Archive for December, 2009

BATTLE OF THE MICRO FOUR THIRDS CAMERAS

December 19, 2009

 

Panasonic's LUMIX GF1, with shutter preview effect, left and Olympus PEN E-P2 with high-def digital eyepiece, offer much, from cool features, quality to extreme portability.

It’s not often that two digital camera makers introduce new competing models using the same underlying technology standard.

Although both models were in my last Journal Gift Guide, it’s challenging to pick the better of the two. Because they share the same mechanical standards, it’s like comparing apples to apples.

The new Olympus PEN E-P2 and Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF1 “hybrid” cameras are unique in that they use an agreed upon technology by several manufacturers in their body and lens design. It’s called the Four Thirds Micro, which allows interchangeable lenses between them, as well as lenses from Leica and Sigma.

They will also accept all older Four Thirds lenses from their larger full size DSLR sibling cameras with adapter rings. Micro lenses are smaller and lighter and just as sharp. Another advantage of all the Four Thirds cameras, lenses and flashes is that they can be updated by simply plugging the body with a USB cable to an Internet-connected PC using included software.

What makes these new cameras so special?

They are not DSLR cameras, which means no flipping mirror or prism, so they are smaller and lighter. When equipped with their ultra-flat, fixed focal length “pancake” lenses, they easily fit in a coat pocket.

They also use the same size image sensor as the same brand DSLR models for exceptional picture quality rivalling bulky mid-level DSLR cameras. They rely on a large, live-view screen for composing and instantly seeing the pictures you take. They have powerful features like follow focus, customized settings and an all-important complete auto setting.

These camera types are not cheap. The bodies start at about $850, while an E-P2 with 17 mm f2.8 pancake lens and electronic viewfinder retails for $1,199.99, compared to the GF1 with 20mm f1.7 pancake lens and live view finder for $1,299.99.

Which is better? Like all things digital, each model has its own strengths, so here is what stands out for each model.

Olympus PEN E-P2 12.3 megapixel:

— It has a faster sequential frame mode, which is good for sports.

— The seven live art filters, applied to stills and movies simply rock, with stunning Photoshop-like effects.

— Multiple exposures, during shooting or after, with selectable layer transparency, let’s you get infinitely creative on combining images together, even planning how you will shoot them beforehand.

— The optional VF-2 90-degree flip digital eyepiece viewer is sharper than the rear-view screen, perfect in bright places and magnifies the image more. It’s like being in the front row of a movie theatre screen. The rear-view screen has the best side-view quality when holding the camera high or low for creative shots.

— Menu screens can be challenging, but several options for changing your settings are the fastest in any camera.

— The additional noise filter makes for cleaner pictures when shooting in high ISO settings.

— Hand-held, available-light shooting with slower shutter speeds are sharper with three built-in image stabilization options which work on any lens.

— The video movie shooting quality is superior — 1280 x 720 with demonstrably better audio, but it takes up more room, requiring one GB of memory for four minutes of video.

— Includes more powerful picture editing software.

The Panasonic GF1 12.1 megapixel:

— The opposite from Olympus, it has an exceptionally sharper rear viewfinder screen but lacklustre optional Live View Finder.

— You can see the pictures you just shot sooner and shoot single images more frequently, as well as scroll through your photos faster.

— There are 27 physical buttons or wheels you can use directly to change settings.

— The Panasonic built-in flash adds more value compared to the optional but more powerful flash for the Olympus E-P2.

— There is a better, more expensive selection of LUMIX lenses, but all are interchangeable between brands.

— The camera body is lighter.

— There are seven choices of motion video shooting quality, the best being AVCHD Lite/H, which can record better than DVD quality movies requiring one GB of memory for ten minutes of video.

THE SKINNY

The GF1 is a complete camera with built-in flash and more responsive shooting, while the E-P2 has better anti-blur image stabilization, artistic and creative features.

For more information go to:

http://www.panasonic.ca

http://www.olympuscanada.com

http://www.four-thirds.org

SAMSUNG’S NEW DESIGNER NETBOOK STANDS OUT FROM THE NETBOOK CROWD

December 13, 2009

NETBOOKS ARE DANGEROUSLY CROSSING INTO NOTEBOOK PRICING

Samsung’s newest Netbook, the N310, $499.99 pushes the envelope on design fashion over form factor in this most misunderstood laptop computer category. Sure it looks cool, with a simple, yet elegant design by international award winning designer Naoto Fukasawa.

What does it have going for it?  

-An easy-to-use pebble stone keyboard with more space between the keys making it easier to type and is only 7 per cent smaller than a standard keyboard in size.

-The longest lasting battery in its class. Samsung claims 11 hours, but realistically closer to ten, still, great portable technology on one battery charge.

-The other goodies are onboard video camera, WiFi and Samsung’s own ECO certification mark, attesting to the absence of hazardous substances and materials; optimized energy efficiency; and, effective material usage.

It actually looks more powerful than what it really is: another Netbook running on an Intel Atom processor, one MB RAM, like dozens of other brands, including previous Samsung models.

If you are a first-time portable computer buyer or existing Netbook fan, you will love it…it’s like the new Volkswagen Beetle, with generous rubber-like curves and attractively different from other models.

But there’s something about Netbooks that are irritating me and I can’t put my finger on it yet.

I think Netbooks are a computer phase that happened at the right place and time.

Call it a perfect storm. They are noticeably smaller and lighter than notebooks, cheaper and arrived during an economic downturn, making them an attractive buy. Stores don’t like them because they make less money than they do on regular notebooks, which in turn, have better performance and value.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told me in an interview at the recent Windows 7 that Netbooks are many things to many people, but that computer makers will soon counter back with smaller and lighter notebooks that will do more than casual computing and Internet, the de facto category for Netbooks.

Take Toshiba’s upcoming Satellite T110 or larger SatelliteT130 for example. Literally arriving Christmas week, these thin-and-light notebooks are ultra portable and will run circles around Netbooks. The T110 for $699, has a much more usable 11.6 inch display, is 24.9 mm thin, has  2GB of fast and efficient DDR3 RAM, weighs less than 1.8kg and includes an Intel Pentium Ultra Low Voltage Processor and hard drive impact sensor. These are all quality features, until now reserved for much more expensive notebooks.

Can Netbooks do that? I doubt it. That would make them notebooks…or Not-Netbooks, right?

Check out my weekend Edmonton Journal Column on computer buying tips at:

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/technology/Price+doesn+dictate+computer+performance/2335964/story.html

CUT YOUR PHONE CORD…AND YOUR INTERNET CORD!

December 2, 2009

Newest Wireless HSPA Internet Hubs Rock
Cutting the cord on landline phones, in favour of cellphones, may soon not be the only cutting going on.
Folks who get Internet via cable or ADSL may be cutting those cables too.
Why? Because of some pretty cool new technology from Bell and Rogers that is making fast Internet access easier, even possible in rural areas. Imagine downloading a 100 MB movie file in two minutes, wirelessly!
Rogers’ Rocket Hub, $149.95 with a plan, for example, is a cellular device in disguise. It looks like an upright modem with a power cord, four Ethernet connections and a phone plug. It uses Rogers HSPA network, like cellphones, for data-based wireless Internet from anywhere. Up to ten WiFi equipped computers (including four Ethernet cable desktop PCs) can access the Internet for email, surfing, gaming and more, at speeds equal, if no better to my current Shaw or Telus land connection.
You need to subscribe to a very reasonable data plan from Rogers, starting at $35 monthly for up to 3 GB, up to $60 for up to 10 GB. If you lowball your subscription, Rogers simply charges you the next level for going over for the month.
But it gets better.
You can plug any home phone into the Rocket Hub and talk and receive calls. You can port your home phone number to it and subscribe to a Rogers combo data-voice plan, starting at $50 for up to 3 GB data, unlimited local calling, voicemail, caller ID and call waiting.
Can your current home phone and Internet service beat that?
Rogers is selling the Rocket Hub for folks who live in fringe cellphone coverage areas with less capable and pricier Internet options. I think its for anyone who needs a “phone” and Internet package at a good price.
BTW, one GB of data get’s you 5,000 text emails + 1,000 web pages + 400 photo upload/downloads + 50 minutes on YouTube.
The MiFi 2372 from Bell, $99.95 with a plan, doesn’t have as many features but is ultra portable. It is rechargeable and works with up to five WiFi equipped computers. It comes with a USB cable and software to connect to desktop PCs too. The micro SD slot can hold up to 16 GB of memory as well. It doesn’t do voice (other than Internet based calls you run on computers) but you can carry it in your pocket wherever you go in Bell’s HSPA cell coverage area and have Internet access for computers and cellphones with WiFi capability.
The one downside to extreme portability for the MiFi is its data plan, considerably higher than Rogers, at $30 for 500 MB, $40 1 GB, $65 3GB and $85 5GB.

Which is faster? I tried both units from various parts of my home, as well as parking in different areas in town. Overall, I found the Bell MiFi to be a bit faster (maximum download speeds of 650 KB/sec versus 580 KB/sec.) The MiFi only dropped to 450 KB/sec when locked in my car’s trunk, parked inside my garage. Impressive. But the Rogers Rocket Hub did a better job of keeping connection speeds up, when hooking up several laptops with simultaneous downloads.
So, if you are not a hardcore Internet user, consider the convenience these unique hubs offer.
Both units come with pre-configured security, with passwords printed on the back or battery cover. After all, you don’t want your neighbours running down your data plan, do you?
For more information got to:
http://www.rogers.com/web/content/internet-mobile/rockethub
http://www.bell.ca/shopping/Novatel-Wireless-MiFi-2372/69136.details
Check my cellphone gift guide roundup in today’s http://www.edmontonjournal.com