OBSBOT Remote Update and PhotoClock Pro Video (Podcast 774)

OBSBOT Remote Update and PhotoClock Pro Video (Podcast 774)


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You may recall from a few weeks ago when I reviewed the OBSBOT Tiny 4K AI-powered webcam, that I mentioned how I really disliked the way the remote control was by design rendering the computer keyboard completely useless. Well, just a week after I bought my Tiny 4K webcam, I received an email from the makers of this little camera letting me know that they have released a new remote control that does not mess up the keyboard.

Dispite having owned mine for literally just a week, they did not agree to replace it free of charge, but they are running a campaign that enables registered users to replace their current Remote at around a 70% discount, so I paid just $10 to have a replacement sent over to Tokyo. It took about three weeks to arrive, but I am very pleased to report that I have the remote running, and it works great, and I am typing the manuscript for this Podcast episode at the same time! This was not possible with the old remote.

I am now so much happier with the OBSBOT Tiny 4K webcam and feel much happier recommending it to others now as well. Unfortunately, I just checked Amazon.com and as of April 15, 2022, the company that is selling these remotes is still selling the old version, so be very careful if you buy one of these. People are probably going to try to move their old stock creating unhappy customers before moving to the new stock, and creating happy customers. You could try calling the store from which you buy your remote and check that they will send the new version, but otherwise, probably the most fail-safe way to buy is to go to the mother-ship obsbot.com website, although shipping may take a while. I’ll put the full link to the remote product page in the show-notes for this episode. Design-wise, they are identical to look at, apart from the red “New” sticker on the back of my new remote. This actually came in handy as I still had both of them on my desk earlier this week when I reached over to pick it up, and was able to quickly confirm that I had the right one in my hand, thanks to the sticker.

Anyway, a nice job from the team. They should have gotten this right from the start, and probably only fixed it because I’m sure a lot of people complained, and those that didn’t were probably afraid to speak up after being sent a copy. That would never happen in my reviews because I don’t review anything that I can’t speak my mind about, but as I mentioned in the original review, I bought this camera with my own money, and have received nothing from the makers of the OBSBOT in relation to this or the original review.

I actually don’t really have much else to say this week, as I’ve been working on my new app again! I’m about to release an update that will add a brightness alarm, enabling you to set four different dimming and brightening patterns to dim the screen over a duration that you set, and then brighten the screen again at the time you also set. At this point I’m still not sure that I can make it play a song that you select as part of the alarm, although that is my goal at this point. To enable me to do that in style though, I am integrating PhotoClock Pro with Apple Music, and I am pretty sure that I will be able to enable you to select songs to play as your alarm relatively easily once I have the integration finished.

I created a video that I wanted to share with you, and I’m behind on pushing this out because of the new development work, but I did include the dimming and brightening and show the Apple Music integration to the point I was at two days ago. I am now able to go into the albums and select tracks as well as jump to related albums etc. so it7s shaping up very nicely. I’ll probably do another short video soon once I get the new release out, to share how it finally works.

I’ll embed the video in this post anyway so that you can check that out. If you’d like to pick up a copy of PhotoClock Pro, please visit the product page at https://mbp.ac/pcp or go directly to the App Store at https://mbp.ac/aspcp. You’ll find these links in the show notes below too.


Show Notes

PhotoClock Pro product page: https://mbp.ac/pcp

PhotoClock Pro in the Apple App Store: https://mbp.ac/aspcp

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Are Primes Always Better Than Zoom Lenses? (Podcast 772)

Are Primes Always Better Than Zoom Lenses? (Podcast 772)


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In preparation for our March Question Time with the MBP Patreon Community, I did a few tests to show something that I knew to be the case but is something that you hear a lot in photography circles, and that is that prime lenses give better image quality than zoom lenses. It turns out that I’d misread the question, but the test and the reason for the test are valid, so I figured I’d share my thoughts with you today.
My angle here is not necessarily to prove to you that zoom lenses are always going to be as good as prime lenses, but as I’ve mentioned in the past, there is danger in simply believing what other photographers say, simply because you hear it so often. My point today is more about the importance of questioning what you hear. Not necessarily confronting the person that says it, but think about what you have seen in your own photography, and if necessary, as I often do, run some tests of your own to form a definitive answer to your questions. After all, if you don’t run tests with your own gear you’ll never be able to say for sure one way or the other.

Anyway, let’s take a look at what I tested. I took my new Canon RF 50mm F/1.2L lens, a wonderful prime lens, made, of course, for Canon’s mirrorless camera system with the R Mount. To compare this lens to a zoom lens, I grabbed my Canon RF 24-105mm F4 L lens, and to show the difference in quality over the latest prime L lens I also grabbed a thirty-year-old 50mm F/1.4 none-L lens. This lens has been repaired once, as I had some mold form on the inner elements probably around 18 years ago now, and sent it into Canon for repair. It doesn’t get a lot of use these days, but it’s such a good little lens that I’ve never been able to bring myself to sell it. Besides, at under $400 new, the resale value for a used copy isn’t enough to convince me to part with it.

I did my test with a Canon EOS R5 mirrorless camera, which in itself brings a certain amount to the table, as it records beautifully sharp images. I simply grabbed a few objects from my studio and added an old Japanese book that I read many years ago, as the text is good for evaluating sharpness, and I shot three images, all at 50mm, including the 24-105mm lens, so that we can compare the three. I set my aperture to ƒ/8, which is considered to be the sharpest aperture, and I had a small light illuminating the objects from above, slightly to the left. I also put an air blower close to the right edge and a steel rule on the left side running down towards the bottom left corner.

Here is a gallery of all three images so that you can click through them to compare them. Of course, as these are the web resized images, this isn’t any use to evaluate sharpness, but we’ll get to that shortly. First of all, note that the 24-105mm lens set at 50mm is actually slightly wider than both of the 50mm primes, although I imagine that falls within the variance standards that Canon set for themselves.

This first set is really just to enable you to literally see the bigger picture. Next, here are three crops of pretty much the same area of the same images at 100%. If you open these up in the lightbox viewer by clicking on them, you will be looking at 100% images assuming that your browser window is wide enough, and should be able to see the detail enough to evaluate the sharpness.

You’ll probably be able to see that although the characters on the page look slightly fainter in the 24-105mm lens, the sharpness, especially on the camera, are very similar with all three lenses. Sure, the 50mm RF lens is probably fractionally sharper than the other two, but is the difference great enough to warrant avoiding using a zoom lens altogether? Let’s keep looking to gain the information needed to really make a decision.

Here is another set of crops, from the same three images, this time from the bottom left corner, where I placed that steel rule. The rule is pretty much out of focus through the shallow-ish depth of field at this shooting distance at ƒ/8, but I wanted to share this to show that although there is really not a lot of distortion there is a little bit of color fringing on either side of the rule in the old 50mm and the 24-105mm lenses, but that is not visible in the RF 50mm prime, so it does have a slight advantage here too. In regular subjects, where you have texture and/or various colors in the frame, the fringing is more difficult to see, but it’s nice to know that it’s happening so that we can check and fix it if necessary when working on important projects.

Now, I haven’t tested the wider focal lengths of my 24-105 in this session. We can, of course, expect image quality to drop slightly close to the extremes of the zoom, although the 24-105 doesn’t suffer much at the wide end, and is a little softer when zoomed all the way into 105mm, but it’s not a huge drop in quality. When I get some time I may well compare my 100mm macro lens, another prime lens, with the 100mm point on my 24-105mm and my 100-500mm lenses, but I already know from testing both of these zoom lenses and the 100mm macro lens for that matter, that they all perform admirably, so there really isn’t much of a need to compare them directly in this context.

And that brings me nicely to my final thoughts on this subject. As I said, I really wanted to gather the information required here to be able to show you that the difference is minor. Although there is a small increase in quality in the prime lens over the zoom lens for the majority of my shooting, I work with zoom lenses, and I’d like to finish with my thoughts on why that is, and why you also need to make your own decisions.

Personally, I am pretty much always going to choose the zoom lens for travel and landscape photography, because it is so much more versatile in the field. Sure, you can zoom with your feet, but there are limitations that we face such as shooting position restrictions, private land etc. that will often make it necessary to shoot from a certain distance. Yes, we can crop our images a little if we need to get closer but couldn’t physically do so, but I have 45 megapixels, and I want to use as many of those pixels as possible. This is my choice, and may not be so important for you. I prefer to be able to get my framing as close to perfect in the camera, to avoid cropping when possible.

With my own lenses, I just don’t think the drop in image quality is great enough for me to want to try to work with prime lenses. If you consider the number of lenses I’d need to even start to cover my current kit in primes, it soon becomes obvious that it just isn’t realistic, both financially and in my ability to actually carry the lenses around. I’m currently working with three RF lenses that provide every millimeter from 15 to 500mm. To cover the main focal lengths I’d need 14, 24, 35, 50, 85, and 100mm lenses, so six lenses to replace my first two. Then I’d need a number of really big white lenses to cover key focal lengths that I get with my 100-500mm. I’ve done the 600mm gig, and the 300mm ƒ/2.8. I loved my old 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 lenses too, but I am really enjoying being able to work from 15 to 500mm with three great RF lenses. It’s just so much easier to get around with this kit.

In Thought
A young Himba lady caught in a moment of thought

So, why do I own the RF 50mm prime? Well, for me, the main reason is the wider aperture and the shallower depth of field that it brings to my photography. If it wasn’t for the widest aperture of ƒ/1.2 I wouldn’t own the 50mm lens. When you see how good the image quality is from the EF 50mm ƒ/1.4 lens, you could also argue that there is very little difference in aperture size between the ƒ/1.4 and the ƒ/1.2, although the prices vary hugely, so saving money on the ƒ/1.4 version is definitely an option too. Every gear decision we make is a trade-off, and it doesn’t always have to be cut and dry, and this brings me to my final point.

Gear is our enabler. It is by no means the be-all and end-all of photography. We are the creativity behind the camera, but photography has and always will have a strong link to the gear that enables us to do it, and at the end of the day, some gear is just so nice to use that it can override the arguments about whether A is better than B, or C. The 50mm ƒ/1.2 L lens falls at least partly into that category. It’s a solid, and yes heavy lens, but it feels great to work with, and the wide aperture with creamy bokeh is an added bonus, as is the ultimately very good image quality.

And ultimately, the decision as to whether or not you shoot mainly with prime lenses or like me, mainly with zoom lenses, is also very much a personal choice. My aim today is not to persuade you in either direction. My main goal, as I said at the start of this post, is to suggest that you question the reasons behind your decisions, and don’t base your decisions on commonly whispered photography mantras. Are prime lenses always better than zooms? In some ways, yes, but the flexibility of zoom lenses is undeniable, and I believe that the zoom lenses we have now are so good that it really isn’t necessary to take a second mortgage to buy an arsenal of prime lenses for the difference in image quality alone.

If you want to shoot with very wide apertures, that’s another story. Typically zoom lenses have relatively small widest apertures, so this should probably be the trade-off that you consider more than anything, and not because of the light-gathering aspect so much now either. ISO performance is also so good now that you can whack your ISO up to get the shot rather than using a wide aperture if exposure is the only consideration. Having said all that though, I still take my 50mm ƒ/1.2 prime lens to Namibia when I go, because I want to use the shallow depth of field in some of the portrait work I do there. I carry that brick of a lens around for almost three weeks, for probably around an hour’s worth of photography, but I don’t mind that at all because the results are beautiful.

You make up your own mind about this, and have fun with your photography. And do some tests for yourself, to see how your lenses fare. If you are happy with the quality you are getting with zooms, you probably don’t need primes just to increase the quality. It’s the other reasons we’ve touched on that should drive your decisions. When people say that primes are better than zooms, they are correct, but if you are lucky enough to be able to buy some quality L lenses or similar in your own system if you don’t use Canon gear, then you’ll probably be just as happy with the results from zoom lenses. And if you are a staunch prime-lenser, you’ve made your decisions too, and I don’t want to try and change that. I would ask though, that when you try to talk zoomers into your world, don’t only talk about image quality. You already know that the decision is about so much more than that.

I’ll add some affiliate links to the gear mentioned today to the show notes. If you buy from our friends at B&H Photo, please use these links to help keep the wheels on the MBP Wagon.


Show Notes

Canon RF 24-105mm F4 L: https://mbp.ac/rf24-105

Canon RF 50mm F1.2L: https://mbp.ac/rf50

Canon EF 50mm F1.4: https://mbp.ac/ef50mm14

Canon EOS R5: https://mbp.ac/EOSR5

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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The OBSBOT Tiny 4K – a Semi-Intelligent Webcam (Podcast 771)

The OBSBOT Tiny 4K – a Semi-Intelligent Webcam (Podcast 771)


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A few weeks ago I talked about using a Canon camera as a webcam, for ultimate video quality, and in the most part, that is still my favorite method of presenting in online seminars. With the Out of Chicago Live event coming up this weekend though, I decided to pick up an AI-powered webcam that I’ve had my eye on for a while. It’s a little device called an OBSBOT Tiny 4K, and although it isn’t perfect, it’s a useful enough device that I figured I’d share some details with you today.

In general, I’m very happy with this little powerhouse of a webcam, although there are a few areas where it doesn’t quite match my expectations, it’s definitely a viable option for anyone that wants a little bit of movement in their presentations. The main idea behind the OBSBOT Tiny and its big brother, the Tiny 4K, is that it uses AI to track you around and watches for a few simple hand gestures as well. In a tongue-in-cheek way, I have called the camera semi-intelligent in the title of this post, because if this is AI, we don’t need to worry about it starting a war with the robots in the near future. There are real people in the world doing much worse at moment.

I have to tell you that the video quality of this device isn’t quite as good as I’d hoped. It’s good, and compared to most webcams it’s really good, so I’m happy that I picked this up, but I’d not be telling the truth if I was to say that the quality matches my expectations. There are also times when some internal processing makes the video very blotchy and pixelated, although that usually only lasts for a few seconds, and generally when I have the curtains open in my studio, and the camera is having to deal with a lot of contrast.

The camera works with a piece of software called OBSBOT TinyCam, which enables a number of features that would not be available without it. One of which is an HDR mode which does a good job of evening out contrast extremes in some conditions. For example, if I’m in my studio with the lights on, the HDR mode helps to remove harsh highlights on my skin, while maintaining good light on the background. If I open my curtains during the day though, the HDR mode seems to just go belly-up and makes no difference to the video whatsoever, other than it’s more likely to get pixelated when HDR mode is on. I’m not sure if the extremes are just so great that it throws its hands in the air, but there is literally no change at all when I have my curtains open and a strong light source outside.

There are two other gripes I have, which we’ll get out of the way first, and one is so superficial that I almost feel back mentioning it, but the outer box that the OBSBOT Tiny 4K comes in is pretty much impossible to remove without tearing it off. I like to keep the box of devices that I buy in case I decide to sell them on at any point, but as you can see in this photo, I don’t think I’ll be able to claim that I have the original box still if I should ever resell this little camera. Of course, there was a little bit of frustration behind that tearing as well, but it wasn’t without cause. I simply could not get the inner box to slide out.

The Outer Box Didn't Make It
The Outer Box Didn’t Make It

Once opened though, inside this outer box, was a very tasteful red nested box which revealed a very nice Applesque manual envelope with the words Video Calls With Freedom written on it. I was even more pleasantly surprised to see that the Tiny 4K comes in its own little case, so if you want to carry this device around, you’re sorted from the get-go.

The Surviving Inner Box
The Surviving Inner Box

And as you can see in this next image, there is space in the top of the case for the cables. Unfortunately, the optional remote control that I also bought is about an inch too long to slide into that cable compartment, but it’s thin enough to slide into the pocket of a laptop bag without taking up a lot of room. The remote is a nice addition, but its implementation is very limiting because it basically takes over any keyboard connected to your computer. When turned on I estimate that around half of the keys on my keyboard stop working. The product manual says this is normal and to use your keyboard you simply need to turn off the remote control and you have to use the TinyCam software to do that. Essentially if you need to type anything while presenting, you cannot use the remote.

This to me seems very much like the people that developed the hardware have a relatively limited skill set, and they are patching together a solution with the skills that they have, rather than really trying to figure out a way to make the device user friendly. I initially felt as though I’d have been better off saving the thirty bucks or so that it cost, but the hand gesture recognition for zooming in and out is so clunky that I can’t see myself using it in a live presentation just yet, so I will need the remote. In practice, the remote control is most useful when you are away from the computer, so the fact that you can’t use the keyboard at the same time is not such a big deal, but if you switch between the computer and a more dynamic standing presentation style a lot, it’s going to be frustrating.

The hand gestures do get easier with practice though. You basically have to hold up your thumb and forefinger at 90 degrees, as though you are pinching outwards on a smartphone to zoom in and do it again to zoom back out. The zoom-in seems to work more often than the zoom-out, and it works better when your hand is over a plain background. I can really only see myself using this in informal situations, where I can laugh it off if it doesn’t work. By default the zoom factor is 2X but you can change this up to 4X in the TinyCam software, although the image quality drops significantly as you zoom because it’s a digital zoom. It is a 4K camera though, so if you are streaming or meeting in a lower resolution that will mask the lower zoomed image quality to a degree.

The other hand gesture that you can do is to show the palm of your hand to the camera to ask it to follow you, essentially toggling tracking on and off with each raising of your hand. This seems to work much more reliably and will be quite useful when you want the camera to stop following you around. It will probably be necessary to explain to people watching though, as it looks like you are waving goodbye.

Here are a couple of screenshots, of the TinyCam software and its settings, which are strangely titled System Settings. If you are at your computer, these settings do make it easier to get the most out of the camera, and most of what you can do via this software is possible via the remote control. You can control the position of the camera with the joystick on the right, and put it to sleep if necessary as well. If you don’t have the software up, you can also put the TinyCam to sleep by physically pointing it straight down at its base.

You can also use this software to create up to three Preset Locations. You might have one down on your desk, for example, another pointing at your whiteboard, and the third pointing over to the side where you have some apparatus set up. This is useful, but again, a somewhat clunky implementation, because it doesn’t work when tracking is on. If you press a preset button on the software or on the remote while tracking is turned on, the camera flicks off towards the specified location, but then instantly tracks back to your face. It would seem much more intelligent to me if hitting a preset button would automatically disable tracking, then you could restart tracking by holding up a hand.

A nice touch is that there is a colored strip below the camera that flashes blue when a gesture is recognized, so you get a visual confirmation. When tracking is on there is a wide green strip and when tracking is off a narrower green strip. Personally, I think a better implementation would have been to use green while tracking and blue when not tracking, and simply show the wider strip momentarily when a gesture is recognized. This would be easier to see from a distance and more intuitive in my opinion. I should also mention that the Tiny 4K is equipped with a dual microphone that seems to be reasonably good, although not studio quality, it’s good enough for most applications.

On the whole, I’m happy with the OBSBOT Tiny 4K and I’m looking forward to using it as part of my Out of Chicago Live presentations this coming weekend, and of course in future online presentations and meetings. It’s far from perfect, and I hope that the folks that created it continue to tweak the software and make it more intelligent. I’d also love to see a change in how the remote works. Rendering a computer’s keyboard useless while turned on is not acceptable, even with the clear disclaimer. And a better fitting outer box would be nice too, but otherwise, it’s a nice little camera.

This episode is not sponsored in any form. I paid for my unit and have not contacted the manufacturers regarding this post. I wasn’t able to find the remote on Amazon.com, but I’ll include an affiliate link in this post if you’d like to help out by using our links if you decide to pick up one of these cameras yourself. For Amazon.com please use https://amzn.to/3Cwzpmf. If you prefer B&H here is a link https://mbp.ac/tiny4k, but note that the device is not in stock at the time of writing.


Show Notes

Buy on Amazon.com: https://amzn.to/3Cwzpmf

Buy at B&H here: https://mbp.ac/tiny4k

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes to get Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

Visit this page for help on how to view the images in MP3 files.


14-Inch MacBook Pro with M1 Max Chip Hands-On Review (Podcast 762)

14-Inch MacBook Pro with M1 Max Chip Hands-On Review (Podcast 762)


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I mentioned recently that I had ordered a new 14-inch MacBook Pro computer, and although it took me just a few hours after orders started to be accepted on the Apple website, my delivery slipped by around a month from the starting delivery dates, so it arrived last week, at the start of December 2021, and today I’m going to share my thoughts on this new workhorse of a computer. My old 13″ MacBook Pro has served me well. I used it for five years, and it’s been around the world with me multiple times, so I was sad to package it off to Apple in part-exchange for my new MacBook Pro, but the $400 or so that they paid me for it is very welcome to help offset the ridiculously high price of the new computer, especially as I have bought this with my own savings this time, as opposed to using funds in my company. It’s a company purchase, but Martin Bailey Photography K.K. now owes me the money for this new computer.

Anyway, let’s start with some general information and observations. If you are a Mac user you’ll probably already have most of this information, so I’m not going to provide a full rundown of all there is to know about these new computers, but I will talk about the things that I have found interesting, starting with the look of the new MacBook Pro. There is a lot of power in the new Pro series, so I wasn’t surprised to find that it’s a little bit chunkier than the recent MacBook Pro releases. There is almost a retro-feel, as it reminds me more of my old 15-inch MacBook Pro from 2012 even more than my 2016 13-inch model, which was much thinner. Having said that, it’s still a relatively sleek machine, and with the power packed inside of it, I certainly don’t mind the slightly thicker design.

2021 14-inch MacBook Pro
2021 14-inch MacBook Pro

The extra diagonal inch of the screen size has increased the size slightly over my 13-Inch MacBook Pro, but it’s not a one-to-one increase, as the screen is now almost edge-to-edge filling the top panel of the computer. One surprise, that I could have guessed would be the case but didn’t, is that the new MacBook Pro has a notch, like those seen on the top of the iPhone screens.

As the top toolbar is often black, it’s easy to miss the notch completely, but as you can see in this photo of my MacBook Pro with Capture One Pro open, there is a gap in the menu as the Mac OS automatically shifts the menu items across to avoid them being hidden by the notch. This is a pretty sleek way of dealing with the gap in screen real estate, although a few times I have been caught by my computer user muscle-memory as I’ve instinctively looked for the second menu from the right, and didn’t find what I was looking for, because I was actually looking at the second menu from the left of the notch, and there were more menus on the right side of the notch.

Capture One Pro on 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro
Capture One Pro on 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro

Apart from that though, I haven’t really been bothered by the notch, and Apple has done a pretty good job of hiding its presence. When you go fullscreen in an application, for example, the full screen that you see will be moved down to avoid the notch, unless you reach up for the menu which is automatically hidden in fullscreen, but then the menu appears around the notch, rather than taking up a part of the fullscreen, so although in reality, the application you are running in fullscreen is not true full screen, in practice you hardly notice it, and it’s nice that menus appear without eating into what you were fooled into believing was your fullscreen.

If you look at these two screenshots, you’ll see that although on the actual screen you don’t see the black bar hiding the notch, in a screenshot, its presence is pretty easy to detect. You can also see that if it wasn’t for the notch and the hiding of it, full-screen images would actually be true fullscreen, but when you are viewing the screen with its black frame, again, it’s really hard to notice any of these problems. It certainly hasn’t bothered me over the last week of pretty heavy use of the new MacBook Pro.

Liquid Retina XDR

The color reproduction of the new Liquid Retina XDR screen is also something of beauty. Apple says that the new screen is “The best display ever in a notebook [and it] features Extreme Dynamic Range and a million to one contrast ratio.” I have still to calibrate my new display, but out of the box, it really is stunning to look at. It’s not as big a jump as when we first got Retina screens, but it’s a nice jump in the evolution of the hardware. Spec-wise it weighs in at 3024 by 1964 pixels, which makes it just shy of six megapixels and has a resolution of 254 Pixels Per Inch.

Engraved Logo

I also found it interesting that Apple chose to add a very nice deeply engraved logo on the underside of the new MacBook Pro, which again, feels somewhat retro, but I thought this was a nice touch, although obviously purely cosmetic. Notice too that there is no grill or any holes on the underside to act as cooling vents. The two dark lines on either side, and I believe also along the back edge is where the MacBook Pro spits out its warm air, and despite its much higher spec, it generally runs much cooler than my 2016 13-inch MacBook Pro, which generated a lot of heat which was always noticeable when sitting the computer on your lap.

2021 14-inch MacBook Pro Underside
2021 14-inch MacBook Pro Underside

Battery Life

Another very welcome change is the increased battery life. I generally work in my studio until 7 pm then after dinner, from around 7:30 pm until after midnight I work with my laptop on the sofa. My 13-inch MacBook Pro had a practical battery life of around 3 hours, so I would often find myself having to plugin it in just for the last 10 to 15 minutes before going to bed. If I attached an external Solid State Drive to my old MacBook Pro I could expect the battery to run down in just over an hour.

The specs for the 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro have a battery life of 17 hours for video playback and 11 hours for wireless web browsing. In practice, I’ve so far been able to use it unplugged for eight to nine hours, and there was still around a third of the battery life left, so I’m pretty confident that the specs are not far out. I’ve also spent an evening with an SSD attached working on photos, and the battery life was fine, so this is all very welcome.

Missing Touch Bar

My 2016 MacBook Pro was the first line in which Apple introduced the Touch Bar, and I did select that option, as I wanted to see how it would change my use of the computer. The Touch Bar came with mixed reactions, and many people complained about the lack of the physical escape key. Personally, although I quite liked the Touch Bar, I have to admit, I think the idea was better than the practical uses that the Touch Bar brought. Even though many companies did integrate their software with the Touch Bar, I found that I continued to do most of my interaction with the computer through the keyboard and mouse, and rarely reached for the touch-bar. It just never really caught my attention enough to use.

2021 14-inch MacBook Pro Function Keys
2021 14-inch MacBook Pro Function Keys

Even in applications like Apple Photos where you could scroll through images with the Touch Bar, I rarely used it, so I wasn’t overly saddened by what appears to be a decision by Apple to discontinue the Touch Bar. There are no Touch Bar options with this recent release of the MacBook Pro and the word online seems to be indicating that Apple has abandoned the Touch Bar and will not be including it in future models.

The Magic Keyboard

Another very welcome design change comes in the form of the Magic Keyboard. My old MacBook Pro was one of the first to use what Apple called the Butterfly Keyboard, which sounded like a good idea, and I didn’t dislike the action. The keys didn’t move far, but there was enough feedback to make using the keyboard a relatively good experience. My problem with the Butterfly Keyboard came after two years of heavy use because certain keys started to repeat themselves when pressed and sometimes just didn’t enter the character pressed. I found myself making more typos than usual, and after struggling for a few months with it, I had to send the computer in for repair. I then found that two years on, after similar usage, over the last few months I noticed a few more repeated and dropped keystrokes.

2021 14-inch MacBook Pro Japanese Keyboard
2021 14-inch MacBook Pro Japanese Keyboard

This was one of the major reasons that I decided to jump on this release, as my Apple Care ran out two years ago too, and I didn’t think it would be worth throwing more money at my 13-inch MacBook Pro, knowing that anything I did now would still only have a shelf-life of two years. The new Magic Keyboard has great keys though. They feel nice to type with, and I’m relatively confident from the feel of the hardware that this keyboard isn’t going to break after just two years of use.

Sounds Amazing!

Also, don’t let those thin strips of speaker holes in the 2021 MacBook Pro fool you into thinking that this machine has small, tinny-sounding speakers. I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the sound that this little machine can boom out. Until now, when I was making music, I would often create something in my living room using my headphones, and then play it to my wife but be disappointed by the lack of depth in the sound. When I really wanted her to hear something properly, I’d have her also use the headphones. With the new MacBook Pro though that’s no longer necessary. The sound from the six speakers with four force-canceling woofers provide 80 percent more bass than previous systems and half an octave lower bass.

MagSafe 3 Power and Thunderbolt 4

Apple has also backtracked with the power for the 2021 MacBook Pros. My previous MacBook Pro had four Thunderbolt 3 ports and a headphone jack, which I was happy with, including powering the computer via one of the four ports. Apple has though now gone back to the magnetic connection with the MagSafe 3 power port and I have to admit it’s nice to have that back. That reassuring snap and the little green light, or the orange light to let you know that the computer is charging, is really nice. It’s also better if you should catch the cable, as the MagSafe port will pull away from the computer more easily than trying to pull out a cable, especially if you pull it sideways. You’d be more likely to pull the computer off the surface it’s sitting on than pull out the cable, but that’s no longer the case with the return of the MagSafe port.

2021 14-inch MacBook Pro Magsafe Power Connector
2021 14-inch MacBook Pro Magsafe Power Connector

The headphone jack has moved from the right to the left edge of the computer, and on the right side, we now have just one Thunderbolt 4 port and an SDXC card slot. Like Canon omitting the GPS unit from all of the cameras that I buy, I seem to be missing the usefulness of the SD card slot on Apple Computers as well. When I had an SD slot in the past, I was using CF Cards. For two years while I had my 13-inch MacBook Pro with no SD card slot, I was actually using SD cards in my EOS R cameras, but now that the SD card slot is back, I’m now using CFexpress cards in my Canon EOS R5, so from my perspective it has no use. I might buy one of those memory cards that sit flush to the edge of the computer if I start to run short of internal storage, but I splurged on the 4TB SSD option for my new computer, so I probably won’t even need the SD card slot for external storage.

There is a new HDMI port as well which is welcome. I use HDMI quite often to connect to projectors, and I can also get great image quality on my 60-inch 4K TV over HDMI, so I was happy to see this additional port.

SSD Speed Tests

While we’re on the subject, that internal SSD is another very sweet piece of engineering. The SSD in these new MacBook Pro is marketed as supporting up to 7.4GB/s read speeds, which is absolutely insane! Using the Blackmagicdesign Disk Speed Test we can see that the read speeds are more than double my five-year-old MacBook Pro and the write speeds are more than three times faster!

M1 Max Chip is Off the Charts

I decided to go for the higher-end Apple M1 Max chip over the still amazing M1 Pro because it doubles the amount of memory you can use from 32GB to 64GB, and the memory bandwidth also doubles from 200GB/s to 400GB/s. The GPU also sports 32-cores in the M1 Max over 16-cores in the M1 Pro. Keeping this in perspective, the M1 Pro is also an amazing piece of engineering and definitely no slouch, but I figured I’d go for the best available in the hope that I can get a few more years out of this computer, while, of course, increasing its computing power to perform my daily tasks faster.

In Capture One Pro for example, even with my images on an external, although very fast SSD, the images appear on the screen instantly as I move between shots. There is no lag as the images res-in, they are just there straight after the switch. In music applications, my old 13-inch MacBook Pro would often stutter and sometimes become unusable with some software instruments, but with the 10 cores and processing power of the new MacBook Pro, it never misses a beat.

Geekbench Benchmark Results

We won’t geek out on the results of the Geebbench benchmark tests that I ran, but here is a 9 screen-shot merge to show the results for the CPU tests for my 13-inch MacBook Pro on the left, my Late 2017 iMac Pro in the middle, and my 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro on the right. This was unfortunately downsized by WordPress when I uploaded it, so the fine details will be difficult to see, but if you click on it to open the image in the lightbox on the blog, you can click to zoom in and read the small text. Besides, even just looking at the overall score you can see that the 14-inch MacBook Pro is close to double the power of even the iMac Pro, which is amazing!

Geekbench Merged Results
Geekbench Merged Results

No Face Recognition

There is just one area where I think Apple completely dropped the ball with this latest line of MacBook Pro computers, and that is the continued addition of the fingerprint reader on the power button instead of moving to Face Recognition-based security. My fingerprint changes with the seasons and I have never been able to use my fingerprint for more than a couple of months before I have to rescan it on any of my Apple devices, be it a MacBook Pro or my iPhones. Seriously, I scanned my fingerprint when the 14-inch MacBook Pro arrived and in less than a week my fingerprint is no longer recognized.

2021 14-inch MacBook Pro Finger Print Reader
2021 14-inch MacBook Pro Finger Print Reader

Maybe I’m deformed, and have unusually non-descript fingerprints, probably from too much typing! But I am absolutely tired of scanning and rescanning my fingerprints almost constantly throughout the year. If Apple had included the same Face Recognition technology that my three-year-old iPhone has in my brand new MacBook Pro, I would have been the happiest Apple user on the planet. As it stands, I’m probably not that far down the list of happy users, because everything else about the 14-inch MacBook Pro is absolutely amazing!

I do need to get more than four to five years of use out of this machine though for the price, but I’m relatively confident that the technology will deliver the performance I need to do my work for at least the foreseeable future. I’m happy with my purchase, and I hope you found my observations useful.

I’m sure most people would buy these computers directly from Apple, but if any of you have a reason to buy from my friends at B&H Photo, you can use the link https://mbp.ac/mbp14 and help me to pay for mine with the small affiliate payment that this would lead to. Failing that, if you still want to help out, consider a Patreon contribution which also unlocks all posts and gives you access to our private community and lots of other benefits. Thanks also to our new contributors Dane, Dan, Jay, Warren, and Ulana! Your contributions along with the other supporters are very much appreciated!


Show Notes

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Music by Martin Bailey


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Canon RF100mm F2.8 L MACRO IS USM Lens Review (Podcast 757)

Canon RF100mm F2.8 L MACRO IS USM Lens Review (Podcast 757)


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It would seem that Canon got their hands on some transistors, as I took possession of my new Canon RF100mm F2.8 L MACRO IS USM Lens last week, and have started to put it through its paces. With Adobe breaking my FAB Tools plugin with their Photoshop 2022 update, I’m running short on time, but wanted to push this out during October, so here goes with my review.

I’ve been a huge fan of Canon macro lenses over the years. My first was their old EF 100mm lens, then I upgraded to the 100mm L Macro lens when it was released in October 2009 and it absolutely blew me away in terms of image quality and build. I’d hankered after their old 180mm Macro L lens for a number of years, but it was expensive for a niche lens, so I never pulled the trigger on that one. My previous 100mm EF Macro lens being an L lens was great, and it has never let me down in 12 years of use. The image quality has kept up with the increased resolution of our 45 and 50-megapixel cameras too, so if you own an EF Macro lens you are still getting great shots with the RF Mount Adapter, so unless you use it a lot, there isn’t a lot of incentive to switch.

Having said that, I am trying to covert my entire system to RF lenses, and if you’ve followed my antics as I’ve moved to the Canon RF system, you may recall that I’ve been able to pay for the entire switch by selling my old gear to Map Camera, a wonderful camera store here in Tokyo where I live. Granted, I had some big-ticket items, like the 200-400mm 1.4X EXT lens, which brought in a decent amount, and two Canon 5Ds R bodies went into the pot, along with most of my old EF lenses. Map gives a good price for used gear though, and if you put the proceeds onto a point card for future use with them, you get an extra 10% on the price, resulting in me literally converting everything I own to RF, with the latest addition in the RF 100mm Macro lens being the first item that I’ve had to add funds to, albeit just $100, with the rest being paid in points. The pandemic halted all of my tours for the last 18 months, so I’ve been more grateful than ever for being able to migrate to the Canon RF mirrorless system for a grand total of just $100.

Canon RF100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens
Canon RF100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens

There are a few features of the new RF 100mm Macro lens though that may be important enough to make you also want to make the switch, so we’ll cover these first. Perhaps one of the most important changes is that the new RF Macro lens has what’s called an SA Control Ring, and the SA stands for Spherical Aberration. This ring adds a type of soft focus to the images while maintaining a core of sharpness to anchor your images visually. To demonstrate, I asked my neighbors, who grow Bonsai trees commercially, if I could photograph their chrysanthemum bushes that they have lined our car park with, as they are in full bloom right now, and being at the foot of the stairs to our apartment made them an easy subject as I struggled to make time to do this.

Canon RF100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens SA Control
Canon RF100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens SA Control

Now, I have to admit, the difference between the images is not all that easy to see. Through the lens, the difference seems more pronounced, but it didn’t make it into the images as much as I’d thought it would. I’ll explain why that happens shortly. I’ve created an animation though that will move through the images without any transitions so that you can see the difference as the images switch.

Here too is a gallery of the five images, so that you can look at them at your own pace. For the first image, I have adjusted the SA Control Ring to minus 2, which is all the way to the left. As you’ll see, this is perhaps the softest looking image. You’ll also notice that moving the SA Control Ring in the negative zooms the image out slightly. I had the camera on a tripod and was focusing on the flower in the center, so apart from a slight breeze moving the flowers around, the framing between shots is unchanged, and of course, the focal length for all of these is 100mm.

Another element to watch is the tiny bug near the edge of the frame in the bottom left quadrant. In the first of the images at minus 2 Spherical Aberration, it’s quite soft, along with the flowers, of course. It gets gradually sharper though as I adjust the SA Control Ring into the positive, at Plus 1 SA. This tells us that the bug was slightly out of the plane of focus when I was focused on the center flower, but the SA Control Ring actually brought this into focus more, which is interesting.

I do like the soft dreamy look of the Spherical Aberration though, perhaps with a slight preference for the positive values. Canon says “A minus setting creates a dreamy, soft-focused look, while a plus setting creates a bubble-bokeh-type look.”

It actually will be easier for you to see the difference between the extremes of the SA Control Ring by taking a look at some photos that I shot of our breakfast tomatoes the morning after picking up the lens. These were hand-held so not all that well aligned, but the effect is much easier to see. This first image is with the SA Control Ring set to zero, so it has no effect on the image. I opened up the aperture to ƒ/2.8 for these, and I imagine that therein lies the reason for not being able to really see the effect in the chrysanthemum images, which I shot at ƒ/5.6. The effect is much more noticeable at wide apertures. which makes sense because it’s designed to affect the bokeh, so the less bokeh there is in the image the less you’ll see the effect.

Tomatoes SA Control Zero/OFF
Tomatoes SA Control Zero/OFF

This is important to keep in mind because the camera always shows you an image with the widest aperture unless you press the depth-of-field preview button, and this is why the test shots of the flowers looked dreamier to me when I shot them, compared to the actual stopped down ƒ/5.6 images. Next, here is a shot with the SA Control Ring set to minus 2, so you’ll see that it’s zoomed out slightly, but much softer from the Spherical Aberration applied to the bokeh.

Tomatoes SA Control Minus 2
Tomatoes SA Control Minus 2

And here now is the other extreme, with the SA Control Ring set to plus 2. Notice the little rings that have formed around the tiny specular highlights in the water on the lower tomato. This shows us more of what Canon is talking about when they say that a positive value gives us a bubble-bokeh type look. I imagine this lens will be a lot of fun to use on Christmas tree lights or cityscapes at night, with lots of lights to turn into little bubbles. It’s a nice focal length for picking out details in a nightscape too, so I will venture into the city with it as the Christmas illuminations are turned on this year.

Tomatoes SA Control Plus 2
Tomatoes SA Control Plus 2

All in all, I think I’m happy with the Spherical Aberration control. Keep in mind that it works best at wide apertures, and it should be lots of fun. It will work great as a soft-focus portrait lens as well. As I was preparing for this Podcast, I shot a few images of the new lens and the light from my window hit the front of the lens for a while in a way that enabled me to get a good view of the aperture diaphragm as you can see in this image.

Canon RF100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens Diaphragm
Canon RF100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens Diaphragm

We can count the clearer visible nine aperture blades, and also see the nonagon shape that the aperture makes, which, incidentally, is the same as the EF L Macro lens. The RF version has 17 elements in 13 groups, compared to 15 elements in 12 groups for the EF lens. The Image Stabilization is now said to work for up to 5 stops of stabilization, meaning that in theory, whereas you’d usually need a shutter speed of 1/100 of a second for a steady shot, based on the 100mm focal length, with 5 stops of IS, you could decrease that shutter speed to a 1/3 of a second. If you are hand-holding for a 1/3 of a second though you’re more likely to have focusing issues as you move back and forth, so I generally like to keep a relatively high shutter speed, especially in the field, where even a slight breeze can introduce subject movement.

1.4X Lifesize Magnification

So, the other thing that may make this lens more interesting to owners of the EF 100mm Macro lens, or to anyone for that matter, is that compared to a maximum magnification of 1:1 with the EF lens, the RF 100mm Macro lens now gives us 1.4X lifesize magnification. That means if you were to photograph something 36 millimeters wide and 24 millimeters high with the old lens and move your camera to the closest focus distance, your subject will fill the frame perfectly, with a 1:1 ratio.

At 1.4X magnification though, you’d appear to be closer to your subject, and fill the frame with just 25.7 x 17.1 millimeters of the same subject at the closest focus distance. This is a great improvement, as I often wanted to get slightly more magnification with my EF Macro lens, and Canon is featuring this strongly in their marketing. Amusingly though, this was more of a lucky side-effect of the shorter distance from the lens to the sensor than anything else.

EF lenses required a gap of 44 millimeters between the back of the lens and the sensor, as they had to accommodate the mirror, but in the RF system lenses are only 20 millimeters from the sensor, so there is a 24-millimeter difference. Curiosity got the better of me, so I opened Omnigraffle, a technical drawing application that I use when I have to draw things to scale. I set the scale to 10 pixels per millimeter and locked it to the canvas so that when I drew, for example, a line that was 3000 pixels long, it represents 300 mm or 30 cm which is the minimum focus distance of the EF 100mm macro lens.

I proceeded to map out the minimum focus distance for the RF 100mm macro lens which is 26 cm and drew the sensor sizes and subject sizes as boxes to scale. I also drew a frame of 25.7 x 17.1 mm to represent the 1.4X magnified subject size that would fill the frame and drew two lines which I set at 24 degrees apart to represent the field of view of the RF Macro lens, and 23.4 degrees to represent the field of view of the EF Macro lens.

With everything laid out to scale, I drew one last line that I made 24 mm long and laughed out loud as I dropped it into place between the 1.4X magnified image and the 1:1 magnification image, to find that the difference is exactly 24 millimeters. I’m so pleased that Canon decided to cash in on this happy accident rather than false keeping the maximum magnification at 1:1. Now I just wish they’d accidentally leave a GPS unit in the bodies that I buy, as it keeps dropping out and crashing to their lab floor.

Reason for RF 100mm Macro 1.4X Lifesize Magnification
Reason for RF 100mm Macro 1.4X Lifesize Magnification

For the curious among you that are wondering how I calculated the angle of the lines from the start of the field of view to the sensor, I didn’t have to. The angle of the field of view is understood from the specifications of the lens, so working back from what we know to be the minimum focus, we can easily find the point at which the field of view starts, in other words, the distance of the nodal point of the lens. We also know that the image is projected to fill the size of the sensor, so I simply drew two more lines from the nodal point to the sensor to illustrate that angle as well. Cool! These little exercises are fun to work through.

As you can see in this side view photo of the new RF 100mm Macro lens, we have the regular set of buttons at the base of the barrel, to control the Autofocus, Focus Range, and Image Stabilization. I have to admit, I rarely change any of my lenses from the FULL position for the autofocus range, although if I was to use this setting, a Macro lens would be one of the better uses, by limiting the range to from 26 cm to 50 cm, to prevent it from zooming all the way out to infinity when you miss focus. Having said that, this lens does move through its entire focus range very quickly as well, so I probably still won’t use this feature very much.

Canon RF100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens Side View
Canon RF100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens Side View

On the other side of the lens barrel, there is a Lock switch that locks the SA Control Ring in its central position, where it has no effect. I am leaving the Lock engaged at all times when not using SA Control so that I don’t forget about it and end up applying the Spherical Aberration by mistake at any point.

One Minor, Possibly Major Negative Point

All in all, I am really enjoying the new RF 100mm Macro lens, and I will no doubt follow up with more images as I get out with this lens more. I also just love to go and buy some flowers and shoot with the Macro lens in my studio, so I’ll share those too when I get around to it. There is just one negative aspect that I feel I should raise though before we wrap this up, and that is the design of the tripod collar.

Rather than making a collar that fits snuggly around the barrel of the lens, Canon thought it would be a good idea to sell the nicely designed collar with a plastic adapter ring that you have to put inside the collar to use the collar with this lens. Not only was it difficult to position, but I find the way it makes the collar stand away from the lens also looks pretty goofy, but it actually functions very poorly as a collar. If you’ve ever used a lens with a collar you’ll have no doubt, at some point, loosened the collar and rotated the lens around to go into portrait orientation without flopping your camera and lens over on their side.

Canon RF100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens with Collar
Canon RF100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens with Collar

That’s what they are usually designed to do, but when you try to do it with the collar and plastic adapter that this lens comes with, a small amount of loosening doesn’t allow the system to be rotated, so you have to loosen it some more, and then some more. The point at which the lens and camera can be freely rotated is dangerously close to the point where the locking screw comes completely out of its thread, and the collar opens up on its hinge, allowing you to remove it from the lens. Needless to say, if that was to happen in the field, you’d at best end up with a scratched lens as you fumble to stop it from tumbling to the ground, and at worse, you could fail to stop it all from tumbling to the ground.

I don’t know what Canon was thinking when they designed this collar, but it’s a very poor design that I’m pretty sure will be a problem for at least a few people in the coming years. Personally, I would like to see a redesign for a closer snugger fit, provided free of charge to anyone that has bought this initial collar, although it’s highly unlikely to happen. Apart from that though, it’s a great lens, and I’m looking forward to using it more and reporting my further findings via this Podcast.

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Show Notes

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Music by Martin Bailey


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