The Sigma sd Quattro

The Sigma sd Quattro is the camera that helped me understand and come to terms with Sigma’s mission as a camera manufacturer. I’ve railed against what I perceived as the faults of Sigma’s cameras in the past (see here and here) and now I have come full circle in my stance on their cameras. It is time for me to apologize for my criticisms. Sigma, please accept my apologies. I didn’t fully understand your mission and your cameras. I now have a better understanding of the situation.

I always thought the Foveon sensor was unique and that it brought a set of features that made it stand out. Where I didn’t “get it” in the past, was in trying to compare Sigma cameras, apples to apples, with other cameras on the market. You can’t do that, because Sigma’s cameras are specialized. When you consider them, the questions you have to ask yourself as a photographer are (1) how important is image quality to you and (2) what are you willing to give up in other areas in order to get that image quality? Once you have that mindset, you can begin to consider the benefits of their cameras.

It must be acknowledged here that the path Sigma has chosen to take is quite different from market trends and consumer expectations. In a world obsessed with resolution and the do-it-all camera that takes photographs and also shoots video, Sigma has chosen to focus most of their attention on the quality of the photographs produced by their cameras, to the detriment of other characteristics that are appealing to consumers. They can afford to do that because they have a thriving lens business, and that’s a beautiful luxury. They don’t have to deal with the pressure of selling as many units of their cameras as possible and they can take their time with their sensor R&D.

It is my belief that with the sd Quattro, Sigma has reached that point where their message is getting across and more people are starting to take notice. I certainly took notice. Just because I criticized them in the past doesn’t mean I didn’t follow their developments. What they have now with the sd Quattro, particularly with the sd Quattro H, is plenty of resolution, an interesting and appealing design and an irresistible price point. Also worthy of mention is the design of the power grip, which makes the camera look even better and extends the battery life by a much-needed 300%.

I invite you to have a look at their website. Also look at their sample photographs and download them so you can appreciate them at full resolution. There are five separate sections with sample photos: for the sd Quattro you have parts one, two and three, for the sd Quattro H you have part one and then there are the general sample photos.

You should know that this camera almost requires a tripod. There will be situations when you won’t need one, but given that the sensor gives you the best quality at low ISO, it’s best to have one with you. I would reiterate what I said above about Sigma cameras being specialized. This is a camera best used in the studio or for landscape photography. You’ll also need plenty of batteries. I understand you get about 100-150 shots per battery. The AF system is fairly slow, so you’ll need to plan each shot carefully and check the focus. The camera also does not shoot video. If you’re thinking about getting it, I highly encourage you to check the specs, read and watch various reviews, and generally speaking, make sure you know what you’re getting into. If you care about accurate (I would even say amazing) color reproduction and you’re willing to sacrifice a lot of the other amenities we’ve come to expect from modern photographic equipment, then you’ll love this camera.

I’ll leave you with several images of the camera itself.

Idiosyncracies at Apple

Why is iTunes being used as the sync hub for all media and mobile apps?

Do you remember iSync? It was the app that Apple made specifically for syncing devices to their computers. It worked pretty nicely to sync contacts and calendars from the Mac to a mobile phone (this was before the iPhone came out). I used it to sync my Nokia E63 and N95 to my iMac and MacBook Pro.

I wrote about this back in 2011 as well. The problem is still there. Why are we syncing contacts, calendars, movies, TV shows and mobile apps, through an app designed for music and named for music? Why not have an app that’s properly named, where we sync everything we want, through a brand new interface?

What name should we pick for it? The clue is right there in the name for a product recently launched: Apple Music. The central app should be called Apple and it should be available on both desktops and mobile devices. It shouldn’t even have a name, it should just be the Apple icon. We’ll click on it to connect with Apple and sync our devices, purchase apps, music, movies, hardware, etc. That’s right, I’m talking about a unified interface with a single, seamless web presence where we can buy and sync everything Apple and everything made or coded for Apple, which is accessible through an Apple icon from our computers or mobile devices. No more iTunes Store and App Store and a separate Apple Store!

iTunes can remain but it’ll need to be renamed to something else, since we play both movies and music in it. Apple Media perhaps? How about Apple Player?

Why are there two apps for messaging?

We have FaceTime and Messages. What happened to iChat? Let’s put these two apps together again. Apple lost so much ground when someone else (WhatsApp and others) made a unified app that keeps text, media sharing and video chat together. Why would we need two apps (two places we need to check and open up) when one can do the job?

They should marry these two apps and call the new app… Apple Talk. It makes sense and Apple already owns the trademark on it.


Proposed EU measures to extend product lifetime

I am happy to let you know that things are underway within the EU to ensure that products will last longer and will be easier to repair in the future. These are proposed measures at the moment, they’re not law, but they soon could be. The idea, according to the EEB (European Environmental Bureau) is to:

  1. Extend the lifetime of products
  2. Extend the availability of repair services
  3. Improve consumer information and rights
  4. Make these measures binding, not voluntary

If you live within the EU, I encourage you to contact your representatives to the EU Parliament and to ask them to support these proposed measures.

Even if this isn’t law yet, I am happy to see my own feelings on the matter mirrored by those in a position to do something about it. You may recall that I wrote an article called “Truly sustainable computing” back in August of 2015, where I proposed that desktop computers have a projected lifespan of 20 years and laptops and mobiles phones have a projected lifespan of 10 years.

The proposed EU measures would apply to every category of products, not just to computing devices, so things like cars, electronics, appliances would all be covered by the new regulations, ensuring we would once again have quality products that last a long time.

I say “once again” because those of you who are younger than me may not recall we had this sort of thing before the 1970s. The idea of “planned obsolescence” was introduced in the 1960s by manufacturers and that’s when things started to go downhill for products in terms of durability, repairability and build quality. You could still get kitchen appliances made in the late 1960s that looked and worked perfectly even in the late 2000s. You can no longer do that with today’s appliances.

It’s irresponsible in so many ways for us to generate mountains of e-waste every year and it’s doubly irresponsible for manufacturers to make them, one because they’re using the Earth’s resources without any regard for the future and two, because they make them easily breakable and disposable, contributing to the enormous amounts of waste that we generate as a race. It’s time we did something quantifiable and legally binding about this!

Group identity and commercialism

Here’s a short video log I recorded yesterday as I got to thinking about how we as humans tend to separate into groups and sub-groups and identify with them. We form separate cultures and sub-cultures and nowadays, we want to stand apart from what we see as the commercialism and consumerism of modern society. 

And yet, when we do that, we actually make it easier for advertisers to target us, because instead of making general ads for general products, they get to make very targeted ads for products specifically tailored to particular groups. So the effort to escape consumerism then becomes a moot point. 

People think this is a bad thing for some reason. But I say it’s a good thing. I don’t think there has ever been a time in the history of mankind when products tailored for specific uses could make it to market faster than nowadays. Sure, you have to sort through the crap, and there’s a lot of it, but there’s some really good stuff out there, made just for your needs. 

I also touch on the idea of money as currency and the inherent benefit of being able to convert skills or objects into such a portable currency that you can take pretty much anywhere and exchange it for what you need. Some people say we don’t need money, that we can trade directly, service to service, product for product, etc., but I sa that only goes so far. It’s so much more limited than money, particularly when you hold a very portable currency like the dollar, the pound or the euro. 

Yes, I’m still in bed, so please excuse my disheveled appearance. 

Truly sustainable computing

Plenty could be written about this subject. I just want to call for change in two areas, because I believe they’d have the greatest impact here and now:

  1. Desktop computers should have a projected life span of 20 years.
  2. Laptops and mobile phones should have a projected life span of 10 years.

Why 10 years for laptops and mobile phones? Because they’re portable, they get banged up more and chances are they’re not going to look that good after 8-10 years, but they should be made to last that long nonetheless. Even if you won’t want to use them after a few years, you can sell them and someone else with a smaller budget will be happy to use them for as long as they last.

This means internal circuitry, which is most often the culprit in computing, should be made to last a looooong time. This is doable. There are cars and planes in use today with circuits made 15-20 years ago, which are still functioning properly. I think hardware meant for personal computing is purposely made to stop working after a few years, because computers are always upgraded and hardware manufacturers plan for obsolescence from the get-go.

There is a better way. Enclosures for all computing devices should be solidly made and finished. They should be stunningly beautiful and their design should stand the test of time. They should be easy to open and the innards serviced. And internal components should be made in such a way that they stand the rigors of heavy use through two decades, even if they become obsolete, market-wise. I think we’ve gotten to the point in computing where even if a computer is no longer desirable by someone who wants a fast machine, it’s still good enough for daily use by someone who does basic computing tasks.

I may live to eat the words in this paragraph, but surely USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, PCIe, 4K resolution and other goodies that are currently available should suffice for a while. I can’t imagine word processing applications or web applications requiring more than this, even 10 years from now. And if they do, a solid, serviceable enclosure and upgradeable hardware with backward compatibility for widely accepted standards and protocols should be enough to keep a computer going… and going… and going…

And once we pass that 20-year mark, why not make our next goal even bigger? Let’s plan for 100-year computers and let’s start doing it right now. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have machines made in 2015-2016 still in daily use in 2115-2116?

If you work in hardware, I’m sure you can think of plenty of reasons why this isn’t doable. It’s pretty easy to find reasons not to do something, and this applies to just about anything. But I want to challenge you to find ways to make this work, because it’s what we need to do in order to survive in the future. We can’t go on trashing the planet and taking from it indefinitely. We need to start conserving and giving back to it. We should focus on making it clean and beautiful.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of phones I have to throw away after 2-3 years because they turn into unusable crap. I’m sick and tired of computers and external hardware that start to break down after 3 years, some of them right after their warranty expires. And if would see what a mess we’ve made of this world, with destructive mining for rare earth minerals used in our electronics and with mountains of electronic trash polluting the ground and water tables in many places around the world, you’d be sick and tired of this as well.

There are much better ways of doing things. FairPhone is pointing the way for mobile phones. iFixit is helping too, with online service manuals and parts. But the bulk of the work still hasn’t been done. I still don’t see 20-year computers and 10-year laptops in stores. Where are they? Who’s making them? I’d like to buy one.

White keyboards and cleanliness

Apple Wireless Keyboard

Back when Apple came out with white keyboards, I was annoyed. I appreciated the white aesthetic, the clean design, but they got dirty so quickly. Within a few weeks of normal use with clean hands, there was a visible layer of grime on the keys used most. It was like a heat map drawn with dirt. Yuck. I wash my hands every time I go to the bathroom, so that’s 7-8 times a day or more, and my keyboards still get dirty.

I found myself cleaning my keyboards often, and every time I did it, I asked myself two questions. I kept repeating them like a mantra, annoyed with the amount of time I was spending doing menial stuff:

  1. How could so much grime collect on my keyboards?
  2. Why didn’t they make black keyboards?

A black computer keyboard.

Of course, the answer was staring me in the face, every time I used my keyboard. See this and this. Keyboards and mice are breeding grounds for all kinds of nasty bacteria. And because most of them are black, we don’t see how dirty they are and we don’t clean them often, although we should. I bet that’s exactly why they went with white (beside the fact that their design kick at the time involved a lot of white and silver). They wanted to give us a simple visual reminder of the state of our keyboards and make us clean them, lest we look filthy to our families, friends and co-workers. It was a bit of a pill to swallow, but it was (and is) for our own good.

Apple Wireless Keyboard

In recent times, Apple has gone to black keyboards on their laptops. Rumor has it they’re also going to make black keyboards for their desktops. While I get the practicality of it, I can’t help thinking people are going to just let the filth accumulate on their keys now that the stark visual reminder is gone. Let’s face it, we’re all so damned busy these days (mostly with drivel) that we’re going to forget to clean our keyboards. We won’t do it until they’re sticky, and by that point… yuck.

New MacBooks

Just in case you’re wondering how I clean my keyboards, I typically use Q-tips dipped in rubbing alcohol, they work great. In the past, I also came up with more inventive ways to clean them, such as putting the keys in the dishwasher. That method doesn’t work so well with the newer Bluetooth keyboards, it’ll cook the circuitry, because there’s no way to remove the keys unless you pry the case open.

Classic Solo Handmade Shoes

Late last year, I ordered a pair of handmade shoes from Stefan Burdea, a shoemaker from Bucharest, Romania. I’d like to show them to you now. They’re the Classic Solo model, a beautiful and understated pair of shoes made from a single piece of leather.

Some of you may already know that it’s fairly difficult to make these shoes, as it requires much greater skill from the shoemaker to get it right from a single piece of leather than it is to make them from multiple pieces, which can be fitted much more easily around the boot tree.

I’d like to show these shoes to you now via a video I made (part of my Elegant Gentleman series). I’m happy with them, especially since they meet a very important criteria for me: they’re comfortable to wear for long periods of time. That’s the most important criteria for me when choosing shoes. They have to fit me very well. All other aspects: design, finish, materials, are secondary. Sure, I first pick up a pair of shoes based on how they look, but if they don’t fit me well, I’ll put them right back down on the shelf and move on.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a pair of handmade shoes made for you, but you should if you get the chance. They’re much more comfortable than machine-made shoes. And because they’re handmade, there’s usually more attention to detail and a higher level of workmanship, as you’ll see from the photos. It’s rewarding to wear shoes that you know were made just for you. Try it sometime!