Fujifilm X70: still not a Ricoh GR

Last October, I wrote:

The Ricoh GR is my favourite pocket camera so far, but that’s mostly because it actually fits in my pocket. Ricoh’s cleverness with its controls and custom options is a nice bonus, but a similarly compact and inexpensive offering from Fujifilm would be difficult to resist. I certainly won’t be breaking up with my Fujifilm X-T1’s and Fujinon lenses anytime soon, but for now they’ll be paired with a very capable little Ricoh.

Imagine my surprise when a few days ago, Fujifilm announced the upcoming FUJIFILM X70, a new breed of fixed-lens camera that matches the Ricoh GR II spec-for-spec (if you exclude the X70’s flip screen, aesthetic appeal, and Fujifilm processing engine).

It’s great to see Fujifilm work towards a more pocketable big-sensor-fast-lens camera, but I still prefer the Ricoh GR. Here’s why:

  • The X70 is still too big. Side-by-side comparison photos are few and far between, but from what I’ve seen, the X70 is significantly wider and higher than the GR, and MUCH deeper (even before you account for the non-retractable lens). This is understandable given Fujifilm’s commitment to X-series dials and flip screens, but for me, it represents the difference between a “pocket camera” and a “can’t-be-bothered-taking-it-with-me camera”.
  • The Ricoh has snap focus. See my earlier review for details.
  • The GR II is significantly cheaper (USD$560 vs. USD$700). Not that this alone would tip the scales–I’d expect to pay more for a Fujifilm on its brand alone–but it’s a factor.

The GR has other advantages too–e.g. native DNG shooting–but neither this nor the X70’s superior autofocus have any bearing on pocketability (or image quality). Hopefully Fujifilm will eventually release (yet another) X-series camera with a retractable lens, fewer dials and a smaller footprint.

Meanwhile, thank goodness for Ricoh!

Jessica Jones

Krysten Ritter has come a long way since playing Rory’s weird college friend in Gilmore Girls (not that I’m admitting to watching every episode of Gilmore Girls, or even knowing who Rory is).

I’m 3 episodes away from the finale of Jessica Jones (thank you Netflix), and to say its considerable powers have drawn me into the Marvel universe against my will would be an understatement. Or an overstatement, depending on how you look at it (and your proximity to Killgrave).

Superheroes and science fiction have always been a hard sell to me (I’m 32 and have only recently started watching Star Wars), but Jessica Jones has won me over. Jessica herself is a mess (she can’t even think of a decent superhero name for herself, much less stop drinking), but she also totally kicks ass, genuinely cares about the people she helps (or can’t help), and is ruthlessly independent. She’s everything a semi-plausible superhero should be, and the feminist in me loves that her gender is never a limitation.

Of course the backstory to her messy life is, ah, complicated, mostly because of the nefarious Killgrave, apparently. Through him, the writers experiment relentlessly with just how deadly a world inhabited by mind-controlling psychopaths could be. David Tennant’s alternately charming, hilarious, diabolical, and maniacal character is infuriatingly irresistible, even without the mind control (which thankfully doesn’t work through soundproofing or television screens).

Two Australian actors star, too, so that’s a bonus. If you’ve seen Red Dog or All Saints, you might even recognise them. STRAYA.

I’ll spare you any further spoilers, but if you’re in the market for a TV show that’s smart, fast, unpredictable, intense, beautifully filmed, mildly disturbing (don’t worry, there are just enough likeable characters), and generally brilliant, get on it. Fair warning, though: there are a few very gory bits and some heavy sexual themes (but not many visuals).

Next stop: the rest of the Marvel empire universe.

This is the 7th post in my November/December writing challenge series.

My speech at last month’s Rally Against Racism

This is post no. 6 in my “November” writing challenge.

Not all writing is for reading quietly. The words below were spoken at a pro-diversity rally held to stand against a hateful, anti-Muslim “Reclaim Australia” rally in Cessnock. We were one street away from tbe “reclaimers”, with a thin blue line of police keeping us separated. Thankfully there were no incidents.

Here’s what I said. My first ever rally speech.

I’m honoured to be here today … honoured to stand with you, my fellow Australians, confidently asserting the freedom we all share to worship however we please, wherever we please … but also honoured to speak as one citizen on behalf of many other citizens … and my message today is very simple:

Our unity is powerful. OUR UNITY IS POWERFUL.

When so many around us are doing everything in their power to divide us, our unity is powerful. It sends a message to cowards in Syria … and to bigots in Newcastle … and to social media trolls wherever they might live on Internet … it sends a message that love is greater than fear … it sends a message that the differences between us can strengthen us rather than tearing us apart … it sends a message that a brighter future awaits all of us when we start by turning towards our neighbours with open hearts and open arms.

Our unity — right here, right now, in this place — is powerful, but the unity we’re displaying here today, the unity we’re urging all Australians to embrace — this unity doesn’t come easy. Unity between people who think the same, look the same and talk the same is easy, but that’s because it’s not really unity! Real unity is when people who are fundamentally different come together, engage with each other even when it’s uncomfortable, and ultimately find ways to work towards shared goals. Real unity makes room for differences between people. Real unity doesn’t expect people to become the same as each other. Real unity is what we see here today, and as I’ve said already, it is powerful.

Of course part of the reason we’re here today is because some of our neighbours believe in a uniform Australia. They say we should be all white, or all Christian, and they’re standing particularly firm against the growth of Muslim communities in Australia.

I would prefer to ignore these people and the groups they lead, but sometimes we must respond directly to ignorance and fear and bigotry. So, by way of response to Reclaim Australia and its small but ferocious band of supporters, I have a few important things to say to my Muslim friends. I’m standing here as a white Christian who welcomes Muslims to live and worship and thrive in Australia — and not just in Australia, but right here in the Hunter Region — in Newcastle — in Cessnock — wherever freedom and opportunity might lead you.

I know your worldview is not the same as those who do evil in the name of Islam — in much the same way as Christian tyrants do not represent me. I do not see you as my enemies but as my allies. I’m glad your communities in this region are growing and do not feel in any way threatened by you or by the buildings you need in order to accommodate that growth. I know I speak for many, many others when I say that I love you, that I stand with you, and that I honour you for the courage you show every day as you endure words and deeds of vilification that have no rightful place in this country.

Our unity is powerful and I believe it will ultimately undo the work of those who seek to divide and destroy. In fact, it’s pretty much the only thing that can heal our broken nation. Let’s continue to stand together, not just as we rally against racism and bigotry together, but in our words and deeds and every day.

The November that was

November didn’t quite go to my original plan.

First there was a brief but debilitating bout with tonsillitis. Then there was the realisation that I could no longer carry on working at this place, no matter what, which meant resigning without another job to go to. (That was an 80% over-the-moon, 20% shitting-my-pants moment. More on that another day, probably.) Finally, I got busy applying for jobs, and ultimately succeeded in landing a web developer position at this place (more on that later, too).

When it came to writing, my best intentions took a big hit, obviously. But my desire to write more hasn’t changed, and you’ll see it here first when time permits. Hopefully I’ll even make it to 30 posts in my “November” writing challenge before the end of December.

I’m counting this as no. 5.

Update (8-Dec-15): I’ve received complaints about this post from anonymous co-workers at the workplace I’m leaving. I’ve removed the link to that workplace but won’t be removing the post. Offended? Don’t be a coward. Better yet, find something else to read on the Internet.

How to stop Photos.app opening whenever you connect a memory card

Yo Apple, Photos.app is really great and everything, but those of us who use third-party photo production software for ingestion and processing don’t want to see it EVERY TIME WE PLUG A MEMORY CARD INTO OUR MAC. (We don’t want to see it when we connect our iPhone, either. We only do that when Facebook Too Much Very Important Work has killed our phone battery.)

A user-friendly toggle to disable this for all devices would be super. Perhaps under System Preferences > CDs and DVDs?

Meanwhile, fellow photographers, here’s a terminal command that will safely disable the automatic opening of Photos.app when you least expect it. Copy and paste everything after the $ into Terminal.app and press Return:

$ defaults -currentHost write com.apple.ImageCapture disableHotPlug -bool YES

Unlike some of the other workarounds on the Internet, this one works even when you regularly re-format your memory cards (as most of us do). And it doesn’t require you to delete Photos.app, which might potentially break something somehow. No reboot required, either.

Update (27-Nov-15): If, for some reason, you want to reverse this change and return to OS X’s default behaviour, here’s the command to run:

$ defaults -currentHost delete com.apple.ImageCapture disableHotPlug

Whipping horses for fun: another great Aussie tradition

This is post no. 3 in my November writing challenge series.

Another Melbourne Cup has come and gone, and most of Australia has had a fabulous time pretending not to notice that the centrepiece of their frocked-up outings / office sweeps / drunken gambling was a race in which humans used whips to force animals more athletic than themselves to run so fast they might die.

Here’s my Facebook post on the topic:

There’s no nice way to say this.

If you placed a bet on today’s race, or found some other way to actively participate in Melbourne Cup festivities, then you–yes, YOU–are complicit in the flogging and maiming and killing of beautiful animals for no purpose other than your own entertainment.

This unforgivably cruel industry only exists because it’s profitable, and it’s only profitable because of people like you.

I say this not to make you feel guilty, but in the hope that next time a day like this comes around, you will stand against cruelty and injustice.

Together, we can end this national disgrace.

Of course there’s more to Melbourne Cup Day than cruelty to horses (which isn’t limited to one day of the year anyway). There’s also the destructiveness of the gambling; the repulsiveness of the drunkenness / waste / rubbish; the barely concealed money laundering by criminals; and perhaps worst of all, the millions of dollars of government funding that subsidises the whole sorry mess.

Ah, Straya. The land of shameful parties too sacred to cancel.

At least we’re not as bad as ancient Rome.

NaNoWriMo: TL;CW

Halfway through October, I started feeling strangely compelled to participate in NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as writing roughly 1666.67 words per day for an entire month.

Unfortunately no inspiration for my first full-length work of fiction had materialised by 31 October (much less an outline, developed characters or any of the other things novelists are supposed to have figured out before they start writing), so I’ve decided to reboot my writing with a more realistic challenge: one blog post per day in November. (Once upon a time, this was called NaBloPoMo.)

Paltry as it is, this introduction will have to do for 1 November. Thankfully 29 opportunities remain for more substantial content before this challenge is over.

Ricoh GR vs. Fujifilm X100S (or, why I’m cheating on Fujifilm with Ricoh)

Apparently I’ve been living under a rock, because I had no idea that Ricoh’s GR series of cameras had a “cult following.” None of my photographer friends had mentioned them, I’d never seen one in the wild, and I’d been unwaveringly faithful to Fujifilm’s X100 series since it launched in 2011. It was unthinkable to cheat on Fuji with Leica or Sony, much less Ricoh.

But then a random Facebook discussion introduced me to the GR / GR II–and some of its biggest fans had previously used X100’s.

You can guess the rest. After reading a bunch of reviews and looking at dozens of photos, my torrid affair with Ricoh was underway. Within weeks, I’d broken up with my X100S. Now it’s on eBay.

Well, that escalated quickly.

The X100S is better, but…

If you’ve been following compact cameras with big sensors and fast lenses for a while, you already know that the X100S is superior to the GR. It has a faster lens (f/2 vs. f/2.8). Its hybrid viewfinder is amazing (the GR has no viewfinder at all). Its autofocus system is better. It’s easier to control (mostly) and its retro styling is much sexier than the GR’s bland blackness.

The GR trumps the X100S in only one significant way: pocketability.

As you can see, the size difference is, well, significant.

The original X100 was a game-changer for my personal photography, but the only pockets big enough for it were on baggy cargo pants (that do nothing for my figure) and bulky coats (that are mostly unnecessary where I live). More often than I’d like to admit, this meant reaching for my iPhone rather than a “real” camera–because my X100S was at home or in the car.

My GR, on the other hand, lives in my pocket. Because it actually fits.

My non-negotiables: big sensor, fast lens

For reasons I might explain another day, APS-C is the smallest sensor size I accept in a “serious camera”, and fast, wide primes are my favourite. (Why else would this Pocket Camera Battle be Ricoh GR vs. Fujifilm X100S?)

On paper, the GR’s 16.2MP APS-C sensor is on par with the X100S’s 16.3MP APS-C sensor. Neither have low-pass filters (much sharp, many moiré). Both perform well at ISO1600, adequately at ISO3200 and less adequately at ISO6400. The GR shoots RAW at ISO100, which is a plus (the X100S starts at ISO200), but otherwise these sensors are very similar–on paper AND in practice, not that my testing has been very scientific.

ISO800 is so clean I had to add grain to this one.
ISO800 is so clean I had to add grain to this one.

Ricoh’s colour handling is different to Fujifilm’s, but I wouldn’t say it’s worse. My Fuji RAWs sometimes need to be desaturated slightly; so far that hasn’t been necessary with my Ricoh RAWs. And not that it’s directly related to sensor performance, but the GR’s multi-point auto-white-balance works pretty well.

I exposed for the trucks and recovered detail in the sky with a Lightroom mask. There was plenty of detail to recover.
I exposed for the trucks and recovered detail in the sky with a Lightroom mask. There was plenty of detail to recover.

As for the lens: 28mm has a different feel to 35mm, but I’d been starting to wish the X100S was a tad wider, so I’m not regretting the change so far. If I ever do, the GR offers a 35mm mode, which seamlessly crops the LCD preview to a 35mm-equivalent field of view and records a cropped file (roughly 10MP). Even RAWs are cropped. Nice.

I thought I’d miss f/2, but I haven’t yet. The lens on my X100S was a bit soft at f/2, so I’d usually stop it down anyway. The GR’s lens is razor sharp, edge to edge, wide open at f/2.8, and I’ve been impressed with its flare control, bokeh and (lack of) distortion too. I’d love it to be faster, but I also love fitting it into my pocket. You can’t have everything.

ISO3200. Eat your heart out.
ISO3200. Eat your heart out.

There is no silver version

The GR isn’t much to look at–it could easily be mistaken for a typical point and shoot camera–but that’s an upside if you’re trying to avoid attention. At least it compensates for its boring looks with great build quality. And grippy texture. In all the right places. IYKWIM.

Aesthetics aside, I was initially concerned about being able to change settings quickly with so few buttons and dials (I shoot in M, because M is for Master). I needn’t have worried.

There’s a dial in front of the shutter release button. By default it adjusts aperture, but mine is configured to adjust shutter speed. There’s a horizontal rocker on the back, within easy reach of your thumb. Mine is configured to adjust aperture. Pressing it inwards gives access to ISO and other settings. There’s also a vertical rocker on the back. It’s less configurable, but in M mode you can use it to quickly set your shutter speed for correct exposure–handy if you need to move from, say, 1/4000 to 1/30 in a hurry.

There’s an AEL/AFL button that allows focus and exposure to be controlled separately. It can even be switched to C-AF as needed. Nice.

Most other buttons are configurable too. For now, my side-mounted EFFECT button enables and disables the built-in ND filter, FN1 brings up AF controls, and FN2 provides quick access to ISO.

There's even a macro button! Nothing special about this photo (obvs), but the GR focuses close enough for non-serious macro experimentation.
There’s even a macro button! Nothing special about this photo (obvs), but the GR focuses close enough for non-serious macro experimentation.

Importantly, the main mode dial has a locking mechanism that makes it impossible to accidentally move from M to Tv at the worst possible moment. I can’t overstate how useful this is.

Speaking of AF controls

I’ll spare you the setup instructions, but the GR’s focussing system is, for my purposes, only slightly inferior to the focussing system on the X100S. Similar options are available on both cameras (including peak highlighting for MF assistance), but autofocus is a tad slower on the GR. In broad daylight, the difference is barely noticeable, but in low light scenarios, the performance gap becomes more pronounced.

The GR shines if you like to shoot from the hip, though. Preset your shooting distance, enable “snap” AF, turn off your LCD and get clicking. (You can even disable the power LED for maximum stealth.) The X100S has no equivalent to this feature.

Snap focus is great for scenarios like this (once you've mastered the art of judging distance). Or you can prefocus like I did here.
Snap focus is great for scenarios like this (once you’ve mastered the art of judging distance). Or you can prefocus like I did here.

So, Ricoh wins?

Yes and no. The Ricoh GR is my favourite pocket camera so far, but that’s mostly because it actually fits in my pocket. Ricoh’s cleverness with its controls and custom options is a nice bonus, but a similarly compact and inexpensive offering from Fujifilm would be difficult to resist. I certainly won’t be breaking up with my Fujifilm X-T1’s and Fujinon lenses anytime soon, but for now they’ll be paired with a very capable little Ricoh.

PS: Ricoh, if you’re reading this, how about including a dedicated battery charger with the GR? Plugging the whole camera into a USB cable for charging is totes overrated.

Essential listening for evangelical Christians: The Liturgists on LGBTQ

Essential listening for evangelical Christians: The Liturgists on LGBTQ

Maybe you don’t really do the podcast thing. That’s OK. Listen to this episode anyway. You don’t need to install a podcast player on your smartphone. You don’t even need a smartphone. Just follow the link.

What’s missing from so much of the evangelical response to same-sex marriage (and gay rights in general) is genuine empathy with LGBTQ people. We insist that we love gay people, but we don’t take the time to hear their stories, to understand their points of view, and to learn from their experiences. It’s easier to hide behind careful theology and theoretical care.

This episode of The Liturgists artfully and respectfully interviews gay and transexual Christians, along with several pastors and commentators, with a diverse range of views on sexuality and faithful Christian practice.

It’s a 1.5-hour antidote to ignorance, and I think all Christians (especially evangelicals) should listen to it.

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