ILya

Cameras, Microphones and other audio/video equipment circa 2022

 Cameras  Comments Off on Cameras, Microphones and other audio/video equipment circa 2022
Jan 292022
 

My original plan when I started this website was to also start doing camera reviews, but there is only so much time in a day.  I ended up focusing more on sporting optics.  I still follow what is happening in the camera world for professional reasons, so I’ll be happy to offer some suggestions on a case-by-case basis if you want.

In the meantime, rather than work through a broad range of recommendations, I figured it makes more sense to tell you what I use, why, and how it changed from last year.  Last year’s post on this subject is here.

Since I wrote that, I sold my Fuji X-T4 together with all the lenses and accessories I had for it.  Despite that, if someone were just looking to get a proper camera to do both photo and video, Fuji X-T4 would be at the top of my list.  It provides good image quality and film simulation modes for both photo and video really help you cut down on post processing.  Why did I not stick with it? Several reasons, but the largest is that I went and bought Leica Q2. It is an expensive camera and I had to sell the Fuji stuff to fund it.

More importantly, with the Q2 here, I really have no need for the X-T4.  Combination of a full frame compact camera (Leica Q2) and interchangeable lens Micro-4/3 ecosystem (albeit with very old camera bodies for now), works better for my specific purposes.

Before I get into the why of that, I want to note a few peculiarities of Japanese camera designs.  Their user interfaces suck.  Royally.  Almost all of them essentially combine a large number of mostly useless buttons with DOS-era layered menu system that was not created with English speaking people in mind.  The only reason they persist with this lunacy is that there is no competition from other countries where all the capable UI designers work for cell phone and drone companies.

Fuji’s menu system is just as insane as the rest of them, but the presence of the external rotary control dials keeps from having to fight with the rest of the UI most of the time.

At this stage in the game, I will only buy a Japanese camera with the traditional user interface when I have no choice.  I have tried them all.  The worst is Sony, but they are all god-awful.  In an interesting way, the sheer idiocy of camera user interfaces is probably what prevents many people from switching systems.  Once you go through the mental yoga of contorting you brain into being able to use one of these, the prospect of having to do it all over is truly daunting.  I am sure some people enjoy it, but that requires a rare combination of OCD and masochism that I do not possess.

Theoretically, cell phone apps to control these cameras wirelessly could help alleviate this problem, but that would only be true if they outsourced those apps to some Google rejects.  Unfortunately, camera companies appear to prefer to develop these apps internally with predictable results: they work half the time at best and the UI is just as nuts.

Because of that and because of a really remarkable lens it comes with, the bulk of the photos and videos I take come from Leica Q2.  It has a refreshingly simple user interface, superb image quality and preset 35mm, 50mm and 75mm crop modes in addition to the full FOV 28mm mode.  Combination of a truly superb 28mm Summilux lens and a 47MP image sensor covers 90% of all of my photo and video recording needs.

Obviously, it does not cover telephoto use and that is where I usually use on of my older micro-4/3 cameras.  Eventually, they will fall apart and I will upgrade.  The reason I stick with micro-4/3 for this is that long telephoto lenses for it are significantly more compact than for systems with larger image sensors.  Essentially, it is a 2x crop sensor, which means that a 300mm lens on a micro-4/3 gives me the same FOV as a 600mm lens on a full frame system.  Since the image sensor is smaller, same focal length 300mm lens is generally going to be smaller than a 300mm lens for a full frame camera and MUCH smaller than a 600mm full frame lens.

In practical terms, instead of buying a new fancy telephoto micro-4/3 lens, I do two thing for telephoto, depending on the situation:

-I have an old Nikon 300mm f/4.5 lens.  It is a lot smaller than modern complicated telephoto lenses from Nikon.  It is a fully manual lens which fits my preferences better anyway.  It gets me 600mm equivalent FOV with a simple adapter or about 430mm equivalent, but one stop brighter image if I use a speedbooster.

-Set up a modern cellphone behind a spotting scope.  You can get really good image that way.  I use adapters from PhoneSkope for that, but there are plenty of options.  With a large high magnification spotter, you can get a LOT of magnification.

I used to worry about telephoto a lot more until I took a careful look and realized I use a telephoto lens about five times per year: for the Balloon Fiesta in October, full moon sitting right on top of Sandia in late of November and an occasional short video of a steel plate being shot at.  That’s when I stopped worrying about it, but should I be so inclined there are several good quality telephoto options for the Micro-4/3 mount.

Micro-4/3 is really a very respectable option for hybrid photo/video use, but it suffers from the same problem as the rest of the Japanese cameras out there: the user interfaces are made by Japanese UI designers, i.e. they come with 26 re-programmable buttons that you press all at once every time you grab the camera and a menu system that requires a 600 page hyperlinked user manual.

Thankfully, with Micro-4/3, when it comes to video, there are a few options from Blackmagic that have modern user interfaces.  Z-Cam and Panasonic also make very usable box-type cameras with the same mount.  https://adorama.rfvk.net/do3aM3

I would have picked up something like Blackmagic Pocket Cinema camera by now if it wasn’t for an interesting crowdfunding campaign I stumbled onto.

I need an additional camera for two reasons.  The first one really zeros in on the only downside of Leica Q2: it does not have any connectors.  Literally none.  When Leica decided to provide this camera with a minimalist user interface, they were not joking around.  There is no external power, no video out and no microphone in.

When I record my videos, I record sound separately using Zoom F2 floating point audio recorder.

My old Panasonic GX-1 camera that I use for telephoto photography does not have those functions either.

The two cameras I use for my home livecasting setup are Z-Cam E1 (which is beginning to glitch, so it is likely on its last breath) and Sony Rx0 Mark 2.  Sony user interface is stunningly bad and the cell phone app is even worse.  However, it is ruggedized and waterproof, so that I can take it into inclement conditions and it does have external power, mic in and HDMI out if I open up the cover plate.  I use it as a webcam when I travel and as a backup camera for livecasting.  With a 1″ sensor and 24mm equivalent F/4 lens, it does not give me any background separation, so it really has very limited use, but it is a perfectly viable back up and bad weather camera.

That’s where that crowdfunded camera project I mentioned comes in: Alice Camera.  I stumbled onto it on Indiegogo and, despite crowdfunded camera projects usually being abject failures, decided to back it.  It is essentially another attempt to take a normal camera body and couple it with a cellphone for a user interface.  A cellphone being the user interface offers a ton of advantages for me.  For general purpose photography, it gives me a lot of freedom in terms of setting up different angles and perspectives.  I can set up the camera in any way I want with seamless control from the cell phone in my hand.  It comes in really usefuls for gun photography and content creation.  For recording videos without anyone’s help, it makes all the difference in the world and the Alice camera does run off of external power and does have microphone input.  If it ends up being a flop, I’ll go with one of the options I mentioned above, but in the meantime, I am very hopeful.  It should be here around April, so there is a little more waiting to do.

As far as lenses go, I sold most of my micro-4/3 lenses a while back, but as I keep on trying to organize my office I discover more lenses that I forgot I had.  Still, I use two lenses more than all the others together: Lumix 15mm F/1.7 and Zuiko 45mm F/1.8.  For telephoto I use that old Nikon 300mm prime I mentioned above.

Generally, with all this content creation business, one of the more important lessons I had to learn was to have two of everything: two means to record video and two means to record high quality audio.  It took me a long time to learn this lesson, since I am stubborn, but I learned it.  Batteries die and recharging them takes time.  If I made the effort to guy somewhere and set up to record a scope video, I better have backup A/V equipment or I am wasting my time.  Having back-up video is the simpler thing, of course, since my cell phone is always on me and it is capable of really decent photo and video quality.  If I have a dedicated camera, a cell phone and appropriate tripod adapter to use either, I am in good shape.

Audio problems have been plaguing me for years, but I think I finally got the handle on it.  It sure wasn’t cheap.  I ended up with a ton of microphones and recording devices that do not do what I need.  I have all sorts of personal recorders, A-B mics, X-Y mics, shotgun mics, etc.  All of that is collecting dust.  For the things that I do, I need two things:

-a portable recorder (Zoom F2 I mentioned above) with a cardioid lavalier microphone from Audio-Technica

-a dual channel wireless microphone with local recording and wireless transmission.  This one is still coming, since I preordered the new DJI Dual-channel microphone.

If you ever see a new video from me that has terrible sound, I have nothing to blame but my own incompetence.

With all that, the nerdy camera-geek side of me is reasonably satisfied.  The next frontier is learning how to properly do video editing and I do not think I can buy my way out of this one.  It will take time and effort.

 

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 Posted by at 9:05 pm

Shield RMS deal on Brownells

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Nov 212021
 

I was looking for something on Brownells and accidentally stumbled on Shield RMS with 4MOA dot for under $300.  This is the exact red dot sight I have been using for several years and I have never seen it this low.  My best guess is that they are clearing out their inventory as RMS 2.0 gets there.  RMS 2.0 is a better sight, it seems (I have one of those as well), but for under $300 a UK-made RMS is mighty tempting.

https://bit.ly/3DEVZZF

The newer waterproof RMSw is also on sale, this time for about $100 off of what the normal price is.  I took one of these (with 8MOA dot) on a 45Super Glock to Alaska’s bear country with me this past summer with a good amount of time spent getting splashed while in flat bottom boats going up rivers.  It handled the water without any issues.

https://bit.ly/3cxxH7O

 Posted by at 4:49 pm

Geissele Triggers

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Nov 112021
 

As we get closer to Black Friday, I’ll be occasionally posting links if I think a product I like is available at a particularly good price.

This time, it looks like Primary Arms has a one day deal on a bunch of Geissele products.  The one that caught my eye is the SD-E trigger.  I have been slowly going over to flat triggers and good ones are expensive.  This is a good price.

They do have the regular option and you can see all of the discounted stuff from them here.

This is a one day sale only.

 Posted by at 9:31 am

Updating the Recommendations

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Oct 172021
 

I update the recommendations page roughly once each year.  Occasionally, I’ll do mid-year updates, but that is not common.  It takes me a little time, so I started out with what is arguably the most asked about price segment: under $2k.

Riflescopes: Under $2000

I’ll update the rest as I go along.

 Posted by at 6:58 pm

Camera Recommendations

 Cameras  Comments Off on Camera Recommendations
Jan 242021
 

January, 2021

Recommending a camera to people in the age of ever improving cellphones is kinda rough, especially since it really depends on what you are looking to do.  This is more of an explanation of what I use and why.

Before I begin:

1) do not buy a DSLR.  Their day is done. If you are looking for a system camera, mirrorless is the way to go

2) except for a few very specialized circumstances (underwater or action cam or ultralight travel or you are a crazy camera geek like me), do not buy an all-in-one camera or point and shoot camera

For general purpose picture and video taking, your best bet is to get a smartphone with the best camera available.  For years, I used Google Pixel phones, but a few months ago, after Google screwed up with Pixel5  I said screw it and got the new iPhone 12 Pro Max.  I despise everything about iOS, but it takes excellent picture an videos.  It also has good battery life and a superb screen.  I care more about that then about the rest of this phone put together.  It is expensive, but it is still cheaper than a camera that would give you appreciably better image and video quality.

I happened to have one of those too, so let’s go over that next.  For years, I stuck with the Micro-4/3 mount since it have me a good compromise of image quality and portability.  I was willing to sacrifice some low light performance to get that.  Well, after years of gross mismanagement by Olympus, I finally called it quits (for the most part) and switched systems.

I still have a couple of Micro-4/3 cameras, both are now discontinued, so I will not go into any detail on them.  One is a Z-cam E1 that I have set up to take “through the scope” videos.  Another is an old Panasonic GX-1 that I am using to teach my daughter to take pictures.  I sold off all of my lenses, keeping only four of the more compact ones:

Panasonic Lumix 15mm F/1.7 (excellent image quality and color)

Panasonic 14mm F/2.5 pancake (super compact and unfortunately discontinued)

Panasonic Lumix 12-32mm F/3.5-5.6 (strangely good collapsible kit lens)

Olympus Zuiko 45mm F/1.8 (90mm equivalent fast prime for portraits and telephoto use)

In terms of stills image quality, I do not think Micro-4/3 system is overall viable any more.  High end cell phones got too close and offer much better workflow.  One exception to that is telephoto.  You can get really impressive telephoto reach with a much smaller optic than you would otherwise be able to do with a larger sensor camera system.  I do not do a ton of telephoto, so I switched to a different system in order to get something that is more of a step up from my cell phone.

Micro-4/3 is a perfectly viable video system, however, and Panasonic makes a couple of excellent video-centric mirrorless cameras.

Once you go to larger image sensor size, there are three categories to choose from: APS-C, FullFrame (same size as old 35mm film) and medium frame.  The larger the image sensor, the larger the lenses.  Also, the larger the image sensor the more heat the sensor generates when filming video.

For me, both stills an video are important and, having used larger systems before, I was not comfortable with hernia inducing lenses.  Also, I do not have unlimited budget.  If I wanted ultimate image quality, I would probably just bite the bullet and ump to medium frame.  However, my camera has to be a general purpose system that does everything well.

I ended up going with an APS-C sensor system from Fuji.  More specifically, Fuji X-T4 that is probably the best hybrid still/video camera at the moment.  My brother has a few Fuji lenses including the 100-400mm telephoto that I occasionally use to look for bullet holes or to take pictures of the moon.  That saved me a ton of money.

The lenses I use the most are the 16-80mm F/4 that is my general purpose lens and 23mm F/2.  Both have very respectable optical quality and are weather resistant, just like the camera body.  I plan to acquire a 90mm F/2 at some point for portraits and low light telephoto, but that is largely it.  I try to keep the number of lenses I own to a minimum.  I want them to be reasonably compact AND weather resistant.

Finally, the camera I really wanted is a fixed lens Leica Q2.  I used to own the original Q and I took the best pictures of my life with that camera.  I finally sold it because it was not weather proof and with a fixed 28mm lens I needed a few more pixels to crop.  Q2 resolves nearly every complaint I had with the original Q, while keeping that spectacular lens and user interface.  I worked hard to convince myself to pony up the cash for a Q2, but could not make the leap.  I’ve played with it and it is glorious.  Maybe some day.

If you have some more exotic camera requirements, something else might be a better fit.  I used to develop image sensors and cameras, so this is sort of my field of expertise.  If you have specific requirements, let me know and I will do what I can to help.

 

 Posted by at 4:25 pm

It’s a new year…

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Jan 022021
 

And hopefully a better one than 2020.  There is an old joke about life being like a zebra skin where light and dark stripes alternate.  The implication is that when things look particularly aweful (i.e. dark stripe) they are usually followed by something good (i.e. light stripe).

Let’s all hope that 2020 was a dark stripe!

Anyway, most of my new content will be on my new site, although this one will stay up and receive occasional updates (mostly where my recommendations are).

Here is my latest post:

https://darklordofoptics.locals.com/post/312471/lpvo-value-proposition

 

 Posted by at 8:51 pm

It’s a new world…

 2nd Amendment, Rifle Scopes, Uncategorized  Comments Off on It’s a new world…
Sep 282020
 

2020 has been an interesting year.

Between the sorry state of our politics, the Left finally admitting what they are and COVID-19, nearly everyone’s life has changed in some significant way.

I am no exception to that.  I have had to make some significant decisions regarding how I want to proceed with my online presence and one of the main realizations of that was that it is difficult to combine the long form written articles I have been publishing for all these year with the way content is distributed in the modern era.

Another thing that happened was my introduction to print media.  I have been writing for Guns and Ammo’s Special Interest Publications for a little while now and I have to grudgingly admit I enjoy that immensely.

There have also been other demands on my written musings.  As a result of that, my ability to put together long written reviews has been diminished.  Partly it is due to time constraints and partly due to me simply needing a change of pace once in a while.

“Change of pace” ended up taking the form of making more videos for my Youtube channel.

Another realization I had as I went along was that I am not a huge fan of the affiliate marketing model.  Affiliate marketing is where you click on one of the links I post and I get a small percentage of whatever you buy.  It turned out that in order to be successful with that I have to follow market trends and post links to stuff that people are already looking for.

Well, that sorta runs counter to what I do here: I look at products I find interesting, analyze them to considerable depth and share my impressions the best I can.  I really have no interest in trying to follow market trends and I am not nearly well known enough to set those trends myself.

Affiliate marketing business introduces a set of split loyalties that I am not hugely comfortable with.  I believe I should only be responsible to my audience and noone else.

From that standpoint, Youtube was interesting in a sense that I have no control over what type of advertising they add to my videos, so I can focus on content.  Also, Youtube opened my channel up to offer paid memberships which is an approach I prefer.  If I am directly supported by people I make this content for, there are no split loyalties.

The way it works, Youtube takes 30% of what people pay and I get 70%.   As a thanks to people who financially support my channel I have negotiated discounts with a few companies for my supporters.  There is no kickback to me.  I am just trying to get a you a better deal.  Another perk of being a paying member is access.  I am facing an increasing number of questions and channel members have dibs on my time.

However, Youtube is generally hostile to 2nd Amendment people, so eventually I see them pushing people like me out.

That is where my latest idea comes in.  I stumbled onto a website designed for creators.  It is the initiative started by Dave Rubin and it purports to be everything that Big Tech is not.  They also offer a “supporter” model, but I get to keep a lot more than I do with Youtube and they have a healthy respect for both 1st and 2nd amendment.  And on top of that, I can combine a blog with video stuff on a community page there.

They finally approved my community there and it resides at darklordofoptics.locals.com

www.darklordofoptics.com is pointed there as well.

Starting now, opticsthoughts.com remains here as a database of legacy material I have written, while darklordofoptics.com becomes my new start.

I hope to see you all there.

 Posted by at 9:28 pm

Swampfox TriHawk

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Sep 132020
 

I am officially kicking off the testing of the SwampFox TriHawk Prismatic 3x scope.  Here are the first couple of image I posted on Instagram.  More to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Posted by at 2:55 pm