HDR and other special effects and dynamic range-extending techniques continue to be niche interests. With each new generation of digital camera sensors, dynamic range is expanding anyway.
Stray too far from reality for too long and people's interest begins to wear out. It's too hard for you, me and most everyone else to retain a long-term connection to an unachievable vision when doing so requires a constant connection to hours of post-processing of multiple images in order to achieve a novel look. That's HDR. Problem is, it can now be found everywhere so it's not particularly novel any more.
One of the reasons we do not tire of great SF&F movie CGI and the remarkable compositing being done is that the moviemakers strive mightily to achieve a vision of reality, not surreality. Movie makers have long known that the more seamlessly their constructed SF&F realities mesh with visual and aural touchstones that exist around us in our normal lives, the more likely we are to accept the world created in CGI. By contrast, only the very best HDR leaves recognizably enough of the real world's visual textures, surfaces and detail renderings for us to be able to connect with them. Achieving even that much is hard work, and also requires a judicious eye that is actually sensitive to the importance of such things in the first place. All other HDR is, in my view, special effects for their own sake that anybody can do with some automated software and post processing time. No skill or vision or creative effort involved. Meh.
Potential shift points in creative photography have occured for generations. Actual shift points are very rare indeed though. Human beings do not in the main simply toss away reality in favor of surreality in any area of interest, work, leisure or interpersonal life. We're simply not built that way. Nonetheless, there is a cadre of HDR devotees who are pursuing and promoting HDR as an end in itself. By all means, try HDR post processing for yourself but use the same sorts of judgements about time and effort as you'd apply to any other sorts of post processing. HDR is just another fad that has already been relegated to the position of being really just another overdone special effect (albeit one that demands more effort to set up than most other toolkit-type, photographic effects).
People always in the great majority insist on a structure of realism with which they can connect. They do so, especially if they're photographers, because they see in such realism the possibility that they too might one day be in a position to make some great shot - the one with which they connected personally and which inspired them. HDR is just HDR - an interesting effect that has already begun to wear thin as the inherently and remarkably wide dynamic range of the latest camera sensors begin to do a far better natural job of it than any laborious HDR post-processing.
HDR and other special effects and dynamic range-extending techniques continue to be niche interests. With each new generation of digital camera sensors, dynamic range is expanding anyway.
How do we come up with these picks? It's easy actually because it's an aggregate of popularity compared to our own product review experiences, analysis (for research clients), and general estimation of product reliability. Takes some time to sort it all out, but once done the results are reliable and clearly reflect a bit of our own preferences and a lot of common sense.
Best Cameras for 2013 (so far)
What's the best camera in our view and in any category? Basically, it's the camera that most fully meets expectations and which most fully lives up to its marketing hype. We chose these cameras because, first and foremost, they're great photography tools. Read the camera manual, experiment with exposure controls, pay attention to the RGB histogram, shoot as often as you can, and any of these cameras will amaze you. Choose the one that best suits your technical skill level and creative directions. Remember too that while these winners represent the best in our opinion, all of the cameras we looked at in each category can be used to produce prize winning photos.
Best Large Professional Full Frame Digital SLR - It was a tough call: the Canon EOS 1D X. It's a superb camera and it gets the nod over the Nikon D4, Nikon D3x and Canon EOS 1D Mark IV for all the right reasons. Nikon's bizarre decision to go with an XQD and a CF slot has left all sorts of professional photographers completely baffled. The Canon EOS 1D X is currently the only new full frame pro body with a pair of CF card slots. Why Nikon decided to cripple the D4 with a pair non-similar card slots is anybody's guess. But it is more than just card slots that set the 1D X apart from the competition. Canon has addressed almost every single conceivable professional need. Sports, news/photojournalism, wildlife, studio, landscape or action - the Canon EOS 1D X can handle it all beautifully.
Best Standard Professional Full Frame Digital SLR - It was somewhat close: the Nikon D800, with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III right on its heels (because of somewhat more capable video). Then again though, DSLR video is rapidly taking a back seat to dedicated, larger sensor, high-resolution video component bodies from RED, the Sony PMW-F55, Canon EOS C500 EF and a couple of others. The Nikon D800 has a strong video subsystem too, but its clear strength is the superb 36 megapixel 35mm sensor, wrapped in an intuitively usable and fully professional body. Couldn't be bested in 2012 and won't be bested in 2013 either.
Best Non-Professional Full Frame Digital SLR - It was a tough decision: the Nikon D600. I can hear the cries and screams of protest right now about the Canon 6D and the Sony SLT-A99, but we've become deaf to all of it. The D600 covers the most usability territory, from street shooting, landscapes, sports, travel, fashion and photo journalism, in a manageable body that is lightweight (compated to its slightly larger, pro, big brothers), weather sealed, and with a 24 megapixel sensor at the top of its class. Nikon also offers a lens system that is second to none. Just note one thing. All of the top class, full frame cameras are so good that choosing one over the other is more a matter of picking the camera body which best fits your hands and which offers a control set that seems intuitive to you personally. The dual SD card slots (Nikon finally cleared its head of all that combo nonsense in the D4 - CF + XQD, and the D800 - CF + SD) make great sense in an era of 90MB/sec SDXC cards in capacities up to 256GB. The D600 is a photographer's dream, contains a wonderful video subsystem, and it's our winner, but all of the competitors are right there.
Best APS-C Digital SLR - This one was easy to pick: the Fujifilm X-Pro1. the sensor is superb, Fuji's image processing of data coming off the sensor is truly remarkable, and the Fujinon lens system developed specifically for the X-series bodies is excellent and then some. The built-in hybrid viewfinder is a wonderful design first seen in the Fujifilm X-100, but the X-Pro1 implementation is even better. The retro body design hints at cameras of the 60s and 70s, but the technical image quality is nothing short of stellar. Fujifilm made only one mistake. The RAW file format being used incorporates some algorithms that have proved to be supremenly difficult for third-party software makers to interpret actually, especially with respect to demosaicing (which is supremely important). That means the cranky Fuji RAW converter software supplied with the camera is your best bet for initial conversion. Adobe has updated ACR with excellent handling of Fujifilm X-series RAW files, ACD Systems is coming, and OnOne, DxO and others are doing good converters. Great camera.
Best Micro-Four-Thirds Camera - This one was also an easy pick: The Olympus OM-D E-M5. Once again, Olympus (despite all of the corporate trouble it got itself into during 2012) has reasserted its historic strengths in photography. The result is a retro-ish camera body with a superb, high resolution electronic viewfinder, a new sensor designed by Olympus, clean ergonomics, the kind of responsiveness that sets all the winners apart from their competitors, and stellar image quality. Olympus has effectively erased many of the image quality differences that used to exist between APS-C, full frame, four-thirds and micro-four-thirds. Great camera.
Best Enthusiast Compact Camera - We struggled to sort this one out: The Fujifilm X20. We struggled with this one because Canon itself came up with competition in the form of Canon PowerShot G15, the Canon PowerShot G1 X, the Nikon Coolpix P7700, Panasonic DMC-LX7 and a few others. What Fujifilm did with the X20 represents an improvement on the already wonderful (but still flawed) X10. The result, especially the addition of the hybrid viewfinder, is a photography machine capable of astonishingly good results. It'll bulk up your coat pocket for sure, so it's not a tiny compact by any definition, but as a primary camera for photography enthusiasts or as a backup for amateurs, semi-pros and pros it can't be beat.
Best Standard Zoom Lenses and Best All-Purpose Zoom Lenses
We love prime lenses, we love tilt-shift lenses, macro lenses, telephoto wildlife, sports and birding lenses. But the most difficult lens for any maker to design and manufacture is the standard zoom. It has to combine all the best features of prime lenses - low distortion, flat field, fast aperture - with enough wide angle and enough telephoto to make it a truly one-lens kit, plus enough durability, autofocus accuracy and weather sealing to make it broadly versatile. Every one of these lenses contain compromises, but they also represent an impressive state-of-the-art in lens design. Note that we're chasing after the best overall choice, and that by definition takes into account price as well as image quality. You won't find any f/2.8, heavyweight, pro, stratospherically priced bazookas in this roundup. What we've got here are lenses that with care and attention on the photographer's part can be used to achieve astonishingly good photos.
Best Full Frame Standard Zoom Lens - It's a tie (as in previous years) and it's a repeat win for both lenses which were a) both introduced several years ago, b) have been around long enough to have proven themselves in every situation you can think of, and c) having been beaten by anything else that has come along: Nikkor AF-S 24-120mm f/4G ED VRII and the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. Nikon and Canon produced and manufactured these lens designs in 2007 and 2009 respectively and haven't changed a thing. And that's a good thing. These lenses get the nod because they're sharp, control distortion well, offer great contrast and brightness, accurate color, provide very fast autofocus response, are built tough, and are consistently favored for everything from family snapshots to gorgeous travel photos, landscapes, wildlife photos, memorable street photos and contest winners. You can't do better.
Best Full Frame All-Purpose Zoom - A careful balance of optics, distortion control, clarity, sharpness, color and contrast seems a straightforward set of goals. Wrap them up in a 28-300mm zoom lens that is going to be used on camera bodies sporting high resolution sensors from 12 megapixels all the way up to 36 megapixels, and the game changes into a design challenge of extreme difficulty. Nikon, Sigma and Tamron are all in the sweepstakes here, but the none of them quite hit the mark set by: Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 L IS USM. Canon took a steamroller approach to the design and gave the lens the stabilizing weight, a tripod foot, remarkably good glass and put it in a class of its own. The Nikon 28-300 VR is a reasonably close second, but just can't quite touch the Canon. The Sigma 28-300 OS and Tamron 28-300 VC models both show good center sharpness, but poor distortion control and poor autofocus speed. The Sigma and Tamron models can't touch the Canon or Nikon for build quality either.
Best Non-Full Frame Standard Zoom - Surprise, surprise, but the overall winner is not a Nikon or Canon lens. If you want to shoot with the current best walk around, standard zoom, we think you've got to get into Micro 4/3. Mount this winner on an Olympus OM-D EM-5 and the world will be yours (sort of): Olympus Zuiko 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0. You'll need a M4/3 adapter, but man oh man what a gorgeous lens. Image stabilization is built into all M4/3 camera bodies, so you're covered. The lens has been around for a few years, but nothing has come along to knock it off the top of the heap. Sharp, fast, low distortion, high contrast, superb color. What's not to like? By comparison, the Nikon 16-85 DX VR and the Canon 15-85 EF-S IS zooms are very good too, but not quite up to the stellar quality of the Olympus. If you've already got the Nikon or Canon gear, I wouldn't dump it. What I'd do instead is write to Nikon or Canon and demand that their now long-in-the-tooth models get updated. If you're a Nikon or Canon APS-C shooter and you're looking for a truly competitive standard zoom go for one of these two.
Google Apps has surged in popularity among the small-to-medium business crowd over the past two years in particular. This most interesting addition to Google's offerings is the small trend by enterprise-size businesses to try out (and sometimes subscribe to) Google Apps. If you don't know what Google Apps is, basically for business it's a simplified version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Calendar and several other things found in advanced versions of Microsoft Office. The differences between Google Apps and Microsoft Office have less to do with complex functionality and esoteric features (MS Office), and more to do with significantly lower cost and accessibility (Google Apps). The other major difference is that Google Apps lives on secure Google servers (in the Cloud - a more usefully accessible version of Microsoft Office 365 you might say), rather than on individual hard drives and server drives on your workstations, laptop and desktop computers and servers. Did I mention that Google Apps costs less per computer on an annual basis than the typical installation of Microsoft Office?
Surprisingly, the biggest knock against Google Apps where small and medium size businesses are concerned has more to do with the lack of perceptible security in the Google Apps concept, at least compared to the security offered by dedicated, traditional in-house Microsoft Office installations on workstations, desktops, laptops and servers. It's not that Google is some sort of massively untrustworthy security risk, rather that it doesn't boast the methods of document control that traditional Microsoft Office boasts. Despite that perceived issue, a few very large companies such as Swiss drug maker Hoffmann-LaRoche, with a little over 80,000 employees, have fully converted to Google Apps. There are many other examples, large and small.
Nonetheless, primarily because of the the much lower annual cost, Google Apps as a business service is gaining noticeable traction. Microsoft's comments and observations about Google Apps are baleful to say the least. Last week (Dec 24-28) Julia White (a general manager in Microsoft's business division) told the New York Times, "[Google] has not yet shown they are truly serious" about the enterprise app business. "From the outside, they [Google] are an advertising company." Problem is, while Ms. White is touting the company line, there is also no doubt that Google is offering an alternative that is being seriously considered by many businesses. Ms. White, and others, are still correct - for now. Dara Kerr, in a related C|NET article, quoted Business Insider's current Google estimate of 4% of its revenue coming from enterprise services vs. 96% of its revenue coming from advertising. The point is, Google has to start somewhere in the enterprise apps game. After four years of Google Apps development and deployment, 4% doesn't seem like much unless you remember that Google's overall revenues continue to grow well each and every year. So 4% of 2012 revenues is a lot more than 4% of 2011 revenues. And 4% of 2013 revenues will be larger still (and eat into Microsoft's office footprint just a little bit more).
So it's safe to say that more than a few businesses out there will be making new year's resolutions to either stay with Microsoft Office or try Google Apps for business. Don't sound any death knells for Microsoft Office anytime soon though. Just as Google is expanding, so is Microsoft slowly evolving and growing Office in all its forms. Competition is good for all of us, especially as it forces Microsoft to streamline Office, compete on pricing (Office pricing has always been breathtaking), and generally improve the product. The better Google Apps become, the better and more versatile Microsoft Office will become.
Happy holidays. Sorry . . . of course some of you are working the rest of this week in order to satisfy the insatiable retail product lust that permeates the vast, surging hordes readying themselves to descend with avaricious glee upon the retail bastions lining our streets and roads. Have a blast. Take great joy in throwing out the idiotic complainers who fume and rant standing in some interminably long line to exchange one piece of gift crap for something even crappier, secure in the knowledge that their absence of brains and common sense will somehow protect them from the wrath of even crankier people wondering why on earth they decided to go shopping during boxing week. Woe betide the cranky, impatient shopper who mouths-off to a harrassed store clerk.
Anyway, happy holidays. It's the end of another calendar year. Time to recap the previous 12 months. Come to think of it, I still haven't finished my annual year-end Recommended Product List for Kickstartnews. Better get moving. Then again, considering how slow the retail holiday season has been so far, those post-Christmas/holiday season sales are liable to be extended well into 2013. After all, retailers can't stock shelves with new products until they've cleared enough inventory to make room (not to mention generated sufficient cash flow to pay for the new stock).
Check the back of all your gift cards. Make note of the expiry dates. Make note of any cash value (I doubt you'll find that, but you never know). Make note of whether or not the gift card is good at one store, an entire chain, city wide, state wide, province wide, and so on. Make note of any other retail affiliates at which the card can be used (other than the store that issued the thing). Did I mention that you should make note of the expiry dates? Make note of whether or not the unused card decreases in value over time (retailers play all sorts of tricks). And make note of the expiry dates.
Anyway . . . anyway . . . everybody at Kickstartnews wishes everybody at your place a happy holiday and all the best for 2013. No wait - that last bit doesn't happen until next week.
According to the latest polling statistics (December 21, 10:00 PM), as of today 64% of Canadians have not completed their holiday gift shopping, and over half of that same group have not even started. That means at least 32% of you haven't bought, crafted, made or ordered a single gift yet. You are lazy, you're a procrastinator, and Santa will be putting lumps of coal in your stocking unless you put some honest effort into thinking about and then buying, crafting or ordering well-considered gifts. Hmmm - time is short, so maybe you better not take a chance on an online order.
Careful consideration seems like the last thing on anybody's mind while they're standing in some long, snaking line waiting to get their turn at the gift card counter. Then again, you can now purchase Best Buy, HMV, Amazon, Canadian Tire, Home Depot, The Source, Future Shop and a whole host of other gift cards at the local supermarket, Shoppers Drug Mart, London Drugs or Pharma Plus. That means you can avoid some of the long lines from now until Christmas eve (if you're willing to buy the appropriate gift cards for the people on your gift list).
If you thought that dropping by the Apple Store today was a good idea, well, you're an idiot. Apple stores are normally crowded at the best of times. Today through to Christmas eve, you're likely going to be waiting over half an hour just to talk to a staff member, and possibly only half that time again to check out once you're made a choice.
The regional (non-chain) camera and video specialty stores are going to be hectic too. Don's Photo in Winnipeg is liable to be a zoo, but there are extra staff in place to do their best to reduce wait times, answer questions about photo and video gear that you should have been asking weeks ago, and help you check out in a reasonable amount of time. The Camera Store in Calgary will be exactly the same. Downtown Camera, narrow little Aden Camera, Vistek, and Henry's main store in Toronto will all be zoo-like environments. Note though that because business and volumes have actually been down so far this season, Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Panasonic, Samsung and even overpriced Sony have all reduced prices to retailers on a wide variety of mainline products over the past 48 hours. For example, the Nikon D600 + 24-85 VR zoom lens kit is now $1999, the same reduced priced it has been at in the U.S. for almost three weeks.
If you've decided not to hit the streets today - even though there's little time left before Christmas, enjoy the weather. Toronto is going to range from -3C to 0C, but a 45 Kmh wind is going to make it feel more like -8C. Winnipeg is going to hit a frigid high of -13C and it's actually going to get colder as the sun comes up, down to -16C, and progressively colder through the rest of the weekend and into next week. Calgary will hit -6, and it's snowing. Welcome to Canada on December 22, 2012 - just about the worst day of the year to be rushing around trying to do intelligent, considerate shopping. Happy holidays!
We're actually scouring the web for deals at our affiliates, but we're not posting anything between now and Christmas because there are now no guarantees that any shipments will arrive before Christmas. Several giants including Amazon, B&H, Best Buy and a number of others are still stating online that you can buy today and "Get it by December 24th" but if I were you I wouldn't bet on it at this point.
Anyway, if you're hitting the streets today and tomorrow, stop reading this right now and get going. Oh, did I mention that finding a parking spot is going to be impossible?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States announced yesterday that it would be studying the data broker industry's collection and use of consumer data. I can hear the cries from afar of "It's about time!" and I don't know anyone right now (except the data brokers) who isn't at least breathing a tiny bit easier. The road we've taken was clearly underlined back in 1999 when Scott McNealy, then CEO of Sun, stated in an interview when discussing the new-at-the-time Jini technologies being introduced by the company, that consumer privacy issues are a red herring. "You have zero privacy anyway," McNealy stated. "Get over it." He wasn't wrong. Twelve years down a road paved with MySpace, Friendster, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram (which has this week made disturbing statements, now that it's owned by Facebook, about rights claims to users' photos posted on the site), hundreds of millions of people around the world have gleefully and ignorantly opened themselves up to onslaughts of relentless advertising and product marketing at every moment of their lives at which they interact with desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones and feature phones.
Data brokers assemble vast amounts of user preference, user location, user demographic, social meme, user purchase choice and user online participation frequency data to aseemble snapshots of trends, preferences, likes, dislikes, product and service popularity, likeliness to buy, job and employment status, personal associations with others (that one creeps me out), and a variety of other statistical metrics in order to tailor which ads stream to your particular browser on any device you happen to be using. Nice - a global economy built on how much you can be pushed into buying.
Apparently now, even big government is beginning to suspect that a global economic model built on the manufacturing and subsequent purchase of retail goods is not a future on which a sane world can continue to be built. At least I hope that's part of the examination process. One thing is for sure - when the FTC turns its immense, shaggy, bureaucractic head in any particular direction, the objects of its desire - in this case, the data broker industry - don't sleep very well.
We'll be watching the FTC's efforts very closely over the next year or so. How the Obama administration intends to put this particular genie back in the bottle (or if that's even being considered in the first place) is anyone's guess at this point. But the first good step is always careful scrutiny of practices and policies. That's what the FTC will initially be doing. I hope the data brokers are squirming.
Business Year-End Gifts are an Utter Waste - You, Your Suppliers, Gift Novelty Companies All Need to Reboot
A courier showed up at my office today with gift packages from a huge, internationally known waste management company. We use the company's services at a couple of our locations for waste management, recycling pickup and that sort of thing. The holiday/year-end gift packages contained some sort of white & blue, flat, plastic stand with a tack/sticky backing that can be used to prop up an iPod or iPhone or some other PDA/smartphone/music player on a desk. It's a useless little piece of junk that essentially represents a transfer of manufactured plastic from some factory in China directly into a landfill site outside of Toronto. The plastic is not recyclable - at least, there is no recycling symbol on it - which makes it an odd gift choice for an international waste management and recycling company.
Then there is the annual supplier's year-end gift of a letter-size daytimer, complete with a printed page for every day of the year, lots of space for note-taking, religious/holy date and holiday reminders pre-printed on the appropriate dates (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc.), and a page of handy conversion tables (ounces to grams, feet to centimeters, miles to kilometers and so on). But you have to ask yourself, given the amount of time you spend on your smartphone talking to that supplier on his own smartphone, if either one of you has even looked sideways at a paper daytimer at any time in the last ten years. The daytimer gift is another useless piece of manufactured crap destined for a local landfill. I guess somebody still uses these things because Staples and Office Depot still have half an aisle dedicated to refills (which are useless to me in this situation because the gift daytimer does not take refills). Like I said - landfill. At least I can rip out the paper pages and recycle them, but the vinyl wrapped hardboard cover is just garbage.
There's a lot more like this: flashlight pens that are lousy writing instruments and utterly useless as flashlights (when they work at all), tiny flashlight keyrings containing a dead battery with attached miniature knock-off Swiss Army-like pen knives with a blade so cheap that it can't actually be sharpened, ballpoint pens contains refills so cheap that they dry out after a week of normal use, rollerball pens with tips so poorly machined that they drag and actually scratch the paper surface, pens of all kinds with those mushy rubbery grip areas that slide down the shaft of the pen, business card holders with your company name engraved on the top with lid edges sharp enough to cleave off a finger, plastic magnifiers with optical quality so poor that all you can see is a huge blurry mass instead of a small one, and my favorite at this time of year - a large poinsettia plant, nicely potted, that ends up being cursed because nobody in the office wants to take it home (everyone at this time of year already has two of the things), somebody in the office has to water it (nobody wants to be responsible for killing the thing), and the formerly unimpeded view through an outside window is now blocked by an unwanted bush.
Companies that want to do something for clients at this time of year have to make more sense of the small budgets being set aside for this sort of gift giving. Don't think in terms of rewarding an entire office with a gift basket stuffed with chocolates, coffees, junk food and 'gourmet' preserves of questionable origin and quality. What is that anyway - the gift of calories, salt and saturated fats to celebrate the year-end? Please no. There are vastly better choices:
- Gift cards for nice restaurants given to clients whom you know enjoy eating out
- Gift cards for a gourmet kitchen store for clients who enjoy cooking
- A pair of tickets to an upcoming game played by a good local sports team (amateur, semi-pro, pro - it doesn't matter)
- A really nice, name brand writing instrument made by Waterman, Montblanc, Caran D'Ache, Rotring, Faber-Castell, Diplomat or some other top name, something which will last for years and years of regular use
- A gift card for Amazon for those clients you really don't know very well
- A gift card from a well-established local photography & video dealer for a client who happens to be an avid photographer
There's much more, but you get the idea. Spend your gift budget at year-end on gifts that mean something outside the office or job site. Collaborate with your staff to ensure you're getting the choices right. Then go out and purchase fewer gifts, but spend more on each one to ensure your clients understand that you've given the whole process some thought - that you actually do appreciate their business and took the time to say thank you. Do that. What you've been doing up to now is picking crap out of a novelty catalog, and your clients know it because some of them have done the same thing for their own clients. It's a meaningless waste of money. Stop it. Improve your relationships by showing you actually care. Besides that, you might also find something you want to buy for yourself.
Canada and the U.S. have allegedly been working on more expansive and liberal deals to ease cross-border shopping, ease crossing the border back & forth between the two countries, and reducing the impact of duties and taxes when Canadians and Americans cross back & forth (sometimes on a weekly basis) when shopping for various items, conducting business and so on. For those of you who don't know it, the Canada/U.S. border is the longest undefended border between any two countries anywhere in the world. It's just too bad that Nikon hasn't heard about it.
The Nikon D600 + Nikkor 24-85 VR zoom lens package deal is priced in Canada at $2499 (which, after you convert from the Canadian to the U.S. dollar it's still $2499). The Nikon D600 + 24-85 VR zoom lens is priced in the U.S. at US$1999 (which, after you convert from the U.S. to the Canadian dollar is still $1999). So Canadian photography enthusiasts looking in photography stores in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Sarnia, Windsor, Hamilton, Toronto, Montreal, Sherbrooke, Quebec City, Moncton, Fredricton, St. John, Halifax, Yarmouth, Sydney, Cornerbrook or St. Johns will pay a full $500 more than their U.S. counterparts. I'll bet you can guess where shoppers in many of those cities are going to get their Nikon D600 + 24-85 VR zoom lens. They're heading down to Bellingham, Seatle, Grand Forks, Duluth, Sault Michigan, Detroit, Lansing, Buffalo, Plattsburg, Bangor, or if they can't get away instead ordering online from B&H Photo, Adorama or Amazon.com and having goods shipped to U.S.-based relatives.
Nikon and several other major photography equipment makers need to smarten up. Nikon keeps sending me email from their online store too. With a Canadian address I can't order anything from the Nikon online store. I tried. So why do they keep sending me the email? Ignorant management is likely the answer.
In the meantime, Nikon dealers in border and near-border Canadian cities are deeply upset about the perception that they and their customers are being treated like second class citizens. Sales of the Nikon D600 in Canada were brisk. Not any more. So much for high volume holiday sales.
Aside from any other consideration, how many retailers of all kinds of products are being hosed down in the same way. It's enough to make an honest retailer look for an alternate means of supply such as a relationship with a dealer or jobber well out of any competitive area but still in a location that can take advantage of discounting.
Nikon continues to introduce wonderful cameras and lenses. But its recent retail moves smack of desperation at a time when confident conduct would seem to be a better position to take.
Hallelujah! I honestly thought that Apple would find some surreptitious way to stonewall any attempt by Google to push its iOS 6-compatible version of the Google Maps app into the app store. But it is there now, in full release, and it works as well or better than the previous version. The lamentably awful Apple Maps app which replaced Google maps in the release of iOS 6, will be expunged from memory and likely relegated to the status of a singularly miserable effort from Apple. The Google Maps app is free, as always, and is available now in the app store.
So what happened? Hubris, that's what, because Apple does many things well and the team involved (not to mention the highest echelons of management as well) I think truly believed they thought they could pull this maps thing off too. Problem is, no matter how smart you are, even after a bit of research into a challenge you sometimes still don't know what you don't know.
Cartography in all its forms is an entire discipline of its own. Mapmaking, in all its forms, has evolved over millennia into the serious science and technical craft that it is today. Add to all of that historical importance an overlay of digital domain, global positioning systems, simultaneous massively multi-user server loading, rapidly changing maps that must be updated surprisingly often. Then couple all of that with licensing agreements for access to digital mapping and positioning systems of varying resolutions with the need to rationale all of it into something that is not only human-readable but also human-understandable, and you begin to get a sense that the state of the Apple Maps app at the time of its initial release was less a matter of carelessness than it was a matter of the team involved simply not realizing how hard it is to do this kind of massive mapping well.
Whatever the cause of Apple's failure on this one, rejoice that the Google Maps app is back and better than ever.
John C. Dvorak - long-time tech columnist at PC World mag, blogger, one of the co-hosts at NoAgenda, and editor of his popular Dvorak Uncensored blog - has always insisted that the vast majority of top ten lists online and in print have less to do with actual product, service or idea merit than they do with the opinions of a bunch of staff sitting around in a meeting room trying to come up with something interesting to cap the year. I think he's right. I've done it myself with Kickstartnews.com staff in previous years.
Today it's easier than ever before to come up with a top ten product list, products of the year lists, software of the year lists, top gadgets of the year lists, best movies of the year lists, top cameras of the year lists and so on. Everything about every product, gadget, movie release, camera and you-name-it is excitedly published all year long, so a simple search on Bing or Google can pull up anything a blog, print or broadcast editor needs to make the required list. As long as it's that easy, why not make your own?
Try it. Do a search (using Bing or Google) for "top selling smartphones on Amazon" and watch the magic. It works for Newegg.com and every other large retail site too. Amazon also has search links for its "Shop Amazon - Best Selling Products - Updated Every Hour" category, which basically tracks the hottest selling items (electronics at this link - tablets, GPS, etc.) on an hourly basis. If you're looking for trends to ensure your holiday season gift giving choices are current, that's one easy way to figure it out.
At their foundations, top ten product lists and best products of the year lists are nothing more than another method of driving readers, listeners and viewers to sites, stores and outlets that are selling the products. But you already knew that, didn't you? There's actually nothing significantly better about an iPhone 5 compared to a Galaxy Note, or vice versa. Considering that both devices are at the top of the category in popularity, a sensible shopper might consider buying only the one which is less expensive at the point of purchase. Obviously there's user preference to contend with as well, especially at this time of year, but that's really the subject of another post.
Sticking with trends, top ten lists, and the most popular items, definitely narrows the field when considering which tablet, GPS, cell phone, smartphone, feature phone, car, van, motorcycle, scooter, ultrabook, desktop PC, microwave oven, laptop or camera to buy. But top ten lists don't tell the whole story. They don't tell you which products are the most reliable. The main reason is that the list makers don't want to put anyone off with pesky details about how some crazy-high percentage of some device fails during the first few weeks of use. The solution, after you've made your list (or cribbed someone else's), is to hit the Consumer Reports web site (come on now, you do have a subscription, right?), and check out as many of your list items as possible.
Imagine that - a top ten list containing items that were not only the most popular in 2012, but that are also made well enough and work well enough to actually retain their popularity throughout 2013. Quality, not popularity alone, makes the best choice of all.