Wednesday, 27 February 2013

(almost) Free Font - Verb

Mighty Deals reports: [edited]

Based on the sans-serif family, the Verb family is a friendly font that's full of confidence and energy! Perfect for getting your point across without screaming your head off.

Features include: Small caps, discretionary ligatures, alternate connected ligatures (to access, use style set 1 or stylistic alternates), oldstyle numerals and currency, tabular numerals, automatic fractions, superiors and inferiors, ordinals, contextual alternate “f”, and extensive language and currency support.

Weights include: Extralight, Light, Regular, Medium, Semibold, Bold, Extrabold, Black, and Ultra, plus complementary 'proper' italics.

Usually $270, it is available for $9 until 5 February 2013.

Thanks to Conrad for the link.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Swiftkey 4

Wired reports: [edited]

SwiftKey 4 is one of the best gesture keyboard apps ever. It is so good at predicting what you type, it borders on being creepy. I can rattle off e-mails, tweets and text messages to friends about sports, movies, tech, music — and based on what I’ve typed, SwiftKey occasionally finishes sentences word by word.

It does this by collecting data on what is typed as it’s typed. The data is collected anonymously, feeding the app’s learning algorithm to predict what you’ll type next, based on what you’ve typed in the past. It’s not perfect, but it always offers suggestions, right above its keyboard.

As you’re swiping across your phone’s display, SwiftKey guesses what you’re typing. Those guesses change as you type more letters; when you see the word you want, just lift your finger. Or, keep swiping the letters of that word and then swipe down to the spacebar for a space, then start a new word.

If you’re already using SwiftKey, the upgrade to the 4th generation of the app is free. Otherwise, SwiftKey 4 is a $3.99 download.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Thursday, 14 February 2013

From Praktica L to Olympus OM-D EM-5

I purchased my first Praktica SLR in the late 1970s. It was as basic as a basic thing, but the images I captured with it made me realise how much I enjoyed the art/discipline of photography. From there I moved through a range of SLR 35mm film cameras, including a Pentax ME Super and a Minolta 700.

During that time I also invested in an Olympus XA, one of the first proper 'compact cameras'. It taught me the very old truth that 'the best camera is the one you have with you'. I carried it with me everywhere, on my motorcycle, in my briefcase, and often in my anorak pocket. And as a result, many of my favourite images were captured with it.

My first adventure in digital photography was with a Ricoh RDC-i700 an 'ahead-of-its-time' 3 megapixel compact, with a zoom lens, and an articulated, touch-enabled viewing screen.

My first DSLR was a Sigma SD9. It was big, bulky and slow. But its Foveon processor produced 'film-like' results as long as there was enough light.

After that I worked my way through a range of compact digital cameras, moving from Fuji to Panasonic.

And then came Micro Four Thirds. A joint venture by Olympus and Panasonic to produce a 'mirrorless' interchangeable lens format that would combine the portability of digital compacts with the image quality of 'conventional' DSLRs.

In June 2009, I purchased a Panasonic G1, complete with a 14-45 and 45-200 zoom lens. It was a revelation, small enough to carry in my backpack, but capable of producing images that compared favourably with DSLRs 3 times its price and bulk.

I took thousands of pictures with this camera, and added a couple of 'prime' lenses to my kitbag, the Lumix 20mm f/1.7 and 14mm f/2.5. I dabbled with a RAW workflow, but didn't see big enough quality improvements to stick with it.

Panasonic released a number of newer models, and I tried them all, never seeing enough advantages to upgrade. And when the GH3 arrived, it was noticeably bigger than the older models, and very much angled towards video performance, an area I have no interest in at all.

And so I decided to take a look at the Olympus OM-D EM-5 (quick plug here for SRS Microsystems in Watford. The staff are helpful, patient and well-informed).

My first impressions were not overwhelmingly positive. I'm not a big fan of its 'retro' styling, preferring the ergonomics of the G1, especially its articulating screen (the Olympus only tilts in one plane).

However, the OM-D's speed/accuracy of focus is superb. As is the electronic viewfinder. And the 'in body' image stabilising is a boon, as I am not blessed with steady hands. I had seen the quality of images it was capable of producing, so decided to take the plunge. It came with a 12-50mm macro zoom, and a 'voucher' to send off for a free 45mm f/1.8 lens.

Since then I have spent a few months with the camera, and am very pleased with it. The initial images were not as good as I hoped, but a quick browse through some online forums encouraged me to shoot RAW. This was a revelation, and I now shoot exclusively in RAW, using Lightroom, Aperture and Photoshop for my post-processing work.

Its low-light ability allows me to take very acceptable pictures at ISO 1600, which combined with its superb image stabilising system means that even in quite dimly lit situations, I can take well-exposed, clear pictures. The colour/white balance is very good, even in difficult lighting situations, and skin tones are superb.

And the ability to touch the screen on the area you want to focus on is a big improvement over the traditional 'focus, hold shutter button half-way down, recompose shot, take photo'.

I do miss the articulated screen, both when using the camera, and for the peace of mind it gives being able to fold it 'face-in' to the camera when it is not in use. And it doesn't fit as well in my hands as the G1. But the OM-D is definitely my new favourite camera.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Microsoft Surface Pro

Engadget has published a full review of Microsoft's high-end tablet.

Snippets follow:

"Welcome to the Surface for Windows Pro, which promises all the niceties of the Surface RT - compelling design, build quality, performance - with full support for x86 Windows applications. (That is: every single Windows app released before the end of last year.) And, adding a 1080p display. So, then, is this perfection in a single 10-inch, $899 device?"

"The 10.6-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 display looks great, offering very nice contrast and brightness, plus viewing angles that maintain that contrast from just about wherever you can see the display."

"By default, the tablet is set to scale text to 150 percent its original size, making most (but not all) menus and buttons huge and reasonably finger-friendly. That's great when you're actually using your fingers, but it results in a lot of wasted space on the display when you're using a mouse. More troublingly, it made the text and icons in many apps appear rather blurry."

"This is only a concern if you'll be working in the traditional Windows desktop frequently, something of a problem since compatibility with legacy Windows applications is a huge selling point here. The OS desperately needs a way to quickly toggle between finger-friendly and native scaling of apps."

"Every app we threw at the tablet ran like a charm"

"Still, we could never quite get comfortable in this layout. That keyboard slowed us down and its trackpad continued to frustrate. Due to the lack of finger-friendliness in the vast majority of legacy Windows apps, we were frequently reaching for a mouse. Without it, accurately selecting toolbar buttons and controls was often difficult and precisely wielding photo-editing tools was impossible."

"While we spent much of our testing with the keyboard attached, to experience the thing as a tablet we popped off the Type Cover. Using IE in this way is quite good, as it's finger-friendly and responsive, and of course in this way you're encouraged to use all the great Windows 8 gestures, which become intuitive enough after only a few minutes of use. Additionally, the on-screen keyboard offers a selection of usable layouts, and the predictive text and autocorrect functionality means you can type reasonably quickly."

"We physically couldn't get comfortable with the tablet. When laying it flat on a lap it's fine, but we could never find a good way to hold it in a more upright position. At about two pounds, it's definitely on the heavy side, which is one major strike against and that, combined with the angular edges that dig into fleshy parts of hands, means this is not a tablet you'll want to hold for long."

"Getting into the tablet takes longer than the Android or iOS competition. Hit the power button and you'll have to wait for about three to four seconds for the display to pop on. Then, assuming you've set a password, you'll have to type that in, and secure passwords are rarely fun on virtual keyboards."

"Overall performance of our Intel Core i5 Surface Pro more than met our expectations. A cold boot is completed in eight seconds or less, which is quite impressive indeed, and apps launched snappily and reacted well. Performance here is definitely adequate to get some serious work done."

"The back of the tablet did get very warm to the touch and the little fan in here certainly let its presence be known with a somewhat shrill, high-pitched noise. We rarely heard it during less-intensive use, but full-screen video playback was enough to make it kick in."

"But while performance was just fine, battery life wasn't. On our standard Windows battery rundown test, in which we fix the display brightness and loop a video endlessly to exhaustion, the Surface Pro scored just three hours and 46 minutes."

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


everystockphoto reports: [edited]

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