Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Some terrible puns

Transcribed from this image of some tearable puns.

A dyslexic poet
writes inverse.

I break into song
if I can’t find the key.

Bakers trade recipes
on a knead to know basis.

Jumping off a Paris bridge
makes you in Seine.

Acupuncture is
a jab well done.

Once you’ve seen one shopping centre
you’ve seen the mall.

If a clock gets hungry
it goes back four seconds.

The bride got a new name
and a dress.

A bike can’t stand alone
because it’s two-tyred.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

[photography] My perspective

Robert Boyer has written a couple of really interesting blog posts on (primarily) the differences between a 35mm and 50mm field of view, from the perspective of someone who is very much a ‘50mm guy’, i.e. someone with a lot more experience with, and a strong preference for, the field of view provided by a 50mm lens.

Given that the comparison was between the Fuji X100S, with its APS-C–sized sensor and 23mm actual lens, and a Nikon D600 with a 50mm actual lens, there’s also some discussion on the differences in how much control you have over depth of field when comparing the two sensor formats.

The bulk of the text, though, is about how shooting with a different lens than you’re used to is a pretty uncomfortable and disorienting experience at first, but one that can also open your eyes to new possibilities.

These posts resonated with me, as in the 10 or so years I’ve been doing photography, I think I’ve mostly settled into being a ‘35mm guy’, although I didn’t really know it until I got an X100 whereupon it became clear that this field of view matches well the kinds of pictures I like to shoot – ‘contextual’ stuff, pictures of things in their surroundings. The view feels comfortable: just wide enough to avoid feeling claustrophobic, but not so wide as to swing the other way into attempted agoraphobia.

Look around you

I say ‘attempted’ agoraphobia because I’ve found it impossible to really reproduce the feeling you get when standing outside and looking up to the sky, really looking and feeling how enormous the world is, and how tiny and insignificant you are in comparison. It just doesn’t come across in reasonably-sized photos. All you achieve by attempting this using a super-wide lens is making things in the middle tiny, and things at the edges weirdly stretched.

So given that I’m never likely to make any multiple-metre–wide prints, and I have little interest in exploring how super-wide affects near–far relationships, that kind of lens holds no appeal.

Over there, in detail

I felt, and still do feel, that most of the time the field of view of the X100’s lens was just right, but there were times when I yearned for something longer, something I could use to close in on the detail of a thing. I think this was partly influenced by Kirk Tuck and his various posts of cityscapes and portraits taken at or around a 75mm field of view. That is to say, his posts helped me recognise something that was already within me, kindled that small flame a little, enough that I could no longer ignore it.

And so it was that I began to look for a way to satisfy this need. The Olympus 45mm lens seriously tempted me, but the only compatible camera that I felt had the necessary features (built-in viewfinder, small size) was the Olympus EM5, and alas it just felt horrible in my hand: cramped, squishy buttons, and uncomfortable bits digging into my palms. NEX? Not with those lenses. So that left Fuji, and either the XE1 or the XPro1.

I can see clearly

After an initial couple of months with the X100, trying both viewfinders, I eventually settled into using the electronic one almost exclusively, despite previously using DSLRs for years and being thoroughly used to optical finders.

Used to, but never entirely comfortable with, it seems: I find EVFs to be less of a mental strain, in that I can see before I shoot what the photo will (more or less) look like. I can see when the camera’s meter is getting confused, and dial in some exposure compensation accordingly (gotta love that EV dial).

Thus, the XPro1’s biggest differentiator from the XE1, its viewfinder, wasn’t an advantage to me. That combined with its larger size, and the fact that the XE1 came in a (money-saving) kit with the well-regarded 18–55mm zoom, made up my mind.

And then a funny thing happened

So then everything was fine, right? After all, the 18–55 has as much telephoto as I’d realistically want, and of course goes pretty wide too, covering the same 23mm the X100 does, making that camera basically obsolete. Right?

Not really. First of all, the XE1 + 18–55 is still pretty big, significantly more so than the (coat)pocketable X100. It’s also heavier, right on the threshold of being uncomfortable to carry in my hand for an extended period of wandering around, and not particularly fast in terms of aperture compared to the f/2 of the X100 (it’s certainly a good bit faster than most 18–55mm lenses, though).

At first I didn’t really notice any of this, since I was still in the ‘newlywed’ phase. Eventually I felt it, though, and wondered about getting a prime to put on the camera for ‘days out’ and other casual uses. Of course, apart from the 18mm, there’s only really one other suitable prime lens: the 35mm f/1.4 (the 60mm is too big, and the 27mm wasn’t available at the time, and besides, doesn’t have an aperture ring).

I thought I’d mostly use the 18–55 still, and keep the 35 for low-light stuff or for when I really wanted to travel light, but as it turns out, I kinda really want to travel light all the time. So why not just use the X100? Well, I’ve become spoiled by the XE1’s faster AF, much nicer AF point selection, and generally nicer buttons.

And the XF 35mm f/1.4 lens is really nice. Really nice. I considered the Zeiss Touit 32mm as an alternative at first, but the Fuji lens just seems to do everything better: nicer bokeh, smaller and lighter, less expensive, and apparently a little sharper too, not that sharpness is particularly important to me – most lenses these days are plenty good enough there.


This is where talking about this gets a bit confusing, because I tend to switch pretty freely between using actual focal lengths and equivalent focal lengths, so for the sake of clarity I’ll stick to equivalent, since it’s a more common reference point. The Fuji 35mm lens has an equivalent field of view to a 50mm lens, while the X100’s 23mm lens has a 35mm equivalent view.

Anyway. After using focal lengths mostly on the wider end of things, 50mm feels tight. It’s right on the boundary between wide and tele, so I guess for someone who started out with it, the field of view feels just right, and can be used as either a short tele or a moderate wide depending on the needs of the photo.

Working with a 50mm field of view is not something that comes naturally to me, though, especially not after a year and a bit of using nothing but a 35. For now, my mind is still in ‘35’ mode when I’m shooting with a 50: I try subconsciously stand at the right distance for a 35 view, and I see compositions that work for that kind of perspective, then get frustrated when they don’t fit. I mentioned this in a comment on Robert’s blog – about how I try to compensate for a lack of vertical viewing angle by holding the camera vertically, for some reason not minding that I’m cutting off the sides. That said, a brief look at my Flickr stream shows that of the photos taken with the XF35/1.4 lens, most are in horizontal orientation, so perhaps I don’t do this as often as I think, and/or when I do, the results aren’t very good so I don’t bother uploading them to Flickr.

Wrapping up

When I started writing this, I’d intended to condense some vague, cloudy feelings into something more solid; I felt like 50mm was uncomfortably tight and that I often compensated for the lack of vertical angle of view by framing vertically. Actually looking at my photos, though, shows scant evidence of this, and in fact demonstrates that I can frame horizontal photos with a 50mm just fine, as least enough to satisfy myself for now.

Still, the feeling persists, and I don’t really know what else to do about it other than keep shooting with the XE1/35 until it’s no longer uncomfortable. And hey, now that I think on it, that’s probably another factor driving me to prefer that lens over the 18–55. Maybe once I’m comfortable with the 50mm view, I’ll be happier using the zoom? Let’s see wait a year and find out.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 29, 30 & 31

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank.

Here we are, at the end: the final three screenshots, which fully catches me up!

29: Lucky

Sometimes when you’re out farming stuff, you’ll get caught up in combat with a monster and while you’re busy with that, another player will swoop in and nab the node you were after. This is unlucky.

Sometimes, you will see a rare node. This is lucky. You will get tangled up in a fight with some monkeymen when trying to grab it. This is unlucky. Another player will show up. This is usually unlucky, doubly so if there is more than one.

Sometimes, though, once in a blue moon, that player won’t be a selfish bastard and will instead heal you whilst smiting your enemies for you, allowing you to grab the valuable node. This is most rare and most fortuitous turn of events.

Yalaera being helped in her farming
A friendly chap helps Yalaera grab a Golden Lotus. Click to enlarge.

30: Cluttered

We’re redecorating my home office at the moment, so for now my work computer and my gaming computer are in the living room together, along with piles of other stuff that should probably be stored away somewhere, and not dumped on my desk.

My desk, cluttered
My desk, cluttered. You probably don’t need to click for a closer look.

31: Dangerous

Outside of endgame group content, there’s really not much in Azeroth that’s dangerous to a well-geared player on a PvE server. Old raids, especially, are doable solo, although most encounters are better with two people.

Unless Mind Control is involved.

A mind-controlled Yalaera smites poor Helvecta while Kael’Thas gloats
A mind-controlled Yalaera smites poor Helvecta while Kael’Thas gloats. Click to enlarge.

The end

At least, the end of this month’s screenshots. Tycertank has a [new word list] for September, if you’re interested, but I think I’ll mix it up a bit and use the words for a #GW2ScreenshotADay instead.

Friday, 30 August 2013

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 28: Corridor

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank.

I’m still behind, and I forgot to save #29 to my Dropbox, so I couldn’t edit it and upload it on my Mac. Tomorrow’s Saturday though, so hopefully I’ll have time to do three days’ worth and finally catch up again.

Anyway, corridor… plenty of those in World of Warcraft, and many dungeons are nothing but corridors, albeit sometimes decorated to look like caves and such. I love the art style used for Titan architecture the most, but I think there’s one particular place that new Alliance (and really determined verteran Horde) players are amazed by at first but which sadly doesn’t see as much use in these days of flying mounts.

The undersea section of the Deeprun Tram
The undersea section of the Deeprun Tram, complete with Nessy the thresher. Click to go deeper.

Image notes: It takes ages to run this far down, and woe betide the clumsy fool who falls off the platform – you have to run all the way back to the beginning before you can get back on it. I'm told.

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 26 & 27

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank. I’m a little behind on the themes lately, so here’s a two-in-one.

26: Entrance

I thought I’d try to do something a bit non-obvious with this one, starting with a different interpretation of what the word ‘entrance’ even means. There’s the usual definition: “a point or place of entering; an opening or passage for entering, as a doorway.” But it’s also coincidentally the same spelling as the word which means “to fill with delight or wonder; enrapture.

Ophelia, the Siren of the Highlands, entrances Ephram Hardstone’s crew
Ophelia, the Siren of the Highlands, entrances Ephram Hardstone’s crew. Click to bring yourself closer to her radiance.

27: 10 minutes from home

My first idea for this one was to fly somewhere and capture a screenshot of the TomTom waypoint arrow and its (surprisingly handy) estimated time to arrival readout.

Turns out, you can’t fly in any direction from Stormwind for 10 minutes without ending up over the sea dying of Fatigue.

What you can do, however, is follow roads on land for 10 minutes.

A map of how far you can get on land in 10 minutes
What 10 minutes of fast mount land travel looks like. Click to explore.

Image notes: Fortunately, the maps for Burning Steppes, Searing Gorge and Redridge Mountains are all roughly the same scale. The map of Elwynn Forest, though, needed enlarging a little to fit with the others

Thursday, 29 August 2013

[WoW] Re: Missing Words

The Godmother recently posted a list of five things she reckons should be included in the next expansion, and it’s a good list. I originally was going to reply in a comment, but it got a bit long so I’m posting my thoughts here instead.

Player housing

THERE I SAID IT. Just go look at Animal Crossing, New Leaf and tell me that people don’t care about the place they live in. Look at how people dutifully Tilled their way towards Exalted in the Valley. People care about stuff no-one else can see. Just go the whole hog, let people share their homes on Facebook/Twitter and have a contest for the best Decorated Home every month. GO ON YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO.

I… really don’t think it would be that hard to implement? I mean it’s basically a tiny raid instance with no enemies, right? Ditto Guild Halls. Of course, the question “how hard can it be?” is the bane of any developer’s existence, so I’ll trust there could well be Implications that I’ve not thought of.

New profession

Do it from the ground up in a way that is easy to level and fun, and then change all the old Professions to match this. You can make NPC’s in each Expansion’s Capital to sell the old patterns for a currency that you get as a drop whilst herbing, mining, enchanting, milling and prospecting. Everyone is happy, nobody loses out and you finally get to streamline all the Professions the same way. If you have problems designing this, gimme a shout. I’ll be happy to help.

I think GW2 has the results part right, in that the stuff you can craft is genuinely useful mostly regardless of level, and the top-end things (level 80 Exotic) are basically equal to anything else in the game. This plus the recent change that makes all currencies account-bound means the ‘gearing up alts’ market is pretty lucrative, and makes it actually worth the effort/cost of levelling professions.

Another thing GW2 does right with professions is making it less of a burden to switch: when you unlearn one in order to try a new one, you don’t lose any progress in the old one, so you’re free to switch back if you don’t like the new.

On the other hand, the actual mechanics of crafting in GW2 are really not that much better than in WoW. There’s a couple of quality-of-life improvements (access to stored materials from any crafting station), but it’s still ‘combine these things and click a button to make a new thing’. There’s zero player skill involved and it’s about as exciting as filling in paperwork.


In every Quest Hub there are people who JUST SELL MOGGING GEAR. That’s right, just mogging stuff: make it recolours of existing gear. I’m not expecting new stuff. Just get the old stuff out there so people can mix and match more stuff. How hard would it be?

This is something Zoe and I have discussed quite a bit, too. We ended up deciding that we’d rather see another GW2 feature: armour dyes! Although the big problem there is WoW’s armour models aren’t at all designed for custom recolouring, so I’m not sure what the solution would be – redoing all (!) the models in the game to make them compatible with a dye system would be a huge undertaking. In GW2 dyes can be made by cooks (as well as being random drops or purchasable from the AH or gem store), so a similar thing could work in WoW, although I personally reckon scribes would be a better fit, since they already make inks :D

More Lorewalker Cho-type NPCs

I’m not asking you to change old stuff, just add an NPC from the Explorer’s League/Reliquary in the levelling zones, to give us more lore background to what’s going on around us. They can be linked to Archaeology certainly, and maybe if you have the time you could do the same kind of stories you’ve utilised with Cho in Pandaria.

<3 CHO IS THE BEST. Well Taran Zhu is cool too, but I like Cho more (and the guy who does his voice. I’m aware they may be the same actor :p ). I love the Seat of Knowledge stuff where he tells the stories of what’s happened so far, and how you play the scenarios to experience the story yourself. If we could auto-follow NPCs who walk around, even better – sometimes I just want to look about, take in the scenery and listen to Cho/other NPC (like the bit in Shattrath), without having to constantly move in tiny increments just to keep up.

Class-specific quests

You proved it worked with the Warlocks. They were ace in Vanilla. Bring them back for everybody, and link them with proving Ground-type ‘learn your class’ quests as you level. Instantly better players, happy because they had a story ALL TO THEMSELVES :D

Well I wasn’t around for þe olde vænilla, and the current class quests you get aren’t terribly exciting (“go on this arduous quest for a reward that you’ll outlevel by the time you finish!”), but the idea of tying them into Proving Grounds is a good one! Blizzard could do a lot more to improve in-game player education, I reckon. The ‘Core Abilities’ thing in the spellbook is an ok start, but many people won’t ever read that, or even know it’s there, and the problem is made worse because it often lists abilities you don’t even have when you pick your talent specialisation.

I wonder if some kind of instanced class- and spec-specific quests would work best? You could start them from one of your class trainers (who basically serve almost no purpose now anyway), and they could accompany you in the instance, giving advice on how your class works. The instance could be different depending on what level you are (maybe one each time you get a talent point?), so by the time you visit a new one, you’d have some new abilities to try out, on which the trainer could advise you of situations where they’re best used.

Proving Grounds could then be a sort of ‘final exam’ – a way to practice everything your spec can do, and really push you to be skilled enough at it so that when you jump into your first raid (be it LFR, Flex, etc.) you’ll at least have some idea about what you’re capable of.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 25: Culture

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank. I’m a little behind on these, so please bear with me!

World of Warcraft has a lot of history, and very deep and rich lore. The various races all have well-defined characteristics, and it took quite a bit of pondering to come up with something that epitomised each one, yet would fit into a single image.

The mailboxes of the various races of Azeroth
Can you identify them all? Click to examine more closely.

That’s not all of them, as time constraints meant I had to limit myself somewhat.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 24: In the background

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank.

Have you ever had a good look around the instances in Caverns of Time? There’s an amazing number of lore-famous people wandering about, doing what they did before … bad things happened.

Yalaera in the Southshore inn, with Pamela Redpath in the background
My priest Yalaera chilling in an inn in old Southshore, with Pamela Redpath in the background. Click for larger version.

Image notes: if you haven’t been here, Pamela’s mum and dad are also present, sitting opposite from Yalaera, and wandering around outside is pre-lich Kel’Thuzad, chatting to Helcular. I considered using a different picture but went with the more emotionally appealing one in the end.

Friday, 23 August 2013

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 23: Yellow

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank.

This one took a bit of work. First of all I needed the right robe, and thankfully my fiancée’s character is a tailor, so all it took was a trip to Darnassus to buy the pattern for a Greater Adept’s Robe, then a visit to the flower vendor in Stormwind for some Beautiful Wildflowers, and my outfit was set (I can’t remember at the moment what the belt is).

The next challenge was to find somewhere suitably yellow (or golden) to serve as a backdrop. At first we tried Eversong Woods, but alas it was night time, making everything more green and blue than yellow and orange. Also I ran into Silvermoon City by mistake and got PvP flagged. Oops. Luckily almost nobody ever goes to the city, so I didn’t encounter any bother.

Next stop: Isle of Quel’Danas! I had hoped that entering an instance would magically make it daytime, but this turned out to not be the case, alas, as we discovered upon entering Sunwell Plateau. Still! As my memory of the instance was a little hazy (I’ve only ever been there a handful of times, never when it was current), I couldn’t remember if there was anywhere suitably bright and lit either with neutral or yellow-hued light.

Yalaera before the restored Sunwell
The clue’s in the name, really. Click to feel the raw power.

Image notes: it took a surprising amount of time to find just the right spot to stand in for this picture – the lighting around the rim is fairly uneven, with only this area being bright enough to prevent Yalaera looking like a silhouette. It also took around three attempts to get a shot with the phoenix hatchling’s wings in the right place. Processing-wise, it’s a single frame with contrast increased a bit, and emphasised saturation in yellows, in particular. Oh and I got Yalaera’s hair dyed blonde for this shot too (it’s normally white).

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 22: A room

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank.

I knew immediately which room I wanted to use when I saw this theme word. I started playing World of Warcraft just before Wrath of the Lich King was released, so I never got to raid any Burning Crusade content while it was still current. Since it took me so long to get to 80, being a bit of a noob and all, by the time I was ready to begin my career as a raider, Naxxramas was on the verge of being obsoleted by the majesty that is Ulduar, so that’s where I got my first real taste of progression raiding. Because it was my first, and also because it’s objectively awesome, I have fond memories of that Titan wonderland.

Apparently, some folks weren’t as impressed with it as me. Too big, they said, too spread out. You needed teleporters to even get around in a sensible amount of time! And there was sooooo much trash to wade through! Wouldn’t it be awesome (they said) if there was a raid with no trash, one where the bosses came to you?

Lord Jaraxxus in Trial of the Crusader
YOU FACE JARAXXUS NOW. Click to make less trifling, gnome.

Turns out, a one-room (sorta) raid with no trash is actually kinda bland. Who would have imagined?

Image notes: 6-frame panorama, with the usual contrast etc. boosted in Aperture. Previous bosses defeated easily with the invaluable aid of my fiancée, as was Jaraxxus and every other boss thereafter.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 21: Slow

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank.

Of all the slow things in World of Warcraft – levelling, gearing up, raid progression – there’s one that’s always there, even though its impact is greatly lessened by the time you reach level 70: I’m talking about travel.

Azeroth is a pretty big place, although not realistically so – Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms are roughly 12 miles long, and put together they’re not much bigger than Manhattan island – but even so, getting around can feel like a bit of a slog at times, especially on foot, or in places where you can only use ground mounts.

Avenir the shaman jogging along a path on Azuremyst Isle
I made Avenir the shaman specifically for this picture. Click to get closer to the elements.

Image notes: not much to report for this one; cropped from a full scene, and some minor contrast and colour tweaks in Aperture.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 20: Stairs

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank.

There are so many staircases in Azeroth and Outland, it’s kinda hard to pick just one for a screenshot. A particularly impressive one is the Stair of Destiny in Hellfire Peninsula, moreso because it’s the first thing seen by players newly arrived in Outland. Then there’s the stairs leading up from the Court of Bones to the entrance of Icecrown Citadel, with that imposing structure looming overhead, striking fear into the hearts of those who dare approach.

In Pandaria, however, such dread fortresses are few and far between, with the architecture generally being of a calmer and more inviting appearance.

Jaluu the Generous sitting outside Mogu’shan Palace
Jaluu the Generous, quartermaster of the Golden Lotus, sitting outside Mogu’shan Palace.

Image notes: panorama image, with colours adjusted in Aperture to produce a retro, almost painted look.

Monday, 19 August 2013

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 19: Lost

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank.

Not spatially lost. Not when you didn’t win. Truly lost: when there is no hope for you; when everything you hold dear is gone; when your loved ones fear you; when you can no longer resist the powerful darkness that has taken hold of your soul.

Prince Arthas of Menethil, at the tipping point, ready to begin the Culling of Stratholme
Arthas, at the tipping point, about to begin the Culling of Stratholme. Click to spread the darkness.

Image notes: black and white conversion in Aperture, along with contrast smashing and vignette, then sky darkening and bloom added in Acorn.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 17 & 18

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank. As I was away at my fiancée’s parents this weekend, I’m posting the screenshots for yesterday and today in one post.

17: Someone you spoke to today

When I first started playing World of Warcraft, just before Wrath of the Lich King was released, I generally read all the quest text, not realising that unlike any game I’d played before, there was lots and lots and lots of it. This was in the days when the default was for the text to appear line by line, slowly, and I didn’t even know there was an option to make it all appear at once.

Since then I’ve become a little more jaded, and have very rarely read the quest text (with one exception – that whole chain is great). That is, until I got to Pandaria.

I’ve actually levelled two characters to 90, about seven months apart. The first was shortly after Mists of Pandaria was released, and also around the time I bought Guild Wars 2, and I only reluctantly spent any time in WoW; really I just wanted to explore the new shiny that was Tyria, so I basically just sped through the Pandaria content as fast as possible, not really enjoying it or paying it much attention.

Eventually, a confluence of events meant I began to spend less and less time in GW2, and when my fiancée finished her third year at university and was free for the summer, we decided we’d have another go at WoW. I decided that this time I would give it a proper shot, invest myself in it more, and most importantly, heed the advice of the Pandamen to slow down. There was, indeed, no hurry to get to 90, as our guild isn’t actively raiding at the moment.

All of which lengthy preamble is to explain why I love this guy so much, and have spent quite a while speaking to him, both today and many times in the past few weeks:

Lorewalker Cho in the Seat of Knowledge
Lorewalker Cho in the Seat of Knowledge. Click to learn more.

Image notes: another panorama, this time using an equirectangular projection. Contrast etc. boosted in Aperture.

18: Exercise

I’m afraid I only had a short amount of time to think of ideas for this one, so it’s a little unimaginative (and I suspect several other folks may have had a similar idea). Still:

Practicing shadow priestery in Darnassus
Practicing shadow priestery in Darnassus with Yalaera. Click for MORE DOTS.

Image notes: as ever, processing in Aperture, although this time I used ‘devignette’ to give the edges a bit of glow, instead of darkening them. Also reduced saturation and nudged the white balance a little cooler, for a more moonlit feel.

Friday, 16 August 2013

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 16: Cooking

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank.

It’s commonly said that for a really good steak, you gotta get your pan really hot.

Ragnaros helping me cook
That ought to do it. Click for a bigger taste.

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 15: The best

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank.

I tried to think of something in World of Warcraft that I think is ‘the best’, and there’s just so many good things in the game that it was hard to pick just one. Thinking outside the box a bit, it occurred to me that, as described in my Day 6 post, the best part of WoW is that I met my fiancée playing it!

Playing alongside her is the best part of the game, for me, whether we’re levelling, doing dailies, running dungeons, or enduring LFR; everything is made better by being with her.

Zoe in a quiet moment, fishing
Zoe in a quiet moment, fishing.

Image notes: ok so it’s not strictly speaking a ‘screenshot’, but it is a shot of a screen that has WoW on it, even if the screen is a bit out of focus.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 14: Trash

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank.

Funny how the word ‘trash’ in MMOs has a particular meaning: basically any enemy mob in a dungeon that isn’t a boss. Although they’re not really rewarding to kill, and are often though of more as an annoyance than anything else, dull stuff getting in the way of the Real Action, they do serve a few important purposes. First of all, they make a dungeon feel more like a real place, more alive, and without them the instance would feel very empty. Secondly, they can provide hints about what’s to come – they might use a weaker version of an ability the boss uses, for example. Finally, they provide a way of pacing the instance, and a break for the intensity of boss fights.

Of course, the trash mobs themselves aren’t just unimaginatively-named robots; they often have themed names based on the dungeon you’re in, to give a better sense of immersion.

Trash mob
Usually. Click for larger trash.

Image notes: once again, Ornate Spyglass comes in handy, and once again, image processing in Aperture to give a sort of ‘telescope’ look. Many thanks to the Creative Director for accompanying me to Ulduar and through the first few bosses just to get this picture.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 13: Fast

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank.

Much like yesterday’s entry, today’s doesn’t use the obvious interpretation of the theme word. My fiancée and I are trying to lose weight (and succeeding!), using what’s known as the “5:2 diet”, where each week we fast for two (non-consecutive) days and eat normally (but healthily) the other five.

If you’ve not tried fasting, it’s pretty hard going at first, especially if you’re not used to being hungry.

A starving buzzard
Click to increase hunger.

Monday, 12 August 2013

[WoW] WoWScreenshotADay 12: Macro

As you’ll no doubt have picked up if you’ve read other posts on this blog, photography is my hobby. Thus, when I see the word ‘macro’, I think not of a list of commands for doing mouseover healing or whatever, but of small things made large: macro photography.

Blue spotted caterpillar
Small bug, big. Click to further embiggen.

Once again making use of the surprisingly versatile Ornate Spyglass, I had a hunt around for something that would a) not look too bad when made huge and b) would keep still enough for me to get a shot of it (quite tricky with a super-zoomed-in view).

Image notes: as usual, colours and contrast tweaked in Aperture, then fake depth-of-field blur added in Acorn.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 11: I love doing this!

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank.

Tricky one this, mostly because there’s a lot I like doing in the game, and it was difficult to decide which thing specifically I should represent in a screenshot. Thinking about it in a wider context, though, one big thing I like doing in games is exploring, be it Skyrim, Tyria or Azeroth. I like seeing what’s around the next corner or over the next hill, and marvelling at what the game’s creators have come up with. In the past, I’ve spent plenty of time more fully exploring one zone at a time in World of Warcraft, and would love to find the time to do more of that.

The ‘Explore Durotar’ achievement popup
Sometimes exploring can be a bit dangerous. Click the image for a larger one that shows my entire UI.

It’s not quite the same thing, of course, as proper exploring – getting this achievement is more a case of staring at the map window looking for blank spots, then flying directly to them, without really looking at the world around you.

Still, you can still explore Azeroth without specifically aiming for the Explorer achievement, and this is, to me, more rewarding, particularly in Pandaria, both because it’s less familiar, and because it’s just so much prettier, more detailed and generally more interesting than Old Azeroth.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 10: Beverage

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank.

I had a couple of ideas for this one, but in the end I decided that going the extra mile to get this shot was worth it, as I feel it’s a bit more interesting, and for some might provoke feelings of nostalgia:

The Grim Guzzler, upper level
The Grim Guzzler, in Blackrock Depths. Click for large version.

The first time you encounter this place is a bit disorienting – after fighting through waves and waves of hostile dwarfs, suddenly you’re confronted with a seemingly friendly (or at least indifferent) pub, which you can more or less walk around with impunity, sitting at the tables with the revellers.

Of course, it only takes one stray spell or arrow to spark complete chaos, and very often a wipe, thereafter making life much more difficult for the group. Beware!

Image notes: another stitched-panorama, and some post-processing in Aperture to increase brightness and contrast – BRD is kinda dark, which you don’t notice much when you’re there, but definitely do in screenshots later.

Friday, 9 August 2013

[WoW] #WowScreenshotADay 9: 2 o'clock

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank.

This one was never going to be a “screenshot taken at 2 o’clock” thing, as I'm working at that time. So! Creativity required, and this is the result:

Laser crystal targeting circle clock!
Laser-crystal targeting-circle clock!

Huge thanks to my wonderful guild leader, who took the time out to supply both the laser crystals and the act of lasering!

[photography] Comparison of sensors: Fuji X-E1 versus Ricoh GR-D III

There’s no good reason I decided to do this, just that I was pixel-peeping files from my Fuji X-E1 in Capture One, when a silly thought occurred to me: how do these files compare to my Ricoh GR-D III?

The comparison is also completely unfair: the GR-D is a pocket-sized camera with a fixed 28mm-e lens, whereas the X-E1 is much larger and heavier (and I used the 18–55mm lens for it, which by itself is bigger than the Ricoh, although Fuji’s 18mm f/2 lens is much smaller and would be a slightly fairer comparison).

Fuji X-E1 and Ricoh GR-D III
Fuji X-E1 and Ricoh GR-D III.

Sensor Dimensions

The X-E1 has an APS-C–sized sensor, meaning it’s 23.6 × 15.7 mm, or around 370mm2. The GR-D’s sensor is 7.6 × 5.7 mm, or around 43 mm2. Here’s a visual illustration of the sizes:

1/1.7” sensor compared to APS-C sensor and Lego minifig

So clearly the Fuji’s sensor is huge in comparison, which means it has much more surface area for gathering light, and despite being 16 megapixels versus the Ricoh’s 10, those pixels are still much larger. All else equal, larger pixels gather more light for the same exposure, so they need to be amplified less than smaller ones, resulting in less noise.

Noise Differences

This image, taken in low light, shows the same scene as shot by the GR-D (left) and X-E1 (right):

Full image comparing Ricoh GR-D III and Fuji X-E1 in low light

Both were processed in Capture One Express 7. At this size they both look okay. Now here’s a comparison of the images at 100% zoom:

Comparison of Ricoh GR-D III and Fuji X-E1 in low light, showing crops at 100% zoom
Ricoh: ISO 1234; Fuji: ISO 3200

Now the difference is much clearer. Obviously the Fuji has more detail in it simply because it has more pixels, but the advantage goes much further than that: the amount of noise in the Ricoh’s image has destroyed a lot of the detail, despite it being shot at less than half the ISO of the Fuji. In addition, the camera is not very sensitive to blue light, so the middle book has lost all of its real colour, whereas the Fuji represents it accurately. You can click the image for a much larger 100% crop.

Highlight Recovery

Another advantage of larger sensors is that they tend to offer smoother-looking transitions to blown highlights, and often allow recovery of more image data in raw processing:

Example of highlight recovery in a Fuji X-E1 image

By comparison, the small sensor in the GR-D III doesn’t allow as much:

Example of highlight recovery in a Fuji X-E1 image

Notice how although the globe is darker, there’s not actually any more detail to be seen in it – Capture One has done a pretty good job of guessing what colour the globe should be, but it can’t recover detail that wasn’t there to start with.

Depth of Field

One last major difference between sensor sizes is their depth of field:

Example of difference in depth of field between Ricoh GR-D III and Fuji X-E1

Note how even though the GR-D III is using a ‘larger’ aperture, the image still has much more in focus than the X-E1. I put ‘larger’ in quotes because the the aperture number takes focal length into account (that’s what the ‘f’ part is), so the Ricoh’s aperture diameter is actually 6mm/1.9, or 3.16 mm, whereas the Fuji’s aperture is 18mm/2.8, or 6.43 mm.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 8: Peek-a-boo!

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank.

I struggled to come up with an idea for this one. The end result is from an idea I had fairly early on, but I dismissed it at first as I didn’t think it’d work very well, due to a pretty boring background.

But then, just before we headed to bed, my fiancée and I decided to try it anyway, and thanks to some extraordinarily fortuitous timing, we had our background interest!

Helvecta the gnome mage peeks over the walls of Stormwind.
Helvecta peeks over the walls of Stormwind.

Image notes: zoomed-in view provided by an Ornate Spyglass. Blur, vignette and chromatic aberration (of the lens kind, not the dragon kind) added in Aperture.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay 7: A sign

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank.

My first thought here went to the obvious: look for a photogenic signpost somewhere in Azeroth. I’d been idly wondering for most of the day where I might find such a sign when my lovely fiancée came up with a much better idea: we could create our own sign, with fireworks! Initially we wanted to use the ones that form the Alliance logo, but apparently they’re no longer available in-game. As luck would have it though, Darkmoon Faire is currently open, and therein one can buy fireworks that form the DMF logo!

With that part settled, we had to decide on a suitable location. It needed to be somewhere with a suitably dark sky, to show off the fireworks nicely. Furthermore I had this idea that the fireworks could represent a sort of ‘Bat Signal’, or a light in the darkness, bringing cheer to a place where there might not currently be any.

Bringing cheer to possibly the most depressing place ever.
Bringing cheer to Shadowmoon Valley. As usual, click the image for a larger version.

Thanks to my fiancée for taking on the role of Pyrotechnics Manager, to which she is well-suited, being a fire mage and all. And regarding the image, turns out that Aperture is good for manipulating virtual photographs as well as real ones.

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay, 6: This means a lot to me!

This post is part of a series of screenshot entries into a competition run by Tycertank.

This one was a pretty easy decision to make:


This place is special to me for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s where I did my first raid, and oh dear was I a noob – as soon as the gate was unlocked, I ran in ahead of everyone else and pulled something, and promptly got squished. After that little mishap, I was better behaved, and we carried on, struggling a little despite this being the beginning of Wrath of the Lich King and several of the raid members being level 80.

So clearly I didn’t make a great impression on our raid leader, which was particularly galling to me as a had a bit of a crush on her. She had the most wonderful voice, was super sweet and caring, and as far as I could tell from the small picture she posted on our guild website, was awfully pretty.

Now the second reason Karazhan is special to me: thankfully my first impression was not a lasting one, and the raid leader and I got to know each other better, well enough that eventually (after much encouragement from a couple of other guild members, to whom I am eternally grateful) I asked her out on a date. She agreed! That was four and a half years ago, and things have only grown from there: we’re now engaged :D

A note about the image: if you actually go to Karazhan and stand in the spot where this screenshot was taken, you'll notice something odd: you can't see the whole tower at once! To create this image, I had to take two screenshots, one angled up to fit the top of the tower in, then combine them in panorama stitching software.

[WoW] #WoWScreenshotADay - catching up, 1 to 5

Tycertank is running a screenshot competition! Naturally, being a keen photographer, I figured this was right up my alley, so I’m gonna play along. We’re up to day 6 so far, so first of all here’s my backlog for the first 5 days – I’ll put the current day in a separate post.

Each day’s screenshot must be based on the given theme. Click the images to see larger versions.

Day 1: The letter ‘N’

Nordrassil, the World Tree.

Hard to really do it justice in a screenshot – you really have to fly around it to get a sense of just how enormous it is! I remember watching a preview video of Cataclysm and marvelling at the countless rooty branches and the complex, 3D nature of the tree.

Day 2: Incomplete

Valgarde, as seen upon first arrival in Northrend, still under construction.

I love me some vrykul, especially the carved wooden dragon heads. I think Blizzard did a great job with the ‘looming, malevolent fortress’ thing in Wrath of the Lich King.

Day 3: Skyline

Borean Tundra
Borean Tundra, looking north-west from Valiance Keep towards Warsong Hold.

More Northrend. Another thing Blizzard nailed with Wrath is the atmosphere – the sky, the fog, the ambient sounds – it all combines to really draw you in. I also have a soft spot for beautiful barren landscapes, and Borean Tundra hits it perfectly.

Day 4: Fresh

Fresh character
A fresh character.

The experience you get when you first jump into the game, having never played it before, has come a long way from the game’s somewhat more hardcore roots, and especially since the Cataclysm overhaul. Still, I had to specifically disable all my addons to get this screenshot, as my normal UI looks almost nothing like the stock one.

Day 5: Early

Mulgore morning
Mulgore morning.

Of all the original starting zones, I think the tauren one is probably the most appealing and the prettiest, as like Borean Tundra its wide-open plains stir something in my heart.

There you go, my first five screenshot-a-day entries!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

[WoW] Gear, and Other Carrots

Does your gear matter? Kurn’s post Tech and the Devaluation of Gear shows how really, gear is effectively an illusion, a trick, a carrot to get you to keep playing even though the upgrades are effectively meaningless, becoming obsolete every time a new tier/expansion is released. It’s really with the introduction of Challenge Modes, and now Proving Grounds and Flex Raiding, that this has become too obvious to ignore: when the numbers on your gear and the enemies can be adjusted so readily, it leads to a questioning of why we bother to strive for improved gear at all.

a can of gearworms

Talk about a can of worms! This question can be split into two answers: levelling and endgame.

As the popularity of heirlooms has shown, players are fine with something that makes gear irrelevant whilst levelling – even the pieces that don’t provide an experience boost are used, and gear drops are mostly only used as a source of disenchanting materials. That the heirloom gear is generally equivalent to rare quality, thus is quite powerful, is an added bonus.

Levelling, though, is but a small part in the life of most characters: it’s often been said that endgame is where the ‘real’ WoW begins. Once you hit maximum level, whatever that might be at the time, you then need to start preparing your character for the Good Stuff: raiding (or battlegrounds or arenas; the goal is mostly the same). This, of course, means gearing up.

Grind My Gear

Prior to the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, getting a newly-max-level character up to raiding standard was a tedious process if it started any significant time after most others had done it, both for the player of that character, and for any guildmates that had to go back and re-do content with the newbie, content they’d already cleared when it was current, and possibly never wanted to see ever again.

Thus did Blizzard introduce the concept of ‘tokens’, a currency that could be earned from doing dungeons and daily quests, and that could be used to buy previous-tier gear. This plus the introduction of automatic group-matching via the Dungeon Finder tool meant gearing up a new character to current-tier standards was a much quicker, if more mechanical, process, one that could be accomplished effectively ‘solo’, since the random, blitz-like nature of the Dungeon Finder groups made it easy to view the other people in your party as NPCs.

The ‘gear resets’ upon the release of The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King were the first clues that the numbers on gear are mostly arbitrary. The tokens were the second: no longer was gear something magical that you looted from a boss after a hard-won victory. Instead, it became something you could buy – not a reward but a return on time invested.

Perhaps coincidentally, this was around the same time addons like Recount and Gearscore really came to prominence, further clarifying the feeling that WoW is about numbers above all, a pretty facade in front of a spreadsheet.

Zahlen Über Alles

The fact that WoW is so numerically transparent has led to some fascinating things. Simulationcraft, for example, can predict, to a high degree of accuracy, how your character will perform in a given situation. Sites like Ask Mr. Robot will look at your character, crunch the numbers, then tell you what gear to acquire, and how to gem and reforge it, in order to maximise your potential.

At risk of invoking the slippery slope fallacy, it’s getting easier to see how this focus on and automation of numbers is making those numbers irrelevant. It takes very little skill to become ‘raid-ready’, just time. And, for those of us with full-time jobs and families to look after, time is often at a premium 1, meaning we can feel somewhat obligated to optimise our gaming, sometimes to the detriment of fun.

So what happens when acquisition of gear is no longer necessary?

For Great Justice!

I play Guild Wars 2 as well as WoW. If you’re not familiar with GW2, it has almost no gear progression: you get to max level (80), and any gear with the stats you need is available via several means, including the Trading Post (equivalent to WoW’s Auction House, more or less). In other words, you can directly buy pretty much the best stats in the game (not getting into the debate about Ascended gear, which is slightly more powerful but harder/more time consuming to acquire, and only available for trinket slots at present).

Guild Wars 2 also has dynamic stat scaling too: go into a low-level zone on your level 80 character and your effective level gets lowered to the maximum for that zone; enter World vs. World on any character below maximum level and you get up-levelled to 80. Structured PvP is interesting, too: not only are you boosted to maximum level, you are given a set of armour with no stats, plus a single trinket that gives you a completely standardised set of stats. You don’t have to spend any time or currency on this, resulting in a completely level playing field (class balance aside).

So what do Guild Wars 2 players strive for? The short answer: appearance, fun and victory. Like WoW, GW2 lets players alter the appearance of their armour and weapons by using other items as a source; hence, players run dungeons in order to acquire items they think look nice. Additionally, they do things because they are fun – the endgame is not like WoW’s at all, with no raids, no tiers and (for now) no expansions, so players are free to set more of their own goals.

Then of course there’s WvW/sPvP, where the goal is quite simple: to win. In both cases, gear plays no part in one’s chances of success, and is not a factor in the rewards.

Dark Simulacrum

I bring up Guild Wars 2 not as an example of what Blizzard should copy, but to show that it can be possible to have a successful game in which gear progression is not a factor. Of course, GW2 differs in many other significant ways, many of which are primarily there as an alternative to gearing up – most obviously, ArenaNet have committed to releasing new content every month, for free, and often for a limited time.

That’s not to say Blizzard shouldn’t copy anything from ArenaNet – if it’ll work in the context of WoW, it absolutely should be implemented; good ideas are good ideas, regardless of who comes up with them.

Vestments of Prophecy

So what rewards would be acceptable for killing an Instance boss, if not statistically superior gear?

Already, we have one answer: items for use in transmogrification. Some folks may see this as the domain of ‘socials’, but each to their own – having your character look the way you want is a perfectly valid goal in my book.

Then there’s Challenge Modes, which already do not provide any kind of numerical upgrade, instead awarding ‘prestige’ things like mounts, pets, titles and so forth. Furthermore, there are realm-wide leaderboards, giving really good teams bragging rights.

Both of these things are relatively small-scale, however, and may not work so well for raid-sized content. What to do there? There’s a complicating issue here: how will new tiers scale? Will they be at the same level, numerically, as current tiers? If that’s the case, it’d go a long way towards reducing the way tiers become obsolete as new ones are introduced, and I personally would love it if all raids of a given expansion could remain relevant throughout.

While adopting Challenge Mode’s stat-normalisation could work for raids, I don’t think the timed aspect would. In fact, it’s hard to think of something that would effectively offer the equivalent to the dungeons’ Gold, Silver and Bronze ‘medals’. There could be a ‘difficulty’ setting, but the problem there is having to complete the raid several times at ever harder difficulties, which may get tedious very quickly, although this could perhaps be alleviated if the difficulty was adjustable on a per-boss basis.

So far, so traditional, but what about something… more? To bring up Guild Wars 2 again, I think WoW could benefit from taking transmog even further with armour dyes and craftable ‘skins’, i.e. armour made purely for use in transmog.

I say that entirely with the realisation that such a thing would require extremely large-scale changes to the game. Obviously there’s no way to apply custom colours to armour in WoW at present, and implementing one would mean a lot of work to make it backwards-compatible with existing armour models. Perhaps at first, only new armour would be alterable, with older gear updated over time.

Expanding on the dye idea further, the colours could, like in GW2, be craftable, perhaps by scribes or alchemists, and recipes would be one of the new kinds of drops from instance bosses, with the colour’s rarity and difficulty of acquisition being based on its value to players (black = most valuable, guaranteed; it’s one of the most expensive on GW2’s Trading Post).

Naturally, tailors, leatherworkers and blacksmiths would craft the appropriate class of armour, and engineers and enchanters could even get in on the act by providing cool animations and glow effects and so forth.


Blizzard maintains a very careful balance in WoW to ensure as many types of players enjoy the game as possible. They know better than any of us what motivates players, and they’ve had eight years to fine-tune things in a way that no other MMORPG can match, so obviously, removing a fundamental aspect of the game is not going to go down well with the type of player who likes downing raid bosses just for the sake of acquiring new gear and seeing bigger numbers.

Furthermore, although there’s plenty of complaining from a subset of players that dungeons are too easy and that everything’s a faceroll and boring, when the instances are actually challenging, another, larger subset of players complains that things are now too hard (or, in the case of a recent GW2 dungeon, they just don’t run it). The outcry over the initial difficulty of the Cataclysm expansion’s dungeons is evidence of this, although in that particular instance there were other important factors to consider, not least of which was that by the end of Wrath of the Lich King, the playerbase had become used to blitzing through even heroic, current-tier 5-player dungeons, area-of-effect spells out in full force, no brainpower required. Cataclysm‘s dungeons were like a bucket of icy water to the face, and only those bracing themselves for it could cope.

The issue if compounded by the greatly varying levels of skill within the playerbase – the main reason the Raid Finder tool, with its lower difficulty and simplified encounters, was introduced was so more people could experience the boss fights that Blizzard spent a lot of effort creating (alas it turned out to be a not so great solution, as anyone who’s used it can attest).

Designing encounters with varying levels of difficulty may mitigate the problem of a less-than-ideal number of people being skilled enough to experience the content, but it does little to entice players who are not solely motivated by overcoming the types of challenges that raids provide. Hence, carrots, especially ones designed to appeal to stereotypical ‘casual’ raiders: pets, mounts, armour dyes/recipes and other ‘collectible’ things.

Winter of This Content

I’m on the fence really as to whether I believe Blizzard could or would implement something like stat irrelevancy or armour dyes. WoW is growing old, and it won’t be long before its retirement comes, so expending significant resources to change the very core of the game after almost nine years seems unlikely; I suspect rather that we’ll see something like this in the fabled Titan project, whenever it makes an official appearance.

Still, it’s nice to dream, and perhaps might yet see some of these ideas in the World of Warcraft, albeit in watered-down form. Roll on 6.0!

1: As gainfully employed adults, many of us now have something else instead of time: money. What’s that, Blizzard are going to be selling a thing that lets players achieve something in less time? Well, fancy that.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Fuji X-E1 vs. X100: further observations

These are just a few things I’ve noticed now that I’ve spent more time with the X-E1. See also my first impressions.

New firmware, and handling

First of all, not long after I got the camera Fuji released firmware version 1.06 for it, which adds the ability to use the Down button on the four-way controller as a programmable function button. Furthermore, ‘Select AF Point’ is now one of the functions that can be assigned to such buttons. For those of us who regularly change focus points, this is a huge improvement, as it makes changing AF points with the camera up to your eye significantly easier, especially with a relatively heavy and ‘hands-on’ lens like the 18–55mm.

Another aspect of handling that is not immediately obvious when comparing the X-E1 and X100 is the shape of the body on the right hand side. They appear fairly similar, but in fact the X100 is much more rounded (X100 on the left):

Comparison of X100 and X-E1 right hand edges

It seems a minor difference, but it’s surprising how much more comfortable the X100 is when pressed into the palm of your hand, although with a lighter lens than the 18–55mm it might not be as much of an issue. I presume the X-E1’s shape is due to its thicker battery leaving less room for nice body contouring.

Raw versus JPEG

Almost always with the X100, I found the JPEGs the camera produced to be better than anything I could get out of Lightroom, Aperture or Capture One. For certain looks, I could get the included SilkyPix to give nicer results (it’s particularly good at highlight recovery and lush landscape colours), but on the whole the JPEGs were just plain nicer-looking, at least to me – I realise this is obviously a subjective thing. For reference, I shot Astia film simulation in Auto WB, with no WB adjustment, and with +2 colour, +1 highlights, and shadows at 0, in sRGB.

For some reason I’ve not quite pinned down yet, I can get much better results out of the X-E1’s raw files than I ever could out of the X100’s, especially in Aperture and Capture One, sometimes even better than the camera’s JPEGs. This was entirely unexpected, and it’s not because the X-E1’s JPEGs are worse either; it’s just that the raw files are… better, somehow. It seems to be because they have less baked-in contrast, and so are more pliable, easier to mould into what I want from them. Aperture, in particular, also does a really good job of the demosaicing – better, in fact, than the camera in some instances. Here’s a picture of my back garden:

My back garden

And here’s a comparison of 100% crops from the X-E1 out-of-camera JPEG on the left, and Aperture on the right:

My back garden

Slight colour differences, aside, the Aperture version is a little sharper and, at least on the red flower, more detailed. It’s also a little noisier, but I had noise reduction set as low as possible.

I’m still going to keep shooting raw + JPEG, as the camera does do some colours better than Aperture (orange and blue look nicer, I think), but it’s nice to know I have an additional very good option for processing my photos now.

White balance

The X-E1 seems to prefer a cooler white balance than the X100, so I’ve given mine a +1 nudge in the yellow and red directions.

This white balance tweaking is improved over the X100 in that you can set separate adjustments for each white balance setting, so for instance I’ve got Auto WB to be a bit warmer, and the Shade setting to be a little cooler (I actually rarely use the other settings, come to think of it).

This is especially handy as I’ve set up a couple of Custom Settings, with Astia/AutoWB on C1, and Velvia/Shade on C2, for easy switching depending on circumstance – C1 for most everyday shooting, C2 for landscapes. Being able to change the Custom Setting via the Q menu is also really handy.

Speaking of which, it’d be even nicer if the Color Space option was included there – changing it to Adobe RGB results in significantly more saturated images, even though it really shouldn’t make that much difference. I suspect it’s actually just tagging the photos differently, rather than converting the raw data into the specified colour space. Personally I don’t mind this – I see it as another parameter I can use when tailoring the look my photos.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Fujifilm X-E1: Initial thoughts

These are some really early thoughts on the X-E1, gathered during the short time between opening the box and the battery running out of its initial small amount of charge. There’s no real order to this – just things listed as they occurred to me. I’ve had a Fuji X100 for almost exactly a year now (I wrote about my first impressions of it, too), and thoroughly enjoyed shooting with it in that time, despite its idiosyncrasies. These thoughts, then, are frequently written with comparisons to X100 in mind.

First off, the 18–55mm kit lens is a lot smaller than I thought it’d be. The only other similar lens I’ve handled is the Pentax equivalent, and that’s physically a little fatter and quite a bit longer. The Fuji lens feels much denser though, very solid. The zoom ring is stiffer than expected, kind of like it’s attached to a powered-off electric motor (turning it makes a noise like that’s the case, too).

I know several people have made a big deal about how loose the aperture ring feels, but honestly I quite like it. It makes a similar ‘snick’ noise to the X100’s aperture ring, only it moves more easily and of course simulates ⅓-stop detents. I have read a few mentions of how lens rings are all a bit close together; I imagined these complaints were a little overblown, but now that I’ve handled the lens I can see the problem. I don’t think it’s so much that the rings are close together – that’s no problem even for my pretty large hands – but more that the aperture and zoom rings feel fairly similar in texture. Having said that, I’m sure it’s something I’ll get used to pretty quickly.

The rubber grip on the front of the camera is much better than the slippery plastic front of the X100 – on the latter I actually resorted to glueing some grip tape to it to improve the handling:

X100 with grip tape – not necessary on X-E1
My X100 with grip tape, a modification that’s thankfully not necessary on the X-E1.

Similarly, the raised ridge that holds the AE-L and Q buttons provides good purchase for my thumb, so all in all I feel quite secure holding the X-E1 with one hand, despite the additional weight with the 18–55mm lens mounted.

The EV compensation dial has had a bit of praise in comparison to the X100’s, because it’s recessed into the body more, so it’s less prone to accidental turning. Personally, though, I never found that to be an issue with my X100, and, at least for now, I find the X-E1’s dial to be a bit less convenient, with a slightly less grippy texture to it.

The four-way buttons on the X-E1 are a big improvement over the X100, almost entirely because they lack the annoying spinning dial around them. Even after a year that dial still annoys me a bit every now and then on the X100, and while it’s sometimes useful for quickly spinning through menus, that’s a small silver lining on a big dark cloud. I know it can be used to nudge manually-set shutter speeds, but I almost always shoot with the shutter dial set to A, so that’s not been relevant to me.

The top rear dial is also a nice improvement over the X100’s, in that it’s an actual dial now, not just a rocker switch. It pushes in with a more satisfying click, too – the X100’s felt a little mushy. In fact all of the buttons on the right hand side of the camera’s rear feel more clicky and less mushy.

The screen is… well, it’s pretty much the same as the X100’s as far as I can tell, except perhaps a bit more neutral in its colour rendering. Since I’ve never experienced the supposed glory that is the X-Pro 1’s screen I can’t really comment on how they compare. The EVF is quite obviously better than the X100’s, though – much better detail, and a generally more ‘solid’ look with no faint visible gaps between pixels. It’s also a bit bluer than the rear LCD. The refresh rate doesn’t bother me in the slightest – I use the X100 almost exclusively in EVF mode, and it never bothers me on that camera, either. The X-E1’s EVF is marginally smaller than the X100’s, but not enough that it really matters. I’ll see if I can get a comparison picture once the battery’s charged.

The EV +/− display is a little less obvious than the X100’s, due to the lack of a blue bar extending from 0 to the current setting. It’s already tripped me up once so far, but hopefully I’ll get used to it.

The menus look nicer than the X100, and they’re organised a bit better, too, with tabs down the left side so you can quickly jump to the required section rather than having to scroll through each page.

The Q menus is, as others have said, very handy. It remembers the last setting you were on, so you can spin through adjustments very quickly, and of course since the camera uses an EVF you can do this with it up to your eye.

One thing I like about the X100 is its in-camera raw conversion feature. It’s not particularly good in terms of user interface, but since the camera can very often produce better JPEGs than I can get out of Aperture or Lightroom*, I’ve found I use it quite a bit. The X-E1 has the same feature, although it’s slightly less convenient to use since there’s no handy ‘RAW’ button to bring up the converter. Not sure why the Q button couldn’t be used for that purpose, since it doesn’t otherwise seem to do anything in playback mode.

Finally, the battery/card door is not as good as the X100’s, because the way it hinges up makes getting the SD card out much more difficult, especially if you have fat fingers like me:

X100 battery/card compartment on the left, X-E1’s on the right
On the left, the X100’s battery/card compartment, and on the right the X-E1’s. Being so close to the compartment door, it’s difficult to get a good grip on the card.

So that’s it for now – just my initial impressions on how the X-E1 compares to the X100.

* I recently got Capture One Express when it was on sale for €35, and initial impressions with X100 raw files are very good – sometimes I even like the C1 conversions more than the camera’s!

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Lion's Arch Asura Gate Guide

Because I got tired of waiting for the gate racial guards load to every time I went near the Asura gates in Lion's Arch, so I could tell which gate went where, I made a simple visual reference: