Tuesday, 28 May 2019

I seem to have found a kindred spirit

Recently in my youtube feed this fellows talks came up.



Given my 2013 post (here) about my views and experiences with "Religion" its almost like he's telling my own story, which means there are probably quite a few of us who went through this wringer and were subjected to the abuses by these "loving" people too.


Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Dear Oppo ... you blew it

You guys have dropped the ball and the market is now kicking you in the nuts, just as you probably deserve. Huawei is overtaking you and will eventually relegate you to a minor player ... and guess what ... ?

Its all your fault and many people gave you warnings.

Now up front I want to say the following; I bought my first Oppo (the F1) in 2016 and the overwhelming experience with that phone was (and indeed remains) good.

Its a great phone and I love it.

I would say you can count at least 5 sales (that I personally know of) due to my praise and demonstration of that phone to friends.

We all liked that it was slim, light and had a great screen. Indeed over the years many have commented when I hand them the phone that "this is a great phone, not so insanely big like most now" (keep that in mind).

The F1 came behind some great phones of yours like the Find 7 and the N1; these were outstanding phones back when you were first establishing your market. Its not insignificant that you offered technically excellent phones and attracted a market of technically minded users. The phones you offered have always had great hardware and well priced for their technical position. Indeed the R11s is no exception, and if judged only on hardware (which is pointless as one can not re-flash a different OS onto it) then its technically the winner of that comparison.

But phones are more than just their hardware.

One of your other strengths is the outstanding after sales service you offer and that you offer regular OTA security patches for the OS as they seem come available (to this day my F1 continues to get them). There are some people who lament that you don't give OS upgrades (for instance stepping up from Android 5.x to 7 or something like that) but I'm not one of them.

I found that the included feature set of Color OS2.1 was great, with good

  • battery management, 
  • granular internet access at the OS level for Apps, 
  • Quiet Time (before it was even available on Android),
  • and lots of other good stuff such as a great provided Email Client (one of the best I've used), great Camera App, good file manager, inbuilt FTP access, WiFi Hotspot software, default keyboard ... the list goes on.

Sadly the documentation lacked (or perhaps people just didn't know where to look) and many people (reviewers) were unaware of how good the system was and what it provided (I'm still teaching friends with F1 phones how to use components). This was perhaps forgivable with your targeting technical users and if you'd followed up with operational consistency ... but you didn't.

Its not insignificant that you created a "Brand" based on what attracted the technically inclined who evangelized your product. You gave the technically inclined a good product that was also reasonably attractive to the general users too. Personally I don't mind that your OS (was) slightly simplified (I've used Android since Ginger Bread) and distinctive. Indeed I've only ever had one beef with the F1 and that was the (fucking stupid) decision to make the "recent apps" button on the bottom left a "menu button".  This almost instantly caused me problems because:

  1. from the home screen enabled the quick deletion of apps (what were you even thinking)
  2. many applications (even in the day) responded to the long press (to get to your most recent apps task switcher) by engagning the menu (and then leaving engaged when you swapped out of it).
It quickly became clearly a stupid idea which there was no way to customise out. So I just adjusted myself around that.

However this brings me to what your problem is: you release new models with a rapidity that prevents you actually fixing problems or even being interested in problems because like:  "buy the new one".

The existing problems with phones are never solved as your continue to roll problems forward and every iteration of your phones since the F1 has been a gradual decline of functionality of software. The result is each iteration of phone distances itself from experienced users and trys to appeal only to the "Selfie Generation" and the shallow end of the user pool.

I believe this is your core mistake, for you could easily have kept the features you had (appealing to the tecnical users) as well as with styling and advertising (and a few beauty filters) entice the other part of the market.

Software

Yes, software, no matter how good your hardware is your product depends on the software, something you seem to forget.

For instance dropping RAW from your camera software essentially took the only spoke in its wheel and broke it. I've written many posts about how useful the RAW mode is (especially in light of using Snapseed to process the images) which can be found on my blog. For instance: this one.

I have avoided many iterations of your phones the R9s debarcle for instance, these should have been a great seller when you look at the spec. Yet you still find these stuck on shelves that no one can sell ... why? Because while the R9s hardware is excellent ... the software sucks and people quickly discovered that and brought it up on forums. Word spread and the phones just weren't popular with anyone other than those who are just sold on exterior.

So despite many posts on forums you could have used to examine and re-evelop, your dopes just ignored it and released another model (leaving buyers in the lurch with a bad taste in their mouth) and still hardly addressed the software issues.

Color OS2.1 was good, but every iteration afterwards saw more and more "issues" of omission and functionality.

People don't forget this stuff. No amount of great hardware or excellent customer service can help with munged up software.

Yesterday I used the Huawei P30 and I was struck by how good it was, little things such as the gallery appy (now fucked up on the R11s I tested and I assume on quite a many phones if not all your range). Gone in newer Oppo phones seems to be the camera roll view ... not to mention swiping is now broken.

What is unforgivable is that these features were there and you have just dropped them. Its almost like each iteration of development team has never used your product and you shun continuity. Continual product evolution is what has made brands like Apple strong ... despite their insane prices. People can rely on things being the same.

Instead you seem to shun continuity and each time reach for the "new buyer" at the expense of keeping the buyer you already had. This is going to give any Oppo Buyer a good reason to go look at the opposition ... stupid marketing.

Now looking at the hardware spec an upgrade to the R11s should be a no brainer, but it is instead a vexing phone which I'll probably dump on eBay. Fantastic hardware, really, but let down by some stupid software decisions which makes leaving my F1 behind a bad idea and a  backward step in more ways than a forward one.

If you haven't already read it take a look at my recent comparison here, it covers some of the issues. However the more I'm using the R11s the worse the omissions become, just as a for-instance here's another downgrade I found: Wi-Fi Hotspot control. On the F1 it was a good basic control center showing you the basic details and also the MAC addresses of who's connected.



This is a great and simple interface and pretty much the basics that anyone who's ever run their home Wireless system (say, from their ADSL or other WLAN) likes, expects and needs. It also allows you to turn off the tap for specific users who connect (say your kids at night) so that they can't use their tablets when they should be sleeping. Simply opening the switch enables access again.

However the R11s has munged that up with a retrograde step instead of taking that forward, in that it now does not even show you who is connected, instead all you see is this:



Virtually useless.

As one who runs my whole home out of my phones internet connection (and this is something I understood was common in your markets like India, SE Asia or China) this backward step is just unforgivable. 

On my older F1 I can actually see when someone who I don't want to be using data has connected, now  I can't.

Unforgivable.

The next thing which I discovered (*but didn't cover in my previous post or video) was that for some insane reason USB OTG now turns itself off in 10 minutes. Why? My F1 has had USB OTG turned on since the day I bought it because I frequently plug in my SD card from my digital camera (or the digital camera directly to be USB Storage) so that I can process the files from my camera using my phone. I've had some excellent results this way.


Now its true that I've been heavy handed with the above processing, but note how the clouds do not have red tinge (highlight recovery from the RAW) and the texture available in the statue (HDR). I would crop the file differently for presentation (and get rid of the tourists in the way).

Essentially I loved this ability to access how good a computer the F1 actually was (Eg while in a bar having a beer in Prague). I have written extensively how this has made mobile devices a game changer for photography, and now the stupid R11s makes me dig through a bunch of settings to enable it every fucking time I need to use it.
Settings
 >> Additional Settings
   >> (then invisible off the bottom of the page) OTG Connection.

You have no idea how irritating this is. What moron thought that was a good idea? I would like to enable it and have it stay enabled.

Old saying in Australia: If it ain't broken don't fix it. The feature was already there, but if you (Oppo) had any sense of corporate continuity of product you'd know to keep it. It doesn't require change, it requires continuity.

So a list is in order of the features which were present, but due to incompetence, ignorance or indifference that are now gone OR crippled:

  • OTG connection keeps turning off (why?)
  • no easy access to data usage stats
  • Poor display of WiFi hotspot (no connected users) AND now Wi-Fi hotspot is always irritatingly active at the top of the menu, meaning I'm often finding my ear has activated it leading to:
  • Screen ON gestures has gone away, so I now can't lock the screen to prevent misoperation while in a call 
  • standard Image browser has reversed direction of scroll AND lost swiping between albums AND lost the camera roll feature
  • Quiet Time has lost the count down feature
  • Clock has lost its Analog
  • Dark themes for applications like Compass make it impossible to see outside in daylight (so setting a different theme would be handy)
  • Desktop icons are ONLY auto-arrange (so I can't pick my arrangement)
  • Screensnapshot no longer appears directly to be used in the pull down blind (so using it is more of a pain in the arse than it was
  • Music player now only shows a list, not the grid (so with more albums its harder to see them)
  • No default email app (which was a great app by the way)
That's just what comes to mind immediately. Bullshit which would not have happened if you (Oppo) had just followed any sort of corporate consistency (and an introduction of new features rather than just madness)


Sure I get that 90% of people out there don't all make use of these, but then those 90% often listen to their technically savvy friends advises on phones, ones who they know and trust (and this friend will not be saying "get the Oppo" any more ... ).

As I said, I'm certain you got 5 sales of the F1 directly from my advice. I can't say that now.

Where to now?

Personally I don't know where you Oppo will choose to go from here, I hope its not further downhill. But I'm going to skip another generation of your phones because of all this stupidity of destroying the key features you once had. Perhaps I'll try again later ... who knows. I may indeed try your sister company the OnePlus brand, but its a pity that you've ruined your name and become synonymous with just a good looking but dumb blond who has quirks you can't live with.

This is not just my view either, as you will find internet influencers (like Martin at Tech Altar who was once a consultant for you). I'm sure you've seen some of his works.

Here he writes a good review of your work and what you were doing right.



For those on a phone, use this link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDC2Z3eYOiM)
Myself I don't care about the bezel fascination, as in reality its just Kiddies who get off on that.

However as I've said its gone down from there ... notice the Expert Mode, which even he seems to have missed the powerful feature of separating the focus point from the metering which I have discussed on my blog here. Interestingly that post has been in my top 10 weekly posts for years now (hint: that means its a popular feature). Sadly its been munged up too on the R11s

and then this one:



... or this link if you're on a phone https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJgTKx-rg18

Which explains what has happened to you Oppo ... essentially a long game of bait and switch for anyone who didn't get on board with an earlier model (and then just keep it).

So its not like nobody told you.

I have yet to try Color OS 5.x and I hope that many of these fuctional retrograde steps are not present there. I've really liked your phones in the past I genuinely hope you pull your head out of the place it currently is and re-invent yourselves ... perhaps a visit to your own history would help?

I would love to be able to buy a phone as good as my F1 again from Oppo, because your support and service is excellent, you fully deserve the Canstar rating you got. But it may just be that will never happen, because increasingly your phones have such lacking software and you're so lost that maybe you'll never find your way again. After all if such "non cutting edge" can achieve so much in my F1 still why can't you make the same for the $500 price point again?

Either way the F1 has been a killer phone and thanks for that.

Best Wishes

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Huawei P30 (a quick look at the camera results)

I was in at my local Optus shop the other day (located in Rose City in Warwick, Queensland, they are one of the few privately owned stores and actually really care), to ask a question about my phone plan and one of the staff there mentioned she'd just bought the Huawei P30 because she thought it had a great camera. So naturally I was interested to see.

Not having my camera with me I had to wait till today when I went back in, and of course I took my A7 in to make a comparison.

The Huawei has an equivalent lens to a 28mm and the best match I have for that on my A7 is the Samyang 35mm f2.8, which is a bit less wide than the P30's lens. This therefore gives the A7 image a slight advantage as its covering less area. But equally the P30 shoots more pixels so there's that.

The specs:

  • Sony A7 - 6000 x 4000 pixels - 3:2 aspect
  • Huawei - 7296 x 5472 pixels - 4:3 aspect

Overview

Lets have a look:

A7



P30


and so (unsurprisingly) the P30 is wider and taller. To just bring that into a bit more visual equality, lets just crop the P30 image top and bottom off to make it the same 3:2 aspect ratio that the A7 is (which to be fair isn't entirely required as many people actually like 4:3 better (and indeed I have a few 43rds cameras myself)) for similarity sake.

P30 @ 3:2


of course still wider ;-)

Both cameras have made slightly different exposure decisions and both (set to Auto Colourbalance) have picked pretty similar renditions of the colour (in a tough artifical light situation really). Top points to the Huawei already for just this.

Both extraordinarily good on screen, indeed far better than the screens will allow without some pinch and zoom ... which is essentially looking at details, so...

Details Observations

So, with barely a warm up lets just dive in and pixel peep the images. I thought I'd start at the corners

Top Left Corner


You'll need to click that image to load the 100% view, but you can see that the extra pixels compensates for the extra width of the P30 image, with 100% pixels being almost a perfect match.

The exposure decisions of the P30 help that ceiling down light look "white", but you can see the classic JPG artifacts of colour noise reduction in that "smeared oil painting" look in the grey of the ceiling. If you can't see it, make sure you open the image because blogger resizes things to fit on smaller screens. Here is just the P30 image at 100%



Now, when making the image smaller (as its almost always going to be when you print or show on the web (Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat ... heck even blog) you just won't notice this. However if you want to use "digital zoom" to make that into a more "normal" portrait you'll start to see this smearing become more prominent just as you are now.

either way, the edge quality is outstanding with excellent (expecially for a phone) edge correction and no significant barrel distortion or other aberrations.


Great points again for the Huawei (and remember how poorly my Oppo R11s performed in comparison to the A7 with this exact same lens).

Lets look now at the center.


Ok, here we can start to see that there is some clearer advantage to the A7 image in the text and the strange JPG artifacting in the chrome poles ... but hey, this is a Full Frame mirrorless camera certainly the equal of any DSLR out there while the P30 is a phone.

Amazing that it got this close, lets look at another portion:


So the exposure decision made by the A7 has prevented the blow outs of highlight on the Accessories wall while keeping colours of the items for sale fairly consistent. If you click and load the image you'll also see that the Opening Hours are clearer, which will become (as I mentioned) more obvious if you were to use a little "digital zoom" to make that more of a "normal" shot than a wide shot (as portrait mode does).

Discussion

For a phone camera this performance is not only excellent, but for wide angle shots that are typical of travel and general snapshots its fantastic. It gets within a hairs width of a top quality Interchangeable Lens Camera like the A7 which surely deserves recognition.

For me however it won't be replacing my proper camera, because on my A7 I can mount different lenses and take better portraits and more versatile specialist shots of things which you just can't get with software:


or even


without any weird software (pretending to do Bokeh) effects. And I seriously doubt that the P30 would do this well on long exposure low light shots like this:


or telephoto


But that notwithstanding the P30 camera makes a compelling choice if you're seeking a new phone and photography means anything to you.

Well done Huawei

PS: as a disclaimer I got paid nothing for this, do not own a Huawei phone (as should be clear from recent posts) and I have nothing to do with Optus apart from being a happy customer and liking the way I've been dealt with (so if you live in the area, and are thinking about changing to Optus, go in and ask...). Lastly, thanks to the lovely lady how took her shots with the P30 and shared them with me (via bluetooth). Personally I'm motivated by the "Invisible Hand" , as you'll see in other posts of mine.



Sunday, 5 May 2019

Oppo R11s camera (portrait mode and low light images)

I thought I'd put this here because I find myself referring to these images (which I took as part of the earlier R11s comparison, but didn't include because the post was getting long) in other discussions I've had.

Summary

The camera system on the R11s (which is functionally the same as the OnePlus 5T) employs two cameras to do the job that the F1 does. It makes use of these cameras to give a bokeh effect and to assist in reducing picture noise in low light situations.

It does an impressive job at noise control in low light, but I can't say I'm fond of the "bokeh" effect. The boke effect is patently fake but will pass muster for non photographic people who only give it a quick look on Farcebook, Instacrap or Slapshat. The tons of rave reviews are either showing their utter ignorance or were paid to dribble nonsense.

There is a resoundingly stupid (channeling my inner John Cadogan) way of changing the aspect ratio of the camera (no, really).

Its still an excellent bit of hardware let down by the fools at Oppo in the software section (however given so few have long term (no, not 6 weeks, 3 years) experience with an Oppo as their daily driver I guess no one will know what they were missing (and why so many think McDonalds makes good food)

Poor-trait mode

Its important to state up front that details change when you take a portrait mode shot, the image size changes from 4068 x 3456 pixels to

  • 5184 x 3888 (in the "normal" portrait mode)
  • 3264 x 2448 (in the closer head and shoulder portrait mode)
weird isn't it ... because the only other way you get different dimensions of your image in pixels (and yes, it matters because the victims of marketing only ever seem to waffle on about how many megapixels the camera has, seemingly vacant and devoid of comprehension of what it even means or why its not the only metric) is to change how the phone shows the picture (red arrow).



Which weirdly in Full Screen crops the image down to a wide screen 2:1 aspect while actually keeping exactly the same long dimension (4608). It does not make the image any wider, just narrower (4608 x 2304). Aside from portrait there is no other way to get those extra pixels...

So lets look at a portrait mode image shall we?



Now I've put this red halo around me to highlight my primary beef with this system: it makes mistakes in combination.

Note that the area above my (balding) head is left un-bokeh'd ? I wonder if this is a failure of the algorithm or indeed to account for "big hair" in the typical fluff-head who festers iconic tourist locations to grab a selfie or 2 (x 103).

If we were to recompose to carefully position my face at the edge of the frame I suppose we'd fix that.

Now its one thing for a photograph to be something you'd glance at on Farcebook (on a small screen) but its another to have a picture you took be something you'd want on your desk. So unless you only want a post card sized image (meaning you don't need 20 megapixels) you'l see this level of detail in the image.



which is crappy, pixel smeared (blame that heavy handed JPG processing I've complained about before) and has weird artifacts like my glasses, softening my beard and ear but not the boards behind me. So basically its a crap gimmick ...

Still for a quick glance (on your phone, not a print on your desk) for the "Slapshat generation" who only glance momentarily at your masterpiece,which you probably spent more time taking, trying different filters and generally gazing at yourself than anyone will looking at it, its probably just fine.

Myself I'll stick to  my real camera thanks. Chances are that if you're reading my blog you're a photograper anyway, but in case you aren't, here are some examples of what one can achieve taking a portrait looks like using a real (yet still quite compact) camera with a similar angle of view and a sensor size which brings many advantages to the photographer.






Yes, that's what shallow depth of field is all about ... its a matter of physics and its going to require a lot of AI smarts to replicate it. But why bother doing that when you can actually carry a real camera if you happen to be into photography?

Anyway, while you're obsessing over the question of "is 20 megapixels good enough or do I need more" you can look at the 20 the Oppo R11s produces and ask yourself "is that good enough for me".

Consider that the above camera (a nearly 10 year old Panasonic GF-1) is only 12 megapixels,  will set you back a puny $100 and be a lasting tool that will yield many excellent image especially in lower light. A real camera will show you what Depth of Field effect (note: not bokeh effect) can do. At the very least note the genuine and natural way that focus falls off with distance?

So now lets move onto the advantage (rather than the cheap gimmick) the camera has:

Low Light


This is one area that the dual camera shine at - low light (and wow, I wish it had RAW capacity, but probably that's asking a bit much when the 3 year older half the price F1 has that).

Now lacking OIS you'll need to have a tripod (and I doubt that OIS would be sufficient for these exposures anyway, but still).

Now the F1 does not have portrait mode (no loss IMO)  but it does have long exposure and ISO control in the manual settings as does the R11s, so we can directly compare them here.

I took this shot (scaled down for overview) with the F1


and  this one with the R11s


Now I gave the R11s an advantage by using its faster F-Stop (f1.7 but f2.2 for the F1) to allow it to use the same shutter speed (important for hand holding). This is an advantage because by using a slower ISO (1600 vs 3200), it can have less noise in the image. Looking at the above shows that:

  • they aren't exactly the same exposure (the F1 is brighter giving more foreground exposure) because f1.7 >> f2.2 is not a full stop, but three quaters of one. None the less this is significantly darker than just that, indeed I'd put it at at least half a stop or maybe even a stop
  • at these sizes the noise and image quality differences don't matter much
But again, if you've gone on a holiday and taken your prize shot of Rome at Night with the only camera you had (the phone), which you want to print big (like A4 or larger, and the R11s will yeild a print as large as 58.5 x 43.9 cm or 23.04 x 17.28 inches) then you'll be interested in the details.

So when peeking at the pixels, this is about the differences you'll see in a print


which is astounding and makes the R11s a superior camera.

Now its worth pointing out that this was a super extreme test, and to my eyes (and I have good night vision) the sky was barely observable as a glow and I could not see details on the ground. To even get sharpness in the shed I critically manually focused (which both will do, in the expert mode), AF shots were not as good in this low light with either camera. Still the amount of detail in the R11s is amazingly good for what it is. I wonder if it had RAW how much more I could get out if (as I know I can with the F1)

Bottom line: If I was travelling I'd be comfortable to have this camera with me for night shots. Yep its that good. Having said that the F1 has advantages in other areas and when I use RAW (which when I'm taking more than a snapshot I always do), so for a person even faintly serious about photography the F1 is still the better outfit.

Discussion

Why do Oppo continue to develop their phone hardware and yet also continue to degrade their phone software?

To me the R11s is a great camera system on a phone (for what one can reasonably expect), its sad to me that they've dropped many of the features from the camera software (like the Expert Mode seperable focus and metering, "Super Macro Mode" and RAW) but as I normally take my regular camera with me I'm not too worried.

The inbuilt HDR does a much better job than the HDR on the F1 (although not as good as the F1 does in RAW and using Snapseed see here), so I don't want to muddy this review up with that complex discussion but just to show how well the R11s does on the HDR mode.

Standard image:


and HDR engaged:



So much better preservation of highlights and shadows. to get that with the F1 I needed to use RAW and touch up in Snapseed;



which as it happens, is to me a more "natural" looking image, preserved highlights and appropriate shadow details, with (as observed in other posts) a slightly wider angle of view (which I appreciate).

But if you're a Pareto Principle sorta person (where you aim to get 80% of the benefits for 20% of the effort then the R11s camera offers much and is a (slightly unclear) development from what was offered 3 years ago in the F1.

Of course if buying new you have no choice (well and soon you probably won't be able to get a new R11s anyway as its last years phone), the R11s is a competent phone camera.

I'm as yet undecided if the R11s will become my daily driver for a number of reasons, these being:
  • the colour rendition of the R11s makes it seem punchier than it is, meaning others will see limp washed out images (which look good to you) (on a positive note, I can say that it has a much better rendition of the rgb gamut than almost any other screen does, so there's that)
  • lack of voice shutter trigger
  • I don't like the bigger phone to hold (and the reduction in bezel size makes for touch errors)
  • less control
  • no RAW
However as I normally also travel with a GF-1 and a couple of lenses some of this is moot.

In its favor the R11s's faster processor means I can process RAW images from my proper camera in much less time. For instance I did a comparison with my Sony A7 cameras raw files and found this for transferring and converting 3 ARW files:

R11s
Transfer speed = 12mbs
3 ARW file conversion = 17.46 sec
Snapseed conversion
Open time = 4sec
Processing = 9.4sec


F1
Transfer speed = 10mbs
3 ARW file conversion = 34 sec
Snapseed conversion
Open time = 4sec
Processing = 32sec

Processing time was less of a "oh my god, I'm getting another beer" event when using my Panasonic GF-1 (because its a 12Megapixel camera and the Sony is 20Megapixels ... and more pixels means a longer time)

Lastly I'll leave you with a shot taken with my GF-1 but not used in the previous comparison (here) of phone and camera cameras


its why I keep using a camera, although its nice to have "much better than nothing" in my Phone.