Technology changes – 10 years

    The decade reviewed.

    As the tenth anniversary of this journal approaches, it’s appropriate to review the revolutionary changes in photographic technology during the past decade.

    Full frame cameras:

    When I wrote the first column here on June 15, 2005, my staple camera was a Leica M2. With 35mm, 50mm and 90mm Summicron lenses it was all any street snapper ever wanted. ‘Summicron’ remains as magical a word today as it did in the 1950s when Walter Mandler and his team at Ernst Leitz in Wetzlar conceived their baby and in its second iteration – after the collapsible version – it remains one of the most beautiful pieces of engineering ever. 

     For me the 35mm final aspherical Summicron lens version was as good as it got with film and if your Leica and its lens were finished in anything other than that ne plus ultra satin chrome, you were either Larry Burrows or a poseur.


    Leica M2, 50mm Summicron. A look
    and feel not recaptured since by Leica.

    While Canon had earlier introduced the first full frame DSLR the price was astronomical. Then, in September 2005, along came the 5D which to this day remains useable in every way and is the first classic of the digital era. The organic shape of the body shell could not be more different from the machine shell of the M2, but it worked well. It’s available for pennies now yet its $3,000 introductory price for the body only was deemed a bargain a decade ago. 

     I owned one for many years and absolutely rejoiced at the lovely color rendition. As for definition, it left anything film could do in the dust. Those who pontificate about the superior resolving power of film are people whose company you really want to avoid. And all of this from a 12mp sensor, modest by today’s standards. There was not an awful lot wrong with Canon’s lenses, either, dirt cheap after Leica optics.


    Canon 5D – an instant digital classic.

    Once I saw the first results from the 5D in Photoshop, I realized that film could not hold a candle to the results. Film is Dead. Not only was the digital processing cycle an order of magnitude – nay, two orders of magnitude – shorter, the image could be manipulated this way and that when necessary (and it was rarely necessary) and you never ran out of film. A spare battery looked after the main consumable, electrical power.

    The results from that Canon were so good, in fact, that I realized I was no more turning to my workhorse of 35 years, a 1959 Leica M3. I am anything but an equipment collector or gear fetishist, adhering to the ‘if you don’t use it, sell it’ school of thought. So the M3 and I parted, although not without a tear. The M2 followed soon after. As the saying on Wall Street goes, “If you want loyalty, get a dog”.

    I sold that Canon and a couple of lenses to a friend of this blog (who very kindly gifted me a bunch of boxes of printing paper) and it remains in fine shape and happily used to this day.

    Small cameras:

    If asked which camera gave me the most intense pleasure in use this past decade the answer would unhesitatingly be the Panasonic G1. When Olympus first made Micro-Four Thirds bodies they were ridiculously huge, the same size as a full frame body and lens. Why on earth would anyone accept 25% of the sensor area of full frame for the same bulk and weight? 

     Panasonic, co-founder of MFT with Olympus, shaking the tree seemingly owned by Canon and Nikon, came up with a perfect, small, interchangeable lens camera with outstanding lenses to match, the Panasonic G1. I took more pictures with mine, mostly with the kit zoom, than with all other cameras combined during the decade, and so good was it that it prompted me to sell the Canon 5D. The 12mp sensor easily delivered 13″ x 19″ prints, with 18″ x 24″ at a stretch from the best images. The camera was quiet, unobtrusive but, above all, small

    Suddenly, the concept of the Barnack Leica, the original screw thread range, was realized anew. You always had the camera with you, no excuses about weight, bad backs, room and so on.  And, unlike that $10k rangefinder Leica, the Panny was quiet and much faster to use, courtesy of auto focus. 


    The ‘Bluemix’, as one of my readers dubbed the G1.
    The kit zoom is a real corker.

    And Panny only moved to strength thereafter, so much so that I now enjoy two GX7s, which added a Leica rangefinder body format and a truly silent electronic shutter. On occasion I borrow my son’s LX100 which may just be the most perfect all around camera ever made, with a fast lens, optional manual controls, excellent ergonomics and with a newer 16mp sensor which makes those 18″ x 24″ prints a breeze. 

    The zoom lens is fixed, designed appropriately enough by Leica, and it’s the perfect recreation of that original Leica M2/35/50/90 outfit, in 25% of the volume and with like savings in weight. The lens quality of the LX100 yields little to that Summicron of yore. Cost is less than one used Leica lens. At that price who cares if it lasts? The world had forever changed from engineering masterpieces with long lives supported by expert technicians, to throw away cheap.

    Anyone who has driven a 1980s S Class Mercedes compared to the ‘3 year-lease-and-forget-it’ garbage Stuttgart churns out today will know the feeling. Come to think of it, my 1983 S Class lasted me 17 years and a quarter of a million miles. I wouldn’t own one of today’s MBs if you gave it to me and the same goes for the digital Leica.

    The Leica rangefinder ideal recreated for today – the GX7 and the LX100.

    Very small cameras:

    Schoolboys of my era reveled in cold war movie spies (although the stars looked more like Richard Burton than Ivan Bollockoff) using Minox cameras to copy sundry secret plans for sale to the Russkies. The Minox may well lay claim to having propelled the Soviet war machine further and faster than any resource until the Chinese started stealing all our technological secrets.  Their approach was far more basic. They simple enrolled at Stanford, capitalizing on American naïveté. 

    But the quality of that execrable 8 x 11mm negative left lots to be desired. Read that blueprint incorrectly through the fog and grain and the missile Ivan just launched at NYC, purportedly a clone of that US Titan, ends up hitting bloody Vladivostok on his own mainland. “I could have sworn that was an 8, not a 9″ and there go a few more tens of thousands joyously suffering Soviets. Thank you, Minox.

    Today’s vodka swiller has no such issues. He steals the blueprints after hacking the network on his $5 flash drive (bought with your hacked Visa card from B&H in NYC) which FedEx and UPS kindly mail for him, expedited if needed, to Mother Russia. Heck, “Charge it, premium rate” he says, handing your card over. Capitalism is hanging itself with its own flash drive and credit card. No, Sergei and his like have no more use for cameras. Those are now most prized by the paparazzi at the National Enquirer.

    But Joe Six Pack most certainly has discovered photography because it was foisted upon him by his cell phone maker, and now he can send images of his puking kids and Bud-sodden baseball events to all and sundry (where they are promptly deleted on receipt, never viewed) at what he imagines is no cost. Never mind the $100 a month the telco is soaking him for.

    However, as I have written here before, the writing for traditional cameras is very much on the wall. When I can make 18″ x 24″ prints (and I do, regularly) from my iPhone with little effort, adding a few moments to blur the backgrounds in post processing before hitting ‘Print’, and with the camera being free and always in my pocket, what on earth would I want with a bulky point and shoot? 

     Add movie capability and the outstanding optics and image stabilization in the likes of the iPhone 6, and the next to go will be the big DSLR, with a remaining niche market share comprised of sports snappers, nerds who want to be taken seriously and, yes, the lads at the National Enquirer. A working population of 1,000, plus a few nerds. Not what you call a lucrative market.


    The cutting edge – the iPhone 6 camera.

    I expect that within a year or two we will see much larger sensors, automatic optional blurring of backgrounds conferred digitally and true optical folded zooms, all in the confines of that 1/4″ thick technological marvel, the cellphone.

    Printing:

    And speaking of printing, it was pretty much all over a decade ago. A little earlier HP had introduced their bargain priced wide format dye printers in 18″ and 24″ formats (the DesignJet 90 and 130) and their replacements, pigment ink printers from Canon, Epson and HP never could hold a candle to the funereal blacks only good printing dyes can deliver.

    The snag with the HP is not repair parts, which remain easily available, HP having sold many of these to draughtsmen, map makers and print shops, it’s that the paper is becoming unavailable. Yes you can still get 24″ rolls (a design of the devil himself, for uncurling roll paper after printing makes a winter vacation in North Korea seem preferable). To work with ink dyes, paper must have a porous, swellable surface to absorb those dyes and, indeed, DJ 90/130 prints need a couple of hours of drying time to take on their final color palette and surface texture.

    My series of articles over the years addressing use and repair of the DesignJet are the definitive ones anywhere – there’s no point in false modesty here – and my constant communication with HP users and (so far) successful efforts to keep those printers running testify to my commitment to the finest domestic printer ever made for photographers. The 50+ large prints on my walls at home testify both to the printer’s longevity, the wonderful color fastness of the result and, of course, to my great photography.


    The HP DesignJet 130.

    Incidentally, it will come as no surprise that not a one of my DJ correspondents would ever buy an HP product again. Not that there’s anything wrong with the dye jet DJs. It’s the abomination of a once great American company behind these products which is something we all seek to avoid. Why do business with a business whose board of directors and senior management commit grand larceny every time they endorse a pay check?

    Hardly anyone prints any more. When I was a lad the touchstone of great technique was a 16″ x 20″ monochrome print from your Leica or Rollei negative, all processed in the home darkroom, of course, and properly mounted and framed. 

    Today it’s a miserable, color distorted, miniscule apparition on someone’s ill profiled computer or tablet display. Quite why anyone spends on a camera other than the one in his cell phone for this purpose defeats me. Printing is finished, albeit not chez Pindelski. I routinely give my subjects large color prints and the sense of delight and joy they display on receipt is intensely gratifying. You don’t get that from an emailed snap.

    In the next column celebrating this journal’s decade I will look at that key engine underlying much of what photographers do, Apple’s Macintosh computer.

Mary Ellen Mark

Grit and toughness.

Mary Ellen Mark’s uncompromising style made a huge impact on photojournalism. Cartier-Bresson with acid added, if you like. She passed away the other day and clicking the image below will tell you more.


Click the image.

Using mSATA drives in the Mac Pro – Part XXVIII

The classic Mac Pro again whips the new Mac Pro.

For an index of all my Mac Pro articles, click here.


Click the logo for details of my
2009 Mac Pro CPU upgrade service.

We did not have to wait too long for the overpriced new Mac Pro to be shown a clean pair of heels by the ‘obsolete’ classic Mac Pro. You know, the machine built to withstand nuclear catastrophe with unbeaten upgradeability.

The nMP’s graphics, limited to the D700 ATI GPUs in the top end (and extremely costly) model use firmware embedded on the chips themselves for Apple. This means that faster aftermarket GPUs cannot be installed to replace the Apple modified ones, and the latest GPUs for the cMP are already faster than the D700s. Rather than go on about it I have ordered one of those – an Nvidia Gigabyte GTX980 (with dual DVI ports for my twin 30″ Apple Cinema Displays – no adapters needed this way). Data to follow once I have wrung the new GPU out.

My CPU upgrade service – click the logo above – already provides Intel CPU upgrades for the cMP which whip the one in the nMP and exit laughing.

Maximum RAM in the nMP is 64GB. Many of my cMP upgrade customers are happily running 128GB in their 12-core Mac Pros.

Now it’s time for the nMP to have its rear handed to it in the SSD storage arena. The most SSD storage you can order in your $9,000 top-of-the-line nMP is 1TB of flash storage. Thereafter it’s external Thunderbolt drives and costly enclosures for nMP owners. Until now I have been recommending the Apricorn Duo PCIe card with two SSDs installed (so up to 2TB of storage) in the cMP. Set up using Disk Utility in RAID0 this installation provides near Thunderbolt speeds at an attractive price – $150 for the Apricorn Duo plus SSDs of choice. The card uses regular SSDs. mSATA SSDs make regular SSDs look positively huge.

However, Addonics has announced a four bay PCIe card which will accommodate up to 4 mSATA SSDs using just one PCIe slot and here’s the best bit: it costs just $55! mSATA ‘blade type’ SSDs cost 10% more than the regular SSDs used in the Apricorn but given that two Apricorn Duos would cost $300, the net cost for like capacity is a good deal less using the Addonics card.


The Addonics Quad mSATA PCIe card.

I have ordered one card ($66.41 shipped to CA) and four of these from Amazon at a cost of $423.80. My total cost for the card and four mSATA SSDs was $490.21:


Crucial 256GB mSATA blade SSD.

For those interested, the flash chips in Crucial’s mSATA cards are made by Micron.

Here’s an mSATA drive being installed:

I anticipate if all four are set up as one 1TB RAID0 array that the i/o speeds will exceed those available in Thunderbolt. I will likely set up these as two 500GB RAID0 pairs, one for boot/apps/scratch disks, the other a back-up. A discrete mSATA 1TB drive used in the Addonics card totals $531.41 – more – but you only use one of the four slots on the card. When data storage needs dictate, I will make the Addonics card a 1TB SSD in RAID0, backing it up elsewhere.

The flexibility is great here, and note that 4 x 250GB in RAID0 will be much faster than 1 x 1TB unRAIDed.

The beauty of this approach is also that the Addonics card will only take up one PCIe slot and as cMP users know, PCIe slots are rare as hens’ teeth in these great machines. Slot #1, the double width one, is dedicated to the GPU, leaving just three slots. One of those is used by an USB3 card, so things are getting a bit slim, especially is you use sound processing cards.

Before committing to purchase I took the precaution of asking Addonics some questions – those, with their techie’s response, appear below:

For the benefit of those who do not speak geek, ‘AHCI support’ is geek for ‘any version of OS X or any Windows Vista or later’. So that’s great. You can use the Addonics with just one drive, adding more later and you can boot OS X from it. What you do with Windows on it is of zero interest to this writer – this blog has no time for inebriates.

Installation:

Installation of the mSATA SSDs in the Addonics card is, literally, a snap. After inserting the card in the connector, it is snapped down onto two retaining posts. The miniscule retaining screws provided are mercifully unnecessary.


Traditional 2.5″ SSD for comparison – 2 of the mSATA drives are installed here.

Inside the Mac Pro the Addonics card is notable for its slim profile, which helps in keeping the airflow to the graphics card on the right optimized:


The Addonics is in the red rectangle. The card is short and does not interfere with the PCIe fan.

RAID0:

Disk Utility is used to set up the striped RAID0 sets:


2 striped disks seen as one 512GB drive.


4 striped disks seen as one 1TB drive.


How to vary stripe sizes – the narrative is clear.

Test data:

In practice, DiskSpeedTest did not return the speed increase I anticipated, but speeds are very high and the other advantages of the Addonics – slim factor promoting ventilation, only one PCIe slot used for two RAID0 drives, ease of installation – more than make up for that; further, I have increased the space available for scratch disks, after duly repointing Photoshop to the new mSATA RAID0 striped pair, as well as freeing up drive slots elsewhere inside the Mac Pro’s chassis:


Two drives in striped RAID0 with Stripe=32


Four drives in striped RAID0 with Stripe=16.


Four stripes in RAID0 with Stripe=16

The temperatures below were measured during a clone of the OS and apps from my former boot drive. The first two hot mSATA drives are the ones being written to by CarbonCopyCloner, the other two are dormant. The latter will become a RAID0 striped pair to backup to OS and apps. All these readings are very conservative


mSATA drive temperatures.

Booting and partial slot use:

I confirm that Addonics’ responses, above, are correct. Once I had used CCC to clone over my OS and apps, I set the new mSATA RAID0 drive up as the Start-up Disk in System Preferences, and the Mac Pro restarted from it first time.

I also confirm that not all the four slots on the Addonics card have to be populated. The card was happily recognized by OS X Yosemite 10.10.3 with either two or four mSATA drives installed. I did not test with one or three, but as Disk Utility discloses four individual drives, that should not be a problem.

MacBook Air 2015

An upgrade which adds nothing to the 2014 model.

I just upgraded my 2014 MacBook Air to the 2015 model, an annual process for me, and question the value. The CPU speed bump this year is from 1.4GHz to 1.6GHz, a 14% increase yet Geekbench reports only a 4.1% speed gain. I paid $830 at B&H for the base model, with free shipping. If you have a 2014 I would pass on this ‘upgrade’, especially when you realize the usual time wasting data migration frustrations you must endure. Keep the 2014 and spare yourself the smell of old socks emanating from the new one for the first couple of weeks of use, a ‘feature’ of almost every Apple device I have bought in the past many years.

Finder icons? Something Apple has persistently ‘lost’ for the last few versions of OS X – they seem to come and go as they please:


Finder icons gone missing.

I much prefer TotalFinder which does it right:


Finder icons in TotalFinder.

CPU speed comparisons – Geekbench:

2015 compared with 2014 – a 4.1% CPU speed gain

GPU speed? Despite the ‘upgrade’ from the Intel 5000 to the 6000 integrated GPU nothing has changed:


Cinebench GPU comparisons – 2015 vs. 2014 – no change.

Just more Apple hype. For reference, my 2009 Mac Pro which runs upgraded dual X5690 3.46GHz Xeon Wetstmere CPUs, chips which are now some 4 years old, clocks in around 32,000 on CPU performance and is twice as fast on GPU throughput.   Laptops still have an Everest to climb when it comes to CPU performance though the GPU in the MBA is excellent given the space limitations. 

However, if you are new to the laptop/notebook category, it has to be said that the MacBook Air remains the best value laptop for road use, is well made, weighs 50lbs less than a real Mac Pro and runs PS CS6 and LR6 just fine if not as fast as the behemoth. Depreciation is low and resale easy. For road trips it’s all you need. The absence of a disk drive is a welcome feature (the drive adds bulk and confers no functionality in an online world) and the speedy flash storage is a great feature. While the base model includes only 128GB that is more than enough for the machine’s intended purposes. The trackpad is perfect in every way and the quality of engineering, fit and finish are all unimpeachable.


Disk speed test – MBA 2015.

But, please, do not buy this nonsense:


“Repeat a lie often enough and the people accept it” – Goebbels

Thunderbolt? Of little use and a dying technology, but the Thunderbolt socket will accept a Mini DisplayPort cable and if you use the Apple Dual Link DVI->MDP adapter, you can happily power your 30″ Apple Cinema Display from the MBA at full 2560 x 1600 definition. The MBA’s GPU is exceptionally competent for an integrated design.

Other issues? The MagSafe magnetic power plug, in the current design, adopted four years ago, remains too weakly magnetized and falls out at the slightest provocation. The previous cylindrical design, replaced by the ugly cube one in use today, was superior in every way. But it’s not like you have a choice.

As for ‘all day battery life’ I have a bridge in Brooklyn I can get you a great price on, featuring ‘all day traffic’.

The MacBook Air commands an 80% of cost resale value after 12 months, which is outstanding, justifying annual upgrades – a new machine for $100 or so. I know, as I just sold my 2014. Try those economics with your garbage Windows laptop playing in a crowded field along with its atrocious OS and crapware.

For comparative data on the 2014 MacBook Air click here.

Recommended with the conditions noted.

Comparison with the new MacBook:

I have not tried the new MacBook – you know the one that dumps the ‘insanely great’ Thunderbolt port and MagSafe power connection, in favor of yet another connector, USB-C, so now when you trip over the cable your laptop goes crashing to the floor like the MacBook of old, that oldie with the white plastic body. But Marco Arment, a reputable Apple writer has, and his review sums up the general trend in Apple’s hardware (new Mac Pro anyone?) well. He writes:

“Now, Apple’s priorities have changed. Rather than make really great products that are mostly thin, they now make really thin products that are mostly great.

This concerns me more than you probably think it should. Not only does it represent compromised standards in areas I believe are important, but it suggests that they don’t have many better ideas to advance the products beyond making them thinner, and they’re willing to sacrifice anything to keep that going.”

And it seems like the CPU is a bit of a basset hound in the speed stakes and the GPU is one generation behind the one used in the 2015 MBA review above.

To address Arment’s issues with the new MacBook, the 2015 MBA like its predecessors has an outstanding keyboard with excellent feedback, and the ‘force touch’ track pad is notable for its (welcome) omission. In other words, the MacBook’s failings are absent from the MBA.

Guess I’ll be sticking with the MBA for a while yet. I do not think the premium $450 for a bad keyboard and worse trackpad quite works. That’s a shame as the 12″ MacBook is lighter that the 11″ MBA, but it seems that Jony Ive’s thinness obsession has gone to far yet again. Did the lad not get three squares a day when designing toilets in his youth?

On reflection

Two are better than one.

My son at dinner at Ecco, the best restaurant in Burlingame:

Winston enjoyed the petrale sole and a giant piece of cheesecake, I settled for the white veal. Every dish here is exquisite, and the chef’s many Fodors awards testify to his 27 years of expertise in this one location.

iPhone6.