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My Mac, Myself

Posted on October 28th, 2016

Dave!And so, after months of waiting to upgrade my MacBook, Apple unleashed their latest and greatest pro laptops at a special media event yesterday.

Except they're not. Not really.

They're not the latest or greatest. They're woefully underpowered. Embarrassingly underpowered compared to the cutting edge releases in Windows World laptops. The CPU is a marginal improvement in power and speed over previous models... but who gives a shit about "marginal" in a "pro" machine? The Radeon GPU is borderline ridiculous compared to Nvidia's more powerful mobile chips, so why is Apple using them in a "pro" anything? And memory is still maxing out at 16 gigs, not 32? Seriously? In 2016? I regularly work on files larger than 16 gigs! The idea that these are "pro" laptops is laughable to a humiliating degree for Apple. Remember when a MacBook was the absolute king of laptops? So badass that even Windows developers were buying them? Well, those days are over.

Apple's new not-pro pro MacBook laptop

But, ooh... you get a "TouchBar" at the top of the keyboard! And, ooh... it's really thin!

Two things I could give a flying fuck about. I need... NEED... a beast of a portable machine that will allow me to work at peak performance with spec-crushing apps like Photoshop.

And while it would be nice to have an array of ports to handle all my peripherals without another fucking dongle... or, hell... even being able plug in my fucking iPhone without another fucking dongle... that's not a deal-breaker for me. And while it would be nice to have Apple's MagSafe power port that has saved my laptop from taking a header more than once when I tripped over the power cord... that's not a deal-breaker either.

I NEED A FUCKING MACBOOK PRO LAPTOP!

And giving me this "pro" machine that hasn't got cutting-edge performance IS a deal-breaker.

There is no reason whatsoever for me to trade in my 2012 MacBook Pro Retina for the new machine. Certainly not at the premium price tag Apple has slapped on the high-end 15-inch model (my preferred configuration runs $3099). And certainly not with a bezel on the display that is not even all the way around the screen... what an OCD nightmare.

Which leads to a question for Tim Cook, Jonathan Ive, and everybody else in charge at Apple... What in the fuck am I supposed to do now?

Switch to Windows so I can actually buy the tool I need to get my work done?

The MacBook Pro IS Macintosh. It has been for a while. So does Apple even give a shit that they are essentially killing off the Mac with what has to be the stupidest fucking move they could have made for the pro users who actually buy their OS X shit? I just don't understand. Did nobody working at Apple stop for two fucking seconds to think about what they were doing, then turn to Tim Cook and say "This is not what our pro users are needing"... nobody?

Apparently that's the case, and it speaks volumes as to just how badly Apple has lost their way. From all appearances, they haven't the slightest fucking clue what they're doing with OS X anymore. While this was somewhat apparent when they released their bizarre Mac Pro "tubes" that aren't really built for pro needs... it's deathly apparent with the release of their latest "pro" laptops.

When Steve Jobs died, I was never one of those people saying "Apple is doomed! They will never survive without Steve!" But more and more I'm thinking that I was wrong. Everybody at Apple seems to be obsessed with making things thinner and lighter with no regard whatsoever as to what that actually means to the end-user. Pro power requires a bigger, heavier form-factor to accommodate the chips, ports, and battery required. What good is a super-thin, super-light "pro" laptop if it's not powerful enough to do the job? Does Apple even give a fuck? Or is thin and light truly all they care about, even though it's not the top priority for their customers?

I am one of the biggest Apple Whores you will ever meet. I live and die by their products. A good chunk of my life is defined by their products... the Mac, in particular. Nobody wants to see Apple knock one out of the park more than I do. Nobody wants to spend money to buy the latest Apple laptop more than I do. Nobody loves the Mac more than I do.

And that's the problem.

I love the Mac more than Apple does.

Look where that's gotten us.

   

El Capitan

Posted on September 10th, 2015

Dave!And so... I've been using Mac OS X "El Capitan" Public Beta for a full day now.

Not terribly impressed. Some things I've observed in the past 16 hours...


  • First the crap news. Apple STILL hasn't given users an option to have the menu bar persist in full-screen apps. And I just don't get it. I would love to be able to work in full-screen. But I need the information in my menu bar. Like the clock, for instance. Like the battery level, for instance. Like my VPN status, for instance. Like my calendar, for instance. — But here's the weird thing. Apple has added a new feature which does exactly the opposite. You now have the option for hiding the menu bar when not in full-screen! WHAT THE FUCK?!?? WHY?!??
  • Visually, there's very little difference between Yosemite and El Capitan. The Spinning Beach Ball of Death is no longer gum-drop looking, but instead flattened out... and the system font has been changed a bit (for the better)... but that's about all I can see.
  • One of the major things Apple is touting for El Capitan is an overall speed increase. App switching twice as fast... Two times faster display of first message in Mail... Four times faster PDF display... etc. etc. I don't really notice such drastic increases, but I'll take Apple at their word. Unfortunately, this speed bump seems to be coming at a price. The fan on my MacBook Pro keeps coming on. In Yosemite, it rarely did. I don't know if this is a direct result of El Capitan... or perhaps one of my background apps (like anti-virus or DropBox or whatever) not being optimized for El Capitan. Hoping eventually it will get sorted out, because the fan noise is annoying.
  • I have found two incompatible apps so far. Fantastical 2 (download the beta for El Capitan), and SpanSieve (join the beta program to get a compatible version).
  • I am a Spaces super-user. If I ever had to go back to a Mac without virtual desktops, I'd go insane. There has been some changes to both "Spaces" and it's parent app "Mission Control"... that I guess are good moves. I don't like that you no longer see tiny representations of your Spaces any more until you mouse over them... just text saying "Desktop 1," "Desktop 2," etc. but it's not a deal breaker. Just makes it more difficult to remember where you put things.
  • Speaking of Spaces, Apple has now set "Dashboard" (their widget screen) OFF by default. I can only guess this means Dashboard is not long for this world, which fucking sucks. I set up Dashboard in my first Spaces slot and use it constantly.
  • Apple has added the option to do split-screen apps, but it's implementation is total shit. Press and hold on the green "stoplight" control in the menu bar and you can drop the app window on the left or right side of your display. In the case of Mail, the window just gets resized. In the case of Safari, the window is scaled. No, I have no idea why there's a difference. But here's where Apple shits the bed... the apps appear to be considered "full screen" when in their split-screen region. Since the menu bar is now both split AND hidden, things get messy very quickly. Apple apps are consistently screwed up this way, but with NON-Apple apps, it's so much worse. Go split-screen with Acrobat Pro and you lose the menu bar entirely! And the disasters don't stop there. Sometimes you can't get out of split-screen. Sometimes you go from split-screen to full-screen for no reason. Sometimes windows go inactive when in split-screen. And as if ALL THAT wasn't enough... you can't use split-screen across Spaces! The two windows you want to go split-screen have to be in the same Space! Insanity. The hits go on and on. I guess this might be a nice feature once the bugs are ironed out, but I'll probably stick with Moom for Window management.
  • Mail has a bunch of improvements... like tabs for composing multiple emails and gestures taken from iOS, which is nice. Being able to two-finger swipe on an email to rapidly trash a bunch of spam is sweet. But the one thing I really wanted for Mail didn't happen. A previous version of mail took away the user's ability to pick which SMTP server to use to send your message on the fly. This was a critical feature for me when traveling, and I'm pretty desperate to have it back. Nope. I understand wanting to simplify mail for people who don't need things like this... but come on. Give the people who need it the option to turn it on. Removing features like this is a big fuck-you from the "We Know What's Best for You" mentality at Apple. WARNING: For reasons unknown, I lost all my Mail account passwords after installing El Capitan. Luckily, I was able to get them out of Keychain on my office Mac since everything is synced (who remembers passwords anymore?) or else I'd be boned and have to change everything.
  • Apple's system-wide search tool, Spotlight, has always been a pile of shit. In trying to make things simple, Apple just made it harder to use, so I pretty much never use it. With El Capitan, Apple has added a bunch of new capabilities and features to Spotlight... use natural language for requests... get limited info from the internet like weather and sports scores... that kind of stuff. If possible, I hate spotlight even more now. It's just a big fucking mess and a huge distraction. Thank heavens for third-party solutions that actually do search right (EasyFind, Alfred, Tembo, HoudahSpot, etc.).

A lot of things I'd liked fixed/changed, to be sure. But the biggest is my laptop fan going off and on all day long. It just sucks to have to listen to it all the time when I rarely had to with previous OS X versions. If this is the cost for speed bumps I barely notice, then no thanks. Hopefully Apple is on the case.

UPDATE: After futzing around with the CPU monitor, I think that it's Mail that's the culprit. Even when running in the background, it's pegged at 138%+ CPU usage. Quitting Mail lets my laptop run much, much cooler. Guess I might be needing to find a new app for email.

   

Restoration

Posted on August 12th, 2015

Dave!The file restore from my cloud backup after my catastrophic drive failure is taking much, much long than I had anticipated... or hoped. I started the restore July 25th and they're telling me they're not even half-way done collecting the files.

Needless to say, this makes everything I do take far longer than it should.

Partly because I haven't yet received the afore-mentioned backup yet and have to request files to be downloaded from the cloud multiple times for each project I'm working on.

But mostly because those older file on local backup I DO have available are trapped on Apple's "Time Machine" technology.

I used to really love Apple's approach to backup but, now that I am forced to use it for something other than an occasional "oops" moment, it's just so horribly bad. The goofy "space vortex" interface is absolute shit for serious recovery. I finally abandoned it and started restoring directly from the Time Machine file bundle, but this has its problems as well. So many times I get an "ALIAS BROKEN" error and can't even get at the original file. Even worse, every time I get the error, the Finder snaps my search window closed... so instead of choosing an alternative file to restore, I have to start my search all over from the beginning. Like I said... bad.

So... once I get up and running again, Time Machine will be completely abandoned in favor of a more traiditional technology that actually... well, you know... works.

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iMac with Retina 5K Display

Posted on March 28th, 2015

Dave!Much to my shock and dismay, my faithful iMac died a horrible death for no apparent reason after a mere four(!) years. My guess is that the video card crapped out but, as you would expect from an all-in-one unit, it's not like I can rip into it and effect repairs. So I am now using a shiny new iMac with 5K Retina Display at work.

Since I have a Retina Display on my MacBook, which is admittedly very nice, I didn't think going full-Retina on my desktop would be a big deal.

I was so wrong. This display is the most glorious thing I've ever seen in my life.

The Sistine Chapel? Utter shit by comparison.

I don't want to look at anything else ever again unless it is displayed in this iMac...

The iMac with Retina 5K Display

I'm not sure how I managed to avoid sneaking into an Apple Store and taking a look at this jaw-dropping piece of Apple hotness over the past five months since release, but I'm kinda glad I didn't. Because firing up a 5K display and seeing just how amazing it looks is something you can only do once, and having it be on your own machine is priceless...

What's even more amazing than how it looks is what it costs. Or, more accurately, what it doesn't cost. To purchase a 5K display alone will cost you around $2,500. The iMac with Retina 5K Display starts at... wait for it... $2,500. And you can bet your ass that Apple's display is probably superior quality to boot. Which means the best 5K display on the market essentially comes with a pretty decent Mac attached for free.

To power such a massively beautiful display requires all kinds of technological advancements that Apple goes over in detail here. Sure it all sounds very impressive and everything... but there's simply no substitute for sitting in front of the machine and looking at some great quality photographs. Or reading small text. Or just looking at the icons in your Apps folder. Everything is so incredibly sharp... so mind-bogglingly vibrant... so orgasmically beautiful... that you have a hard time believing you're looking at a computer display. It's higher res than HD. It looks better than the best quality print you've ever seen. There's just no comparing it to, well, anything, really. The future is here, and it's stunning...

But what about that Mac part?

The computer itself tapers to a surprisingly thin 5mm on the edges and looks fantastic. I'm guessing there are fans in there but, if they ever turn on, I've not heard them. Overall its a gorgeous Mac that makes previous implementations look clunky and archaic by comparison.

I opted for the pricier 4GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7 chip, which is a pretty good performer. Sadly, it looks like this i7 is using the older "Haswell" architecture instead of the newer "Broadwell" chips that Intel has unleashed, but I don't know that the newer CPU would give me a terribly huge real-world advantage. Guess we'll just have to wait for the benchmarks when Apple catches up. In any event, it's plenty fast for the rather intensive applications I run, so there's no complaint there.

I also chose to upgrade the standard AMD Radeon R9 M290X 2GB GDDR5 to a full 4GB. I have no idea if the $250 price tag was a worthwhile investment, but I figured I'd rather be safe than sorry in case Photoshop needs the extra room when I have to work on massive-sized files.

Storage was a tough call for me. I have long-since given up on "regular" hard drives as boot drives, because once you've experienced the terrifying speeds of a Solid State Drive (SSD) you will never go back. But Apple has a technology called "Fusion Drive" which marries a 128GB SSD with a 1TB hard drive in a single volume. The system then optimizes your experience for fastest results by keeping commonly-used files (like the operating system) on the SSD and transferring seldom-used files to the HD. Probably because I haven't filled up my SSD section yet, but the disk access feels as fast as it ever was when using the SSD-only unit on my old Mac, so I'm happy.

Physical expansion is pretty much what you'd expect from a modern Mac... four USB-3 ports, a couple of Thunderbolt 2 ports, GB Ethernet, a headphone jack, and an SDXC card slot. No USB-C connector like on the brand new MacBook Pro, but that's no big deal for me, as I plan on sticking with Thunderbolt peripherals for the foreseeable future.

Everything else is pretty much current implementations of modern standards... including 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. This allows full AirDrop and Continuity support, which is much appreciated.

About the only thing you don't get is a CD SuperDrive, which is to be expected now-a-days. I can't tell you the last time I had to read or burn a CD, but it was knowing that I could do so if I needed to that added a bit of comfort to my previous iMac purchase. Oh well. Something tells me I won't be missing it.

And that's a wrap!

It's easy to recommend a Mac where the display alone is worth the cost of admission (both literally and figuratively)... even when that cost is $2,500. One look and you'll know it's worth every penny.

So don't look unless you have $2,500 burning a hole in your pocket.

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Categories: Apple StuffClick To It: Permalink  3 Comments: Click To Add Yours!  

   

Bullet Sunday 424

Posted on March 15th, 2015

Dave!All the world's troubles getting you down? Well, things are about to turn around... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• ELECTRA WOMAN AND DYNA GIRRRRRRRL! I don't know what's cooler... that they're resurrecting Electra Woman and Dyna Girl... or that they've tapped some amazing internet personalities for the leads. Daily Grace's Grace Helbig and My Drunk Kitchen's Hannah "Harto" Hart are (apparently) already filming the series...

   
Electra Woman and Dyna Girl!

Oh yeah! For the uninitiated, bask in the glory...

ELECTRA TRICKY! Can't wait.

   
• Gauntlet! I will never get tired of watching movie heroes being heroes in real life...

Robert Downey Jr.'s awesomeness really knows no bounds.

   
• John Lewis. And then there's real-life heroes. In case you missed it... so worth your time... so worth your time... so worth your time...

This terrific (albeit brief) interview from The Daily Show featured a mind-bogglingly good talk with Representative John Lewis, whose advocacy for civil rights is about as inspiring as anything you will ever find. As if THAT wasn't enough,.. John Stewart mentioned that Rep. Lewis had a couple of graphic novels out which presents his story in comic book form. And they are glorious. Fantastic art. Great story. Well worth your time to track down... and you can even purchase them digitally at Comixology... just $8 for Vol. One! Highest possible recommendation.

   
• Wonder? Where do I even start. Wonder Woman's new costume has to be one of the ugliest, most disorganized, least elegant, "toss in the kitchen sink" super-hero costumes ever. Just no...

   
New Wonder Woman Costume Disaster

The criticism has always been that Wonder Woman's costume shows too much skin to be taken seriously as a super-hero. Her costume is impractical. So, instead of tastefully updating her look to address these concerns, they just keep slapping more and more shit on her until now she looks like garbage.

And, as if that wasn't horrific enough, I give you the new Superman costume...

   
New Superman Costume Disaster

If that's what you can call it. More disturbing to me than this joke of a "costume" is that the artist has such a massively skewed idea of anatomy that Superman's legs are so long one has to wonder how he is able to sit in a chair. Who in the hell is running DC these days that total shit like this is seeing the light of day?

   
• Archie? Next up on the comic book makeover roster...

   
Archie Upgrade

Now... this one I get. They're trying to shift Archie away from his 1940's comic strip roots and move him into modern comic book times. By creating a more "realistic" version of the character, they're obviously trying to keep the Archie gang relevant in the year 2015. I don't know if this will be a successful reimagining, but they certainly did a good job of it.

   
• LOL! Yep, this pretty much sums up my impression of the new MacBook... LMFAO! LOL! ROTFL! LTIP!

"That's an extra $79 accessory!"

It's only a matter of time...

Heh.

   
• Lively! Murder. Uh huh. Genocide. Right. But is homosexuality worse than kicking a puppy? THAT'S what I want to know. I mean, come on, a little perspective here...

Disgusting. That people still listen to this bigoted piece of shit is just beyond my ability to comprehend. IT'S OVER, YOU STUPID FUCK! YOU LOST! SO JUST GO SIT IN THE CORNER WITH YOUR BIGOTRY AND BE THE PATHETIC LOSER YOU ARE!

   
Annnnnnd... Bullets, out!

   

Desktops

Posted on December 23rd, 2014

Dave!Virtual desktops have been around for a very long time. But it wasn't until Apple unleashed their version of the virtual desktops in 2007 (called "Spaces") that it became a seamless experience on Macintosh computers.

And essential. At least to me.

By creating multiple desktops using Apple's "Mission Control," you get clutter-free workspaces that you can switch between with a flick of the mouse or trackpad...

Mac OS X Spaces

Being able to give each of your Spaces a different background image so you can tell which desktop you're looking at is pretty cool. But the killer feature that makes Spaces so compelling is being able to anchor different apps to a specific desktop...

Mac OS X Spaces

So now when you click on an app icon in the dock, you are sent to the associate desktop automatically without having to keep sliding between all your Spaces. Nice. I've become so accustomed to using Apple's "Spaces" desktops that I don't even think about it anymore... it just The Way Things Are.

Until this morning when they stopped functioning for some reason.

I tried working without virtual desktops, but was quickly driven insane. Instead of effortlessly switching between Spaces I was having to hide and unhide apps... sort through piles of windows... constantly resize app panes... it was a nightmare of inefficiency and trauma. So much so that I wasted precious time Googling a solution (had to kill some prefs) so I could get back to work.

And now I'm a little paranoid... wondering which technology I take for granted every day is going to be the one that gives out next. We've let tech take over our lives bit by bit, and now it has become so integrated into how we function that we don't even notice it.

Until it's gone.

Holy crap don't let Angry Birds be next.

   

Bullet Sunday 400

Posted on October 1st, 2014

Dave!Everything's coming up picture perfect... because a very special Bullet Sunday on Tuesday FOUR HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY "WHAT'S IN YOUR CAMERA BAG" EDITION starts... now...

   
• Sony NEX-6 Camera. This is my main shooter, which I reviewed here back in May, 2013. Because it's a mirrorless camera, it is small, light, and perfect for travel... yet maintains the photo quality of a bigger, heavier DSLR. The one big caveat is that it doesn't have a full-frame sensor, so there's a crop factor for any full-frame lenses you attach. This actually ended up being a benefit on my recent trip to Africa, because my 70-200mm FE lens becomes a 105-300mm lens, making it much easier to zoom in on animals in the bush...

Hwange Lion Cub Goodbye

There's not much I don't like about the NEX-6... except the start-up time, which is kinda slow and did cost me a shot or two. Otherwise? A wonderful camera that is capable of delivering great photos. Will probably trade it in for a full-frame sensor camera before my next big trip (hopefully the successor to the Sony A7r.

16.1MP • ISO 100-25600 • $748 (discontinuted) • ★★★★☆

   
• Sony A7s Camera. I bought the latest Sony mirrorless camera specifically for night-shooting on my Africa trip. I knew there would be game drives in the evening, and wanted every possible advantage in getting clean shots. The A7s is made for this kind of shooting with its high ISO full-frame sensor, and gave me images I would have had a very hard time getting with any other camera. This post-sunset shot, for example, was taken in near-darkness. It was so dark that I could barely see, and didn't know what I had captured until after I looked at the camera's display...

Night Shooting with the A7s

Yes, things get a bit grainy when shooting at those monster ISO levels, but at least you get a shot...

Night Shooting with the A7s

For red-light safari drives in total darkness the A7s really shines, giving me shots that my NEX-6 couldn't hope to touch...

Night Shooting with the A7s

The A7s loves low light and, quite by accident one night, I discovered what this would mean if I shot the night sky...

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

The ability to shoot in near-blackout conditions comes at a price, however. The sensor resolution is a meager 12.2 megapixels. This will turn off a lot of photographers who equate megapixels with photo quality, as a 4240 x 2832 image seems weak compared to the 7360 x 4912 you'll get out of other cameras in this price range. But all the pixels in the world can't save a shot if your camera records a big black blob, so it was a trade-off I was happy to make. And after looking at the amazing photos I managed to get, I have zero regrets. The A7s has terrific video capabilities, but I'm not a video shooter, so I'm taking Sony's word for it.

12.2MP • ISO 100-102400 • $2,499 • ★★★★★

   
• Sony DSC-HX50V. As a backup-backup (hey, how many times will I get to go on safari in Africa?) I needed a camera with some reach to it, and started shopping for ultra-zooms. The field has gotten really competitive, and finding the right camera was tough. Ultimately size was the deciding factor for me, and Sony's pocketable HX50V fit the bill perfectly. Sure, I would sacrifice some zoom (it's 30x when others in this arena are at 50x), and not being able to shoot RAW was disappointing, but it's a camera I could slip in my pocket and have with me at all times that I'd barely notice.

Sony DSC-HX50V

Turns out the image quality is quite nice (for JPEG) so long as you don't zoom too much, and the HX50V is a capable little shooter that I was happy to have on me for those times my camera bag was back at my tent. But ultimately I regretted my purchase for one big reason... no eyepiece viewfinder. The only way to compose a shot was to use the display on the back, which is completely obliterated in bright light! Under the African sun this camera was rendered totally useless. I couldn't see a damn thing to compose a shot, and was shooting blind any time I was out of the shade (even when setting the screen to max brightness). If you buy this camera, I hope you'll only be shooting indoors or in overcast conditions, because that's all its good for. Still, it DOES have a GPS... which is more than I can say for the much more expensive Sony's listed above. I took an occasional shot with this camera just so I could use the GPS info to geotag my other photos, and it worked pretty great for that... meriting an extra star.

20.4MP • 30x • ISO 80-3200 • f/3.5(W)-f/6.3(T) • $325 • ★★☆☆☆

   
• Sony FE 70-200 f/4 OSS E-Mount Lens. Go with a cheap zoom lens to get the reach you need... or go with a quality zoom lens and crop the reach you want? It's a question that every photographer has to grapple with at some time in their lives. In the past I've just gone for the cheapest zooms I could find because I don't use them very often. But for my Africa trip, I decided to invest heavily in a good zoom because the quality of the image was what's important to me... even if I wasn't as close as I'd like to be. And since Sony only makes one E-mount zoom with any reach to it, the FE 70-200mm, my decision was made for me. I reviewed the lens back in August, and have only one thing to add to this remarkable addition to my camera arsenal... WHY IN THE HELL DOESN'T SONY HAVE A SWITCH-LOCK ON THE IMAGE STABILIZATION SWITCH?!? Every time I slid this lens into my camera bag, image stabilization would slide off. So the next time I'd go to shoot a lion (or whatever) I'd end up with blurry camera shaken images until I'd remember to turn it back on. This is categorically stupid. At no time... none did I ever want the "Optical Steady Shot" turned off, yet there was no way to lock it in the "on" position. Very, vey frustrating. But, once I remembered to switch OSS on, I was getting some fantastic shots from this lens...

Zimbabwe Crimson Bee-Eater

Zimbabwe Game Drive

Sure it's big and at almost 2 pounds it's a bit heavy too... but you can't argue with the results. Crisp images, beautiful bokeh, fast auto-focus... I was very, very happy to have this full-frame wonder with me on safari, and was much relieved that I spent the money to have a quality telephoto in my camera bag. 90% of my photos were shot with it. Minus a star for the lack of an image stabilization switch lock... and for not having a bit better aperture (it's locked at a consistent f/4 though, which is nice)... but if you're an E-mount shooter, this is the zoom to get.

70-200mm (full-frame), 105-300mm (cropped) • f/4 • $1,499 • ★★★★☆

   
• Sony FE 35mm F/2.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* E-Mount Lens. I skipped the kit lens for my A7s full-frame sensor camera because I wanted some glass that would really let it shine. Unfortunately, my choices were limited, because Sony doesn't have many options when it comes to FE prime lenses. Ideally, I wanted a 35mm with image stabilization and a maximum aperture of f/1.4... but it doesn't exist. A 35mm with NO image stabilization and a pokey f/2.8 aperture is as close as I can get. And, to make matters worse, Sony is charging a whopping $800 for it. In all honesty, I don't think the Zeiss name justifies such a heinous price tag, but what choice do I have? None at all. Yet despite the absurd cost, this lens has a lot going for it. It's small and light. It focuses blazingly fast. It's super-sharp. Color is very good. And I got some really nice shots with it...

Zimbabwe Sunset

Victoria Falls Hotel Scone

Night sky images were mind-bogglingly great...

Zimbabwe Night Sky

The slow aperture was never a problem on my NEX-6 in the sunlight nor on my A7s with its amazing low-light capabilities, but I still find it disappointing... f/2.8 on a 35mm? Who does that any more? This, along with the crazy-stupid price tag drops two stars from my rating, even though the FE 35mm is a darn fine lens once all is said and done. And yet... I keep coming back to the cost. EIGHT HUNDRED DOLLARS?!? For THESE specs? Holy crap I hope Sony gets their heads out of their asses and starts producing affordable FE lenses soon.

35mm (full-frame), 50mm (cropped) • f/2.8 • $799 • ★★★☆☆

   
• Sony 10-18mm f/4 OSS E-Mount Lens. I shoot a lot of wide angle, so this lens was purchased alongside my NEX-6 on day one. I absolutely love it. Small and light for a wide angle. Really sharp. Great color. Quick to focus. Image stabilized. And all at a reasonable cost! As if that weren't enough... even though it was designed for the cropped sensor on Sony's NEX cameras, it works amazingly well on my full-frame A7s if you limit the focal range! Amazing! This lens fulfills the promise of mirrorless cameras, and proves Sony doesn't need Zeiss (or Zeiss' absurd price tag) to give their customers a great lens. And though I didn't get much use out of it in Africa, it's the one lens that's always in my camera bag...

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Zimbabwe Grasslands

If you've got an E-mount camera, this is the lens to own. Fantastic for landscapes, yes... but I use it all the time for just about everything (the wide angle distortion is very easy to correct in Photoshop). Thank you, Sony.

10-18mm (cropped) • f/4-f/22 • $849 • ★★★★★

   
• Apple 11-inch MacBook Air. I'm using an iPad more and more for things like email and web browsing, but when it comes to photography, there's simply no substitute for Photoshop on a Mac. My MacBook Pro excels at running Photoshop, but is way too big and heavy to tuck in a camera bag. Fortunately, Apple has a diminutive solution that tucks easily in my bag, and it runs Photoshop just fine thanks to the 8GB memory option...

MacBook Air 11

Until Microsoft manages to come up with a "Surface" tablet/PC hybrid that's worth a crap... or Apple comes up with a MacBook Air that has a retina display touchscreen I can give five stars... this will certainly do.

1.7GHz i7 • 8GB RAM • 256GB SSD • $1,250 • ★★★★☆

   
• Transcend Information USB 3.0 Card Reader. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough room in the MacBook Air 11-inch model to fit a card reader, so you need to buy an external one. This Transcend model takes advantage of the USB 3 speed of my MacBook and accepts SDHC, SDXC, microSD, microSDHC, and microSDXC cards. Cheap, compact, and does the job. If they could remove the micro card compatibility (that I'll never use) to shrink it even further, I'd give it five stars.

$7 • ★★★★☆

   
• B+W Kaesemann XS-Pro Circular Polarizer. I have UV haze filters on all my lenses to protect the optics, but I stopped using "creative" filters ages ago. Between in-camera functions and Photoshop, I just don't need them. But every once in a while, it's handy to have a circular polarizer in your bag. B+W makes my favorite filters... pricey, but high-quality, so all I had to decide was whether or not I would go with the Kaesemann variant or not. Ultimately I went with Kaesemann, despite the added cost, because they don't "gray things up" like a traditional polarizer can. The only time I ended up using the thing in Africa was when I was shooting through a helicopter window...

Victoria Falls

It helped take the glare of the sun off the water, which was nice, but the shake of the copter coupled with the lack of image stabilization on my lens kinda sabotaged my efforts to get great shots. Oh well.

Kaesemann XS-Pro, MRC Nano Filter • $89 • ★★★★★

   
• VisibleDust Hurricane Blower. Dust and moisture are the enemy of photographers who rely on clean, dry optics to get the best image quality. Having a blower on-hand is essential, and I was using it several times a day while in Africa. At home I have a Giottos Rocket Blaster, but I wanted something a bit smaller to take with me, so the VisibleDust Hurricane got the job. Works great.

$14 • ★★★★★

   
• LensPen Lens Cleaner. The only lens cleaner I use. Has a good quality brush on one end and a concave lens swab coated with a carbon compound (from the lid) on the other. Works perfectly every time.

$10 • ★★★★★

   
• SanDisk 32GB Extreme Plus UHS-1 SDHC Class 10 Memory Cards. It took me a while to settle on a memory card manufacturer I like best, but once I got my hands on the SanDisk Extreme Plus line my camera storage of choice was found. They're tough, reliable, and blazingly fast... yet don't break the bank. Which is good, because I've stopped re-using memory cards. They're small size makes them all too easy to slip into a safe deposit box, thus providing the perfect backup of your precious memories. Sure you can save money by going with a cheaper card, but is it worth taking the chance something will go wrong and you'll lose all your photos? Not to me. There's higher-capacity versions of the Extreme Plus, but 32GB stores more photos than I can manage as it is, so I don't want to go bigger.

$38 • ★★★★★

   
• Oben TT-100 Table-Top Tripod. This tiny tripod slips easily into my camera bag, but still manages to secure my camera perfectly. Unlike some smaller tripods, the Oben has a ball head which made it really handy to get the perfect angle for a shot. A great product... I just wish it was a bit easier to tighten and manipulate.

$35 • ★★★★☆

   
Add some extra camera batteries, a couple of battery chargers, a ballpoint pen, a Sharpie marker, and some unscented wipes to keep everything clean, and I'm done!

As for what camera bag I use? That's another story...

   

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