A bit of awe; a bit of contempt

The last few months have been particularly busy for Canon with a few big announcements for wildlife photographer: the Canon EOS 7D Mark II, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS Mark II and the Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS Mark II. I’ve upgraded from my venerable Canon EOS 1D Mark IV to the new Canon EOS 7D Mark II and my even more venerable Canon EOS EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS to the new model, and it’s a blast!

At the same time, Apple, which many will know I’m crazy about, has come up with quite a few things on their own and they recently posted a record quarter. Their hardware is truly amazing and the look of their operating systems, both on computer and mobile, is compelling… but its quality sucks! The time when Steve Jobs was quoting Alan Kay

People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.

has passed…

Head image: Tiger Shrike, image created in Singapore Juron Bird Park on January 25th, 2015. Canon EOS 7D Mark II with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II. ISO 3200, f/5.6, 1/250s, Evaluative metering +1 1/3.

First: Canon

With little time, and energy, to work on the blog in 2014, the year has been pretty busy. Mostly with my new job, but also with creating images and playing with new gear. I’ve made a few jumps this year with the acquisition of a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS (the old version) at mid year and with a number of upgrades in late 2014: I’ve upgraded the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS  and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS to their Mark II versions and I’ve let go my Canon EOS 1D Mark IV in exchange for a Canon EOS 7D Mark II. And boy, It blew my socks off!

The new lenses are amazingly sharp, have blazing fast focusing and their image stabilization gives the feeling that nothing could ever blur the image (ok, that’s only an impression but its that good). The only small criticism I’d have for both: they have taken a little bit of weight compared to their older versions (particularly the longest one).

There’s much to say about the biggest change between the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS and the Mark II: the zooming mechanism went from a push-pull to a zoom ring which takes some time to get used to, especially after using the former for nearly a decade. But overall I’m getting grip on it, what I did not expect however is the confusion created from the positioning of the zooming and focusing rings on the barrel: with most lenses the zooming ring is placed close to the camera body and the focusing ring further away toward the end of the lens. This is however changing, starting with the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS the positions of the zooming and focusing rings have been swapped. Canon did that with the monster Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS + 1.4x Extender and the new Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II, and I realized that while getting used to the new lens, using it jointly with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II makes it very confusing… Not a big deal but yet another example that practice, practice, practice is key to photography.

Replacing the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV with the Canon EOS 7D Mark II was not an easy choice, the pro body served me well over the years and in fact it was the camera I kept the longest but it was gradually getting less use since I acquired the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. I’ve been toying for a long time to move to the Canon 1Dx but I couldn’t get myself to shell out several thousands for a camera with less resolution and arguably a very similar image quality just because it is more reactive and can shoot twice as fast to 12fps. Instead I opted to wait for an update of the Canon EOS 7D, hoping that it would be similar to an APS-C version of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. And I’ve not been disappointed: nearly identical ergonomics which makes it seamless to move from one camera to the other, great ISO performance – for an APS-C – with roughly one stop disadvantage over the Canon EOS 5D Mark III (basically, in RAW, image quality at ISO 1600 with the Canon EOS 7D Mark II is roughly similar to ISO 3200 with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III) a new superb AF with speed up to 10fps, a great built quality and with the advantage of the 1.6 crop factor.

Another piece of equipment that was announced is the new Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II which has gotten already some rave reviews on the internet. Considering its price and my use, I think I’d stick with my good Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS with either the Canon EF 1.4x Extender III or the Canon EF 2x Extender III (though it’s 500g heavier than the new DO lens). If lucky, I might however get the chance to try the new DO at an upcoming photography trip in Japan…

Second: Apple

There were very interesting things happening for Apple over the last year, for hardware there was the fantastic new iPhones 6 and 6 Plus and the retina iMac (my gosh that one’s tempting!). There was also a lot of promising advances on the software side: iOS 8, the consolidation of the new interface paradigm introduced the year before; OS X Yosemite, the move to uniformize Mac and iOS; and together iOS 8 and Yosemite a deep integration of desktop and mobile platforms. There are also promises for the future: an upcoming watch, various expected upgrades for the Mac (as soon as Intel get back on track on its delayed roadmap) and, more speculatively but likely, retina displays across the rest of the range: retina for the Mac Book Air, external retina display “a la iMac retina” in 5K.

All this sounds great, so where’s the problem? In one word: Software, it’s quality has notably dropped over the last couple of years. A year ago already I was complaining about the quality of Apple software such as iBook for Mac or iBook Author which had number of bugs, embarrassing bugs in fact for a company that rates so high software quality. Arguably the issues I had at the time were limited to a small group of users: I had a pretty large library of books and PDFs (e.g. I keep all my user manuals in PDF form in my iPad) and iBook Author is a rather tiny user group. Then there is the whole debate about Aperture which Apple dropped for a new Photos apps, supposedly arriving early this year (CP+?)…

All that really was for OS X Maverick and iOS 7, now Apple went full speed for OS X Yosemite and iOS 8. Looks good, provides great new feature set, but

  • iOS 8 is too big for over the air upgrade of small devices, such as iPhones with 16Gb RAM
  • iOS 8 / iTunes 12 (not sure which is the culprit here) seems to be unable to reclaim storage space from the “Other” category. Many users, me included, cannot properly sync their phones without having to restore them regularly. iOS 8.1.3 and iTunes 12.1 were both recently released, unfortunately this bug (which is to me the most painful one) is still there
  • OS X Yosemite has wireless issues since its initial release and despite promising a solution twice, users are still reporting wireless issues with OS X Yosemite 10.10.3 that was just released
  • The ability to seamlessly use iMessage and make calls with the Mac works well, but is greatly hindered by the need to regularly restore the iPhone: after restoring the iPhone, recovering the feature on the Mac is random at best (it typically requires to deactivate the function and reactivate it, losing all the message history either on the phone or on the Mac…)

That’s not counting the numerous reports I regularly come across about bugs, inconsistencies and various other difficulties in either iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, and sadly not from bloggers used to bash Apple, for whom everything Apple is despising,  but rather favorable to Apple. There is since a number of months already a consensus forming: while hardware remains the best in its class software however is bug ridden and latest bug fixes have not proven convincing. Worse even, I read more and more that third party developers working on software for the upcoming watch are having issues with bugs and, though promises, unavailable features at the moment: we’ll have to see what future beta versions bring.

On my end, slowly I’m changing my workflow and rely less and less on Aperture. I wonder if when it comes out, Photos will be an entertaining distraction or will become a (or the) key workflow component…

A bit of awe; a bit of contemptChristian C. Berclaz

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