Thursday, December 27, 2018

Canon G3 X Compact Bridge Camera

My story and review

I shot DSLR for a long time, and SLR before digital came along. Not professionally, but I've always had a passion for good photography. My first “real” camera was a Minolta X-700 that my parents got me when I was in high school around 1980, and I gradually upgraded bodies, lenses, and other gear for the next 25 years.

At some point when our daughter was in single digits, I got tired of lugging around all the extra gear associated with a DSLR setup. By 2010, I was shooting with compact point-and-shoot cameras more often. Around that same time, smartphone technology had advanced to where the cameras in those were pretty good, too. I willingly traded convenience and portability for resolution and picture quality.

In recent years, I realized that I missed "real" photography, but still didn't want to deal with all the gear. I kayak and hike a lot when the weather is permits it, so I also started looking into compact waterproof cameras. I found some good ones at reasonable prices, but was frustrated with the zoom range of every one I tried. Most of the zooms in them were digital, as well, so I was still frustrated with picture quality.

After some research, I started reading about the Canon G3X “bridge” camera, and eventually decided to buy one. Now that I’ve been using it for a few months, here’s my review.

The Pros –

It’s rugged.  The magnesium-alloy body feels solid and heavy, although not nearly as heavy as a DSLR. It is certainly not shockproof but does feel like it could take a few minor bangs now and then and not have to be sold for parts afterward. When I’m using it, it definitely has the feel of a “real” camera in my hands. The grip is quite comfortable.

The body is weather sealed.  This isn’t the same as being waterproof, I know, but it’s important to me for a camera to be able to withstand a bit of dust, dirt, and light rain without starting to malfunction. Reportedly, this has the same level of dust and moisture resistance as Canon’s EOS 7D DSLR. As of this writing, there don’t appear to be ANY completely waterproof bridge cameras. Trust me, I looked.

It’s compact.  Calling this a “bridge” camera means that it’s trying to bridge the gap between ultra-compact point-and-shoots and DSLR cameras. As such, it’s much smaller than your average DSLR, yet admittedly larger than the ultra-compacts. Having a powerful zoom on it, though, means you don’t have to carry around a bag full of lenses for different shooting conditions. I will be the first to admit that this is also one of the limitations of the camera, but you still get an incredible amount of flexibility in shooting with the G3X.

That ZOOM!  The G3X has an 8.8-220mm optical zoom range, which is the DSLR lens equivalent of 24-600mm. My initial interest in a “superzoom" like this came from all the wildlife shots I missed by having nothing more than my phone or a 5x digital point-and-shoot while hiking or paddling. This camera has significantly changed my game in that regard! The aperture range is a respectable f/2.8–5.6, although it does arrive at f/5.6 pretty quickly into the telephoto position.

There are certainly more powerful "superzooms" out there. Nikon does 60x, 83x, and now 120x! Sony and Panasonic bridge cameras have impressive zooms, as well. I opted for less reach than those because I wanted something more weather protected and compact but with a relatively large sensor. To the best of my knowledge, the G3 X has the farthest reach for a large sensor bridge camera.

The sensor.  Another big plus with this camera is that it has a 1" CMOS sensor, which makes it great for low light photography as well as capturing a lot of detail. The majority of bridge cameras and superzooms have sensors that are less than 1/4 that size. The average DSLR sensor is still bigger but, again, I was trying to find something that fit several other parameters for me. As far as this kind of (bridge) camera goes, that 1" sensor is definitely as good as it gets. The only problem with it is that it bumps up the cost. The image resolution of the G3X is 20.2 megapixels.

Five-axis image stabilization.  Whatever that means, the image stabilization on this camera is excellent. Apparently, the five-axis bit is pretty rare among its most direct competitors. All I can say is that it works really well.

The view screen.  One criticism that I remember reading in reviews before I bought the camera was that it only had a view screen and no built-in viewfinder. Having shot through viewfinders for almost three decades now, I thought this might really be a problem. You can buy an electronic viewfinder separately, although that creates an additional cost. When I bought my G3X, I decided to wait on the EVF to see if I would miss it. … Most of the time, I do not.

Now that I’ve gotten used to using the view screen, I think I actually prefer it. It’s a 3.2 inch high-resolution, touch sensitive, tilting LCD monitor. Because the angle of the screen is adjustable, it allows you to experiment with shooting at different angles like way up above your head or down low on the ground, all from a normal standing, seated, or just crouched position. (However, the screen only tilts forward/up and backward/down. Allowing it to swivel as some other models do would have been really nice.) Since the screen is touch sensitive, it can be used for a variety of functions in shooting mode, playback mode, and within the camera’s various menus.

The Cons –

Frustrating manual focus.  The G3X does not appear to be designed for someone who prefers to manually focus on subjects. From what I can tell (and I haven’t played around with it a lot) manual focus requires you to hold a button on the focus ring while turning the focus ring through many more arcs than should be necessary. There are a variety of auto-focus modes and fields, but adjusting focus manually is not easy. This can be frustrating for tight macros as well as long zooms. Autofocus speeds are not terrible but not surprisingly good either.

It’s compact.  (Hey, wasn’t that also one of the ‘Pros’?) The body of the camera is definitely more compact than a typical DSLR. People (like me) with big hands have to be careful how we hold the camera so as not to change a setting by accidentally hitting a button or dial. I’ve discovered first hand (ha!) that this is frustratingly easy to do.

No viewfinder.  As mentioned above, this camera has no built-in viewfinder. I feel like I quickly got used to using the view screen instead and now actually prefer it, but anyone who feels that they absolutely need a viewfinder will have to spring for the optional EVF accessory that connects to the camera’s hot shoe. Warning: It’s not cheap. If I have anything bad to report about using the view screen only, it’s that it can occasionally be difficult to read in bright sunlight. Often, tilting the screen a bit takes care of this issue for me.

Wrapping up, this Canon G3X is exactly the kind of camera I was looking for in terms of its portability, versatility, and image quality without having to lug around all kinds of gear. Not mentioned above is that the G3X also shoots video and appears to do it quite well. I have not played around in video mode much so that hasn’t been part of this review.

The best part about this camera is that it has totally rekindled my love for good photography. I fully realize just how much I was missing by stepping down to point-and-shoot cameras. Although I can see myself moving back into DSLR gear in the future, I’m completely happy with the Canon G3X for the time being. Even when I think it might be time to pick up another DSLR, I'll definitely be keeping this bridge camera for the many times when I need the combination of compact portability and a good camera. In short, I love this thing.


Monday, January 1, 2018

Front Burner 2017

It's pretty sad that this blog is only being used once a year these days. I have no excuse, and it's particularly odd because I'm usually thinking about music on a daily basis. If I spent half the time here that I spend on Facebook, this blog would look a lot different. (Something tells me that I'd be a lot less frustrated with the world, too.) Nevertheless, I'm back again for my annual roundup of the music I listened to the most; my musical 'Front Burner' for the year.

As has been the case for the past few years, I've been a contributor to my friend Bret Helm's "Best of..." blog posts. Every June, he asks us to list 10 new albums that rank as our favorites of the year so far. I mention this because, for some reason, my year-end list (I'll get to that soon) bares little resemblance to what I had picked out for the first six months. I can only surmise that this is because I listened to a lot of new music this year, and didn't spend a lot of time revisiting some of the albums on my "So Far" list from June. 

Top 10 as of June: (in order of release date, I believe)

Throwing Snow - Embers
PVT - New Spirit 
Ibibio Sound Machine - Uyai
Desperate Journalist - Grow Up
Clan of Xymox - Days of Black
Father John Misty - Pure Comedy
Ulver - The Assassination of Julius Caesar
Robyn Hitchcock - Robyn Hitchcock 
Todd Rundgren - White Knight 
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound 

On a personal note, I've been buying much less music these days, and my increased use of Spotify for exploration (as opposed to buying a lot of physical product) has saved me both money and space. Its quite likely that this has also been one of the reasons I didn't cling to many of these albums during the second half of the year but instead moved on to other things. I still haven't decided if that last factor is good or bad. From the June list above, only the PVT, Robyn Hitchcock, Todd Rundgren, and Jason Isbell were purchased in a physical format (all vinyl LP.)

For whatever reason(s), I moved on from there. By the end of December, these are the recordings with which I spent the most time:

17 Favorite Albums of 2017
1 - Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit • The Nashville Sound *  **
2 - Gary Numan • Savage **
3 - Fever Ray • Plunge
4 - The Clientele • Music for the Age of Miracles ***
5 - The National • Sleep Well Beast
6 - St. Vincent • Masseduction
7 - Desperate Journalist • Grow Up *
8 - Pronto Mama • Any Joy
9 - Ride • Weather Diaries
10 - Columbia Mills • A Safe Distance To Watch 

11 - Joe Henry • Thrum ***
12 - Offa Rex • The Queen of Hearts **
13 - Karine Polwart • A Pocket of Wind Resistance ***
14 - This Is The Kit • Moonshine Freeze
15 - Out Lines • Buried Guns
16 - Beth Ditto • Fake Sugar
17 - Father John Misty • Pure Comedy *

*   Also appeared in the June list
**  Recordings purchased on vinyl LP
*** Recordings purchased on CD 

Offa Rex's 'The Queen of Hearts' is a collaboration between British folk singer Olivia Chaney and The Decemberists. Their collaboration is a celebration of traditional British folk songs. 

My #1 album of 2017, partially elevated to this position after seeing him at the Chicago Theater with my wife and daughter at the start of his North American Tour for this album, then again two days later in Madison, Wisconsin with a buddy of mine.

Last year, I created a Spotify playlist with two sample tracks from each of the albums in my list. If you'd like to hear a couple songs from these albums, check this out: 

Looking for more great music?

Since 2014, I have been contributing my Top 10 to Bret Helm's Life On This Planet blog. He and his partner Sarah Q do a fantastic job with it! This year, they gathered 13 friends from around the globe to contribute their lists, and the blog post contains a link to a massive Spotify playlist that is just chock full of great music. Please visit the link below to take you over to Bret & Sarah's Best of 2017 blog post! 


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Front Burner 2016

Here we are again with a list of the new albums on my "front burner" for the past year. I'm certainly making no claims to evaluating all the music that was released this year. I also spent quite a bit of time with music recorded before 2016 this year and, unfortunately, none of that is represented here. What follows is simply a list of the 16 releases of 2016 with which I spent the most time. It was a good year.

My 16 Favorite Albums of 2016:
1. Shearwater • Jet Plane & Oxbow (22 Jan)
2. Savages • Adore (22 Jan)
3. David Bowie • Blackstar (8 Jan)
4. Kate Tempest • Let Them Eat Chaos (7 Oct)
5. Eliot Sumner • Information (22 Jan)
6. Margaret Glaspy • Emotions & Math (17 Jun)
7. Frightened Rabbit • Painting of a Panic Attack (8 Apr)
8. Angelica Garcia • Medicine for Birds (30 Sep)
9. Agnes Obel • Citizen of Glass (21 Oct)
10. Trentemøller • Fixion (16 Sep)

11. Public Service Broadcasting • Live At Brixton (2 Dec)
12. Kate Bush • Before the Dawn (2 Dec)
13. The Tragically Hip • Man Machine Poem (16 Jun)
14. Tangents • Stateless (8 Jul)
15. Kid Canaveral • Faulty Inner Dialogue (29 Jul)
16. Glass Animals • How To Be A Human Being (26 Aug)

I'm trying something new this year and adding a Spotify playlist with two songs from each of the releases above. (The Kate Bush live album is a notable exception here, as this release is not in the Spotify library as of this post.) If you're even slightly curious about any of the albums in my Top 16, check this out: 

In some ways, the playlist brings me full circle regarding Front Burner mixes. As a handful of you already know, I've been sending out Front Burner mix CDs to interested friends throughout 2000-2010, and was still copying my personal mix by request after that.

Looking for more great music? 
For the past three years now, I have been honored to have my Top 10 records of the year posted among some other great year-end lists on the blog of my friend, Bret Helm: 

Bret does a great job with this blog and I wholeheartedly encourage you to check it out. The other lists at that link are just as worth a look and have certainly provided me with some great new music to explore. There's a Spotify playlist there, as well!

My Favorite Album of 2016:
Shearwater • Jet Plane and Oxbow

This was my most listened-to recording of the year. It came out in January, and really never got very far from my ears. (Although I've been scaling way back on my music purchases, I actually bought this gem on both vinyl and CD.) I've been a Shearwater fan for many years now and, honestly, they just seem to get better with each album. In the most confounding, volatile, and contentious year that America has seen in as long as I can remember, this is a protest record. A protest record of a very different stripe, though. Here's how Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg describes it:  
"My idea for 'Jet Plane and Oxbow' was to try to make a protest record that wasn’t dumb or preachy. The more grand or triumphant the songs sounded, the more conflicted the lyrics became, which I really liked. It reminded me of a breakup letter — the kind that’s furious and tender at the same time, because it’s written with love."

Two Very Honorable Mentions
David Bowie's 'Blackstar' album was released on his 69th birthday on January 8, 2016. On January 10, the news was released that Bowie had passed away following an 18-month battle with cancer. It seemed to catch everyone completely off guard. That fact alone would have made 'Blackstar' a special recording, but the album itself was excellent! Even recording while battling a fatal illness that had to be taking a toll on him physically and emotionally, the man created a work of art that easily stands among some of his best work. And it stands as a poignant farewell to his fans. 'Blackstar', the powerful Savages album, and 'Jet Plane and Oxbow' were all strong candidates for my #1 album thoughout the year. In my list, those top three are fairly easily interchangeable.

It turns out that Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg is also a big David Bowie fan. As they were heading out on tour for 'Jet Plane and Oxbow', the band managed to find the time to work up their version of not just a Bowie song or two, but the entirety of his 1979 'Lodger' album. Midway through the year, Shearwater had started a crowd sourcing fundraiser to offer 'Shearwater Plays Lodger' to fans. It's truly a labor of love, and makes it abundantly clear that there is a Bowie influence in Shearwater.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Front Burner 2015

Recapping the most played music around our place during the past year, with an intentional focus on current releases. 

For the past two years now, I have been honored to have my Top 10 records of the year posted among some other great year-end lists on the blog of my friend, Bret Helm: 
Bret does a great job with this blog and I wholeheartedly encourage you to check it out. The other lists at that link are just as worth a look and have certainly provided me with some great new music to explore.

Here are my Top 15 favorite albums of 2015, along with (my daughter) Emma's Top 5.  I'm proud that she has explored enough new music to find that many favorites released this year.  All but one title is also on my list, largely because her main conduit for new music is still her old man. Still, her list consists of albums that she truly loves.

My Top 15 of 2015:
1.  Frank Turner • Positive Songs For Negative People (released 7 Aug)
2.  Jason Isbell • Something More Than Free (17 Jul)
3.  Of Monsters and Men • Beneath the Skin (9 Jun)
4.  Courtney Barnett • Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (25 Mar)
5.  Torres • Sprinter (5 May)
6.  St Germain • St Germain (9 Oct)
7.  Alabama Shakes • Sound & Color (21 Apr)
8.  The Dead Weather • Dodge and Burn (25 Sep)
9.  Holly Herndon • Platform (19 May)
10. Public Service Broadcasting • The Race For Space (23 Feb)
11. Africa Express Presents Terry Riley's In C Mali (3 Feb)
12. Dub Syndicate • Hard Food (9 Jan)
13. Chelsea Wolfe • Abyss (7 Aug)
14. Christopher Paul Stelling • Labor Against Waste (10 Jun)
15. Boots • Aquaria (13 Nov)

Emma's Top 5:
1. Of Monsters and Men • Beneath the Skin (9 Jun)
2. Frank Turner • Positive Songs For Negative People (released 7 Aug)
3. The Dead Weather • Dodge and Burn (25 Sep)
4. Iron Maiden • Book Of Souls (4 Sep)
5. Jason Isbell • Something More Than Free (17 Jul)

My #1 album of 2015 (as well as Emma's #2) - I only just discovered Frank Turner a year or two ago, but I have become a devoted fan. It's going to sound cliche to say that his music is uplifting, but it is. Rarely have I ever encountered such a positive outlook on life in song without coming across sappy or disingenuous. In addition, his live shows are an experience to behold. He can turn a venue full of complete strangers into a room full of swaying, bouncing friends in under a half dozen songs. Even complete strangers to his music walk away with smiles on their faces and blood pumping faster. That's certainly how I became a Frank Turner fan. Emma agrees, having just attended her first Frank Turner show in Milwaukee on December 11.

Meeting Frank Turner at The Majestic in Madison WI

Stop Start ... Stop

I came here on New Year's Eve to post about my favorite music of 2015.  I was well aware that I had let the blog go dormant for a while, but was surprised to see that my last post was all the way back in late February!  One of my resolutions for the coming year should probably be to log in here just a leeeeetle bit more frequently.  To the scant few who actually follow any of this, my sincere apologies for the lapse.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Music Gifts from Arizona

Out of the clear blue, I got a package in the mail from an address that I didn't recognize in Arizona.  Inside was an awesome gift of records and miscellaneous good cheer from Bret Helm and Brent Berg.  I know both of them from vinyl enthusiasm groups on Facebook, and they are both all around good guys.  Bret manages the Life On This Planet blog that I have praised elsewhere on this blog and is also a member of the band Audra.  Brent runs an independent record store in Scottsdale called The Record Room, voted best vinyl record store in that area in 2013.  Some day, I sincerely hope to visit him there.  These gentlemen conspired to make my day by sending me some very cool items.  Check this out...

Inside was a killer Record Room T-shirt, bumper sticker, promo flyer, two LPs, and a 10" EP.

click for larger image
The first thing I needed to put on the turntable was, 'Lonely Is An Eyesore,' a 1987 compilation of artists on the 4AD label including Colourbox, This Mortal Coil, The Wolfgang Press, Dead Can Dance, Throwing Muses, Cocteau Twins, and Clan of Xymox. I have lusted after this one for quite a while, and I'm blown away to finally have a copy of it.  This is not an easy one to find, especially in the American midwest.  Gorgeous 23 Envelope cover art and printed inner sleeve.  Aw yeah.

click for larger image

Also included was Gene Loves Jezebel's Discover album.  Many moons ago, a few of us were sharing a GLJ vibe in the Vinyl Community and I mentioned that Discover was one of the few early GLJ records that I still haven't found.  One of these guys saw that, remembered it, and picked up a copy of this record when they spotted a copy.  It's that kind of thoughtfulness and generosity that keeps me tied to the VC, irrespective of how large and fragmented the group has become.

The record that completely blew me away, though, was the 5-track 10" EP from the band Psi Com, which was Perry Farrell's band before Jane's Addiction, Porno For Pyros, or his founding of the Lollapalooza festival.  

I'm sure both Bret and Brent knew this EP well, but it was Bret that I saw sporting a Psi Com T-shirt and talking about them online.  The band never made it past this EP, and because of that I assumed my chances of ever owning a copy of this were slim to none.  I am grateful for all their gifts, but this one really had my jaw on the floor.  Click on either label for a larger image and more detail.

The 10" record is housed in this beautiful envelope-style sleeve printed on recycled cardboard.  It was recorded in March of 1985 at Radio Tokyo, and originally released as a 12" on the Mohini Records label at that time.  This 10" version was released later, in 1994 on Triple X Records.

My sincere thanks to Bret and Brent.  As I told you when this arrived, I wasn't having the best week, so this gesture was particularly welcomed.  I am thoroughly enjoying this music, and I hope to get something just as interesting together to send to you in the near future.  In the meantime, thank you very much!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Summertime Bruce

When I was a teenager, growing up in Cleveland, there was no greater influence on my musical taste than the mighty WMMS 101 FM.  The Home of the Buzzard. 

Back before the days of corporate-controlled radio, stations like this had DJs that picked the music they wanted to play on their shows based entirely on its artistic merit.  The Buzzard was also one of the bad boys of midwestern FM radio in that they often put music on the air in advance of its release date, gave airtime to deep cuts and B-sides, played records in their entirety, and simulcast a wide variety of concerts from local venues.  This stuff was like manna from heaven for a teenager with very little disposable income, no driver's license and no car.

I was 15 years old on August 9th, 1978, and had yet to attend my first concert.  WMMS was celebrating its 10th anniversary, that year, and one of the festivities they lined up was a show from the Cleveland Agora featuring Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band. Darkness on the Edge of Town had just been released.  I'm not sure there was ever a more magical time for the band.  Everyone I knew wanted to attend that show.  For some of us, listening to the simulcast over the airwaves was just going to have to be good enough.  And it was.  It was an absolutely magical show that pretty much exceeded everyone's expectations.  Through the stereo in my bedroom in the suburbs, I shut out the world and joined the crowd at the Agora for what would eventually go down as one of the greatest rock and roll concerts of all time.  To this day, I cite that evening as being the night that I became a Springsteen fan for life.

Since the show was being simulcast, it was also being recorded.  Not only by every kid with a tape deck, but by others with more professional experience with such things.  For many years, I made do with cassette tapes of the show, first from my own tape deck and later by trading up to more "official" bootleg tapes.  With the advent of home CD recording technology, some of those tapes made their way to CDR, although many of those weren't any better than their homemade cassette source tapes.  More recently, the show has made its way to downloadable files, digitally tweaked and re-edited.  As often bootlegged as this show has been, and as highly regarded as the performance has been, it has never seen an official release from the original source tapes. ... Until now ...

Apparently, those source tapes were found in boxes loaned to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.  You can read more about all that here, but the bottom line is that the Springsteen camp has just released (on triple CD and high quality download) the WMMS 10th anniversary concert from Cleveland's Agora on August 9th, 1978.  This looks to be the definitive version of a monumental - and personally crucial - Bruce Springsteen show.  You can bet that I'm all over this release.  I'm 15 again and in rock and roll heaven!