Friday, December 28, 2018

Micro 4:3 is Alive and Kicking

Art? One of the first photos I made with my then new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II body and 40-150 f2.8 Pro Zoom with 1.4X teleconverter. 210mm (420mm FX equivalent), ISO200, 1/500 @ f4 (wide open with this lens and teleconverter). 

The interwebs, especially vbloggers on YouTube, have been full of reports on the death of the Micro 4:3 format. I won’t link to them because I think they’re largely clickbaity, but I wonder, “are they right?”.

Canon and Nikon’s recent announcements of their new 24X36mm* (what Nikon calls “FX”) mirrorless systems seems to has accelerated the pace of announcements from M4:3 doomsayers. Is M4:3 format doomed?

I don’t think so. Micro 4:3 makers are facing very strong head winds in the marketplace. All camera manufacturers are. Apple (and others) have put excellent cameras into their pocketable computers, which, coincidently, also make phone calls. Almost everyone has one with them almost all the time. Thanks to sensor development and better computational processing those cameras make better pictures than the professional level digital cameras of 15 years ago did. They’ve gutted the entry level camera and point and shoot markets.

Micro 4:3 was the first format to make mirrorless cameras practical for most consumers. The “most consumers” part is important; I’m not overlooking Leica, but come on, most consumers are not going to drop $8,000 (US) on a body and thousands more on lenses. Leica products, as good as they are, are niche products.
Who says M4:3 can't do high ISO? Then Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), now Minnesota Attorney General, at a town hall about immigration. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, with 40-150 f2.8 Pro Zoom, 150mm (300mm equivalent on FX), ISO3200, 1/20th of a second, f2.8. Handheld. This is where Olympus' In Body Image Stabilization shines. With my Canon gear I would have had to use at least 1/250 of a second shutter speed (my 300mm lens didn't have image stabilization) and an ISO of about 52,000. 

The M4:3 doomsayers are predicting that consumers will move away from M4:3 to FX format cameras because of the “inherent advantages” of the larger format. There are some advantages to FX format sensors. The only so called advantage I consider absolute is the lower noise / better high ISO performance of FX format sensor cameras. More on that later.

There are many, sometimes overlooked, advantages to M4:3 format cameras.

One of them is that M4:3 is well established. There’s a great ecosystem of M4:3 gear with everything from tiny entry level cameras (that are, within their limits, excellent) to somewhat larger, but very capable, professional cameras.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Calling Out Lies

This is a complete break from my usual posts. For this, I took a dive into my archive to revisit the immigration issue. I covered immigration, in the US, in Mexico and in Guatemala, from 1996, when we moved to El Paso, TX., until 2012, when we left Phoenix and moved to Bangkok. From 2001 until 2009, I covered immigration, and immigration related issues, almost exclusively. Please follow the links for more on the issues I'm writing about.  
A US Border Patrol agent detains a Mexican national trying to enter the US illegally near Sierra Vista, AZ. (27 July 2001)

The President is lying about immigration. It is past time to explicitly say that. How do we know he's lying? The easy, snarky, answer is that it's because his lips are moving. Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize winning fact checkers, found 69% of trump statements "Mostly False," "False," or "Pants on Fire". And while saying the President is constant lying might be objectively true, it doesn't move the discussion forward.
A Mexican family from the state of Jalisco hide in the back of a car crossing the border. They were apprehended on the Tohono O'Odham reservation, southwest of Tucson, AZ. (5 May 2003)

In the interest of moving the discussion forward, here's how we know he's lying.

First we have to establish the difference between a lie and a misstatement. No one can truly know what is in the heart of another person. Is he lying because he's misingformed and therefore unaware of the truth? Are statements from the stump signs of true animus or merely playing to the crowd? Because of this, I am willing to give a person a pass on their first utterance of a false statement.

So the first time the President says the border is "out of control," I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he's misinformed. Maybe he'll issue a correction when he educates himself and learns the truth. But the second time he says the border is out of control? Then he's lying.
Mexican nationals, apprehended in Douglas, AZ, walk to a Border Patrol vehicle. They were taken to the BP station in Douglas, processed and returned to Mexico. (5 October 2005)

The President is lying about an out of control border. How do we know? We can look at the Border Patrol's numbers. The Border Patrol's numbers show that undocumented immigation is down, significantly, since 2000. In the Tucson sector, where I did most of my work, the Border Patrol apprehended 616,346 people in FY2000 (Fiscal Year). By FY 2008, it had been cut almost in half to 317,696. And by FY 2017, the number was down to 38,657. That's a decline in apprehensions of about 94%. That is not an "out of control" border. That is a sign that deterrence is working.

The trend holds, although not as dramatically, across the Southwest Border. In FY2000, the Border Patrol apprehended 1,643,679 people across the Southwest Border. In FY2017, the number was down to 303,916. That's an overall decline of about 82%. Again, not a sign of an "out of control" border. When the President continuously repeats a misstatement, he is lying.

(More below...)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

And that's all from Seoul

Sungnyemun, Seoul's historic south gate, was built in the 14th century C.E. It's one of the city's landmarks. 

This is my last blog entry from Seoul. It seems that Seoul doesn't get mentioned very often as a travel destination. Not as charming as Bangkok or as metropolitan as Tokyo or as historic as Kyoto, and located on the Korean peninsula, so not as accessible as Hong Kong or Singapore. But don't overlook Seoul.
Seoul's city hall building stands behind a large public space. 

It's a huge city, the population of the "special city" (a South Korean term for main administrative area of a city) is 9.5 million. The population of the metropolitan area is more than 25 million. Seoul is a megacity, home to South Korea's leading financial institutions many of South Korea's largest manufacturing conglomerates like Samsung, Hyundai, and LG.

Despite Seoul's massive scale it's a pretty easy city to navigate. Seoul was essentially destroyed during the Korean War and then rebuilt following the armistice. So the city was razed in 1950-51 and then rebuilt on a blank slate starting in 1953. Then, when the South Korean economic tiger was unleashed in the mid 1960s, money poured into Seoul and was directed into huge infrastructure projects like the subways and highways. 

The subway system is a thing of wonder. There are 21 subway and light rail lines, with more than 900 km of track (more than 540 miles) that run to every part of the city and into neighboring cities and provinces, like Incheon and even the DMZ (North Korean border). Most of the subway stations double as bomb shelters because North Korea has hundreds of pieces of artillery just north of Seoul and could rain hundreds of thousands of artillery shells into Seoul in an hour if hostilities broke out again. All of this means you can get around Seoul almost entirely by subway. 
A couple relaxes in the "O" in Seoul. 

I wasn't sure to expect of Seoul. I found it huge, a little bewildering and ultimately very satisfying. It feels more authentic (for lack of a better word) than Singapore, which sometimes feels like a Potemkin village.
Part of Namdaemun market, near the South Gate and the beating heart of South Korea's retail trade.
A woman sells traditional Korean treats, made out of glutinous rice, in Namdaemun. 
Dolls for sale in the market. There's been a market on the site since the late 1400s CE.

Don't let Seoul's hypermodernity put you off if you're not a fan of that. There's still plenty to see and do.  
A prayer grotto at the Meyongdong Catholic Cathedral. 
A street preacher on a Seoul shopping street. Christianity is the second largest religion in South Korea. Although technically more South Koreans are Buddhist, so many are non practicing that there are more practicing Christians in South Korea than practicing Buddhists. (56% of South Koreans don't practice a religion. 27.6% are Christian and 15.5% Buddhist.) 

I hope to get back to Seoul in the near future and explore the city more as a tourist.

There are more photos of Seoul in my archive

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Changing of the Guard

Members of the Royal Guard at the Deoksugung palace in Seoul start the Changing of the Guard ceremony. 

The best daily free show for tourists in Seoul is the Changing of the Guard at Deoksugung palace. It's held most days at 11.00, 14.00 and 15.30. There is no Changing of the Guard on Mondays or when other events are scheduled. There are frequently political protests at the palace and while the palace is open to tourists during the protests, there is no changing of the guard ceremony. 

The drum announces the changing of the guard. 

The ceremony is based on the Changing of the Guard used during the Joseon Dynasty, which ruled the Korean Empire from 1392 until 1910. (In 1910, Japan invaded and occupied Korea, ending Korean independence until the end of World War II.) The ceremony last about 15 minutes and there's a chance to do "selfies" in the middle of the ceremony. 

One of the royal guards blows a conch shell during the ceremony. 
Drummers. 
One of the royal guards march past a drummer in the royal guards. 
Selfie time with the royal guards.


Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Speaking Freely

A man makes a clenched fist while he marches through central Seoul during a protest against South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

South Korea now has one of the most vibrant democracies in Asia. That's a remarkable change from the years of dictatorship South Koreans endured during their country's post war journey. And in any democracy, protest is a part of life. 

Park Geun-hye was inaugurated as the President of South Korea in February 2013. She is the daughter of former South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee, who seized power in 1961, officially appointed (not elected) president in 1963 and ruled until 1979, when he was assassinated by a friend in a coup against him. During Park's rule, South Korea sent thousands of troops to Vietnam to fight alongside US forces and the South Korean economy expanded at a blistering pace. 
A man in military garb during a pro-Park, anti-Moon rally.

Time heals all wounds and despite the fact that Park was a dictator, some in South Korea look back fondly at his tenure (because of the rapid economic expansion) and his daughter Park Geun-hye was elected on both the basis of her own accomplishments and her connection to the long ruling dictator. 

Park was a committed hard liner in relations with North Korea and she allowed the sun to set on  the Sunshine Policy of her predecessors Kim Dae-jung and Park Chung-hee. She also, apparently, had questionable judgement and got caught up in a sweeping corruption scandal. She was impeached in 2017, removed from office and sentenced to 24 years in prison.
A pro-Park protester waves the South Korean and American flags at a pro-Park rally. 

Moon Jae-in, a liberal and supporter of Kim Dae-jung and Park Chung-hee, was elected in the wake of the Park scandal and governs South Korea today. 

Moon is incredibly popular. By some South Korean polls, his approval ratings are around 60%. But for Park supporters, Moon is an illegitimate President (in a nod to Trumpian rhetoric, Moon's opponents call him the "fake" President) and Park was innocent, or at least no more guilty than any other president, (both sides do it) and was set up by the bureaucracy (the "deep state"). Park's supporters loathe Moon and the reinvigoration of the "Sunshine Policy." 
A woman plays a drum during the anti-Moon protest. The Park supporters I met were very pro-American. Most were waving US flags along with South Korean flags. 

Many of Park's supporters think Moon is a communist agent, placed years ago (a "Manchurian Candidate" as it were). They believe Moon will sell out the South in favor of North Korea. They are counting on South Korea's relationship with the United States to maintain the South's freedom. 

Despite the fact that Trump unilaterally cancelled annual joint US-South Korean military exercises, suggested the US could pull its military forces out of South Korea, and did not bring up either South Korean* or Japanese** concerns, Park supporters insist Trump will stand by the South.
An evangelical Christian who supports Park prays during the anti-Moon protest. South Korea has a very large Christian population. About 14 million South Koreans profess to be Christian, about 29% of South Koreans, 23% are Buddhists but 46% are non-religious.

The anti-Moon protests have a large evangelical presence. Many start with an evangelical prayer meeting before the political rally starts. 
Park supporters at a rally. 

There are more photos of the anti-Moon rallies in my archive or available from ZUMA Press

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.

* North Korea has hundreds of artillery pieces pointed at Seoul and could rain hundreds of thousands of artillery rounds, some loaded with chemical weapons, on Seoul in the first hour of renewed conflict on the Korean peninsula. This is a major concern of the South and Trump didn't bring it up. 

** North Korea has abducted hundreds of Japanese civilians from western coastal areas of Japan. Return of its citizens has been a key issue for Japan. Trump, apparently, said nothing about this.