Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tracking a Moving Object

Olympic Hopefuls Practicing their craft in Park City, Utah.

Also in this issue:

  • Why I Hate Amazon
  • E-Reader Hell, Part II
  • New and Updated Ebooks
  • Seminar Update
  • New Focusing Modes on the A77 II

New Ebooks

I bring news about five different projects:

1) the RX-100 MK3 ebook is finally out!

2) So is FujiFilm X-T1 by Tony Phillips (and it's getting great reviews!)

3) An update to the Olympus E-M1 ebook, covering the extraordinary amount of new features in Firmware version 2.0, will be released next week to all who purchased the e-book from my website.  This update will be free for everyone, even those who didn't buy my ebook.  Special thanks to Mike Hendren for putting this together.

4) An update to the A6000 ebook, along with a more readable .epub and .mobi format, is coming soon!  (See next section.)

5) Finally, the A77 II ebook is next - it should be finished by month's end.  Email me (Gary at Friedman Archives dot com) if you'd like to be notified!

Why I Hate Amazon

By now you've all heard about the famous feud Amazon is having with some publishing houses, the most famous of which is the French publisher Hachett.  In a misguided PR campaign, Amazon misquoted George Orwell and even sent me an email asking me to email Hachett and encourage them to cave to Amazon's whims.  If I had the time I would have sent an email encouraging the opposite, as Amazon seems to be at war with publishers and writers and is willfully trying to undermine my business.

At first it seemed like mere price fixing.  Amazon believes that all ebooks should be priced at $9.95, regardless of the value of the content to the customer.  If you keep the price below this level then they take 35%. (that's more than any other epub outlet - even Apple!)  If you have the audacity to ask for more (as I do, which I truly feel is earned) they take a whopping 70%!

Wait, it gets worse.  When the A6000 ebook came out, I got a lot of hate mail from people who bought the book from my website (and loved it!) but then found it on the Kindle store for significantly less.  "Why is your site charging me more?" they would ask.

I looked into it.  AMAZON HAD PUT MY TITLE ON SALE, WITHOUT MY KNOWLEDGE OR CONSENT!  (And they're still taking their 70%.)  They did the same thing for the Olympus E-M1 ebook too.  This cuts into my living and ultimately resulted in hate mail.  Well, I don't need hate mail, and I don't need Amazon's incremental business.

From now on I'm not releasing my titles to Amazon until 6-8 months after its release (and then, only if I feel like it.) (Maybe.)  Those of you who enjoy reading on the Kindle can still buy a Kindle-compatible format as part of my 3-format .pdf, .epub, and .mobi bundle from my website at FriedmanArchives.com/ebooks .

E-Reader Hell, Part II

The A77 II and RX-100 MK3 ebooks have taken longer than expected because I've been spending an inordinate amount of time trying to tackle the problem of great-looking ebooks on the Kindle and other e-readers.  As I mentioned in a previous blog post, it's not easy, and the fact that there are still no great tools available is just inconceivable.  While Adobe Indesign is famous for "one-button epub publishing", that assumes you have a pure text book and not a complex layout like mine.  (Besides, while InDesign is great at tweaking the printed format, it still offers very few controls to tweak how the epubs appear.)  The answer: You Have To Be A Programmer.  There are no shortcuts.

I've now got the process down to about 4 days of very tedious tweaking of HTML code.  Inexcusable in this day and age.  But have a look at a "before" and "after" on how they appear.  The most difficult problem I had to tackle was how to get the figures to appear full-width regardless of screen size.  (Most of the tutorials I had read said it couldn't be done -  you could only specify fixed width.  I found a way.)

Old epub formatting (left) vs. new epub formatting (right).  Not unlike compiling your C++ code by hand.

In addition, there's a viewable table of contents, all sections are now numbered, and all page references have been replaced with section references (since pages are a meaningless concept for e-readers).   In all, these .epub and mobi file are the best looking and most usable I've ever produced.  The forthcoming update to the A6000 ebook (version 2.0) will include epubs made using this new method, which should make a lot of people who bought the book on Amazon (grrrrr) very happy.

(And for those of you who are wondering, "Hey, Gary, why not just outsource the .epub conversion process like normal people do?"  The answer is two-fold: First, because of the size and complexity of my books, the various quotes I've been getting is a cost of $2,000 and it will take about two months.  (My books have a half-life.  I can't afford 2 months.)  Plus, most of the conversations I've had with firms that do this are remarkably similar to this.  I'm telling you, there's a business opportunity here!).


Seminar Update

If you're new to this blog, the Friedman Archives Seminars are known for cutting through the hype and complexity of photography, and sharing the secrets to getting "Wow!" type photos using whatever camera you have.   You can learn more about them here.   There are two on the horizon:
I'll start planning for Australia as soon as those are over.  And let me know if there's any interest in Boston!
    Focus Tracking with the A77 II

    Everyone's been saying how the new Sony A77 II focuses faster than its predecessor.  Well, I see no evidence of it.  I did some informal tests with lots of different lenses (some with the screwdriver blade, some with SSM) and all focused about the same on a static subject.

    But, the A77 II has a lot of promise in its ability to do focus tracking.  The new PDAF module, coupled with some new algorithms, coupled with the fact that the SLT design has a strong technical advantage over conventional DSLR design (since the focusing array doesn't go blind when the mirror flips up) should make for a great focus-tracking experience.

    Probably the litmus test for focus tracking is Birds In Flight (commonly abbreviated as BIF).  Well, that's not really a reproducible subject, and so I did the next best thing: I spent the better part of an afternoon on a platform photographing zip line participants as they whizzed toward the camera in a predictable and reproducible way.  This was at the Olympic Training center in Park City, UT which I visited last month (and where I took the opening shot of this blog post at the top).

    I tried every trick I knew to make the camera track properly, including the new Lock-On AF feature. Below is a sample sequence for your perusal:



    I took about 20 similar sequences and the above was pretty representative of the results.  The tiny red dots in the corners of the thumbnails indicate images that are out-of-focus.  That's 4 out of 17 that were unusable - about a 75% hit rate.

    Is that better than the A77?  I didn't compare.  Is it better than what an equivalent Nikon or Canon could have done?  I don't know, but somebody should orchestrate such a side-by-side test one day.  That's not going to be me.  (Not this month, anyway.)

    Camera Settings for the Tests
    • Continuous focusing mode (AF-C)
    • Focus Area: I alternated between "Wide" and "Center".  One wasn't better than the other in this scenario.
    • Priority Setup = AF (meaning "Don't take a picture unless you (the camera) thinks the subject is in focus"
    • Lock-On AF (some sequences on, some off.  Didn't make any difference.  Frankly, this feature works best on slow-moving subjects that contrast with the background.  It's of no use for a sporting event like this.)
    • (Picture) AF Track Duration = 5 (fast), as Sony recommends for fast-moving objects.
    • Minolta 100-300 f/4.5-5.6 APO (a parfocal lens whose focusing distance doesn't change as you zoom). (Cheaper lenses ("varfocal") change the focusing point as you zoom - a focus tracking killer!)  
    Remember, focus tracking is an algorithm, and once focus is achieved it doesn't require fast focusing to be able to predictively track an object.  Those of you wanting to fire off an email to me saying "You used an old lens with outdated screwdriver-blade technology" should know that an SSM lens wouldn't necessarily do any better.  (Those of you who own the original 70-400 G lens know this all too well - that's the slowest-focusing lens ever made!))

    New Focusing Modes

    Lots of people are a little confused about the A77 II's new focusing modes.  While I'll go into these in-depth in the book, here's a brief summary of the new features:


    • Under Menu --> Camera 3 --> Focus Area, there are the usual suspects: Wide and Center.
    • Spot has now become "Flexible Spot" and you can move it anywhere around the screen.
    • If that spot is too small, you can also choose "Expand[ed] Flexible Spot", where the spot you choose is enhanced by the 8 focus points immediately surrounding it.
    • If that Expanded Flexible spot is STILL too small for you, the newly revamped "Zone" function lets you gang together a group of 12 focus points (instead of 1 or 9 described above).
    • Then there's the new "Lock-On AF" function (the bottom-most option) which combines an intelligent Live View feed analyzer with any of the above focus areas settings.  Navigate down to the last option and then hit the LEFT and RIGHT buttons to select the focus area.  

    Here are all the options the last setting lets you choose from:
    • Lock-on AF: Wide
    • Lock-on AF: Zone
    • Lock-on AF: Center
    • Lock-on AF: Flexible Spot
    • Lock-on AF: Expand Flexible Spot
    (See?  It looks intimidating but it's just letting you choose from all the focus area options above.)

    So what is Lock-on AF, and is it useful?  It's very similar to the camera's Face Detection function - it analyzes the Live View image, detects a face, and selects the appropriate PDAF focus points to use.
    Lock-on AF does something very similar: After you achieve focus on your subject, the camera will examine the Live View area around the active focus points, try to figure out what part of that must be the subject, and then will start tracking that identified subject as it floats around the frame, turning on the relevant PDAF focusing points as it does so.

    In order for the Lock-on AF analysis to be effective, your subject should be of a contrasting color compared to the background, and your subject must move SLOWLY in order for the camera to be able to track it.  This means it's a great feature for shooting video (see next paragraph), but not so much for sports.

    Just to confuse you, there's also a "Center Lock-On AF" function in the Camera 7 menu, which is mutually exclusive to the Lock-on AF function in the focus area settings.  When enabled, just press the center button of the controller when your subject is in the center (telling the camera "THIS is my subject!  Track it!") and it does so using the same technique described above.

    Why have two similar functions?  "Center Lock-On AF" works in movie mode; Lock-on AF works only with stills and, once enabled, works invisibly - you don't have to press any buttons or tell it where your subject is to have it work.  Two functions for two use cases.

    Next Time in Cameracraft

    It's a surprise.  You'll have to subscribe to find out.  :-) Think of it as a reprieve from all this technical stuff you've just spent several minutes reading, and a return to the idea of GREAT and INSPIRING IMAGES.

    Until next time,
    Yours Truly, Gary Friedman





    21 comments:

    1. Can't wait for that A77II book. I've had the camera for almost 2 months and am really enjoying it. I'm finding flash accuracy to be very good, but here is something maybe you could shed some light on...So I was outside this afternoon to practice some off camera flash, and thought instead of using my 10 sec. timer (I was the stand in model :)) I will just use the "play memories app" on my iphone. But I discovered that I could take a picture, but the flashes would not fire. Have you by chance come across this? Is there a reason for this? Thanks in advance; Ronzo

      Ronzo

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      1. Hi, Ronzo. It's unfortunate that the smartphone app takes over the camera and doesn't allow any sort of tweaks like flash exposure compensation (or even wireless flash). This is why Sony needs to release an API for the camera (especially the cameras that can download apps) so serious work can be done with this potentially useful capability.

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    2. Any plans on writing a Panasonic GH4 book?

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      1. If we get enough requests, we'll write about anything! :-) So far you're the first.

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      2. I would buy your GH4 book also.
        Sorry to hear about Amazon, I personally am against such big business mentality.
        As for the hate mail, I am amazed that people would do that. You must be very dedicated to put up with it all.
        Best wishes.
        John Stevenson

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    3. Hey, Gary, any idea who we should contact at Amazon to complain about their unethical behavior. I am sure there are a lot of Amazon customers who purchase your books, and others, that might be willing to contact somebody.

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      1. Thanks for the thought, but Amazon's too big to care. The better action to take would be to return the purchase from Amazon and buy the 3-file bundle from my website. (My opinion, of course...)

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      2. That's what I did!

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    4. Any Nikon 1 V3 book in the future?

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    5. I read a large number of sites in the course of a month. I find yours to be one of THE best and on topics well beyond what I learn about my A7R and cameras in general. Please keep it up.
      Ron

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    6. how about coming out with a Sony RX1 book?

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    7. Gary,
      Any plans to have a seminar in the Atlanta area? I would love to attend one, but LA is a little far for me.

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      1. I'd love to do Atlanta! If you get at least 30 people together, I'll bring the seminar anywhere. In the meantime, how about Orlando? It's a tad bit closer than Los Angeles. :-)

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      2. Please have one in Atlanta, at the Galleria Convention Center, near Smyrna.

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    8. Gary, It looks like the Open Source group is working on a solution..I've used Scribus to create flyers, cards, etc. I can't afford InDesign. Here's a link you may find useful:http://wiki.scribus.net/canvas/PDF_to_ePub_ebook

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      Replies
      1. I looked into Scribus quite awhile ago. Like InDesign, it concentrates on fixed page layout appearance with a lesser emphasis on epubs. (And as I recall there are other author-centric tools in there for gathering and sorting ideas and information.)

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    9. As far as the focusing, I am not that impressed. From your images, you look to be in a nice bright environment with a straight line path at a consistent velocity or at least a fairly constant acceleration. I always thought the SLT would shine in these scenarios. Is it the focusing algorithm and/or processing power or lack of. As far as Amazon, when people like yourself cannot get subsidized fairly, you will spend your time doing other things. Then us consumers get less quality as a result.

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    10. What Gary says about Amazon is true, they are TOO big to care about any relatively small group of customers. Now having said that, I have to also say I've been an Amazon customer over 15 years (1998 to be exact). I've never had a problem with returns or with delivery. I buy lots of stuff off Amazon because they have almost anything you want and generally speaking their prices are very competitive. My reason for agreeing with Gary though, is a recent incident where I purchased a lens from Amazon via a well known Amazon seller. The lens was advertised as having a USA warranty. But when I got the lens and tried to register it the lens maker couldn't find the serial number. Long story short after several, no scratch that, after many, many, many phone calls and emails with Amazon, the lens maker, and Amazon seller, I returned the lens for (and here is where Amazon does shine) a full cash back refund not store credit. The seller blamed Amazon and Amazon blamed the seller. Bottom line I could not get Amazon to commit to sending me a US warranted lens so I purchased the lens directly from another camera store online.

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    11. here is another guy that would buy a GH-4 book
      ;-)

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