Quick comparison: Canon EF-S 24mm v. Sigma 17-70mm mk 2

efs-24mm-stm-bcollin

Last week I bought the new Canon EF-S 24mm F2.8 STM lens from Canon. This is a lens that only works on crop sensor cameras. STM is short for stepper motor and provides a relatively fast and quiet means of focussing. What the name doesn’t convey is that this is also a very flat lens (a so-called ‘pancake’) and at 125 grams a very light lens.

For comparison my Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4.0 zoom lens (second edition) weighs four times as much, which may not sound like much, but when you want to travel light every little bit helps.

I bought the 24 so that I don’t always have to bring the 17-70 with me (I already have a solution for 50mm and higher).

Reviews of the 24 are glowing without fail, but when I started shooting with it, I did not notice much difference with my Sigma zoom, which is generally known as a rather pedestrian lens. So I wanted to know what’s up and took a couple of test shots on my Canon EOS 600D camera.

Note that the following is definitely not even close to what in pixel peeping circles is termed ‘scientific’. I don’t need to know what a lens does at pixel level as long as it holds up well for photos that get scaled down a couple of times, because when I publish photos it is generally at a web resolution of 1 or 2 mega-pixels.

The following photos are available at 1200 pixels wide. Click them for the full size. In every comparison the Canon photo is shown first, followed by the Sigma.

Wide shot

I expect to be using the lens a lot for this type of shot and for medium shots.

I shot using (cover your children’s eyes) the automatic setting (P). The camera chose F9, 1/320s, ISO 100 for the Canon and the same settings except 1/250s for the Sigma. The DXO Labs comparison of the two lenses suggests that the Canon lets in more light for the same F value, so that might explain the differences in shutter speed. The photos were taken hand-held and focus was acquired using CDAF on the top left white window of the nearest building.

These photos already tell me most of what I wanted to know, namely that the two lenses are similar enough that scaled down to a resolution close to what I typically use, there is no significant difference along any vector you care to choose: sharpness, colour rendition and so on.

canon-efs-24-full

sigma-17-70-23-full

Checking that window at 100%, you can see that the Canon seems slightly sharper, but the difference is too small to worry me. The difference may be caused by a number of variables that have nothing to do with the lens. I certainly wouldn’t leave the Sigma home over this bit of evidence.

canon-sigma-crop-distance

When I look at the 100% view (not shown here) of the nearest red roof in the picture, the vertical lines separating some of the roof tiles disappear in the Sigma picture where they remain visible in the Canon picture. As you can see that sort of detail makes up a tiny proportion of the final picture. That type of detail is not something I am interested in retaining for the sort of photos I generally take. Still, it is good to see the Canon pancake do well in this respect.

Macro and close-up

Both the Canon and the Sigma have an interesting feature in that you can get very close to a subject and still get it in focus. They both advertise this as macro capability. Since 24mm is equivalent to 38mm on Canon’s APS-C cameras, you can get really close and still get a nice bit of blurry background in the photo.

canon-efs-24-full-macro

sigma-17-70-23-full-macro

What’s interesting here is the change in perspective. I shot these close-ups on a tripod and took care not to move the tripod in between photos. Note that the camera doesn’t tell you which focal length you are shooting at. I had to shoot a test scene first using measurements I got from the dimensional field of view calculator I found at one Max Lyons’ site. In English, I placed an object that was 93 centimetres wide at a distance of 100 centimetres from the sensor, zoomed the Sigma in to the point where the entire width of the object filled the screen, and kept that zoom setting for all the test photos I took with that lens.

When I looked at the EXIF data of the photos, the Sigma results said 23mm instead of 24mm. It could be that such a small difference in focal length already results in such a great difference in the photos. Or maybe the way zoom lenses are constructed cause this difference, I really don’t know.

What you cannot see here is that you can get even closer with the Canon, because it is such a small lens. The Sigma will at one point cast its own shadow in your photos.

Both photos where shot in P mode resulting in F4.0 (F4.5 for the Sigma), 1/60s and ISO 100.

The following are 100% crops (after the click).

canon-efs-24-100p-focus

sigma-17-70-23-100p-focus

I focused on “EOS” in “only in EOS digital cameras” for the Canon test, whereas I accidentally changed to “EOS” in “für digitale EOS Spiegelreflexkameras bestimmt” for the Sigma photo.

When you peep pixel you may notice that both lenses are nice and sharp, that the Canon has slightly more chromatic aberration (both seem well controlled though), but that the Sigma has a fairly nasty rendition of high contrast out-of-focus areas. Your may well disagree, the differences seem small. I had noticed the busy high-contrast out-of-focus areas in Sigma photos before – I’ve been shooting this lens for a while now. If the Canon does better in this area I am going to be a happy camper.

Finally I will show you two 100% crops of out-of-focus areas. I find both renditions fairly pleasant.

canon-efs-24-100p-oof

sigma-17-70-23-100p-oof

So here’s my conclusion.

For the type of photography I do, my copy of the Canon may be slightly better than my copy of the Sigma. I would have been happy even if the results were reversed, so this is good news. The one thing I haven’t tested is shooting the Canon wide open (F2.8) in dark environments. The shutter speeds I will be using it at are 1/60s – 1/160s, depending on the subjects. The Canon, unlike the Sigma, does not have image stabilisation, but since I will be mostly photographing people (who will move without notice), I will probably have to keep the shutter speeds relatively high anyway.

In the end it seems I have achieved my goal of getting a lighter lens for my wide-angle needs.

On a more general note, the Canon EF-S 24mm F2.8 STM seems to be a nice pancake. If your needs are similar to mine, but you need to change focal lengths a lot, you may prefer the zoom lens. Note that a new version of the Sigma tests significantly better than my version at DXO and is also smaller and (slightly) lighter.

Pity, John Oliver, I thought you might be one of the good guys…

British comedian John Oliver is the front man of a popular American rage vlog (and TV show) called Last Week Tonight, in which he tries to work viewers into an angry fit by spinning a mock cathartic narrative around injustices that are both major and very real.

The segment of 21 June was titled “Online Harassment“. It dealt largely with the harassment women undergo when they dare to do as much as open their mouths on-line. Two of the victims Oliver named and interviewed were Brianna Wu and Anita Sarkeesian, but shamefully he omitted mentioning their attackers, the Gamergate movement.

By not naming and shaming the attackers he wilfully let them off the hook. The Gamergate movement’s only goal is to harass women both on- and off-line. Surely, naming a movement that is a sort of modern day Ku Klux Klan (except aimed against women instead of people of colour) is exactly what you need to do when you’re trying to pretend that you are putting on-line harassment in the spotlight?

It’s not like the people in the know don’t realise what’s going on. Gamergate was very quick to acknowledge that John Oliver was talking about them. If not to keep the Gamergate hounds at bay, why did Oliver refrain from calling the attention of the public to one of the worst hate campaigns currently laying waste to the internet?

The major reason I can think of is that as long as on-line harassment is alive and well, he can produce shows around it. Oliver doesn’t really want to tackle injustice, he only wants to use injustice as the emotional hook with which to reel in his audience.

Shame on you, John Oliver!

Ads for something you’ve already bought

Lately this happens a lot to me:
1) I search the web for a product.
2) I settle on product X.
3) The ad network remembers my choice.
4) I buy product X.
5) The next two weeks, the web inundates me with ads for product X, even though I have already been sated with said product.

In other words, I keep seeing ads on the web for products I’ve already either bought or rejected.

The mechanism behind this is called targeted advertising. Basically you visit website A which tells ad network Annoy Inc. what you’ve been looking at, then you visit website B which loads ads by Annoy Inc. based on what they know about your interests.

Apparently I am a little bit behind the curve, because this sort of thing was already happening in 2012. The Slate article calls the practice creepy and focusses on the fact that the advertisements follow you around without actually serving a purpose. I’d probably use a less strong word and call it strange rather than creepy, but then I don’t need to draw in many readers in order to serve them targeted ads, like Slate does.

It seems to be that advertising has become smart enough to realise what you are interested in at any given point, but not smart enough to realise when that interest drops abruptly or changes in nature. The funny thing is that advertising for something that you are no longer interested in is actually worse than advertising for something you have never been interested in. It’s a bit like the one night stand from two weeks ago showing up at work five times a day to nag you about wanting to do the sex thing again – well, at least they have a chance you will say yes.

Why are companies so stupid? I think part of the problem may be that ad networks really don’t have an incentive to change things. They get paid by the view and can in fact prove that you’ve shown interest in the product that’s being advertised. If manufacturers and sellers want to stop annoying their core customer base, maybe they should get involved more into on-line advertising. (Or maybe the companies really aren’t that stupid and get something out of it that the consumers have yet to suss out.)

See also:

Free speech can be dangerous

A commenter at the New York Times wrote: “There are zero conditions for freedom of speech. Only that it doesn’t cause an immediate danger to the public (i.e. shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre).”

This is a sentiment I come across often and with which I have a couple of issues.

One is that it is absolutist. If the conditions of free speech are rigid, they become comforting. You now know what the contours of free speech are, so you no longer have to worry about them. In my opinion, however, free speech becomes less free if you can easily define its contours.

The crowded theatre phrase was uttered by a judge in an opinion in 1919, almost a hundred years ago. Judges live in a kind of fluid world. They create law by jurisprudence, but they also know that if their arguments aren’t strong enough, the next judge will overturn their laws. If Oliver Wendell Holmes said something about shouting fire in crowded theatres, he was probably vain enough to hope for immortality, but unlike the average internet commenter, he also knew his opinion could be replaced at any time by another court.

The other issue I have is that the crowded theatre statement betrays a really low opinion of free speech. Apparently free speech is never dangerous, is always ineffectual. As soon as it challenges, mocks, riles, irritates, provokes, speech becomes dangerous and loses its privilege of being protected.

The above mentioned judge did make that distinction, by the way. The New York Times quote is incomplete. What Oliver Wendell Holmes actually said was: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

The distinction is in the word ‘falsely’. Dangerous speech can be good. It can topple a dictator and set a people free. It can alert a group of theatre goers of a fire. In the ensuing stampede for the exits some people may be trampled to death, but generally that is to be preferred over everybody dying in the fire.

When people get trampled unnecessarily is where judge Holmes draws the line.

Saint Nicholas Parade 2014

intocht-adam-2014-bco-001

On 15 November Saint Nicholas arrived in the Netherlands with his Black Peters having traveled here on his steam boat all the way from his palace in Spain.

The day after, he participated in parades all over the country. I went and took pictures of his parade in Amsterdam.

intocht-adam-2014-bco-006

The past two years there has been an intense debate, if you even want to call it that, about Saint Nicholas’ famous helper, Black Peter. There are people who figure if they cannot destroy racism, they could at least have a go at what they perceive to be a symbol of racism. Racists have come crawling out of the woodwork by the hundreds of thousands to ‘defend’ Black Peter, by which they mean that they claim the right to call every person of colour ‘black peter’ any time they want (reducing said person to a cartoon character).

And everybody else (the majority) is closing their eyes, hoping this will all go away.

The anti-Petes started a lawsuit last year, claiming that the city of Amsterdam should not have issued a permit for the Saint Nicholas parade in Amsterdam considering that Black Peter represents a negative stereo type of black people (bright red lips, golden earrings, curly hair and so on). The court agreed with them (Dutch) and came to the curious conclusion that the city should reconsider the permit for an event that had already taken place.

intocht-adam-2014-bco-018

Lacking a time machine, the Netherlands did not go back to November 2013 to cancel the parade.

One of the reasons Black Peter is black, legend has it, is because he has to clamber down and up chimneys to deliver presents. The soot is so persistent that it no longer comes off. That is why the city of Amsterdam decided that this year some of the Petes would appear in a semi-sooted state. To be honest, I did not notice many Roetpieten (Soot Petes), as they were soon dubbed. Most of the Black Peters in the parade looked the same as they did last year.

intocht-adam-2014-bco-008-b

You have to wonder if this was a serious attempt of the city to find a middle ground, or if the people that govern us belong to the group who want all this to just blow over.

Interestingly the Head Pete (Saint Nicholas’ right hand, bearer of the book of names of all children and the most authoritative figure in the parade after Saint Nicholas himself) did show up as a Soot Pete this year.

intocht-adam-2014-bco-020

Shown throughout this posting are a couple of photos I took this year.

In 2013 I posted the photos I took of the parade that year as an album on the Flickr account of 24 Oranges. My co-blogger asked me not to do that this year. That is why I posted them to my own Flickr account. See for yourselves if you think Amsterdam has done enough to kill of any racist stereotypes. You can find my 2013 album here, and my 2014 album here.

Note that the 2013 parade was already supposed to be toned down in that Black Peters had shed their golden earrings.

You would probably like to know what my opinion is of all this. The thing is I do have a position and I would love to share it, but my position is based on a lot of anecdotal evidence and I am not sure it would hold up to even the lightest scrutiny. As a result I don’t think sharing what I feel about this sordid affair would, at this point, add anything meaningful to the debate.

Long and rambling review of the Ducky DK2108 computer keyboard

ducky-dk2108-00

Ducky Zero DK2108

Abstract: buy it if you want to try it, or not, it’s all good.

I wanted to own a real keyboard.

The currents of modernity sweep into curious directions. For instance there is a strong tendency among manufacturers to make things that break easily. This forces consumers into buying the same thing—or a slight up- or downgrade of that thing—over and over again. (See: planned obsolescence.)

Also the desktop PC seems to be on its way out. Plumbers and archdukes alike seem to perform the majority of their computing tasks on ever shrinking devices. I’ve even seen programmers switch to tablets. I do not belong to that group of people. Big and fast devices make my job (I am a web developer) significantly easier.

These days if you want to buy a keyboard, you buy a plastic affair for 10 bucks that starts to disintegrate almost the moment you join the queue at the computer store’s check-out.

I moved the other way and went for a 100 euro mechanical keyboard, the Ducky DK2108.

This is a review of that keyboard. It is unnecessarily long and rambling, because I wrote it twice and then haphazardly merged the two reviews, and then I failed to reach a solid conclusion. Go figure. I post this because I think it can still be useful, but you may have to bear with me a bit.

Read the rest of this entry »

Frogger

I have finally figured out what it is that makes Frogger so difficult. It offers you a ‘weapon’ that is one of the most difficult to control of all, namely choice.

There are few games I know of, retro or modern, that have so perfected the sense of “I’ve got this.” You think, “I can make that jump,” or “I can get that bonus fly”, and before you know it the croc is dining on your frog’s legs. It is difficult because it is easy. You underestimate everything about it, the timing, the distances, the enemies. And every time bitter experience has taught you to be extra careful, the bonuses and the wide gaps and the forgiving collision masks give you a false sense of security and lure you right back into offering one of your few frogs onto the altar of your inflated ego.

I’m pretty sure early reviews mentioned this aspect of the game, but I am nothing if not stubborn, although a good second would be easily distracted and a third would be forgetful.

Frogger is one of the first video games I encountered in my life (the very first must have been Pong) and yet after forty years it still stumps me. That is quite an achievement.

frogger-c64

ISDS is coming this way and it is disastrous

A disease going by the name of ISDS is threatening the citizens of Europe.

Its symptoms are a very strong pain in the wallet, a pain of the sort you’ve probably never felt before.

ISDS is a court of law in which companies (and only companies) can sue countries for large sums of money, even though the countries broke no law. We are talking billions here. Small countries can easily be bankrupted by ISDS. All that is required for a country to be found guilty is that some measure taken by the country is affecting the company’s bottom line.

The abbreviation ISDS stands for Investor-State Dispute Settlement. Feudal courts for robber barons, that is what ISDS really means. Courts that are an instrument for companies rather than an arbiter between two parties.

Imagine that you go to school and every day a much older bully beats you up and takes your lunch money. Sometimes you get lucky and the head master catches the bully. In this analogy, ISDS is when the head master hates you and the head master is actually the parent of the bully and only believes their story.

Here is a real life example. The sovereign and presumably democratic country of Australia recently committed to ISDS. In 2011 Australia proposed to implement its Tobacco Plain Packaging bill. This bill makes it obligatory to sell cigarettes in packages from which almost all brand information has been stripped. This is I guess because tobacco kills people and Australia wants to make smoking seem less attractive.

In April 2011 tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris started an ISDS procedure against Australia. The company argued that since it no longer could brand its cigarette packages clearly, the law would cost them money. They told the Australian government to kill or amend its law. Their extortion letter (if anyone has a better word, please let me know) claimed that they would lose billions of dollars if the law were to pass. (At the time of writing one Australian dollar is worth slightly less than an American one.)

That year Australia passed its Tobacco Plain Packaging law which went into effect on January 2012. In November 2011 Philip Morris started the second phase of its procedure, telling Australia one last time to revoke its law or suffer the consequences. Again the ‘damage’ to Philip Morris was claimed to be ‘an amount to be qualified but of the order of billions of Australian dollars’.

In 2012, 2013 and 2014 the ISDS court has been setting up and outlining the way the proceedings would go. As is the case when you let multi-nationals write your laws for you, vast parts of the proceedings are off limits to the public. The document for instance in which Philip Morris tells the court how much money it wants (the so-called Statement of Claim) is a secret.

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that Australia now wants to get rid of its ISDS agreements.

It’s clear why multi-nationals want ISDS. It’s not at all clear why politicians want ISDS, but they do ever so much. When politicians aren’t wringing their hands while whining about how little voters understand them, they’re walking around with rock hard erections (men and women alike) while thinking of ISDS.

ISDS is a fairly new phenomenon. In a 2013 overview published by UNCTAD (PDF) you can see how the world has gone from 0 cases in 1992 to dozens per year now. In 2012 alone there were nine wins for the multi-nationals who managed to steal over 2 billion dollars from the public. These are the damages awarded, the number excludes compound interest and I cannot be bothered to figure out who payed for the proceedings, although that doesn’t seem hard to guess.

Is there anything we can do about ISDS? It seems very unlikely. If the state wants complete sovereignty except where multi-nationals are concerned, something is very rotten with the way the state works. Puttering around the edges isn’t going to help much.

Meanwhile I’m not too bad. It is the people that always say politics don’t interest them that will get hit the worst. Cynical this may be, but I will allow myself a little wry smile when ISDS comes to these shores wrapped in secret trade agreements such as TTIP, CETA or TiSA.

Ello doesn’t need to sell ads and here’s why

The latest Facebook-killer in a long line of Facebook-killers has arrived and its name is Ello.

Ello is—like Facebook—a social network, and the reason why it probably won’t kill Facebook is that it’s got pretty much the same value proposition. If it poses a threat, all Facebook has to do is become a little more Ello-like.

Facebook will die in the end but only because that is how these things go. The current threat to Facebook, as people tell me, is Twitter. Unlike Facebook’s users, Twitter users don’t share a space with their parents. That’s a feature Facebook may be able to tweak on a technological level, but perhaps not on an emotional one.

Ello’s main attraction is that it allows users (for now) to use pseudonyms, allowing people with multiple personae to use the one that fits their role in society best. Facebook on the other hand forces you to use the name on your passport.

Ello is also ad free.

The site claims that it ‘will always remain an “ad-free network.”‘ (Business Insider)

And: “We set out to prove that a social network will survive and thrive that doesn’t have a business model of selling ads to its users,” says CEO and co-founder Paul Budnitz. (IPR)

I want to talk about the no-advertising model for a bit. The articles I’ve read so far seem to suggest that people are tired of being treated like a product and they understand that ads play some sort of key role in this process. The process is understood to work as follows. Facebook sells or gives user data to advertisers who customize their ads to fit Facebook users. The advertisers then sell those advertisements to Facebook to place on the users’ pages.

Since Ello doesn’t do ads, it is assumed that the users are spared from these practices and that users’ privacy is kept intact.

I don’t see how that follows.

In the model above Facebook is both the provider of user data and the manager of the ad network. That is to say, they both own the user data and the advertising space.

There is no reason however why these two should be connected. Ello could easily set itself up as a provider of user data.

How that works is how privacy-busting online advertising has always worked. The owner of the user space places user tracking technology (also called: a cookie) on the computer of the user. It then tells the owner of the advertising space (this could be any website) everything about the user and its cookie. The advertiser reads the cookie and asks Ello or Facebook: “what can you tell me about the person that has this cookie” and adapts its advertisement to the answer.

Whether that is going to happen with Ello remains to be seen. At the moment ello.co places four tracking cookies in my browser even though I am not logged in. That’s three more than say a fresh WordPress install. (WordPress places a cookie called wordpress_test_cookie on login screens in order to check whether it needs to work with Javascript or needs to fall back to another tracking technology. This in turn is so that when you log in, it doesn’t need to keep asking you for your password every time you go to another page. The European anti-cookie directive defines this as a permissible cookie necessary for the proper functioning of the website.)

Food for thought: Ello is currently not making money, that is I doubt it is. The site is probably haemorrhaging money and its backers will soon want to see something more than just losses.

Meet the new look, same as the old look

I’ve changed the look of this blog, but don’t be surprised if you don’t see any difference.

Most of the changes are ‘under the hood’ so to speak and only produce a different visual in certain browsing environments.

In the old theme (the part of the blog that determines the look) all dimensions were fixed. The new theme uses a so-called responsive design where the look of the site is determined by the width of the device you’re using to browse.

You will notice the changes the most on phones and in certain ancient web browsers, where the site will display as a single column. This has the advantage that on thin screens (phones) the browser won’t try to cram everything in, but will instead stack everything vertically.

Two other responsive features that you will see on mobile devices:

  1. Images will now take up the width of the screen regardless of the size in which I’ve uploaded them. (This only goes for recent images.)
  2. Some of the menus are rendered as big buttons so that you can tap them more easily with your finger.

Other changes:

  • The blog now uses HTML5 and CSS3.
  • The new theme is made from the ground up and no longer based on WordPress’ former default theme Kubrick.
  • Some of the background colours are gone.
  • I am using a new font for the headings, namely Permian by Ilya Ruderman (I used to use MS Trebuchet for headings).
  • Kubrick used quote marks as bullets for list items, I’ve returned to a more classic disc.
  • I have cut a lot of code.

The latter combined with the fact that I’ve released this redesign before it was ready means you’re probably going to bump into things that aren’t quite right. Please let me know when that happens.

Read the rest of this entry »