On Tuesday, I watched with some interest as El Salvador became the first country to accept Bitcoin as legal tender. There were videos online of people paying with Bitcoin Lightning at major brands like McDonalds and Starbucks; small purchases going through quickly and with virtually no fees. It seemed as good an experience as paying via GrabPay or PayLah or any of our local solutions, only with no intermediaries and using an alternative monetary system. How many years till we can do that anywhere, I wonder.
No new NFT purchases, but about a year ago we bought some art for the home and had them all framed. Because we never got around to putting nails in, they’ve sat against the walls until this week when we had someone come by with a power drill. It’s kinda weird to see them not leaning against the walls, to be honest.
Ricoh surprise-announced a new model in their GR series, which I love intensely. The GR IIIx is the first to not employ a 28mm (35mm equivalent) focal length: it’s 40mm instead, and I think it might just be the Goldilocks choice for any trip where you just bring one compact. Tight enough to get capture points of interest with some background blur, and still just wide enough for some landscapes. Or else there’s always your smartphone.
What I like best is that the new focal length gives my aging GR (first-gen APS-C model) a reason to keep existing. They don’t have to compete. I got it out of the drawer to take a few shots around the house and remembered how great it is to use in the process.
On Saturday, some friends came over for dinner and Howard brought his Oculus Quest 2 along for me to try out. I’ve lightly considered getting one as a couple of colleagues have it too, and during the 9.9 sale on Thursday the realization that a Quest 2 goes for the same price as a new Nintendo Switch OLED helped me to back down from buying one of the latter on Lazada. It turned out to be for the best, because I found that I can’t fit my glasses into the Quest 2 at all, and my large head doesn’t make things any easier. If I were to get one, I’d have to spring for a spectacle spacer and a bunch of other accessories.
Michael published his Weeknotes first, which reminded me that The Matrix Resurrections trailer dropped. Kim hadn’t seen any of the films, unbeknownst to me, so we watched the first two over the weekend. The first one still holds up, of course, but while I had no problems with Reloaded back in the day, I didn’t retain any strong memories of what the plot was about; just the spectacularly overblown fight scenes. Seeing it again now, especially with the help of subtitles, I think I finally got what it was going for. Not that it’ll redeem Revolutions for me, which I hated so much for not doing justice to the whole set up (I really bought into an online theory that Neo was an AI/human hybrid meant to bridge the two sides, which explained why Keanu was cast — he’s intentionally wooden!) But hey, maybe I’ll like it this time!
If you’re describing burnout as something that can be fixed with a vacation, that’s not burnout.
Burnout lasts months (or years, or forever) and fundamentally affects your ability to deal with life.
This tweet helped me to see that it does take longer than you’d think to disconnect from work/overwork. I thought I’d gotten to a good place in just a couple of weeks, but looking back, I’ve been giving myself a hard time about not being productive enough, not doing enough each week to learn new things, or start new hobbies, or have enough fun — and all of that is a psychological holdover from the rhythms of work/overwork. I don’t know if I can label what I feel/felt as burnout, so I’ve not used that term very much. But I did aim to take a break and be intently relaxed. It’s only now that I’m finally beginning to BE relaxed about it, as opposed to relaxing on demand. So that’s it for now. I didn’t do a whole lot. I may not do a whole lot next week. It should be fine.
Been feeling pretty crap, so it was good that we went out and got me some air this week. Early in the week we visited the Gardens By the Bay at night, to err… see some dahlias. Apparently they’re a thing appropriate to the Chinese New Year season. The iPhone 12 Pro’s night mode and ProRAW came in pretty handy.
Sunday was a day for some exhibitions. Somehow, I’d never been (or can’t remember having been) to the Gillman Barracks “art precinct” — don’t ask me what makes a precinct versus a district or development. In any case, old British-era army barracks turned into galleries.
Having been stuck at home or familiar places for most of the last few months, my cameras haven’t been getting much use. The Leica CL was selected for this particular excursion and boy is it a joy to use; mostly because I shoot in Program Mode and don’t have to fiddle very much.
I didn’t listen to music for many days. I got into Clubhouse thanks to a kind mutual named Brian Li on Twitter, and spent many hours just listening to people talk in various irritating ways that reminded me of being on conference calls. But at least now I can leave at will and pick the subject matter.
Most of my Clubhouse time has been spent in crypto-related rooms, and if you follow any of it, last week was a fairly interesting period. Various DeFi assets rose by a large factor, and then the week closed with Michael Saylor/Microstrategy’s annual World.Now conference which was aimed at helping other corporations ‘connect their balance sheets to the Bitcoin network’. Oh yeah, and Elon Musk toyed around with Dogecoin and lots of people bought it (it’s now technically the next week and Tesla just declared a $1.5bn investment which has sent the BTC price to $44,000).
A revelation: the more time I spend reading articles, watching YouTube videos, and listening to Clubhouse conversations about crypto, the more I understand what it’s like to be radicalized online. There’s a gradual envelopment into a new worldview that quickly becomes the default. And when you start to read something that argues the opposite, you want to close the window. Catchy phrases that embody the core philosophies spring forth in your head in response to triggers you hear (e.g. going to the moon, hardest money in the world, stack sats). You can’t imagine what it’d be like to not believe. Of course things will play out this way! How is it so many people can’t see the future when it’s right in front of them?
A death in the family this week, which makes it the third time in six months that I’ve been to the facilities of Singapore Casket and the Mandai Crematorium. I’m even the mayor of the former on Swarm now (please, hold your congratulations). If this life is a simulation, then 2020 is the stage at which the main player has gotten bored and started unleashing disasters from the menu.
Cooking isn’t something I do for fun or self-expression, assuming those are the main reasons why anyone does it when they don’t have to. Apart from putting some bottled sauce on pasta or reheating something already ready to eat, I don’t. But since it was her birthday this week, my wife assumed that I could manage a couple of meals if she wanted me to.
Although for the breakfast portion of this non-competition, I mostly assembled. Here’s how I described it to a chat group:
It was a round the world concept. Starting in Singapore with scrambled eggs that I tried to make taste like soft-boiled eggs with white pepper and dark soy sauce. It was a prototype. I have a new idea for it that I’ll try next weekend. Then we moved to the US with the fried sausages, but they were laid on an layer of laoganma sauce on the plate, representing the rising influence of China. Also, the sausages were subversively cut “Asian style” (diagonally, as per Kylie Kwong’s ridiculous statement I saw on tv once). Then we ended up in the safe waters of Europe with some smoked fish on geometrically arranged triangles of toast, representing Scandinavian design.
The range of f1.4 Sigma lenses for L-Mount I mentioned awhile back are now available in Singapore and I got the 30mm model (about S$430 including delivery). I haven’t taken anything except test shots, but it’s light and feels like a quality item. The grip is rubberized and the design language is clearly different from the closest equivalent Leica Summilux that I’m now NOT buying, but I doubt there are many quality differences I’d appreciate in their outputs.
It’s not my birthday month, but I sure contemplated buying more stuff! Sony released their long-anticipated WH-1000XM4 headphones, which look like a nice upgrade from my Mark 1 model (less so if you have the M3). But how much do we need the latest and greatest noise canceling these days anyway? For working at home or the occasional excursions back into public, I figure you’d be perfectly served by older 1000Xs, AirPods Pro, Bose’s QC35, or most of the other options that may already be in your closet. Sony does boast improved sound quality on these, though, but I’ve decided to wait for Apple’s iPhone event in the fall to see what the rumored AirPods Studio over-ear headphones look like. I’m hoping they’re more HomePod than AirPods, that is to say, actually focused on delivering audiophile-grade performance rather than mediocre sound propped up by usability conveniences.
We had a wedding in the family this week, which was planned to be in the UK, before things got unusual, and so took place in the local Botanic Gardens instead. Permits were obtained, numbers were restricted, and everyone wore face masks for most of it, but apart from that it was very nice.
I brought my D-Lux 7 along and got some workable shots. I love that it has that old Panasonic trick of natively changing aspect ratios from the sensor instead of cropping, for when you need a wider angle. The alternative was the CL with 18–55mm Vario-Elmar which would have been useless in the evening (f3.5 and no IBIS). But by the time we were having drinks on a rooftop, the only camera that could reliably see anything was the iPhone 11 with its Night Mode.
The weather service says we’re in for storms and 22ºC nights in the days to come, which is highly unusual here in Singapore. Standing out in the fading sun at the wedding after 5pm was a rather sweaty affair, to say nothing of being out at noon. I think the average nighttime temperature must be around 28–30ºC, so I’m looking forward to seeing this.
Segue to things I’ve seen: the Snowpiercer TV series on Netflix. Am not a fan of any Bong Joon-Ho film I’ve seen apart from Parasite, so have not been keen to put the film on my list, but am slightly curious now that I’m done with the TV adaptation. It was not a complete waste of time. Fully expecting to be hit over the head with Themes will make it easier to go in, I suppose.
Better things I can actually recommend: John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man (1976) starring Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, and Roy Scheider. It’s even on Singapore’s Netflix so it must be widely available everywhere else. I’ve seen snatches of this on random late-night TV screens over the years, but never the whole thing. They don’t make them like this anymore — it’s generous with scenes and shots that exist just for world and character building, and you’d never say it needed tightening.
Aaron Schneider’s Greyhound (2020) starring Tom Hanks is worth whatever Apple TV paid for it. I read an interview where Hanks said he was upset that the film wouldn’t get a theatrical release because it needed to be seen on a big screen. We saw it last night with the lights down, virtual surround sound bar cranked up, LCD backlight at maximum, and it was a thrill. Don’t see this one on your iPad.
Patrick Vollrath’s 7500 (2019) starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a gem of a hijack movie on Amazon Prime Video that’s practically a play. I know a couple of aviation nuts who’d love its opening minutes, devoted to the pilot and co-pilot’s pre-flight routine of checking meters and flipping switches amidst small talk. It’s a rarely seen moment on screen, rendered with a lavish amount of mundane detail and realism that sets the tone for a film that takes place almost entirely in the cockpit.
7500 got me looking for more quiet-but-intense films set at night or in relative darkness, because they’re perfect for watching in bed. I also quite enjoyed Into The Night, which makes me think maybe I just want more films set on planes? Anyway, this eventually led me to a subgenre of YouTube mood videos not unlike lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to, but a blend of rain sounds, faint jazz BGM, and cafe noises. Check this one out.
I bought Ghost of Tsushima because I couldn’t resist a graphically gorgeous open-world game set in feudal Japan, Western gaze or not. One of my long-time wishes for the Assassin’s Creed series was for them to do a Japanese edition, but they arguably waited too long and now no one cares. This also marks the first time in at least six months that I’m turning my PS4 Pro on. The Switch can’t compete on looks, but not having to commit to significant time in front of the TV means a lot.
A couple of developments in the photography world caught my eye this week.
Olympus is apparently giving up on their camera business and looking to sell it off, which is not entirely unexpected, but still staggering news. Perhaps it’ll find new owners willing to make their products authentically, or at least have their IP absorbed into another Japanese camera maker’s portfolio. The worst outcome would be for it to go to a licensing outfit that will churn out unrelated nostalgia merchandise or even more mediocre cameras than they’ve put out themselves lately. I can’t help but fear Ricoh-Pentax will be next.
Update: It seems one Japan Industrial Partners will buy Olympus over, like they did Sony’s VAIO business at one point, and “continue to offer high-quality, highly reliable products; and also continue to provide supports to the imaging solution products that have been distributed by Olympus.”
On paper, the camera I wanted was the Leica CL. For maximum versatility on the go, I imagined the first lens I would get would be the Vario-Elmar-TL 18–56mm (equivalent to 28–85mm in 35mm terms). There are several omissions on that camera, stabilization being a big one, but it was an intriguing and attractive product.
I’d always been curious about Leica cameras from afar, but never really considered buying one. Functionally speaking, I know that Fujifilm and Sony and the rest all make cameras so good that I could never use them to their fullest potential. And then here’s a company that makes idiosyncratic, deliberately limited gear easily costing three, four, five times as much. I suppose they are like Apple, but even more removed from the mainstream.
But the Leica curiosity is one that grows with age and disposable income. Every time it crossed my mind, I would wonder if it was time yet. Still, buying a fully manual chrome M felt like a 40th or 50th birthday move. The idea was to dip a toe into Leica’s shimmering pool, but not to fully jump in on the first try.
So, most irrationally, and that is the keyword I see in many sentences written by many people on the subject of Leica cameras, I decided I wanted to get one before I even knew if they made a model that I needed.
I looked into my compact camera drawer, pared down in recent years, and started describing what I needed. Essentially I wanted a good Swiss Army knife travel camera, a position filled by the LX10 I bought on sale early last year. It was good but lacking in a few areas. What I really wanted to get back then was the LX100, which I passed on because it was four years old by that point (I should have known an update would be out by the end of the year).
Small and reasonably light. One-handable if necessary.
Physical, dedicated control dials for aperture, shutter speed, ISO, whatever possible.
The ability to zoom or change primes, if/when needed.
Physically attractive design. The LX10 performed well, but boy, it inspires no feelings at all.
An optical or electronic viewfinder.
Large enough sensor, probably APS-C or 35mm FF.
I think these are very sensible things to want in a travel camera, but it’s extremely hard to find them all in a fixed compact body. The recommended solution seems to be a small interchangeable lens mirrorless camera, like Fujifilm’s X-E3 or X-Pro 2, or Panasonic’s GX9. As far as compacts go, I could only think of the new Panasonic LX100 II. I knew that Leica had a rebranded version of it in their D-Lux 7, but somehow it didn’t even enter my mind for this particular shopping mission. If I was going to dip a toe in, it was going to in be the real pool and not the kiddy pool!
Walking into the Leica store, I made a beeline for the CL display, believing it to be the best fit for the above. It was sleek, well-built, and less than half the price of an M10, with access to a wide selection of M and L-mount lenses. The sound and feel of its shutter release was very satisfying, but after using it for a few minutes, I didn’t love the way it controlled. You don’t dial in the aperture on a lens ring, but on an unmarked soft dial on the top plate that displays your settings on a tiny LCD. Also, with that Vario lens, it’s kinda heavy, with a bulkiness that approaches the Leica Q. I considered the Q, but didn’t want a fixed 28mm.
I did the math on owning a CL and an eventual three-lens setup. It came up to like half a year’s rent. On the other hand, buying an M10 and a couple of Summilux and Noctilux lenses will bring you into territory normally reserved for car purchases (and mind you that’s in Singapore where we have some of the most expensive car ownership taxes in the world).
If you do a little internet research, you’ll find a lot of reasons why the first-generation isn’t close to being a finished or fully evolved product. The soft controls aren’t as traditional as they seem in practice, switching up functions between modes; the touchscreen UI and gestures drive some photographers crazy; and it doesn’t have any in-body stabilization. On those same sites, you’ll find people talking about what the Q’s successor might bring: a new 40+ megapixel sensor (like the one in Sony’s RX1Rmk2) which would allow the same 28mm lens to do in-camera crops equivalent to 70mm. Hmm, that would be something.*
My conclusion was this: Putting aside craftsmanship and engineering, and focusing purely on photographic needs, Leica’s non-M lineup today simply doesn’t have the right product to push me into the pool. Others with more money to spend or greater passion for the brand might have little problem doing it, but not me, not now. If I was going to enter an ecosystem on a journey that would end with me spending the price of a car on a fistful of glass and magnesium alloy, I would have to be sure.
Now, Fujifilm does a great job with their ergonomics. Aperture rings on the lens, shutter speed and ISO on top, with “A” automatic notches on each one. You just dial in the combination of those that suits your needs, and it’s so much more natural than a PASM mode dial. They just don’t make a fixed compact with a zoom lens anymore. Panasonic is the only other company I know that values the same control scheme, so I looked all the way back to the beginning… to that LX100 II, a thoroughly modern Japanese (okay, supposedly with a little help from Wetzlar) camera with stabilization and super-quick autofocus.
Yes, its menus are overcomplicated, and it tries to do too many things that no one will ever ask for, like multi-exposure photos and horrendous tilt-shift filters and that effect where one color is isolated and the rest of the photo is in black & white. Seriously. But as a camera, it ticks all the boxes in my original wishlist above. All but one. It’s kinda ugly. Where its cousin the LX10 was plain and kinda like a white label design, the LX100 has the same leather-like texture and unsightly handgrip bumps of a retro-leaning Olympus or Fujifilm product. After looking at nothing but Leica bodies for a couple of weeks, it was hurting my eyes.
Which is how I ended up with the D-Lux 7. It’s the less ugly, Leica-blessed version of the Panasonic Lumix LX100 II. I wish Leica had the time to write real custom firmware for it, instead of just reskinning Panasonic’s menus to be in white and red instead of white and yellow. I’d love to see them simplify it down to be just a simple stills camera, taking away the multiple color modes and filters, leaving just two options: color and B&W. In other words, more like other Leicas.
*Addendum: I wrote the above a few months ago and never hit Publish. Since then, two things have happened: Leica released the rumored Q2 months earlier than I would have expected. I pity everyone who bought their then-new Q-P over Christmas 2018; this Q2 is a ruthlessly quick follow-up that is refined in every way, except perhaps the files are a little too big.
Secondly, I came into ownership of a Leica CL after all, completely out of the blue. I’ll write a follow-up at some point, but my first impressions above still hold. It’s expensive, it’s not light, and the soft wheels take some getting used to. But I got used to dialing in the aperture on them after all, and the photos are exquisite. The D-Lux 7 actually complements it quite well, for when you need something a little more compact but don’t want to give up too much quality.