Winter Dining

Birds have to eat all year round.  Mountain ash berries are a favorite source of food for winter residents in Anchorage, including this European Starling in striking non-breeding plumage.

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Advancements in Storage

Digital images are saved to a physical storage medium, first in the camera, and then in an editing computer (or smartphone/tablet if that’s your primary capture device). Like everything else, storage technology evolves, and at the moment several factors are converging to make for a pretty big leap in throughput capability.

One is the move to faster and higher capacity memory cards. At the top of the heap is CFexpress, as exhibited in the recently announced Canon 1D X Mark III. These cards replicate the physical dimensions of XQD and several camera bodies with XQD slots will have firmware updates to accommodate CFexpress sometime in the future.

Second is the gradual proliferation of file transfer protocols (FTP), both internal and external. Internally, for several years PCIe 3.0 has provided the lanes for transferring data from one component to another. PCIe 4.0 has now arrived with double the potential data rate, though it is currently only supported through AMD processors and appropriate motherboards. New M.2 PCIe 4.0 NVMe solid state drives are also here, some exhibiting read speeds over 7GB/s! External devices are riding the wave too. By leveraging the NVMe interface, portable SSDs are orders of magnitude faster than platter-based hard drives with some achieving a 2,800MB/s data rate. Thunderbolt 3 (TB3) is still the fastest external FTP with a bandwidth of 40Gb/s, and though a lot of recent notebooks support this standard it’s important to understand that regardless of the theoretical capability, actual throughput still depends on the limits of the storage device itself. USB (in its various iterations) has a much broader installed base than TB3, and while previously having had a much lower bandwidth ceiling, USB4 will change that by also moving to a maximum 40Gb/s throughput and actually incorporating TB3 in the standard using the USB Type-C connector.

Without a doubt there are now more storage choices than ever before with the potential of significantly improved speed and efficiency.

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Richard Nelson

Richard Nelson passed away earlier this month. Alaska Public Radio listeners will fondly remember him as the voice narrating the marvelous Encounters soundscapes. He was involved in many other endeavors as well, and at least part of his legacy of audio and video stories will live on at Encounters North. A short opinion piece in the Anchorage Daily News by Kim Heacox further describes his background and accomplishments. He will be sorely missed.

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Avian Activity

It’s spring in southcentral Alaska and birds are busy raising young.  This American Dipper is delivering a salmon smolt to a nearby nest.  Dippers frequent clear fast-flowing rocky streams and catch much of their food underwater, sometimes walking with head submerged, or diving below the surface to probe under stones on the bottom. 

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They’re Back

It’s been much warmer than usual in Southcentral Alaska and the seasonal change has come early—way early!  One of the markers is the return of waterfowl.  The first gulls showed up yesterday; geese should follow soon.  The arrival of these two migration leaders usually occurs in the first or second week of April, but the lakes and marshes are opening up rapidly and many more species will be here shortly.  Winter is behind us, though there may well be more inclement weather, including snow, before summer is actually here.

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Panasonic Full Frame

It’s official—there’s another full-frame digital mirrorless offering to mix it up with Sony, Nikon, and Canon—the Panasonic LUMIX S1 and S1R.  It’s not like this has been a secret, as it was part of a development announcement at Photokina back in September.  But now we have all the specs and can begin to get an idea how these new bodies will fit into the scheme of things. 

While late to the party, Panasonic brings some very interesting features and factors into an already crowded field.  First, it is now part of the L-Mount Alliance, a very clever cooperative agreement among Leica, Panasonic, and Sigma in which all will use the proven wide throat/short flange distance Leica lens mount.  While the S1/S1R will debut with just three new Panasonic lenses, Leica already has five primes and three zooms with the same mount.  There are numerous sites with full specs and preproduction reviews.  A few will be listed below.  But here are some early observations.

  • Built tough, for pro-level use.  Size and general design comparable to high-end DSLRs.  Strong moisture and dust sealing, cold resistance.  400,000-cycle shutter.  Substantial battery.  All good news for bodies likely to see use in harsh environments.
  • In-body stabilization which can combine with lens stabilization, and a viewfinder graphic that displays shake intensity.
  • Twin memory card slots, one for XQD (firmware upgradeable to CFexpress).  Keeps the path open for high throughput as storage systems evolve.
  • Very high resolution electronic viewfinder with three optional magnification levels—a boon for those who wear glasses.
  • For those intent on extracting the highest image quality possible from a static scene—a High Resolution mode that combines eight consecutive images automatically for a total of 96MP on the S1 and 187MP on the S1R.

I find this a very intriguing offering.  This pair of new bodies raises the bar in several categories.  Technology on the march.

Spec list and Panasonic announcement.

What You Need to Know (DPReview).

Thom Hogan’s view.

The 10 Main Differences (Mirrorless Comparison).

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Card Readers

One of the mundane but crucial elements of digital workflow is the storage and transfer of image captures from camera to computer. Anything that speeds that up improves efficiency and effectiveness. As memory card types and protocols advance, so do the devices used to transfer files. ProGrade Digital offers several “workflow readers” in multiple formats using the high speed USB 3.1 Gen 2 data transfer standard. All are dual-slot units with combos of CFast/SD, CompactFlash/SD, SD/SD, and microSD/microSD. As a point of reference, ProGrade Digital was formed only about a year ago by former Lexar executives after Micron ceased making memory cards and sold the Lexar brand. They’ve come on strong as a major force in the memory card market.

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Winter Browse

Winter came late this year in Anchorage, and it wasn’t until December that we had significant snowfall. Now we’re making up for it. Temperatures have been very mild as well and wildlife doesn’t seem to be having any trouble getting around. These two bull moose were lazily browsing near a church in the middle of town.

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Understanding the Mirrorless Transition

Not everyone is infatuated with the granular technical aspects of new imaging tools, or the complex set of considerations big companies make in bringing new equipment to market. But for those that are, we seem to be at one of those inflection points of major change that will set the course for some time to come.

The rumble at the moment is full frame mirrorless. The big three—Canon, Nikon, and Sony—are now all present, though Sony has a big head start. Assessing how current offerings from all three compare and how this will influence future purchaser’s choices are hot topics at the moment. Three articles in particular provide considerable insight.

Roger Cicala of Lensrentals offers his opinions here.

DPReview assesses not only Canon and Nikon’s latest offerings, but looks at the whole mirrorless field here.

Thom Hogan compares full frame systems from the big three and offers insights on system expansion and market penetration here.

Lots of considerations and more choices than ever before, though DSLRs are by no means “dead.” Lots of great images from the “old” tools will continue to be made for years to come.

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More Announcements

The announcements of new photo tools prior to Photokina are coming fast now. Here are links to a few.

The Canon R full-frame mirrorless system. Highly anticipated and a bit earlier than some thought might happen, Canon is opening with a mid-range body. The biggest question that has been answered is that yes, they will use a new lens mount (RF) and a series of adapters to accommodate the huge inventory of existing EF lenses. The first native RF lenses are impressive, and an additional official roadmap for more is expected soon.

Also from Canon, Mark III versions of the EF 400/2.8 and EF 600/4 supertelephoto lenses. Most significant here is weight reduction—2.2# and 1.9# respectively. Hopefully they will be as optically stellar as previous versions.

Fujifilm brings the X-T3. Retaining the same highly-attractive retro design with real dials for primary settings, the X-T3 has a new, slightly higher-resolution sensor and a host of other internal upgrades, including big video improvements. Fuji has a somewhat unique positioning in the industry and a strong following.

At the stratospheric end of the spectrum, Phase One’s new “Infinity Platform” offers a choice of three different medium format backs—two 150MP units and one with only 100MP. Ranging between $48,000 and $55,000, when you pick one of the backs, a camera body, prism, and prime lens of your choice comes with it.

More to come.

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