A beautiful snow day

Yesterday was one of those dreamy winter days when it snows peacefully and the whole outdoors whispers to you, “Come out and take part in this!” That’s just what I did. I took my 5D and a 50mm lens and went outside to walk around the garden, take nice, deep breaths of that crisp winter air and see what caught my eye. I hope you’ll enjoy these photos!

The best full-frame camera out there right now

I have been doing research lately, because I want to purchase a new camera (maybe a couple of them, not sure yet). Although I have reviewed cameras in the past, I haven’t done so for years and I’m rusty, so I’m not going to pretend that I’m a professional reviewer, although I am (among other things) a professional photographer. Also, I need to make it clear from the get-go that there is no absolute best camera out there anywhere. There are however, best cameras for various needs. What I’m going to be talking about here is the best camera out there, right now, for my needs as a professional photographer and videographer, and I will detail those needs below.

Should you not have the patience or the time to read through this, skip to the end. The featured image for this post should also be a telltale sign of my conclusion 😉.

What I can tell you about me is that I’ve been keenly interested in photography since college (that’s more than 20 years ago). I’ve shot on 35mm film and APS film and when digital cameras arrived on the market, I started buying them and shooting with them, even back when they only offered 3.3 megapixels and an ISO range of 100-400. If I look in my Lightroom catalogs under the camera metadata, I see over 70 of them listed there (it’s over 100 models actually but there’s some overlap plus some scanners are listed as well, so I’ll say 60-70 cameras just to be on the safe side). Also, my photographs have been published in 10 printed books (recipe books, health books and other literature) and have also been purchased as prints and licensed for commercial use. I am known commercially as a food photographer 😯. Yeah, go figure! Do you see any food photography in my photo streams or on my social media? Nope. It’s in the printed books though.

If this preface makes what I’m about to write here relevant to you, good, read on. If not, by all means, look elsewhere, there are a ton of websites that review cameras out there, and the market for this kind of subject has grown tremendously in the last several years.

From 2008 onward, I have been a Canon guy. I have three Canon DSLRs (a 5D, a 7D and a 60D) plus a PowerShot G10. I have other cameras (Olympus, Minolta, Kodak), but so far, I’ve shot most of my photographs with Canon. In 2007, I fell in love with the original EOS 5D. It may sound strange to fall in love with a camera, but the 5D was (and still is) a combination of beautiful design and features that made it irresistible to me. I thought this camera was the cream of the crop and it truly was, in its time.

I wasn’t the only one to think so, seeing as how Canon has not changed the exterior design of the camera through 4 subsequent generations (Mark II, Mark III, 5DS/5DSr and Mark IV). Why mess with a good thing, right? The design is gorgeous, even after all these years. Have a look at a few photos of my 5D taken last night. Isn’t it a beauty? 😍

My 5D after 10 years of use. I still love it!
My 5D after 10 years of use. I still love it!
My 5D after 10 years of use. I still love it!

I still actively use my 5D. I take it out of my equipment cabinet every once in a while to take photos with it, and then I don’t want to put it back! I want to keep it on my desk because it’s so beautiful! It has performed just as I expected it to perform all these years: superbly. I only had to send it in for service twice: once to replace the shutter (I had taken somewhere between 75,000 – 100,000 photographs with it at the time) and on another occasion, to fix the hotshoe, because the rails had become loose and my speedlites weren’t making proper contact.

Here’s a photo I took yesterday. I love this camera!

Indeed
Stefanel asleep on an armchair

While I’m talking about my love for the 5D, I was once invited to the launch party for the Olympus E-3 flagship DSLR and I brought my 5D along to take photos of the event.

Olympus E-3 DSLR
The Olympus E-3 was dustproof

As I was talking with some of the Olympus folks, they asked me what I thought of the E-3. My answer was: “It looked great so far and that I looked forward to reviewing it in the field, given that it was up against some tough competition from my 5D, which I loved.” Yeah, that was a smart thing to say… 😬 Guess how many more invites to Olympus launch parties I got afterwards? ⛔️ When I requested the E-3 for a hands-on review, repeatedly, after I’d already published a preview post, their polite answer was that “there were a limited number of review units and they were all out on loan”. Ouch! 🚪 As the Soup Nazi would say, “No camera for you!” 🙅🏻‍♂️

However… and I think you expected this “however” after the long setup… after 10 years with my 5D and several years with my other DSLRs, I am now at an impass. I need a professional digital camera that meets the following two criteria:

  1. Shoots high-resolution images (as high as possible for a full frame sensor) and
  2. Shoots 4K video (proper, high-quality 4K video).

Those are my needs. I don’t want to move to a medium format sensor just yet, for reasons I can perhaps detail in another post. So I have some tough choices to make. If you’re in the same boat, maybe this post can help you decide.

This impass is also partly caused by Canon. Just this past week, I tried sending my 5D in for a professional sensor cleaning, because it’s got some dust spots that I just can’t clean off with sensor swabs, only to be told that the 5D is no longer being serviced as of September 2015. Canon no longer provides parts for it and has apparently instructed Canon authorized service centers not to service it. The camera still works great, but according to Canon, I can just chuck it away. Should something go wrong with it, it becomes e-waste. Thanks a bunch, Canon! 😠

Given that I love my Canon 5D and I like (not love) my 7D and 60D, which are my workhorses these days, and that I’m heavily invested in Canon gear (EF and EF-S lenses, speedlites and transmitters, extra batteries, extra chargers, cable releases, etc.), I naturally would like to get a Canon camera. The more research I do though, the more I realize that it would not be the best option for me right now.

I want a full frame camera, that much is clear. I love the dimensionality and quality of the photos that I get with it. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that I love about the photographs from a full-frame camera, but they’re oh so good! I know, I know, I’d probably love a medium-frame sensor even more… Maybe at some point in the future…

Let me offer a quick explanation of resolution and sensor size, because it’ll set the stage for some of the choices I have to make. A camera with a full frame sensor can offer more resolution, because there’s more surface on the sensor for the pixels. It can also offer a higher ISO range, but there is a trade-off between higher ISO and higher resolution. At the current time, there are limits to both values and it has to do with the surface area of the sensor. If you take a 35mm sensor, you can get more resolution from it, but you’ll have to squeeze more pixels in there (hence the term “mega-pixels”). The smaller the area for each pixel, the less light it can see, so that means that you’ll run into limits on the ISO range, because collectively, all those tiny pixels won’t be able to see very well in the dark. You can push the ISO up, but you’ll only get more noise. The algorithms baked into camera processors get better every year and consequently, they can better interpret the signal received from the sensor and you can thus push the ISO range higher, but only so far before you get digital garble. That’s why the Canon 5DS has a 50 megapixel resolution and an ISO limit of 6400, while the Sony a7S II has a 12 megapixel resolution and an ISO limit of 102400.

Canon 5DS Front
The Canon 5DS
Sony a7S II Front
The Sony a7S II

The Sony can literally see in the dark, that’s how good it is. You can sit out in pitch darkness, put it on manual focus, hold it in your hand, take a photo, and the camera will actually see what’s around you! Both are full frame cameras, but since the Sony a7S gives me the same resolution as my current Canon 5D, it’s not useful to me (while I’m sure it’s very useful to others). Now, the frame rate also plays into why some cameras offer lower resolution, but let’s not complicate matters. I don’t need a camera with an incredibly fast frame rate, because I have no interest in sports photography.

When the Canon 5DS came out, I was speechless! Here was a camera that offered 50 megapixels from a full frame sensor and the quality of the photographs was not questionable! 50 megapixels is medium-frame territory! But did it shoot 4K video? No. It did not meet my second criteria. So if I got it, I would also have to get a separate camera (or cameras) in order to shoot 4K video for our web shows. I don’t know about you, but not only do I not want to have a large inventory of equipment that needs to be mastered, operated and maintained, I also don’t want to spend a small fortune equipping my studio, given how ephemeral digital equipment can be (see what Canon did to my 5D above, it discontinued support even though a lot of original 5D cameras are still working). Also, different brands require different lenses (this is an aspect that I’ll address a bit further down the page), so not only would I have to get more cameras, but more lenses and accessories for them, and that means an even greater budget. It’s plain and simple: I want and need a full frame camera that offers both high resolution and high-quality 4K video.

Then the 5D Mark IV came out. Here was the answer to my dilemma, or so I thought… But Canon decided to give it 30 megapixels (after they had successfully shown that they could offer 50 megapixels two years prior). I am fully aware that 30 megapixels is quite a lot in and of itself, but there are other full-frame cameras on the market which offer significantly more resolution at the same price and same (and some would say better) image quality. So if it’s possible, why didn’t you do it, Canon? And while the camera offers 4K video, it is encoded in Motion JPEG, which is not an ideal video codec. There’s been a lot of discussion online about this (here’s one example). Remember when Nikon first started to offer HD video on their DSLRs, what seems like ages ago? It was also Motion JPEG and people were groaning and complaining about that to no end, while others were saying we should be happy they’re offering it at all. Well, now it’s my turn to groan and complain about this thing, while others are just happy it’s UHD (4K) video instead of FHD (1080p)…

Canon 5D Mark IV Front
The Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR

Also, if someone wants a professional flat color option in video (for proper color grading in post), it is a paid extra. Adding the Canon Log gamma is $100 and if you didn’t buy your camera with it, you have to send it to an authorized Canon service center to get it upgraded. Most camera stores offer you the option of buying it either with Canon Log or without Canon Log. Granted the $100 video upgrade is pocket change when we’re talking about a camera that costs $3,300, but why is it an add-on when other camera manufacturers offer different gamma logs built right into the camera?

And that my dear reader, the price, is the final rub. I get that the DSLR market is shrinking and companies making sophisticated, higher-end cameras end up selling less of them and making less money. It’s logical, isn’t it? Most people now rely on their phones to take photos; they’re sufficient, and in the case of some phones like the iPhone 8, iPhone X, Google Pixel 2 and Samsung S8, the cameras are more than sufficient, they’re outstanding given their tiny sensors and lenses. Most people don’t need a complicated DSLR or mirrorless camera because they don’t need all those myriad options, they’re intimidated by them, they don’t appreciate the quality of a large-surface sensor and they think they’re heavy and expensive. If you’ve just shelled out $700-800 for a new phone, it’d better take good photos, right?

Well… those of us who take photos professionally need more than a mobile phone when we take photos (although I’ll tell you a secret, I managed to sneak in a photo taken with my iPhone into a book 😏) and we also need decent pricing, durability, reliability and top-notch features on the expensive equipment that we we purchase.

We’re also affected by this market crunch, aren’t we? I’ll give you just one example: Adobe Stock. Adobe has been marketing their new stock image service heavily in recent months. I submitted several photos to it last year and sold a few. Do you know how much I made per photo? Around 40-60 cents! Those are microstock profits and they mandate a ridiculously high volume of sales. It goes without saying that I won’t submit photos to them again. You can only submit RF (royalty free) and at those payouts it’s not worth my time. I’ve been with Alamy for years and their payouts are much better, plus they offer the option of RM (rights managed) licensing, but they’re killing me with their keywording requirements (¡Ay, caramba!), so I haven’t submitted a lot of photos.

I wonder how many of you have sat down to do the math and get a grand total for what it takes to be able to take high-quality photographs. It’s not just the initial costs, it’s the upkeep: the ever-increasing storage needs, the backups, the software, the work involved in managing, editing and keywording the photos and videos, the upgrades to the computers, the displays, the cameras, etc. By the way, if you want to put me in hell, make me keyword photos for a stock photography website. Or make me take wedding and birthday party photos. That’s true torture for me. I’d rather be horse whipped. But the dirty truth is that wedding photography is how a lot of photographers make their money and buy their gear… I digress…

If I’m going to plunk down $3,400 for a brand new camera and maybe $1,000-3,000 more for lenses and speedlites and such, that camera had better be amazing. It had better give me what I need. Actually, since I live in Romania (Eastern Europe), I’m going to get to pay much more for the camera. Instead of $3,400, I get to pay $4,460 (16.999 lei). Yeah, that’s how things are when you’re not in the US…

That’s what Canon and all the other camera manufacturers out there need to understand. Now that the market for their mid to high-end products is shrinking, they need to offer more value to their customers. You know who’s innovating and who’s trying their hardest? It’s the companies with smaller market shares: Sony, Olympus, Panasonic and Fujifilm. Canon’s sitting on top of the heap with the largest market share and it doesn’t have a fire burning under its derrière, so to speak. It can afford to slow down the whole production cycle. Nikon was in the same situation and it chose to turn things around. People are very excited about the D850 right now, but they were angry with Nikon for some time because it wasn’t innovating.

Nikon D850 Front
The Nikon D850 DSLR

While I’m on the subject of the Nikon D850, wouldn’t it be the best option for me right now? After all, it’s got a high-resolution sensor that offers 45 megapixels and wonderful 4K video encoded in H.264. I love its design. It’s so beautiful! I have to say, I’ve been tempted to switch to Nikon every now and then, but that lull in their product development cycle that lasted years, while other companies like Sony and Olympus and Panasonic were busy creating amazing cameras, dissuaded me from it. There’s also the not-insurmountable but large obstacle of having to buy all-new glass, speedlites and other such accessories. There are no adapters on the market for Canon EF lenses to Nikon FX lens mounts. Metabones makes the best full-featured adapters for this sort of application (using different brands of lenses on different brands of camera bodies) and if they don’t make one, it’s not available and not worth getting (no, they’re not paying me to say that).

We’re coming to the reveal now, aren’t we? What camera is best for my stated needs right now and why?

Sony a7R III Front
The Sony a7R III

Here it is, it’s the Sony a7R III. It’s got a full-frame sensor that offers a resolution of 42 megapixels and beautiful 4K video encoded in one of two formats, XAVC S or AVCHD, with a choice of two professional ready-to-use gamma profiles, S-Log3 and HLG (at no extra cost, Canon!) and best of all, Super 35mm 4K oversampled from 5K, which means it’s much higher quality than straight 4K video. It’s also got pixel shift multi shooting, an interesting technique that offers much higher detail at 1:1 view (see this video).

An important feature that sets it apart is its 5-axis optical in-body image stabilization. The Canon 5D Mark IV and the Nikon D850 don’t have it; they rely instead of the optical IS (or in the case of Nikon, optical VR) built into the lenses themselves. In-body IS doesn’t preclude optical IS built into the lenses, too.

In-body 5-axis image stabilization
In-body 5-axis image stabilization

This is important because you have to remember this is a full frame sensor. There’s a lot of data that gets captured with it, every single second, and that data needs to be processed. Camera sensors suffered from something called rolling shutter not so long ago when they recorded video. When Canon first offered 1080p video on its 5D (it was the Mark II), there was pronounced rolling shutter. People called it jellocam and was a lot of discussion online about how to minimize it if you wanted to shoot professional video. You see, the larger the sensor, the more data that needs to be processed when the camera is moving and the more prone the camera is to show the rolling shutter effect. When you stabilize the sensor optically, in-camera, you provide a tremendous amount of help in reducing video shake and rolling shutter from the get-go. You don’t have to fix it so much in post-production.

And there’s another feature that sets it apart: 399 phase-detection AF points covering approx. 68% of image area width and height plus 425 densely positioned contrast-detection AF points, plus something that Sony calls 4D Focus. Compare the sheer number of AF points with the cameras from Nikon and Canon and once again the a7R III stands out.

Another good little thing the Sony a7R III offers (that may be important to some) is a USB 3.1 Gen 1 compatible USB Type-C port. This is good for charging or various accessories that need that sort of connection.

Finally, here’s the deal clincher: I can use my Canon glass on the a7R III! Remember Metabones, the company I mentioned above? They make an adapter that will let me use most of Canon’s EF and EF-S lenses on the Sony camera. It’s called the Canon EF Lens to Sony E Mount T Smart Adapter (Mark V). It supports all of the functions of Canon’s lenses, such as full aperture control, full AF, and IS for both photos and videos (see this for the details).

Metabones Canon EF and EF-S Lens to Sony E Mount T Smart Adapter
The Metabones Canon EF and EF-S Lens to Sony E Mount T Smart Adapter (Mark V)

And if that’s not enough, they also have something called the Canon EF Lens to Sony E Mount T Speed Booster ULTRA 0.71x II (Mark V), which does all of the above, increases the aperture by 1 stop and makes the lens 0.71x wider (see this for the details).

Canon EF Lens to Sony E Mount T Speed Booster ULTRA 0.71x II
Canon EF Lens to Sony E Mount T Speed Booster ULTRA 0.71x II (Mark V)

There is no downside here, is there? I can buy the Sony a7R III and the Metabones adapter and get right to work using my Canon lenses! I can always buy Sony lenses later.

 

 

best-sony-a7r-iii-lenses.jpg
A lens line-up for the Sony a7R III

So there you have it, the Sony a7R III may not be the best camera out there, but it’s the best camera for my needs, right now.

Well… there are things that the a7R III could do better:

  • There is no built-in GPS. This is a pet peeve of mine. Come on, Sony, really?! Tons of cheaper cameras have built-in GPS! Most cameras made nowadays offer it standard, as a matter of fact. It’s an amazingly useful feature. Canon offers it on the 5D Mark IV. Nikon offers it on the D850. Why is it missing on your camera?
  • Another useful feature that’s missing is the built-in intervalometer which lets you shoot timelapses. The 5D Mark IV has it and so does the D850. On the a7R III, you’ll need to purchase an external intervalometer.
  • Also, it seems that its video quality could improve (see this post) although from what I’ve seen so far online and I’ve looked plenty, the a7R III video is pretty amazing, with sharp focus, definition and color, even at long focal lengths. Ideally, it could offer 10-bit 4K video at 60 fps, although I haven’t seen that feature on the other full frame contenders.

There are some additional things I’d like to submit for your consideration. One is the aesthetic of the mirrorless camera sporting a long, bulky lens. It looks something like this.

This is the Canon EF 70-300 mm lens mounted to the body of an Olympus E-PL1 mirrorless camera
This is the Canon EF 70-300 mm lens mounted to the body of an Olympus E-PL1 mirrorless camera

Mirrorless cameras have their own aesthetic, which has evolved for particular reasons: they’re smaller, lighter, easier to carry, but those very advantages that make them great for travel or simply great for lugging around also make them look prety funny when they’ve got a big lens attached. Imagine a large 400mm or 600mm lens attached to a small, mirrorless camera and things get even funnier.

While it was Epson who invented mirrorless cameras when they introduced the RD1 (see this post), it was Olympus who made us go, “Oh yeah, I get it now!” when they started making them. A mirrorless camera with a micro four-thirds (MFT) sensor is a tiny thing that takes tiny lenses: they’re smaller in diameter and thus much lighter and they look in proportion when mounted to those cameras.

Years ago, when I heard that Sony had introduced a mirrorless camera with a full frame sensor, my first reaction was, “Huh? This doesn’t add up for me.” In my mind, it defeated the purpose of a small, easy to carry camera and lens kit. A full frame sensor requires larger diameter glass and even though the camera is small, the lenses are going to be big. In that sense, the a7R III is a strange animal, sort of like a giraffe with a normal head and neck, but a tiny little body. You’re not really holding onto the camera when you use a bigger lens, you’re holding onto the lens and the camera is just sort of there like a lens attachment. Now, be that as it may, I’m not going to argue with results. The a7R III is a fantastic camera and that’s that.

Let’s also take a step back and talk about the ideal equipment for those two stated needs of mine (high resolution and great 4K video), because it’s worth talking about. Clearly, it’d be better to separate the two tasks and then focus on the equipment that does each of those two things best. That means we have to set the budgetary concerns aside.

For photography, I’d separate the cameras even further into studio photography (or let’s call it local photography) and travel photography, particularly hikes through nature, for sheer weight considerations.

For studio or local photography, I’d probably go with the Canon EOS 5DSr or the Nikon D850. The 5DSr offers 50 megapixels of resolution while the D850 offers 46 megapixels. It’s the same ballpark and it is medium-format territory (in terms of resolution). Under controlled lighting situations or on a tripod, where I don’t have to push the ISO range to its limits, I would get crisp and clear high-resolution images (the highest resolutions available from full frame sensors today).

Canon EOS 5DS R
The Canon EOS 5DS R

If I did a lot of hiking through the mountains and a lot of travel photography, I’d probably go with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II or the OM-D E-M5 Mark II. Even though the E-M1 only offers 20 megapixels, it has a high resolution shot mode where it takes eight consecutive photos while shifting the sensor and stitches them together in camera to give the user a 50 megapixel photograph, so if you’re using a tripod, it’s great for landscape photography. It’s the same with the E-M5. It offers 16 megapixels but using the same high res shot mode, it can give you a 40 megapixel photograph.

An even lighter alternative is the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III. It offers 16 megapixel photos, it has no high res shot mode but instead gives us the gift of 4K video at 30p. And it’s so adorable! You can’t realize how cute and lovable that little camera is until you see it in person! 😍 Put it together with a few light MFT lenses and you’re good to go just about anywhere! ✈️

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III
The Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III

Now let’s talk about video. I’ll point out a couple of cameras that offer amazing 4K video, and they are (no surprise here) the Panasonic Lumix GH5 and its newer brother the Lumix GH5s, which is better suited for recording video in low light situations. The differences between the two cameras are eloquently explained in this video put together by the great staff at B&H Photo.

Well, there you have it! I hope this post of mine has been enlightening 😇, I hope I’ve explained my thought process in a way that helped you understand the challenges involved in choosing the best camera suited for the two needs stated at the start and if you liked this, please share it with your friends who are trying to decide what camera to get. Cheers! 👋

Finally, some snow!

After an unusually warm, humdrum winter in Romania, bereft of snow, we finally had some fairly heavy snowfall these past few days! I drove through a snowstorm the day before yesterday and when I got home, I got to enjoy the beautiful winter weather from inside our house, safe and warm.

I made a short vlog about this which you can watch here or on YouTube. Enjoy!

Raoul
Glad to be back home!

The importance of home

It is truly important to have a place you call home, a place where you feel at home. It roots you, it provides you with a sense of belonging, it contributes to your mental health and it goes a long way toward making your life longer and healthier. The more time I spend in our home and the more effort I put forth making it our home, the more I get out of it: peace, relaxation, belonging. You could almost call it a symbiotic relationship where the house will take care of you if you take care of it. I hope you get to experience this in your own lives. There are more things I talk about in the video, so please watch and enjoy!

The toy train II

Back in 2009, I made a little video called “The toy train” and published it to YouTube. As 2017 turned into 2018, that video was seen more than 25,000,000 times. Almost ten years later, I made a follow-up video that can see it here or on YouTube.

The tracks were set up for my daughter, who loves playing with trains. It’s Thomas the Tank Engine and Sir Handel, running on two track sets, Elsbridge Station and Runaway Boulder. The various toys used to decorate the set belong to her.

If you were to put yourself in my shoes, you’d have an interesting perspective on the phenomenon that can be loosely called “children’s videos on YouTube”. When I posted my original toy train video, there was no such thing. I simply made a fun little video that I liked and that I thought children might like. I was thinking forward to the time when I might have a child of my own.

It’s now 2018 and the demand for children’s videos has exploded around me. Some of the big YT channels aimed at children get views that number in the billions and revenues that are in the very healthy millions (see this article). There are even YT channels that don’t even bother to make real videos; instead they use computer algorithms to mash together video clips and audio clips in order to create somewhat watchable gibberish, in the hope of racking up views and revenues (see this article). That’s disturbing. Children need simple, logical storylines to their videos, their young minds are thoroughly confused by computer-generated gibberish.

Rest assured my videos are real and they’re made by me. Enjoy!

Coming to terms with the complexity of life and the fear of death

I thought I’d write a lighthearted, cheery post, sort of a gift that keeps on giving throughout the year ahead, so naturally, I wrote (and made a video) about how complicated life is and how we’re all afraid of dying, but we shouldn’t be, because zombies and vampires… Wait, what?!

“We trouble our life by thoughts about death, and our death by thoughts about life.” ― Michel de Montaigne

“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much… The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.” ― Seneca

“You are mistaken, my friend, if you think that a man who is worth anything ought to spend his time weighing up the prospects of life and death. He has only one thing to consider in performing any action – that is, whether he is acting rightly or wrongly, like a good man or a bad one.” ― Plato

Here’s (more or less) what I talked about in the video.

Whatever your beliefs about life after death, one thing is for certain: this life you’re living now will end within the span of a few decades. That’s pretty short and it’s no wonder we have a hard time dealing with that notion.

I’d like to submit to you that one way we grapple with death is through the introduction of death-less characters into popular culture. Nowadays, those characters are vampires and zombies. We call both of them undead and we’ve made up all sorts of fiction to explain their existence and ways they survive this event that scares us so much. And yet, neither character is something we’d choose rationally, if we were faced with that choice. Both vampires and zombies must continually kill in order to survive and in that sense, they’re terribly selfish: they sacrifice the lives of many innocent others in order to preserve themselves. In escaping death, they force it upon others. And zombies, those putrescent, barely alive corpses, are never first on anyone’s list of ways to prolong existence.

Both these characters though, are ways in which we’re not only dealing with the question of death, but with the question of life. Both offer simplified ways to view and treat an existence which many of us find to be complicated and stressful. Zombies are the perfect example. Instead of dealing with life’s mind-numbing complexity and options, upon becoming a zombie, you have only one option: eat brains. That’s it. No more jobs, bills, taxes, children, etc. Vampires are a bit more complicated and I think that is because they were invented earlier, in the 19th century, whereas zombies, as a manifestation of popular culture, only appeared midway through the 20th century. The more complicated real life will be, the more simplistic the escapism tends to be.

If we’re to stack these deathless characters by level of complexity against others invented throughout history, we find them on the lower rungs of life. If we step back in time, we find that people invented many deathless gods, most of which led far more interesting and complex lives than the humans who believed in them. But as life started to move faster and became more complex and harder to deal with, as we experienced world wars that terrified and scarred entire continents, we began to look for simpler characters and the unfortunate “best” we came up with were blood-sucking parasites that slept in coffins and blabbering, putrid corpses that dragged their rancid meat through cities and the countryside looking for brains. It’s quite sad really, to see where we’ve arrived.

I for one miss the more lofty deathless characters of old, gods who lived interesting, full lives, were articulate, powerful, higher and better than man (though sometimes just as petty and vindictive) and gave us something to look up to. Now we’ve got coffin-sleepers and tomb-climbers… It makes for good escapism through books, TV shows and movies but it does not make for a good alternative to death, nor does it ultimately help us deal with the complexity of life. Instead, we end up terrifying ourselves even more with the various “end of days” scenarios that are fed to us when we watch or read about these characters.

There’s no easy solution to this. Life is only getting faster and more complex. At least it seems that way, because we haven’t yet learned to filter all that is coming our way, and we haven’t learned to only deal with things that are of immediate concern to us. That’s what people did 100 years or more before our time. They didn’t have access to all that we have now. We should do the same. Just because we can have access to something, it doesn’t mean we should introduce it into our lives. We need to turn off the TV more often, put our phones away and spend more time with our selves, getting to know who we are, developing the skills that we deem valuable, exploring nature, sitting in silence. This won’t take us all the way, but it’ll put us in a much better place so we can deal with life. As long as we continue to be terrified by its complexity and by its quickly-approaching end, we’ll continue to look for quick fixes that are sorely inadequate and unrealistic, grotesque versions of ourselves that end up inflicting yet more of the pain and suffering that’s been scaring us but (in theory) take us out of the routine of daily living and offer us a simpler way to see our existence.

Excessive bass is the bane of modern music

bass boost sucks

In much the same way that too much sugar will give you diabetes and too many calories will make you fat, bass-boosted music ends up being a hollow, crappy experience that will make you deaf and piss off your neighbors. And hopefully, it will also bring you lots of fines for noise violations, fines which you will thoroughly deserve.

Manufacturers are sticking more bass into everything with speakers these days. Singers and studios are busy boosting the bass on their songs too — hey, it doesn’t matter if your song is tired and it recycles the same rhythms and loops used by every talented music creator in the past… just stick a few reverse beats in there (they freshen up the whole mess) and turn up the bass! Bass bosted songs are all over the internet, much like pigeon poop is all over rooftops and statues in busy cities. You’ll find tons of these “improved” songs and you’ll also find tons of tutorials on the subject. So in that sense, this article is going against the grain. I’m aware of it. But I’m sure I’m going to be made aware of it repeatedly by some of you.

The problem is made worse by the people listening to these cacophonies. It’s the wrong type of people, isn’t it? It’s the screw-ups, the ones who don’t amount to much in life, the ones with no regard for those around them. The idiot son of the neighbors a couple of houses away, the one who can’t hold down a job and mooches off his parents, he’s got speakers with lots of bass and he plays them loudly. The no-good neighbors who practically live off social aid and whose idea of a good time is grilling pork in the yard, getting drunk and listening to loud music, they’ve got speakers with lots of bass and they love their bass boosted songs. Any dumbass, jackass or just plain ass who buys a car nowadays and drives it with the stereo turned up and the windows down, they’ve got speakers with lots of bass and they’re sure to let you know. They want everyone to know! Heck, they’ll also stick a subwoofer in the trunk, to ensure the whole bodywork rattles with every shitty bass beat.

Even the partially deaf and elderly neighbors who just bought a new TV, they’ve got speakers with lots of bass, even though they didn’t ask for them when they bought their TV.

The problem is two-fold:

  1. Adding anything extra to the music as it was recorded and as it’s meant to be played ruins the music, the inherent goodness of the song (well, if the song is any good at all, anyway). Mind you, I’m not talking about sprinkling a little salt on the soup! Boosting the bass on a song, both in the studio and on a stereo is the equivalent of heaping shovel-fulls of salt onto the soup. Let’s face it, if all a song has going for it is the boosted bass, then it’s a crappy song.
  2. Excessive bass angers everyone around you, no matter how low the volume on your bass-bosted stereo is kept. The bass sounds travel through anything, and that’s all that your neighbors will hear.

A great speaker is supposed to reproduce sound just as it was recorded, with all of its frequencies, not just the low ones that are collectively called “bass”. A good speaker comes fairly close to it. An idiotic speaker made for dimwits will have thumping bass sounds and little else. Even if you listen to an idiotic speaker at low volume, it’ll still transmit the bass sounds through walls, disturbing everyone around you, because all they’ll hear is the thump-thump-thump noise, the beat, without any of the accompanying sounds. Even if the song is great, it’ll still sound like shit as the beats pound the neighbors’ brains, boom-boom-boom, until they get a migraine.

The situation is made worse by the compressed music of today, sold mostly as MP3 and AAC files, which cannot reproduce all of the frequencies of the sounds that were recorded in the studio. It muddles them with the compression algorithm. So the producers rely more heavily than necessary on bass and beats in order to make the songs catchier. I realize this is an oversimplification, but it is true.

I would like excessive bass to be outlawed, just as excessive noise is currently outlawed. I’m not kidding. I realize I’m going completely against the grain here, but this has become a constant nuisance and these people who go on abusing our ears and our laws are everywhere. I’d like you to begin to notice them as you walk through a city and you’ll soon realize there’s a constant cacophony of bass beats that pollutes our lives, whether we’re indoors or outdoors, whether we’re awake or trying to sleep. If it’s not the neighbors playing music or watching a movie, it’s some douche driving down the street with the music turned up in his car; even if he’s got the windows up, the bass beats travel through the body of his car, across the street, through the walls of your house and into your brain. Why do we tolerate this nonsense?

To me, this thing is akin to a deranged hobo who throws poop at people as he wanders the streets. Bass beats may not be made of physical poop, but they’ll stink up your life and leave a mess behind. You may not need to wash them off, but even if you wanted to, you couldn’t. As the years go by, you’ll be able to see those same crappy beats as furrows on your forehead, as white hairs on the temple of your head.

Civilized cities already have very good noise regulations in place but they do not address excessive bass. In Europe, noisy cars aren’t even allowed to enter certain city centers, which I think is a wonderful thing. And yet no one directly addresses the problem of excessive bass. I don’t think the measures to be put in place should be complicated. Let’s not have to measure the decibels or the frequency of the sounds. The measure to be used should be as simple as possible. Is the sound traveling through the wall or the window of the house? Can it be heard on the street, or by the neighbors? Then it’s too loud. In the case of cars, is the sound of their stereos coming through the car’s body? Can it be heard on the street, even if the windows are up? Then it’s too loud.

Let us start to penalize excessive bass with excessive fines. The manufacturers, the studios and the people listening to music will follow suit, unless they enjoy paying hefty, wallet-burning fines.