Theatre of noise

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The best and cheapest laptop you can buy (2024 edition)
If you are looking for an excellent lightweight laptop for everyday use, I have a suggestion. My impetus for writing this article is not to encourage you to spend more money, quite the opposite. My goal is to highlight a strategy to counter the continuing wastefulness of the tech industries. Read on for a (slight) rant and some (excellent) advice.  The problem: no improvements, more e-waste For about a decade now, new models of computers and components have been released in profusion with only incremental benefit.  On the desktop side we have a shining example in Nvidia. Their 4000 series graphics cards add little of note to the previous lines, but are nonetheless more expensive. The very fact they are "new" encourages gamers to upgrade from their perfectly-good current cards. Similarly, Intel CPUs of the 14th generation (Raptor Lake Refresh) are no faster than their predecessors. Indeed, we could go back to the 11th generation (Rocket Lake) without losing any features or performance that matters. Apple releases new iPhones that seem to differ from their last model only in how rounded the corners of the casing are.  Reviewers will point to a 10% increase here or a 20% benefit there, using metrics specifically designed to show such gains. But small numbers don't matter. A good rule of thumb is that one requires a 100% performance boost before the change is likely to be noticed in everyday usage. Turning to laptops specifically, the situation is similarly stale. Continued pressure from Apple sees functionality dropped in favour of producing the thinnest possible lifestyle accessory. As a design goal this has absolutely no advantages. Indeed, the restricted space inside the casing leads to overheating or the performance throttling that Apple has been known for.  A micro-thin laptop means ditching useful ports and features. For example, it's now rare to find an RJ45 port for Ethernet, since this is ever-so slightly too tall for the housing. We have been taught to use wireless internet, even with a router within easy reach. Even though wired internet is much faster, more reliable, and energy efficient.  Though the right-to-repair movement grows, especially in the USA, Windows/Linux laptops are following Apple in reducing user access to components. Granted, no manufacturers are as terrible as Apple in this regard, but it is now commonplace for RAM to be soldered to the motherboard. A few years ago it was still quite possible to buy a laptop that allowed a memory upgrade down the line, hence extending the useful life of the device. (My previous laptop was an example.) In short, laptops have become ever-more wasteful machines, exactly as environmental pressures on resources are amplifying. That's why I continue to buy laptops second-hand, keeping these units out of landfills, ensuring that perfectly good machines get used. As a bonus I get units that are at least as capable than those currently on offer... and often more flexible in terms of connectivity. Laptops (circa 2011) A decade ago (August 2014) I bought a refurbished Lenovo Thinkpad X220, upgraded the RAM to 8 GB, and replaced the hard drive with a fast SSD. Boom! A performant computer. This ancient model, dating to 2011, has since done duty as my music performance computer, pressed into service with an RME audio card and variety of MIDI controllers.  Despite the aging specifications, this model has served me well. Reviewers will tell you that you can't create electronic music on such an ancient device. Meanwhile I am out there using Reaktor and other synthesis programmes without a problem. But all good things come to an end... eventually. Recently the X220 has become a hindrance while travelling. The lack of contemporary ports (notably HDMI) has proven to be a liability at festivals and conferences. So, I set about finding a replacement. This process began with a short list of necessary features. Laptop shopping list (circa 2024) Since I already have a powerful desktop computer for media production, my requirements for a laptop are quite modest and mainstream. The picture would be quite different if I needed to game or produce video content while mobile. My first requirement is a generous supply of contemporary ports including HDMI, USB-C, and USB-A. Dongles be banished! Second, I need a laptop that can last all day on a battery charge. The weak battery life of the X220 meant that I needed to carry my AC adapter everywhere. But one area that has improved in the last decade is processor efficiency. The reduction in overall power consumption is better for the environment and allows longer periods between charging. Contemporary laptops have largely switched to using the USB-C port for power delivery. This relief from proprietary power bricks means that means that, in a pinch, any USB power adapter can be used for charging. Convenient! Third, I need something lighter than the X220, which weighed in at 1.7 kg, about the same as a contemporary Apple MacBook. That's too heavy for me.  Since the screen size of a portable laptop is only going to be around 13", high resolution is not desirable. If I want more screen space i will attach an external monitor. The current standard of FHD (1920×1080) is already an improvement over my existing computer. But a matte screen is essential... and increasingly difficult to find. Glossy screens make films look flashier but are a hindrance in all other use cases.  At a minimum I require the battery and SSD to be serviceable. This is especially important when buying an older unit, because these are the first things that might need an upgrade. It's a shame that I can no longer insist on upgradeable RAM, but so be it.  Speaking of which, I'd prefer a unit with 16 GB of memory, but honestly 8 GB RAM is also fine for daily tasks.  A good keyboard is a requirement. Similarly, it is essential to have a trackpad with physical buttons. This too is becoming increasingly rare. Why? I guess buttons break the sleek, clean lines of the chassis. Quiet operation is also necessary, since quite often I am focused on analytical or listening tasks. The only time I will be stressing the processor is when producing music, in which case the background noise of a fan will be masked anyway. Almost there. But there are still two more constraints. First, price. With the cost of daily living so high, I do not wish to drop two grand on a computer that is, for me, secondary to my custom-built desktop. Second, service. After reading countless reviews and forum posts I discovered that almost every major brand is disliked for their build quality, service, and support. Dell, HP, ASUS... they all seem equally poor once one gets past the glossy reviews. To summarise: 13" matte screen at around 1920×1080 resolution. Small and light, less than 1.4 kg.  Long battery life: 6h+ for daily tasks, 2h+ for synthesis.Serviceable battery and SSD essential. RAM nice too.  Minimum 8 GB RAM, preferably 16 GB.  Minimum 3 USB ports including both USB-C and USB-A. HDMI video and minijack audio.  USB-C charging. Good keyboard without layout compromises. Trackpad with physical buttons. Quiet operation.  Warranty: 1 year. Company with quality service record and known reliability.  Things I don't care about: Speaker quality. They are all rubbish anyway. Why do reviewers focus on this? I own headphones! Graphics performance. Won't be used for video editing or gaming. So, which laptop? This might seem like a ridiculously demanding list of features. But I am here to provide the impossible! After much research, I ended up back at Lenovo. Here I am guaranteed a good keyboard and trackpad. Plus, as a bonus, that excellent little Trackpoint that I find superior to a mouse. YMMV. But you have the option to use either pointing device... or both.  Like other companies, Lenovo have a confusing array of product lines. Of those that focus on portability, the pinnacles are the ThinkPad X1 Carbon and ThinkPad X1 Nano models. But these units are so small that performance and features are compromised in favour of style. Investigation revealed numerous complaints about DOA units or components that simply stopped working.  The "next best" portable product line are the ThinkPad X series. These are only slightly larger than the Carbon and Nano, but this (apparently) makes a significant difference to air flow and heat venting.  Oh, have you noticed? After weeks of deliberation I had now arrived back at the same conclusion I'd made a decade prior! A new ThinkPad X it will be.  Every year since the X220 a new model had been introduced, even if these changed only slightly over the previous iteration. In the last decade the lineage went like this: X250 (2015), X260 (2016), X270 (2017), X280 (2018), and X390 (2019). The line was then rethought as the X13 G4 (2023) which was crippled relative to the older X line. The ThinkPad X390 is the 10th generation of this product line, and the second-last model. So this looks like the best option to pursue, since it's just old enough to be available at refurbished prices.  The X390 has a 13.3" 1920×1080 matte screen of sufficient brightness and accuracy. At 31 x 22 x 1.7 cm and 1.22 kg the unit is compact and light. Consider that this is about 200g more than the lightest laptop on the market, but 500g less than my previous model.  The M.2 drive and battery are user serviceable. The computer runs cool and quiet for over 8 hours on a battery charge. At full steam a slight whirr of the out-take fan is audible. No fewer than four USB ports  are available, in a variety of configurations, including USB-C for power delivery. You can read a review at Notebook Check for more details.  I sourced a unit with 8 GB RAM and a small 256 GB SSD for €395 shipped. After upgrading the storage I will have a very capable computer at a quarter of the price of buying something new. (A similarly configured X13 is €1560.)Eventually I could have found a unit with 16 GB RAM. But most refurbished units are not configured with extra memory, so it might have taken some weeks of waiting. On this occasion I had a pressing deadline and a busy schedule.Here's the computer on my kitchen table, with my mobile phone (Samsung S23) for comparison.  Evaluation The 4-core Intel i5-8265U is an 8th gen (Whiskey Lake) CPU. But, as already stated, older is not necessarily worse. This model does support the H.265/HEVC video codec and 10-bit colour depth. DaVinci Resolve runs without complaint on this computer, though I wouldn't attempt more than simple editing. Nonetheless, it's good to know that I can view the assets I'll be shooting.  I ran Passmark against my other systems. The CPU benchmark is double my previous laptop, while the built-in graphics are a 500% improvement! This unit should last me another decade, while keeping yet another computer out of the landfill. I hope you will consider doing the same. About refurbished computers While it's perfectly possible to buy a used computer, locally or on eBay, this process is potentially risky. Some people may well have discovered a deficiency in their computer and wish to sell it on without revealing all the details to you. You have no guarantees.  A better alternative is to source a refurbished computer. These are available in two main ways. First, directly from the manufacturer as customer returns. These are often labelled as "factory outlet" stock. The price discount is usually only moderate.  For deeper discounts, turn to a third-party company dedicated to this task. These units are often lease-end stock from corporate environments. This is especially true for manufacturers like Lenovo and Dell, whose products are favoured in the corporate world. These units are generally like-new, perhaps with some small signs of wear. Any defective components are replaced, so there is no risk. A one-year warranty is typical.  Before Brexit I bought directly from such firms on eBay. For this recent purchase I used the site Refurb, which amalgamates listings from European refurbishing companies. My computer actually came from Spain. The only thing to watch out for is that the keyboard is in a language you can deal with. Thanks for reading this far. I'd love to hear from anyone else who follows a similar route. I do hope this article helps those on a budget obtain a useful tool for their productive lives!

Photographic Equivalence
The problem of photographic (or cinematic) equivalence is a subject that rears its ugly head every so often. Many people simply misunderstand this concept. For my own benefit I am providing the following summary. Details can be found in the references, but the purpose of this article is to clearly state the objective facts. After this, people can argue as much as they like about personal preferences. The sections will be numbered for ease of reference.1. Equivalent imagesWe define equivalent images as those that look identical on two different camera systems. Hence the concept of equivalence only has meaning when we are comparing cameras with different sensors / film sizes / back planes / cartridges. When shooting on one camera system, without varying how much of the sensor is used, there is no need to consider equivalence.  But there are cases where equivalence can be useful. First, if you are comparing camera systems prior to purchase, in order to determine which is more suitable for you. Second, if you have more than one system and likewise wish to choose one for the task at hand. Third, if you are required to "crop in" and use only a portion of the entire available sensor, for example to get a higher frame rate when shooting video.  2. Key parametersThe key photographic/cinematographic parameters that we wish to balance are exposure, perspective, motion blur, angle of view, and depth of field. If we do this, we get images that look exactly the same, everything else being equal.Everything else is never equal, at least not on different camera systems, but we can get close. 3. Image quality factorsAdditional factors are not included in the definition of equivalence, since they are not (significantly) impacted by the sensor size. Detail, sharpness, contrast, vignetting, colour, bokeh, distortion, magnification across the field, coma, astigmatism, and other factors will vary with each lens. If we need to match two lenses on different systems, this is indeed a difficult task. But that's a different subject. 4. Crop factorThe ratio of two sensor sizes is commonly called the "crop factor". For some time 135 film has been held as the standard, termed "full frame". Of course there are sensors larger than this, but for convenience, 35mm is defined as 1.0 and other sensors are compared to it. Some people get quite annoyed by this, for reasons I fail to understand. It's a ratio. It's arbitrary. You are free to compare between the two systems you most care about. In fact, it's essential to the process. Typically the value we use in the ratio is the diagonal length of the sensor. Way back in 2011 I argued instead for using the square root of the sensor area, since this takes into account different sensor aspect ratios. I rather doubt that the industry is going to change its mind, but here's that original table for reference. Note that the difference between diagonal and root area is usually quite small, so unless you need to be precise, it's a moot point which you use.  FORMAT SENSOR SIZE DIAGONAL AREA ROOT AREA 645 56.00 x 41.50 0.62 0.37 0.61 H3D 48.00 x 36.00 0.72 0.50 0.71 645D 44.00 x 33.00 0.79 0.60 0.77 35mm 36.00 x 24.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 APS-C 23.60 x 15.70 1.53 2.33 1.53 APS-CC 22.20 x 14.80 1.62 2.63 1.62 MFT 17.30 x 13.00 2.00 3.84 1.96 2/3" 8.80 x 6.60 3.93 14.88 3.86 1/1.63" 8.00 x 6.00 4.33 18.00 4.24 1/1.7" 7.60 x 5.70 4.55 19.94 4.47 1/2.3" 6.17 x 4.55 5.64 30.78 5.55 1/2.5" 5.76 x 4.29 6.02 34.97 5.91 Note that APS-CC is my abbreviation (not a standard) for Canon's implementation of APS-C, which differs from all other manufacturers.Note also that particular cameras may have sensors that vary from these standards. To maintain precision -- I repeat -- calculate your own crop factor. Now we can consider the key photography parameters in turn.  5. Motion blurFor still photography, motion blur is controlled by our shutter speed. For video, motion blur is a combination of our frame rate and shutter speed/angle. Since shutter speed is not affected by sensor size, we hold this factor invariant to get equivalent images. (And naturally for video we also hold frame rate invariant.)6. PerspectivePerspective is based on the position of the camera relative to subject and nothing else. Perspective is held equivalent by not changing our camera position. The term compression is sometimes used when describing perspective affects. But compression is a combination of perspective and angle of view (see next section) and so need not be considered independently of those two factors. 7. Angle of viewAoV is the angular extent of the imaged scene. The term field of view is also used, but this is sometimes confused with a distance measure, so I'll stick with the more correct term. AoV is based on the ratio of focal length (f) to diagonal sensor size (s).  The actual equation is AoV = 2 * arctan(s / 2f). We can match AoV for different systems (numbered using subscripts 1 and 2) by equating the ratios within the function. Hence, s1 / s2 =  f1 / f2. But the ratio of sensor sizes is simply the crop factor, which I'll abbreviate CROP. If s1 / s2 = CROP then f1 = CROP * f2. In other words, to find the focal length that results in an equivalent angle of view, multiply the existing focal length by the crop factor. A longer focal length is required on the larger sensor.  8. Depth of field DoF is a subjective description of how much of a subject is in focus. In truth, a given lens can only perfectly focus the subject at one precise distance. At every other distance, objects are out of focus. What matters is how much they are out of focus.Focus blur is objectively measured using the blur circle, specified by the ratio of aperture diameter (entrance pupil) to subject distance. Since we are maintaining the same distance to subject for equivalent perspective, the blur circle is proportional only to the aperture diameter. But photographers rarely know the aperture diameter (a) of their lens. Instead we use the f-stop (p) as a relative quantity. The f-stop is calculated by dividing focal length by the aperture. So, p = f / a. Rewriting this as a = f / p we can then ensure the same blur circle by equating apertures on the two systems. Hence f1 / p1 = f2 / p2. Or, using the definition of crop factor, p1 = CROP * p2. In other words, to find the new f-stop that renders equivalent depth of field, multiply the existing f-stop by the crop factor. 9. Exposure At this point our two images are shot using the same shutter speed but are two stops apart in aperture. To ensure the same exposure, we must increase the ISO of the larger sensor camera by that same two stops. While this might add more noise to our image, as a rule larger sensors are better at handling noise. So in practice this is not significant. Besides, noise is an image quality factor, not a matter of image equivalence as such. 10. In summary: our recipe To maintain image equivalence across two different sensor sizes (or crops): Multiply focal length by the crop factor. Multiply f-stop by the crop factor. (Or add the crop factor in stops to the f-stop value, if that's more convenient). Add the crop factor in stops to ISO.Maintain the same perspective (distance to subject). Maintain the same shutter speed/angle.  11. Examples Two examples will make these relationships plain. The following will produce equivalent images, all else being invariant. One can quite readily find lenses that will allow this equivalence.  MFT: 25mm f/1.4 ISO 200 APS-C: 33mm f/1.8 ISO 320 FF: 50mm f/2.8 ISO 800 The following are also equivalent, starting with a standard portrait lens on 35mm. Here we can see the difficulty in fulfilling the criteria on a smaller sensor.  MFT: 42mm f/0.9 ISO 400 APS-C: 56mm f/1.2 ISO 700 FF: 85mm f/1.8 ISO 1600 The following table presents equivalent focal lengths for three systems, including these common focal lengths for each: 18, 24, 28, 35, 50, 85. This can be handy for quick look-ups. MFT APS-C FF 9 12 18 12 16 24 14 18 28 17 23 35 18 24 36 21 28 42 24 32 48 25 33 50 26 35 53 28 38 56 35 46 70 37 50 75 42 56 85 45 60 90 50 66 100 64 85 128 85 113 170 12. Finally Image equivalence is not subjective, but a matter of optics. I trust that this article provides a clear and concise overview of a topic that is often over-complicated. It's disappointing to still read posts (and view videos) where authors without understanding state that the concept is nonsense. These presentations get a lot of support from others who also don't understand.  Equivalence is actually an intriguing and useful concept that can shed light on how different photographic properties interact. It's essential knowledge in several recurring situations where you need to match stills or video footage.  13. References Wikipedia articles are not necessarily written for clarity but do contain equations for crop factor, circle of confusion, and image sensor format.  Steve Yedlin, ASC has some clearly articulated reasoning similar to my own.  Joseph James has rather over-long and detailed coverage. Tony & Chelsea Northrup provide a simple video demonstration, though with some imprecise use of terminology.

Martha Graham on artistic vitality
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening...”  This fantastic quote from Martha Graham is reproduced below in its entirety, together with correct reference. Provided as a resource for those who see this distributed on social media.  The following passage can be found in Agnes De Mille's Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham (New York: Random House, 1991), p. 264. The greatest thing she ever said to me was in 1943 after the opening of Oklahoma!, when I suddenly had unexpected, flamboyant success for a work I thought was only fairly good, after years of neglect for work I thought was fine. I was bewildered and worried that my entire scale of values was untrustworthy. I talked to Martha. I remember the conversation well. It was in a Schrafft’s restaurant over a soda. I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent but no faith that I could be. Martha said to me, very quietly, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have a peculiar and unusual gift, and you have so far used about one-third of your talent.” “But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.” “No artist is pleased.”“But then there is no satisfaction?”“No satisfaction whatever at any time,” she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

What is a good low noise microphone for field recording?
This is another blog post in my everyone-asks-this-question-a-million-times-so-now-I-can-just-link-them-here series (patent pending). The problem with most such questions asked on social media is that not enough information is provided. Answers depend on the use case, available equipment, and budget. All prices provided are for two mics, since I assume that stereo recording is desirable.  Note that I have used very few of these mics in practice but have been aware of their performance for, in some cases, decades. Here I am compiling the expert opinions of others, based on my training as an audio engineer. We can start by assuming a condenser is the best microphone variety to choose. These require some sort of powering, either 48 V phantom power or 5 V plug-in power (PIP). The former is a professional standard on robust XLR cables. The latter is a convenient consumer standard on minijack TRS. Which you choose depends on the recorder you have to use. To increase your options, it's possible to buy a phantom to PiP converter, which both reduces the maximum voltage and converts the plug type. The next decision pertains to bulk. The three distinct categories are: small diameter, large diameter, and electrets (lavaliers). Small diameter condensers were often designed for the studio, but certain models are optimised for field work. A common choice of professionals is the Sennheiser MKH 8020 (10 dB-A) at €2500. Combine with a Rycote ORTF blimp (€760) and suitable stand. The cost increases if you want to mount each mic separately for a spaced omni configuration. (Because then you need two smaller blimps.) This mic has many exceptional qualities. It has minimum colouration in the direct and diffuse fields, so will sound equally good close to a source or further away. This also pertains to the accurate rendering of moving sources. The frequency range extends an octave below and two octaves above nominal hearing, so you can re-pitch material for sound design applications, and still have rich content. The mic capsule is resistant to humidity and hence works in adverse conditions. Finally, it's part of an entire family with different polar patterns, so you can buy a mid-side pair or something else. Schoeps mics are great in a concert hall, but hate humidity and have more self-noise. Another option is the Audio-Technica AT 4022 (13 dB-A) at €760. That company used to sell lower noise mics but they are all discontinued. This is possibly because their frequency response wasn't that consistent (I own a pair of 3032) but nonetheless it would be nice to have the choice. Large diameter condensers are, well, large, being designed for studio use. They are often more susceptible to handling noise and can be difficult to accommodate in a blimp (which is essential for wind protection). The Lewitt LCT 540 S is likely the quietest microphone in existence, advertised as being below the threshold of hearing (4 dB-A) at €1400. The Rode NT1-A (5 dB-A) is popular due to its bargain basement €360, which is amazing for the quality. Electret mics are commonly based on the Primo EM 272 capsule (14 dB-A) due to is affordability and low power requirements. Several small companies make these, often as cottage industries. Depending on your location and availability, choose from Immersive Soundscapes (France), Audiotalaia (Spain), LOM (Slovakia), Micbooster (UK), and Sonorous Objects (New York). Disclosure: I have endorsed a couple of these brands, but only because I'm a happy customer.  These will run you €80-125 depending on fittings. Some are made to put in your ear for binaural recording, others come ready to clip onto objects. All are tiny and conveniently run on plug-in power (PiP), allowing the use of small recorders and hidden mic placement. You can carry them everywhere, every day, unlike larger rigs. But don't expect them to have smooth frequency plots, good impulse responses, or the lowest noise... though they aren't bad! Final word Though I've used dB (A-weighted) as a measure of noise, this is only for convenience, since manufacturers readily provide this number. But in truth it's not that useful a measure. For one, it's based on experimental results published in 1933 that have long been superseded. More important, two microphones will sound completely different even with the same dB-A number, because this says nothing about the frequency distribution of the noise. Audio recording is a lot more complicated than simply "what is the best". For every answer there are provisos and limitations. The reason that the MKH 20 is the gold standard is not because it's got the lowest self-noise. But because it has sufficiently low noise while being easy to rig, robust, and great sounding. In the field you will never need the lowest self-noise because real life has more acoustic activity than a dampened recording studio. This doesn't stop people chasing numbers and ideals of perfect, but maybe it should. 

My favourite Windows utilities
Here's a quick article listing the essential applications I install with every new Windows computer. These solve some of the nagging annoyances and make life more efficient.  The great thing about Windows is that every problem has a solution and most of them are open source. All of the solutions below are free. And none require compiling or other technical jiggery-pokery. File Manager The first problem is the application once known as Windows Explorer, now just as ridiculously named File Explorer. Am I really exploring when I create a new directory? Am I like some lost captain of the seas as I patiently rename files? The interface keeps changing with new versions, but this application remains an inefficient and error-prone way to manage your files. You need to launch multiple instances and this becomes tiresome. It's also far too easy to copy from one Explorer to another the wrong way round.  Way back in DOS days this problem was solved with a class of programs known as Commanders. These provide a two-pane view, so that you always see two different locations (or two views of the same location). But since you can bookmark locations and have multiple tabs stacked, you get instant access to numerous folders you might commonly need to use. MultiCommander is my choice of many that exist. Never look at Explorer again. Aside: The problem is even worse on MacOS since the Finder is particularly uninformative. Commanders also exist for that operating system, but I have never found a good one that's free. That's basically the difference between the operating systems in a nutshell. Both have problems. But it's more expensive to solve them with Apple. And sometimes you simply can't. File Copying Copying files is a completely stupid operation in Windows. If you encounter name collisions your only choices are to give up or overwrite the destination. Once again, this leads to management hassles and unnecessary risk of smashing files you meant to keep.  Teracopy installs as a replacement for the copy operations, so it works everywhere, including within third-party applications like MultiCommander. This gives you meaningful choices while copying, reports progress in a transparent manner, allows you to skip problem files, and will verify files using checksums.  Aside: Teracopy is available for macOS but does not integrate with the OS, so becomes almost useless. <sigh> Microsoft's own treasures Microsoft's own PowerToys (open source) should likely come with Windows, but then they'd have to support them. I use several daily. Color Picker and Screen Ruler are great for UI design and general graphics. Text Extractor runs OCR on a region of the screen you lasso, converting the graphics to text. How did I ever do without this? The next two apps integrate with the context meu (right click), allowing quick access to commonly needed functions. Image Resizer is more efficient than booting up an image editor. File Locker tells you which apps have a lock on the current file. And others Greenshot (open source) is an alternative to the built-in Snip tool, which keeps changing its functionality in an annoying manner. Use Greenshot to get screen shots in a customisable manner.  Notepad++ (open source) is a serviceable replacement for the basic text editor, though coders and others will want something more robust.  Character Map UWP (open source) is a font viewer that replaces the Character Map application. Essential for anyone working with text. WinLaunch (open source) will help those annoyed by the limitations of the Windows 11 start menu, by providing a full-screen panel with resizable icons.  Everything provides a search bar with more power than Windows' own. And without all the spammy results.  OK, those are the main utilities I use, aside from a crop of audio and video utilities that are better left for a different article. 

Easy 10-bit video support on Windows
This article will help you with the fact that many Microsoft Windows applications do not, by default, view cinema camera output, including 10-bit files and the HEVC (also known as H.265) codec. Have you ever asked yourself... Why won't my video application play my video files?Why can't I see icons for my video file in Windows Explorer?How can I see full technical information for my video files? Read on for solutions, most of which are free and easy to achieve.  Let's address the first problem, playback of video files. It is sometimes wrongly stated that Windows itself doesn't support 10-bit or HEVC. This is incorrect. The problem is that many applications do not include this support. Examples include Windows Media Player, Windows Film & TV, and VLC.There are three solutions. Solution 1: Use a different video playerInstall the feature-rich and free Potplayer, produced by Korean firm Kakao. This plays 10-bit video and HEVC codec without any further fuss. The installation will prompt you for the option to "Install additional codec (OpenCodec)", but this step is is unnecessary. Tip: Once a file is opened, tap Ctrl-F1 or choose "Playback/System Info" from the File menu. This provides detailed information on the various streams in your file. Very handy!Solution 2: Buy the Microsoft HEVC support If you open an HEVC file in Microsoft's "Film & TV" you will be prompted to purchase the "HEVC Video Extensions" plugin from the Microsoft store for €0.99 / £0.79. Once installed, this application works fine.  This solution is also required to get HEVC support in the free version of DaVinci Resolve. I am not sure why Blackmagic don't build in this codec support, but there you are! Solution 3: Fix VLC If you prefer using VLC, you must make two Preference changes. First, go to the Input & Codecs tab and disable "Hardware-accelerated decoding", as shown below. Next, go to the Video tab and change the "Output" to "OpenGL video output for Windows". Other people recommend "OpenGL video output" but this is incorrect, as you will then lose the mouse cursor when over the main application window. Display video thumbnails The second problem is viewing thumbnails for your clips in Windows Explorer. The solution is to install Icaros and run the configuration when prompted. You'll see something like the following. This screen allows you to target the files you wish Icaros to handle. I simply chose the preset "Video" (highlighted in the screenshot above). This won't immediately change your Explorer view, because icons are cached on your system for efficiency. Click "Thumbnailing" to turn Icaros off. Then click this a second time to turn the app back on. This clears any cached thumbnails.  You should now see thumbnails like the following in Explorer. Aside: A better Explorer Truth be told, I never use Windows Explorer. It's a poor way of managing files. For general use, I prefer MultiCommander. For media, I use Faststone Image Viewer. This browser supports a large number of file formats, including photo RAW. But to display video thumbnails it too requires Icaros. View video technical info Install MediaInfo. Now you can use the context menu in Explorer to get info on your video files. Simply right-click and choose MediaInfo. (In Windows 11 you need to choose "Show More Options" to see the customised menu.)The interface is highly configurable, but the view is quite ugly. I do prefer the Potplayer display. Codec help If you are still not able to see your video files in your preferred applications, you can try installing the K-Lite Codec Pack. This comes in various packages, but "Basic" is all you need at this point. Choose the default install options. This will give you H.264, HEVC, HEVC10, and VP9 codecs. However, I have not had much luck with this approach. Neither is it necessary if you follow my other advice. DaVinci Resolve The free version of Resolve does not by default play HEVC content on Windows. Clips will appear as "Media off-line"... which is an incorrect error statement. The clips are very much present, as demonstrated by the fact the audio plays correctly. You require Microsoft's HEVC Video Extensions (see above). The paid version of the software, Resolve Studio, plays such clips without Microsoft's plugin. Conclusion All of the above has been tested and text updated, 15 December 2023.

Carl Zeiss Sonnar 2.8/85mm review
If there are no perfect lenses then there are at least those that come close. The Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 2.8/85mm for Contax-Yashica mount is one of those. This is a film-era lens designed for Contax SLRs. For more details, read my previous article, in which I sing the praises of this lens line as a whole. Here I will share photos from this particular optic. Though the Contax Zeiss lenses are well-loved, you don't read much about this 85mm model, no doubt because the maximum aperture of f/2.8 seems inadequate. Why buy this lens when there are so many other 85mm focal length options? No doubt your camera system has at least one such lens, native to your mount. Perhaps it is f/1.8 or even f/1.4. So why choose a slower lens that also requires manual operation? OverviewHere's the lens on my Lumix S5. I've added an after-market metal lens hood. The adapter is an inexpensive K&F Concept unit. The lens itself is small for a portrait focal length. At only 220g and 46mm deep, one can mistake this for a fast fifty. Indeed the Planar 50/1.4 is only 5mm shallower and weighs 70g more. This is the benefit of the relatively slow f/2.8 aperture. This classic Sonnar design uses only five lens elements in four groups, which, if one is to believe contemporary lens design philosophy, is altogether too simple to achieve greatness. Carl Zeiss offered the Planar T* 1.4/85 for an extra two stops of light. Certainly on film this is a compelling option. But mounted on a digital mirrorless camera with seemingly endless ISO ranges, light is no longer an issue. What then of bokeh? Here the Sonnar acquits itself well. The bokeh is lovely, circular, and smooth. It is simply not necessary to have a wider aperture, despite what YouTube pundits might tell you. Another reason to have a wide aperture is to get a thin depth of field. There is certainly a mania for this look in contemporary photography. But at a longer focal length like 85mm, it's almost impossible to have a face fully in focus at less than f/2.8. In fact, f/4 is often better. This way you can be reassured that not only the nose of your subject will be sharp. Finally, people prefer a faster aperture since lenses gain optical quality when stopped down. For many brands this means that the open aperture is compromised by haze, low contrast, or softness, to the point where it is usable only as a special effect. Zeiss bucks that trend. If they need to make a lens slow, they will. But you can be sure that the open aperture is usable. My photos included here demonstrate the image quality at f/2.8. (Unfortunately I am not much of a people photographer, so if you are more interested in portraits, you will need to seek out other examples.) MTF chart To get an idea of how the lens will perform, we can check out the MTF charts provided on the official Zeiss data sheet. Note that these are actual measurements, not theoretical numbers. Zeiss is the only company to provide this data direct from the engineers, unfiltered through marketing expectations. The fact that they maintain this database long after the lenses have left production is another testament to their integrity. Each data sheet has MTF charts for the lens wide open and stopped down to f/5.6. The curves from top to bottom represent spatial frequencies of 10, 20, and 40 line pairs per mm. Simply put, we can interpret the top lines as indicating contrast and the bottom lines as sharpness. In each case, the closer together the solid and dotted lines, the "nicer" the image, smoother the bokeh, flatter the field, etc. You can actually tell a great deal from an MTF chart without ever using a lens.  It's obvious that the Sonnar 85/2.8 has incredible micro-contrast from wide open, almost indistinguishable with the quality at f/5.6. Indeed, this is a defining feature of the Zeiss family, along with a naturalistic colour rendering. This leads some to claim the lens has too much contrast to use for portraiture, preferring the Planar 85/1.4. But with digital processing there's no such thing as too much contrast. I'd rather be in the position of reducing contrast in post than adding it artificially. In terms of sharpness, the Sonnar puts in good results almost all the way across the frame, which is certainly not what one might expect at f/2.8. This improves to "very good" and is entirely consistent by f/5.6. Besides increasing DOF, the only reason to stop down is to improve border performance, which is only really an issue for landscape photography.  The distortion chart shows a 1.5% maximum value. While low, this wouldn't be the perfect lens for architectural photography. I might instead choose the Planar 2/100mm which has one-third this amount. But for general photography, that figure is unnoticeable. All of these theoretical results are borne out in actual shooting. Sharp, contrasty images result every time. You can shoot wide open without worrying about any negative effects on the image quality. Apparently the earlier AE model flares easily, a feature film-makers might desire for that vintage look. My MM copy doesn't seem to flare at all.  So is this the perfect lens? For many people, yes. For me, there is one Achilles heel. The close-focus distance is one meter. Since my subjects are more often animals, flowers, or architectural details, I prefer a close focusing lens. For the leaf photo I cropped the file about 50% to get this enlargement. A search will turn up other positive reviews of this lens, for example here and here. You can purchase a copy for about €300-400 on the used market (the MM variant having a premium over the AE). Family resemblances A similar optic was available for Rollei cameras in the QBM mount. This has a different lens formula but all reports are similarly positive. Read one review and another. Also similar, if not identical, is the Carl Zeiss T* 2.8/90 produced in the mid-1990s for the Contax G system. The significant disadvantage of that lens is the lack of a focus ring, as the original system supported only auto-focus from the camera itself. There is no adapter for Lumix that restores this functionality, but if you are on a Sony system you might have more luck. Read one review and another. A word about the photos These shots were processed in Affinity Photo with my default settings. This applies a slight exposure S-curve and a clarity boost. I cropped but otherwise did very minor retouching. Some have a minor film LUT applied. The leaf was actually desaturated slightly. The rose is the only photo with a significant "look" applied. The snapshot of the camera is from my phone. 

Carl Zeiss lenses for Contax SLR - summary table
The title says it all. I've compiled a spreadsheet of all of the Carl Zeiss lenses made for the Contax SLR system, 1975-2001. These are highly-prized lenses that were often very expensive when released. The best performers are once again expensive, since it is difficult to find good copies. This table can help you build a set and confirm reasonable prices. Driving the popularity of Contax Zeiss is the fact it's easy to use these lenses on digital mirrorless cameras using cheap adapters. You will not have auto-focus or auto-exposure, but that is not an issue for videography, and is something most stills photographers can deal with.  For my money, these are the best lenses available that cover the 135 film frame. I've loved them since I briefly used a couple circa 1985. Why? The design is clean and elegant, bettered only by certain Leica lenses that I will never afford. The aperture ring turns with a smooth ease that is unsurpassed. This makes stop-down metering a treat. While I also love Pentax glass, the aperture ring is stiffer. Focusing is as easy as one can expect, thanks to the clarity of the image wide open. Zeiss is not a company that makes a lens with poor open performance.  The rendering is second to none. Certain lenses have a wonderful 3D pop that is difficult to find elsewhere. The bokeh is smooth. The early AE lenses have a distinctive "ninja star" look at certain apertures, but the later MM series does not.  The coating is excellent in preventing flare and preserving contrast. As good as the Pentax coatings. The colour rendering is neutral, unlike classic Leica lenses. Really my favourite rendering alongside Pentax. They are a reasonable size for the quality you get, though not the smallest lenses imaginable. Leica M mount has tinier glass and there are some distinctive SLR lenses that are small (e.g. Pentax 43mm Limited). Unlike all other manufacturers, Zeiss provide actual MTF charts from real tests. I only wish they went into more detail! Contax Zeiss Planar 50/1.4, Makro-Planar C 60/2.8, Sonnar 85/2.8 OK, so what don't I like? The extravagant prices of the very best models.The unavoidable fact that these lenses are old and hence might be in poor repair. You take your chances on the used market.The minimum focus distance lenses of all the lenses over 50mm focal (except the macros) is a meter. I prefer close focus lenses for my style of photography. I started this spreadsheet for my own interest many years ago and more recently filled in the details. You can use this table to make your own purchase decisions. The columns for price might prevent you getting ripped off! Using the spreadsheet Download the latest spreadsheet from my web server. If you are having trouble, it's likely because your web browser does not have MIME type for spreadsheets. Right-click (or long press if you have a touch OS) on the URL and download. Or, you can copy the URL and paste into your browser bar. (I remember when the internet used to work!) Use the spreadsheet columns to filter and sort. For example, say you want a compact set with a unified 55mm filter, each lens less than 300g. It's easy to determine that the following lens set would fit the bill.  Distagon T* 28mm f/2.8 Distagon T* 35mm f/2.8 Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 Makro-Planar T* 60mm C f/2.8 Sonnar T* 85mm f/2.8 Sonnar T* 100mm f/3.5 An MMJ set of the above would run about €2200 on commercial websites (including eBay). I would hope to pay less buying directly from a photographer. Note that three of those lenses are in the photos here.For half that price, a perfect beginner trifecta is: Distagon T* 28mm f/2.8 Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 Sonnar T* 85mm f/2.8 Why don't I have a photo of the Distagon 28/2.8? Because I actually own the Pentax version of the 28/2. Though lovely, it would look out of place here. Other ranges Note that the table does not include the Contax G Rangefinder lenses, Contax 645 lenses or other formats. Yashica also made lenses for the Contax-Yashica (CY) mount, but these are not known to be special.The "Classic" Zeiss range was released in ZF (Nikon), ZE (Canon) and ZK (Pentax) mounts. These are mostly different element formulas from the Contax predecessors. They might be technically "better" but will not have the same rendering. These four lenses are exceptions, in that they have identical or very similar formulas: Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 Distagon T* 25mm f/2.8 Planar T* 50mm f/1.4Planar T* 85mm f1.4 The only current Zeiss lens that has the same formula as the Contax equivalent is: Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8With some sadness it must be noted that Zeiss has recently exited the lens market entirely. For years they released only large manual focus lenses. This has not proven to be a good business decision.

Scritti Politti answers the Situationists
Inspired by the Sex Pistols, Green Gartside formed the band Scritti Politti while studying art at Leeds Polytechnic. Moving to a squat in Camden Town, the band released their first single “Skank Bloc Bologna” in 1978. Before transitioning the group to a pure pop outfit with several chart hits, Green produced a number of songs referencing leftist political theory and post-structural thought. One of the finest of these is “The 'Sweetest Girl'”, released October 1981 on Rough Trade. I have just made a discovery that perhaps has gone unnoticed. This song is an answer record. But who asked the question? In May 1957 artist Asger Jorn produced the mixed media book Fin de Copenhague with text by Guy Debord, who was credited as “technical adviser for détournement.” This pivotal work of the Situationist movement was produced in an edition of 200, but has been reproduced at least twice since. The content consists of collages made from cut-up newspaper advertising, splattered paint, and cryptic, often ironic, statements. The final page is reproduced below: And here is Green's answer, which I have set in like manner. Click through for larger images in both cases.

Which Samsung SSDs for video?
This article will recommend which Samsung SSDs you should use for video recording... and which you should avoid. This article assumes that you wish to support high video resolutions and bitrates. For less stringent requirements you may get away with something else. But it makes the most sense to purchase accessories that support the most demanding mode of your camera, in case your requirements change in the future.  Bottom line: The Samsung T7 Shield is recommended. Do not use the "plain" Samsung T7. The Samsung T5 is OK for lower rates. If you already have a Samsung T7 Touch, it will do as well.  Test Results This conclusion may confuse readers. After all, these drives all use a USB 3.1 Gen 2 interface. The T5 is an MSATA drive drive rated at 520 MB/s write speeds. Both the T7 and T7 Shield are NVME drives rated identically at 1000 MB/s write speeds. Samsung emphasises the robust build of the Shield but says nothing about the technical implementation. So what's the difference? The problem is that the Samsung T7 has only a SLC (single level cell) cache. Once this is full, transfer rates drop. Samsung bases the advertised rate on how fast data is written to the cache, not how fast writes are made to the drive itself. We know this because Tom's Hardware has tested and compared the drives. The results are actually quite scandalous.  The performance of the Samsung T5 500MB was tested 17 August 2017. Scroll down the article to the section "Full LBA Span Performance". You can see that the Samsung T5 (in both 500 MB and 1 TB capacities) out-performs the competition as it existed at that time, with a write speed of 365 MB/s. The fact that the curve is nice and constant is of primary importance when writing a video stream to disk. Any hiccups could mean dropped frames or even a corrupt file.  Now view the second article, coincidentally published exactly three years later. Scroll down to the fourth chart, which has five pages. Check out image 2, which magnifies the x-axis from image 1.  The sustained sequential write rate of the Samsung T7 (2 TB) starts at 867 MB/s but then drops to 337 MB/s as the cache saturates. This is much less than the advertised 1000 MB/s and even worse than the Samsung T5. The Samsung T7 Touch (1 TB) is a smaller drive and so should have a smaller cache Sure enough, though it starts with a higher rate, this degrades sooner. But the drive nonetheless sustains 600 MB/s, more than the previous models.  Now we move forward to 13 July 2022 and the test results for the T7 Shield. Scroll down again to the Sustained Sequential Write comparison and look at the second image. We see that the rate drops from the advertised 1000 MB/s after 22 seconds to about 900 MB/s. Still an excellent figure! Here it's worth reminding the reader than SSD drives are consumer media. They are not designed for industrial video use. The fact they can be pressed into service for video gives us access to inexpensive media. But they are being manufactured as cheaply as possible, as a computer peripheral. If you want a professional solution, check out CFast media made by Angelbird and similar companies. These use multi-layer caches (MLC) to prevent write rate degradation. They cost significantly more.  You get what you pay for. When using a Blackmagic camera, I stick with CFast media.  Verified Media Most manufacturers keep lists of verified media. The Blackmagic FAQ for their Pocket Cinema Camera 4K confusingly lists different products for different codecs and resolutions, but the Samsung T5 (1 TB or 2 TB) and Samsung T7 Shield (1 TB or 2 TB) are present throughout. Completely absent are the plain T7 and Touch T7 models. The most demanding rate available in the BMPCC4K is when recording in BRAW 3:1, 4K resolution, 30 fps. This requires 405 MB/s. Technically, the T7 Touch does fit the bill. But Blackmagic have obviously made a decision to omit it based on other criteria. Perhaps the saturation of the cache and sudden drop in write rates produces other undesirable artefacts.  Stepping up to the BMPCC6K, the most demanding recording is 6144 x 3456 in BRAW 3:1 at 50 fps. At this setting you get only 8 minutes of video on a 256 GB card, according to the camera manual. This is a bit rate of 535 MB/s. Checking the appropriate FAQ we find that this configuration is not even documented... which is odd. But for BRAW 5:1 compression we find the Samsung T7 Shield on the list... but none of their other models. This makes sense from the data we've surveyed. The Panasonic verified media page recommends the Samsung T5 (500 GB, 1 TB, 2 TB) but the Samsung T7 Shield (1 TB, 2 TB) is still "Under Verification". At this point in this article, it's clear that the T7 Shield should perform admirably.  Conclusion Despite omissions and inconsistencies in vendor lists, the Samsung T7 Shield can be recommended for all recording formats of the BMPCC4K, BMPCC6K, and Panasonic Lumix S cameras. The 900 MB/s write rate is sufficient for even 6Kp50 BRAW footage. The Samsung T5 can be recommended for all 4K modes that require no more than 300 MB/s. It's worth mentioning that there are plenty of drives from Angelbird, Delkin, Lacie, Wide, etc. that meet manufacturer specifications. But Samsung are the cheapest and most generally distributed brand, hence the present focus on their confusing line.

Aperture Control and Vintage Lenses
This is a 2023 update to an article written in December 2010, when the temperature was -6 and water pipes had frozen. It's been rewritten for clarity, with clear instructions for using vintage lenses on mirrorless cameras. Today we are spoilt by cameras that do the thinking for us. This can be awfully convenient, but it does obscure the photographic process. In this article I'll explain how cameras evolved to allow control over the lens aperture. This knowledge will help you use vintage lenses even on newer cameras. There are four main types of aperture control that developed alongside SLR cameras: manual, preset, auto, fully automatic. Manual Aperture The earliest SLR cameras were fully manual. The ISO depended on the film. The shutter speed was set on the body. In fact, the camera really had only this one job: open and close the shutter as instructed. The iris was determined using the aperture ring on the lens. That's the three main exposure parameters covered.  When "wide open" at the maximum aperture plenty of light gets to the viewfinder, so you could clearly see your subject. But much of the time you'd want to "stop down" the lens and close the iris. This achieves better image quality and increases the depth of field, so that more of the subject is in focus. (For more on this, refer to my article A Primer on f-Stops and Apertures). The problem is that with less light getting into the camera, the viewfinder goes dark as well. It's more difficult to accurately focus. The technique to get around this involves getting focus with the aperture open, then stopping down to the desired f-stop. This is "stop-down metering".(This is where a rangefinder camera has an advantage. The viewfinder window has nothing to do with what light reaches the film/sensor.) The first innovation was to put a light meter in the camera. A dial or series of lights indicated how far from correct exposure your settings were, so you could adjust shutter speed and aperture. This allowed cameras to implement an Aperture Priority mode, usually designated by "A" on the mode dial (but instead "Av" on Pentax). Now the camera could automatically set the correct shutter speed, based on the internal light meter. Preset Aperture The second type of lens implemented a preset (AKA "pre-select") aperture. This made it easier to move between the open aperture (used to compose the image) and the stopped-down aperture you wished to use for correct exposure. You can see an example in the photo of the Pentacon 135mm preset, first manufactured in 1971 in the GDR. This lens has two aperture rings. If you turn the knurled ring you adjust the current aperture of the lens. But if you move that ring away from you (in the direction of the green arrow) while rotating, the preset aperture is altered instead. This actually does nothing to the lens diaphragm, but provides a physical stop that prevents turning the aperture ring any further. This ingenious mechanical system is simple to use. Move the preset indicator to the aperture at which you wish to shoot. Compose with the aperture fully open. Then, without taking your eye from the viewfinder, turn the aperture ring until it hits the hard stop and click the shutter button. This can be done quickly and accurately. Auto Aperture The second innovation was Auto Aperture. These lenses incorporate a spring that holds the aperture open. A small pin on the lens mount stops the lens down when depressed. You can see the pin at the bottom left of the photo below. The pin allows the camera body to stop down the lens, a simple mechanical solution to the problem. A further innovation allowed a depth of field preview, since this is nothing more than stopping down without actually taking a picture.  In order to use these lenses on cameras without the newfangled auto mechanism, a rotating switch selected between two settings. Use "A" when you have a body that can use the pin; "M" otherwise. The next photo of the Vivitar Series I 28mm f/1.9 shows the sliding switch set to Manual. (Note the silver rim around the M42 mount. That is a simple adapter that converts the lens to the Pentax K-mount bayonet system. Sometimes I forget that these are not native K-mount lenses!) Automatic Aperture The next historical milestone was the development of electrical communications between body and lens. This facilitated shutter-priority mode, where the photographer could set the shutter and the camera would automatically set the correct aperture based on the light meter. Soon would come Program modes and further automation. The universal M42 mount was abandoned as too limited. Each manufacturer differentiated their new offerings from the competition by adopting their own proprietary mount systems. That's how we ended up with different lens mounts for Pentax, Nikon, Canon, Olympus, etc. What a shame that they didn't cooperate on a standard! Besides electrical communications, a further benefit of the new mounts is that they used a locking bayonet system rather than a screw-in design. Lenses became faster and easier to change. The fully-automated aperture coupling meant that there was no longer a need for the aperture ring on the lens, since this function could also be handled by the camera body. Lenses designed exclusively for digital cameras became simpler to build, without all of the mechanical aperture shenanigans.(Although the did incorporate auto-focus, which is a different matter!) The Picture Today Computer-aided design processes and composite material have achieved optical standards heretofore undreamt of. As a bonus, distortion and vignetting can be automatically corrected by the camera's firmware, since it can read these coded values from the lens. If you want optical perfection, use a contemporary lens designed for your camera system.But perfection is not everything. A vintage lens might also have distinctive image characteristics that can be used artistically. Flare, coma, and other "imperfections" can become expressive attributes, as can different bokeh looks. Sharpness and contrast are not the only goals, especially for video. Besides, many people, myself included, find an aperture ring on a lens to provide a more tactile and enjoyable photographic experience. We can thank the flexibility of mirrorless cameras for re-introducing photographers to the wonders of vintage lenses. The short flange distances of these systems allow inexpensive mount adapters to couple historic mounts to contemporary camera bodies. The majority of these are dumb adapters, with no communication couplings. So we have come full circle, back to using manual, preset, and auto lenses! As a by-product, certain lenses have become very popular, driving up prices on what were originally bargain basement deals. When the price of a vintage lens equals a contemporary model, one really has to start questioning the value proposition. That old lens might be out of alignment, have scratches on lens elements, embedded dust, fungus, or fog. Instead you can buy a brand-new fully-manual lens from Chinese brands like TTArtisan, 7Artisans, Venus Laowa, or Kipon. Sigma even markets a series of "Contemporary" lenses which are fully automatic but sport an aperture ring. Truly we are spoilt for choice. Using Vintage Lenses on Mirrorless Cameras First, you will need the correct mount adapter. I've had good luck with the inexpensive K&F brand. I have three of these for L-mount: M42, Pentax K-mount, and Contax-Yashica. These are "dumb" adapters with no electronic couplings. Set the camera's mode dial to "A" for aperture priority. Set your ISO. Use the aperture dial on the lens and the shutter speed will be automatically set by the camera. (You can of course use fully manual operation, but this is easier.) If your lens is Auto Aperture, be sure the switch is set to M since your camera will not have a mechanism for the pin. If this is set incorrectly, the lens will shoot wide open all the time. This can also happen if the lens is faulty and this mechanism is broken. Sometimes people even glued the switch into place... yikes!Now, open up the lens aperture fully and compose. Get focus. Stop down the lens to the f-stop you prefer. Take the picture. Easy.

A second ISO test of the Lumix DC-S5
This is a brief article, because I've already written about the low-light performance of the Lumix S5. You should read that article for all the details. But it was a dark and rainy day, so I figured I'd do another quick comparison of ISO settings, more for my own benefit... but why not share! I shot a series of still lives in my kitchen with the Contax Zeiss Sonnar 85mm at f/8. I used the Natural profile of the Lumix S5, which has dual native ISO values of 100 and 640 with a maximum of 51,200. These are hand-held photos, so the framing will differ slightly. To start, click through to see the next image at full size. Can you guess the ISO? All images were converted from RAW in Affinity Photo 2, without any development settings. It's important to note that this is quite an artificial workflow. All RAW files need some help with detail enhancement to bring out the best of the image. I will usually also tweak shadow/highlights and exposure as needed. But I did nothing of the sort here.  Below ISO 1600 I don't see any noise worth talking about in a properly exposed shot. So I started my sequence at 1600 and increased ISO by one stop through to the maximum of 51,200. This gave me six photographs. These are available in full-size in my Flickr album. But to make comparison easy, I produced a strip (below) using 1000 pixel crops from each shot. I chose a region that contains both an in-focus subject (the orange) and a darker region where noise will be more evident. The final frame in the strip is the same ISO 51,200 shot but with noise reduction applied while developing the RAW file in Affinity Photo. Here I was more aggressive than usual. Removing noise also removes detail, so it's important to maintain a balance between the two qualities. But in this case I push ed the NR to extremes, contenting myself with a softer image. This does indeed look too extreme in the crop. But now I can reveal that the first image in this article is the same noise-reduced ISO 51,200 shot. At full size it doesn't look bad at all. Here's another version where I made a more considered balance between noise and detail, also applying a LUT and some other adjustments. It's never going to be a good photo because the composition sucks. But it will suffice as a comparison. You can draw your own conclusions but I am impressed! I don't always mind some noise in a photograph; it depends entirely on the intent. I now know that I can shoot using any available ISO, which has not been the case on any camera I've used previously. When I want a cleaner image I will limit myself to ISO 12,800. Loving this camera.

L-mount lens system (summary table)
The L-Mount Alliance was formed by Panasonic, Leica, and Sigma in September 2018 to create a new standard for mirrorless cameras. To date no fewer than 84 lenses have been released for this platform. To save you repeating many hours of research, I now share my complete list of full-frame L-mount lenses. Grab my spreadsheet and start planning your lens bag! To date Panasonic has released 7 primes and 8 zooms. Six of these primes have identical length (82mm) and filter size (67mm), optimised for video use. The lenses are lightweight (295 to 355g) and weather-sealed. Panasonic also provide one Lumix S Pro prime. Sigma have 17 primes and 7 zooms in two main series. The Contemporary primes that have been optimised for mirrorless cameras are also called the I-series, though this designation appears only on their marketing sheets. These nine primes have metal bodies and aperture rings. They are smaller (45 to 75mm) and sometimes even lighter (215 to 405g) than the Panasonic models. Maximum apertures are no faster than f/2. By contrast the eight primes in the Sigma Art line are no-compromise fast optics (f/1.4 is the norm) that are generally huge and heavy. Note that only lenses designated DG (full-frame cover) and DN (digital native) are included here. Sigma continue to market certain older L-mount lenses that are not optimised for mirrorless cameras, though these have effectively been superseded. Leica have 6 primes and 3 zooms that are larger than the Panasonic offerings and much more expensive... though it's difficult to know why. All of the above are auto-focus lenses, but several Chinese manufacturers have also entered into L-mount with old style manual lenses with aperture rings. Some of these have gears and de-clicked apertures, optimised for cinema use. Venus Optics have a bewildering array of Laowa lenses (16 primes, 2 zooms) including ultra-wides, probe macros, and ultra-macros with up to five times magnification. TTArtisan offer five primes, 7Artisans sell seven, and Kipon sell six in the Iberit line. Viltrox currently have only one L-mount lens. But I think it's safe to say that we'll see more companies adding l-mount support to their offerings. In the meantime, I trust that my compilation will save you much time. I've provided indicative prices in Euros. Naturally prices will vary, especially as vendors offer cash-back deals and other incentives.Update 22 June 2023Spreadsheet has been updated to reorganise the zooms by make and add two prime lenses. Update 11 July 2023Added Sigma Art DG HSM lens line (historical but of interest). Leica prices added for shock value. Update 2 and 3 February 2024Added lenses from Brightin Star, AstrHori, TTArtisan plus the Lumix 100mm Macro. Now 115 different lenses!

Normal lens comparison
This article compares three "normal" prime lenses, each being classics of the film-era: a fast Pentax 50mm f/1.2, the distinctive Pentax 43mm Limited f/1.9, and the Contax Carl Zeiss Planar 50 f/1.4. I'll shoot some photos and describe the characteristics of the lenses themselves. This will not be a formal test, but nonetheless I will adopt a reasonable methodology. No doubt photographs of human models would be more appealing, but I don't have any handy! The lenses Each lens will be named using their official designation (using lens markings). Then some salient features will be described. The "SMC Pentax 1:1.2 50mm" comes from the first line of lenses that Asahi Pentax created for their K-mount SLRs, after migrating from the Takumar branding. This line is commonly called "Pentax K" to mark them distinct from the following M and A series. But they are not inscribed in any way to designate the "Pentax-K" status. It's simply a handy moniker. The Pentax-K 50/1.2 was produced from 1975 to 1984 in two versions which differ only in their inscription. I have the later version. The Pentax-K 50/1.2 is 49mm in length, weighs 385g, and takes a 52mm filter. The lens is manual focus with an aperture ring featuring half-stops from f/1.2 to f/22. These include an unmarked detent for f/1.7 between 1.2 and 2. Operation is completely manual, using stop-down metering. This lens was not updated in the subsequent M line, but did receive a refresh as the "SMC Pentax-A 1:1.2 50mm" (produced 1984 to 2004). The main reason was to facilitate an aperture coupling... the "A" standing for automatic. Pentax produced many other manual 50mm primes over the years, including f/1.4, f/1.7, and f/2 variants. Many are highly regarded. The "SMC Pentax-FA 1:1.9 43mm Limited" is the first of three lenses branded "Limited" by Pentax, though these were not actually produced in fixed numbers. The focal length was chosen to be the perfect normal for full-frame (135 film). This lens is a tiny jewel, only 27mm in depth and barely noticeable at 155g. It has a custom screw-on metal hood and a lovely felt-lined slide-on cap. Overall the presentation is fantastic, which accounts for the high retail price. Produced between 1997 and 2021, it's now been replaced with an HD version that is fundamentally the same. So this lens is still in production for the digital era. Automatic exposure and auto-focus are enabled on appropriate Pentax cameras. The "Carl Zeiss Planar 1,4/50 T*" was produced starting 1975 for Contax SLR cameras that use the Contax-Yashica mount. It is 41mm in length and weighs 290g, so falls halfway between the Pentax extremes in form factor. Like many in the Contax Zeiss line, this lens was introduced in an original AE version (made in Germany) and subsequently released in an updated MM version (made in Japan). I have the latter, distinguished by a green aperture marking at the minimum aperture. Note that this is only f/16. The lens does not stop down further.There are two main differences between the versions. First, MM implemented aperture coupling, allowing shutter-priority on Contax bodies. This has no relevance today when operated through a dumb adapter. Second, AE lenses have a distinct ninja star shaped bokeh at certain apertures. People either enjoy this as a sign of character, or find the prominent background shapes intrusive. The three lenses have a lot in common. All are built on the classic Double-Gauss design with an extra element at the rear, hence 7 elements in 6 groups. All three have identical 45cm close focus distance. Method Photos were taken on the Lumix S5 in RAW using Natural style. With IBIS off, the camera was mounted on a tripod. In order to maintain a workable shutter speed, I changed the ISO between some shots but never above 4000. The lenses were used via mount adapters, so operation was completely manual. Appropriate metal hoods reduced glare. The RAW files were developed in Affinity Photo 2. I would normally enhance clarity and exposure during development, but for the sake of a level playing field I omitted this step. Real-world images will look much better!I took a 1000 pixel square section of each image and arranged these into a grid for ease of comparison.  You can click through an image here to see it in full size. Image 1: close focus The first image is of fruit, shot at a distance of 48cm, so just past the close focus distance. Colours are rendered quite similarly by the lenses. The different field of view of the 43mm focal length is apparent. The Pentax-K 50/1.2 has a distinct glow wide open that remains prominent at f/2, but is almost gone by f/2.8. The texture of the fruit is now distinct. From here stopping down mostly only adds depth of field to the sharp central image. However, when viewing the full image it's obvious that improvements to clarity and contrast continue to f/11. The Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 has a similar glow wide open and seems to resolve detail equally. At f/2.8 and f/4 detail seems similar, but the Zeiss might have a tiny bit more contrast. The wide open image from the Pentax 43/1.9 is as clear as the other lenses at f/2. Perhaps there's even a tad less glow, though this could be down to the difference in FOV. Stopped down, this lens maintains parity with the others. Here I will make an editorial comment about the reputation of the Limited 43mm, which is oddly divided. Many photographers rate it as one of the best normals ever made. Back in the day, Amateur Photographer magazine made this lens their normal reference. But other users will claim that it's too soft, especially wide open. This latter claim is not validated by my experience, nor the current test. Perhaps it is the price that puts some people off the lens, which is understandable. Or perhaps difficulties in focusing at such an aperture lead some to conclude the fault is in their equipment.  In conclusion, the first image perhaps fails to distinguish meaningfully between the lenses, which all look more similar than different. Only the wide-open performance differs to any significant degree. Image 2: medium focus The second shot is of a clothes line about 2m from the camera, with a hedgerow another 2m behind that. Such vegetation presents something of a torture test. Here each lens rendered a very different image. The Pentax-K 50/1.2 is soft wide open but the focal point is reasonable at f/2, crisping up with each subsequent shot. The bokeh is nice and smooth, gaining contrast as stopped down. But even at f/8 the hedge is blurred. Something unexpected can be seen by examining the blue pole. It is under-saturated and lacks detail. The Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 has quite a different bokeh, with more obvious circles and a brighter rendering overall. The blue pole is crisp by f/2.8 which is a much better achievement than either Pentax lens. At f/8 the busy background is more blurred than the 50/1.2 but also more distracting, since it has more highlights and is overall brighter. This could have been a result of changing light conditions during the shoot. Admittedly this test did not account for all variables.  The Pentax 43/1.9 also does a good job smoothing out the background. Of the three, I prefer this rendering, since it does not call attention to itself. At f/8 the background is a lot clearer than the 50mm lenses, a more pronounced effect than I would have expected for the 7mm difference in focal length. The background is not distracting, despite the visible detail. The vegetation looks more natural and pleasant than the other lenses.  Image 3: distant focus For the third shot I focused on the tops of trees 5m distant. But this time the crop is taken from the extreme bottom-right corner of the frame. Since this area was quite dark, I brightened the exposure by a constant amount. Note that this is a 4:3 aspect image, so if you were shooting a video aspect (say, 16:9) these extreme corners would be cropped out and the overall performance would be better. The focal plane is not parallel to the hedge but at an angle, which is not ideal for judging, since the subject will be varying in distance to the camera. Nonetheless, the crop is only a small part of the image and so should not vary any more than the leaves themselves. (If I was shooting a wall I'd be sure to maintain a correct perspective.) All lenses show the effect of vignetting up to f/2 with the Zeiss being less shadowed at f/2.8. But since vignetting is trivial to fix in development, I've never attached much significance to this issue. The Pentax-K 50/1.2 image is clear by f/8 which is a good result. We can of course stop down further if further edge clarity was required. The Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 is almost as sharp at that same aperture. The FOV of the Pentax 43/1.9 makes it difficult to compare, since we are seeing a different part of the hedge. But again it seems similar. Conclusions In two of these photos the lenses were more similar than different, which is perhaps not surprising given their similar optical design and intended purpose. No doubt I could cook up scenarios to enhance any rendering deviations, but in real-world shooting one tries to play to a lens' strengths and not weaknesses.  In practice, I would stop each of these lenses down to f/2.8 to get optimal detail and contrast. However, if you are buying the Pentax-K 50/1.2 it's most likely because you want that glow effect. And truly this lens can deliver. By f/4 images are super crisp but can still have an appealing bokeh.  I have found the Pentax 43/1.9 to be more usable at f/2.8 than the Pentax-K 50/1.2 at that same aperture. But there is a further important difference that is not apparent in these shots. The Limited lens renders a very pleasing dimensionality that favours portraits. I've never seen that effect from its counterpart. The Zeiss Planar is a newer addition to my arsenal, though I shot with it on film a few times back in the 1980s. It has a different look that calls a lot more attention to the bokeh. That's not really my style, since I prefer photographs of appealing subjects rather than photos of the effects of the photographic process itself. But for anyone obsessed with bokeh, this is an interesting lens. I can say that I love this lens' appearance and haptics. In particular the aperture is easier to turn than Pentax lenses. I like the soft clicks. But 50mm is far from my favourite focal length, so only time will tell if the Planar makes itself useful. In the meantime the compact and exquisite Limited 43mm remains the finest lens I've ever used. Costs The HD Pentax-FA 43mm is available brand new for €650. The older version bought used will only save you about €100. Be certain that the package includes the hood and lens cap, since these accessories are  €100 on their own... if they are ever in stock. The package should also come with a lens bag.  The Pentax-K 50/1.2 can be found for around €350. The Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 MMJ version regularly sells for the same. Condition and the mood of the seller mean that prices fluctuate quite wildly. 

Building a film look PowerGrade
In this article I will develop a Film Look PowerGrade for Resolve, which you can download and freely use on your own projects. This is the last of four articles. In the first I conducted a practical test of Lumix S5 footage and stabilisation. The second article walked through an ACES workflow for DaVinci Resolve. The third article explained the film look and how to set up your Lumix S camera to shoot optimal footage.  Check out the video below, which compares the plain grading in my original installment with the new Film Look. Then read on for details. Managing multiple clips Before we get to the grade, I need to mention this fantastic way to manage clips in Resolve. While in the Color Workspace, right-click one or more video clips. You can assign these to a new or existing colour group, as shown below. How does this help? Check out the tiny almost-hidden pulldown menu in the node tree panel. Each of these four options reveals a different part of the workflow. We can add nodes to the entire group Pre-Clip, or add nodes to this specific clip only, or add nodes to the entire group Post-Clip. The flow proceeds from one workspace to the next. We can also add nodes to the entire Timeline. This gives us an enormous amount of control! The power! The power! Ahem. As you can see, I use the PowerGrade in the Group Post-Clip panel. This way I can "set and forget" this look, before going back to correcting exposure on individual clips as needed. Node by node explanation This workflow assumes that you are using the ACES project settings as previously described. This frees us from needing to transform footage, which is why we don't have CSTs in this chain. (Actually there are hidden CSTs, as we shall see, to enable access to a special effect.)There are six nodes in a serial chain pictured above. This is a fairly minimal node tree, which you can extend as required. For example, if you need noise reduction, add this to the beginning of the chain.  Node 1 is where we can pull back the highlights and the shadows, adjust our overall gamma, and otherwise change exposure. Though we are working in a Cineon-like gamma, a few adjustments can help this look more like the film we desire.  The second node uses the built-in Gaussian Blur effect to remove that digital sharpness. Here the strength is set to around 0.14 but judge this amount by eye. It will depend on the resolution and other characteristics of your footage.  Halation is a glow around high-luminance, high-contrast areas of the image, for example trees against a bright sky. With this effect, the light seems to leak out of its normal boundaries. With film stock this is associated with a red tint. Though halation is technically a defect of the photochemical process, it has become associated with the look of film. Here I use the built-in Halation effect with threshold at 0.19. There are many other properties to experiment with here. Or you might not want this effect at all.  The fourth node uses the Glow effect. This has the Shine Threshold set to zero and the Composite type changed to "softlight". In the Qualifier panel both Hue and Saturation are turned off. The luminance channel has been modified to not effect bright areas (The High boundary is set to 65 and H.Soft to 30). The sixth node uses the Film Grain effect with several parameters changed to get a subtle effect. In fact, I used stronger settings than these in the demo video.  Applying the LUT Now we can address the fifth node. This is actually a composite of three nodes required to apply the look of Kodak 2383 print film. This famed chemical recipe produces neutral highlights, saturated colours, and rich blacks that many associate with projected film. You can read about it on Kodak's own page.  Resolve comes with a built-in LUT for Kodak 2383 (in fact three, for different white points). But in order for this to work properly, we must be in the correct colour space. First we use the Color Space Transform (CST) effect to map from ACES gamut and ACEScct gamma (as defined in our project settings) to Rec.709 gamut and Cineone Film Log gamma. Now we can apply the Resolve Film Look LUT that we prefer. You can either choose this from the context menu of a node (as pictured above) or drag it from the LUT panel to that node.  The third node provides a CST back to the ACES/ ACEScct space.  Because I find the LUT a bit strong in its default implementation, I use the Key panel to dial this down to half. This interface is one of the middle panels. I've ignored everything here except the Key Output, which is set to 0.5. That's the grade finished! Stills and PowerGrades Resolve uses some peculiar terminology when referring to grades. To proceed, open the Gallery panel and also toggle open Still Albums using the little window icon. It should look like the following. To save all the nodes used on a given clip, right-click on the viewer and choose "Grab Still". Of course this is not a still at all, since the grade applies to motion video. It's simply a snapshot of your grade. By default this is placed in the Stills album, but you can move this to the PowerGrade album. This allows you to use this particular Still between projects. Again, there's nothing powerful about a PowerGrade, it's just a daft name for a preset.  To share this PowerGrade with you, I right-clicked on the thumbnail and chose "Export". Resolve created two files in the target folder, with extensions .DRX and .DPX. Both files are required. You can now download this PowerGrade as a ZIP archive. Unzip this somewhere convenient. To use the grade on your project, simply drag the .DRX file into the Gallery. Then you can apply it to footage as you wish.  In conclusion When first starting out with colour grading, it's convenient to simply apply a LUT and say you've created your own look. But there's a lot more to emulating film than that simple process. A PowerGrade allows much greater control over your pipeline, with every parameter ready for you to change as required. The process I've presented here is based on best practices of colourists such as Jake Pierrelee and Juan Melara, both of whom share tutorials online. I have simplified what is usually a much more involved process, since for me this is a good starting point.

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