‘Magic Hour’ is photography 101 in VR
Take it from people who take photos almost constantly: figuring out the finer points of manual photography can be tricky, especially for folks who rock that Auto mode all the time. That’s why a new bit of software for the HTC Vive called Magic Hour seems like such a good idea. In exchange for $3.50 (and with the understanding the Steam Early Access title might be rough around edges), you’re plopped onto a virtual pier and given an incredibly flexible camera and carte blanche to shoot as you please.
VR Photography from Wolf In Motion on Vimeo.
The camera’s “viewfinder” is actually just a window that hangs in space in front of you, allowing you to see exactly what happens to your subject if you fiddle with shutter speed, ISO, aperture and more. You’ll have shutter and aperture priority modes to play with, but really — you didn’t swing by a virtual beach to play it safe, did you? For new or wannabe photographers, manual mode offers you the greatest level of control over the shots you take, and Magic Hour offers an idealized environment to get a feel for those myriad settings. After all, when’s the last time you sauntered up to a seagull and took a photo, Pokemon Snap-style, without it screeching in your face and flying away?
Yeah, that’s what we thought.
For more experienced photographers, Magic Hour offers a way simulate gear and glass that doesn’t exist in the real world. Petapixel offers the example of a 6-150mm f/1.4 lens, which, had it actually existed in meatspace, would probably cost more than your car. As neat as all of this sounds, there are obviously some shortcomings to be aware of: the flow of time has stopped at dusk, you only get one camera, and there are only about a dozen objects to shoot. Still, this is yet another VR experience to keep an eye on — The developer, Wolf in Motion, has promised more cameras to come, not to mention new worlds and a multiplayer mode.
Logitech’s Circle camera can better distinguish people from pets
The ability to determine the difference between an actual person and a pet or other wildlife can be an issue for some connected security cameras. With an update to its Circle camera, Logitech improves the device’s ability to do just that. The company says the camera employs “proprietary artificial intelligence” to identify when someone is approaching. Of course, this should cut down on any unwanted alerts when your cat saunters by.
The update also tacks on a Motion Zones feature that can be configured to keep tabs on certain parts of your home and send you alerts when movement is detected. With the companion web app for the camera, you can select up to five zones for things like the front door, windows, garage door and more. Logitech also offers daily updates that allow you to edit recordings and compile footage from the past day, week or month as needed. Speaking of video, you’re able to store up to 31 days worth in case you need it later.
New features are available now to Circle Safe Premium subscribers via a software update. To grab the latest tools, access your Logitech Circle account on the web and get the latest version of the mobile app directly on your device. If you’re not paying for the $10 monthly or $100 annual plan, Circle Safe Basic still offers 14 days worth of video storage and customized alerts, but you’ll miss out on some of the other handy home security features.
Source: Logitech (Business Wire)
Refs will wear GoPros for Fox’s Big Ten championship broadcast
During this weekend’s Big Ten football championship game, Fox Sports will offer fans a different kind of on-field views during its coverage of the match-up. When Wisconsin and Penn State take the field Saturday, December 3rd, referees will be wearing hats equipped with GoPros to give fans another perspective of the action on the gridiron. The network says it worked alongside GoPro and Big Ten officials on a hat that would capture footage it could use immediately during its broadcast.
Fox Sports Lab successfully tested the system during last week’s Wisconsin vs. Minnesota game and plans to share clips via social media this weekend. That means if you can’t watch live, you should still be able to find some snippets of the action afterwards. What’s more, there will be a dedicated stream of Hat Cam footage on Fox Sports Go which could make for a rather interesting multi-screen setup if you can wrangle more than one display. Of course, you’ll need a cable subscription to take advantage of what that streaming app offers.
These referee cameras join drones and VR as tools in Fox’s arsenal to bring viewers different perspectives on sporting events throughout the year. For a look at what you can expect this weekend, you can watch a clip from the referee camera test run right here.
Source: Fox Sports
GoPro compensates Karma buyers with free Hero5 cameras
We won’t blame you if you’re upset that GoPro had to recall your Karma drone over sudden power losses, but at least you’re getting compensation for your trouble. GoPro is offering American Karma buyers a free Hero5 Black camera once they return both their drones and the accessories that came with them. That’s on top of the full refund during the investigation, we’d add. While this won’t completely make up for having to go droneless (or, gasp, look for an alternative), you won’t have to go empty-handed — and GoPro won’t have to worry so much about customers holding on to their Karmas at all costs.
24 hours with Sony’s A99 II full-frame DSLR
With high-end mirrorless cameras such as the A7S II and A7R II, it’s easy to forget that Sony also makes full-frame DSLRs. Its latest one, the A99 II, is set to arrive later this month for $3,200 body-only. That gets you a massive 42.2-megapixel sensor, max ISO of 102,400, 12-fps continuous shooting and, for the first time, in-camera image stabilization. While I’ve only been using it for a day or so, I can tell you the camera shows a lot of promise — which isn’t surprising given its sensor type and how much it costs.
As you’d imagine, it helps to have it paired with expensive lenses, like Sony’s 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G2 ($2,200) and 70-200mm f/2.8 G SSM II ($3,000), among others. What impressed me the most about the A99 II is its autofocusing speed, which makes use of a hybrid 4D Focus with a wide area of coverage (79 phase detection points and 399 focal-plane). In theory, that technology is also supposed to make the camera’s AF more accurate, especially when you’re trying to capture moving subjects. So far, that’s been working out well for me.
I’ll have more on the A99 II soon. In the meantime, check out my sample images from Sony’s new flagship DSLR.
To view our sample images in full resolution, click here.
24 hours with Sony’s A6500 mirrorless camera
When Sony announced the A6500 in October, it touted speed as one of the camera’s main selling points. The company’s new flagship mirrorless, which hits stores later this month for $1,400 (body-only), features a 24.2-megapixel APS-C sensor with 11-fps continuous shooting. You can shoot at that rate for up to 307 frames in RAW mode, giving you about 30 seconds of total shooting time in a single shutter press. That’s an impressive feat for any camera, let alone one this size. The A6500 also comes with in-body 5-axis image stabilization — a first for one of Sony’s APS-C shooters.
While I’ve only had the chance to test the camera for a little over 24 hours, that’s enough time to get an idea of what this thing can do. Thankfully, Sony wasn’t kidding when it said its A6500 was all about speed. I used the camera mostly with the Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 and FE 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses, which made it easy to take shots in the dark and at sports games. It’s one of the few times I’ve been able to capture decent shots at a sporting event. Indeed, Sony says its goal is to appeal to appeal to sports photographers, and even some people who aren’t professionals.
I’ll have more thoughts on the A6500 in the coming weeks. For now, take a look at the sample images below to get an idea of what to expect from it.
To view our sample images in full resolution, click here.
The Passport foldable drone makes for a fun travel companion
My first drone flight experience was with the DJI Phantom 2 Vision, and as much as I appreciated its advanced capabilities at the time, I longed for something more compact — a device so small that I wouldn’t need to carry a separate bag or case for it, preferably without sacrificing performance. Eventually, a Chinese startup called Zero Zero Robotics released the $599 Hover Camera Passport, which comes in the unique form of a foldable cage while packing cool features like body tracking, face tracking and orbiting. I got to spend some time with the Passport over the past few weeks, and eventually it got to the point where I rarely leave home without it, lest I find time to take it for a quick spin.
Compared to higher-end foldable drones like DJI’s Mavic Pro and GoPro’s Karma (assuming GoPro issues a fix for random power losses), the Passport’s major advantages are its size, weight and caged propellers. At just 242 grams, or 0.53 pounds, the Passport is exempt from the FAA’s mandatory registration and is also unlikely to hurt anyone should something go wrong, as its propellers are shielded by a carbon fiber enclosure. When folded, it’s just 33mm (1.3 inches) thick, and even in its 45mm-thick protective case (which stores the drone and two batteries), it fits in my backpack with plenty of room to spare.
Speaking of, I’m impressed by the thoughtful set of accessories included in the box. In addition to that aforementioned protective case, there’s a shoulder strap for it, a soft bag (just make sure you won’t squash the drone), a second battery, a dual-battery charger, a USB 3.0 cable, four spare propellers, 12 extra screws and a pair of screwdrivers.
Zero Zero Robotics is currently only selling the full drone package, but you’ll soon be able to buy spare accessories as well, including batteries for $40 apiece. (In fact, the company will be throwing in a third battery plus free shipping as part of a Black Friday promotion.) From my experience, each battery offers a flight time of about 10 minutes, as promised, and it takes about 40 minutes to recharge each, so the more the merrier.
The Passport doesn’t come with a dedicated controller, as it’s geared mostly towards casual users. You’ll have to download the companion Hover Camera app onto your iOS or Android device and then connect it to the drone’s WiFi hotspot over 2.4GHz or 5GHz (you’ll want the latter for better streaming quality; both go up to 20 meters). This is all very straightforward as is navigating through the relatively simple interface. As someone familiar with the basic controls for the DJI Phantom series, I tend to pick the “Joystick” control mode (my preferred mode) instead of “Classic” (up and down buttons for height and a four-way pad for horizontal direction) or “Motion” (a height stick and a toggle button for tilt control).
Unlike most other drones, the Passport can only be launched from one’s hand: Hold up the powered-on unit with its wings open, tap the power button to rev up the propellers for about one second, and then release the unit to let it hover. Similarly, you can retrieve the hovering Passport with your hand without ever having to worry about the blades: Grab it and tap the power button to kill the propellers, or you can first tilt the unit downward to slow the propellers down before tapping the power button. When the battery level is critically low, the drone can slowly land itself using the sonar sensor under its belly; you can also use the One-Touch Landing button to toggle automatic landing at any time.
It’s safe to say that the Passport is one of the very few — if not the only — drones that can be launched and retrieved so safely. This is guaranteed to impress your family, friends and strangers alike — in my case, strangers include the security officers at Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport who were so curious they didn’t mind me flying the drone inside the building.
The Passport’s camera features a 13-megapixel CMOS sensor that can capture video at 4K, 1080p and 720p, all with a normal frame rate of 30 fps. All captured images and videos are stored in the 32GB internal memory (my unit showed 22.6GB of usable space after formatting), and since the Passport is basically a Qualcomm Snapdragon Flight 801 device running on Android, you can transfer its content to your PC in the same way you do with Android phones. With the exception of 4K clips, you can also download the content directly from the app to your smartphone.
During my vacation in Okinawa, I captured all my Passport footage in 4K without realizing that only the lower resolutions support electronic stabilization — a necessary feature since the camera hinges on just a one-directional gimbal as opposed to the three-axis gimbal on more advanced drones. I’m glad that I did use the 4K setting by accident as, truth be told, even with the slightest breeze I was bound to see some shakiness, regardless of the video resolution. If it’s a moderately windy day, forget it — the lightweight Passport won’t stand a chance. That said, braver folks may want to challenge Mother Nature by toggling “Beast Mode” for the maximum flying speed of eight meters per second (about 17.9 miles per hour).
Back in Hong Kong, I found that it’s only a tad better with electronic stabilization at 1080p resolution, but it’s the loss in detail that’s more noticeable. In some cases, I could even see some annoying warping across the frame due to the electronic stabilization. To put things in perspective, the Passport’s 1080p clips have a maximum video bit rate of 16 Mbps (I get 17 Mbps from the Samsung S7 Edge and 20 Mbps from the Xiaomi Mi 5s) whereas its 4K clips are capped at a more impressive 60 Mbps (beating the S7 Edge’s 48.1 Mbps and the Mi 5s’ 42 Mbps).
Simply put, I don’t think it’s worth giving up the 4K sharpness for that little bit of stabilization; I’d rather stick with 4K and use PC video-editing software to stabilize the clips afterwards. Shakiness aside, I’m actually quite happy with the general picture quality offered by the Passport, so long as there’s plenty of daylight. There were a few still images which could use a slight boost in exposure, but that’s an easy fix. And when it’s dark, you can try using the dual-tone LED flash for the still shots.
As I mentioned earlier, the Passport is capable of face tracking and body tracking. Just pick one of these features in the sidebar, and when you see a yellow bracket around you (you need to keep a minimum distance of four meters from the drone), tap on it and off you go (it’ll start recording as well if you weren’t already recording). Despite the wind, my unit did surprisingly well in chasing after me along the beach in Okinawa. I also had similar success on a soccer field and along a waterfront park in Hong Kong, and the drone could even follow me walking up the stairs — up to the point where I had to make a turn to walk along the bridge, but the bridge wall partially blocked the drone’s sight of me.
Another neat video recording feature is the orbit mode because it’s the easiest way to make anyone look cool. Once the app recognizes me, I just have to tap the yellow bracket on my face and the drone will start circling around me until I stop it. The one thing you need to be wary of here is that the drone may drift a little in the wind, thus ending up with an incomplete orbit. Last but not least, there’s the 360 spin feature that does exactly what it says. Again, you have to tell it to stop spinning. Check out what I got out of these in the above sample video reel.
Even after playing with the Passport for several weeks, I continue to be impressed by how capable and unique this drone is. It’s essentially your personal travel cameraman, except you won’t have to buy an extra plane ticket for it. Better yet, Zero Zero Robotics has already delivered a couple of firmware updates to improve the Passport’s video quality plus body tracking performance, and it’ll continue to do so in the many days to come. But, due to its form factor, little can be done about the drone’s weak resistance against even moderate wind — either avoid the breeze or spend an extra $400 on the Mavic Pro if you want to avoid the hassle.
Snapchat’s Spectacles won’t make you look like a Glasshole
You would have thought that after the spectacular failure of Google Glass and the virulent public rejection its users experienced, other companies would be wary of developing and marketing camera glasses. But 2016 has been that kind of year. Earlier this week, Snapchat, they of the wildly popular messaging app, began rolling out its first wearable, Spectacles, through a series of pop-up vending machines. The $130 glasses are already a hot commodity, fetching upward of $900 on eBay. I managed to get my hands on a pair (don’t ask how) and have some thoughts on the matter.
The Spectacles are sunglasses first and foremost, and they function well in that role. The plastic frames are lightweight with circular lenses and come in a variety of increasingly loud colors: black, aqua and fire-engine red. I personally prefer a nice wayfarer or aviator shape, but the Spectacles still performed an admirable job of shielding my eyes from the sun’s damaging UV rays.
The camera itself is mounted on the tip of the left temple arm, where it meets the eye wire. The camera unit is entirely self-contained and runs on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. And, like Apple’s wireless AirPods, the Spectacle’s case doubles as a charging station that can fully fill a dead battery in about 90 minutes. The camera, while not nearly as powerful as what you’d find on an iPhone 7 or Android Pixel, is good enough for what most people use Snapchat for.
And what they lack in image quality they make up for in ease of use. By not requiring you to have your phone in hand, the Spectacles can be used in a much wider range of situations. Suddenly, all of those action sports shots for which you previously had to break out the GoPro can be done in 10-second increments. Really, any two-handed activity would benefit from using these glasses. Take note, however: The glasses are not waterproof and are also susceptible to temperature extremes, so be sure to leave them back at the ski lodge this winter.
Pairing the Spectacles to the Snapchat app is super-simple. You simply put on the Spectacles, look at your snapcode and tap the “record” button on the glasses. Downloading data from the specs is straightforward, too. Just navigate to the Memories screen, pick the Specs tab from the top bar and select the correct Snap from the list. We’re not sure if there’s an upper limit to how many Snaps you can record on the device before syncing with the app, but we got north of 10.
I noticed that the app routinely failed to properly download video from the glasses to the phone, but usually did so on the second try. It’s a bit of a hassle, but an easily remedied one. Aside from being unable to actively monitor what I’m recording or reframe a shot, using Spectacles wasn’t all that different from using my phone. At least with the Specs, I never had to worry about my thumb covering the lens. Plus, if the worst happens, I’d rather drop a pair of $130 novelty camera-glasses than my $600 smartphone.
Now, whether I, as a 35-year-old attention-averse adult, would ever be caught dead wearing them in public is an entirely different question. See, I remember the dark days of the Google Glasshole. Even in techtopias like San Francisco, Glass wearers were publicly mocked. One lady was even physically assaulted at a bar in the Lower Haight. Many fine drinking establishments throughout the city still ban them outright. Granted, the Spectacles can capture only 10 seconds of video at a time, but I’d be very hesitant to show up to a place like Molotov’s or the Lucky 13 with these on my face.
Another question is: Where do you actually use them? They’re clearly geared for people who are out and about in the daylight hours (hence the sunglasses the camera’s built into). But what of Snaps taken indoors or at night? The camera is subtle enough that you won’t attract attention, but the bright-ring LED that flickers on to indicate that you’re recording — not to mention that you’re wearing electric-blue sunglasses in a bar at 11PM — is likely enough to draw quizzical looks from other patrons and questions from management.
Overall, though, these are a clever, relatively inexpensive wearable. They’re a tenth of the price of Google Glass, they actually function beyond serving as a way to strap a camera to your face and, depending on your age bracket, they could even be considered stylish. Getting your hands on a pair is going to be a challenge in the immediate future, but for those of us with active Snapchat followings, these Specs will prove invaluable.
Olympus’ OM-D E-M1 Mark II hits nearly all the right notes
I use two cameras on a regular basis: my iPhone 7 Plus and an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark I. The latter has been my workhorse since 2014, when many Engadget staffers started using it for field assignments. I’ve taken it to almost every press event I’ve attended these past two years, and the results are rarely disappointing. Still, the idea of a faster model with a better autofocus was tempting. That’s where the recently launched OM-D E-M1 Mark II comes in.
OIympus’ latest flagship mirrorless, available in December for $2,000 body-only, is pegged as a major upgrade to its predecessor. It features a new 20.4 Live MOS Micro Four Third sensor, a powerful dual quad-core TruePic VIII processor, in-camera image stabilization and a 121-point autofocusing system. You can also record 4K video in Ultra HD (3,840 x 2,160) and Cinema 4K (4,096 x 2,160) at 24, 25 and 30 frames per second. There’s also an option for 18-fps continuous shooting with autofocus and autoexposure enabled. If you lock those settings, the camera can handle a ridiculous 60 frames per second.
The E-M1 Mark II’s specs make the Mark I seem more dated than it actually is. That may have something to do with the second-gen shooter being way more expensive at launch; by comparison, the original cost $1,400. Naturally, there are some similarities between the two, like WiFi capabilities, a 50-megapixel high-res shot mode and a compact weatherproof body. The ergonomics haven’t changed much, so I didn’t have any trouble getting used to the physical dials, finding buttons or gripping the camera.
That said, the first thing I noticed was how much heavier the Mark II feels than its predecessor. That’s largely due to the bulky 1,720mAh battery, which Fujifilm claims lasts 440 shots per charge. Of course, you’ll get fewer shots out of it if you take videos along the way, but I haven’t had to charge the camera as often as I did the Mark I. Seriously, though, I’m not kidding when I say this battery is bulky — I can’t recall seeing one like it in any other mirrorless camera I’ve tested. Just look at it.
The one thing I’m not a big fan of is the new 3-inch articulating LCD, namely because the only way to tilt the screen toward you is by sticking it out to the side of the camera. More often than not, this made it hard to ensure my subjects were centered. Although I rely on the high-res 2.36-million-dot electronic viewfinder for most of my shots, the display becomes essential when you’re recording videos or using the touchscreen to browse menus and tweak your settings. Aside from that, I love the E-M1 Mark II’s design, but that’s easy for me to say since I’m familiar with the previous version.
As you’d expect based on its spec sheet, the E-M1 Mark II produces beautiful images. It didn’t matter how, where, when or who I was shooting — the camera always delivered at least one solid shot. Olympus says its new flagship is designed to make it easy for anyone, not just professionals, to capture great photos of moving subjects. Thankfully, since that’s not one of my strong suits, the E-M1 Mark II worked as advertised.
In particular, I was glad I had the 60-fps continuous shooting mode (with locked autofocus and autoexposure) at my disposal whenever needed. Whether I shot acrobats performing corde lisse (read: dancing on a vertical rope) or cars on the streets of New York, the camera didn’t have any problem keeping up.
But having a fast camera is only part of the equation. The new sensor, lag-free electronic shutter, improved AF and in-camera image stabilization are what allow the E-M1 Mark II to shine in different scenarios. I was incredibly surprised by how well the shooter handled low-light scenarios, with most of the images I took in the dark looking vibrant and showing little to no signs of noise. There’s an ISO range of 200-25,600, with automatic noise-reduction kicking in at slow shutter speeds. For reference, my review unit came paired with an M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm f/2.8 lens, which costs $1,000 on its own.
Despite some of the minor quirks I mentioned, the E-M1 Mark II is undoubtedly Olympus’ best mirrorless camera to date. But here’s the thing: I think the E-M1 Mark II’s main flaw, if you can call it that, is that it costs $2,000. That’s a lot more than competing cameras like the upcoming Sony A6500, which costs $500 less and arguably offers a better lens ecosystem. Sure, we haven’t put that one through its paces yet, but Sony’s track record in the mirrorless space speaks for itself.
I’m not saying the E-M1 Mark II isn’t worth it, but I have a hunch a lot of people will struggle to come to terms with that price. Especially if they can get similar results elsewhere. Still, if you can afford it and are are due for an upgrade, the E-M1 Mark II is a no-brainer.
To view my sample images at full resolution, click here.
24 hours with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
After being announced in September, Olympus’ OM-D E-M1 Mark II quickly became one of the most anticipated cameras of the year. And for good reason. The new flagship mirrorless, which will hit stores in December for $2,000 (body only), is loaded with high-end specs. That includes a 20.4-megapixel Live MOS sensor (Micro Four Thirds), a dual quad-core Truepic VIII image processor, 121-point autofocus system and in-camera stabilization. Above all, though, the E-M1 Mark II is about sheer speed, featuring 18-fps shooting with continuous autofocus and autoexposure enabled, or an insane 60 frames per second if those settings are locked.
While I’ve only been testing the camera for little more than a day, all of those specs have translated well in real-world use. At least so far. As advertised, the E-M1 Mark II makes capturing moving subjects a breeze, especially compared to its somewhat aging predecessor. That’s namely thanks to the new AF system and improved tracking performance. I also noticed right away how much heavier it feels than the original E-M1, likely due to the bulky 1,720mAh battery, which Olympus claims can handle around 440 shots per charge.
Engadget will publish a deeper dive in the coming days, but for now check out the sample images below.
To view our sample images in full resolution, click here.