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‘Death Stranding’ brings back appointment gaming

00:42 | 12 November

Game launches these days are frequently the very worst time to play them. Plagued by bugs, server issues, balance problems, and a lack of content, many “games as a service” titles are best consumed after a month or two. Not so with Hideo Kojima’s long-awaited Death Stranding, which if you’re going to play at all… you should probably play now.

This type of game comes out once every year or two: A title where the gradual discovery of mechanics and ideas by the players is part of the adventure. Being part of that vanguard of players who go in unsure of what to expect, learning by doing, and sharing that information with others has a special feeling, not of exclusivity exactly, but of a collective experience.

Sure, playing the new Call of Duty on day one can be thrilling, but it’s not exactly a journey of discovery. Furthermore, games like those tend to get better after the first few months as content is added, gameplay is tweaked, and so on.

But just as some TV and movies are best seen with friends on the day they’re released, some games beg to be played before they become over-amply documented, their mysteries vivisected and wikified.

The most frequent entries on this list are From Software’s Dark Souls type games, the esoteric workings of which are sometimes never fully revealed even years later. Bloodborne is still yielding up its secrets even now, for instance.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was another one, in which it wasn’t exactly that people were finding hidden things or speculating on lore, but rather finding how open-ended the world really was and demonstrating that in ingenious ways. When someone figured out you can trick an enemy into being struck by lightning by slipping them a metal weapon in a thunderstorm, it was like a million gamers worldwide squinted, said “wait, what?” and ran to their Switch to try it.

Death Stranding is likewise “appointment gaming,” because… well, it’s so weird. But it definitely belongs in the company of those games that are best experienced while steaming hot, like the frequent showers you’ll see Norman Reedus take in it. I’m glad I let a friend of mine convince me to jump in right away.

Don’t worry, I won’t be spoiling anything you don’t learn in the first couple hours. But there is a mechanic where items like ladders or climbing ropes you lay down to help navigate the terrain get shared with other people for their own use. Just as there is glory in being the first to call down lightning in Zelda, there’s a glory (slightly more obscure admittedly) in being the first to go a certain way and let others follow in your footsteps.

Lay down a bridge to reach a shelter more easily while carrying lots of cargo, and you may find that a day or two later, thousands of people have used it, given it “likes,” and maybe even upgraded or expanded it with their own resources.

The thing about this is that in a year or two, the locations of these bridges will have been optimized and documented for all to know, as if they were part of the game’s landscape to begin with. Where’s the fun in that? It’s a pleasure knowing that the environment around you is being improvised by players all over the world.

Similarly, there are “aha” moments already occurring. You’re told directly that your character’s bodily fluids seem anathema to the ghostly “BTs” that are your most serious enemies. You’re also given the option, once you’ve drank sufficient quantities from your canteen, to have a wee. Someone made that connection and decided to wee on the horrible ghostly BTs — and it repels them!

And a million gamers squint, say “wait, what?” and run to their PS4 to try it.

That collective experience that we shared when we sat in the same room to watch the Game of Thrones finale or, before that, Lost’s ultimately regrettable but thrilling perambulations, is present here in Death Stranding, as it has been for other games before it.

Is Death Stranding a game for everyone? Hell no. But nor was Dark Souls. Death Stranding is a game that is frequently original and odd and surprising, while also occasionally being heavy-handed, tedious, and obtuse. We need more of that in the increasingly cynical and predictable world of AAA gaming.

By its nature Death Stranding is something that, if you don’t give it a hard pass (and I definitely get that), you should be playing today — not next year or even next month. Get it, then be patient, be weird, have fun, and send likes.

 


0

Gnarbox 2.0 backup SSD is a photographer’s best friend in the field and at home

18:06 | 9 October

Working photographers, and enthusiasts who just love taking plenty of pictures, know that even the biggest SD cards can sometimes fill up, especially when you’re working with large file sizes, shooting both JPG and RAW, and shooting 4K video. The solution? A good mobile backup drive. There are a number of options out there that fit the bill, but the newly released Gnarbox 2.0 might be the best of them all, because it works like a miniature independent photo computer in addition to packing speedy SSD storage onboard.

This is the second generation of Gnarbox’s backup solution, and while I used the original, HDD-based version to great effect for a long time, the 2.0 version adds a ton of useful features, including super-fast SSD storage ranging from 256GB to 1TB in capacity, a new OLED display that makes it even easier to use in the field, and a removable battery that means you can pack spares to stay powered up and ready.

Simple, no fuss backup

It’s not the fanciest feature that the Gnarbox 2.0 offers, but it might be the one you use most: Quick and painless backup of SD cards. There’s an SD port on the device itself that can transfer at speeds up of to 75MB/s, and it has USB-C ports that can transfer direct from cameras or from card readers at up to 350MB/s depending on their transfer capabilities. When you plug in an SD card or camera, you get an option on the screen to totally back up the contents of the attached drive with one click, which makes it incredibly easy to dump and delete and clear up space to keep shooting.

Gnarbox 2.0 6

During a 9-day trip that included two events and a vacation to shoot, I made frequent use of this feature. Shooting with the new Sony A7R IV in both RAW and JPG, even my 128GB SD + 64GB SD backup cards filled up pretty quickly, but I would just slide one of the cards into the Gnarbox’s slot and hit the backup button before changing venues and it’d be fully backed up within a few minutes.

In my experience, this process has been rock-solid reliable, and gives me effectively 10x the space for a shoot vs. just relying on my cards alone (I don’t typically have a similar sized backup SD card on the road, let alone 10). By default, the Gnarbox 2.0 stores all your media in backup folders organized by capture date, too, which makes them super easy to sort through once you get back to base.

A mobile review and rating machine

Once all that great capture content is on your Gnarbox 2.0, you can also very easily connect to the drive using Gnarbox’s mobile apps to either review what you’ve got, or go through and rate your photos quickly to make the process of working through them once you’re installed at your workstation easier.

There are two apps from Gnarbox available right now, including Gnarbox Safekeep and Gnarbox Selects. Safekeep gives you access to all your device’s settings and can also act as a file browser for shuttling photos between apps. But Selects is probably what you’re going to be using most – it not only offers fast RAW previews (compatible with every major camera’s RAW formats) but also lets you quickly add ratings, keyboard tags and more to make sure your collection is primed for edit when you get back to your desktop.

With Selects, you can review either files on the Gnarbox SSD itself, or on attached memory cards or storage media (so yes, you can use this with something like a Samsung T5 if you’re already using that as a backup solution). All this info will then show up in applications like Adobe Lightroom to expedite your workflow.

This can shave hours off the process of organizing your photos, since it means you can do the rating and reviewing up front without having to wait for everything to import and then trying to recall what you were going for with the shoot in the field after the fact.

Easy sharing from the field

Speaking of saving time, the Gnarbox 2.0 also helps you move more quickly from capture to sharing, which is incredibly useful if you’re working on a live event or doing photojournalism of something happening in the moment. The device supports Lightroom mobile out of the box, meaning you can navigate to it as a source for a new collection and move files over directly when connected to your phone or tablet. This makes it awesome for adding quick edits to RAW files, exporting finished JPGs and sharing directly to social apps and websites.

With Apple’s new iOS 13 filesystem changes, the Gnarbox 2.0 can also be addressed as a mass storage device, so you should be pretty wide open in terms of options for working with various editing software. This is also great for mobile video workflows, since Gnarbox 2.0 works just as well for storing video capture as well as photos.

Home workstation companion

Gnarbox 2.0 3The Gnarbox 2.0 is great on the go, but it’s also perfect for plugging in as a home work drive once you’re back from the shoot. I’m reviewing the 1TB version, so the amount of available on board storage is a big advantage here, since it can essentially provide all the space you need to give you all of your working files in one place.

As mentioned, it supports high-speed USB-C transfer, which makes working with the files directly from the drive on your main workstation much more pleasant. That also means you don’t necessarily have to move things over local to get to work, which saves you a step and spares your computer’s disk space.

Gnarbox 2.0 switches to USB Mass Storage mode pretty easily, using the onboard OLED menu system. You do need to make this switch manually however, because by default the USB-C port that it uses to make the computer connection is used for charging the Gnarbox’s battery. Once you’re in that mode, however, it’s as easy as connecting Gnarbox 2.0 to your computer and then navigating to it as you would any other connected mass storage device.

Photos on the drive are organized by capture date, as mentioned (you can customize how it creates its folder structure if you want) and you can also select it as an import target in any photo editing software, like Lightroom or Capture One.

Bottom line

Gnarbox 2.0 5Gnarbox has taken their time to create a thoughtful and thorough successor to their original product with the Gnarbox 2.0. It’s a unique blend of field photo server and mini computer, made more versatile with clever touches like the removable battery packs and dust/splash resistance. Ultimately, there really isn’t anything in the market that can compete with the Gnarbox 2.0 on everything it provides, though devices like WD’s My Passport Wireless Pro and the LaCie Rugged Boss SSD can offer some key parts at lower prices depending on your needs.

At $899 for the 1TB version I reviewed, ($499 and $599 for the 256 and 512GB versions, respectively), the Gnarbox 2.0 clearly isn’t for everyone. It’s a professional tool for a professional workflow, and it’s priced as such. That said, the value it provides for busy photographers who need a companion storage solution with utmost flexibility for working both at home and on the road is definitely going to make it worth the cost of admission for some.

 


0

Sony’s next console is…the PlayStation 5, arriving holidays 2020

16:59 | 8 October

Part of me wishes Sony had gone for something a little flashier. The PlayStation Unicorn or PlayStation Trebuchet or something. But there’s something to be said for consistency. Simplicity. The next version of Sony’s perennial favorite gaming console will be, drumroll…the PlayStation 5.

The company notes that nothing is particularly revelatory in this morning’s reveal. That information, it seems, is still coming. And there’s still plenty of time and lots of gaming-centric shows in which the company can spill more about the system. “These updates may not be a huge surprise,” SIE President and CEO Jim Ryan writes, “but we wanted to confirm them for our PlayStation fans, as we start to reveal additional details about our vision for the next generation.”

There’s a smattering of additional details. Ryan highlights the upcoming system’s controllers, for one thing. There’s new haptic feedback on board, in place of the more traditional rumble technology that’s been around for some time. That should give a better approximation of the simulated experiences during game play.

Also new is “adaptive triggers,” which are being added to the L2 and R2 buttons. Ryan again,

Developers can program the resistance of the triggers so that you feel the tactile sensation of drawing a bow and arrow or accelerating an off-road vehicle through rocky terrain. In combination with the haptics, this can produce a powerful experience that better simulates various actions. Game creators have started to receive early versions of the new controller, and we can’t wait to see where their imagination goes with these new features at their disposal.

The PlayStation 5 will be available in time for the 2020 holiday season. More information soon, one assumes. 

 


0

Sony’s new A9 II mirrorless full-frame camera has the speed sports photographers need

19:53 | 3 October

Sony announced a successor to its popular A9 mirrorless interchangeable lens full-frame camera today. The A9 II carries over some of the specs and stats of its predecessor, like the 24.2 megapixel stacked imaging sensor, but adds an upgraded BIONZ X image processor, which powers the much more powerful autofocus capabilities in the new camera.

Sony debuted a number of improved AF features on its A6400 APS-C camera earlier this year, and its brought those and more to the A7R IV it launched at the beginning of September, and on this new iteration of the A9. There’s real-time eye autofocus for both people and animals, with right and left eye selection for animals, along with real-time eye AF during movie shooting, and the company’s real-time object tracking, which basically sticks your focus point to whatever you want to point it at remarkably well, based on my experience with it in other modern Sony cameras.

Other new features to the camera include a body with upgraded dust and moisture resistance, which Sony also brought to the A7R IV, as well as a beefier design with a deeper grip that should be a welcome change in terms of ergonomics, especially for photographers with bigger hands. And while it uses the same battery, it also is rated for slightly more shots.

[gallery ids="1891690,1891689,1891687,1891688,1891685,1891684,1891683"]

Sony also brought its new digital audio interface to the hotshoe on the camera, again something it first introduced in the A7R IV. That will let you use their new shotgun mic and XLR adapter to pipe audio from external sources into the camera when recording video.

This camera is really intended to meet the needs of photographers who need high-speed capture capabilities, and Sony has bumped things up there, too. You get blackout-free, silent continuous shooting at up to 20fps, with a buffer size capable of capturing 361 JPGs or 239 of Sony’s ‘compressed’ RAW files in one continuous go – it can also calculate AF and auto exposure at up to 60 times per second, so each of these should be in focus and properly exposed even in changing lighting conditions.

The new A9 II goes on sale in November, and will be priced at $4,500 for the body only.


0

How Bongo, the ‘Netflix of Bangladesh’, won the local video streaming market with just $10M

22:48 | 2 October

Thousands of miles away from the U.S., where technology giants, cable networks, and studios are locked in an intense multi-billion dollar battle to court users to their video streaming services, a startup in Bangladesh has already won the local video streaming market.

And it did all of this in six years with just $10 million. And it’s also profitable.

Ahad Mohammad started Bongo in 2013. The on-demand video service began life as a channel on YouTube in 2014 before expanding as a standalone app to users a year later.

Of the 96 million people in Bangladesh who are online today, 75 million of them are subscribed to either Bongo’s YouTube channel or to its app, Mohammed said.

Bongo’s domination in Bangladesh is second to none in the nation. iFlix, which raised $50 million a few months ago to expand its presence in several Asian markets, and India’s Zee5 are among the players that Bongo competes with, though their market share remains tiny in comparison.

TechCrunch caught up with Mohammed to get an insight into the early days of building Bongo and what holds next for the “Netflix of Bangladesh” as it increasingly expands to international markets.


0

How Kobalt is betting on music’s middle class and DIY stars

19:18 | 20 September

Streaming services have made music ubiquitous, driving more exploration by consumers who don’t have to pay for each song or album individually. Musicians are correspondingly able to find their own niche of fans scattered around the world.

(This is the third installment of our EC-1 series on Kobalt Music Group and changes in the music industry. Read Part I and Part II.)

As Spotify gained rapid adoption in his native Sweden in 2006, class="crunchbase-link" href="https://crunchbase.com/organization/kobalt-music-group" target="_blank" data-type="organization" data-entity="kobalt-music-group">Kobalt’s founder & CEO Willard Ahdritz predicted music streaming and the rise of social media would increasingly undercut the gatekeeping power of the major label groups and realign the market to center more on a vast landscape of niche musicians than a handful of traditional superstars.

Both of these predictions have proven directionally true. The question is to what extent and how are industry players actually realigning as a result?

What musicians need in addition to the administrative collection of their royalties (explained in Part II) is a menu of creative services they can tap for support. Kobalt’s AWAL and Kobalt Music Publishing divisions provide such services to recording artists and songwriters, respectively, and do so on purely a services basis (getting paid a commission but not taking ownership of copyrights like traditional labels and publishers do).

Niche middle class vs. Global superstars

GettyImages 124360271

Image via Getty Images / rolfo eclaire

The whole music industry is growing substantially due to streaming music’s mainstream penetration in wealthier countries and increased penetration in emerging markets.

As the overall pie is growing, the non-superstar segment of the market is indeed growing faster than the superstar segment, taking over a larger portion of industry royalties.

According to data from BuzzAngle, the top 500 songs in the US in 2018 accounted for 10% of on-demand audio streams — a dramatic decline in market share compared to 2017 when the top 500 songs accounted for 14% of streams. Stepping back, the top 50,000 songs made up 73.2% of all US streams in 2017 but that declined to 70.5% in 2018.

 


0

Ricoh’s Theta Z1 is the first truly premium consumer 360 camera

23:05 | 19 September

Ricoh has a well-earned good reputation when it comes to building smart, technically excellent photographic equipment – including the almost legendary Ricoh GR series of pocketable APS-C cameras, which are a favorite among street photographers everywhere. Earlier this year, the company released the Ricoh Theta Z1, which builds on its success with its pioneering Theta line of 360-degree cameras and delivers a step-up in terms of image quality and build that will feel at home in the hands of enthusiast and pro photographers.

The Theta Z1 is what happens when you push the limits of what’s possible in a portable form factor 360 camera, both in terms of build materials and what’s going on on the inside. Like its more affordable, older sibling the Theta V, it shoots both stills and video in 360 degrees – but unlike the V, it does so using two 1-inch sensors – unprecedented for a 360 camera in this category. Sony’s celebrated RX100 series was pushing boundaries with its own 1-inch sensor in a traditional compact camera, and the Ricoh is similarly expanding the boundaries of 360 photography by including not just one, but two such sensors in its Z1. That translates to unmatched image quality for 360 photographers – provided you’re willing to pay a premium price to get it.

Design and build

The Ricoh Theta Z1 feels a lot like previous iterations of the Theta line – it’s essentially a handle with two big lenses on top, which is a pretty optimal design overall for a device you’re mostly going to be using to hold up and take 360 photos and video. It’s a bit bulkier than previous generations, and heavier, too, but it’s still a very portable device despite the increased size.

Ricoh Theta Z1 7

With the bulkier build, you also get a magnesium outer case, which is textured and which feels fantastic when held. If you’ve ever held a pro DSLR or mirrorless camera, then the feel will be familiar, and that says a lot about Ricoh’s target audience with this $1,000 device. The magnesium alloy shell isn’t only for making it feel like it’s worth what it costs, however; you also get big durability benefits, which is important on a device that you’re probably going to want to use in remote locales and off the beaten path.

The build quality also feels incredibly solid, and the button layout is simple and easy to understand. There’s a single shutter button on the front of the camera, just above an OLED display that provided basic info about remaining space for images or video, battery life and connection status. A single LED indicates both mode and capture status information, and four buttons on the side control power on/off, Wifi and Bluetooth connections, photo and video mode switching and enabling basic functions like a shutter countdown timer.

[gallery ids="1884065,1884067,1884066"]

Using the hardware buttons to control the Theta Z1 independent of your smartphone, where you can remotely control all aspects of the camera when connected via WiFi and using the app, is intuitive and easy, and probably the way you’ll use the Z1 more often than not when you’re actually out and about. There’s little to worry about when it comes to framing, for instance, because it captures a full 360 image, and since you can handle all of that after the fact with Ricoh’s editing tools prior to sharing.

On the bottom, there’s a USB-C port for charging and wired data transfer, and a 1/4″ standard tripod mount for attaching the Z1 to tripods or other accessories. This is useful, because if you use a small handle you’ll get a better overall image, since the Z1’s software automatically edits out the camera, and, to some extent, the thing that’s supporting it. There’s also a small lug for attaching a wrist strap, but what you won’t find is a flap or door for a micro SD card – the Theta Z1 relies entirely on built-in storage, and offers just under 20GB of usable storage.

Ricoh Theta Z1 9

Still images

Ricoh’s Theta Z1 has two 1-inch sensors on board, as mentioned, and those combine to provide an image resolution of 670×3360. The camera caputres two 180-degree fields of view from each lens, and automatically stitches them together in software to produce the final image. The result is the sharpest, most color-accurate still photos I’ve ever seen from a 360-degree camera, short of the kind of content shot by professionals on equipment costing at least 10x more.

The resulting images do incredibly well when viewed through VR headsets, for instance, or when you use Theta’s own 360 viewer for web in full-screen mode on high-resolution displays. They also make it possible to export flat images that still look sharp, which you can crop and edit in the Theta+ app. You can create some truly amazing images with interesting perspective that would be hard to get using a traditional camera.

A769B0EF 55C0 483E 82AE 19EFF4212B2D 3

Indoors in low light situations, the Ricoh Theta Z1 still performs pretty well, especially compared to its competitors, thanks to those big 1-inch sensors. Especially in well-lit indoor environments, like in the restaurant example below, details are sharp and crisp across the frame and colors come out great.

In settings where a lot of the frame is dark or unevenly lit, as in the example at the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo below, the results aren’t nearly as good when operating in full automatic mode. You can see that there is some blur in the parts of the scene with motion, and there’s more grain apparent in parts of the frame, too. Overall though, the audience is pretty well captured and the colors still look accurate and good despite the many different tones from different sources.

The Ricoh Theta Z1 still does its best work in bright outdoor settings, however – which is true for any camera, but especially for cameras with sensors smaller than full-frame or APS-C. It’s still definitely capable enough to capture images you can work with, and that provide a great way to revisit great events or memories in a more immersive way than standard 2D images can accomplish.

You can adjust settings including aperture to optimize your photo capture, including choosing between f/2.1, f/3.5 and f/5.6, with higher apertures offering higher resolution images. The built-in lens has been designed to reduce ghosting, purple fringe artifacts and flare, and it does an outstanding job at this. RAW capture allows you to edit DNG files using Lightroom, and it works amazingly well with Lightroom mobile for advanced tweaks right on the same device.

Video

The Ricoh Theta Z1 does video, too – though the specs for the video it produces are essentially unchanged from the Theta V on paper. It can capture 4K video at 30 fps/56 mbps or 2K video at 30fps/16mbps, and live stream in both 4K and 2K. There’s a four-channel built in microphone for immersive audio recording, and it can record as much as 40 minutes of 4K or 130 minutes of 2K footage, though each individual recording session is capped at 5 minutes and 25 minutes for 4K and 2K respectively.

Ricoh has tougher competition when it comes to video in the 360 camera game – Insta 360’s One X has been a clear winner in this category, and has led to this camera even finding some fans when compared to action cameras like the GoPro Hero 7 and the DJI Osmo Action, thanks in large part to its fantastic built-in image stabilization.

The Ricoh Theta Z1 just frankly doesn’t impress in this regard. The sensors do allow for potentially better image quality overall, but the image stabilization is definitely lacking, as you can see below, and overall quality just isn’t there when measured against the Insta360 One X. For a fixed installation for real-time live-streaming, the Ricoh probably makes more sense, but video isn’t the device’s strength, and it’s a little disappointing given its still shooting prowess.

Features and sharing

The range of editing options available either via Theta+ or using the DNG files in both mobile and desktop phot editing software for the Theta Z1 is outstanding. You can really create and compose images in a wide variety of ways, including applying stickers and text that stick to the frame as a viewer navigates around the image. Sharing from the Theta app directly works with a number of platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and theta360.com, where you can get embeddable 360 images like those found in this post above.

Ricoh has done a great job making sure you can not only capture the best possible 360 images with this camera, but also share them with others. It’s also leading the pack when it comes to the range of options you have for getting creative with slicing up those 7K spherical images in a variety of ways for traditional flat image output, which is not surprising given the company’s heritage.

Bottom line

Simply put, the Ricoh Theta Z1 is the best 360 camera for still photos that you can buy for under $1000 – even if just squeaks under that line. It’s the best still photo 360 camera you can pick up for considerably more than that, too, given its sensor arrangement and other technical aspects of the device including its selectable aperture settings and RAW output.

The $999.95 asking price is definitely on the high end for this category – the Theta V retails for less than half that, as does the Insta360 One X. But I mentioned the Sony RX100 above, and the pricing is similar: You can get a compact camera for much less money, including very good ones, but the latest RX100 always commands a premium price, which people are willing to pay for the very best in-class device.

If want you want is the best still photography 360 camera on the market, than the Ricoh Theta Z1 is easily it, and if that’s the specific thing you’re looking for, than Ricoh has packed a lot of cutting edge tech into a small package with the Z1.

 


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The Sony RX100 VII is the best compact camera you can buy

15:57 | 17 September

Sony’s latest advanced compact camera is the highly pocketable RX100 VII, the seventh iteration of the RX100. Since its debut, this line of cameras has proven a very popular option among enthusiasts looking for a great travel camera, vloggers, and even pros who want a compact backup option just in case. The RX100 VII should suit all those needs very well, provided you’re okay with coughing up the $1,200 asking price.

Not that $1,200 is too expensive for what you’re getting, since Sony has packed tremendous value in the Mark VII, including an extremely versatile 24-200mm (35mm equivalent) zoom range, 20fps continuous burst mode shooting, a flip-up touch screen, built-in images stabilization and the same powerful autofocus technologies you’ll find on its flagship full-frame interchangeable lens pro cameras.

Sony RX100 VII 2

Pocket power

The Sony RX100 VII satisfies a specific need, but it’s one that a lot of people probably have: Striking a balance between image quality, range and portability. One the convenience end of the spectrum, the ultimate device is probably your smartphone, since you have that with you always. On the IQ and range side, you’re looking at a top-end DSLR with a high-quality, low aperture zoom lens that can weigh more than a large dog. The RX100 VII manages to be so impressive because it can delivery near the portability of a smartphone, with some of the photography chops of a setup that typically requires its own suitcase.

Inside the RX100 VII you’ll find a 1-inch sensor, which is very big relative to smartphone imaging sensors. This is important because it means there’s no contest between which will capture a better image, with lower noise, greater depth-of-field and better color rendering. For all the software magic that companies like Apple and Google can bring to the photography table, nothing yet can totally compensate for simply having a larger sensor.

Sony RX100 VII 4

The RX100 VII’s compactness isn’t just impressive because of the large sensor it packs inside, however; you also get an EVF, an integrated flash, an external microphone jack and an articulating LCD display. To get all of this into a package this small is astounding – the EVF in particular is a great feature for anyone who wants to be a bit more direct and particular with their shot composition, while the flip-up LCD means you can also have a great selfie screen and monitor for use when vlogging.

Sony RX100 VII 5

Last but not least in terms of its portability benefits, you can charge the RX100 VII via USB directly so that you can leave any additional charging hardware at home. The camera has a micro USB port for both data and power, and while it would’ve been nice to see this upgraded to USB-C on this camera to keep up with the latest in terms of computer and smartphone charging, it’s still better than requiring an external charger.

Zoom zoom

Sony decided on a very long zoom range for the RX100 VII, which sports a 24-200mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.8-4.5 powered retracting zoom lens. That’s the same range and aperture as the RX100 VI, which opts for more range over the brighter 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 lens found on the V and earlier.

While you’ll lose some ability to separate your subject from the background vs. a brighter lens, you get a lot more reach for shooting action or wildlife. The added range definitely makes it a better all-around travel camera, too, and makes it possible to get some shots you otherwise just wouldn’t be able to get at all with a shorter lens.

The long end of the zoom range also offers stunningly sharp images, especially in bright, daylight conditions. In the examples below, you can see some of the 200mm samples shot on the RX100 VII next to the 24mm wide versions of the same scenes to get a sense of just how close you can get with this lens, and the quality of the images possible even at those extreme zoom lengths.

[gallery ids="1881962,1881963,1881944,1881943,1881946,1881947,1881889,1881888"]

At the wide end, you have plenty of real estate to capture great sweeping architectural or landscape shots, and the sharpness is also fantastic in great light. There’s some distortion, but it’s mostly corrected by Sony’s software on JPG output. That 24mm wide angle is also the right width for arm-length selfies, though you’re probably going to want at least a short selfie stick for vlogging applications to give yourself a little more in the way of framing options.

DSC03049

Sticky AF

Leaving aside the fact that this is one of the better sensors available on the market for a camera this size, there’s another very compelling reason to pick up this camera, and one that likely gives it the edge over competitors from other companies. I’m talking about Sony’s autofocus system, and the RX100 VII gets the latest and greatest that Sony has developed, which is found only in much more expensive cameras from the company like the A9 and the new A7R IV.

You get face and eye tracking, for both human and animal subjects, and these are both best-in-class when compared with other camera makers’ systems. The animal one in particular is a Sony speciality, and worked amazingly well on my real dog – and on Sony’s Aibo robot dog, captured at the Sony Ginza experience center in Tokyo.

[gallery ids="1881912,1881911"]

The face and eye detection settings are available in both still shooting and movies, and you can set eye preference (left or right), too. The newest AF feature, however, is object tracking, which allows you to point your AF point at a specific object and have the camera automatically track that object as you zoom or move, or as the object moves within frame. You can choose from a range of options regarding how large of a focal area to track, and this works in tandem with human face detection so that the camera will automatically focus on the subject’s face when it’s visible, and on them more generally when it’s not, which is amazing for sports or action photography.

In practice, this works extremely well. Sony’s claims about how well this sticks, and how good it is at picking a subject back up after it moves behind an object, for instance, are spot on. This is really the best AF system available on a camera in the pocketable category, at any price point, and it’s truly amazing to experience. In the shots below, you can see how it allowed me to capture a very clear picture of a soaring hawk at the 200mm tele zoom, how it tracked a bike in motion and got a clear image of the rider’s face, and how it froze a motor bike in motion during a burst series (all the shots were in focus, by the way).

[gallery ids="1881884,1881883,1881881,1881887,1881936"]

Low light

Another area where Sony’s RX100 VII and its 1-inch sensor are going to have a leg up on your smartphone is in sub-optimal lighting conditions. Bigger sensors mean bigger pixels and less noise, with better blacks and shadows. Sony is also using a backside illuminated stacked sensor, and there’s built-in optical image stabilization which means you can take sharper photos at lower shutter speeds, letting in more light for clearer images.

In practice, what you get are pretty good low light photos, especially outdoors with ambient light present, or in decently well-lit indoor settings. In poorer lighting conditions or when you’re trying to freeze action in low light, you’re going to get fairly noisy results, especially when compared to an APS-C or full-frame camera. Sony’s tech can do a lot to make the most of less than ideal photographic conditions, but at some point, it runs up against the limits of what’s possible.

Sony also doesn’t get quite as aggressive with computational photographic techniques for digitally compensating for lower available light, as do the Pixel phones and the latest iPhone 11. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though – the images from the RX100 VII present more accurate night and indoor photos, by comparison, and you can still get much better indoor images with the RX100 VII than you can with any smartphone.

[gallery ids="1881909,1881908,1881907,1881906,1881905,1881904,1881903,1881902,1881901,1881900,1881899,1881898,1881897,1881896,1881895,1881894,1881878,1881877"]

As you can see in the gallery above, the camera does extremely well as long as there’s one well-lit subject or element in frame. It’s less effective when the image overall is uniformly dim, but if you’re looking for great photos in those conditions, you should probably consider upgrading to a larger camera with a larger sensor anyways.

Movie maker

The RX100 VII’s greatest strength might just be how good it is at shooting video for a device this size. Video out of the camera with very minimal adjustment from the default shooting settings produces highly usable results, for both home video enthusiasts and for YouTubers or vloggers looking to produce great looking content without lugging an entire film production studio along with them on their travels.

Once again, the versatile zoom range really shines here, and the you can even shoot at the tele end of the zoom handheld and get totally usable footage provided you’re a bit careful about movement, as you can see in the third clip in the sequence below, which was shot at the 200mm range. Low-light footage looks great, as is evident from the second clip in sequence, and at the wide end you can capture sweeping landscape vistas or flip up the screen and turn the camera around for selfie-style video.

The added microphone port makes it an even more powerful filmmaking tool, and if you pick up their optional VCT-SGR1 shooting grip, combined with a small shotgun mic or something like the Rode Wireless Go, you’ve got everything you need to create very compelling travel diaries in an incredibly lightweight package that will be able to produce quality and get zoom and wide shots that are impossible on a smartphone.

Bottom line

The RX100 VII is a delight of a camera and an easy recommendation to make. There’s nothing that compares in this size category in terms of the range of features, autofocus capabilities, video prowess and performance as a general all-rounder. This is the do-everything travel camera that you could really only dream of five years ago, and it’s become more ideal for this use with every generation that Sony introduces.

Whether you’re looking to step up your photographic possibilities from your smartphone, or you want to supplement your professional or advanced enthusiast equipment with a pocket camera that’s available as a b-camera for video or to grab a few choice stills, the RX100 VII is hard to top. It’s only downside is that $1,200 asking price, which is definitely above average for a compact camera – but on a value basis, $1,200 isn’t at all expensive for everything this camera has to offer.

Full sample gallery

[gallery ids="1881963,1881962,1881961,1881960,1881959,1881958,1881957,1881956,1881955,1881954,1881953,1881952,1881951,1881950,1881949,1881948,1881947,1881946,1881944,1881943,1881942,1881941,1881940,1881939,1881938,1881937,1881936,1881935,1881933,1881932,1881931,1881930,1881929,1881928,1881927,1881926,1881925,1881924,1881923,1881922,1881921,1881920,1881919,1881918,1881917,1881916,1881915,1881914,1881913,1881912,1881911,1881910,1881909,1881908,1881907,1881906,1881905,1881904,1881903,1881902,1881901,1881900,1881899,1881898,1881897,1881896,1881895,1881894,1881893,1881892,1881891,1881890,1881889,1881888,1881887,1881886,1881885,1881884,1881883,1881882,1881881,1881880,1881879,1881878,1881877,1881876,1881875,1881874"]

 


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Sony’s new a6600 flagship APS-C camera adds stabilization and over 2x better battery life

17:22 | 28 August

Sony announced two new APS-C mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras at a special event in New York today, and the announcements are big news for anyone who’s looking for a small, capable camera that can handle everything from sport shooting to vlogging. The new a6600 flagship takes everything that is great about the a6400 it introduced earlier this year, and adds a big battery boost, in-body stabilization, a headphone jack and real-time eye autofocus for video.

The a6600 otherwise looks nearly identical to the a6400 on paper – it has the same 24.2 megapixel APS-C sensor, ISO sensitivity that expands all the way up to 102400, burst shooting at up to 11 fps, 3k 40p internal HDR recording and the same quality viewfinder. None of that is in any way a criticism, however – these were all excellent specs when they debuted on the a6400 earlier this year, and they’ll serve a6600 owners just as well.

What’s been added should be plenty exciting, however, since it brings the in-body image stabilization (IBIS) that was present on the a6500 but did not make it into the a6400, which was more capable in many other ways. This is a clutch feature for video creators, and that’s a key market for the a6XXX line for Sony, especially with its class-leading reputation for autofocus and high-quality 4K video capture. Ditto the addition of continuous real-time eye AF during movie recording.

Finally, that bigger Z battery (which debuted on the company’s full-frame mirrorless camera line and brought big battery life gains there) will be a boon to video and still shooters alike. The existing battery that powers the a6400, along with the rest of the line, is rated at 360 shots, but that’s very low compared to the a7 III’s 610 shots, and Sony is saying you’ll get over 2x the shooting time with the Z battery in the a6600 compared to its predecessor.

The a6600 retails for $1,400 U.S. for the body alone, and is available in a kit with the 18-135 lens from Sony for $1,800. It’ll be on sale in November.

Alpha Universe alpha 6100 ilce6100 selp1650 right black

Sony also unveiled a new entry-level option in its a6XXX line, the a6100. You get a lot of the benefits of the more expensive cameras here, including the same AF system (albeit without real-time Eye AF for movies, which is only on the a6600), and 4K 30p internal recording. You don’t get S-Log or HLG recording options, or HDR, however, and there’s no in-body stabilization. You’re also stuck with the older battery, lower maximum ISO sensitive (51200 in expanded mode) and a lower resolution electronic viewfinder. Still, all told it’s a good bargain – especially since you get Sony’s outstanding real-time object tracking autofocus feature.

The a6100 retails for $750 U.S. for the body alone, and is available in a kit with the 16-50 lens from Sony for $850, or with both the 16-50 and the 55-210 for $1,100. It’ll be on sale in October.

Alpha Universse 16 55mm G 70 350mm G.91159cb549bb213dddcb831882634037.ryg3hbESB

Finally, there are two new lenses which will be hugely beneficial to Sony APS-C camera shooters looking for pro-level options. The E-mount 16-55 F2.8 G gives you a focal range on par with the best glass available on other camera systems, and the E 70-350mm f4.5-6.3 G OSS gives you a really long reach zoom (105-535mm equivalent on a 35mm) with built-in stabilization in a relatively small package. The new 18-55mm lens sells for $1,400 and will be sold in October, and the 70-350mm goes on sale in November for $1,000.

 

 


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The Void’s Curtis Hickman on scaling, creative IP and the future of VR experiences

20:05 | 26 August

What can you do with virtual reality when you have complete control of the physical space around the player? How “real” can virtual reality become?

That’s the core concept behind The Void. They take over retail spaces in places like Downtown Disney and shopping malls around the country and turn them into virtual reality playgrounds, They’ve got VR experiences based on properties like Star Wars, Ghostbusters, and Wreck-It Ralph; while these big names tend to be the main attractions, they’re dabbling with creating their own original properties, too.

By building both the game environment and the real-world rooms in which players wander, The Void can make the physical and virtual align. If you see a bench in your VR headset, there’s a bench there in the real world for you to sit on; if you see a lever on the wall in front of you, you can reach out and physically pull it. Land on a lava planet and heat lamps warm your skin; screw up a puzzle, and you’ll feel a puff of mist letting you know to try something else.

At $30-$35 per person for what works out to be a roughly thirty-minute experience (about ten of which is watching a scene-setting video and getting your group into VR suits), it’s pretty pricey. But it’s also some of the most mind-bending VR I’ve ever seen.

The Void reportedly raised about $20 million earlier this year and is in the middle of a massive expansion. It’s more than doubling its number of locations, opening 25 new spots in a partnership with the Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield chain of malls.

I sat down to chat with The Void’s co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Curtis Hickman, to hear how they got started, how his background (in stage magic!) comes into play here, how they came to work with massive properties like Ghostbusters and Star Wars, and where he thinks VR is going from here.

Greg Kumparak: Tell me a bit about yourself. How’d you get your start? How’d you get into making VR experiences?

 


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