Apple’s HomePod: Is It The Dud Reviewers Say It Is?

As an Amazon Echo user, I’m all in when it comes to the personal A.I assistant thing. So, when Apple revealed, at WWDC 2017 (that’s ages ago folks), an almost “one more thing” moment towards the end of the keynote, Phil Schiller, took to the stage to give a sneak peak at Apple’s new smart speaker. . .HomePod.

My first thought was, “what a stupid name”, why not just call it Pod, Sounds or Beats?

Then a video played to reveal everything about HomePod. And. . .

It looked amazing. I haven’t included any pictures, there are so many going around and I think everybody already knows what HomePod looks like. It’s lovely.

The official launch of December 2017, came and went. The HomePod eventually going on sale in early February 2018.

I’ve yet to see a video review or read a written review, where the reviewer gives a nod to the HomePod. They all rave about the sound quality, but when it comes to the smart A.I assistant, Siri, they all pretty much say the same thing. . .

“Awful”, “Seriously lacking” or even go as far as “dumbest smart speaker ever”.

Recent reports have stated that Apple have reduced production levels on the HomePod, due to lower than expected sales. So, it would appear, all is not good for Apple’s HomePod. . .and at £319.00, it is an expensive dumb speaker. . .or is it?

I’ve had my HomePod for just over a week and I can state without doubt, that HomePod is an incredible feat of engineering. The sound space created by HomePod, is without doubt, the best sound from such a small speaker.

It is incredible. Full stop.

It sounds awesome. Full stop.

It is brilliant. Full stop.

What about Siri?

Siri, as any iOS device user or Apple Watch user can testify, is Siri. She’s snarky with attitude, but generally very helpful at the things she is programmed to do well. I love having Siri talk to me on my Apple Watch Series 3. It makes my Apple Watch an entirely new device.

On HomePod, Siri does what Apple told everyone Siri would do. Siri is your personal musicologist, who will provide information and suggestions based on what she knows you might like.

Siri does it well, most of the time. Fortunately, despite my Scottish accent, I have never had a problem with Siri. As long as I have a decent Wi-Fi / mobile connection, Siri usually gets what I ask right 98 – 99% of the time.

Is Siri as accurate or ‘smart’ as Alexa, Cortana or Google Now? It depends on what device you are using Siri on, but as far as smart speakers go, Siri is NOT up to the same array of tasks. But. . .

Siri wasn’t designed to be as smart. . .YET!

It’s this simple fact that other reviewers conveniently overlook. What Siri is designed to do, namely be your musicologist with some other more basic capabilities thrown in for good measure, she does very well.

People complaining that Siri can’t do what she does on the iPhone, is frankly stupid. Would you ask a smart speaker for directions to a location when the speaker can’t show you a map or offer accurate directions for you to follow?

No of course not.

So, why criticise Siri for having more music / sound related functionality over functionality for directions etc?

My Amazon Echo and Echo Dots are good devices. Alexa can do a lot of useful things, thanks to Amazon opening up Alexa to third parties for development. But, with all the revelations about Data at Facebook and the abuse of data from SCL, Cambridge Analytica etc. the question of what Amazon is doing with your voice recordings, suddenly seems to matter.

Apple’s record on privacy is significantly better than most.

HomePod, is at present a very good device. The sound is fantastic, something which can’t be said about the majority of other so called smart speakers and Siri is competent at what she is programmed to do.

But. . .you knew there would be at least one! But. . .

HomePod can only get better. . .

Apple will eventually increase Siri capabilities on HomePod. That much us a given. I’ve seen reports that Apple have dedicated more engineers and programmers to Siri than any other department. Whether true or not is another matter, but Apple know that Siri has to get better. And she will.

Consider for a moment, Apple TV. . .

When Apple launched Apple TV, way back in 2007, (yes it really was that long ago), Apple TV (originally was meant to be called iTV, but the U.K broadcaster of the same name had something to say about that, so it became Apple TV), was called a “hobby product”.

At launch, Apple TV could do some things, but not the same as early online streaming devices / services. It basically allowed you to stream the contents of your iTunes library to a Television screen. For the pleasure of this “hobby product” set aside @£400 (depending on storage size you opted for).

Sales were relatively poor, but I bought two of them. One for the living room and one for my bedroom. I loved the first gen Apple TV. It was a glimpse of the future. . .

And look at Apple TV now. . .

You get a tiny black box, which you can rent through, buy through, stream through. It’s super fast and offers 4K and full HD content (depending on the model you opt for). You get Siri integrated into it and, it’s way more affordable than the original Apple TV.

HomePod is likely going to go the same way as the original Apple TV. With one major difference:

Hardware.

HomePod is a super technical engineering feat. The technology and algorithms being used, are incredibly complex. The speaker tech alone, is usually only found on top end speakers, which run into the “you need another mortgage to afford them” bracket.

Beam forming and spacial awareness is incredible and clever. This tiny little speaker (under 7 inches in height), can analyse the room it’s placed in and alter the output to provide you with the best sound for the acoustics of that particular room.

If you move the HomePod into a different spot or into an entirely different room, when switched on, HomePod reanalyses the surroundings, because, thanks to a built in accelerometer, HomePod knows it’s been moved and so needs to reassess it’s surroundings.

This is super intelligent design and no other speakers in the same price point, offer such advanced capabilities. So, who’s a dumb speaker now then?

Having got the hardware absolutely right in HomePod, Apple have an incredible foundation upon which to build and as anyone knows, having a solid foundation is the most important aspect of anything you build on top of it.

So, with updates in the software, which will naturally be coming, Apple will extend the functionality of the ‘minor’ component of this incredible device. . .Siri, enhancing her abilities and usability over time.

When extra features, like stereo pairing and AirPlay 2 arrive later in the year, HomePod is going to wipe the floor with virtually all other smart speakers. One sounds awesome, two working together, will sound totally amazing.

By comparison, your current smart speaker will just continue to sound quite good. You won’t be able to pair two together and the constant listening in the background will start to make you very wary when random ads start being shouted out at you in response to conversations you may be having in the room your smart speaker is positioned in. It’s bad enough when I’m watching a film in a darkened room, to suddenly have Alexa shout out. . .

“I’m sorry, I can’t quite help you with that”, is more than a little unsettling.

One thing none of the current smart speakers can do, is improve their overall sound quality. Once the hardware has shipped, it can’t be changed, so whatever sound you’re getting at the moment, is the best you’re ever going to get from that particular device, regardless of how ‘smart’ the built in A.I is.

Inevitably, replacements are going to be needed as listening demands increase. The more you listen to your streamed music, the sound quality really does start to mean a lot more than the ‘smartness’ of  the A.I assistant.

Here, I think Apple have got it absolutely right. If you make an investment in a great speaker and amp set up, the software (firmware) running on it can always be improved and that is where Apple’s focus will be for HomePod.

As it is, I no longer listen to Music through my Echos. They sound terrible compared to HomePod. I already have an Apple Music subscription since it saves me money. I usually buy at least 2 albums a month on average, so a £9.99 per month unlimited music subscription service allows me to listen to whatever I want, whenever I want and if Apple decide to offer lossless streaming (highly rumoured to be coming), HomePod will sound unbelievably impressive. The Echos? Probably don’t have the processing power to handle lossless content.

HomePod, however, thanks to that super powerful Apple A8 CPU inside, will eat lossless data rates for breakfast, while still leaving plenty room for lunch and dinner.

If you look at video streaming, it went from SD (standard definition) to HD (high def 720p) to FHD (Full High Definition 1080p) now through to full 4K UHD (Ultra High Definition).

Audio streaming has been going the same way, but the hardware has been the limiting factor. Without a decent amp and speakers to make use of the available data, 128Kbps streams sound no different to 256Kbps, but when played on decent speakers, 256, sound significantly better. So when lossless streaming (think of it as the 4K of audio) arrives, only a decent speaker and amp system will be able to deliver the full soundscape that lossless provides.

HomePod will be able to deliver. The competition? Not so much.

In addition to Apple Music streaming 45+ Million songs to every subscriber, Apple do also offer Radio stations, through Apple Music (or iTunes on a computer, no subscription required), like their flagship Beats 1.

Matt Wilkinson’s Mon- Fri 11a.m. time slot (U.K time) has become a favourite of mine. I love his style of broadcasting and his musical choices are really good.

Following on from Matt, Mon – Fri, @2 p.m is Julie Adenuga who like Matt, offers a relaxed and natural style. Zane Lowe (Mon- The @5 p.m) continues with his flagship 3 hour stint of musical revelations to complete a solid 9 hr set up for regular daily listeners.

Beats 1 sounds awesome on HomePod, with great production values. It really is the standard by which all radio stations should be compared.

So, to round up. Is HomePod the dud that everyone thinks it is?

No it most definitely is not a dud.

When you look at the roadmap that will inevitably be followed. Lossless streaming will be coming sooner, rather than later. Apple, I think, understand that, which is why they have played the waiting game and have designed HomePod with the best future proofing tech that is currently available, for what is to come.

Short sightedness in this now, now, NOW, materialistic, western society, pitches one thing against another, in the simplest headline grabbing (clickbait) way they possibly can.

A headline like “Apple’s new HomePod is a DUD”, will get more attention than “Apple’s new HomePod leaves all others in the dirt”, because controversy it seems, draws attention at the cost of honest assessments of what is being reviewed.

Is Siri as smart as Alexa on the smart speaker? No.

Does HomePod sound much better than Echo? Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt.

Would you use Echo, Google Home etc. as your primary home sound system? No way, it doesn’t sound good enough.

Would you use HomePad as a primary sound system? Absolutely. It sounds incredible and will only get batter as the system matures.

So, if music is important to you, which should you consider?

Me personally? I bought a HomePod out of curiosity. I wanted to know if it really was as bad as people were making on and what I’ve found is I love it.

HomePod is an incredible device and I look forward to how the system evolves over time. It is already a good system and does what Apple says it does. In time, it will become the premium system that all others will be compared against. Amazon and Google speaker offerings are not the targets here. . .

Look what happened to Motorola and Nokia (amongst others) when Apple launched the original iPhone, it was criticised, ridiculed and written off as an disappointing novelty. . .

Now look at the iPhone.

Where are Nokia and Motorola etc?

HomePod is the iPhone moment for premium audio. . .just you wait and see.

Sonos, Bose and B&O, to name a few, should all start to feel more than a little worried. . .

 

 

 

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Panasonic LUMIX: Creativity Beyond Borders

I just found Panasonic’s latest video online at their dedicated Panasonic LUMIX YouTube channel and thought I’d like to share it with you.

It’s called The Creators:

It runs for 3 minutes and 10 seconds, where not one word is spoken. There isn’t a need for words. I think this is a beautiful short film, which captures the spirit of creativity and production perfectly. The message is both clear and very poignant:

Creativity Beyond Borders.

Panasonic LUMIX dedicated YouTube channel can be found by clicking the link below:

Panasonic LUMIX Video

There are many more inspirational videos to watch at the LUMIX link above. So please check it out and subscribe to their channel, so you can keep up to date with or learn all about the latest Panasonic LUMIX Cameras.

If you’re new here, I’ve written a few reviews of different cameras, but have fallen in love with my favourite camera ever, the Panasonic LUMIX GX8. I love shooting with the GX8. It is an awesome camera.

The Creators video above, is just a reminder that it takes so much more than one person and a camera / lens to capture a beautiful scene. It takes all the hard work of everyone who designed, tweaked, programmed, built and perfected the hardware we photographers rely on to capture that one moment. Without them, we couldn’t do what we do.

So, inspired by The Creators video, I would like to say thank you to Panasonic LUMIX and all of your incredible team, for caring so much and making great cameras and lenses that make my photography so much fun.

Panasonic GX9 announced! I don’t want one.

Today, Panasonic announced yet another camera. Hot on the heels of the recently announced LUMIX G9, came the LUMIX GH5s and now, the LUMIX GX9 is revealed to the world.

Many are pitching this as the GX8 replacement and in fairness, the Panasonic numbering would indicate that that is the case, however, if you look at the specs, the GX9 is more like a GX80 replacement and most certainly isn’t a replacement for the highly regarded and in my case, much loved LUMIX GX8.

The GX9, has a 20MP LiveMOS Micro Four Thirds sensor, with no anti-aliasing filter for some extra detail. It also has an electromagnetic shutter mechanism, so shutter shock should be reduced significantly (though I would point out, that I have never really experienced shutter shock on my GX8).

The GX9 of course gets the updated DUAL I.S 2 stabilisation system, but the DUAL I.S on my GX8 is more than capable for every day shooting needs, but for the who are interested in the GX9, the new system is a great feature to have.

However, the GX9 has had some of the GX8’s best bits removed:

The EVF is a higher res, but a smaller magnification factor.

The GX9 body is physically smaller than the GX8.

The shutter release is more awkwardly placed on the top plate as opposed to the GX8 placement on the front grip.

The GX9 now only sports a tilt and swivel rear LCD, whereas the GX8 features a full rotational flip out rear LCD.

The GX9, now has absolutely ZERO weather sealing compared to the GX8’s built like a tank, take anywhere in any condition feel. That’s not to say the build is poor. It is apparently a very well built camera, but with no weather sealing. A strange decision for a camera that Panasonic are pitching as the one for Street Photography. Presumably, people on do street photography in dry weather. My GX8 comes with me everywhere. Being weather sealed, means I don’t need to care about the weather. Thanks GX8.

The GX9 has NO Mic input. People complained the GX8 only had a 2.5mm port, but I’m sure they will be a little more vocal on this as the GX9 has none.

I haven’t had a hands on with the GX9 yet, so I am basing this on reviews I have watched and read, but it is clear to me, that despite the numbering, the GX9 is no replacement for the marvellous GX8.

I may consider a GX9 as a second body somewhere down the line, but in fairness, the GX80 is a cracking little camera, which shares pretty much the same feature set as the GX9 except the higher res sensor and a couple of less crucial features (Bluetooth and a new Monochrome D Filter setting).

Body only, the Panasonic LUMIX DC-GX9 starts at £699.00, which is way below the price the GX8 commanded at launch, but with the prices falling on both the GX8 and the GX80, I’m more inclined to grab a second GX8 or the smaller GX80 and save some cash for better lenses, than grab a GX9, because it’s the latest offering.

Now this is not all bad. I do actually like the look of the GX9. It is a really good looking and very well featured camera, at a competitive price point. Anyone looking to upgrade from the GX80 may want to grab the GX9 for the resolution difference, but you may want to look at the GX8 instead.

The Panasonic LUMIX GX8, is as far as I am concerned, one of the most perfect cameras I have ever had the joy of shooting with. I won’t be giving it up any time soon. Not unless Panasonic launch a GX8 Mark II.

Apple Admits To Deliberately Slowing Down Older iPhones. . .

Talk about despicable. According to an article in The Independent, Apple have admitted to deliberately slowing down older iPhone models, WITHOUT THE OWNERS’ KNOWLEDGE OR CONSENT:

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/apple-iphones-slow-down-old-models-smartphone-speed-ios-updates-a8121906.html

The article goes on to say that Apple don’t do it to make people upgrade (yeah right!) but it’s to preserve performance as the battery ages.

W.T.F Apple???

Once I have paid MY CASH for a device, it becomes MY PROPERTY.

YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO RESTRICT PERFORMANCE WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. IT IS MY DEVICE NOT YOURS.

Why not flash up an alert which states “To preserve performance, replace battery soon” instead of restricting the performance?

Having admitted this despicable behaviour, it only leads to the obvious question:

“what other Apple devices / computers are Apple slowing down as they get older?”

Apple you should be ashamed. This is not decent behaviour. This is abuse of your customers and taking their loyalty for granted.

I’ll certainly be looking at other brands the next time I replace my Smartphone. Samsung or with Nokia being back in the ring, could be the next upgrade.

Apple can’t take my loyalty for granted, nor should you let them takes yours.

Canon EOS M6? We Need To Talk. . . **UPDATED** 24th January 2018

This may be a bit long but, for fairness and for context, it really needs to be, so apologies in advance: If you want to get to the EOS M6 bit, just scroll down about a 40% of the page: it starts just before you see the first picture.

Regular readers of this blog, know I’ve tried many different cameras, DSLR, DSLT and MILC. The last, was my second Panasonic LUMIX GX8, which is a phenomenal camera. It’s great . . .BUT. . .

. . .20.3MP in a Micro Four Thirds sized sensor, can at times, create noisy images. Now, depending on what you’re shooting for, using high ISO on a smaller sensor, then resizing your final image downwards, removes virtually all the problems or issues associated with smaller sensors. The same is true of any sized sensor. Resizing downwards removes (by essentially making the noise patterns too small to see) noise artefacts.

Of course, virtually NO camera can see in the dark (unless it’s a dedicated night visions type) and in truth, high ISO on any sized sensor, starts to loose detail and noise creeps in as the ISO rises. Proper planning either with available light or by using strobes / flash wirelessly to provide the light you need for better image quality should always be the way you go.

But. . .what if you want to print BIG images?

On the GX8 for example, printing big with a 20.3MP sensor, at ISO up to @1600 creates excellent large prints (I printed to A3 borderless with no issues), the lower the ISO the bigger the print you can make (generally speaking) without image degradation.

But. . .what if you needed to use high ISO to get that shot and wanted to print a big image?

Go Full Frame, I hear you cry.

You could, but then you have the weight issue again. Sure you could use the Sony A7 Full Frame Mirrorless options, but then they still need bigger, heavier and more expensive lenses, but you would get the output you desired.

You could lump that Canon 5D Mk IV, Nikon D750, 810, 800 etc around and you would definitely get the outcome you wanted. Big picture, loads of detail at higher ISO, but, you still have that weight issue literally dragging you down.

So, what do you do?

As many of you already know, there are two giants in the camera world. Nikon and Canon. Their DSLR cameras have dominated the marketplace for decades.

DSLR cameras have become image capturing and processing beasts, but as with human beings, age brings a few less welcome side effects. . .just like their human counterparts, enjoying middle age spread, DSLR cameras have got bigger, fatter and heavier.

Sure, they capture more detail, so unlike their human counterparts, the camera’s ‘eyesight’ has improved, while humans’ eyesight start to degrade with age (not helped by pixel peeping on LCD displays at very close quarters), but they have gained weight. A lot of weight.

Seeing the camera fattening trend as a deterrent to purchasing, combined with the dominance of Canon and Nikon in the market, smaller manufacturers had to find their own niche.

Minolta was bought by Sony. Kodak, well they’re long gone now. Agfa, gone. Olympus Four Thirds DSLR failed to grasp any real market and Fujifilm DSLR offerings were based on old Nikon bodies, cost too much and failed to take hold.

It seemed Canon and Nikon dominance would continue . . .unchallenged.

But. . .(Oh-oh!)

Something was brewing in the Canon and Nikon dominated camera world. Pocket cameras were being replaced with smartphones and Canon and Nikon didn’t really dominate the compact camera market like they did with the bigger siblings.

So, having rethought their plans for a sustainable future, Olympus launched the Olympus PEN EP-1, Micro Four Thirds, MIRRORLESS interchangeable lens camera, complete with expensive ad campaign with Kevin Spacey, although, given the current revelations, alleged or otherwise, Olympus might want to forget that ad series.

A new comer to the digital stills camera market, having teamed up with Leica and agreed with Olympus on mount and sensor developments, was Panasonic, who launched their LUMIX range of Micro Four Thirds Mirrorless cameras.

Both the Olympus and Panasonic offered compact design, the ability to swap lenses to suit different shooting purposes and promised DSLR like image quality.

And the mirrorless market took off . . .BOOM!

Fujifilm, followed too with their excellent X- Series Mirrorless camera range, with tweaked X-Trans APS-C sized sensor. The Fuji sensor was bigger than that offered by Olympus and Panasonic and gave a higher image quality. Combined with the retro design of the Fuji X-Pro 1, then the X-E1, the smaller compact size with true DSLR image quality, the mirrorless market exploded.

Photographer after photographer, were ditching their bulky and heavy DSLR gear for Fuji’s excellent X-Series cameras.

The combination of great image quality in a light weight form, reinvigorated many a photographer who suddenly found themselves enjoying their craft for the first time in decades. Lighter = more agile, less burdensome to carry = more shooting opportunities, because you wanted to carry the camera with you.

Canon and Nikon, apparently did nothing. . .

That was until Nikon, finally decided to launch a mirrorless offering, that too was small, lightweight, with interchangeable lenses and they called it. . .the Nikon 1 series.

They were small. They were fast. They had interchangeable lenses. They had everything going for them. Nikon were onto a winner . . .except. . .

Nikon chose to protect their DSLR market by giving the Nikon 1, a 1 inch 10MP sensor. Now, a 1 inch sensor is significantly smaller than a Micro Four Thirds sensor, so image quality at low ISO was fine, but as soon as things got a bit higher, images were virtually unusable. I won’t include the Nikon 1 with its CX format sensor in the discussion from here on, other than very briefly. It can’t compete on the same level as the other mirrorless offerings.

Hot on the heels of Nikon, to much advertising, fanfare and huge promotional activity, Canon announced the Canon EOS M. . .A Full Canon EOS. . .Only Smaller.

It was small.

It had a DSLR sized sensor (APS-C).

It had a 3″ Touchscreen display (a first).

It had the heart of a DSLR in a handy compact size. . .the CANON EOS M

The Canon EOS M launched in 2012 and the reviews started coming in, (or going out?) you know what I mean. Anyways, the EOS M was a solidly built, almost pocketable powerhouse. The TouchScreen interface was amazing. It was and still is the best implementation of Touchscreen on any make of Camera. Canon got that right and have continued with that great touchscreen interface.

Unfortunately, the EOS M was criticised. . .”there’s no viewfinder” the reviewers shouted. Which was correct, the EOS M had no viewfinder. “There’s no built in flash”, the reviewers’ complained. They were correct, the EOS M had NO built in flash, but Canon did bundle (at least in the U.K) a snappy little hotshoe number called the Speedlite 90EX. Problem solved.

The reviewers were pretty much unanimous about the EOS M image quality though. The EOS M had an APS-C sized 18MP sensor and it produced beautiful images. Colour, white balance, detail were pretty much spot on. It was a very accomplished creation.

But, (yup, that but again) . . .there were three tiny little, (MAJOR!) problems with the Canon EOS M:

Firstly, Canon priced it higher than most similar spec competition, so it was really expensive. Really, really expensive. It was a fantastic quality, precision build, but it was expensive.

Secondly, Canon announced two lenses for the EOS M. The excellent 18-55mm kit lens and the super excellent 22mm f2 pancake number, which would be followed by the 55-200mm superzoom and the 11-22 IS STM.

Thirdly, and pretty much fatally, the EOS M was fitted with an auto focus system that would struggle to focus on almost anything within an acceptable given time. You know, see something, grab camera, switch on, compose, half press to compose and click . . .shot taken?

The EOS M was more, see something, grab camera, switch on. . . . . . . . . compose, half press to lock focus. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .still waiting. . . . . . . . . . . .and. . . . . . . . . .”beep”. . . .click. Shot taken, subject gone. . . .Oh dear.

For capturing the aftermath of the decisive moment, the EOS M was perfect. It could miss anything you wanted to capture, without trying. It was woeful.

Canon did respond, eventually, by issuing a firmware update, which did speed the AF up a little. The EOS M could focus on still subjects, but anything moving faster than a sleeping tortoise, the EOS M was not the camera for you.

But. . .(oh come on, that darned but again?), here’s the thing. . .

I absolutely love the original EOS M. I think it is an amazing little camera. So much so, I have owned 5 or 6 of them in my time.

“You what?” you may be asking.

Here’s why I love the EOS M.

Canon showed it could build a super compact camera, that could provide excellent image quality. The EOS M was built like a tank. It was small, but had a good heft about it. If I was out in the wilds and had an EOS M with me and a large creature fancied me for lunch? I knew that I could throw the EOS M at that big creature and if it didn’t knock it out, it would certainly make it think twice about what’s on the menu.

The TouchScreen interface was and still is the best implementation on a camera. Period. Nobody does touchscreen implementation as good as Canon. The EOS M was just like using an iPhone. It was just so slick.

But, (that but again), the damage was done. Nobody wanted the EOS M, so prices dropped and dropped some more, but then something happened which changed the EOS M’s fortunes. . .Magic Lantern released a firmware release for the EOS M, which opened up a huge range of capabilities. Capabilities, Canon had elected to either not include because it could impede on their DSLR sales, or just hadn’t thought about.

The much maligned EOS M, became a must have for videographers, thanks to Magic Lantern. Video makers couldn’t get enough of them and by that time, they were dirt cheap. Here in the U.K, I bought a brand new ‘still sealed’ EOS M with 18-55 kit lens and Speedlite 90EX for £199.00. The same camera just one year previously was @£900.00. (ouch!)

Canon, licking it’s wounds from the disappointment the EOS M created, launched the EOS M2, but only in the Asiatic region. The EOS M2 was much like it’s predecessor, slightly smaller, but Canon had equipped the EOS M2 with Wi-Fi and a new, improved and much faster Hybrid AF system. It was the Hybrid AF II. Phase detect and Contrast detect focusing. Surely they had a winner on their hands this time?

No.

Canon lovers the world over, imported the EOS M2 by the bucket load, in the hope Canon could deliver a good camera, but, as with the original EOS M, the AF was pretty useless. Image quality and everything else remained the same, absolutely stunning, but that AF problem, Canon refused to solve. Canon had faster AF systems already associated with the same sensor in other cameras in their range, but Canon refused to implement it in the EOS M range.

The EOS M range, was fast becoming a photographic joke. Panasonic, Olympus and Fujifilm, continued to improve and extend their offerings, adding better features and capabilities or releasing upgraded firmware to extend features and capabilities, while Canon played silly games with AF systems in their EOS M series, just so it didn’t impact DSLR sales.

In 2105, three years after the original EOS M was released, Canon announced to the world, what the world had been waiting for . . .the EOS M3. I did a blog piece on it.

The EOS M3 was a great camera. Solid build, tilt and flip touchscreen (still using the original EOS M interface) and new improved 24Mp APS-C sensor which gave amazing images, along with the new Digic 6 processor, noise and speed had been improved.

So had the AF system. Canon implemented the Hybrid AF III. It was faster. It could focus on a moving tortoise, but nothing any faster. What? Canon had released the EOS 70D with Dual Pixel AF, surely they could have implemented that into the EOS M3?

They could have. BUT DIDN’T.

It was becoming clear to me, that Canon, appeared to be crippling the EOS M range by CHOICE!!

During all this time, Sony had launched the NEX, upgraded them to the Alpha moniker and Samsung had entered the market with their NX series of  mirrorless offerings.

Samsung’s NX300 was an incredibly good little camera. Their Galaxy NX (EK-GN120) was a great concept: always connected 4G, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, NFC and ran on the Android operating system, which with a bit more investment and some much needed software updates, could have been a game changer. The last offering Samsung gave us was their incredible NX 1, a 28MP Back Side Illuminated mirrorless speed demon, but pretty much as soon as it was launched, Samsung pulled out of the camera market, leaving all Samsung owners up that especially smelly creek, with no paddles in sight. WTF Samsung?

Olympus and Panasonic had gone from strength to strength and Fuji, had pretty much taken over the mirrorless world.

Nikon, had released new updated version of their mirrorless 1 series increasing resolution of their 1 inch sensor, but, they were still a pretty ‘meh!’ offering (and expensive for the V range).

The EOS M3 did sell better than the original. It was a more competent camera, but still, that AF system caused problems winning any but the die hard Canon users out there.

With DSLR sales decreasing globally, mirrorless sales going up globally, something had to be done. And finally, Canon did it. . .

Enter the Canon EOS M5. . .

It looked like a small DSLR. It had a 24 MP APS-C sized sensor. It had a touchscreen, flip and tilt LCD, it had a built in EVF, it had built in flash and IT HAD AN AF SYSTEM THAT WAS FAST. . .

Canon included the Dual Pixel AF from their DSLR range and the reviews were all positive. Canon had arrived on the mirrorless stage at last . . .

But. . .(yup. . .again). . . .the EOS M5 was very expensive, with no 4K video capability, a tilt and flip LCD rear screen which flipped 180 degrees downwards for selfies (don’t I just love me? Don’t I just look soooo great? I must photograph myself at every opportunity I can get? I love selfies, it’s all about meeeeeeeeeeeee!!! UGH! Selfies? . . .Grrrrrrr)  but for the EOS M dedicated videographers out there, the flip down screen did present a problem: how could a one person outfit, view the screen with tripod and external Mic attached?

Answer?

Hold it by hand upside down, then rotate the file during post processing.

But, the critics love picking fault with the Canon EOS M range, because of the origins of that particular species. Besides, Canon hadn’t really endeared themselves to EOS M buyers. High priced and what was seen as flawed cameras which had a woefully lacklustre range of EF-M lenses. Sure, the range was now up to 7 lenses, but most ‘newer’ offerings in the lens line up, were fitted with cheap, nasty plastic bayonet mounts:

18-55mm IS STM (metal mount),

22mm (metal mount),

11-22mm IS STM (metal mount),

55-200mm IS STM (plastic mount),

15-45mm IS STM (plastic mount),

28mm Macro (built in LED lighting, but plastic mount)

18-150mm IS STM (plastic mount).

Of all the lenses, only the 22mm has what could be considered a fast maximum aperture of f2.

So, once again, Canon appear to be crippling what is now a fantastic camera. It has fast AF, it has fast fps shooting capabilities, it has a decent buffer for capturing 24MP images a 9fps (still) or 7fps (tracking). . .

BUT. . .(that bloody but again). . .Canon have no quality glass to put on it! WTF Canon?????

Now, I am not saying the EF-M lenses are terrible. They aren’t. I love the 18-55mm and the 22mm images. The 11-22 is on par or slighter better than the 18-55mm, the optics in these lenses are good, but Canon are crippling them with slower apertures.

BUT (and this but is deserved) BUT, CANON ARE CRIPPLING THEM FURTHER BY PUTTING PLASTIC MOUNTS ON THEM. . .

Come on Canon (and all other makers guilty of plastic mounts on lenses – bayonets as they are officially called – see I do know a thing or two. . .well I know a thing). There may be ONE situation where putting a plastic bayonet on a lens ‘could’ be considered acceptable:

If is it a very short pancake lens which is less likely to experience bumps and unintentional knocks. A plastic bayonet on the 22mm lens ‘could’ be considered as acceptable.

NOT ON THE 55-200.

NOT ON THE 18-150MM

The two longest, (both physically and reach), lenses, SHOULD NEVER HAVE PLASTIC BAYONET MOUNTS ON THEM. . . . .EVER!!!!!!!!!!!

Just one, yes ONE inadvertent knock, could snap that mount and leave it stuck in the body of your EOS M camera. . .Oh dear, now what do I do?

Buy another camera, from a different manufacturer who offers metal bayonet lenses, like FUJIFILM XF lenses! That’s what you do.

Now, I have owned several Fuji X Series Cameras: X-Pro 1, X-E1, 2x X-E2 and the X-T1. They are great cameras, but I gave them up and went with the Lumix GX8 (again).

But, I have just sold my LUMIX GX8 (I know I can’t believe it either) for. . .wait for it. . . . . . . . . .the Canon EOS M. . .5?

Nope. . . . . .M3 (again)?. . . . . .

Nope. . . .The Canon. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

EOS M6.

Yes, that’s right. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the Canon EOS M6. . .

Canon EOS M6 1

Canon EOS M6 Silver & Canon EF-M 15-45mm f3.5-6.3 I.S STM Lens

The Canon EOS M6, has a recommended retail (R.R.P) of £729.99 in kit with the EF-M 15-45mm IS STM lens and is available in Silver / Black (as shown here) or Black (which is more a deep grey/ Tungsten top and base plate [similar colour to the EF-M Lenses] with the same black body section as the Silver variant shown here.

Also available as Body only (RRP £629.99) or with the EF-M 18-150mm IS STM lens kit (RRP: £969.99) Prices were correct at time of writing, but there are bargains to be found. If you look around.

Canon currently have a Cashback offer on select items at the moment, some retailers are even offering a limited time Double CashBack offer. I was fortunate and grabbed a great deal from Amazon on my EOS M6.

Initially, many may think the EOS M6 looks just like the previous EOS M3, but the EOS M6 is a complete reworking. Complete with a new optional Electronic Viewfinder too boot: The Canon EVF-DC2 (available exclusively from Canon in Silver or in Black from Canon and all other major photographic retailers), which does cost an extra £229.00 (at the time of writing this). OUCH!!!

Canon EOS M6 2

Canon EOS M6 Built in Flash

The Top Plate still features the Built In Pop-Up Flash, HotShoe, Shutter Release, Control Dial, Mode Dial and Exposure Compensation Dial.

The bundled EF-M 15-45mm IS STM kit lens, now features a locking mechanism which allows the lens to be retracted into a smaller form factor, unlike the original EF-M 18-55mm IS STM kit lens of the original EOS M Range kits.

Unfortunately, Canon has also decided to remove the metal bayonet lens mount, with an awfully nasty and cheap plastic bayonet mount. One inadvertent knock, clunk or drop and that plastic mount will likely break, leaving you with a Canon EOS M6 body which has the remnants of a lens mount stuck inside it. Hmmmmm.

Plastic lens mounts are completely unacceptable. There should NEVER be any justification for putting a plastic lens mount on a lens. EVER.

For the sake of a few grams in weight and a few pence on manufacturing costs, metal bayonet lens mounts are a BASIC REQUIREMENT. They are ESSENTIAL in offering a solid feeling, reliable and QUALITY product.

Plastic lens mounts just make the offerings look cheap and half baked, as if the manufacturer is not yet committed to the product they’ve made the lenses for.

Canon EOS M6 5

Canon EOS M6 Control Dials

The Shutter Release, now has a distinct Control Dial surrounding it, with a more exagerated ‘grain’. This new, industrial ‘grain’ offers more friction with the finger for a more assured turning experience. Each adjustment, is registered with a competent and reassuring click. The feedback felt in the finger with each click, lets you know you are using a precision instrument. There is nothing plasticky here.

This dial feels like metal, responds like the good old reliable mechanical dials of times past. In fact, in direct comparison, my previous LUMIX GX8 dials were brilliant. A good feedback click, with a nice friction when turning the dials. But the dials on the EOS M6 now make the dials on the GX8 feel just that little bit less special and a little bit plasticky.

Canon EOS M6 4

Canon EOS M6 Control Dials Close Up

Gone is the awkwardly placed Power Button, hidden between dials on the EOS M3, replaced with an easy to reach flick switch, where a thumb can just slide it forward with minimal fuss.

Beneath the Exposure Compensation Dial, now sits a dedicated rear Thumb dial for settings changes and the Mode Dial. All these dials, continue this quality feel Canon have implemented. Each one feels solid, with reassuring clicks when turned. They may not have locking mechanisms on them, but unlike so many other dials installed on far too many mirrorless cameras, that feel like they’ll turn just by thinking about it, none of the Top Plate Dials on the Canon EOS M6 will change your settings unless you want them to.

Canon EOS M6 3

Canon EOS M6 3″ Touch Screen

The rear of the Canon EOS M6 is minimalist. The ‘looks like an afterthought’ rear thumb rest from the EOS M3, has been replaced by a moulded and grippy rubber backing, which houses 4 slightly raised buttons for INFO, REC, Play and Menu, surrounding another command dial which also incorporates a 4- way selector for ISO, Flash, Manual Focus and Trash options. At the centre of this rear dial, is the all important SET button, which in view mode (that’s camera mode) doubles as your Quick menu access button.

The rear LCD also has the rubberised surround to protect it from damage when flipping up 180 degree for selfie (Oh I love me, Oh I love me!) shooters out there, or, just from general wear and tear. It’s a nice, quality look and feel.

Canon EOS M6 6

Canon EOS M6 3″ Touch Screen On

The more observant amongst you will have already noticed in the top right hand corner of the rear 1.04Million Dot LCD a ‘Q’ icon. This is an instant ‘Touch’ Short Cut to your Quick Menu settings. Just a tap with a finger, and the Quick Menu settings appear like magic in front of your eyes.

The touch interface as I have said several times, is as smooth as that on the iPhone. It is sleek and a joy to use: swiping through images in your library, pinch to zoom etc. from the original EOS M are all still there and are great to use.

Canon EOS M6 8

Canon EOS M6 Top Plate

The Canon EOS M6 is a small camera, but feels fantastic in the hand. Like it’s predecessor the EOS M, there is a good heft about the EOS M6. This is a solid, well built device.

Like the EOS M3, the combination of direct physical control with Dials, is further enhanced with the addition of the thumb scroll dial beneath the Exposure Comp dial, allowing the more serious “old school”  photographer to make whatever adjustments they want to make as they would normally do on a DSLR.

The inclusion of the Touch Screen, for the “new school of photography” generation, used to touchscreens on everything, but still wonder why the toaster doesn’t have one, will absolutely love the Touch Interface on the EOS M6.

As I said earlier, the EOS M had the best touch implementation on any camera. FULL STOP. Canon obviously knows this and that’s why every generation of EOS M, whilst having their own flaws, has maintained the one winning feature.

On the EOS M6, touch is silky smooth and great to use.

Canon EOS M6 7

Canon EOS M6 Tilt & Flip Rear LCD

The Flip and Tilt LCD on the rear, tilts down 45 degrees, for easier compositions during ‘crowd’ shots (like at concerts), whilst the flip up through 180 degrees, allows for easy waist level compositions or for those all important selfies. . .UGH! Or, for the serious blogger or budding vlogger, the ability to mount the EOS M6 on a tripod and see what’s actually being recorded and focused on (I’ll come to that bit shortly) is a must.

But (yeah, yeah) flipping the rear LCD up 180 degrees, does render the hot shoe unavailable for mounting an external Mic on (1st World problems for selfie loving generation! Boo-hoo), however the good news for all you vanity prone selfie takers out there, is that there are loads of add ons available which address these sorts of issues, bars / tripod mount extenders etc. Alternatively, you could actually go out into the world, meet some real people, make real friends and start taking pictures of each other instead of worrying about how best to record yourself. But (ha-ha) that’s just an idea. . .it might catch on. . .

Canon EOS M6 9

Canon EOS M6 Rear LCD Close Up

The EOS M6 rear screen shows loads of details and settings info, without getting in the way of your shooting experience. The more observant amongst you will have noticed that little icon below the battery icon* . . .BLUETOOTH. . .Mmmmmmmmm. In fact, Bluetooth 4 Low energy.

*Canon, please update the firmware and include a percentage figure inside the battery icon. Three bars in the battery, really just doesn’t do it any more. Percentage is king.

Bluetooth connectivity, combined with NFC (for compatible Android devices), Wi-Fi for iOS or Android (PC and Mac too) means that transferring your images from the EOS M6 to your Tablet or Smartphone is as easy as possible.

Bluetooth connections remain active when the camera is still switched on but may have ‘powered down’ (gone into sleep), so that if you launch the companion Canon Connect App (from App Store or Play Store) you can still transfer images from the EOS M6 to your other device effortlessly.

The inclusion of bluetooth is significant. It makes for a quicker and more efficient workflow for photos on the go and with the more recent smart devices, with 64-Bit Desktop class processing at your finger tips, editing your images and video is easier than ever. If that is, any editing is needed.

RAW shooters will always want RAW images and spend hours in post with each image. However Canon’s JPEG engine is probably amongst the best out there and the engine in this EOS M6 is excellent.

Canon EOS M6’s 24.2MP APS-C sensor combined with Canon’s latest DiGIC 7 processor, produces wicked out of camera JPEGS.

I was really fortunate at this point in the blog, when my resident super model D’yafinkum Urglee, wandered in to see what I was doing, so I grabbed three shots to share with you:

Predator 1

EOS M6: Out Of Camera JPEG 1 f8.0 ISO600

The EOS M6 Out Of Camera JPEGs are, well look for yourself. Colour accuracy? Check. Detail? Check. Exposure / White Balance? Check.

Predator 2

EOS M6: Out Of Camera JPEG 2 f8.0 ISO500

The 24.2MP APS-C sensor at the heart of the EOS M6, giving you images 6,000 x 4,000 resolution, is a tried and tested sensor, having been implemented in the 80D, 77D, Rebel T7i and the EOS M5. And now, gracing the EOS M6 and WOW. . .

Predator 3

EOS M6: Out Of Camera JPEG 3 f8.0 ISO320

These three images are straight out of camera, with absolutely NO post processing. No sharpening, no editing in any way. They are straight out of the EOS M6, taken with the EF-M 15-45mm IS STM kit lens included with the EOS M6 using built in flash, on AV Mode, with FD (Fine Detail) Picture Style.

They are excellent.

But (OH OH!!), and there is a but. What about the AF?

“Canon EOS M’s aren’t renowned for their speedy AF systems”, I hear you cry. . .

They are now.

The 49 Point, All Cross Type, Dual Pixel AF is excellent, especially for moving subjects and face tracking in video. It is fast, but (oh oh!) like all cameras, regardless of make or price point, it can’t see in the dark, so as light quality reduces it can take a little longer to catch focus (just like every camera on the market), but (oh oh!) unlike the first, second and third generations of EOS M, the EOS M6, like it’s bigger sibling the EOS M5 is a speed demon when it comes to AF.

Digital 5-Axis image stabilisation is a nice add on for videographers out there, which combines with the lens IS to give even smoother hand held shooting.

In poorer light, the focus assist lamp illuminates locks focus and shot taken with minimal delay and fast enough for most purposes. In really poor light, do what any competent photographer would do, use the flash. The built in flash offers enough oomph for more intimate surroundings, but with a built in wireless trigger, can be used to trigger additional compatible flash units you have located in any surroundings. It’s a win win.

No complaints.

No ifs. . .

And finally. . .

NO BUTS!!!!! (Woo-HOOOOOO!!!!)

Well, there is just one, but and it’s a good but. . .

I just need a Canon EVF-DC2 in silver now to compliment my lovely EOS M6. . . Santa! Oh Santa!!

**UPDATE**

24th January 2018:

The Canon EOS M6 is an excellent little camera, it really is. The AF is reliable and way quicker than anything Canon has offered in a mirror less model before, but having really had time to put the camera through it’s paces, compared to the excellent Panasonic LUMIX GX8, the EOS M6 AF is significantly slower than the GX8.

The DFD AF system in the GX8 combined with the Venus processing Engine, really do make the AF in the LUMIX GX8 a thing to behold. It is lightening fast at acquiring AF. The buffer for shooting is significantly higher than that of the EOS M6 and with the current Panasonic Double Cash back offer, you can effectively get a LUMIX GX8 with the excellent LUMIX 12-60mm kit lens for £599.99 after cash back.

Given the capabilities of the LUMIX GX8, combined with the excellent touch interface and menu system of the GX8, which is almost as good as Canon’s touch interface, weather sealing and a huge array of dedicated compact lenses, if you are considering a EOS M6, I would suggest that in truth, the GX8 is the better camera to go for.

As mentioned earlier, as ISO goes up, noise starts to show up and the details start to get squished out as the camera software tries to produce the best image it can. I may have sounded a bit harsh on the Micro Four Thirds sensor, but in reality, relying on super high ISO to get a crucial image is more a sign of bad planning on behalf of the person standing behind the camera.

With proper planning, a few inexpensive flash guns (Godox, Nissin etc) with TTL and wireless capabilities showing up on the market, there really is no excuse not to have a couple of flash guns to hand. Check out Damian McGillicuddy’s work with his Olympus Micro Four Thirds gear to see what can be achieved with these super compact Micro Four Thirds sensors. He gets amazing results (https://damianmcgillicuddy.photography).

My GX8 is my go to camera. I absolutely love everything about it. Is it perfect? No. No camera is, but for me and my style of photography, the LUMIX GX8 is the closest I have come to the perfect camera (at least for me).

I won’t be replacing my GX8 any time soon. Sorry Canon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Decent MacBook From Apple?

Once upon a time, there was a company that made computers. Computers that were lusted after the world over. They were sleek, they were unique and they were really expensive. Really, really expensive.

That company was Apple.

If you’ve looked around for a laptop recently, Apple’s offering you might not have noticed, have ballooned in price.

Sure they’ve got thinner and lighter. Yeah, they might even have gotten more powerful (the jury is out on the latest MacBook with Intel Core M CPU) and the screens have gone RETINA. . .no more visible pixels irritating your eyes (woohoo!) and, they’ve lost so many of the features that made Mac laptops great in the first place.

Gone:

Usable port variations (without expensive dongles)

Optical Drive (they were handy when you needed one, but hey buy an external Apple one for a humungous price as an add on).

Affordability.

MagSafe Power Connectors

Excellent Keyboards

To name but a few ‘features’ that have departed the Apple Laptop line up.

What we have gained is:

Retina Display (so you can squint at really small print but see no pixels)

USB-C

Thinner

Awful feeling keyboard

The need to buy expensive USB-C Dongles for all these things you used to connect, without needing a Dongle.

Ah progress. . .Progress: emptying your pockets, so they can keep filling theirs.

So, here in 2017, if you want a Mac Laptop, that has ports that you can use out of the box, one that features a MagSafe power adapter, you know the one that pops off when you catch the power chord, without it dragging your expensive laptop into a potentially catastrophic end? Yeah, how many laptops were saved from serious damage thanks to the MagSafe Power Plug? Hundreds of thousands if not millions. If you want a Mac Laptop, where you don’t need to carry around an over priced DVD writer, what options have you got, without digging even further into your hard earned cash?

This quandary got me thinking. I was looking for an updated Apple laptop, but their price to feature set and overall experience in use, is frankly, nasty, compared to what the majority of people would classify as classic Apple laptops (when unibody design first started in the MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops, around late 2009 into mid-2010.

Now, during that period, Apple did actually make a laptop for the masses. It was called the MacBook. . .

 

MacBook 2010 1

A beautiful crafted unibody design, in shiny white polycarbonate, with a novel rounded, clamshell edge, harking back to the iBook G3 of years past. And, the polycarbonate MacBook Unibody, was, in Apple terms, affordable for the masses (although by PC laptop comparisons, still a bit high). It was unashamedly Plastic. White plastic.

The last ‘real’ MacBook was the mid-2010 model, which featured an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz CPU, nVidia 320M 256MB GPU, 2GB RAM, 10hr battery life, a built in DVD burner, a multitude of ports (USB, Ethernet, Mini Display, Audio In/Out), the excellent MagSafe Power Port, Large Glass Multi-Touch TrackPad and a 250GB 5400 rpm Hard Drive. All for £849.00.

MacBook 2010 2

There were upgrade options, for example, you could up the RAM to 4Gb for £50, the hard drive to 320GB for £50 or 500GB for an extra £100.

So, for say a 4GB, 320GB Hard drive version, that would come in at £949.00 back in the day.

Today, a base model MacBook will set you back £1249.00, for which you get no DVD burner. No MagSafe Port. No Mini Display. No conventional USB ports. No ethernet. Yet, it’s £400 more than the previous generation of MacBook.

MacBook 2010 5

The new MacBook, does of course have all new updated hardware, like Core M or Core I processors, PCI-e based SSD Flash storage, retina display, a new backlit butterfly keyboard design which makes the keys very thin and spongy feeling when typing, a USB-C port, which charges the internal battery, but if using it while charging, means you can’t connect anything to your new sleek and metallic, overly expensive MacBook, without buying a lovely USB-C hub (check out the prices on any USB-C hubs. Eye watering).

MacBook 2010 3

So, what am I complaining about?

Price and usability.

The MacBook was a statement item. The choice of students around the world, the trusty and reliable companion for travellers the world over. A reasonably lightweight, but durable and powerful enough laptop, which could do everything you threw at it.

The unibody MacBook, had the exact same internals as the mid 2010 MacBook Pro. The Pro version had an aluminium unibody shell and a backlit keyboard and cost and extra £150 for the base model, but the MacBook you could get for the same price as the base model MacBook Pro, could have more storage and more RAM. Bigger bang for the buck. The MacBook also shared one other thing with the MacBook Pro: the large, glass, multi-touch TrackPad. . .Mmmmmm.

MacBook 2010 4

Unfortunately, the MacBook unibody got a bit of a bad rap, as complaints of hairline cracks on the top cover and around the ports started circulating/ Apple never acknowledged the issue officially, but did offer a free replacement service for anyone affected.

The MacBook unibody, officially died in mid 2011. No replacement was forthcoming.

R.I.P MacBook unibody. A great laptop and friend to those lucky enough to have got one.

‘But, it’s 2017’ I hear you cry. ‘What are you going on about a 7 year old computer for?’

Well, I have to make a confession. I never bought a MacBook. I was always enticed by the aluminium sibling and loved running MacBook Pro for years. Until last week. . .

I was browsing around eBay and saw a white unibody MacBook, 4GB RAM, 320Gb Hard Drive, for under £250.

The description was minimal, but the rather dark pictures on the listing, showed no major damage, so before I knew it, I had hit Buy It Now and paid for it. The dispatch notification followed around an hour later.

Oh dear.

Next morning, the Postman, delivered a large parcel, which I knew was my MacBook. I took it upstairs and lowered my expectations. This was going to be a mistake, but not a costly, costly mistake, just an ‘I should have known better’ mistake, then opened my parcel.

It was well packaged and inside a custom Intel ‘Look Inside’ neoprene carry case, was the unibody MacBook. It looked surprisingly clean.

Upon close examination, there were lots of surface scratches, but nothing that noticeable, just light scuffing, no dents but more importantly, NO HAIRLINE CRACKS. I was suddenly excited.

Upon powering on, macOS Sierra start up ran. I followed the setup and a few minutes later, I was looking at a beautiful and familiar desktop. I hit the Apple log in the top left corner and then About This Mac.

A new window opened, so I chose System Report, and then Power. I needed to see how quickly the battery would need replacing.

I seriously gasped aloud. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Original battery (I checked) with only 22 cycles. The battery was like new!

I scooted around the MacBook, making sure everything was running well and it was fine. Sierra was a bit sluggish, so I ordered 8GB RAM rom Crucial, along with a Crucial MX300 275GB SSD to replace the hard drive.

Both arrived the next day. I cloned the hard drive with Carbon Copy Cloner, then powered the MacBook down and let it cool down.

I’m no stranger to Mac’s and have carried out a number of repairs on iMac, MacBook Pro, Mac Mini etc over the years, including a challenging hard drive replacement in a mid 2011 iMac [everything including access to parts is behind the screen], so was comfortable with opening these things up.

Upon opening the MacBook, I had my trusty Dyson V6 handheld at the ready, with compressed air canister at the ready, sure to discover some awful nasty truth hiding beneath the rubberised base plate. . .

The MacBook was completely, totally and utterly pristine inside. No dust. No hairs. No anything that shouldn’t have been there.

“Ah the previous owner cleaned it before sending” I hear you cry? Not so. I’ve opened enough Apple devices up to know the ‘Apple tightness’ of the screws. Each screw has a bonding agent on the end, which seals the screw in place when first installed and the screws all felt ‘right’.

I disconnected the battery (with a plastic spudger), removed the RAM and then replaced the hard drive with the SSD and inserted the 8GB (2 x 4GB) RAM modules. Quick puff of compressed air and closed the MacBook up.

MacBook 2010 6

Now, before I tell you what happened upon restarting, I will say this about the mid 2010 MacBook. The keyboard feels better than on any of my MacBook Pros or MacBook Airs. The MacBook keyboard is tight with great feedback. It is vastly better than the backlit offerings on the higher end models. the same goes for the trackpad. The trackpad should be the same as the higher end models, but it feels tighter and more accurate. the physical ‘click’ has a much more substantial feel and tone about it. This thing was built to last. I was by this time delighted with my bargain bucket find. This MacBook was full of surprises.

I started the MacBook up. No nasty sounds, so the memory was right and within about 25 seconds, I was looking at a fully loaded desktop. This was bloody quick.

I instantly started the upgrade to macOS High Sierra. I wanted the new APFS file system.

The install went without a glitch.

Upon restarting, the MacBook absolutely flew. This thing was really fast. Certainly fast enough for demanding tasks. Photoshop, Lightroom, Safari, everything opened within a second and a half ready for use.

Battery lasts very well, especially considering that it was June 2010 manufactured and has now only been cycled 24 times. Health is actually going up with each full cycle I’m putting it through, as I had hoped it would, since it hasn’t had that much use in its life so far.

iStat Menus is now showing it at 92% health and the time remaining has increased to over 8 hours, depending on use. I’ve been running on battery for over 7 hours, there’s 19% remains with still over an hour remaining before it cuts out. That is hugely impressive for a 7 year old computer.

So, to cut what could be a very long story down to a medium sized read, here’s the deal:

A mid 2010 MacBook unibody for £250.00. I bought Crucial SSD and RAM from Crucial, but you can get them both on eBay for less: I’ve seen new sealed 275GB MX300 SSD going for @£60 – £65 on eBay and 8GB of Crucial RAM, going for £35 – £40, so for @£100 more, you can have fast RAM and SSD in your 2010 MacBook, which brings me to the point of this entire piece.

If I was to ask you, what the cheapest Mac you could buy was, to run the latest macOS High Sierra operating system, what would you think? If I said you can do it well for under £400 and have a fantastic, iconic computer to boot, would you believe me?

I give you:

The MacBook unibody White 13.3″ LED backlit, Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz CPU, 8GB RAM, 275GB SSD, UK Layout Keyboard, 2 x USB ports, Ethernet Port, Mini Display Port, Audio In/Out, DVD Superdrive, MagSafe Power Port , Glass Multi-Touch TrackPad and that world famous Classic white polycarbonate shell, glowing Apple logo on lid, for under £400.00.

MacBook 2010 1

The mid 2010 unibody MacBook, is still an iconic and powerful laptop computer (with a little updating internally) for 2017 and beyond. . .You might not be able to update the CPU or the GPU and by todays standards, the internals of the mid 2010 MacBook are ‘lacking’.

But, with a bump up in RAM and a swap out to a new faster SSD, the bottle necks that limited things before, have been reduced to a minimum. More RAM and the SSD allow the CPU to process data quicker, giving an old laptop a new lease of life. The MacBook officially only supports 4GB RAM, yet this one is running 8GB perfectly fine. The even better news? It does actually support 16GB DDR3 RAM, should you need more.

I absolutely love my first MacBook. It does everything I want it to, when I want it to. Applications load in under 2 seconds and the system boots up in well under 30 seconds. It’s solid and feels great to use. The keyboard is responsive and the Glass Multi-Touch TrackPad? An absolute joy to use.

So, if you’re thinking about getting a Mac or laptop, which will run the latest operating Systems, that are more than capable power wise of a bit of video or photo editing amongst the more everyday, mundane productivity tasks,  take a look around and see what you can actually get for under £400.00.

Sure, you could go into an Apple store and fork out £1249.00 for the latest Core M based 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD MacBook, which as a fashion statement looks nice, but when you add in the USB-C Dongles you need to connect that USB Stick, or that scanner, or that external DVD drive, or an Ethernet connection, when Wi-Fi is missing etc. that £1249.00 will go up, up, UP!

Or, you could look around and get something that’s classic Apple, has a much more enjoyable typing experience (I’m not alone complaining about the latest keyboards on Apple Laptops), runs macOS High Sierra is UPGRADABLE and DOESN’T NEED DONGLES.

The Apple MacBook (Mid -2010) Unibody White 13.3″ still going strong in 2017. . .with a little help. Probably the best value MacBook you can buy today.

Panasonic LUMIX GX8: Image Quality

Hot on the heels of my last Panasonic LUMIX GX8 piece, here are some image samples taken with my Lumix GX8, Lumix G 30mm f2.8 Mega O.I.S Lens and an old but fully TTL compatible, Olympus FL-36R Flash Gun (with cheap and cheerful flash mounted soft box stuck on the end of the camera mounted flash). Parent Advisory Warning: The embedded images contain models from Sci-Fi Horror Films (they’re action models), but may not be suitable for younger readers.

The 20.3MP LiveMOS Sensor in the LUMIX GX8 gives loads of detail as I hope the shots of my eager models, clearly show. The images have been post processed, with some minor tweaking and are scaled down a bit for Web use, but hopefully they will give you some idea of the image quality you can get from the Micro Four Thirds sensor of the LUMIX GX8.

Predator 4-1

Predator Mask

A detailed model of the AVP Predator, stands @13 inches tall complete with lance, Face Mask, Shoulder mounted blaster and looks stunning. The Lumix GX8 + LUMIX G 30mm f2.8 Mega O.I.S Lens has captured a lot of detail, including the metal mesh effect in the Face Mask Eye Ports.

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Predator: Trophy Belt

The Predator’s Trophy Belt: The 20.3MP LiveMOS Sensor has captured excellent levels of detail. The biggest ‘trophy’ on the belt is barely 1cm in size.

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Alien: Xenomorph Pose

The Alien figure based on the original Alien Film, with spring action tongue. A hopefully, menacing pose with blurred forearm to help show the shallow depth of field the Micro Four Thirds cameras can create.

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Predator Unmasked

The Predator revealed. Removing the model’s Face Mask shows just how much detail these figurines have and how well the Lumix G 30mm f2.8 Mega O.I.S can pull those details out for the 20.3MP sensor in the LUMIX GX8.

Again, I used the hand held lance in the foreground to show the depth of field you can produce on what many call a small sensor. With the right lens and lighting, sensor size really doesn’t need to make that much of a difference.

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Predator Mandibles

Slightly more muted, the flash was swivelled upwards to bounce the light down onto the subject, who as you can see from the image, wasn’t looking too happy.

Again the detail the 20.3MP LUMIX GX8 sensor has pulled from the subject, you can see the mould seal joints along the upper mandible (just off centre as you look at the image)

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Alien AVP: Scream

Above, the AVP Alien Xenomorph screams in agony. Look at the detail caught by the LUMIX GX8. You can see the dust on the inside of the Alien’s mouth.

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Predator Head On

I love the picture above. The Predator Mug Shot. The lighting, the detail, those eyes. The Flash was positioned directly facing the Predator, on the LUMIX GX8 with the 30mm f2.8 Mega O.I.S Lens.

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Predator Off Centre

Slightly different angle, flash was swivelled 45 or 60 degrees upwards, which created a softer and warmer bounced light with more muted colour tones, but still plenty detail.

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Alien: Looming Large

The classic Alien pose: I’m coming to get you. . . Flash directly pointing at Alien, lower angled shot, to try and make the 12 inch model look ‘bigger’ and more imposing. Look at those tiny little teeth on the outstretched tongue.

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Predator Looming

Predator was relaxing into the shoot and looks much happier now: it’s amazing what a different camera angle can create. Loads of detail from the 30mm lens, the LUMIX GX8 capturing the pitting marks on the armour breast plates, the worn threads of the Trophy Belt and many other details.

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Predator With Lance Snow

Same model, just a slightly wider view, with some added ‘snow storm’ effects thrown in to add a different ambience to the image. Focus is centred on that amazing Predator Eye and Jaw area. I like this image.

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Alien Stalking: Snow

And finally a snow storm effect on the stalking Alien figure, wider angle but loads of detail caught by the LUMIX GX8, showing just how formidable this Micro Four Thirds 20.3MP Sensor is.

These images are by no means scientific. Just me with two action figurines, a camera, lens and single flash, messing around to see what’s what and I hope you agree they really are quite impressive, especially when virtually no thought went into the ‘shoot’. It was seriously just a case of ‘I wonder what I can do with. . .’ and ten minutes later I edited the images on the computer.

I do have to give a shout out to the Olympus FL-36R Flash Gun. I bought it used on eBay, unlike my brand spanking new Lumix GX8 and Lenses, not entirely sure it would work. The Panasonic Web Site did offer a compatibility chart, which did say the Oly FL-36R was fully compatible and, it was. It looked great. It balanced well and the best part, I got it for £40 with the soft box, soft case and Flash Stand. It is well used with a lot of clear signs of use on it, but it is fully operational and will offer wireless compatibility.

I did consider a third party Flash, but decided to keep it ‘in the family’ (of Micro Four Thirds) and went for the Olympus. A real bargain and I hope you will agree, the lighting in the shots has worked well, for a one flash set up.

I hope the images do give you a good representation of the image quality you can get from the Micro Four Thirds sensor. For me coming from the Sony A7, it does beg a slightly bigger question: who really needs a full frame sensor?

Feel free to let me know what you think. Leave a comment.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8

It’s been a while since I wrote about my Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 camera, but here’s a quick update. The one I reviewed last year, was a fantastic camera to use, but after quite a bit of testing, I found image quality of shots between 1/60th – 1/200th shutter speed, were all a bit blurred, so after a lot of soul searching, I sold it and started looking for my next camera. But, the Lumix GX8 kept lingering in my mind.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8

I tried the Sony A77, which I loved. It is a great camera, which takes amazing images, but the weight of the kit made the return of ‘not taking my camera with me’, so I sold that and went down the Sony A7 route.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 Rear LCD Closed

The Sony A7 is an amazing camera, but the battery life is shocking. I could easily run through two or three batteries with mild use each day. Again the images, being full frame were awesome. I could cope with several battery changes, but when I started looking at getting some quality glass, Sony FE mount options are very, very expensive.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 Rear Rotated LCD

During the time with the Sony’s, I keep thinking about that Lumix GX8. Everything about it was perfect. The body size, focus speed, touch screen, EVF, weight, but that shutter speed issue?

I started looking around the web and found a few GX8 users having the same experience I had, but Panasonic apparently fixed it with a Firmware upgrade by adding an Auto Electronic Shutter setting in Menu.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 Rear Menu

I now have my second Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 and having found the option in the Menu for Electronic Shutter and switched it to Auto, I have no blurry images at these shutter speeds. I bought the Lumix GX8 kit this time with the weather sealed 12-60mm f3.5 – 5.6 Power O.I.S lens and early tests show this to be a very capable lens.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 LCD Twists and Flips

This camera is an amazing powerhouse, in a compact yet rugged body. The image quality is stunning and I absolutely love shooting with the Lumix GX 8 again.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 Front Grip

I do need to get some quality glass, but as I already know, Sigma, with their trio of really affordable little gems, the 19mm, 30mm and 60mm all f2.8 DN Art lenses, it won’t take long to build a good lens selection.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 Variable EVF

Panasonic and Olympus all offer premium glass, some of which is extremely expensive, but compared to one Zeiss prime for the Sony FE, I could by two Pro standard lenses from Old or Panasonic (buying second hand, I could probably buy an entire lens kit for the price of 1 new Zeiss.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 Large EVF

So, a quick update. I’m back on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8. I will post some new examples soon, if I can take time out from enjoying my photography again. So, enjoy the pics again of this beautiful and much overlooked GEM of a camera.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 EVF Adjusts

Some reviewers make fun of the variable EVF, but I love using it at the angle above.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 Branding

Understated but elegant design.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 Top Plate

Good sized dials and controls for real sized fingers (not little pixie fingers)

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 & Sigma 60mm DN Art

The Front element of the Sigma DN Art 60mm f2.8 lens. It is a sharp lens.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 & Sigma DN Art 60mm f2.8

Mmmmm Rangefinder style loveliness. Beautiful isn’t it? Understated, but a gorgeous camera.

If you haven’t considered a Micro Four Thirds system, it really is time to take a look. I love the Panasonic Lumix GX8 camera. It is a dream to use. I will post real world examples in the very near future, but in the mean time, head down to your local Panasonic Lumix stockist and get your hands on some of these and try them out.

If you want to be inspired or are even more curious to find out about the Lumix GX8, please check out this excellent Panasonic Lumix GX8 video review from the guys at SLR Coaching.com, where they go through lots of features for you to see how incredible the Panasonic Lumix GX8 is.

SLR Coaching.com offers loads of useful content at both their You Tube Channel and their dedicated Web Site at http://www.slrcoaching.com. So, check them out and improve your photography.

Thank you to SLR Coaching.com for doing the Lumix GX 8 review, it really helped me take another serious look at the Lumix GX8 and appreciate it’s capabilities.

Panasonic Lumix offer a staggering number of cameras, the GX8 and GH5 being the flagship models, but there are cheaper but equally capable models, like the G80, GX800, GX80, G7 or GH5 to name a few. Seriously, take a look at the range available. You might be pleasantly surprised and you never know, you might just take one home with you.

Thanks for reading and check back soon for some real world examples.

The Sony SLT-A77v & Sony DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens: First Look (2017)

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, the Sony corporation, released a digital camera onto the market which piqued my interest. It was, as far as I was aware, the first revolutionary step in DSLR cameras (since Auto Focus) for decades. . .

Forgive me, but I think a little history is needed to put things into perspective:

I was always a Canon shooter from my first T70 through to the EOS 10D (I loved my 10D), 50D, 7D x 2, 1D MKii x 2, 1Ds MKii, 1D MKiii, but switched to Nikon (then back to Canon and once again to Nikon) with the launch of the D3 which was and still is, a fantastic beast of a camera. Fast focus, stunning image quality and that full frame 12MP sensor, was the pinnacle of photographic perfection. Or so it was reported, onto the slightly more compact D800 with it’s revolutionary 36MP sensor. Resolving power giant.

I loved my D3, D800 and the Pro lenses I had. Unfortunately, my elbows really didn’t like the weight my kit forced them to endure when using.

Tennis elbow in one elbow is horrible, but imagine having it in both elbows at the same time! Lifting anything, became virtually impossible. So, I downgraded to lighter gear and lighter gear until I finally started using mirrorless cameras, which have proved to be excellent little cameras, but I could never find one which just felt right for extended shooting.

I’ve reviewed several mirrorless cameras on here and each one, as a photographic tool, has been very capable image gathering device. The most recent, was the Lumix GX8, which is a stunningly good camera, but, there was a slight niggle in my mind. . .

The size. . .

Mirrorless cameras by and large, are small and compact image gathering devices, from the likes of Canon’s EOS M (I still love that camera, despite it’s shortcomings) through to the Olympus OM-D E-M5 on to the Sony a6000 (which is a stunning image taking device). They all have good points and they all have bad points, so choosing one model to go with is a case of living with the bad points or short comings. The images you can get with each camera, within each individual model’s ‘hot spot’ settings, are great, but if you want true creative control, tweaking the settings is where I ran into the problems that over time, really start to bug me. . .

TINY CONTROL WHEELS AND BUTTONS

Now, you could opt for larger mirrorless bodies, like the Panasonic GH5 or GX8, bigger bodies (small DSLR size) with bigger and better laid out controls. Perfection? I thought so, but there again, perhaps not.

A larger Mirrorless body generally has a smaller sensor and we’re all pretty much familiar with the ongoing debates around sensor size. Enough said that bigger is generally better (please note I said generally). The Panasonic models all contain the Micro Four Thirds size sensor, which effectively has a 2x crop factor (or half the dimensions of a full frame 35mm sensor).

Now half a full frame size, may sound ok, but in reality, it is a quarter of the actual size.

Let me explain it this way:

A full size snooker / billiards table is 12 foot by 6 foot. A half size snooker table is 6 foot by 3 foot. Exactly half the dimensions of a full size table, but to get back to the full sized table, you need four half sized tables, side by side and end to end (3ft + 3ft = 6ft width, 6ft + 6ft = 12ft length). So, a Micro Four Thirds sensor is really a quarter of the size of a full frame sensor.

An APS Full Frame sensor is 35.9mm x 24.00mm, APS-C (1.5x Crop) is 23.7mm x 15.6mm, M4/3 (2x Crop) is 17.3mm x 13.00mm and the 1″ Sensor (2.7 x Crop) is 13.2mm x 8.8mm

Canon, for whatever reason, offers their own APS-C sized sensor in their mirrorless range with it’s 1.6x crop factor, while Fujifilm, Sony, Samsung etc. all offer APS-C sized sensors with 1.5x crop factors. Nikon’s mirrorless offerings offer a 1″ sensor or CX format as Nikon call it, which is tiny.

Now, while generally speaking, the bigger the sensor the better, the camera bodies with full sized sensors (I’ll come to Sony in a minute) are large. Large camera bodies generally mean heavy, especially when combined with the much larger, quality optics required to get the most out of those gorgeous full sized sensors.

Sony, have managed to install a full sized sensor in a tiny camera body in their RX1 camera, which is a remarkable feat and the RX1 does give stunning results. But, it’s a tiny camera body so for day to day shooting, dealing with minuscule control buttons and dials is a pain in the proverbial. The RX1 is also very expensive.

Sony also offer their highly regarded A7 range of Mirrorless cameras (A7, A7s, A7r), again all offer stunning image quality with full sized sensors ranging from the 12.1MP in the A7s, with super fast AF and fps, to the 24.3MP in the A7, with slower fps but higher resolution detail onto the fully magnesium alloy body A7r with significantly higher 36MP + resolution but slower fps over the other two.

All the A7 range are pretty much in the same sized body as the Sony a6000 series cameras, give or take, with an EVF hump added in the middle. They are compact cameras with stunning image quality, but being full frame, require larger full frame sized lenses (FE Mount) whilst maintaining the smaller controls of a smaller bodied camera.

Fujifilm launched their X series mirrorless cameras, with the funky X-Trans sensor, which offered absolutely stunning image quality for an APS-C sensor. I had the X-Pro 1 (lovely camera), X-E1, X-E2 and numerous lenses. The lenses are great and the X-E2 was the best of the bunch I had, but despite firmware updates, the autofocus was still very slow for moving subjects.

I bought a Sony a6000 recently (I know late to the party, the story of my life) and it was a phenomenal camera: super fast AF, blistering fps, quality glass, but fiddly little controls and a less than ‘solid’ build quality. I’m not saying it was cheap or bad build. It wasn’t, but it was clearly built on a budget.

So, having tried out several different mirrorless cameras, to save the haters from hating, here they are:

Canon EOS M (I’ve had 7 of them), Canon EOS M3, Nikon 1 V1, Samsung Galaxy NX (EK-GN120 I’ve had two of them) Samsung NX300, Fujifilm X-Pro 1, X-E1, X-E2, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Panasonic Lumix GX8 and Sony NEX 6 and a6000.

Each one had good points and bad points. Of all of them, the Canon EOS M was the one I kept going back to. The Touch Controls, compact size and amazing image quality kept drawing me back, despite it’s lethargic auto focus speed. The images from it were quite simply, great.

Canon have since improved the EOS M offerings, but and this is a huge BUT, the lenses Canon offer now are pretty much all plastic mounts.

I WILL NEVER USE A PLASTIC MOUNT LENS

Canon, this is how dumb you have been. You created a great innovation, a 28mm Macro lens for the EOS M, with built in and configurable LED lighting. GENIUS.

Then you put a plastic lens mount on it to save a few quid. STUPID. WRONG AND STUPID.

Why would anyone fork out over £1000.00 on an EOS M5 to stick a plastic mount lens on it? The 55-200mm EFM lens, the biggest, longest, ONLY distance zoom for the EOS M. . .yup PLASTIC MOUNT, so don’t knock that against anything or you could have a tricky job getting the mount out of the camera body.

Canon have clearly hampered their non DSLR offerings by making cheap lens mounts to scare potential buyers off.

Now, the observant amongst you will be asking yourself: “the title said Sony SLT-A77 first look, why hasn’t he mentioned it yet?” And, you would be correct, so here we go. . .

A brief aside:

Having been disillusioned with my purchase of a Sony a6000, not because it was a bad camera, it just didn’t suit me, the size, controls were just too small, I was bored and looking through the used section of Wex Photographic’s Web Site. They do offer some really good stuff, complete with a years warranty, and there it was . . .

Sony SLT-A77v Camera Body, Grade 9+ (Shows little signs of use) Shutter Count: 1035. Price: £359.00. Comes boxed with all original accessories, blah, blah, blah. Before I knew it, I had added it to my basket and had paid. It was going to arrive the next day. . .

 

 

 

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Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

During the time I had deserted cumbersome DSLR / Lens combos in favour of the smaller and lighter mirrorless offerings, Sony did something else, which was pretty much overlooked by the photography world:

Sony introduced Translucent Mirror System Cameras, in the A33 and A55. Sony called them DSLT (Digital Single Lens Translucent) as opposed to DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex).

Both cameras, were relatively low end and aimed at a budget market with relatively (I use the term loosely) poor performance. Neither were aimed at the enthusiast / Pro buyer.

Then in late 2011, Sony announced two new DSLT models, the more enthusiast aimed A65 and the all conquering weather proofed A77 (see, I told you I’d get there). Now the A77 did make me stop and think “interesting I must look into that”, but being a Canon 7D user at the time and being busy, I never did get round to trying out the SLT technology Sony had brought to the photography scene.

Time passed and like so many other things I’d forgotten about, the A77 left my consciousness.

In late 2014, Sony introduced the A77 Mk ii a new improved version of the A77. Again, I thought, “Oh yeah, I must look into that SLT tech”, but being busy, transitioning to mirrorless cameras, the SLT tech once again vanished from my consciousness.

So, here we are in May 2017 and I recently bought a Sony SLT-A77v camera body. The ‘v’ designates it as one with the built in GPS facility. Some people might hate this, but having geolocation data on your images is actually a really handy thing to have. Every Smartphone image has it these days, so why not cameras?

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Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

“What about a lens?”

Not being a Sony user and never getting round to checking their SLT system out, I had absolutely no idea what lenses would work with it, so I had to do some quick research. It was remarkably easy to find the answer:

Any Konica / Minolta  / Sony  A Mount lens would work on the SLT-A77v.

I remember from days long gone, that Minolta used to do some really amazing optics, so, whilst they may not be sonic wave near silent motors, the finished results could, I stress ‘could’ be quite something.

So, not knowing if I was going to be happy with the A77, I wasn’t going to fork out mega bucks on a lens, so I headed over to eBay and found a near mint Minolta 50mm F1.7 AF prime lens. £60 including P&P.

The Sony A77v turned up the next morning, beautifully packaged and upon opening the box, bar a slight mark where a tripod mount had been attached to the camera, the SLT-A77v was immaculate. Not a mark on it, complete with two screen protectors, one on the rear LCD and one on the control LCD up top.

It felt great in my hand, a good meaty grip to get your fingers around, nice thumb accents round back for a nice stable hold. I charged the battery and popped it in. With the battery inside, the A77 felt excellent in the hand, solid build, but not ‘heavy, heavy’. It felt just right.

All I had to do was wait for the lens.

The Minolta 50mm f1.7 AF arrived the day after, I let it come up to room temperature before fixing it to the A77. Once on:

I flipped the on/off switch and the camera jumped into life. I took the lens cap off and without a glance at the instruction book, starting taking some test snaps just to see how it felt.

All I can say is WOW.

I found out something about myself there and then. I am a DSLR/T shooter. The Sony SLT-A77v reminded me of how I felt with my old Canon EOS 10D. It just felt ‘right’, invisible, an extension of my arm. I took loads of test images, of nothing really, just shooting anything and everything.

Firstly, the Minolta 50mm f1.7 lens worked without issue. The AF as expected, was noisy, but not “oh no” noisy. The AF on the SLT-A77v worked quickly and accurately, with a lens from the mid 90s. Shot after shot. Close up distance wasn’t great with the lens, but it’s an old lens and the distance for it’s time period would have been great, but more modern optics / tech have allowed much closer focus distance.

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Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

Build: the SLT-A77v is solid, weather sealed, slightly smaller than a Canon EOS 7D, but with great button layout. Controls just happen to be where you need them, with a brilliant little joystick to whizz between menu settings (changeable either using the rear LCD or the EVF).

When paired with the Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM lens, which is also weatherproof, the Sony SLT-A77v is ready for any weather conditions and looks the whole pro photographer part (for those who care about things like that).

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Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

The PASM command dial has a reassuring friction to it. This dial will be unlikely to change as you slide the camera in and out of your bag. The front and rear dials for shutter and aperture however, do move quite freely and it is easy to change settings without meaning to, but that isn’t a deal breaker.

So, what about the SLT or Single Lens Translucent Technology at play? How does that stack up?

Other reviews have said that you loose around one third of a stop over conventional DSLR cameras, but according to Sony, they have ‘tweaked’ the ISO settings in camera to counteract this third stop light reduction, so, if you shoot at ISO 100, you should get the same result as ISO 100 on any DSLR. This however is not necessarily correct, as each camera manufacturer has their own software installed, tailored for the hardware they have in each model of camera (hence Firmware from one model, won’t work in another).

The bottom line is, the images from the SLT-A77v are excellent.

With no mirror slap to contend with and built in Sony SteadyShot Inside (image stabilisation) any lens mounted, even old Minolta ones, benefit from sensor stabilisation and the SteadyShot works really well.

The Translucent Mirror Technology offers something on par with mirrorless cameras. Unbelievable fps shooting. The A77 can shoot up to 12fps when set to the 12fps mode. There are some caveats to this as far as settings go, but with the smart tech that is built into the A77, you can set it on the 12fps mode and shoot away for short bursts, without missing the action.

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Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

Much has been written about EVF against OVT (that’s Electronic View Finder and Optical View Finder), the mirrorless cameras I have had, have ranged from no viewfinder, to optical/ EVF hybrid to exclusively EVF and I can happily say that the EVF on the Sony SLT-A77v is amazing.

The EVF in the Sony A77 is big. I mean full size viewfinder big, as in full frame camera big. Unlike the viewfinder on most crop sensor cameras, which look like you’re peering down a tunnel, the EVF on the A77 is gorgeous, with full scene, little lag and amazing amounts of detail. It puts all other EVF’s I’ve used to shame.

The EVF really makes OVF antique by comparison. With Viewfinder Effect ON in the menu system (still hadn’t read the instruction book), what you see as you compose your image, is what you get, unlike an OVF, what you see is what’s there, regardless of the settings you have set.

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Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

Out of camera JPEGS looked great, RAW files even better. The 50mm Minolta did produce some CA, which was easily dealt with post processing, but the RAW images with the lens stopped down a bit, were amazing.

The Sony SLT-A77v, was a definite keeper.

I went online and ordered a used Sony SAL 16-50mm f2.8 SSM lens, with next day delivery. The reviews said wide open, it was a bit soft, but stoped down it was a sharp lens. Flickr provided some great examples of the A77 with the 16-50mm f2.8, so, I ordered the Sony SAL1650 with next day delivery.

Combined, the A77 and SAL1650 are both weather sealed, ideal for any outdoor eventuality. When fitted, the lens does add a bit of weight to the camera, but again combined, give a sense of assurance that what you have in your hands will take anything that life throws at it.

The Sony SLT-A77v, has a flip out, tilt and swivel rear screen, which whilst at first seems cumbersome, is actually really well thought out. The True Black rear LCD is lovely, with great sharpness (not a patch on the resolution of the EVF, which also allows you to review images : chimping on the sly).

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Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

The buffer is a bit low, you can rattle off maybe 18 JPEG or 14 RAW before things slow down, which to machine gun shooters out there, will sound awful. I can hear the “my 7D will keep shooting all day long at 8fps” and whilst this may be true, the shots your 7D gets may not all be in focus, as the camera has to stop focus during mirror up and down before requiring focus for the next shot.

During which time, the conventional DSLR viewfinder is momentarily blacked out, so your own tracking expertise may also effect the outcome of the shots obtained. With the EVF on the A77, the viewfinder never blacks out, so you can keep tracking the object you want and make instant changes as they appear in the EVF.

On the 12fps once things slow down a bit, with a fast SD card installed, give the A77 a second or two to clear the buffer and you can start right off with the 12fps again. Predicting the ‘action’ shot is key with the A77 on 12fps mode.

The Sony SLT-A77v will keep focusing on every shot taken as the mirror doesn’t move. This isn’t to say that every shot is in focus, but the keeper rate (having had two 7D) I am getting from the Sony SLT-A77v is slightly higher than 8fps on the 7D.

On normal mode, high speed burst, the SLT-A77v will do 8fps, like the 7D, but will focus constantly throughout each shot, unlike the 7D.

The Canon 7D has 19 focus points, the same as the A77, but unlike the 11 cross type points of the A77, the 7D has 19 cross type focus points. The A77 however has constant focus, so the hit rate for keepers, so far, is higher than my experience with both the 7D I have owned.

What you do also have to keep in mind is that the 7D is 18MP (1.6 x Crop Factor = slightly smaller) with twin Digic IV processors, allowing for faster clearing of the buffer at 8fps. The A77 has a BionZ processor pushing 24.3MP (1.5x Crop factor = slightly bigger than the Canon) images through at 12fps.

Huh? I hear some readers cry. What has sensor size got to do with processing speed? The smaller the sensor, the smaller the pixels, the smaller the data, the faster a processor can clear it. The larger the sensor, the larger the pixels, the longer the data from the sensor takes to be processed.

That’s why the Nikon 1 V3 for example with it’s 18MP 1 inch sensor can shoot something like 20fps. The smaller the sensor, the smaller the pixels, the smaller the amount of actual data needs to be processed, so the faster it can collect images before the buffer get’s filled up.

Another example at the opposite end of the scale is the Nikon D800 with it’s full frame 36.3MP sensor, which can only shoot at 3 fps. Larger sensor, larger (and more) pixels = more data per pixel to process.

Just for fun, here’s a highly simplified way of looking at it:

Nikon 1 V3 18.4MP, Pixel size 2.51µm = 46.184 million data inputs from all pixels

46.184 Million per shot x 20 fps = 923.68 Million data inputs per second.

Sony SLT-A77v 24.3MP, Pixel Pitch 3.88µm = 94.284 Million data inputs from all pixels

94.284 Million per shot x 12fps = 1.131408 Billion data inputs per second.

Nikon D800 36.3MP, Pixel Pitch 4.87µm = 176.281 Million data inputs from all pixels

176.781 Million per shot x 3fps = 530.343 Million data inputs per second.

If you are a machine gun shooter, a pray and spray photographer, the SLT-A77v really isn’t the camera for you. The Nikon 1 V3 is with it’s 20fps, but you don’t see any of them at sport events in the press areas do you? Why not? 18.4MP 20fps? This outperforms the the Nikon D4s and is a fraction of the cost! Bigger sensors, bigger pixels = better image quality.

If however, you are a more ‘thoughtful’ photographer, who waits for the decisive moment, the SLT-A77v with it’s 12fps will allow you to get that moment. Time, after time, after time.

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Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

Thoughtfulness, brings me to another ‘feature’ of the SLT-A77v. It’s quite a quiet camera. No noisy shutter (like the D800).

The Focus Assist beam, is the old school form, it’s a subtle red light made up of bars, which won’t blind your subjects, unlike the latest iteration of LED ‘blind you senseless’ focus assist beams. It’s actually really accurate and a pleasant reminder of how things used to be on camera. Modern meets old school. (What ever happened to Canon’s Eye Focus Tracking system? It focused where your eye looked in the viewfinder).

Battery life? Well yeah, the SLT-A77v does chomp it’s way through the battery quite quickly. Hardly surprising when you consider the fact it’s powering one high resolution display and one very high resolution display, whilst powering the GPS system (which can be disabled in menu). It’s good for anywhere between 450- 550 shots depending on variables, so for a day out shooting one or ideally two spare batteries would be recommended.

You can get the Sony VG-C77AM dedicated vertical grip which will house two batteries, allowing extended shooting and vertical controls for portrait shooters, but does obviously increase the size and weight of the device being held in hand. Personally I prefer the smaller body and a couple of batteries in my bag or pocket to swap out when needed.

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Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

So, what is my point?

I have discovered, at least for me and I hope it isn’t too late, that Sony have created a magnificent system which is revolutionary in terms of taking images with a DSLR type camera body. The Translucent Mirror technology is brilliant in what benefits it provides the photographer. Super fast frame rates with real time focusing as each image is taken.

I loved the Samsung Galaxy NX form factor, the large touch screen, the built in connectivity was fantastic, capturing moving subjects however, was very hit and miss, but for still subjects, the Galaxy NX was a brilliant camera. Please Sony, don’t do what Samsung did and scrap the NX department (just as Samsung had launched the excellent NX1 camera), don’t ditch the Alpha SLT class of cameras, that SLT technology offers the advantages of mirrorless cameras, while not having to sacrifice the flexibility or durability of a DSLR camera. It is the ultimate hybrid system.

With an improved buffer rate, to keep the machine gun shooters happy, Sony could have an all conquering DSLT system on their hands. Sony do appear to be the only company interested in real ‘innovation’ in regards the actual photography machine. The big two, Canon and Nikon, just seem to plod along offering incremental updates to what already exists and when those ideas run out, go back to the mega pixel war and throw even more pixels at the sensor. The truth is, you don’t really need more than 16MP for the majority of markets in the world today. 24MP allows a certain amount of cropping and any more than that is just excessive. Trust me I’ve had the D800, the 36.3MP sensor is unforgiving when it comes to lenses and more importantly technique.

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Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

Now, what would be really interesting to see, would be an evolution of Sony’s Translucent Mirror Technology, Sony’s 4D Focus system in conjunction with the Sony made, Fujifilm X-Trans sensor technology. What a combination those would make. . . I give you the Sony SLT-X (wishful thinking I know).

In the meantime, having discovered the Translucent Mirror Technology from Sony, I am happier than I have been in a very long time as far as what camera I am carrying around with me. I know it’s horses for courses and not everybody likes the same thing, but, I have found something I think really deserves photographer’s support.

Second hand prices of the SLT-A77v vary depending on condition and age, I was really lucky to find the one I did, when I did. I think it was meant to be: right place, right time. Sony have updated the A77v with the A77 II, with improvements (and loss of the built in GPS facility), which are more expensive, but there are bargains to be had.

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Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

 

If you have wondered about how the whole SLT thing works, but are tied to another make of camera or system, now is a pretty good time, for a reasonably low outlay, to get your hands on one of these SLT cameras, cheap Minolta lenses on eBay (the 50mm f1.7 is a cracking little lens) and try something new.

You never know, it might even revolutionise your photography.

It may have taken me a few years to get round to investigating the Translucent Mirror Technology from Sony, but boy am I glad I have.

The Sony SLT-A77v has certainly inspired me to get out and shoot every day since I put a lens on it. With the Sony DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM attached, I have a great lens, great image quality and a robust, weather sealed package that will take whatever nature has to throw at me.

Combined, the Sony SLT-A77v and the Sony DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM are a formidable photographic package.

I’m so glad I found it when I did. Better late, than never, eh?

 

Canon EOS M10: First Look

Towards the end of 2015, Canon released another mirrorless camera in their much maligned EOS M range of cameras. The more budget orientated, Canon EOS M10. The EOS M10, unlike the earlier EOS M3 that Canon launched in the Spring of 2015, with it’s 24 Mega-Pixel (MP) APS-C sized C<OS sensor, the EOS M10 is equipped with the more familiar (for EOS M users) 18MP APS-C CMOS which features the Hybrid AFII Auto Focus system (presumably the same as the one featured in the EOS M2), unlike the Hybrid AF III of the EOS M3.

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Canon EOS M10 + Canon EF-M 15-45mm f3.5-6.3 IS STM Lens

Whilst 6 MP may to some seem like a considerable difference, anyone who has used any of the earlier EOS M models will know the image quality is absolutely stellar and was never a cause for concern (unlike the original Hybrid AF issues which were widely reported). Having used the EOS M3 ( there are some blog posts on here about the EOS M3), the image quality on both the EOS M10 and EOS M3 are excellent. No complaints at all.

There were times I actually missed the full touch screen options when using the EOS M3, unlike the original EOS M, which I still love to this day, it’s an amazing little camera, the command dials, exposure compensation dials etc whilst offering more direct control, could after some use, make the EOS M3 feel a bit ‘clunky’ in operation as opposed to the more simplified touch operation of the original EOS M.

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Canon EOS M10 + Canon EF-M 15-45mm f3.5-6.3 IS STM Lens

The Canon EOS M10 cane bought as a body only or in a kit form as seen here, with the new Canon EF-M 15-45mm f3.5-6.3 IS STM Lens. The new kit lens is significantly lighter and smaller than the previous Canon EF-M 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS STM ‘kit’ lens, a move I suspect, is purely about cost cutting. The new 15-45mm lens is pretty much an entirely plastic build. Compared to the EF-M 18-55mm of old, which was a pretty solid mostly metal barrel and metal mount, which gave a reassuring feel, the 15-45mm feels less durable. It is a collapsable design which requires ‘unlocking’ with the flip of a switch on the lens barrel and a quick turn, the lens opens up into the 15mm setting.

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Canon EOS M10 Pop Up Flash

The original EOS M came bundled here in the U.K. with the Speedlite 90EX Flash Unit, which I personally loved, but Canon did get some criticism about not having a built in flash as the external did make the entire package significantly more bulky, but on the EOS M10, Canon have added a built in ‘pop’ up flash, which can be pulled back with your finger to adjust the angle.

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Canon EOS M10 Flip Up Rear LCD ‘Selfie’ ‘Vlogger’ Mode

The EOSM 10 also features a new 1.o4MP Rear LCD touch screen, which can be flipped up and over to allow a ‘Selfie’ or ‘Vlogger’ mode, which is great if you’re into selfies or making Video Blogs. Being up and over the top of the camera, when recording images or video, your eyes are actually facing the lens, unlike the flip out form the side screen, which make it look like you’re not concentrating on the image or video being made.

It is a well detailed display with a slider control in the main menu system to adjust the brightness.

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Canon EOS M10 Flip Up Rear LCD

The Touch Menu system has been updated and now scrolls up and down, as opposed to the left to right arrow touch of the original EOS M and it works really well for quickly changing your shooting options.

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Canon EOS M10 Menu 1

The usual culprits are present, M (Manual), Av (Aperture Priority), Tv (Shutter priority) and P (Program AE) selected with a simple touch on the icon.

The preset menu is just a swipe upwards to scroll the menu, giving access to amongst others, portrait, Landscape, Close-Up, Sports etc. again simply touch the icon you want and the camera is good to go.

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Canon EOS M10 Menu 2

The top plate is familiar to any EOS M user, but differs significantly. Now, you have a dedicated Record button on next to the Shutter Release Button, hick unlike the EOS M has a command dial around it allowing for easy settings changes in Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority, as well as zooming in to an image when in review mode. Zooming can be achieved by the familiar pinch to zoom on the actual screen too.

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Canon EOS M10 Top

The power button is roughly n the same position as on the EOS M, but it is now slightly recessed inside the mode switch, just off centre. The mode switch allows three options, Movie, Camera (User Mode) and Camera (Auto Mode).

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Canon EOS M10 Top Plate Controls

The EOS M10, follows the original touch orientated path as the ESO M, with a touch of extra direct control, with the addition of a front command dial around the shutter release button, otherwise, it’s touch screen all the way.

Beneath the camera strap lug on the right hand side (rear LCD facing you) there is a flip switch to open up the Flash. On the right hand side (again LCD facing you) is the Wi_Fi NFC button, one press allows you to set up a Wireless connection to either control the camera remotely using Canon’s Camera Connect app (available as a download). The app works well, with pretty much full settings adjustment available, with minimal lag on the host screen (smartphone or tablet).

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Canon EF-M 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens + Canon EF-M 15-45mm f3.5-6.3 IS STM Lens Size Comparison

The EOS M10 kit comes bundled with the almost entirely plastic EF-M 15-45mm f3.5-6.3 IS STM lens, which despite it’s mostly plastic construction, actually produces pretty good images. It is a collapsable design, so needs to be locked and unlocked after and before use respectively.

 

Compared to the original kit lens, the excellent Canon EF-M 18-55mm f3,5-5.6 IS STM, the new kit lens is smaller when closed and about the same size when zoomed to 45mm as the 18-55mm is when set to 18mm. It is a compact lens. But that plastic construction??

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Canon EF-M 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens + Canon EF-M 15-45mm f3.5-6.3 IS STM Lens Mount Comparison

Extends, sadly to the lens mount. Come on Canon and other manufacturers, there is never, read that again NEVER a reason to stick a nasty plastic lens mount on the end of a lens.

The EF-M 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS STM is a higher quality build and gives excellent results. Metal barrel and a metal lens hood, makes it to me at least the better of the two.

Of course, this was Canon’s mistake from the off.

The EOS M was a very expensive camera when launched which mostly due to a deplorable AF system (Canon screwed the pooch there) was damned by all who reviewed it, but once Firmware 2 was released things did improve significantly. It was never going to be a speed hound AF wise, but it at least became useable. I actually loved the original EOS M, I thought it was a quirky, but overall an enjoyable camera to use.

The EOS M was built like a tank. It was a solid little camera and had a top quality lens to match, which explained the high price tag upon release, but due to awful reviews, prices plunged as retailers dumped the EOS M as a ‘never again’ mistake.

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Canone EOS M10 + Canon EF-M 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens

Now that so many EF-M 18-55mm kit lenses are out in the wild, I’m guessing Canon decided on the plastic route to try make some money back from the original EOS M fallout. So, by bundling an obviously lower build quality lens with the EOS M3 and EOS M10 now, Canon are hoping users will stump up the full after sales price on the superior EF-M 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 I STM lens (which also has a Macro mode – not true Macro but does allow a close focus distance).

On the EOS M10, the EF-M 18-55 looks a bit long initially, but for slightly larger hands, offers a more stable two handed support in use. I really like this combo. It’s heavier than the all plastic 15-45mm but that’s hardly surprising with the superior build.

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Canon EOS M Rear LCD

Macro mode in use above with the EOS M10 and the 18-55mm. The from to the lens was only about 7 or 8 inches away (if that) from the 15-45mm shown on the rear LCD.

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Canone EOS M10 Rear Controls

The rear function buttons are pretty minimal, yet functional although a little fiddly. They could do with being just that little bit bigger, but to be fair in use, they are perfectly functional.

A good thumb grip makes up for no front grip (unlike the EOS M which at least had something to get your fingers on).

Overall, the EOS M10 isn’t as high quality as the original EOS M10, but that’s to be expected since Canon have screwed up with the EOS M, EOS M2 (which never made it over here) before it, so wanted I guess, to be a little more cautious.

But. . .that’s not to say the EOS M10 feels cheap. It doesn’t. It is a solidly built polycarbonate camera, with a reassuring heft about it, but nothing like the feel of the original EOS M (which I still love). But it does feel competent in hand, certainly not cheap.

The AFII auto focus is quicker, but that’s hardly surprising it couldn’t really be any slower than the EOS M (whilst still very useable). Image quality is on par at 18MP, low light may be slightly better than the original thanks to the improved Digic 6 processor.

The addition of a front command dial does make a huge difference to operational speed and the flip up LCD makes self portrait and video blogging as easy as possible.

The only thing missing is the hot shoe off the original EOS M, which the EOS M needed for flash as it had no built in flash, but it did have other uses, especially for videographers out there.

Maybe the lack of a hot shoe would be a breaker for videographers, but the selfie mode screen sort of makes up for the lack of the hot shoe in other respects.

I enjoyed shooting with the EOS M10 in the time I had it. Great image quality, light and reasonably fast but no speed demon. I would happily have an EOS M10, it’s just I missed the feel of the original EOS M, which as I have stated earlier, I love. I don’t know why, there’s just something about the original EOS M that really appeals to me.

Canon have added to the EF-M Lens range, worryingly, other than the 11-22mm, 22mm and the 18-55mm, the new additions all seem to have a plastic lens mount.

Canon have released a fantastic looking dedicated Macro lens for the EOS M range, a 28mm with built in LED illumination. It looks great, except it has a plastic lens mount.

I’m sorry Canon, but I love the EOS M and M3 (I have both) but I will never fork out my hard earned money for Lenses with PLASTIC LENS MOUNTS. It’s mean spirited penny pinching. I’ll happily pay an extra £10-20 to have a metal mount that won’t snap if knocked ruining the lens and the camera it’s mounted on.