Friday, November 13, 2009

More on Color – North by Northwest 50th Edition

I just got a Blu-ray player (finally) and was able to watch my first Blu-ray disc; the 50th Anniversary edition of North by Northwest. I have to say, the results were mixed (both for Blu-ray, and for this particular disc.)

I have a 36” Sony tube HDTV which is getting on in years. One problem is that 36”, when you’re sitting across the room from it, isn’t really stretching the limits of DVD resolution. Yes, there was a noticeable difference up close; I could read quite easily body copy on a newspaper that was very blurry on the DVD. The resolution was there, but I really need either a bigger screen, or to sit right on top of the TV to see it.

All those with 50” TV’s, run out and get Blu-ray.

This edition is remastered, and from the get go the differences are very obvious; the hideous green of the MGM logo in the previous DVD release is replaced by a much more pleasing green in this new edition. Through the rest of the picture the colors are more vibrant, and there’s much more contrast. There’s extensive use of rear-projection in the movie, and I think that looks better too (though it’s still obvious.)

There’s a lot to like about the new picture, but there’s also things not to like. I did feel that the picture was a little too black. I usually have the set on its “Movie” picture mode, which is a bit darker than Standard, but I’ve watched hundreds of other DVDs on this set and not felt they were “dark.” This remaster just seems to have a lot more shadows; I don’t know if that’s a result of adjustments made to increase contrast, or whether the picture was supposed to be that way, but it was noticeable.

Worse, the flesh tones seem unnatural for just about everybody. About the only one that looked halfway natural was the actress playing Cary Grant’s mother, and I wonder if that’s because she had on a lot of makeup to make her face look pale. I really found it jarring.

Others have noted that the sound is way down on this disc, and I was surprised how high I had to crank the amp to get an acceptable level. I really think a mistake was made on this.

Ultimately, I like the movie so much I can overlook the problems. Is it the ultimate edition? No. Hopefully by the time the 100th Anniversary edition comes out they can do something to the skin tones and adjust the audio volume.

Who should buy? If you have a very large screen TV, buy the Blu-ray disc. But if you already have the previous release DVD, and are happy with it, I’m not sure I’d rush out and buy this edition.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sony Sportspack First Look

The Sony Sportspack is an underwater enclosure for Sony brand camcorders. This is actually the third model, which works with most Sony camcorders made after 2006. The Sportspack provides protection from rain, snow and sand, and can be used underwater down to 17 feet. This is really a bit of a mashup between an unboxing and a First Look, as I have yet to do any serious testing of the Sportspack.

The Sony Sportspack arrived at the end of a couple of very wet weeks, and immediately the weather improved. I was really hoping for some heavy rain to give it a test, but since then, we’ve had two very fine weeks, with a threat of a third, and I can’t help thinking that the camera gods are having a laugh at my expense.

Anyway, it’s a very cool piece of gear; all clear acrylic and white plastic. It opens at the back, and there’s an O-ring that you are supposed to inspect and grease (and replace after a year.) The camera sits on a large plastic shoe, and several different shoes are included to match different models. It turned out that the one inside the unit matched my camera (there’s a table in the instructions to show which camera goes with each shoe.) You are also supposed to install a "reflex prevention ring" on the front of the camera. It’s unclear what this does; it barely covered the front of the HDV-XR500V I tested with; and I can’t really figure out what’s it does unless it’s just there to stop the flash from firing. The instructions say it "prevents external light from being reflected inside the sports pack and entering the lens." It was a little difficult to attach; at first I wasn’t sure if it screwed on or was pushed on. It turn’s out that it’s screwed on; and you have to be very careful threading it.

Inserting camera into unit

The controller cable is long enough that you can easily connect the camera while it’s outside the unit, and then push it in. The unit is not huge, but there’s a lot of space around the XR500V.

On the side of the unit is a mirror that flips out, and has two ‘shades” that flip up and down to anchor the mirror as well as shade it. Unfortunately, this makes it impossible to see the camera screen from above. It’s a pity they couldn’t have angled the mirror a little, which might have let you look down from the top as well as from the back. Admittedly an angled mirror would be distorted, but it would be better than nothing.

Mirror Unit

The large control buttons let you power on and off the camera, as well as zoom in and out and start and stop recording. You can also take stills if you want. These controls are large and require a real “push” to operate. You aren’t going to be finessing the zooms with this. And though this unit is a Sony unit, and is intended and sold only for their cameras, you could easily put another small camcorder in there; you’d just have to start recording before you put the camera in the unit, and you’d have no control over zooming.

First Tests
After two weeks of no rain, I decided to take the Sportspack down to a local pond and try it out. First I reread the instructions, and discovered that you aren’t supposed to leave it closed when not in use as that can damage the O-ring – oops.

As instructed, I took out the O-ring and greased it, then I dropped some anti-fog on the inside of the glass front of the unit. The instructions suggested using a cotton swab to apply the solution. I tried one of those cotton buds you stick in your ear (unused.) That worked okay for spreading the stuff, but didn’t do a good job of cleaning up the excess. In fact the glass looked awfully wavy after I was done. In the end, I used an old cotton t-shirt to clean the glass.

Unit Controls

I then filled a large plastic bin with water and took the Sportspack for a dunk test. That seemed to work fine, so I put the camera in, and repeated the test (figuring that if the camera was going to get wet, clean water was marginally better than dirty pond water.) That worked fine too, so I put on my rubber boots, grabbed a towel and a container of clean water (to rinse after dunking in the pond water) and drove down to the pond.

That’s when I discovered that my rubber boots leaked!

I did manage a quick dunk test, which failed miserably. Not because the unit failed to keep the water out, but because I didn’t realize how “high” the lens is in the unit. I put it over half way into the water, figuring I wanted to get a shot just under the water, as the water was pretty dark and hazy. It turned out that the lens of the camera wasn’t even under the water! Still the unit was mostly under water, and worked, so even a failed test can add to your knowledge!

The only other thing I noted from this abortive test is how difficult it is to see what’s going on with the view finder. Perhaps that’s underlined by the fact that I didn’t realize that the camera wasn’t “under water,” when it was shooting.

In conclusion, the unit seems nicely put together and you really feel like Jacques Cousteau waving it around. And it seems to protect the camera just fine; if my dunk test is anything to go by. It’s not without limitations, but if you want to take an expensive camera out into the rain to play, it makes for some good protection. I hope to actually rack up some hours using the thing, and then I’ll post more.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Color - A Serious Man

Just saw the Cohen brother's latest movie "A Serious Man." I enjoyed it, though it's a black, black comedy, so I'm not sure I actually want to watch it again(!)

What I found particularly interesting was the color work that had been done on a lot of the scene's; Cyan and Yellow have been removed so that it looks like aged film. This was done throughout the movie in varying degrees and it's particularly noticeable on some of the exterior scenes like the car crash below.

But check the shot below. The flesh tones look as though they have been manipulated like much of the rest of the film, but the blue of the dress (and probably the wood behind) has not been altered. (You may want to click on it to look at the larger file.)

Camera without memory card == nothing

Carefully took my (still) camera to an event this morning and when I went to turn it on discovered there was no memory card in it - oops! Well, at least I had my iPhone.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Signs of the times

In the third quarter:
  1. spending on home entertainment down 3.2%
  2. spending on DVDs down 13.9%
  3. spending on DVD rentals UP 10%

I own quite a few DVDs, but my purchase rate has gone way down over the last few years, and I'm not sure it's the economy. A lot of the movies I bought in those early days were back-catalog items, not new releases. And to be honest, my purchases of new movies may have been goosed a bit by the fact I was buying quite a few movies regularly.

But then I kind of fell out of the habit.

And I'm not downloading them from the net, and my rental rate hasn't gone up that much either. I think it was just a new technology and a new availability which spurred me to buy things, but now that urge has mostly been satisfied.

I'm resisting saying "they don't make good movies anymore."

Cameras at concerts

In Music industry bows to point-and-shoot cameras, Daniel Terdiman takes a look at where we are with cameras at concerts.

At last month's huge U2 show at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., how could you tell the difference between the professional photographers and your average amateurs?

Answer: the professionals were the ones whisked away after Bono and friends finished their third song, and the amateurs were still there, happily shooting to their heart's content.

As the article points out, with everyone carrying cell phones with cameras, and the increasing quality and resolution of small cameras, it's both getting harder and harder to stop people from taking pictures, and the line between professional and amateur is getting smaller and smaller.

I remember several years ago going to a concert at Radio City Music Hall where they made people check in their cameras. At the end of the show, we all lined up while they tried to find each persons camera; which took a long time as they had the couple of hundred cameras randomly placed on two tables and they had to basically look at each one to see if it had the right claim number on it. It may have been less annoying if there still hadn't been dozen's of people taking pictures throughout the show. Ahh, happy times.

More on the Panasonic HDC-TM300

Interestingly enough, right after came out with it’s Select Awards 2009, and gave the top award to the Panasonic HDC-TM300 over the Canon HF S11, Macworld came out today with their own review of the HDC-TM300, and though they gave it four and a half mice (out of five) and praise it’s “impressive resolution, smooth motion, accurate color, and low noise” they actually rate it ½ a mouse below the Canon HF S10, saying that it’s image quality “slightly trailed” that of the Canon.
Note: the HF S10 and HF S11 are essentially the same camera, with different storage options.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Camcorderinfo Select Awards 2009 has come out with it’s Select Awards 2009. To be honest, I’m a bit wary of reading too much into these; they don’t list how they decided to select the cameras - if it’s only the cameras that they have reviewed, then the pool isn’t a large one. They also don't describe how they went about making the decision.

Despite those concerns, Camcorder of the year went to the Panasonic HDC-TM300:

Not only is the video performance impressive in all lighting conditions, but it also offers a seamless and enjoyable operating experience—for novices and experienced users alike.

Runner up is the Canon HF S11 with it’s improved optical stabilization and an edge in sharpness and motion. But they dinged it for lack of a viewfinder and poor performance in low light.

JVC scored well in the overall competition, with a runner-up in Best Value, and a win in Mid-Range and Standard Definition.

I was most interested in the video-enabled DSLR win that went to the Panasonic GH1, with the Canon 5D Mark II a runner up. (But didn’t the 5D come out last year?!) That’s the one category where I’d like to know what cameras they included for consideration; had they even looked at the Canon 7D? It’s fine if they did and excluded it, but I’d kind of like to know if they did. Come to think of it, it would be nice to know what some of the other runners-up were in each category!

The article is worth a read, though it’s by no means an in-depth look at any of the cameras, or the competition in each segment.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Apple TV 3.0.1

Seems there's an update to Apple TV 3.0 which fixes prevents "content from temporarily disappearing until it is resynced."

To update to 3.0.1:
  1. Reboot your Apple TV (unplug the power cord and plug it back in)
  2. Select Settings > General from the main menu
  3. Select Update Software
  4. Select Download and Install