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What is DXO Mark Mobile and should you care?

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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Over the span of a couple of weeks, we saw three phones released, and with every release, the manufacturer touted the device's incredible "best ever" DXO Mark Mobile performance rating:

  1. Samsung released the Galaxy Note 8 with a DXO Camera score of 94
  2. Apple released the iPhone 8 Plus with a DXO Camera score of 94
  3. Google released the Pixel 2 / Pixel 2 XL with a DXO Camera score of 98

Manufacturers love touting these scores to "prove" that they have designed the finest camera a distinguished tech user could ask for. For all intents and purposes, technology should get better and this means every new phone released (at the high end) should have better overall performance than its predecessor. Why would you buy an inferior phone?

While most blogs blindly write headlines repeating this single "representative" number, very few actually take the time to read the full DXO reviews and explain the details to their readers. 

It's complicated

The first thing to keep in mind that blending complex factors into a single easy to digest number is complicated and sometimes may mislead some readers. While most blogs only show the single number, DXO actually provides a generous amount of valuable information for the curious reader.

The DXO tests include a slew of carefully controlled tests and other real world tests that are more subjective. 

If we pick on today's "highest ranking" phone, the Google Pixel 2, here is how the rating of 98 is made up:

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DXO provides detailed test results and write-ups for each of these categories. While most blogs will tout that the Pixel 2 has a rating of 98 (the best ever rating for a smartphone), they rarely provide the makeup of that number.

And the make-up of that number is critical to your buying decision. If you will use the camera primarily for video, you may notice it scored 96. You can also check out how DXO made up that score by evaluating what is important to you about video (which attributes are more important to you).

  • Exposure and contrast
  • color
  • Autofocus
  • Texture
  • Noise
  • Artifacts
  • Stabilization

Remeber that the video rating fo 96 is not a straight average but rather a "black box" formulae closely guarded by DXO. 

Is DXO Mark Trustworthy?

The next question is "can you trust the DXO testing methodology"?

Having reviewed the public information made available by DXO, I say yes. They have a well-documented methodology that is as good as it is going to get. I trust their rating but use the detailed review information to make up my mind, not the single number most blogs publicise. 

It is also important to keep in mind that DXO is a for-profit consulting company that manufacturers hire. DXO works with manufacturers to tune their imaging systems and get the best possible performance out of the equipment and software. DXO also sells image quality testing solutions.

I do not believe this consulting arm influences the device ratings in any way but it is still an important fact to keep in mind.

DXO Optics Pro

DXO Optics makes very good photo improvement software because of all this camera/lens knowledge they have accumulated. They know the shortcomings of each of the camera/lens combos and can this build specific correction profiles. 

I own their software and paid for it myself. 

90% of all the questions I receive these days is about comparing the iPhone to the Google Pixel2.  In addition to all the information I have already written and the info provided above, there is one more piece of knowledge you should consider. 

The Google Camera app on the Pixel 2 does not natively support RAW (the iPhone 5s or newer) does. This means DXO Optics Pro has corrective filters for all these iPhone RAW images, but does not for the Google Pixel2. This could be a major deciding factor for more astute or demanding mobile photographer.

Conclusion

I know most users simply don't care about the details. They want one easy to read headline that justifies their belief (Google is better / iPhone is better). My ask is that you, my more knowledgeable readers, take the time to look at the data that makes up the numbers.

It's a worthwhile investment of your time.

Best 360 degree camera for consumers

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
Nokia Ozo. Photo courtesy of Nokia.

Nokia Ozo. Photo courtesy of Nokia.

360 degree videos are the new THING because they capture more of the experience you are trying to share. Facebook, Youtube & Twitter all support this new more immersive medium. So the question is "What's the best 360 degree consumer video camera available?" Good question considering your local BestBuy has over a dozen in store and on display.

Having tested about a dozen of them, the best one is still the Ricoh Theta S. 

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Ricoh

Theta S

Why the Theta S? First it is easy to use. You press that big button and it starts to record. It has built in WIFI that allows you to review the captured content or control the camera with your smartphone. Last but not least, it captures good quality video.

Video is good but not great

When buying one of these devices, it is important to understand that you will get good video but it won't be an ultra sharp crystal clear 4K video (like one coming from a mid priced DSLR). The video quality will be good and acceptable but the manufacturers chose not to go super high quality because the stitching would require too much horsepower. 

Some technical specs

So what kind of sensor does this little device have? It has 2 12 megapixel sensors and  ultrawide 240 degree lenses. The camera then processes these two inputs and automatically created one 14 megapixel video (at 1080p) that automatically hides the camera. 

Pair this 360 degree video with some kind of VR headset (even a cheap Google Cardboard) and you get wonderfully imersive video that feels like you are in the moment. You can move around and see everything. This means you (as the photographer) have to consider this immersive experience when taking the video. Be cognizant of how you are holding the camera. 

Let's talk quality of video

So the Ricoh Theta S produces some very good video with good color reproduction (even is low light situations). Using the smartphone app, you can tune basic settings like exposure compensation, shutter speed, ISO and go fully manual (which I don't recommend).

Video clips can be up to 25 minutes long. Let's be honest, you videos shouldn't be longer than this anyway.

Let's talk device in hand

The Ricoh Theta S is a slim device which means it is easy to hold even for people with smallish hands. It is thin and long and a bit thick (which makes holding the device easy and comfortable).

It has a nice easy to hold onto plastic surface that has good grip. It has a standard tripod mount on the bottom which means you can easily mount this to any tripod (including a flexible Joby Griptight).

The device is easy to use and allows you to quickly switch from 360 degree videos to 360 degree pictures and back. All without having to fiddle with finicky menus or having to use the smartphone app. You can turn WIFI on or OFF (WIFI sucks battery so turn it off when not needed).

Let's talk battery life

Richoh doesn't provide good information about battery life. Assuming you are using the device for videos and have WIFI tuned off, you can expect about 1 hour of use time on a single charge. The device does not have a removable battery so you'll have to charge it with a portable battery when in the field. 

It's a 360 degree video

The output from the device is either a JPG or MP4 file with metadata identifying it as a 360 degree video. You can upload this to Youtube, Facebook, Twitter or Flickr and it will identify the file appropriately and then perform all of the required processing in the background to make it immersive and navigable.

Each 1 minute of video consumes about 100MB of storage and if you transfer it via WIFI to your phone will take 3-5 minutes. During this time you have to leave the app open and therefore won't be able to do anything on your device (or you can transfer it via USB if you have a laptop).

The free Theta+ or Theta+ video apps let you edit videos and even create non 360 degree cropped output files. They are fairly basic but allow you to add text, music or trim the video length.

When possible, use a tripod (even a mini one) to hold the camera otherwise you are likely to see fingers in the shot as you press the recording button. Or use the smartphone app to start/stop recording.

It can live stream

The Ricoh Theta S can also live stream when connected to a desktop with the special Theta software loaded on it (Mac and Windows). To enable live streaming you "Press the shooting mode button and power button of the camera together". 

You can live stream your 360 degree masterpiece to Youtube or Facebook. You may want to add the free OBS Studio app to the streaming mix.

Important considerations

  • First is the price. At roughly $350US it isn't a cheap product and it can't be your main or only recording device. 
  • It doesn't shoot in 4K. Considering most people will be viewing this content on VR visors, smartphones or in web browsers, this should be a major problem but it is important to remember.
  • The built in 8GB of storage (no SD Card support) is annoying. It's major competitors (Nikon Keymission 360, Samsung Gear 360 and Insta360 all accept nano SD cards).
  • Without a removable SD card, you also can't just "pop out" the card and transfer data at super fast speeds using a USB card reader.
  • If you edit the 360 pictures, some editors will strip the 360 degree marker from the metadata and the uploaded sites won't know that it requires special handling. You can add this back but its a pain.

Conclusion

If you want to buy an affordable, easy to use 360 degree video camera, the Ricoh Theta S is the one to buy today. It offers the right combination of quality, price and features. With everything said and done, it is still early days and the experience still isn't perfect.

I wouldn't recommend my parents go out and buy this. Not yet. Not right now. If you have a desire for 360 degree video then go out and get one. You won't be disappointed as long as you remember it's not a mass market product yet.

For John and Jane Doe, the technology still needs to mature and improve a bit.

 

 

 

Sony A6000 is the ultimate travel camera

technologyEdward KiledjianComment

A question I receive regularly is 

What camera do you travel with and why?

Here is my answer to that question.

I have been a happy Canon shooter for the last 7 years. I use to own a tone of Canon glass (lenses) and accessories but they are all gone. Replaced by something I wouldn't even have though of 6 months ago, a Sony A6000 mirrorless camera. It has turned out to be the best everyday and travel camera for the average Joe.

Travel Camera Requirements

As a frequent traveller, I am always looking for ways to cut my travel weight. How can I upgrade my gear to be smaller, lighter and more usable? I quickly realized these requirements weren't only applicable when travelling. Owning the prosummer Canon dSLR cameras, I often found myself leaving the kit at home and snapping pics with my iPhone. Why? Weight and size. There were many times (even when in my home city) that I just didn't want to carry a large backpack (Lowepro) just to take pictures so I surrendered to sub-par smartphone quality pictures.

The Sony

I watched a Youtube video from Nikon pro photographer Jason Lanier about why he left Nikon for Sony (link). As I continued reading and talking to photographers I had met over the years, more and more of them have been converting to Sony.

There are hundreds of technical write-ups and reviews about the Sony A6000 (which is the new brother of the older NEX-5/NEX-7), so that's not the purpose of this article.  The purpose of this article is to provide food for thought.

Why I love the Sony A6000

It is small, light, fast and offers incredible pictures. It delivered wonderful 24 megapixel images at 11 frames per second (in good light). 

At first I was looking at the Olympus Micro Four-Third systems but was put off by the small sensor. The Sony's cropped sensor is bigger than the Micro Four-Third ones (Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, etc). Bigger sensors are better especially in low light. 

As a non-professional user, I don't need a hundred lens options but I do need a good selection and you won't be disappointed. I have tested some Sony lenses and everyone of them has been excellent. I am now testing the Sigma 30MM (f2.8) which is turning out to be a little gem (write-up coming shortly). There is an incredibly rich lens ecosystem for the Sony E-mount system.

The camera itself is small, light and compact but all of the lenses are also light, small and compact. A Sony 18-200 is 30-40% smaller than its smallest Nikon or  Canon counterpart. 

The Sony A6000 has an unbelievable 179 points of phase-detecting auto-focus. The Canon 70d (which is their comparable prosummer camera) has 19 auto-focus points. Auto-focus on the Sony A6000 is fast and accurate which means less blurry shots. This is especially wonderful when you are visiting a foreign land you may never come back to.

Even in automatic mode (which I rarely use), the camera takes wonderfully detailed and sharp pictures. It has a fantastic ability to properly determine the situation and switch the camera into an optimized shooting mode.

The Sony A6000 has an electronic viewfinder (as opposed to the optical viewfinder included in most Canon and Nikon prosummer dSLRs.) Some complain that an EVF is not as good but I disagree. An EVF means you are seeing exactly what the camera will capture which means there are no surprises (filters, modifications and in-camera improvements).

Last but not least is the price. You can pickup a Sony A6000 with 2 great kit lenses for under $1000 which is an incredible value. Amazon has it with a 16-50mm and 55-210mm lens kit for under $1000 (link)

Negative points

There are only 2 negative points that I want to mention.

The camera is not weather-sealed.This means that if you use it in dusty environments, you can expect dust to penetrate the device (and don't use it under the rain).

The WIFI smartphone based control system is functional but far from efficient. I wish Sony would improve it.

Conclusion

Overall this is a fantastic camera. I loved it so much, I sold my Canon equipment in the first month. It is a fantastic camera for travel and a fantastic camera for everyday use. Since buying it, I find I carry it around more and therefore have better pictures.

The pictures I take are tack sharp, clear and well balanced. I normally take all my pictures in RAW format and use DXO Optics Pro 10 to improve them and produce phenomenally wonderful final JPG images.

DPReview Review


How gym's can protect your locker

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
Image by     West Midlands Police  under Creative Commons License

Image by  West Midlands Police under Creative Commons License

Like most of my readers, I am trying to live a healthier life by (trying) to eat better and going to the gym. Over the years, I have spoken to dozens of gym owners after some type of locker robbery and most have admitted now knowing what to do. 

I believe I have a good solution to this problem that I wanted to share.  As the Chief Information Security Officer for a large multinational, my team is constantly searching for new mechanisms to protect our company assets. One technique in a security teams arsenal is a fly-trap called a honeypot.

 "honeypot is a trap set to detect, deflect, or, in some manner, counteract attempts at unauthorized use of information systems. Generally, a honeypot consists of a computer, data, or a network site that appears to be part of a network, but is actually isolated and monitored, and which seems to contain information or a resource of value to attackers. This is similar to the police baiting a criminal and then conducting undercover surveillance." - Wikipedia

So how do this apply to protecting a locker in a gym?

Deter, Detect and Respond.

The first step is to install a highly visible centrally located sign (or signs) in the locker room that says:

"This gym uses surveillance techniques to protect the property of its customers. Random lockers in this locker room are rigged to alert us of a locker break-in and to capture video of the perpetrator.  All evidence will be handed over to the police for immediate action".

The system relies on discouraging half hearted thieves and on detecting the real problem cases.

As a gym owner, you randomly select a couple of lockers (changing the locker and lock daily) in which you install an always recording video system (can be cheap WIFI based video cameras), and a motion detection alarm (that is triggered when the door is opened).

Most people will read the sign and control the urge to steal. The real thieves may actually trigger the system but now you have a video snapshot of the person and an audible warning.

What kind of camera?

 Any WIFI camera where you can record the video feed works. An example of a good pick would be the Dropcam Pro with Cloud Recording feature turned on (link).

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Conclusion

I believe gyms around the world can take better care of their patrons property by implementing this simple trick. Hopefully some of my local gyms will read this article and try it out. 

Canon SL1 may be the perfect family dSLR

technologyEdward KiledjianComment
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As the holiday season approaches, you may be looking for a great all purpose camera and the Canon Rebel  SL1 will definitely not disappoint. It is called the world's smallest and lightest APS-C dSLR.

The Rebel SL1 is the smaller brother of the larger Rebel T5i. They both share the same 18MP sensor and DIGIC 5 processor.  Its fantastic that Canon was able to fit all of the t5i guts into such a small body and at the same time keeping most of the Rebel family buttons intact.

Typically most users jumping to this family of device are coming from point and shoot devices and are looking for better quality photos but also fast autofocus. The Rebel SL1 won't disappoint with the generation 2 of Canon's hybrid CMOS Autofocus system. 

Picture Quality

Even though I knew the SL1 contains the same guts as the T5i, I was expecting sub-par image quality but I was wrong. The device produced beautiful beautiful, vivid and sharp JPG images from ISO 100 to ISO 800. The in camera processing was excellent which means you won't have to save in RAW then spend time converting to JPG with a PC app. When you reach ISO 1600, you start to lose some of the finer detail and the inclusion of light artifacts.

As you continue to increase the ISO, the images become less sharp, you start seeing chromatic aberrations and you lose some of the vividness. The worst of it hits around ISO 12000.

The camera supports the Canon RAW format and at lower ISO (under 1600) the quality is comparable to the in-camera generated JPG. The higher the ISO the better it is to shoot in RAW so you can perform post-processing to improve the final results.

 

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Conclusion

Overall I think this is a fantastic camera for the general camera user looking for a small and light dSLR. The design is small but easy to grip. Images up to ISO 6400 are wonderful even when using the in-camera JPG conversion feature. The screen is touch responsive and a good representation of the picture you will take. The new hybrid auto-focus is fast and accurate (little lag between press and take). Little chromatic aberrations and full HD video recording capabilities.

Are there any negatives? Yes Sir!

Although many may prefer the smaller frame, those with bigger hands may find it too small.the Autofocus illuminator is built into the flash which means the flash has to be enabled to use it. This is not desirable because I tend to prefer non-flash pictures when possible.

Overall an excellent purchase for most consumers and highly recommended.