Wednesday
Apr162014

Pono: Candy for my ears?

Okay, Neil Young, you got me.

Those of you who have known me for a long time remember the massive CD collection I built during college and graduate school. Those CDs are long gone after the huge "ripping" project that I undertook about 5-6 years ago. Thankfully, I did rip everything as (Apple) lossless files (ALAC) so that I wouldn't lose fidelity by converting to MP3s but could still play the files in iTunes and on Apple devices. So now I have a couple of terabytes of lossless music sitting on hard drives (and backed up multiple places).

When I listen to that music on the go, those lossless files get converted to MP3s (or, more accurately, AAC files) to save space on my iPhone/iPod nano. I'm pretty sure that I can't tell the difference between lossless files and MP3s when listening on those devices with cheap earbuds in noisy places. But I've recently started using a nice set of Klipsch over-the-ear headphones when I'm working and want to get the most out of my music (i.e., start listening to the lossless files). And just as I'm starting to think about this, Neil comes along with the Kickstarter-funded Pono player.

Neil spoke extensively at SXSW about his issues with current digital music files (and the music industry as a whole). The thing that resonated most with me were his comments about the fatigue that accompanies listening to today's digital music. It could simply be my ears getting old, but recently I haven't been able to listen to music (in headphones) all day like I used to. My ears just seem to get tired. Is it aging, or is it because of the 128kbps files? The notion of bringing warmth back into the listening experience is appealing.

Pono is both a music distribution platform for super-high resolution audio files and also a music player that is optimized to play lossless files. Frankly, I'm not that interested in the Pono music store because I don't buy a lot of new music and have no intention of replacing all my lossless files with newly purchased super-high res files (although I'll probably buy a couple of my favorite albums to compare with my CD rips). I suppose that when I do buy new stuff, I'd be inclined to get it from the Pono store rather than buy CDs and rip them to lossless.

The more interesting piece to me is the hardware. Pono claims that its player doesn't have the same limitations that components stuffed into smartphones have; that a dedicated player can be designed with the sole goal of maximizing audio quality. Essentially, their say my lossless files will sound better on the Pono player than they do on various Apple devices. Will I become less fatigued listening on the Pono player? That's the million dollar (or at least $300) question. 

Now, given my line of work, I'm very familiar with placebo effects, but I'm also an empiricist and am curious if Neil's claims about the improved audio quality are founded. So I backed the project on Kickstarter and will find out in October...

Tuesday
Apr152014

Photo of the week - April 15, 2014

Natalie Merchant at WXPN. Fuji X-E1 with 35mm lens @ f/1.4, 1/750. See a few more shots from this show here.

Sunday
Apr132014

Summer 2014 is looking fun

Unfortunately, Tahiti isn't in my itinerary.Summer travels #1 - My biannual conference is in Australia this summer, which will make for some excellent travel and photography opportunities. Before the conference I'll be exploring New Zealand for about 12 days with a friend (and photographer), and then will have ~4-5 days in Sydney before ending up in Melbourne for my meeting. I anticipate the kit will be the X-Pro1 and X-E1 bodies, and 10-24mm, 55-200mm, 27mm, and 35mm lenses. The 55-200mm will likely be attached primarily to the X-E1 (since it's not a good lens to use with the optical viewfinder on the X-Pro1), and the 10-24mm will be at home on the X-Pro1. The primes will be used on both, depending on if using the OVF (X-Pro1) or compactness (X-E1) is desired. My guess is that I'll pack this all in the F-Stop Kenti, but haven't totally settled on that yet.

Summer travels #2 - Although Jen isn't going to Australia and New Zealand with me, she deserves a nice vacation too, right? We'll be meeting up with some friends/colleagues for two weeks in northern Europe, starting in Belgium (Ghent, Antwerp), then to Amsterdam, and ending in Prague. The gear will likely be similar to the other trip, with the 18-55mm kit lens added into the mix (and the 55-200mm staying home?).

Summer travels #3 - I'd like to do a trip out to see my family in Oregon at some point. Details TBA. 

Since I'm about to sign a contract for an new, long-term, consulting gig (hopefully), I'm going to have to work a couple hours a day during my trip to the southern hemisphere. And as much as I like travelling with just an iPad (which I managed for 3 weeks last time we were in Europe), to do any real work I'll need to bring a laptop, and there's no way I'm going to lug my 15" MacBook Pro with me. So one thing I'll need to get before my trip is an 11" MacBook Air. These always seem to refresh in the summer, but I might end up having to buy in May, right before new ones come out. That would be a bummer, but probably how it will work out. When we're in Europe, Jen will need a lightweight laptop since she'll be teaching online. Either she'll use that MBAir and I'll go with my iPad, or we might need two MBAirs. I guess that's the price to pay for having jobs that allow us to work from afar.

Saturday
Apr122014

(Almost) All in with Fuji

With the school year coming to a close and summer travels just around the corner, I've been doing some reevaluation of my camera gear. I haven't shot with my Nikon D90 in about 10 months, while my X-Pro1 has become my favorite travel and concert companion (everything in my 2013 albums and 2014 albums, to date, other than the Philly Cycling Classic and most of the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival photos, was with the X-Pro1).

With the new 10-24mm lens, and last year's 55-200mm zoom, Fuji now covers a great range for travel. My favorite travel lens for Europe on my D90 was the excellent Tokina 11-16mm super-wide lens. The Fuji 10-24mm is a stop slower, but has a more useful range. I'd been waffling on whether I should get the 10-24mm, mostly because I was worried it would be too large/heavy and defeat the purpose of traveling with a smaller system. But after getting my hands on one, it's manageble. Ditto on the 55-200mm; Fuji now has a credible telephoto zoom. Those two lenses and a couple of normal/fast primes makes for a nice travel kit.

On the flip side, in the last year my Nikon hasn't seen much action with the Tokina 11-16mm and 35mm f/1.8 DX; that's the range where the Fuji system excels (especially now the that 10-24mm has been released). So those, and Jen's D3100 and 18-105mm DX (since she's moving to a Fuji X-E1), found new homes to raise funds for the 10-24mm. Plus I just got a nice paycheck from some extra work I recently completed (the academic version of "consulting"), so the new 56mm f/1.2 arrived. This will be a great lens for concerts; I've been using the 60mm f/2.4 and it's okay for this, but being two stops faster and (hopefully) quicker to focus will make it a perfect concert photography lens.

It appears that I've officially moved over to the mirrorless camp, except for specific situations where the Nikon system still has Fuji beat (e.g., shooting cycling and macro). I did keep a handful of Nikon lenses; at some point I may step up to FX/full-frame and so I kept a few of my favorite lenses for that: the 105mm macro, 85mm f/1.4D, and 135 f/2 DC. The 135mm and 85mm may make for good lenses to use with a converter with the Fuji system (I shot the Aimee Mann concert with the 135mm on the X-Pro1 last spring). I also kept the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6; I wouldn't say that this is one of my favorite lenses, but I've found it to be okay for shooting cycling (at least since I don't have the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8). The only DX Nikon lens I kept was the 10.5mm fisheye. With a converter, this is a fun lens on the Fuji (and the only fisheyes available for the Fuji system are manual focus, so there's not a better option than my Nikon 10.5mm).

Tuesday
Apr082014

Photo of the week - April 8, 2014

Natalie Merchant calls out an annoying fellow who didn't silence his cell phone during a taping of World Cafe Live at WXPN's Big Day Out. Fuji X-E1 with 35mm lens @ f/1.4, 1/950. See a few more shots from this show here.

Tuesday
Mar182014

Photo of the week - March 18, 2014

Concert-goer at the Arcade Fire show in Philadelphia, March 17 2014. Fuji x100 f/5.6 1/25 sec, ISO 4000.

Friday
Feb282014

What's Old is What's New

It's been over a month since I've had time to post anything here. Work has been busy, the weather has sucked, and I've been sick so I haven't had time to get out to take any pictures. But there is some news on the photography (gear) front. With summer travel plans starting to come together, the opportunity to pick up a new camera body and lens couldn't be passed up!

Given my increasing infatuation with the Fujifilm X-series system, you're probably thinking I sprung for the new X-T1 or X-E2 (both of which look like an excellent cameras) or the forthcoming 10-24mm f/4 or 56mm f/1.2 lenses (both are on my wishlist). But no, I'm going old school. And by "old" I mean the one-year old X-E1, which has be replaced by the X-E2 i nthe Fuji lineup. Why would I spend money on a camera that has been discontinued? Because they are giving them away for $30.

The X-E1 originally sold for $1400 with the 18-55mm "kit" lens (which gets great ratings). A year after its release it has been replaced in the Fuji lineup with the X-E2 (which sells for $1300, with lens) and the remaining X-E1 stock is being discounted. I just found it for $729, including the lens. The lens goes for $699 when sold alone. So, if you were going to buy that lens, you can get the X-E1 for an additional $30 by buying the kit. Buying just a spare battery for my X-Pro1 (which uses the same battery as the X-E1) would cost more that $30!

Why do I need an X-E1 body. First, it will make a good backup body. When I'm traveling (alone) this summer, it will be nice to have a second, lightweight body to throw in my bag, and I can use it when I don't want to change lenses. Second, when Jen and I are traveling together, it will make a great camera for her. Although the Nikon D3100 she's been using takes nice pictures, it is comparatively bulky. And if I'm shooting with my X-Pro1, when we'd be carrying batteries, lenses, etc for two systems. The X-E1 is smaller and will fit her well, and can share all of the other gear I'd be taking anyways.

Thursday
Jan232014

The Keepers - January 17, 2014

Here's my band, The Keepers, at our most recent gig (1/17/14). Apparently we're not on the same page when it comes to which camera to look at...Here we are in color, and all looking in the same direction:

Tuesday
Jan212014

Photo of the week - January 21, 2014

Suzanne Vega at WXPN's Free at Noon, January 17th, 2014. Fuji X-Pro1 with 60mm lens @ f/2/4. See more photos from this show here.

Tuesday
Jan072014

Photo of the week - January 7, 2014

Fuji X-Pro1 with 35mm lens @ f/1.4.

Tuesday
Dec312013

Photo of the week - December 31, 2013

Friday
Dec272013

So true...

Sunday
Dec082013

F-Stop Micro ICU + Fuji X system

In a previous post I showed my F-Stop Small Pro ICU filled with Nikon gear in a Loka pack. I've been travelling more with my Fuji X-Pro1 kit recently, and the Small Pro ICU is overkill for my needs with that gear, so I picked up the Micro ICU. The Micro is the same width and height as the Small Pro, but it's a full 3" less deep (i.e., there's more room behind the ICU for other gear in the pack). Here's a shot of the Micro ICU loaded up in the Loka with the following Fuji X gear: 

  1. 55-200 lens + reversed hood
  2. 14mm lens + reversed hood
  3. X-Pro1 with mounted 35mm lens + hood
  4. 18mm lens + hood
  5. 60mm lens (no hood)

Tuesday
Dec032013

Photo of the week - December 3, 2013

A woman from the audience joins Rosanne Cash on stage at WXPN (Free at Noon concert; November 29, 2013). Fuji X-Pro1 w/ 60mm lens @ f/2.4. Converted to black and white with Snapseed on a Mac. A few more shots from this show are posted here.

Sunday
Dec012013

Cool, but I'd never use them...

I'm generally interested in the intersection of technology, academics, and productivity. Here are a couple of things that have caught my attention, but that I'd probably never use them since I'm lucky enough not to have to take a lot of notes at this point in my life. But if I were a student again, I'd probably give one of these a shot:

1. Livescribe 3 - The newest pen from Livescribe is really groovy in that it connects via bluetooth to an iOS device like an iPad or iPhone and brings in hand-written notes in real time. I've read that the app isn't quite up to snuff yet, but the general idea of it is pretty cool.

2. Evernote/Moleskine Smart Notebook - Here's the "low-tech" approach to getting your handwritten notes onto your device that doesn't require any expensive hardware (if you already have a smartphone). As an Evernote user, anything that pipes content into their awesome app is welcomed.

Tuesday
Nov192013

Photo of the week - November 19, 2013

At the C.F. Martin factory in Nazareth, PA. Fuj1 X-Pro1 with 18mm lens @f/2.8. Processed with Snapseed on a Mac. See more (in black and white) here.

Wednesday
Nov132013

The environmental politics of Sitka spruce

I recently visited the Martin guitar factory; it was my 5th time taking the tour, but my first time on the 2-hour "behind the scenes" tour. I first visited Martin when I first moved to the east coast 12 years ago. At some point I'll write more about the transformations that I've seen there over the last decade. But for now, one thing that is clear: things in the tonewood world are changing. I recommended checking out the documentary previewed above, Musicwood (see my previous thoughts on environmentalism and guitars here). While this film focuses on future of Sitka spruce, this is something industry has confronted in the past (e.g., rosewoods from Brazil and Madagascar), with increasing frequency manufacturers and consumers will have to adjust their expectations.

Tuesday
Nov122013

Photo of the week - November 12, 2013

At the C.F. Martin factory in Nazareth, PA. Fuj1 X-Pro1 with 18mm lens @f/2.8. Processed with Snapseed on a Mac. See more (in black and white) here.

Friday
Nov012013

If you wait long enough, sometimes you can stop waiting

A little more than 6 months ago, I posted about some things I was waiting for. Here's an update, as things have started to fall into place:

1. & 2. Summer vacation and a trip to Europe. We had a nice summer, but didn't get out of the country. I don't want to jinx things, but things are starting to come together for summer 2014 that might satisfy both of these.

3. The Fuji 10-24mm f/4 lens. This still hasn't been officially announced, let alone released. Although it's on Fuji's lens roadmap, at this point there's nothing solid on its arrival. Rumors say it is going to be big and expensive. For now, the excellent 14mm f/2.8 will "have to do." Update: At $1000, I haven't pulled the trigger, although it looks like an awesome lens. I'm also interested in the recently announced 56mm f/1.2. That will be great for my concert photography, but it's another $1000. Sigh...Update #2: It's not a heavy as I feared.

4. My F-Stop Gatekeepers finally arrived, but until today there was no word on the final piece from my order from the spring: the rain cover for my Loka. Heard today that it was finally shipping. I'll believe it when it arrives. Update: the rain cover arrived. After about 8 months, my order is now complete.

5. And on the same day #4 shipped, the iPad Air was released. I have my hands on one, and am looking forward to putting it through its paces. I just purchased my first movie on iTunes (I have downloaded TV shows and music before), and will be posting about that in the future.

So, what "stuff" is still on my list? That's a good question. I'd like to get a Hiscox guitar case at some point, and an octave mandolin would be fun. But for now, I'm pretty satiated (and I need to start saving for #1-2)!

Tuesday
Oct292013

Photo of the week - October 29, 2013

Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, PA. October 25th, 2013. Fuji X-Pro1 with 60mm lens @ f/2.4. Processed with Silver Efex in Aperture. See a few more pictures from this show here.