Nov 7, 2011

Review of Pie Five Pizza in Irving

Does America need another pizza chain? Pie Five Pizza Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pizza Inn Holdings Inc., seems to think so. I received a buy-one-get-one-free postcard from their new location in Irving and headed over.

It helps to imagine Pie Five as a Subway for pizza, because that's exactly what it is, down to the assembly line addition of banana peppers and olives from behind a glass sneeze guard. The pizza is done in less than five minutes and it's priced at a flat rate, regardless of how many toppings you choose. The optional salads are all pre-assembled in recyclable plastic containers, same as the dressing packets.

We had two pizzas - one thin crust with vegetables, the other a regular crust with all the meats. The verdict? Not surprisingly, this tastes like a pizza made by Subway. Not offensive, but without any real positives either. I didn't taste anything that would set this pizza apart from what you'd get at Pizza Hut. So while I wouldn't mind eating here for lunch, there's not much that would draw me in either - it's just your ordinary fast food. When I want really good pizza in Irving, I'll stick with Cavalli's.

Here's a couple of Pie Five pizza photos, taken with a Sony Nex-5N and a Voigtlander 35mm f/1.2 ii.



Nov 6, 2011

Nex-5N and the Voigtlander 35mm f/1.2 ii Review

The Sony Nex-5N has decent high ISO capabilities but it's not in the same league as full frame cameras like the Nikon D700, so fast glass is critical for available light shooting. The new Voigtlander 35mm f/1.2 ii fits the bill when you add a Leica M-mount adapter. It adds some weight but is still a very compact package; here's what it looks like on the 5N:

Manual focus with this lens at f/1.2 takes some practice as the depth of field is razor thin. But when you hit the focus just right, sharpness is surprisingly good, even wide open. Color and contrast are excellent and chromatic aberration is well controlled. Here's a few sample shots:




Nov 5, 2011

Nex-5N and 16mm f/2.8

The Sony Nex-5N and 16mm f/2.8 lens are a portable combo that delivers solid picture quality without a flash, and still fits in your jacket pocket. A couple of sample shots from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the Meyerson. There's a few more photos if you click through to the flickr set.





Nov 4, 2011

Nex-5N and Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 (Nikon mount)

The Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 is a cheap, fast lens with very good image quality; the only thing it lacks on Nikon bodies is autofocus. This is less of an issue when you adapt it to the Sony Nex-5N. Here's a size comparison with the kit 18-55mm lens. The Rokinon isn't a huge lens, but with the added bulk of the Nex-Nikon adapter,

I picked up a used copy of the Rokinon for $150 - it feels solid and the focus ring is well dampened. This isn't a full review, but my initial impression is that the lens represents a tremendous value given the image quality and low light performance it can deliver. Manual focus takes some practice but isn't too bad given the Nex's focus peaking and MF assist. Below are a couple of shots taken with the Nex and the Rokinon wide open.



Nov 3, 2011

Nex-5n Review - Initial Reactions

I took my new Sony Nex-5n with the kit 18-55 lens out to shoot a family birthday party a couple of weeks ago. Here are my initial thoughts.

I was shooting indoors with moderately poor lighting. Focusing was relatively quick although it did get fooled a few times when there was strong backlighting from a row of windows along one wall. The automatic focus point selection wasn't bad but wasn't great either - I need to set this on using the center focus point and then recompose.

I shoot in raw - many photos at ISO 3200 were perfectly usable for my purposes (screen and small prints) with a little noise reduction in Lightroom. The kit zoom gets to f/5.6 pretty quickly so it wasn't optimal for indoor, ambient light shooting.

The flash was a disappointment - I tried the fill flash setting but everything I got was way blown out. I haven't had time to tweak this but maybe there is a setting I'm missing. Otherwise they're going to need a firmware update as the flash is close to unusable.

Auto white balance in the camera was ok, but most of the photos benefited from some WB adjustment in Lightroom.

The camera handles very well. Tilting the screen out to shoot from the hip is a nice feature, as is the touch-to-focus.

Oct 18, 2011

Nex-5N and 18-55 versus 55-210 size comparison

I haven't had time to shoot with it yet, but here's a photo to compare the size of the new Nex E-mount 55-210mm lens on the Nex-5N next to the 18-55mm kit lens:

Oct 17, 2011

Nex-5N dimensions of tripod mount

Here are three photos with a ruler showing the base of the Sony Nex-5n and its tripod mount. The mounting area is oddly shaped - the bottom of the camera juts out like an isosceles trapezoid. This makes the base of the camera even with the lens when you set it down on a table, but also reduces the surface area for friction with a tripod plate.

Oct 16, 2011

Nex-5N size comparison with a Nikon AI-S lens

Here's a photo showing the Sony Nex-5N with the 18-55 kit lens next to the Nikon 135mm f/2.8 AI-S manual focus lens. I'm still waiting for my f-mount adapter to try this combo out.

Sony Nex-5N Mini Review

I just got my Sony Nex-5n camera with the 18-55mm kit lens. So far I’ve only used it for shots in iAuto (intelligent auto) mode but I like it. Here are a few early impressions. The camera turns on quickly and is ready to shoot in less than 1 second.

Autofocus is pretty fast in good light, perhaps a hair slower than a DSLR but not slow. The touch screen allows you to lock focus on a particular object as you compose the shot. I haven't tried continuous focus tracking or manual focus yet.
The in-lens image stabilization works well and allows for shutter speeds below 1/10 second if you use good technique. High ISO shots up to ISO 3200 are no problem – you start to lose some detail but the JPEG noise reduction is pretty good and you can get better control if you shoot RAW. Adobe Lightroom 3 supports the Nex's RAW files. Overall, image quality is quite good with the kit lens. The zoom ring is firm and smooth (no creep). The flash is not great as it tends to overexpose. I need to figure out how to dial in the flash exposure compensation by -2/3 EV.

The interface is good - the touch screen is very responsive (close to an iPhone 4, but no multi-touch) and exceptionally well integrated into the camera's operation. When shooting, you can touch the area you want the focus point on. When reviewing shots, you can flick left or right to scroll through them, or tap to zoom in. The control wheel on the back can be used as a 4-way directional pad, as a scroll wheel, and has a center selection button. When holding the camera, my thumb rests on the playback button, handy for reviewing the shot you just took.

There is a much reported issue where something in the camera makes a slight clicking noise when you move the camera. This noise gets picked up by the camera's microphone when recording video. My camera makes the clicking noise and it does not take much movement to set it off. Contrary to some reports, massive shaking is not required to get the click. And yes, the clicking shows up on the audio track. However, the audio quality with the built in mic is poor - nowhere near as good as a real camcorder - so if you plan on doing any kind of video work, get a dedicated external microphone. Putting aside the audio issues, video quality is outstanding.

The photo shows the Nex-5N with the kit lens next to a Blackberry bold for a size comparison.

Aug 21, 2011

The future of the HP Touchpad: pricing, development, apps, and more

Following HP's decision to discontinue the Touchpad and WebOS, an epic thread began at SlickDeals on Friday night. The discussion surrounded various retailers' plans to liquidate Touchpad inventory - $99 for the 16GB and $149 for the 32GB. These prices were well below the MSRPs of $499/599 and none of the other tablets (Tab, Iconia, Transformer, Xoom, and even the meager Thrive) could even come close to these prices, even on Black Friday. You can't even get a used iPad for close to $99.

The bargain hunting crowds from SD soon overwhelmed the various retailers - HP's own site was the first to start clearing out Touchpads and its systems were quickly brought to their knees. Woe to the admin who arrives at work on Monday morning to find a smoldering heap in the server room. Rumors then quickly spread about other vendors who might offer the Touchpad - Best Buy was the subject of much speculation after their Canadian affiliate began offering units at firesale prices. DataVis had over 6,000 units in stock but it's website was also brought down - they quickly regrouped and posted them on eBay, where the entire lot sold out in less than 15 minutes. Amazon was slow to respond, but offered Touchpads as Gold Box discounted items on Sunday for a lucky few who happened to refresh the page at exactly the right moment. Best Buy initially claimed to be returning all Touchpad stock to HP, but revealed late on Saturday that it would start selling them as closeouts with no returns. Many who had tried to pick up a deal in the store were turned away earlier in the day. Massive traffic then hit as hordes of people requested units for in-store pickup. Most stores had closed by this time on the east coast, so shoppers headed to the stores first thing on Sunday morning to try to claim their reserved unit. Disappointment struck again as communication had broken down between, corporate, and the stores - so many stores just started selling their stock to whomever happened to be first in line. Later on Sunday afternoon, eCost's website melted down after they appeared to be selling them at the discounted price.

As for myself, I ordered a 16GB unit on Saturday for $399 from Amazon with the expectation that they would cut the price in the next few days. With Amazon's no hassle returns, the worst case was that I would be out a few bucks. Fortunately, my order shipped on Sunday for delivery on Tuesday (thanks Prime!) and the online customer service rep quickly refunded $300 to my credit card. Normally Amazon does not price match or offer price protection, but they really had no choice in this case.

No one knows exactly how many Touchpads will be released once all the clearance sales are complete, or if the $99/$149 prices will hold. Estimates have put the number of units manufactured in the 250,000-500,000 range. Many of those buying the units this weekend intended to flip them for a quick profit, and completed eBay sales were still touching $300 through the weekend. Craigslist was also flooded with potential sellers, and a few WTBs. Once sanity is restored to the market, it's doubtful that the Touchpads will continue to demand a premium and may even sell below their clearance prices due to the small installed user base and lack of formal support for the software. Today is the peak of the HP Touchpad bubble.

This is not to say that development for the Touchpad will stop - it will simply move from HP to the informal channel of developers that is constantly looking for new hardware to root. With HP's history of quasi-support for open source software, I expect they'll publish many of the specs for the tablet before winding down WebOS completely. There's also a good chance that Android developers will complete a port of Google's software to the Touchpad, greatly expanding the universe of applications that will run on it.

All of this will play out over the coming months, but the biggest unknown is - when will HP stop running those awful commercials touting the Touchpad with its $399 price tag?

Jan 30, 2011

How small is the Gitzo GT1541T travel tripod?

I just picked up a compact travel tripod, the Gitzo GT1541T, from Amazon. Made of carbon fiber, this is one of the lightest, smallest tripods you can find. This is not a full review, but I wanted to show how easily the 1541T fits in a standard 22" carryon bag. Although the bag is listed at 22", the usable interior length is only 19" - but the tripod fits with plenty of room to spare. The tripod is shown with the legs folded back over the center column.

Another size comparison, here's the tripod next to the Nikon D700 with 70-200mm - it's only a few inches longer. With the hood on the lens, they'd be about the same length exactly.

My intial impressions of this tripod are favorable but unfortunately it may be a little short for me. With a height of 45", it's not that comfortable for a 6 foot tall person, and extending the center column reduces your stability quite a bit.

Jan 29, 2011

Shooting a Tiger - Pug Mark Park

A few weeks ago I went up to McKinney, Texas on a photo tour of Pug Mark Park. These tours are organized about once every month by Tom Hicks. For $50 you get 2 hours of shooting with the cats - there were two tigers and one lion when I was there. The funds go to support feeding and care of the animals. The facility has a good setup for photographers as the fence has a fairly open lattice so you can actually put the end of your lens through the fence and avoid getting it in the shot (unlike your standard chain link fence which has smaller openings). However, you do have to be careful standing next to the fence, as the larger openings mean that the cats can swat you if you're not paying attention.

I highly recommend this event - it was well worth the price of admission. Here are a couple of my favorite photos along with the complete set on flickr. Taken with a Nikon D700 and 70-200mm VRII, TC-20e III, and 85mm f1.4.







Jan 9, 2011

Does it matter when you invest in the stock market?

This chart from the New York Times shows the return on an investment made in the S&P 500 by holding period starting back in 1920. This matrix is a nice example of how to display decades of financial returns without resorting to massive data tables.