Sunday, October 28, 2012

Microsoft Surface Tablet: Hands-On, First Impressions

 It's time for another tablet to enter the market. This week the Microfot Surface launched, along with Windows RT. You've been seeing bits and pieces of the new Microsoft era in the revamped Outlook.com, the brave if stunted entry of Windows phones, and now finally  in Windows 8 and RT. It seems familiar... and not. Familiar in that it has entered our consciousness over the year and unfamiliar in that you won't know how to navigate it coming from Windows 7. The new OS is gorgeous, but I have little to say about it for now. Everything that you've read about it taking some getting used to is true. It's more ambitious than iOS, way swipes and gestures work sort of reminds you of the Blackberry Playbook OS, but in a more sophisticated way and with better graphics. Underneath it all is Windows and there are ways of getting to that familiar way of working with things, but this is a device that will take some getting used to. Overall, I like the Metro-esque era for Windows, the new colorful word is so not 50 shades of grey. Very refreshing coming from the pristine and austere world of iOS.


The screen resolution is 1366 x768, which has been maligned somewhat by the Retina Screen and Nexus10 fanboys, but pixels aside, the display is crisp and very readable. As we say in cameras, it's not just the number of pixels, but also the quality, and the Surface has good quality pixels. Screen crispness matters to me more than screen resolution, since eyestrain is a personal problem for me now that documents are no longer printed out and everything is read in electronically. In any case, the lower resolution count gets put to better use when you add the Touch Cover keyboard, as a virtual keyboard wouldn't be intruding into your visual space.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

ThL V11 4.0 Inch Android 4.0 Phone Review


ThL is a Chinese maker of mobile phones, based out of Shenzhen (where else?) and established in 2002. I had never heard of them until I saw this phone. The V11 was something a family member picked up for less than $100 USD on a trip to Hong Kong, and much to my surprise, has not fallen apart yet. Of course,  that is unfair of me, considering that I am a reasonable fan of Ainol products. What we have here is the something that is obviously derivative and cheap, but some people like things like that. In fact, there are people who are positively enthusiastic for cheap and cheerful.... like said named family member who bought this phone. The phone is not that much chunkier or bigger than an iPhone 4s. It's quite lightweight, being mostly plastic in construction. It's not wafer thin like the brightest and best of this year, but it's in keeping with a 2010, early 2011ish level of technology. The design is very obviously a mashup between the Samsung Galaxy series and the iPhone 4, with a not so subtle call-out to the iPhone with a metal (actually metalized plastic) band running along the side of the device.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

dSLR Autofocus Fine-Tune with Moiré Interference Pattern Technique

Autofocus calibration is a useful feature on the D7000 and other Nikon and Canon dSLR's equipped with it, but it can also be one of the most tedious things that you can do with a modern camera. If you've tried it and don't think so, then chances are that you're probably not doing it right... or at least not as rigorously as you should be. I was talking with a a guy about the 50 times focal length test distance that is spec for autofocus calibration, and it was amusing watching him do the math for how much setup distance would be required for a 300mm f/4.


Because I don't have the space for a dedicated setup... and because my eyes are going... and also because I have perpetual coffee hands (this is Vancouver, after all), I've switched to the moiré interference method of autofocus fine-tuning. I've grown to prefer it to over other methods because the setup isn't as fussy, and it's very easy to gauge the degree of lens calibration.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

SynthCam Review for iOS

Very few apps doing anything truly innovative with the camera on a modern smartphone. That is not to say that apps like Instagram are not useful, it's just that they don't do anything new.  Most photographic apps perform either some measure of in-camera alterations or have some kind of photo sharing capability. Released in early 2011, SynthCam does something entirely new. Very shallow depth of field shots can look beautiful coming out of a dSLR equiped with a fast aperture lens, but are impossible to replicate on devices with very small sensors, such as those found in camera phones. This is not a limitation of technology, but one of physics and geometry. In fact, as I pointed out in this post, sometimes the extreme amount of focus that you get in a small sensor device is actually useful.

Straight Capture from iPhone 4s
SynthCam takes the advantage of the video and gyroscope/motion sensing capabilities of a smart phone (iPhone 4s in this case) to simulate a larger light capturing area than what the phone actually has. It does this through continuous capture of a given scene, with synthetic computation to construct a shallower depth of field. Think of it as a physical-world ray tracing application; during the capture process, you have to keep the phone parallel to the scene; by slowly moving it in a circle, you are tracing out a virtual area that would be analogous to a larger sensor/lens system.
SynthCam Capture.
So how does it work? In practice...it takes, well, some practice. The key is to move the camera slowly, and accurately within a 2D plain; tilting or rotating the phone will produce suboptimal results. Accurate captures can produce results that look like they were downsized from a dSLR. Poor captures produce pictures that look like they suffer from excessive motion blur. The key is slow and deliberate hand motion during the capture process. A rule of thumb  to remember is that shallow depth of field is not a cure for poor composition. Even though a fast dSLR lens can blur out the background, you still wouldn't place your subject behind a busy background (like tree branches) because of the harsh bokeh that can result. The same applies to SynthCam; don't expect pretty results if the background is busy.