If you’ve been jonesing for Olympus’ ultimate take on a mirrorless camera, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, you now know when to expect it… although it’s going to cost you. The flagship cam will arrive in stores by late December for $2,000 body-only in the US, or £1,850/£2,400 in the UK for respective body-only and 12-40mm f/2.8 kit lens versions. That’s a lot to shell out for a 20.4-megapixel Micro Four Thirds shooter, but Olympus is betting that the E-M1 Mark II’s tricks are worth the money.
As before, it’s mostly about speed. The sensor, TruePic VIII processor and 121-point autofocusing system contribute to some extremely fast shooting. You can fire away at up to 18 frames per second with continuous autofocusing and autoexposure, or 60FPS with focus and exposure locked. There’s also a 120FPS electronic viewfinder, and a Pro Capture mode that eliminates delay by buffering photos the moment you half-press the shutter button. Not that Olympus isn’t concerned about quality: on top of a higher dynamic range and lower noise at high ISO levels, you can shoot stills in an effective 50-megapixel mode and record 4K video in the wider-aspect Digital Cinema Standard (4,096 x 2,160). You’re paying a premium, but you should be getting a lot.
Source: Olympus (US), (UK)
The Portrait mode for Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus has been in the works for months, and now it’s ready for the masses… sort of. 7 Plus users running beta software have been able to shoot photos full of artificial bokeh for over a month now, but Apple just pushed out its iOS 10.1 update and Portrait mode came along for the ride. Now, here’s the thing: even though you don’t need to be enrolled in the iOS beta program to use the feature anymore, the feature itself still isn’t completely done. Once the update is installed, the camera app asks if you’d like to “try the beta” when you swipe into the new Portrait position.
Our professional recommendation? Dive right in. Portrait mode might not be completely complete, but it’s still capable of producing seriously nice headshots. In case you missed it the first time around, the feature uses the iPhone 7 Plus’s two cameras in tandem — the primary 12-megapixel sensor captures the image as normal, but the second, wide-angle sensor is used to determine how far away the subject is. All of that data gets mashed up into a nine -layer depth map, providing the context needed to artfully blur out backgrounds while keeping faces and subjects closer to the phone remain crisp and intact. Apple’s goal was to build a dead-simple photography experience that yields pictures that look like they were shot on expensive SLR cameras, and for the most part, Apple’s work is very impressive.
This photo represents well the sort of quality you can expect out of Portrait mode: the focus stays locked on the face and hands, and the windows in the background are blurred pretty dramatically. Thanks to that nine-layer depth map, you can see areas where blurring is very subtle, like the top of the subject’s head and the bottom of her scarf.
You don’t need to take photos of people to get some mileage out of Portrait mode, either. Have cats prancing around? Or a sweet new mug you need to share? In my experience, as long as you’re within proper range (the app tells you when you are) and there’s enough contrast between the foreground and background, you’ll get that pleasant background blurring.
It’s when you’re in well-lit environments with lots of similar colors that Portrait mode seems to have trouble — that’s often when you’ll see edges blurred when they shouldn’t be. Just check out this photo of a cactus precariously perched on a railing. The camera didn’t have trouble differentiating between the cool blue of the pot and the trees in the background, but it obviously had trouble telling where the cactus ended and the trees began.
These disappointments are rare, though, and will probably get ironed out as people continue to put Portrait mode through its paces. Most of the big problems have been solved — now Apple just has to focus on the fine-tuning (which is obviously easier said than done). At this point, Portrait mode is still far from perfect, but there’s a lot to like about just how simple it is to use. It’s fast, it’s impressive and it’s only going to get better with time. Interested in taking it for a spin? Jump into your iPhone 7 Plus’s settings and mash that software update button — it’ll show up sooner or later.
Look, we know — it’s hard to get excited about home security cameras. However, Netgear is determined to stand out with a camera that ticks virtually every checkbox on the list. Its new Arlo Pro is not only wireless (with the option of plugging in), but touts an ultra-wide 130-degree viewing angle and weatherproofing. Yes, you can stick this on a tree with the knowledge that it could easily spot an intruder in the pouring rain. That includes at night, too, thanks to night vision and an infrared motion sensor.
There’s more. The Pro now has two-way audio, so you can tell the courier where to leave that package, and a smart siren can automatically blast at over 100 decibels if there’s any motion or sound. You can check on your camera from an Apple TV, too. And to top it off, a motion recognition update coming later this year will use machine learning to recognize objects and determine which movement is actually worth your attention. It should ignore pets and swaying branches, for example, but flag humans.
The base Arlo Pro system is available right now for $250, with extra cameras costing $190 each. If you plan around-the-clock wireless monitoring, however, you’ll want to consider both a battery charging station ($60) and extra batteries ($50 each). Netgear’s system could be relatively expensive as a result, but look at it this way: it covers enough bases that you might not have to consider another camera for long, long while.
With the introduction of its RX100 series in 2012, Sony raised the bar for point-and-shoot cameras. As such, it’s no surprise that the latest model can do things like capture JPEG and RAW photos at a mind-boggling 24 frames per second. The RX100 V is all about speed, driven by a 20.1-megapixel 1-inch sensor and an autofocus system that, according to Sony, meets and exceeds the requirements of any professional photographer. That may be a marketing hyperbole, but I did shoot with the RX100 V last night and the results are impressive. Especially for a camera that fits in my pocket.
I’ll hold off on making any final judgements until Sony sends a review unit to Engadget HQ. But, for now, I can tell you that the RX100 V’s burst shooting mode is as good as it seems on paper. And you can’t help but crack a smile when you listen to that shutter fire shot after shot in quick succession. The sample images we have here were taken at a studio in New York City, which Sony decked with different performers for members of the media to use as subjects.
We’ll have more on the RX100 V soon. Stay tuned.
To view our sample images in full resolution, click here.
Recently, GoPro unveiled an entirely new product lineup. Not just the new Hero5 Black ($399) and Hero5 Session ($299), but also the Karma drone, a surprise handheld gimbal — known as the Karma Grip — and a brand new cloud service called GoPro Plus. While it’s going to be another week or so before we can get our hands on the Karma drone, I had a chance to spend some time with the new flagship Hero5 Black and its sidekick, the Hero5 Session. Both come with some exciting, long awaited new features, which I’ll lay out in detail below. With many of the upgrades addressing common pain points, it’s clear that this year, GoPro was mainly focused on polishing the user experience.
Until the Hero5, pretty much every new GoPro camera was defined by an increase in resolution. The first Hero HD was 1080p, the Hero2 added bumped photos from 5 to 11 megapixels, and so on until the Hero4, which ushered in 4K at 30 frames per second. The Hero5 Session gets an upgrade this time around, also joining the 30fps/4K club (the original Session maxed at 1440p). But with the Hero5 you won’t see any upgrades of that sort.
In particular, there’s no 4K/60fps shooting mode, as some might have hoped for. In fact, the Hero5 Black’s sensor is the same one found in the Hero4 Black. That’s not a bad thing, per se — you can still record in 4K, with additional options for 2.7K/60fps, 1080p at up to 120fps, and super slow-mo 720p at 240fps (plus all the quirky formats like 1440 that GoPro users will be familiar with).
That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything new here. In fact, the Hero5 and Hero5 Session come with a bevy of updates that make the cameras much more useful. Many of the new features come to both the Session and the Hero5 Black, though the flagship Hero5 gets a few extra tricks to keep its position at the top.
New for Hero5 Black
Perhaps the most obvious change with the Hero5 Black is that it’s waterproof without a housing (the original Session and therefore new Hero5 Session already were). This means you won’t need a separate case to protect it. The upsides are obvious: Though the naked camera is a smidge bigger than the Hero4 Black (a millimeter or so each side), it’s considerably smaller than the Hero4 encased in its housing (which is how you most often see it). The result is that the Hero5 Black is much more pocket friendly, and you won’t need to pry open the case just to charge it or access the memory card.
The native waterproofing “only” works to a depth of 33 feet/10 meters, but that should be good enough for the vast majority of people. If you like, you can still buy a case for added protection up to 196 feet/60 meters. I took the Hero5 Black for several prolonged dips in the Mediterranean, and it’s much nicer to swim with the smaller camera. The rear LCD (also new) was still usable, though at times it took a few attempts to get my taps to register — something most phone owners can relate to.
Another added benefit is that without a case, the camera’s microphones record better audio both in the water or on land. The classic “rattle” you hear on GoPro many water-based videos isn’t yet a thing of the past, but the setup here is much less distracting.
There is a downside to the new design, however: The Hero5 won’t fit many accessories such as drone/handheld stabilizers that were specifically designed for the Hero3 and 4. Ditto for any accessory that uses the rear connector, since the Hero5 no longer has one (now everything goes through either the USB-C or HDMI ports on the side). I tried jury-rigging the Hero5 into a Feiyu-Tech handheld stabilizer (pro-tip: use a hairband to hold it in place) and it worked pretty well. It’s not ideal, but it might ease the transition for those with a sizable GoPro accessory kit.
The benefits of not needing a case will likely outweigh the downsides for most people — though of course if you’re invested in certain accessories, you’ll need to consider if the Hero5’s other new features are enough to sweeten the deal.
Rugged cameras and GPS go together like jam and peanut butter. Not if you owned a GoPro, though. This seemingly obvious feature has been conspicuously absent from the Hero lineup — until now. GoPro’s still not going all in, though. While the Hero5 Black does have a GPS sensor, it doesn’t do much right now other than tag your videos and photos with the location where you shot them. If you were hoping for Garmin-style data overlays showing your speed, height, location, et cetera, you’ll have to wait a bit longer. Those feature are coming, at least: GoPro recently scooped up Dashware, a company dedicated to exactly that kind of thing, so it’s only a matter of updating the software, a GoPro rep told me. Besides, and GoPro’s not shy about adding features after the fact.
Touchscreen and user interface
The Hero4 Silver was the first GoPro with a touchscreen. That single feature made it our top pick for most people, besting the screen-less (but more advanced) Hero4 Black. This time around there is no Hero5 Silver; GoPro just added a touchscreen to the Black and made the Hero5 Session the step-down model. The Hero5’s display is slightly larger than that the one on the Hero4 Silver, thanks in part to the removal of the bus port on the back. As I found too, it’s clearly visible even in direct sunlight.
Perhaps the bigger story, though, is the user interface, which feels more more simple compared to the Hero4. Access different menus (e.g., gallery, settings, camera modes) by swiping from one of the four of the edges, where’ll you then find related submenus. You might encounter a small learning curve if you’re familiar with the old UI, but I find it’s faster and easier to use once you get the hang of it.
Some of the submenus require you to scroll or swipe through options, much like on your phone. At times, the menu wasn’t always as responsive as I’d hoped, often switching back to the previous selection or registering a swipe as a tap and choosing a menu option by mistake. This didn’t happen every time — it seemed to occur more in humid weather or when my hands were wet — but it was very annoying when it did happen. When it works, though, navigating options and viewing menus is an improved experience. It’s also great that the flagship camera now has the touchscreen it deserves (remember, the Hero4 Black didn’t have one, but the Silver version did).
Advance image capture modes
Just weeks before the Hero5 launch, GoPro updated the Hero4’s firmware adding manual white balance, ISO and shutter settings. The humble action camera might be about living in the moment, but plenty of photographers like to get their hands dirty with manual controls. The Hero5 comes with the same manual exposure controls plus — drumroll, please — support for RAW image files. This is great news for those who want to develop their own digital images. It’s also an advanced feature that will keep GoPro in favor with professionals.
The slider above shows an automatically generated image by the camera (left) and a self-developed one from a RAW file (right). You can make similar corrections in using a photo editor, but the RAW file means you can develop several different versions while keeping the original source info intact.
Unlike some formats, the RAW files on the GoPro won’t eat into your memory card. In fact, often the “.GPR” file (compatible with Adobe Light Room and Camera Raw) is smaller in size compared to the accompanying .JPG (about 3.6MB compared to an average of 4.3MB for a 12-megapixel shot).
If, on the other hand, you do want a little help with your exposure, the Hero5 Black comes with a so-called WDR mode. It’s similar to the HDR function found on many other cameras, just with GoPro calling it “wide” dynamic range, instead of high. If you’re taking photos looking into the sun, or where there’s a great variation of light levels, WDR mode can help you get a more balanced exposure.
In my experience, WDR mode has a modest effect, usually adding some brightness to shaded areas in the foreground, or around the area of focus. Usually this is a welcome change, but depending on the general exposure and light conditions, it can emphasize parts of the image that are grainy or not in focus. In the example below the WDR image is on the right. As you move the slider, you can see that the bushes in the center looks more fuzzy, while the grass beneath and in front appears sharper.
Given the flexibility of RAW files, this might be a better option for those with time to edit after the fact, but WDR is a handy option if you’re in a hurry. Keep in mind, though, that you can only use one mode at a time, so if your memory card and schedule allow, go with RAW.
Not so much of a new feature, but the battery inside the Hero5 Black is different than the one used in the Hero4 and Hero3. This too is bad news if you’ve built up a collection, as the ability to interchange them was always something of a bonus, especially given how easy it is to burn through one. Worse, GoPro tells me that the batteries in the Hero5 have a chip on them that only allows official cells to work. Of course, the company line is that this ensures the best user experience with only approved batteries working, but that pretty much wipes out the cottage industry of third-party (and usually cheaper) batteries that many people like to stock up on.
As for battery life, in my tests it managed just over two hours of constant recording at 1080p/30fps without GPS or any of the other energy-draining modes. Incidentally, this is almost exactly the amount of time it’ll take to fill up a 32GB SD card. The Hero5 Session faired worse, clocking in between an hour and a half and an hour and 45 minutes.
New for both cameras
Unsurprisingly, the pricier Hero5 Black got the lion’s share of new tricks, but there are some decent upgrades that apply to both cameras, including some features GoPro users have been demanding. The addition of these to the cheaper Hero5 Session make the smaller camera a tempting proposition. If you can live without the LCD and some of the advanced image modes, but still want 4K (and the features below), the $300 Hero5 Session is definitely worth considering.
“GoPro start recording.” Expect to hear that a lot this winter on the slopes. Both new cameras respond to a slew of voice commands that let you start and stop recording, take photo bursts, set a highlight tag, shoot pictures, change modes and switch the camera off. This is great for when you have the camera mounted just out of reach (selfies!), or when pressing the button would ruin the moment like jumping off a cliff (or small diving board, in my case).
Voice commands are available in seven languages: English (US and UK), French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese. It works well — once you stop being self-conscious about speaking to your camera. Often I found myself using voice commands even when I didn’t strictly need to; it was easier to say “GoPro take photo” than navigate the menus, change modes and press the shutter. Be warned that if there’s a lot of wind or background noise, the camera often won’t hear you and you’ll miss your shot. Or, at the very least, you’ll feel a bit silly having to say the command again.
There’s also a secondary benefit/downside, which will depend on whether you have idiot friends or multiple GoPros: The Hero5 literally responds to anyone’s voice. So, on the plus side, if you have a few cameras rigged up, you can easily trigger them all at once. On the down side, so can anyone else within speaking range. Pranksters can easily say “GoPro, stop recording” to ruin your moment, or of course by accident. To counter this, GoPro says future versions will learn your voice similar to Siri, but for now it’s open season. The cameras come with a list of commands, but there are a few easter eggs not included on the list that are actually genuinely useful (hint: they are mostly things people say after landing a trick or doing something exciting).
This is another biggie: Both Hero5 cameras finally have built-in stabilization. There are some caveats, though. It’s not full optical image stabilization (OIS) like what Sony’s Action Cam has. Instead it’s electronic stabilization (EIS), which means the camera is using software to stabilize the image. Typically, OIS is the preferred method, as this steadies the image when it enters the camera. EIS trims a little bit of the image around the edges, and uses that as a buffer to digitally create a sense of stability.
The good news is that it works well. In early side-by-side testing, while walking with two cameras side by side (one with EIS, one without), the resulting image is clearly less jittery and prone to any sort of “jelly” effect — a common occurrence in video shot with a handheld grip. As we noted in our initial hands-on, there is some noticeable distortion around the edge of the image, as the center point tends to remain fixed while the software adjusts the rest on the fly. Side note: When activated, this feature will eat into your battery life.
The addition of EIS is going to be well received, but stabilization is actually a huge part of Karma too. That drone features its own mechanical stabilizer, which GoPro designed to be removable so it can be converted into a handheld gimbal as well. In fact, stabilization is so vital to the Hero5 with Karma, that we plan to give this feature a much more through test in our Karma review. For now, though, suffice to say that the in-camera EIS will smooth out your basic footage, with the trade-off being a dent in battery life and some light distortion at the edges.
A video posted by James Trew (@thatstrew) on Oct 4, 2016 at 7:57am PDT
GoPro is pretty much synonymous with the fish-eye lens at this point. It works well for a lot of action sports, but for casual videos it can be a distraction. As GoPro cameras find their way into the pockets of those just looking for a versatile, rugged shooter, the constant fish-eye has become a bugbear for many. You could always remove it via desktop software, or reduce it on the camera by shooting in a medium field of view, but both of those options felt like a compromise. Now, there’s Linear mode.
As you may have guessed, Linear mode removes the curved effect of the fish-eye lens, resulting in nice, straight lines — whether it’s the horizon, or a lamp post — just as nature intended. Again, it works well. So well, in fact, that it’s tempting to keep it on. But be warned: It’s another feature that’ll tax your battery. It will also slightly crop your image as the “straightened” version will inevitably be longer. Below is another slider with a regular shot and the same picture with Linear mode applied. This is especially pertinent to Karma, as aerial videos are plagued by curved horizons with a fish-eye lens. Not a problem anymore.
Apps and GoPro Plus
GoPro has made a lot of progress with the apps that you use in tandem with your camera, particularly on mobile. The main app for your phone has been rebranded Captur, and although its functionality mostly remains the same, the pairing process with the camera has been greatly improved. I used to generally avoid using the GoPro app unless I really needed to, because it always seemed to not connect properly or forget my camera completely. (I do change phones more than most, to be fair.) The setup process was also laborious, involving connecting to the camera’s WiFi hotspot, doing a little dance and hoping you remembered your password. Not anymore. Just switch the camera on, the app will find it, and basically that’s it. Much, much improved.
This brings me to GoPro Plus, a $5-per-month cloud service that will store 35 hours of video, 62,500 photos or some combination thereof. Again, this is an area where we’re likely to go into more detail when we review Karma, but I was able to try it and get a sense for how it works. The premise is simple: Come back from your day outdoors, plug your GoPro in to charge and it’ll automatically upload your videos and photos to the cloud. These files will then be available in the Captur mobile app or the Quik desktop app where you can use them to create edited videos.
The idea is that editing will be even more convenient. And it does, but my personal workflow is already built around handling memory cards and offline files. So now I find I’m manually importing for the most part, with Plus serving as a handy backup. As with all cloud services, the bottleneck is with the uploading and the downloading on the other end. GoPro tells me that eventually cloud videos will be directly editable from the Quik mobile app (currently only offline videos are available). Once this is the case, Plus will be much more useful.
Cloud services have great potential, but there’s also a downside: the monthly cost. Five dollars isn’t a huge amount, and you get access to a large library of free-to-use music in addition to your storage space. But with Google and others offering a basic service for free, Plus will mostly appeal to hardcore GoPro users — in the beginning, anyway. Not least because it’ll also get you a 20 percent discount on accessories, so it could pay for itself if you’re the spendy type.
If you’re not ready for the cloud just yet, GoPro also introduced a mobile accessory called the “Quik Key,” which is essentially an iOS- or Android-compatible microSD card reader on a key fob that costs $20 for Android phones, or $30 for iOS. Place your memory card in the fob and stick it into your phone, and it’ll open the Quik app automatically, making file transfers incredibly fast and efficient. This is basically GoPro’s mission: to get you making mini movies as easily as possible, and Plus, Quik Key and the Quik app are all designed with this goal in mind. My favorite combination is Quik Key and the mobile app. The first mini edit I made with this combination was simple and suprisingly fun. It makes you want to do more, and the best part is there’s no need to sit hunched over a computer.
GoPro made its name by making tough, little cameras. Over time, those cameras got more and more capable, but in the race for more features, some of the fundamentals seemed overlooked. With Hero5 Black and Hero5 Session, GoPro has made a big push to rectify these neglected areas. Some of the new features are still under-exploited (GPS, Plus etc.), but for the first time in a while, GoPro looks like it has a clear vision.
The cameras are much simpler to use. Heck, more fun to use too — and getting video and photos out of them is easier than ever. There are still a few areas for improvement, though. I’ll never stop wanting more battery life from a GoPro, and I’d love optical image stabilization, as well as some general image improvements. But all in all, this is a strong response from GoPro to a turbulent 18 months.
Photos by Edgar Alvarez.
I’ve tested a handful of Fujifilm cameras over the years, but none of them have convinced me to switch from my shooter of choice, the Sony A7 II. That full-frame sensor is hard to beat. But, with the recently announced X-T2, I might be willing to reconsider. Fujifilm’s new flagship mirrorless offers everything you’d want from a $1,600 (body-only) camera: sleek design, top-notch performance and, most importantly for some, a robust lens ecosystem.
Inside the X-T2 you’ll find a 23-megapixel (APS-C) X-Trans CMOS III sensor — a big improvement over the 16.3 megapixels on the two-year-old X-T1. It’s also the same sensor used by another Fujifilm high-end mirrorless camera, the X-Pro2. What powers this particular camera, though, is an X-Processor image chip that, according to the company, has been designed to produce an accurate autofocus system regardless of scenario. All told, there are 325 single AF points, plus 91 zone, which gives you a sizable coverage area when trying to lock in on a person or item.
And it works as expected. In the month I’ve spent shooting with the X-T2, the camera has quickly and accurately focused on subjects, moving or still. What’s more, autofocus performance hasn’t suffered when I’ve tested it in low-light conditions, which isn’t something I can say about most mirrorless cameras. Speaking of low light, the X-T2 features an ISO range of 100-21,600 (or 52,000 in “High” mode) and continuous shooting at eight frames per second — both respectable specs for a camera in this class.
As I mentioned earlier, the camera was able to handle active subjects with ease, though I do wish I could have tested it in a more challenging scenario than simply roaming the streets of New York City. Something like a sporting event. The X-T2 also performs well in the dark — most of the shots I took in low light came out sharp and free of noise. For reference, I used the X-T2 with two Fujinon lenses, an XF10-24mm f/4 and XF16-55mm f/2.8.
If you want to get the most out of the X-T2 though, you’re going to have to spend an additional $329. That’s the price of Fujifilm’s external grip peripheral, which takes the camera’s continuous shooting speeds from eight to 11 frames per second. It also gives you the ability to record 30 minutes of 4K video in a single shot versus 10 minutes without. You get two extra batteries as well — enough power to save you from a panic attack or two. Without the add-on, Fujifilm says its X-T2 can take 340 shots on a single charge with regular use (whatever that means to you).
Of course, you could argue that the X-T2’s headline feature is 4K video. This is, after all, the first X-series camera to boast this feature. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, there are limitations to what you can do. While the camera can capture 4K (3,840 x 2,160) at 24, 25 and 30 frames per second, it only lets you record up to 10 minutes at once — unless you have that external grip. The company claims it made that decision in order to keep the camera from overheating, but it’s hard to forgive when this isn’t an issue with with less-expensive models like Sony’s A6300 mirrorless ($1,000 for the body).
Aside from that, the X-T2’s 4K footage is crisp and vibrant, thanks largely to that 23-megapixel X-Trans CMOS III sensor. Even so, my favorite parts about Fujifilm’s new shooter are the physical controls. That’s Fujifilm’s signature trait, and here, everything seems to be placed perfectly along the compact weather-resistant body. Adjusting the ISO, exposure and shutter dials feels effortless — so much so that I only used the three-inch tilting touchscreen when I needed to tweak things like white balance. That, along with when I’d manually choose my focus points, were also about the only times I wish the display responded to touch input.
I also wish the settings menu were more concise and easier to navigate. The user interface feels dated and cumbersome, to the point where a simple task like formatting your SD card can take a few minutes to figure out. You’ll manage eventually, but it shouldn’t take so many clicks to find that option. On the other hand, similar to its predecessor, the X-T2 has WiFi, making it easy to control remotely and transfer media to an iOS or Android device. Once you’ve downloaded Fujifilm’s app, you can do things including touch to focus and preview images.
All in all, the X-T2 exceeded my expectations. I have friends who swear by the brand, often praising its premium quality and sound ergonomics. Still, I hadn’t been able to relate until now. That’s not to say I didn’t think much of the company’s digital cameras — I just hadn’t come across a mirrorless model that I felt comfortable shooting with. The X-T2, however, is one that I may have to seriously think about buying.
To view our sample images in full resolution, click here.
Three brightly colored boxes sit in the middle of the table. Alex Klein, co-founder and CEO of Kano, takes the yellow one and pops open the lid, revealing an array of small plastic parts inside. They sit neatly in the foam, begging to be plucked out and examined. A transparent case. Lenses and a flash ring. Some have a Post-it note on top, the word “best” scribbled in biro. Klein chuckles, admitting that some of the parts “may be completely busted.” I don’t mind. At this point, Kano is still a few weeks out from its next Kickstarter campaign. It’ll be a while before the kits are put into mass production.
A camera, a speaker and a light board. Kano is pitching all three as a new, friendly way for children to learn about electronics and computing. Each pack comes with a booklet featuring step-by-step instructions, rather like a Lego set. You pull out the parts and clip them together, learning what each of them does and how they contribute to the final product. Once you’ve completed the build, you can hook up a laptop, tablet or smartphone and program its behavior. Kano’s new web-based software includes a bunch of creative projects, all of which teach you to code along the way.
The kits are more than toys. They’re tools, designed to educate and entertain in equal measure. If you buy the camera kit, for instance, you’ll learn how to program a timer. Then, how to trigger the flash. Or a colored flash. A remote trigger. A camera that can shoot automatically when someone walks by. An animated GIF. The list goes on. Once you’ve learned the underlying bits of code, you can begin remixing the blocks and creating your own projects. Maybe you want to capture a robin that frequents your garden bird box. Or shoot a time lapse at the beach. Kano’s kits encourage this kind of experimentation.
Not a fan of traditional photography? No problem. Kano’s light board has a whole different set of capabilities. You’ll start off slow, learning how to switch on all of the lights with code. You’ll then graduate to twinkling effects, which can be manipulated every time you clap or move toward the grid. Trickier challenges will teach you how to make a smiley face, a weather monitor and a live, updating scoreboard for your favorite team. Thanks to the tilt sensor, you can even program a simple driving game.
The kits are a logical progression for the company. Kano burst onto the scene in 2013 with a crowdfunding campaign for a Raspberry Pi–based computer. The underlying board was already quite popular, and with good reason: It was small, cheap and surprisingly capable. Many felt it was the perfect hardware for teaching children about coding. There’s truth to that argument, but a problem persists: For parents and teachers with zero technical knowledge, it can be a daunting purchase. Kano’s idea was to package it up as a colorful, easy-to-follow construction kit. The board would come preloaded with software, aimed specifically at kids, that could teach them the basics of programming. A polished, but open, system.
The Kickstarter was a resounding success, collecting more than $1.5 million in 30 days. The project hit a chord with developers in particular, who wanted to spark an interest in their children or relatives. To date, Kano has sold over 100,000 computer kits in 86 countries.
In 2015, the team started work on what is now the speaker kit. Klein says the plan was to launch this product for Christmas, but he soon realized that “the technical challenge was absolutely massive.” It needed a new, custom single-board computer, and a software platform that lived on the web. “We couldn’t rely on a Linux operating system for this, because we wanted you to be able to control and code it from any device, including a MacBook and an iPhone,” he explains.
At the same time, Kano had received some interesting research about its users. Children who had a dedicated screen for their Kano — meaning they weren’t using the TV in their living room, or sharing a monitor with another PC — were far more engaged with the coding software. Sensing an opportunity, the company decided to “hold on the sound kit” and focus its efforts on a screen pack instead. The 10-inch display was mostly functional, with space around the back to store the Kano computer and its accompanying keyboard. It did, however, also come with some new “content and challenges,” as well as a magnifying glass that encouraged children to peek at the screen’s individual pixels.
A shift in thinking
Klein thinks of the monitor as the “completion” of Kano 1. The three new sets, he says, can be thought of as Kano 2. It’s no longer about computer kits, but “systems” that facilitate more interesting projects.
Such a shift in thinking was driven by Kano’s community. The team was looking at “Kano World,” a hub where users can share their code, for interesting user-created projects. Over time, they noticed that the best ones fell into one of three categories: photography, music and data. One family in Oklahoma, for instance, had hooked up their Kano to a monitor and a camera. With little guidance, they had written a custom script to capture flowers slowly blooming in their garden. Elsewhere, a musician in New York was using his Kano to power a visualizer. It would strobe and pulse in time with the music, thrilling crowds at his local concerts.
“Data” is a little trickier to describe. Klein points to the stripped-back version of Minecraft that comes bundled with each Kano. It’s a modified version with distinct challenges that require code-like commands to progress. “People would use that and hook it up to an API so that their Minecraft counter would run forward depending on the time of day,” Klein explains. “Simple stuff, but cool.” Kano, the company realized, had removed an important barrier associated with setting up the Raspberry Pi. People were now encouraged to go further, setting up projects that combined new hardware and code. “What we’re doing with these new kits is blowing that out,” Klein adds.
The new approach might surprise some people. Do you really need these kits to learn how to code? Can’t children just learn with their laptop and a stable internet connection? After all, so many jobs are about building apps and businesses on the web. It’s a narrow-minded approach, but one that does hold merit: You can learn an awful lot using sites such as Codecademy. Klein thinks a little differently, however. The learn-to-code movement, he says, isn’t about turning everyone into the next Mark Zuckerberg or Sundar Pichai.
“It’s more to do with the ability of your everyday person to understand and manipulate data,” he says, “than it does necessarily moving a cat across a screen, or even making a personal web page — because they’re so easy to do. A lot of it is about how an individual, a human being, can make connections between data, the physical world and a problem that they have, an itch they want to scratch, something they want to express. It’s not necessarily about making Clash of Clans millionaires anymore.”
“The more you can relate it to our most instinctive mode of thinking, which is physical, the more that it makes sense to people.”
Kano hopes that the kits will appeal to a broader range of people — not just children but adults too. Anyone who’s curious about the objects they use every day. “Learning this new way of thinking is hard,” Klein says. “I still find it hard. I didn’t start when I was nine, and I kinda wish I had. It really is a new way of thinking, and the more you can relate it to our most instinctive mode of thinking, which is physical, the more that it makes sense to people.”
A different path
The company’s direction could have been quite different. At one point, Kano considered doubling down on its computer kit. The original Kickstarter had been a huge success, after all, and the community had shown interest in the screen add-on too. Why not go further? A battery pack, an antenna, a series of speakers — Kano could explain each of them in turn and build out people’s understanding of the modern PC. But Klein ultimately decided against it, sensing that these new products “wouldn’t really be as in the spirit of the company.” I tend to agree. The new camera, speaker and pixel kits feel more ambitious and educational. The potential to experiment and learn new skills is far higher.
Inside Kano HQ, Klein starts to show me the build process for the light board. As he flicks out the manual and selects the appropriate parts, I’m struck by how clean and polished everything looks. The kits are colorful and approachable, while maintaining a do-it-yourself, handmade feel. Kano’s goal is to simplify the complexity associated with electronics, but if the parts are too well packaged — cloaked in too much soft, rounded plastic — it doesn’t feel like you’re making something, well, real.
Klein says it’s a balance. The team thinks carefully about how the parts should come together. Levers give way to tiny sliding mechanisms. The lenses are attached with magnets, rather than cumbersome screws. Instead of a normal printed circuit board (PCB), raw and “grinning” with “gnarled teeth,” it’s refined, with enough cues to suggest what’s inside. I pick up the tilt sensor, a thumb-size piece of plastic with a circular top. A shallow trench houses a ball bearing that freely spins around. “That aesthetic you’re describing reflects the main point, in a sense, of the company,” Klein muses. “Which is, in a word, to resolve the Jobs-Woz crisis. To prove that it’s possible to have a modular, DIY creative system that the user controls, but that’s also really simple and human and tells a good story.”
Nailing “simple and “human” isn’t always easy, however. “It’s hugely challenging, because you really don’t know until you put it in the hands of a curious and oftentimes skeptical 10-year-old, 12-year-old or 26-year-old,” Klein says. “All of your assumptions about what is going to be simple are overturned in about five minutes. And that’s just for the build process; the software is the same. Each kit is a much more complicated build than the original Kano computer, and so we have to go through it hundreds and hundreds of times.”
Finishing the kits
The three kits will have a staggered release next year. Kano is preparing the camera kit first, and hopes to have a developer version out before the end of the year. Regular backers will receive the pixel kit in January, followed by the camera in May and the speaker in July. That’s not to say Kano won’t have an exciting Christmas, however. The company has signed its first retail partnerships in the US, including ones with Toys “R” Us and Barnes and Noble. That means the original computer and screen kit will finally be available on store shelves, where parents and relatives will no doubt be prowling for holiday gifts.
“As simple and fun as Lego, but as powerful and future-peeking as an Apple product.”
The camera, speaker and light board should land in retail sometime next year, once Kano has fulfilled its Kickstarter pledges. It is, to put it mildly, an important 12 months for the company. One that could take it from a plucky upstart to a global computing powerhouse.
“This year is about convincing the people who maybe never knew, or were skeptical that coding is something they should do, and that their kids should do,” Klein explains. “It’s about making them aware of how fun, empowering and mainstream something like this can be. How it can bring you closer to your kids and prepare you for a new career. It’s about going from a niche, which will continue to be profitable for us, to the original purpose of the company, which is to create a new computing brand focused on creation. Making it as simple and fun as Lego, but as powerful and future-peeking as an Apple product.”
As if a report that Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel had been spotted wearing a pair of camera-packing sunglasses wasn’t enough, now Business Insider says it has an ad or demo video showing the product. Apparently posted to YouTube until it was taken down by a Snapchat claim, it shows “Spectacles by Snapchat” briefly, then video from the perspective of the wearer. There’s no indication of any augmented reality capabilities, but if you were creeped out by Google Glass you may get a similar feeling here. What we can see however, is that the round camera and logo shape may be an indicator of circular or spherical video, that displays correctly whether you’re watching on a display that is in landscape or portrait.
Two years ago, emails leaked from the Sony hacking revealed Snapchat’s purchase of a company, Vergence Labs, that was developing a product building video recording into glasses. Called Epiphany Eyewear, the prototypes looked similar to what has been spotted on Spiegel and in this video. There’s still no way to know how close these “Spectacles” are to production, but hopefully Snapchat will have its filter problems cleared up by then.
Source: Business Insider
Olympus is working on a new version of its flagship Micro Four Thirds camera, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, which sports a high-speed TruePic VIII Image Processor that’s 3.5 times faster than previous editions. The new camera also includes a 20.4 megapixel Live MOS sensor and an electronic shutter, allowing it to take full-resolution images at 60 frames per second in AF and AE lock, and up to 18 frames per second with continuous tracking.
Olympus promises the new flagship’s continuous AF tracking performance will be dramatically improved with a new algorithm aimed at following subjects on the move. The OM-D E-M1 Mark II has a new Pro Capture Mode designed to catch split-second moments and a 50 megapixel High Res Shot Mode that apparently rivals the detail captured by full-frame DSLRs.
The OM-D E-M1 Mark II also takes 4K video (4096 x 2060) and to help offset camera shake, it uses a 5-Axis Image Stabilization system and electronic stabilization specialized for movies. The camera is weathersealed, dustproof, splashproof and freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Its battery is improved by 37 percent over Olympus’ previous flagship model and the OM-D E-M1 Mark II has dual memory card slots.
Xiaomi’s camera ambitions go beyond action cams. It’s introducing the Xiaoyi M1, a Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera that promises solid performance (not to mention some familiar looks) for the money. This isn’t the most advanced camera between its 20-megapixel sensor, a maximum ISO 25,600 sensitivity, and the absence of either a built-in flash or an electronic viewfinder. However, it also starts at the equivalent of $330/£253 bundled with a 12-40mm f/3.5-5.6 lens ($450/£345 with a 42.5mm f/1.8 lens), and bears more than a passing resemblance to modern Leica cameras — it’s a relatively accessible and stylish entryway into the world of interchangeable-lens photography.
And it’s not as if the M1 doesn’t have a couple of tricks up its sleeve. You can effectively shoot 50-megapixel photos, and record 4K video at 30 frames per second. There’s also a 3-inch, 720 x 480 touchscreen to give you “phone-like” control, while Bluetooth and WiFi will help you share your photographic output with your smartphone.
The camera will sell through China’s JD.com on September 23rd. There’s no mention of an international release, although it won’t be surprising if online retailers are willing to import it. Just don’t expect to get quite as big a bargain by the time it reaches your door.
Via: Engadget Chinese (translated)