Thnking Inside the Box

Sometimes I feel sorry for myself because I spend most of my waking hours inside a cube. Sometimes I sleep there too. Then I feel even sorrier. But on the other hand, some people are so much worse of than I am. My cube is much better than this guy’s, but the bugs I deal with are much more insidious. If you don’t believe me, read Ellen Ullman’s “The Bug“.

Canon vs. Nikon

I often get asked for advice on what digital camera to buy. I’d estimate that I was asked that at least a dozen times in the last couple of years. I’ve been asked by co-workers, friends, family.

I usually explain things this way: there are two classes of cameras — SLR and what used to be called “rangefinder“. SLRs range from bulky and heavy to galaxy sized black hole; from very expensive to small-Manhattan-studio-apartment-down-payment expensive. Rangefinders range from 007-spy-camera-sized to brick-sized; from very cheap to pretty damn expensive. The image quality on both types ranges from crappy to very good.

SLRs have one huge advantage: they look professional. And expensive. Two advantages. Well, actually while we are at it, there is a third advantage, and the only one that matters. Some SLRs come as a part of a camera system. A camera system is a collection of accessories that your camera can take. It includes lenses, flashes, extension rings, adapters, and other various obscure doodads like focusing screens and right angle viewfinders. Repeat with me – it’s not the camera body and the lens it comes with. It’s the System that matters.

When you are buying a non-system camera, you have to make a one piece investment as you won’t be able to upgrade it later. With system SLRs, your investment in lenses, flashes and other accessories is separate and much longer lasting than investment in the body of the camera. More than that, you’ll have a choice of several camera bodies at different price points. But the main thing is, you can have a lens and accessory collection and it will stay with you for many years.

In the olden days there were popular rangefinder systems and even TLR systems. Not anymore. But the main reason for rangefinder popularity still remains: they are smaller and easier to use than SLRs. A picture taken with a well-made rangefinder will be almost indistinguishable from that taken with a well-made SLR with a normal range lens (that is, not a macro or telephoto or something even more exotic). Rangefinders add something to photography that no SLR can add – spontaneity. To be able to whip a camera out of your shirt pocket and take a picture is priceless. 70% of photographic opportunities disappear in the time that it takes to take an SLR out of the bag.

I often try to steer people into buying a nice rangefinder because I know that they’ll take it with them more, take more pictures and enjoy it more. A camera that wants to stay at home is not of much use, unless, of course, like me, you are Ok with dragging a heavy bag with you everywhere.

If it’s the SLR that they want, I explain the choice even simpler. You have to buy into a major camera system, which these days means Canon or Nikon. Once you buy your camera and lenses, you are pretty much stuck with the system, unless you never buy any expensive lenses.

Canon and Nikon systems are pretty equivalent in quality and variety. They are both awesome. Generally Nikon stuff is heavier and sturdier, and also more expensive. Just about anybody finds that appealing. I find the relative heaviness a huge drawback. Picture quality at slow shutter speed is mainly limited by three factors: sensor quality, lens quality and camera shake. So, if you are not using a tripod for every shot, a heavy, although sturdy camera is a huge drawback – it will make your hands shake a lot more than a lighter one. For these two reasons I am, and always was a fan of Canon.

Most of the people I ever advised on purchasing a camera bought Nikons though. More than that, most of my friends and co-workers are Nikon owners already. As a rule of thumb, prosumers that I know like Nikons. In general, among professionals and amateurs, Canon and Nikon are represented equally, as far as I can tell.

I do have one observation that might raise a lot of controversy. I find, in my empirical observations, that Canon owners take and share way more pictures than Nikon owners. Nikons are usually found stashed away at home, while Canons are out there in the world, taking pictures. Since 2000, I took about 25K photos, and a I guess I am a typical Canon user. So is Travis Ruse, one of my favorite photobloggers. So is Tema Lebedev, my favorite travel blogger. What about you, Nikonophiles? Where are your pictures?

Philip Greenspun has a nice technical Canon vs Nikon comparison, as well as a good description of the Canon system, and one of Nikon.

I’ve added a camera-related poll.

Nippon on Hudson

What is the the first ever sister city to be twinned with NYC? That’s right, Tokyo, Japan. And nowhere it’s more apparent than in Brooklyn, at the annual Cherry Blossom Festival (aka Sakura Matsuri) that is held at the awesome Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

You know that word that the Naked Chef likes to say a lot? “Pukka”? It turns out to be a Hindi word meaning “authentic” and “first class.” Well, on the minus side many Japanese things in Brooklyn Botanic are not pukka at all.

For instance, the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden is a masterpiece of true Japanese garden design. But the house and the Shinto shrine are empty shells and not authentic at all. If you want to see a real Japanese house you have to go to Philly to see Shofuso. I don’t even know where the closest real Shinto shrine is.

Also, would it kill them to have a decent bento? They always sell the worst bentos ever at Sakura Matsuri. They should totally get in touch with Shinobu Kobayashi, Mainichi Daily News bento specialist.

These are all minor gripes though. I love Sakura Matsuri at Brooklyn Botanic. I especially love the distinctly Brooklyn flavor that it acquires.

How awesome is this lady’s kimono? My wife wore a vintage Haori that we bought in a second hand store in Arashiyama.

Those without cromulent attire can compensate with appropriate coiffure.

Brooklyn badass samurai, wearing dark sunglasses

and cutoff kimonos.

There’s some meditatin’ going on.

And mingling of food.

In the end, you can appreciate the cherry blossoms amongst the throngs of people, just like in Japan. It’s that just that the cops won’t let you get drunk under the cherry trees, like they do in Japan.

The Deadprogrammer Tarot Project

For a very long time I wanted to create my own Tarot deck. Complex symbolism of classic Tarot decks such as the Rider-Waite-Smith makes it next to impossible to recreate them faithfully in photographic format without posing people and items (which would look lame of course). I do want to stay relatively close to RWS canon though, so I am thinking about digitally altering my images to add swords and other things not commonly found in XXI century New York.

Please treat these as sketches, because final versions will probably be way different.

The Tower: Brooklyn College heating plant’s smokestack is as good a Tower as any. Maybe I’ll shoot it some day in a lightning storm.

The Moon: I need to reshoot this with the Moon between the towers and with the pond visible in the picture, but I think this is the right location for the card. The towers are Pierre Hotel on the left and Sherry Netherland Hotel on the right.

The Magician: I saw what is probably a bicycle inner tube rolled up in an infinity symbol along the glistening subway rails one morning, and the first thing that came to my mind was the Tarot card. Theoretically this should be a man with an infinity symbol over his head, but I really like this photo.

“If You Paid Attention, You’d be Worried Too” or Finit Finis Finish Omnious Omnium Shmomnious

The very special 47-50th Street/Rockefeller Center station has some very strange advertisements posted in the decrepit old clock boxes. You know, the ones overhead, the ones to which nobody pays attention too because the clocks are usually way off?

For some reason I thought that the ads that I’ve seen for a long time were cigarette ads. But recently I looked at them a little bit more carefully and realized that something was odd. The ads show a sunset over the forest and a flock of birds in the air. The caption says “Omnium Finis Imminet”. Huh. Hello conspiracy theories.

Well, my crappy knowledge of Latin tells me that “omnium” means “all”, “finis” means “end” and “imminet” since it sounds just like “imminent” means “is coming”.

Apparently graffiti with this nice apocalyptic message has been popping up in other places. On the other hand, this is not graffiti, is it? At the very best this is a well executed hack.

Come Monday (well, if the end of the world is not going to happen before then) I am totally giving a call to Gannett Transit (formerly New York Subways Advertising Co) at (212) 297-6400 to figure out what’s up with this.

Update.
I called Gannett Transit just to be kicked to voicemail, but it looks like the ad is legit. I’ve seen a whole bunch in West 4th Station and comments are rolling in about TV spots too. As commenters pinted out this is probably a “guessing game” ad for the new War of the Worlds movie or some stupid Sci-fi Channel movie or series. Well, at least nobody seems to be paying attention to the ads. None of the people I asked were able to recall what it was about.

Well, at least it seems that my humble blog ranks high in the very sparse search results for “omnium finis imminet”, “omnium finis imminent” and the other creative ways to spell this slogan, so hopefully I’ll gain some readers along the way.

Now, if this were an ad for Darren Aronofsky’s Flicker, that would be way cool. But I am not even sure that he is filming it at all.

Another update
Wow, it looks like New York Times fact checkers are in hot water as the reporters totally pulled this out of their butts (or read on this in my blog as it was the top result on Google for a while) :

“The advertisements portray a flock of birds against an angry red sky, with a single phrase: Omnium Finis Imminet, Latin for The End of All Things Is Near. The advertisements, for Steven Spielberg’s movie version of H. G. Wells’s “War of the Worlds,” cost about $50,000. The film is to open in July.”

They did post a correction later on. Here’s the full ad from a recent Scientific American that my wife brought me today.

Note the Photoshop lens flare and the horrible font. Looks like their art director is about as competent as their marketing director. The letter “T” is probably made to look like the Orange County Choppers dagger logo to capitalize on the popularity of that show.

He heh, the show seems to have a stupid “X-Files” marries “Millennium” premise. The end of the world is approaching, and investigators are a physicist instead of Scully and a nun instead of Mulder. That’s some sexy and original stuff. Just get a bad 80s rock ballad for a theme song and all the geeks mourning Star Trek will flock to see this.