a bit of the article in a Nat Geo blog, and a sampling of comments. Find it all here.

The photographer is Jim Richardson.

What surprised me most was that the pictures did not look like compromises. They didn’t look like I was having to settle for second best because it was a mobile phone. They just looked good. Nothing visually profound is being produced here, I would have to say. But it feels good, and I even noticed some of the folks on our tour putting big digital cameras aside once in a while and pulling out their cell phones when they just wanted to make a nice picture.

Alex of Virtual Wayfarer.com had this to say:

Not a fan of the either or approach that has been floating around, but definitely love the flexibility of using my phone as a camera. Scotland is incredibly difficult to photograph, so kudos for some wonderful shots. I actually find that with some vistas and views I have a much easier time capturing it accurately with my phone than my Canon. Interestingly, there were a number of shots I took on a recent Scottish roadtrip that were much better on the iphone (landscapes and Panoramas really are great on there if the light is right) than on my dSLR. Kudos!

Not quite convinced? Try the photographer’s Instagram exhibit, where you will find several dozen superb photographs. Among them, this image.

instagram

Surface Is Resurfacing

You may recall Microsoft’s Surface–kinda looks like an iPad, but it’s a real Windows 8 computer in a very thin portable package. As an iPad user, I am jealous of the Surface’s nicely designed flat keyboard, and the way it’s built into the iPad-like front cover of the device.  I like the way Windows 8 looks, but the story fell apart for me when I realized that so much of Windows 8 is, sadly, a lot like Windows 7, which was too much like earlier versions of Windows for me to switch back to the Microsoft side.

Surface2-ProWell, it may be time to reconsider. The new Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro are coming, There’s a new metallic look that brings the device into the iPad category, at least in terms of the way it looks and feels. Think in terms of a MacBook Air when you consider that the SSD drive (the solid state drive) can be upgraded to 500 GB, and the Haswell (same as Air) processor is fast, efficient, and gentle on battery life. It costs nearly a thousand dollars ($899, and that’s not fully loaded)–seems a bit high to me–but it comes with some free cloud storage, and a free year of international Skype calling, which may turn this into a terrific deal for some users. (The ordinary Surface 2 has lesser specs and costs about half as much, still quite a bargain for someone who adores Windows 8, full computer functionality and an iPad-style form factor).

The “Touch Cover” is much improved, too, with many more sensors for an experience that feels both more reliable and more like a true computer keyboard. Given the price of the whole device, I think the cover should be part of the package, and not a $100+ add-on. At perhaps twice the price (price not yet announced), here’s something very cool: a Power Cover–that is, a Touch Cover with a built-in battery supply that you can use to nearly double the computer’s own battery supply. Very nifty idea.

And, there’s a dock with a USB 3.0 jack, and so on. Gee, I wish there was something just like that for an iPad–sometimes! At other times, I find myself quite happy with the well-designed, deeply limited range of options for the iPad. It does what it does, it does the job about 98% of the time, and it’s both reliable and easy. When I see a Windows computer anywhere nearby, “easy” is rarely a word that comes to mind, but I’m the first to admit that, after decades of life as an Apple guy, I may not be seeing things clearly.

If you’d like to know more about the new Surface products–the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2, try these stories:

Tech Crunch: Meet Microsoft’s Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro

The Verge:  Hands-on with Microsoft’s New Tablet Powerhouse

PC Magazine: Microsoft Surface 2 vs. iPad Showdown

USA Today: Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2: So Right But So Wrong

 

Accessories After the Fact

It was time to buy a new digital camera, and I think I’ve made a very good decision with Sony’s RX-100. This is a remarkably small, convenient, and capable product: 20 megapixels; a ring around the lens for manual focus (or other uses that I can easily set through menus); very good image quality; the ability to shoot RAW as well as JPG images; panoramic images; very good low light sensitivity with little visible grain; the list goes on. (In fact, one very good place to read about this, and other digital cameras is Digital Photography Review.

Here's an example of the level of detail offered by Digital Photography Review. Their 10+ page review of this camera is typical of their excellent work--the site is the best source of information about digital cameras on the web.

Here’s an example of the level of detail offered by Digital Photography Review. Their 10+ page review of this camera is typical of their excellent work–the site is the best source of information about digital cameras on the web.

Before I bought the camera, I studied review of the RX-100 and comparable cameras on the dpreview.com website.  I found a newer model, RX-100 II, but decided to save the extra $150 and forego the tilting rear screen and a few other interesting features.

As I started using the camera, I began to understand why this camera was so well-reviewed. And I began to understand what it was, well, missing.

First and foremost, the camera comes with a pretty crumby manual. Having spent over $500 on a camera, it seemed reasonable to assume that Sony would tell me how to use it. I poked around on the web, and found a terrific solution to my dilemma. Imagine: a 400+ page book, fully illustrated, written specifically for people who bought the Sony RX-100. Unbelievable, but true. Turns out, this is one of a product line of ebooks from a small publisher, Friedman Archives.

Friedman-bookThose who follow digital photography will note that each of Friedman’s books addresses the needs of a more sophisticated photographer: the Sony RX100 takes its place beside the Olympus E-M1, the Fuji X100S, the Sony NEX-7 and other better speciality cameras. All of these cameras are packed with features, and these books provide an extraordinary amount of information and an abundance of visual examples, written in a style that is easy to understand. There is little tech-talk in these books. In fact, there is personal advice, written, in many cases, by Gary Friedman, who manages this small publishing operation. I read the Sony RX-100 book from cover to cover, then re-read sections of it. I loved Gary’s rundown on the settings that he uses for shooting, and the variations that he suggests for special shooting situations. Take a moment to consider  this: there are dozens of available settings, and this author not only takes the time to explain how to use each KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAone, but also how and why he selects, for example, “Drive Mode: ‘Single Shooting,’ unless I’m shooting either sports or grandchildren, in which case it’s ‘Continuous’ (with a lot of image deletions afterward. For more see page 90; or “Red Eye Reduction: I hate this feature. Off. Page 205.” or “Face Priority Tracking: Do you want the camera to give priority to faces when using Tracking Focus. I keep it On because, when shooting home movies, this feature can help the camera make better decision. Page 222.” Gary is a fine teacher. I keep the book on my iPhone (most smartphones include pdf readers) so that I can take my teacher along with me on every shooting expedition. (A great comfort.)

I cannot imagine buying an RX-100, or any other high-end camera, without also buying the how-to book from Friedman Archive. (Highest possible recommendation!) Still not sold? Have a look at the (many) sample pages from this book that Gary includes on his web site.

Another necessity: a viewfinder. Problem is, this camera has no way to attach a viewfinder. Except, perhaps, the tripod screw hole at the bottom of the camera? Here’s a clever entrepreneur at work. The company and product are called ClearViewer. Basically, what you’re buying is a magnifying glass that can be held parallel to the rear LCD screen, or folded up and away when it’s not in use. I place my eye directly against the ClearViewer magnifier, and sure enough, I can see the whole rear screen in tremendous detail. This is useful for settings, for focus, for composition–well, I don’t need to sell you on the idea of a camera viewfinder. On the plus side, this is small, inexpensive (under $40) and utter transforms the process of taking pictures with a compact digital camera. I can comfortably suggest that every serious compact camera user should own one.

Clear Viewer Tripod(For cameras with a hot shoe–the place where you would insert a flash, a similar model is available. The difference: the magnifier is suspended from the top, not connected to the bottom of the camera.)

ClearViewer is a great idea, very useful, small enough to carry everywhere (without even removing it from the camera), but I sure wish there was a deluxe model, one with a better magnifying lens. Still, this is a very useful invention, and it always comes along with my camera.

But wait! There’s more!!

One of the bizarre design non-features of many digital cameras absence of a place to screw-in a filter. Why does that matter? First, when shooting outdoors, you can both deeper sky colors, eliminate glare, and generally improve the whole image by shooting through a polarizing filter. And, in case you want to shoot with increased depth-of-field, which is useful if you like blurry backgrounds or silky smooth shots of babbling brooks, you may wish to shoot through a neutral density filter. (On the RX-100, this is a near-necessity because the camera’s few wide-open f/stops are available only with the widest-angle uses of the built-in zoom).

So how do you attach a filter to a camera that doesn’t accept filters?

Sony solved the problem with an adhesive add-on ring that must be carefully placed on the front of the camera, around the lens. I looked at Sony’s solution and instead opted for a slicker version of the same idea, this one from a small company called Lensmate. This video explains how the system works in detail, but here’s the essence: a small plastic rig allows you to precisely place the adhesive ring on the front of the camera; the ring (now part of the camera) is built to accept a bayonet mount (turn and snap into place–easy!); a second ring attaches to the bayonet mount and to a 52mm filter. Quick, simple, and it works.

Here’s a look at the Sony RX-100 with the adhesive filter ring attached, ready to accept the bayonet-and-filter assembly (you will not be able to see the ring very easily–it’s quite small and unobtrusive). The video link (above) also takes you to a lot of information about this product–I love small companies because they work hard to satisfy the customer.

rx100 website-1643

Lensmate offers after-the-fact accessories for many of the same cameras that are covered in Mr. Friedman’s books. More than filter adapters, they also offer grips, thumb rests, straps, and lots of other useful stuff that might have otherwise escaped your attention.

One remarkably good idea is a grip that attaches to the front of the RX-100 and, well, allows most people a more secure sense that their small $500+ box is well-in-hand. The distinguished, popular and versatile maker of these camera grips is a man named Richard Franiec whose products are available through his own kleptography website as well.

rx100gripThere’s a good closeup look at the grip over on the left side of the camera (compare this to the grip-less version in the smaller image a paragraph or so up the page). The grip is meticulously designed, and, like the filter ring, it relies upon a super-strong, super-reliable adhesive. Once again, there is an installation video, a suggested rehearsal process before making the connection between grip and camera, and a pride in doing things right. It feels good to carry the camera with the grip, in part because it’s well-made and in part because you know that it’s the work of a man who identified the smallest possible niche within what is already a niche market, and built himself a business. It’s uncommon for grips to be reviewed, but Franiec can boast several, all quite positive. Here’s an example.

Comparing the New iPhones

compare_iphone5ccompare_iphone5sApple certainly knows how to generate buzz. They introduce two new telephones, and the internet lights up.

Today’s big news is the new iPhone 5s, a more powerful computer in the same small-sized box. The chip is now an A7, far more sophisticated, and faster. Why should you care? If you play games on the phone, serious games with adventurous graphics, you will see more detail, more fluid movement, and the kind of sophistication you’re accustomed to seeing on, say, an iMac. If you’re an avid iPhone photographer, you’ll find that autofocus is quicker, and that frame rates for video are faster. Of course, the overall operation of the phone-as-computer is snappier, more efficient, more energy efficient, too. There’s a sexy fingerprint sensor, too. And there’s a more natural flash.

Both phones now include an 8MB camera.

The 5c is designed for fun–it really is a cool-looking phone. It costs about $100 less than the 5c, and it comes in five colors. Aside from the processor (here, it’s an A6, which is still quite powerful), and the lack of a fingerprint sensor (some people will need one, some won’t), it’s very similar to the more expensive model.

For those whose iPhone 4 was beginning to look and feel a bit old, it’s now time to refresh the phone with a new one. For those with an iPhone 5, it may be wise to wait because there’s nothing here–aside from gaming speed and a better camera–that would compel a shift. Nice to have, not essential.

Apple has succeed with their iPad cases, so they’ve picked up the concept here, too. You can buy a nifty plastic case, in colors, for the 5s, or nice leather cases for the 5c.

For a closer look at features, similarities and differences, check the Apple comparison page.

So that’s the quick scoop. I’m sure you’ll see another hundred articles about the phones by morning, but I was curious for myself, and thought I’d share my notes with you.

The Big TV, Part Two

Yesterday, I wrote about big TVs in general. Today, it’s the specific–the 60-inch screen that we now watch every day. It’s a Samsung plasma screen with many of the latest features.

The most important feature is, of course, the screen itself. It’s extraordinary. Great color, great detail, wonderful contrast, never a ghost image, rarely any digital lag (sometimes a concern with fast-moving sporting events and slower-moving processors).

Second most important is sound. As I’ve written previously, most large TVs are made with the assumption that an external system will be added. This particular TV is fine, but on some frequencies, there’s a bit of distortion. Doesn’t happen often. Shouldn’t happen at all. A common problem, but it goes away with an external sound system. (Note the loudspeakers below.)

Samsung-2013-interfaceThird most important feature is the interface–the ways that we interact with the TV set. This requires some explanation.

Mostly, we work with two remote controls. One is used to switch the cable channels, a feature we’ve never quite mastered within the Samsung interface, so we simply switch the channel on our original cable remote and put it aside. The main remote is the Samsung, and like most TV remotes, it takes a bit to understand most of the features, and, like most remotes, it contains buttons and features that I will never take the time to comprehend. Mostly, it’s useful for volume up-down, and for maneuvering a cursor around the on-screen interface.

This interface is a point-and-click design, limited in its alphanumeric capabilities. Mostly, we select an app from the Smart TV interface, then scroll through a series of visual menus to find the movie or TV show that we want to watch. There’s an Amazon Prime app that we’ve used to watch every episode of “Arrested Development” at no additional charge, and there’s a Netflix app that we use to watch “House of Cards” and the strange assortment of movies and documentaries that is rich in niche material and (happily!) lacking in major mainstream movies. These work well enough, but everything falls apart with the oh-so-promising YouTube app–no fault of Samsung here, for YouTube develops its own software. It’s one of those circa-1983 interfaces where you must use the up-down-left-right arrows on the remote in order to choose each individual character, each space, each deletion of an error. For YouTube, with its many idiosyncratic titles, it’s simply dreadful.

There are some other useful apps–one to watch TED Talks videos, another to check the weather, another which provides access to what may be the slowest internet web browser I have ever encountered. In truth, these criticisms are beginning to melt away because each year’s models tend to improve upon the (few) weaknesses of predecessors, and here, I’m discussing a 2012 TV set, ancient in current technology terms.

If you look closely at the above picture, you’ll see that the 2013 Samsung interface is clean, easy to use, and features a tremendous number of apps (you can add or delete them at will). You are, of course, looking at the future of TV on this screen. There’s an app for YouTube and CNBC, another for USA Today and TED, one for HBO GO, and one for Netflix. Each of these is an independent experience essentially unaffiliated with Samsung, but it’s all here, all easily accessible in its “am I a TV channel or a web site? glory? There is so much video, so many images, so much text to be read on a screen that offers abundant clarity and contrast. It is now reasonable to read the Sunday paper on your TV set, stopping to check in, via Skype, with relatives calling from far away, checking email, doing all of that. At long last, we have arrived in the future, and so far, it seems to work pretty well. (See my comments about processing power in the yesterday’s post.)

And then, there’s 3D. This mystifies me. Yes, there are 3D glasses. Yes, they feel really silly. Yes, the effect is still that vaguely grainy, slightly out-of-phase experience. No, I have not felt much of a need to watch anything in 3D for anything more than a family demonstration. Maybe some time in the future.

How much does all of this cost? Less than $2,000, even for a larger screen.

So what else is new? The answer is clearly articulated, with only a modest amount of marketing-speak, on this page from Samsung’s website.

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