Saturday, January 26, 2013

Never use Windows 7 Photo Viewer!

Colors are way too off! So is the Windows Live Photo Gallery!

Use XnView instead, which offers many great features such as multiple instances (a must for comparing photos), browsing (PgUp/Dn), installation free (portable) and raw (including Panasonic rw2).

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Panasonic G5 Low Light Samples

I took my G5 to a stage performance and did about 2 hours of photos and video. Most photos are ISO 3200 and video were done with continuous AF (some had face detection enabled) and handheld, as always. Photos are clean and sharp and video is extremely clean and silky smooth. This proves G5 is currently the best choice for both 1st-class photos and video, no other cameras can do such kind of video with C-AF. If you're a soccer mom, this is what you can expect from such a compact and inexpensive camera (below $500) for your kids' recital.

The following 16:9 photos were direct JPEG taken while filming video, the rest were RAW taken in photo mode. Most are ISO 3200, about two are 1600. No any PP. When I got home, the 16GB SD card was full and battery still had two bars left, after two hours of continuous photo and video shooting.

Few more ISO 3200 I took yesterday:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pantech Element, the 1st ideal tablet

iPad Mini is the very first tablet that's done right - the 7.9" size, thin frames and 4:3 screen ratio. Apple's stuff are all deadly locked and over priced, so I've been waiting for something like that but non-Apple. Here it comes, the Pantech Element.

I played with one in a store and found it to be fast and smooth. The 8" size is right and the 1024x768 screen is perfect for rendering web pages and photos. I never understand the point of 16:9 or 16:10, even for video.

Then I saw it's on sale for $167, so I ordered one. Although Pantech is a crappy company, nothing to lose at this price and I already touched one, so I know what to expect.

Some facts I have gathered so far:
  • Just 1 lb, slightly heavier than iPad Mini, but much lighter than all 10" craps.
  • Large 6400mAh battery to last 9 hours for video playing.
  • Running ICS, can root, add CWM recovery and SIM unlock.
  • Hotspot, once you root and remove the AT&T Communication Manager.
  • AT&T LTE 700/AWS and HSPA+/HSPA: 850/1900/2100 MHz.
  • You can, say, buy a China Unicom SIM card and use the 3G over there.
Warning: I took out the micro SD card from my camera and inserted it into the Element to see how photos look. The stupid thing deleted all the JPG files without a warning!!!

I'll update this article once it arrives. I post this article this soon, thinking others might want this great deal too before it's gone.

Some screen shots I took in the store (you can see ebay items in full lines with prices at the right side; something cannot do with phones):

[update 01/24/13] Received it and very happy so far. It is like brand new condition with protection film still on the back.

  • Bought a SIM unlock code on ebay for $1.59 and unlocked it. T-Mobile SIM works on 2g/3g/4g/lte (AWS), need to add this apn:
  • Downloaded the ICS 4.0.4 from Pantech and updated by a simple click. I already installed the USB drivers earlier when I bought a Pantech Burst phone. Then did a reset to factory.
  • Rooted it with this instruction by pure adb, used su, busybox and Superuser.apk files from this zip. 
  • Moved the APNWidget.apk out of /system/app. Enabled tether menu with Secret Codes Revealer, both USB and WiFi tether work.
  • Inserted my SIM card and enjoying very fast 4G.
  • Installed TouchPal and typing this in Chrome.
  • The 1024x768 screen is indeed ideal for checking photos from my G5. No need to mention web pages.
  • Installed Dice Player and it can play the MTS video directly from my G5 using HW decoder! Image is bumpy, but audio is smooth and synced with image.
  • I can hold or grab it with one hand, indeed the ideal size, feels heavier than 7" though.
  • Speaker is loud and clear.
  • Good battery life, dropped only 10% from 88% to 78% overnight, idle with 4G connected, about 1% drain per hour, typical for Android. Watched online TV over 4G for 30 minutes and battery drained 10% from 78% to 68%, which means about 5 hours online video watching. Dropped 9% after 30 minutes of forum browsing and posting over 4G, translating to about 5.5 hours.
  • Several languages included, Chinese is one of them.
  • When I connect it to my laptop, it won't be charged. Because the USB port is at the bottom, it needs a special stand for watching online TV while being charged.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ported my cellphone number to Google Voice

Although I've been using Google Voice for many years, I still kept my ancient cell #, just in case that # is still in someone's phone book. Finally, $30 a year to keep that # somehow sounded too much to me, so I decided to port it from PagePlusCellular to GV.

I logged into my GV account, went to settings and phones, clicked on the "Port/Change" button. It verified my cell # and charged me $20 for the port in. After a while, I checked the status and it said denied for wrong PIN. I gave the last 4 digits as the PIN and it went through this time. After about a day, the # was in my GV.

As you can see, the ported in # (-87) became my primary GV #, i.e., now when I place a GV call, the CID is this #, not my old GV # (-02). This is not what I wanted. Fortunately, once I made the secondary # (-02) permanent (another $20 to Google), I can swap primary and secondary numbers, anytime.

Normally, Google does not allow call forwarding from one GV # to another GV#. My this cell # was on both my personal and home GV accounts; so when someone called my home #, my cell phone rang too. Now the forwarding still works, even though the cell # has now become a GV#. Hopefully it'll keep this way, because Talkatone on my phone/tablet is logged on my personal GV account only. Talkatone can log into multiple GV accounts, but then receiving calls becomes not reliable. Furthermore, this feature costs $20 per year - I'd rather pay $30 to a real cell phone company like PagePlusCellular.

BTW, Talkatone now does transcoding, i.e., transfers GV's high bandwidth G.711 codec to a low bandwidth, 3G friendly codec. Finally, GV calls are very practical over 3G. It is very easy and simple too - all you need to do is: install Talkatone and, if you need to receive GV calls too, forward your GV to Google Chat (see above photo).

Let's wish Talkatone will be able to add more servers for transcoding; otherwise once more and more people use Talkatone, the servers might become too busy to offer the good call quality we enjoy now.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Panasonic G5 vs. G3

Does the G5 worth $137 more than the G3 at $299?
  • G5 uses the same sensor in GH2 that sets the standard for DSLR video. Video look better than G3's, indeed. The sensor is actually improved than GH2's, although multi aspects ratio is crippled.
  • Like GH2, G5 offers 2.4x ETC mode for 1080p in addition to what G3 offers - 3.6x 720p. Both 2.4x and 3.6x video look cleaner and better than G3's 3.6x. ETC for stills is now replaced by digital zoom (2x and 4x).
  • 1080p60 (limited to 29m59s) 28mbps, in addition to 1080i60 (no limit) 17mbps. The former looks significantly sharper.
  • Dynamic range is 1-stop better, now very close to the Olympus OMD and APS-C.
  • Like G3, no blocking on batteries. I have a 3rd-party GF2 battery bought on ebay and I can use it in G5 fine except that the door cannot close.
  • Eye sensor is very nice to have. Both EVF and LCD look better, featuring live preview.
  • Quiet electronic shutter in addition to mechanical.
  • It is easier to shoot photos and video with just one hand, thanking to the relocation of the shutter and record button and the added zoom rocker, and the thumb pad. The downside: the much larger grip adds a lot more bulkiness to already bulky G3. Now it's all like a GH2, nothing like a GF2.
  • There is no improvement over G3 on ISO 3200 and 6400 photos, actually more noise. G3's AWB gives more pleasing tone under LED lights. 12800 is garbage.
  • Like G3, it is made in China. Earlier models such as GF2 are made in Japan.

So yes, just the 2.4x 1080p ETC alone is worth the extra money. It extends the 14-45mm lens to 14-108mm (or even 14-162mm), like 8x or 12x zoom; then you don't have to carry a very heavy and very expensive superzoom lens. Other features and improvements are welcome but I can live without them and just be happy with a G3. I wish high ISO could be even better and 12800 could be really usable other than a marketing hype.

Although I have said it many times, here I say it again, loud and clear: Panasonic M43 is the only DSLR-class camera that does auto focus video without too much AF hunting. This G5 has pushed that even further with the smoothest, sharpest and least hunting video I've seen so far from any DSLR cameras. Even idiots can take easily 1st class photos and video out of such a small and light camera, without having to mess around with any manual controls. See it yourself, all done by auto, including continuous or tracking auto focus, just click on a single record button and this is what you'll get:

Now let's compare it to G3.

Low light and outdoor video and 2.4x, 3.6x ETC modes:

1080p60 vs. 1080i60 (download the non-youtubed 8mbps version here):

ISO 6400 G5 vs. G3:

ISO 160 G5 vs. G3:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hacked G3 Video Sample (outdoor)

Ever since I bought the G3, it's been raining. Finally a sunny day so I took the hacked G3 with me on an errand and shot a footage while waiting for bus. I did not carry any bag, the G3 with 14-45mm lens was in the pocket of my winter coat. Yes, I have never seen such sharp and detailed video from my GF2.

This footage is converted from 48mbps to 8mbps before uploaded to YouTube which converted it further down to 5mbps. No any other processing.

Notice how sharp and detailed even after re-compressed twice! Also note how minimum is AF hunting, the entire footage was shot with continuous auto focus (AF-C). The artifacts you see in YouTube does not exit in the original footage which is totally clean, smooth and free of artifacts.

The camera was configured as in this article, except the photo style - standard instead of vivid. These are the photo taken during the video shooting, direct jpeg and converted from raw:

Taking this photo caused a pause on video at 01:12. Therefore don't take a still if the video is more important at the moment. This is about using photo priority for the picture mode during video; using video priority does not cause the pause, but it can only capture at the same resolution as video (1920x1080 max) and no raw.

Camera maintainance

With the fast dropping price, more and more folks are moving up from a P&S to something like the Panasonic G3 or alike. A new thing is to clean the lens.

These 4 items are all you need and they can all be found in a local store like Rite Aid etc.:

You need to remove a tip from an automatic pencil and twist it on the air blower, as showing in above photo, if the blower is not dedicated for cameras with a plastic nozzle.

  • First thing first, wash your hands with soap. Never forget this step!
  • Wear 3.5x reading glasses ($1 in DollarTree) even if you are not that old.
  • Use the blower to blow the glass to free up dusts. 
  • If you see obvious oily stuff or fingerprints on the glass, use a cotton swab, dip a little bit into the 99% isopropyl alcohol and erase very gently. 
  • If the glass still does not look perfect with some haze to you, then use the microfiber clothe to wipe it very gently.  Wash this clothe often with dish soap and then clean water, hang it overnight to dry up and keep it in a clean bag. Take this clothe with you when travel, it should be all you need on a trip.

Never touch the sensor with anything or use your mouth to blow on it. If there are dusts on it, use the blower. How do you know if your sensor is clean or not?
  • Change your camera to A mode @ f/22 and manual focus @ infinite.
  • Open Notepad on your PC and maximize its window. Aim your camera to the white area and press down the shutter while moving the camera from left to right while keeping the camera parallel to the PC screen.
  • Open the photo with PhotoShop, then click on "Image", "Adjust" and "Auto Levels" (or Ctrl + Shift + L).
If the image looks like this, the sensor is clean:

It looks like this if there are some dusts on the sensor:

Sometimes the dusts are not on the sensor, but on the rear or front lens:

The last tip: always use a lens hood! It protects the lens more than anything else can, including filters, and your fingers will have much less chance to touch the lens. One thing I like Panasonic is: the hood can be mounted reversely on the lens, so it is never a hassle to employ one!

BTW, I have only one camera, so all the other photos are from my Stellar phone. I really like the photos out of this phone. Although it is only 3MB, its photos are always very sharp and vivid with great colors, indoor and outdoor, closeup and landscape, never stop to amaze me.

[update] Now I use this brush mostly, plus a blower:

Wash it well with dish soap and dry it thoroughly. Blow the brush before and after each use. Cover both ends and keep it in a carton box, away from dust.