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Posts Tagged ‘review’

 

A continuously burning flame in the UCSB science quad.

A continuously burning flame in the UCSB science quad.

Last night I went to free advance screening of the movie Repo: The Genetic Opera. I had no idea what to expect, if face it was not until I looked it up on wikipedia that I knew it was a musical. I just assumed that Genetic Opera was a neat title. Turns out that the movie calls itself a rock opera. I found that a lot of the songs sounded a lot like those from Rent except with heavier leanings toward rock and opera.

I liked everything about the movie except for one thing and my roommate put it best: “It would have been better without singing”. The actual singing felt like a leftover remnant for the movies life as a stage show. The world created in the movie could be the basis for a very deep graphic novel or further productions. But without the singing. Since all of the lines were sung in the movie some lines felt completely isolated and came out funny. They audience did laugh the lines.

I should mention the plot: there was a world-wide organ failure (for unexplained reasons) and a company, GeneCo, came in and sold new organs to people with heavy financing. Then the repossession of organs was legalized and from this was born Repo men. Hitmen surgeons who track down those who defaulted on the organs, kills them and returns them to GeneCo.

A very well done part of the movie is the way they handled expository backstory. They panned over pseudo-animated frames of a comic book to narrate the world. They did this both at the beginning and when a characters motive needed revealing.

I liked the movie and so I am talking about it on my blog just as the creators (who were there) wanted us the audience to do to promote the movie. It seems they have zero budget for advertisement.

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The rusted foundation on Campus Point

The rusted foundation on Campus Point

In the end I don’t think I am ready to use Aperture full time. While there are some features in it that I would love to have on a daily basis I am hampered by performance. On my Powerbook G4 it does not run as smoothly as iPhoto 7, if I had a newer computer and speed was not an issue I think I would move all of my photos over to Aperture.

I could switch back and forth between the two depending on task, but I prefer having all of my photos in one nice location instead of worrying about which library the photo is in.

Price is not an issue since I can buy a student version of Aperture 2 from my campus bookstore for $89 instead of the $189 on the Apple store. I will continue using it until the trial runs out and then I will make the final decision. Speed may not be an issue in day to day usage and it may just be slow when doing photo editing or manipulation.

I suppose I should try Lightroom to give an even perspective but I feel that many of the issues (like speed) would be the same.

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UCSB's Campus Point

UCSB's Campus Point

Aperture has features that just do not exist in iPhoto, I already talked about Loupe. Three others are comparison, light table and stacks. There are many more feature but these are the ones I found while trolling around the interface.

Comparison does what it says it does, it lets you compare two photos and choose the better. I tried using it for some photos but my processor was either too slow or I just did not understand how it works. It would also serve me better if I took, say, six photos of a particular subject and wanted to the best of the six. And I am just not there yet.

Light table is a really neat feature without any designated purpose. It allows one to pull photos out onto a virtual table and move them around as if they were on a table. They can be resized, rotated and pulled forward or back. I think the initial purpose was to do mock-ups of publications, I think it would work great in designing posters. The results can be printed (on a home printer) or saved to a PDF and sent to a poster printer service. Once I get the inspiration I plan on using it to design a poster for my dorm lounge.

I now desire a much larger screen.

Stacks are a feature that would make HDR processing in iPhoto so much easier. Stacks gathers up the selected photos and presents them as a single photo. The photo shown on top can be selected from the group. For HDR this would let me stack together the photos to process, export the component RAW files to Photomatix, process them and send the result back to the top of the stack. So in one Stack I could have the result and the source RAW files. 

This is compared to iPhoto where I have the final HDR image amid a sea of slightly varying RAWs.

There are more features of Aperture that I probably missed. If I missed them it is because I don’t feel that I need their function or I am blindly unaware that they exist.

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"You show me a capitalist & I'll show you a blood-sucker" on the side of the lagoon outflow box.

"You show me a capitalist & I'll show you a blood-sucker" on the side of the lagoon outflow box.

I like importing and managing files in iPhoto much better then Aperture. Likely this is due to using iPhoto for the past two years compared to the week with Aperture. It is also highly dependent on personal preference.

When importing new photos (or any photos really) into Aperture they can be placed into any ‘Project’ or into a new Projects. Projects contain the all of the photos and under the project heading are a list of different organizational structures. These can be albums, folders, print projects, light tables or web galleries. Also photos imported from iPhoto are placed within the albums (which are created) in which they resided in iPhoto. If they are in multiple albums all of them are recreated.

For example if I imported my entire iPhoto library into a project called “iPhoto Library import” all of the photos would reside within the project and be placed (actually referenced and not stored) in the same album structure they had before. If a iPhoto folder contained two albums and a smart album, the normal albums would be recreated while the smart album photos would be placed into the folder without a folder of their own.

While projects exist on their own all of the photos are still listed under Library. In the library the projects are viewed in the same way Events are viewed in the iPhoto library. Or photos can all be viewed en masse without dividing them by project.

iPhoto pictures (or any non-Aperture photo) can also be referenced into the Aperture library instead of imported. If this is done the photos can be added and moved like a normal Aperture photo except they cannot be modified. This is useful if there is a particular photo (or set of photos) that you want to use in an Aperture project but want to be kept in their original location.

Ratings and keywords transfer happily when importing from iPhoto. I found only two keywords were added upon import from iPhoto: iPhoto Original and if they were flagged iPhoto Flagged. However when photos are imported into iPhoto from Aperture (done through an easy pop up window in iPhoto) the file names become all capitals. 

So moving between the two is not particularly difficult, especially in the iPhoto -> Aperture direction, which is a good thing because I prefer the keyword tagging system of iPhoto over Aperture. In Aperture I could not find a way to add keywords directly under the photos in the same way as iPhoto, and that is my preferred method. Aperture does allow for keyword groups to be made with custom buttons. 

Everyone loves custom buttons.

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Spot and Patch removed the major lens flares.

Spot and Patch removed the major lens flares.

Continuing with Apple Aperture:

Next up I had two photos with lens flares. I knew that Aperture had a spot and patch tool, it just took me a few seconds to find it. My first photo had two major lens flares near the moon in a starry sky. The spot tool eliminated the lens flare leaving behind a uniform pool of obvious. I then tried the patch tool. 

Allow me to make a diversion here into a key aspect of aperture. The loupe tool. The zoom it provides is very convenient for examining edits or just getting close into details (very nice for macro shots), however the behavior of the loupe itself is just not right. In my mind it should allow one to zoom in on a specific site, move the loupe out of the way, still zoomed on the initial site, and then edit the site either at normal zoom or within the loupe itself. The closest I could get was letting the loupe be off-center, except even with this I could not edit the louped area.

Eventually I found out how to zoom the entire photo and this did what I wanted.

So the patch tool. I had trouble selection and moving around the patch selection, I will talk more about this in the performance section. Once I found the patch of the right area of sky it was easy to rotate to align the gradient in the sky as well as feather out the edges to blend. Without in depth viewing or knowing they were there I could not readily tell that the lens flares were patched out.

Once the sky was patched and I found out about the zoom tool my second lens flare patch was trivially easy. Especially since it was a small flare on the side of a building. No circular gradients in that photo. 

There are still some lens flares within foliage or hiding between tree branches that I would like to eliminate. But the payoff compared to time required makes them easy to overlook.

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The first photo I edited with Aperture.

The first photo I edited with Aperture.

I downloaded the Aperture trial to try out something more professional then iPhoto. 

Instead of starting by importing a new batch of photos I took a set of five photos from iPhoto that needed editing beyond iPhoto’s capabilities. 

Importing from iPhoto ran into two challenges. The first was that Aperture cannot import or even view iPhoto smart albums, what I wanted to import was a smart album of photos with the “edit” tag. So I had to go back and create an actual album and drag the photos over. The second import issue was where they went. I expected a dialogue to ask where to put them. Instead the photos were placed into a, what I believe to be, a project. Since this is the demo and I not bothering really reading anything I am still unclear on the file structure.

Once the photos were in Aperture my first task was too correct white balance. I had obvious ways to do this. First there are two sliders for temperature and tint, the second option is to select the neutral gray of the photo. I did not know where a neutral gray resided so I just used the sliders to get the right color cast. I must say that I am satisfied with the result with the first white balanced photo, the second one did not turn out as well. Though that might have been inherent in the photo itself.

I will keep posting my impressions as I delve farther into Aperture.

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Crissy Field in San Francisco

Crissy Field in San Francisco

I previously posted a review of the video game rental service Gamefly. Last week I decided to cancel my membership since my summer is coming to a close. There have been some bad reviews of the Gamefly cancellation experience so I thought I would through my own into the mix.

First off I assumed that I could cancel by removing the automatic billing and just let the current month expire. Unfortunately you can’t do that. Instead your membership ends on the day you cancel with any remaining time being lost. So I decided to wait until the last day of the billing month before I cancelled. The day before I cancelled I bought one of the games I was currently renting (Tales of Vesperia) and the second game (I had a two game plan) was currently being mailed to me. Once I confirmed that the game case was also being shipped I started the cancellation process.

The cancellation button is easy to find in the member section and was not hidden in some obscure fine print. After I filled out the form stating why I was cancelling (going back to college in my case) the next page was a special promotion to give me a 30% discount if I decided to stay. I am not sure how often this comes up so I would not recommend attempting to cancel just to get this discount. Since when you do cancel you lose you Gamefly membership level, which after about six months starts giving percentage discount off of games. So I cancelled without a problem.

Except that I still technically had one of their games rented out. Even though I had not received it yet I had seven days for them to receive the game back else I would be charged the cost of the game. Deliver and return times were fairly consistent so I knew that I would have time to receive and then send it back. If I had known that I was going to cancel I would have emptied my game queue to prevent any games being shipped to me within the last three days or so. So they received it fine and as I do not have a gamefly membership charge on my credit card it looks like the cancellation went smoothly without problems.

One thing I would like to add about rental services like Gamefly and Netflix is that there seems to be an economic pressure to use the rental as soon as possible in order to return it for another. If a game or movie just sits next to the console without being played it can feel like the subscription is just not worth the money, even though a month is much cheaper then a single newish game. I guess the same feeling can apply to any subscription service be it World of Warcraft or Netflix.

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A nice narrow depth of field.

A nice narrow depth of field.

Today, while attempting to study for the GRE, my new 50mm prime lens arrived. Of course knowing this I did what any good student would do, I tossed my study book aside and opened the package.

I bought the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 prime lens off of Amazon through Adorama. I also bought a retractable rubber lens hood since it was the only hood, that I know of, that will work with this lens. I tested it out around the house and backyard to practice with the narrow depth of field and manual focus. Mainly I took pictures of the family dog Diesel and a tree with lots of bees in it. The main disadvantage, at least while I start, is the lack of an autofocus motor in my D60, so I have to manually focus with the lens. I feel that eventually I will become better at it and I hope this will help my photography career as I progress.

So why did I buy it if I knew that it lacked autofocus? Well it was mainly the price of roughly $120 that convinced me, that and every Nikon forum seemed adamant on every owning this lens. Peer pressure did it. Nikon will probably release a new version of the lens at Photokina (the major photo trade show) later this month, but if it has its own autofocus motor and maybe image stabilization then the price will likely shoot out of my range.

Aside from autofocus I also lack any way to preview the depth of field. My camera lacks a depth of field preview button, which I did not know existed until a month after owning my camera, so I have to guess on what it will be or take a sample shot or two. Knowing this I saw on the photos of the lens that there is an aperture ring. I thought that this would act like a focus ring and enable me to manually change the aperture, thus letting me preview the depth of field. Nope. The camera only takes photos if the aperture ring is locked into one position so it can control aperture all by itself. Well it was a faint hope to begin with.

Before buying I read online that the lens is difficult to put in on the D40-D60 range. I thought that this might have been a user error or a faulty lens. No it is hard to put it in. Not physically, it does not have much resistance to twist it in or our, it is just the metal mount makes a terrible scratching sound/feeling when being put into position. It also does not slip easily into the lens mount and lacks a white dot like my other Nikon lenses.

It is sounding like a great lens isn’t it?

Well now for the good parts of the lens. First off the focus ring is really nice. It could be my lack of exposure with various lenses but it turns really easily and feels good doing it. This is a nice since I will be using it all the time. The narrow depth of field at f/1.8 is hard to control without the aforementioned depth of field preview button but after an hour or so practicing I am slowing getting the hang of it. Since it is also a fixed focal length moving back and forth to adjust what was in the frame seemed odd at first (since I grew up in a world of zoom lenses) but after about five minutes it became natural.

I also felt that I could get closer to objects then with my other lenses. The minimum focus distance is 45 centimeters (I know as it is printed on the focus ring) but feels closer. It might feel closer as a result of the lens being physically smaller, the fixed focal length or the narrow depth of field. The f/1.8 also let me shoot in poorer lighting without requiring a tripod. But it does not have image stabilization which I did notice at around half second exposure. 

Along with the lens I also bought a rubber retractable lens hood. It works well as a hood and I suppose it adds a bit of extra protection around the lens. The one disadvantage of the hood is that when it is retracted it partially blocks the manual focus ring, a very important ring. The advantages are of course all of the normal advantages of lens hoods.

The lens should also have better clarity, rendition and performance. I am new to this so I will defer this part to all of the other people who have comparison charts and batteries of tests. I will assess this aspect by just posting photos I take with this lens and saying (if I remember) when they are taken with the lens.

So far I like the lens and I am glad I bought it, I mean a fast prime lens for only $120? Compared to the price of other lenses and camera it seems like a reasonable purchase.

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Wiimote and Gamefly Sleeve

Wiimote and Gamefly Sleeve

 

At the beginning of this summer I was faced with a dilemma. I had been away from all forms of new console games while in Edinburgh and before that I had only two months to fully appreciate my then new Wii. I drafted a list of the games I would want to play over the summer, I had access to three systems: Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS and an Xbox 360 (my brothers). My list only had six titles: Bioshock, Mass Effect, Portal, Oblivion and Okami. I was not sure that I wanted to actually own any of them so I started doing the math of how much they would cost. I compared new prices, used prices and for fun I threw in the cost of renting them from the Netflix-esque video game rental service Gamefly. To my surprise it turned out to be cheaper to get a three month subscription of Gamefly and to buy them used from Gamefly. I started with the free fourteen day subscription with two discs out at a time. 
And how does this system work? I started by adding the five games I wanted into my Game Queue plus five others I found looked interesting or at least something I would enjoy playing. Once the games are in the queue they can be rearranged by dragging and dropping to give the desired order you want the games to come in. Of course this order is merely a suggestions and from what I can tell has only a slight resemblance to the order they are sent. When a game is shipped out so is an e-mail informing that the game has shipped. This is where the service is more lackluster. The closest major shipping center is roughly 400 miles south of me in Los Angeles. It takes about three full days for the game to arrive. Well thats okay since it is expected that a game is kept longer then a few days, thats why I chose to take two out at the same time, right?
The game arrives is an orange envelope, also the return envelope. So far I have only had one game that could not be played upon arrival: Metroid Prime 3. For this I went to the website help center and found a easy tab for reporting damaged or broken games. I expected to have to return the game, wait for it to be processed then having a new game sent (I could choose for a replacement or the next game in my queue). Instead they shipped the replacement that day and just told me to send the damaged one as soon as I could. So out of eleven games one needed to be returned.
To send a game back I just put it into the paper sleeve, the paper sleeve into the cardboard sleeve and the cardboard sleeve into the orange envelope. Then I send it off. It takes three days for them to receive the game. Usually they process the incoming game and send a new one off the same day, so if I send a game off Monday I get a new one Friday. This five day turnaround time is compared to Netlfix’s three day turnaround time.
When games are in the Queue they are rated in availability on four levels: low, medium, high, available now. If a game is available now and all the others are high or lower, the one available now will be shipped.
The service has a strong game selection for Xbox 360, Wii and DS. The Playstation 3 (my family got one as a blu-ray player a month after I started Gamefly) selection seems lackluster. This could just be a Playstation 3 thing and not a Gamefly thing. One of the games I really wanted was Civilization Revolution DS, it was not out yet but I left it at the top of my Queue for the week or two before release. On the day before release it was shipped to me so I got a brand new copy the day after release.
This brings me to the buying feature of Gamefly. There are two ways to buy games, the simplest is through their online store of used games. The second, and one I have used, is to use their “Keep it” feature. This let me buy the games I currently had rented out, this way I could see what condition the used game (new in the case if Civ Revolution) is in before purchasing it. Once I bought a game they then shipped the case and instruction manual within a day or so of buying it. There are also Gamefly Rewards which are usually five dollar coupons that can be used to buying games, I received these from simply being a member for a month, filling out a survey and for being a member two months (I think). With their relatively low prices and the coupons I was able to buy several games for under twenty dollars when they sold for around thirty on sites like Gamestop and Amazon. The only thing is some games cannot be bought. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney cannot be purchased, likely due to a shortage. Other games like Assassin’s Creed had a large sale going (fourteen dollars for it). Also used prices sometimes changed within a day or two, probably to reflect inventory.
Of course if I just wanted to play a specific set of games Gamefly would not be the best way to do it. What I have liked about Gamefly is that it has let me play games I would not want to buy or pay three to four dollars to rent. The games I would not have otherwise played: Beutiful Katamari (never played the original), Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Ninja Gaiden DS, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, Portal and Burnout Paradise. Some of them I played for a day then returned, others I kept for about a week and a half to finish.
Overall I have been satisfied with the service. The website is intuitive and works well, the games have been in good condition and the prices for buying games have been low. My only complaint about the service is the somewhat slow turnaround time, this might be because of limited inventory or they are still small compared to larger rental services like Netflix.
There is one new feature on Gamefly I have not tried. They let you trade in your old games for Gamefly Reward credits. I suppose this would be a good way to sell or trade out old games. Except I am the type of person who has my original NES console and games in my closet, I never know when might challenge me to a race in Excitebike. 

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