Canon G1x Mark II Press Release

Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: I don't even mention the Advanced Star Mode.

The Long Version: In the same way that movie trailers are an art all to themselves – and are often better than the movies that they foreshadow – I have a fondness for camera press releases. I wanted to share my thoughts on the newly-announced G1X Mark II announcement, but fair warning: this may turn into one of those "I read it so that you don't have to" series.

Being Canadian I'll be quoting the release as it appears on canon.ca; it's also published on the American site and on DPreview. All of the product images are from the Canon press kit as I haven't yet had a chance to photograph the camera myself, although I am genuinely looking forward to the opportunity.

We begin: Building upon the success of the PowerShot G1 X digital camera…

This press release comes out swinging right from the opening sentence. The original G1X was a dud, an uncommonly lousy camera, slow and with none of the G-series charm. It never lived up to its expectations, either photographically or in market appeal. I suppose it's possible to build on the success of a failure, but it's setting the bar fairly low. Still, full points to Canon for their shameless revisionist hype.

Boasting a sensor that is 4.5x larger than a 1/1.7” sensor found in professional level point-and-shoot cameras…

I'm not sure what's more alarming: that Canon still thinks that a 1/1.7” sensor is the benchmark for an advanced compact, which suggests that they've never heard of Sony or Fujifilm, or that they think that there's such a thing as a "professional level point-and-shoot camera". But now we know that the new G1X model is 4.5x better than a pro point-and-shoot, which simply boggles the imagination with all of the possibilities that must entail.

Incidentally, having a paid and accredited Canon Professional Services membership isn't grounds for getting a discount when buying the EOS 5D Mark III, so I can only conclude that Canon doesn't consider anything below the 1D-series to be a professional camera when it's their own money on the line.

This sensor, combined with the DIGIC 6 Image Processor, comprises the Canon HS SYSTEM resulting in faster autofocusing speeds over the PowerShot G1 X camera…

We're still in the second paragraph and we've already reached the inevitable "It doesn't suck as much as the _________" part of the press release; in this case the G1X2 is triumphing over the camera that was called a 'success' just one paragraph ago. For what it's worth, the HS SYSTEM that's presented as the saviour of the G1X2 is a Meaningless Marketing TERM™ that was also included with the now-admittedly-inferior original G1X.

Featuring a newly-developed f/2.0 – f/3.9, 5x optical zoom lens (equivalent 24-120mm zoom range)…

Typically for a compact camera announcement from Canon, at no point in the press release do they say what the actual focal length of the lens is. Thankfully it's printed right on the front of the camera: 12.5-62.5mm. Carefully parsing the numbers shows that the G1XII actually has a slightly smaller effective sensor area than the G1XI, although it turns out that there's a really good reason for this.

For those keeping score, 62.5/3.9 = 16.025 and 62.5/4 = 15.625. I applaud the tireless and diligent efforts of the engineers who fought to attain that extra 0.4mm difference between f/3.9 and f/4 at 62.5mm. Sure, the practical gain is probably less than the light that's lost to the extra glass needed for the in-lens IS system, but it keeps the G1XII from admitting to a sales-killing f/4.0 aperture at the long end.

… advanced wireless capabilities such as NFC and enhanced low-light shooting and autofocusing…

There's that autofocus improvement being touted again. On the other hand, better autofocus and low-light shooting are two of the many improvements that have been claimed for nearly every digital camera released in the past decade. Similarly, wifi is the new mandatory standard feature, so a passing reference here doesn't hurt.

I do have to admire the restraint that stopped the G1X2 press release from claiming that it has the World's Fastest Autofocus, a title that has recently been self-awarded to the Olympus E-M10, Sony A6000, and the Fujifilms XQ1, XE2, X100s, and F1000EXR. Sure, The World's Whateverest™ is a moving target with ample sub-categories, but come on now. Even the people at derpreview are starting to notice.

… the G1 X Mark II is a well-rounded professional-level camera that allows photographers to get creative.

This is my favourite part of every new camera press release: buy it because it contains creativity!

To be fair this press release is considerably more modest than the Built-In Art claims of many point-and-shoots, but remember that this is a professional camera – the press release says so six times – so it needs to have a certain gravitas.

… equipped with a new type of Canon-made, 1.5-inch CMOS sensor to help achieve optimal performance from low to high ISO speeds.

Canon mentions that they made the sensor in the G1XII in two different paragraphs, just in case someone reviewing the press release skips it the first time. A bespoke sensor shows off their impressive manufacturing prowess but says nothing about its quality. The good news is that this new sensor is optimized for the entire amplification range without any weakness anywhere.

It has a default aspect ratio of 3:2 which is the same ratio the advanced user has come to expect…

This would be a dig at Micro Four Thirds, which started the whole 'mirrorless' thing that the original G1X was begrudgingly and belatedly intended to compete against. Canon hates all mirrorless interchangeable-lens format cameras, and does everything it can to avoid making them. The original G1X, incidentally, has a 4:3 aspect ratio.

If the photographer wants to switch to a 4:3 ratio, it can be done without impacting the field of view.

And this is called "burying the lede". Having a multi-aspect sensor is a first for Canon, and might be the most remarkable thing about the camera, but it's hidden in the fifth paragraph in the press release. Nobody voluntarily reads that far in; it's the press kit equivalent of releasing a Parliamentary Committee report at 5:30 on a Friday afternoon. But this multi-aspect feature is the reason why the G1X2's effective sensor size is a bit smaller than the G1X1, and personally I approve. It's too bad that they didn't do the full Panasonic and include a native 16:9 ratio as well, but clearly we can't have everything.

The new PowerShot G1 X Mark II camera uses 31 Auto Focus (AF) points, compared to the PowerShot G1 X camera that uses nine AF points, resulting in improved autofocus capabilities…

Not to sound like a broken record on this one – funny how that expression outlasted skipping CDs – but is anyone getting the impression that autofocus wasn't a strength for the G1X?

It's worth noting that the G1X2's press release makes absolutely no mention of the new camera's close-focusing performance, which was another significant non-strength of the G1X1. The early word is that this has improved significantly, and while it could hardly get any worse than the original, if it really is as good as those reports say then it deserves to be mentioned. Perhaps the memory of the G1X "macro mode" is still too painful for Canon to bear?

Utilizing the bright, capacitive touch, three-inch tilt LCD on the PowerShot G1 X Mark II camera helps provide flexibility in shooting by tilting 180 degrees up and 45 degrees down.

A well-written release will only talk about what has been added, leaving us to decipher what was taken away. The tilting screen is a downgrade from the flip-out screen that the G1X and other G-series cameras have used in the past, although this new style matches the Sony RX100M2 and many others. Not that Canon considers them to be 'competition', of course, but it proves what the market is willing to accept.

The PowerShot G1 X Mark II camera is also compatible with Canon’s new optional electronic viewfinder that mounts to the hot shoe.

The optical viewfinder has always been a staple of the G-series, making the G1XII the first one in over a decade to omit it. That said their OVFs are pretty bad, and always have been – more of an aiming device than a compositional tool. Removing it lets the camera be smaller, and removing most of the top-deck dials and physical controls in favour of the Dual Control Rings pushes it even farther from the G-Family. I'm actually waiting for people to realize that the G1X2 is really a big-sensor S-series rather than a Super-G.

I do like the way the phrasing here makes it sound as if the EVF will work across multiple cameras, rather than being a $300 dedicated accessory; perhaps other cameras will use it in the future, but other brands have shown that these expensive devices can have remarkably short life cycles.

… the camera’s Background Defocus mode softens the background behind a subject to help users create professional-looking portraits.

Yet elsewhere the press release says "With this wide of an aperture, photographers have the ability to isolate their subjects by separating them from a background that is blurred.… The new lens also features a nine-blade aperture to provide beautiful, blurred backgrounds even at full-zoom range." Safety through redundancy, in the belt-and-suspenders style? Regardless, it's nice to know that there's a Professional-Looking Portraits mode built in, which is vitally important in a professional-level point-and-shoot.

And yes, the release mentions other whizbang modes and scene innovations, but even I eventually exceed my tolerance threshold and need to skip to the end.

The PowerShot G1 X Mark II digital camera will be available starting in April for a retail price of $849.99.

That $850 MSRP (dealers may sell for less) happens to be the street price of a Rebel T5i with an 18-135 STM lens. There's a massive premium for petite cameras these days – a 'petimium'? – and the market is far from proven. We're six weeks away from the G1X2's arrival, so there's still time for the camera market to completely change, but as it stands the X2 won't help Canon's reputation for pricing their cameras above their (frequently more capable) competition.

last updated 18 feb 2014


Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review

Olympus OM-D E-M5 body only with Panasonic Lumix 20mm
Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: The last Olympus camera I'll probably buy.
The Long Version:

This is a review that has been a long time coming. The Olympus E-M5 was introduced nearly two years ago on March 2012, and went on to become anointed as Camera of the Year on many photo web sites.. It took me nearly a year to finally purchase my copy in January 2013.

Since that time I've taken about 10,000 images with the E-M5. It has traveled with me down to Key West and half-way across the world to Japan. In all that time the camera has done yeoman duty, delivering images that I've been more than satisfied with. Other cameras have been introduced since (the E-P5, E-M1, and most recently the E-M10), but the E-M5 stands as Olympus' real breakthrough µ4:3rds camera, where everything finally "clicked." Olympus may tweak the design as it has with the newest OM-D cameras, but Olympus will be hard pressed to release the kind of camera the E-M5 represents unless there's a substantial leap in sensor technology, the kind of advance that led to the E-M5.


In the past I've harshly criticized Olympus, specifically their E-P3 Pen and their Four Thirds E-5 cameras. I felt at the time of their release (and still feel to this day) that those two cameras were thrown out as a weak sop to their existing user base. They were DOA cameras, iterations built with ageing technology from a camera company that appeared to be growing more irrelevant in a stiffly competitive market.

All that changed abruptly in February 2012 with the announcement of the OM-D E-M5. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is the complete antithesis of the E-P3 and the E-5. Here was the camera I'd been hoping for, waiting for. It didn't just merely meet my expectations, it exceeded them in so many ways.

The µ4:3rds Olympus E-M5 is the embodiment of the best of Olympus' legendary camera creativity and engineering. It is in my not so humble opinion the best digital interchangeable lens camera that Olympus has ever built. It is an "instant legend", a camera to rank with the OM series of film cameras (specifically the OM-1 through OM-4) as well as the FourThirds E-1, the E-M5's "distant" digital ancestor.

Before we go further let me make one thing perfectly clear: The E-M5 isn't a perfect camera. No camera ever made or currently being made is perfect, regardless of price. The E-M5 can't do everything. But what it can do is does exceptionally well, especially for the price being asked; the E-M5 is worth every penny.


OM-D E-M5 body cast magnesium alloy frame. Photo courtesy of  Gakuranman

The E-M5 is built around a cast magnesium alloy shell in much the same way as the top-end FourThirds E-1, E-3, and E-5 were built. It's also weather sealed, many say to the same high level as the aforementioned E-1, E-3, and E-5. I have yet to push my luck with the E-M5 in Florida's rainy weather as I once did with the E-3, in part due to the lack of a complete stable of weather-proof lenses in µ4:3rds native mount.

The only weather-proof Olympus µ4:3rds lenses to go with the body are the M.Zuiko 12-50mm zoom, the M.Zuiko 60mm macro, and the PRO 12-40mm zoom. Panasonic makes two zooms they claim are dust- and moisture-resistant; the Lumix 12-35mm f/2.8 and 35-100mm f/2.8. With these five lenses you can build a reasonable weather resistant system, one that's highly portable. Of the five that I mention, the M.Zuiko 12-50mm is the only one I own.

Olympus has a much wider weatherproof lens selection in Four Thirds. For a number of years I had the Zuiko Digital 12-60mm and 50-200mm High Grade lenses out of that collection. Olympus has, for whatever reason, yet to release native µ4:3rds versions of these lenses. While I've certainly missed those lenses, the mitigating factor for me has been the jewel-like µ4:3rds primes I've purchased as alternatives. The emphasis for FourThirds was all zooms, all the time. The µ4:3rds emphasis seems to have shifted back towards a major dependence on primes, such as the Panasonic 14mm and 20mm, the Olympus 12mm, 17mm, and 45mm, and many super-fast primes from third-party manufacturers like Voigtländer and SLR Magic. The only problem is that, with the notable exception of the M.Zuiko 60mm macro, none of the primes are weather sealed.


The EM-5 body is petite, even with both HLD-6 grips installed.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 decked out with the HLD-6 grips and Panasonic Lumix 20mm

E-M5 with rear touch screen swiveled out

Right-rear edge showing rear controls
HLD-6 Grips

In practice I tend to use the camera with just the horizontal grip installed most of the time to gain a bit more purchase with my right hand. I still have to remove the grip to change the body battery, but that's not a problem. I appreciate the side door loading of the SDHC/SDXC card instead of having to get it out of the battery compartment, like you have to with the newest E-M10 and every other Pen I've ever owned. That's a feature that Olympus has kept only with the E-M1.


Many have complained about the squishy buttons. The buttons are not squishy; they're soft. What they lack are the solid detents that non-weather-sealed buttons have. In my case, I've just learned to push until the button stops or else some other visual cue shows that button contact has been made. It's not that big a deal in reality. The only button that really matters on a camera is the shutter release, and all those buttons (on the body and both grips) have the classic half- and full-press detents, which is all that really matters. Reading some reviews you'd think the camera was critically flawed because of its other buttons; trust me it's not.


The shutter is remarkably quiet, as quiet as my one remaining FourThirds E-1. That sounds almost like high praise until you realize that the E-1 is nearly 10 years older and is flipping a mirror as well as tripping a shutter. The E-M5 should actually be quieter than the E-1, almost silent. I wish some times the E-M5 shutter were totally quiet, but it's not.  Regardless the sound coming from the E-M5 is what the Brits might call "refined", with absolutely no vibration to be felt in the body.


The five axis image stabilization actually works, especially with video. And that's something of a waste on me as I seldom shoot video. As for still images I tend to shoot in fairly bright light with a fast lens, and let the camera auto-select the ISO. The shutter speed thus stays at 1/focal length or faster, negating the need for IBIS. As I said, it really does work if I force it to pick a very slow shutter speed, but for the most part the feature is a waste on me.

As for IBIS noise, I really had to work to hear it, and once firmware upgrade 1.5 landed, I set the IBIS to turn on only when pressing the shutter half-way down. From that point forward it became, for all practical purposes, totally quiet.

Physical Issues

My copy of the camera has developed tiny cracks around two of the three screws along the bottom edge of the swing-out LCD. This was the source of yet another Internet fiasco about the E-M5. It hasn't effected the operation of the LCD in the least, and unless you stick your nose right down into the camera you can't see them. I forgot where I first heard this, but my camera doesn't live in a museum, it gets used in the real world. If it develops a few dings, scratches, and cracks along the way, but continues to operate just fine, oh well...

External LCD

The most productive way I use the camera is with the external LCD swung out so that I can carry the camera at waste level, and touch set up so that I can touch the rear screen to both focus and trip the shutter. Oddly enough I seldom focus through the eyepiece any more, preferring to use the larger back LCD to compose and then touch to expose. I no longer focus, then recompose. The only time I use the eyepiece is in very bright sunlight because the back can get washed out, and in very dark venues to make sure light from the LCD doesn't cause a disturbance. Because of the design issue with the eye-level sensor, I don't have the E-M5 automatically switch. Instead I use the button on the side of the eyepiece to switch manually. Some complain, but I personally prefer it that way anyway.

And the one key feature I like about the rear LCD screen is that it DOES NOT pick up finger grease. Every other camera with LCDs does.


What I'm about to say will probably annoy the few true Olympians who come across this review, but here it is:

(Maybe) Don't buy Olympus.

Why? Because, after nearly a decade using Olympus equipment, from my first E-300 to my E-M5, I think I've had enough. Yes, I do love my E-M5 and won't give it up. But Olympus is now in the exploitative phase of their camera development, and I truly hate that phase. Since the release of the E-M5 they've been dropping a new variant of the E-M5 every six months or so.

I'm tired of being bombarded with how superior/more fun the next release is, and how this specific feature trumps the E-M5's equivalent, etc, etc, etc. Olympus will work really hard to deliver an innovative product (E-1, E-3, E-P1 and E-M5) then spend up to the next three years between innovative releases riffing the same thing over and over again. I consider the E-M1 and E-M10 to be little more than riffs on the E-M5.

When the E-M1 came out, with its built-in grip negating the HLD-6 grip, I knew then what was going to happen. Want to add an E-M1 as a second body? Well, guess what, you can't reuse the grips and possibly other gear. There is no sense of a camera system except at the lens mount.

And speaking of lenses, no matter how many you may have to choose from in µ4:3rds, a lot of them are crap, and duplicate crap at that. Prime example is the 14-42mm kit lens. Just how many 14-42mm kit lenses does Olympus have to keep producing? They're at four right now just for µ4:3rds.

And the 12-50mm kit lens? You can tell how the bean counters got ahold of that design and stripped it down to its bare essentials. Why else do you have macro at 43mm? And f/3.5 to f/6.3? Would it have really killed them to give us f/2.8 to f/4, or possibly f/5.6? And macro at 50mm?

The best all-around lens Olympus ever made in my opinion was the regular FourThirds 12-60mm f/2.8-f/4 lens. We have yet to get that quality of lens in µ4:3rds, the 12-40mm not withstanding. I've given up hoping for a µ4:3rds version that lens, and so many others.

Olympus is in the mode of charging premium prices for very small cameras, and for the kind of money they're asking I'm looking around at other camera makers.

So, if I had to do it over, who would I have bought or who would I buy now, and why?

Buy Nikon

I've owned Nikon. The last Nikon I bought (and still have) is the N90 in 1989. It was rugged enough to survive my use and disuse, and then when my second daughter got it for undergraduate use in 2008, it still worked just fine.

When I started to really buy into digital, it was in 2006 with the Olympus E-300. When I got really serious about digital it was December 2008 and the Olympus E-3. As they say, if I'd only known then what I know now...

If I had to do it over I'd probably have bought a Nikon D-300 instead of the Olympus E-3. Today, if I were getting started, I'd consider the D3300, D5300, and D7100. I know that Thom Hogan rails against the lack of Nikon-made DX lenses, and Ken Rockwell rants against Sigma, but you can build a quite useful DX-based system with any of those cameras and some excellent quality Sigma lenses to fill in Nikon's gaps. Keep in mind that the F mount goes back to the original F-1 of 1959. That means you can put any F-mount lens, good to trashy, on those bodies and shoot away, especially if you learn how to manually focus.

And let's face it, with 24MP and no low-pass filter on the current APS-C sensors across all  three cameras, what you're buying as you move up to the D7100 is better handling and environmental sealing (at the D7100 level). I'm not a big "FF" [sic] sensor fan, don't have the talent to justify spending that much money, and I've never believed in the cost of buying any of the "FF" [sic] bodies from anyone.

APS-C is more than adequate. No matter how much Olympus and Panasonic sensor tech advance, the same advances show up on APS-C sensors, and physics being what it is, the APS-C sensors will always out-perform µ4:3rds. I learned this, ironically, with the Sony NEX-5N, and chose to ignore it (Sony being another brand I would stay away from). Just to further underscore the point the photos of the E-M5 in this review were taken with my Sony NEX-5N and Sigma 30mm f/2.8 at ISO 400. And the NEX-5N has a 16MP APS-C sensor.

Buy Samsung

I've seen a lot of work produced by the NX-300 and its good. Samsung also has a decent range of lenses to choose from. And Samsung isn't going away any time soon, either. There is a new faux SLR mirrorless coming, the NX-30, which has the NX-300 sensor and a built-in SLR-like EVF. Samsung has the sensor portion nailed, at least at the lower ISOs.

What Not To Buy

There are other brands I would stay away from, and they're listed below.

Don't Buy Sony

Sony's biggest problem is lack of a decent selection of decent lenses across all four of their lens lines. They have the original Minolta 'A' mount (APS-C and full frame) and the NEX E mount (again APS-C and now full frame). Sony has four poorly filled out lens lines. Sony would rather toss out a new body (such as the very recent α6000, their replacement for the NEX-6 and NEX-7) with a given mount and sensor size than some decent lenses. Unless you have the patience of a saint waiting for a given prime or zoom not currently covered, you're better served by just about anybody else, even by the cameras I don't recommend.

Don't Buy Canon

My issue with Canon goes back to 1987 when they switched mounts, and I've never gotten over it. They're certainly a larger camera company than anybody else, including Nikon, but I just get the impression they're the GM of the camera world, and they're selling the camera equivalent of Chevy cars and trucks; boring, poorly made, and asking too much. You may like your Chevy, but the last Chevy I owned was a 67 Nova, and it was so bad I bought an import (Honda CVCC) in 1978 and have never bought domestic since. I dislike Canon about as much as I dislike GM.

(Maybe) Don't Buy Fuji

This will probably engender consider hate on the Internets. But I have my reasons. You're paying too high a premium for smallness in cameras, and not getting all that much back. I'm speaking primarily about all the original X series cameras, which I have held and used, and not the X-T1, which I haven't held nor used. The X-T1 may be Fuji's saving grace, so I reserve the right to change my mind on this one.

Fuji's true saving grace is their growing lens line. Lenses made with the same style throughout, and made of metal. That, and the fact you can buy Sigma and Zeiss lenses to fill out any holes in the Fuji X mount line, to name but two one third party makers of note.

What Next?

I'm emotionally and financially tapped out when it comes to buying camera equipment. I haven't bought a single thing in µ4:3rds in some time, not body nor lenses nor specialist gear. I'll use what I've got until it either breaks or I just give it up. The E-M5 is an excellent camera, and I have more than enough lenses to cover the focal lengths I care about.

And perhaps that's as it should be. Stay off the forums, stay out of the stores, and stay out shooting with the gear.

Update 12 May 2014

Olympus' financial results for the Imaging Group (the groups that makes cameras), for the last quarter and fiscal year, have been reviewed by Thom Hogan on his web site, Sans Mirror.  Needless to say they're very ugly. The highlights are:
  • Olympus failed to meet its own mirrorless forecast by 41%
  • Olympus lost money again, to the tune of 4.2 billion yen, and have forecast another loss this coming fiscal year.
  • One third of all Olympus cameras are being sold in Japan, and that was down 5%
  • SG&A (selling, general and administrative) were over 50%, meaning it costs more to make each camera than it makes selling each camera.
If you're into championing underdogs, then Olympus is the best example going in that category. But if you're concerned that the company you buy your camera from is going to be around for a while, then you might want to look elsewhere. I personally have been eying Sony, since (at this point in time) you can get a Nex 6, on discount, with a 16-50mm power zoom, for around US $530. And that's not a bad price. And for those who point out the lack of Sony lenses, might I point out that you can buy Zeiss and Sigma E-mount lenses to fill the gaps.

I love my E-M5 and will use it until it will work no more. But as for buying anything new from Olympus (like an E-M1 or E-M10), I won't unless some miracle occurs at Olympus.

Update 17 May 2014

Maybe I should follow my own advice (see above) about Sony. Or use the same financial yardstick on Sony I used on Olympus. Whether it's Sony's overall corporate losses that have mounted into the tens of billions over the past years, or just the losses in single billions over the past three years in Sony Imaging, Sony isn't doing well.

In imaging alone, Sony has racked up their third consecutive fiscal year loss of $1.29 billion (FY14 ended this past March). They peg that loss to declining sales in video cameras, and an overall decline of 2% in cameras in general.

In the midst of all this they've managed to introduce a refresh of the RX100, the MK III for $800, which is drawing rave reviews for its latest features that photographer's really give a damn about, such as a faster zoom at the telephoto end and a built-in pop-up EVF. And they've announced a selling price of $2,500 for the α7s. But still no new E-mount lenses.

As for Samsung, my definite buy has shifted to a maybe buy. I'm seeing too much flogging of the cameras. I finally got to hold an NX30, and to be honest I wasn't all that impressed with the NX30 in person. I'm a big Samsung booster when it comes to notebooks (Series 5 and Series 7), Android devices (Galaxy Tabs and Galaxy S4) and HDMI TVs. But that's based on personal use. Before I spend the amount of cash Samsung is asking for the NX30 it has to pass the personal feel test, and the NX30 isn't making it.

That leaves Canon, Fuji, Nikon, and Panasonic. And the last two are facing their own corporate fiscal challenges. Photokina is later this year, so Canon may pull off new hardware to excite me. Something worth the financial hit, something more worthwhile than a white SL1. Or I may lay hands upon the Holy and Blessed Fujifilm X-T1 and finally fall under the sway of its Reality Distortion Field and buy it.

last updated 17 may 2014

Star Trek Into Darkness

Concept: 1 out of 5
Execution: 0 out of 5
Yeah, but: Plot holes big enough to fly starships through.
The Long Version:

"Star Trek Into Darkness" first hit theaters (or theatres) in May of 2013. It played well to its intended audiences around the world, racking up nearly a half billion dollars in ticket sales before its run was done. It scored a respectable 87 on Rotten Tomatoes. It was a generally entertaining enough movie, being released for a second round of studio money gorging with its release on Blue Ray later in September. It had the usual cast of characters, and it had Benedict Cumberbatch. What wasn't to like?

The plot, or more precisely, the plot holes. The most egregious occurred early on in the movie after Cumberbatch's character John Harrison, a.k.a. Khan, shot up Star Fleet's leadership while it was conveniently meeting high up in an insecure skyscraper. Harrison showed up in a small one-person aircraft and with his infinite ammunition gun proceeded to open fire on a completely un-defended conference room fronted by an equally convenient floor-to-ceiling window setting that stretched from one end of the conference room to the other, until Chris Pine as Jim Kirk managed to single-handedly cripple Harrison's ship and eventually cause it to crash.

But before it crashed, John Harrison managed to trigger a very magical transporter that was so small it fit into the same cockpit area as Harrison. So magical it managed to transport him to the Klingon home world of Qo'noS, a mythical world located some 112 light years away from Earth. Not only do you see Harrison transported away from an aircraft rapidly spinning out of control, but mere seconds later you see him transported to the surface of Qo'noS, none the worse for wear.

Let me make sure I have all this straight. Harrison is in possession of a small, portable transporter that can move him from a spinning machine on a rotating planet (Earth) orbiting a star (our Sun) with the whole ensemble traveling through intergalactic space in our galaxy, to another planet, rotating on its axis, orbiting a completely different star, and that whole ensemble moving in an independent but generally same direction, 112 light years from Earth.

With that kind of capability, why the hell do you need starships?

With that kind of a transporter, why not just use the same method to go and get him? Oh, wait. You only made one? And the one you found in the wreckage, the one that told Scotty where Harrison had fled to, wasn't working well enough to beam his pursuers to Qo'noS, or him back? How convenient!

In fact, why wasn't this particular type of transporter used to transport anti-matter weapons (or just raw bits of anti-matter) all over the surface of Qo'noS and just blow the planet to bits? What's amazing is that Harrison didn't invent this, Scotty did (with Spock Prime's help) in the first movie. I knew when Spock Prime beamed Scotty and Kirk back on board a star ship speeding at warp velocities in the first movie that JJ Abrams had managed, without really trying, to completely destroy any rational reason for his big starship in the whole series. With just a small scene in the second movie, JJ Abrams managed to make all his big shiny starships totally irrelevant. Every. Single. One.

The 2014 silly season for movies is about to start up again. I think, from this point out, I'm going to sit the whole thing out. At least anything from JJ Abrams and his kindred directors.

last updated 15 february 2014


Victorinox Soldier 2008

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: Heavy but multi-functional.

The Long Version: Swiss Army Knives are proven tools that have been refined over time, which is a nice way of saying that there are often only small variations between models. Victorinox's 2008 Soldier traces its lineage back to the Trekker that I reviewed in September.

The new Soldier knife shares a few traits with the older Alox Soldier model from my last review: it has the same can opener, and no tweezers or toothpick. But otherwise it's a very different knife, being much bigger with a locking blade and a locking 'cap lifter' that's big enough for some serious prying. There's a philips driver and awl on the back, an excellent saw, and the one-handed-opening blade with its very interesting serrations.

The Soldier puts the serrations on the front of the knife, where most of the cutting is done, and leaves the base of the blade plain for detail work. This is a sensible and uncommon way of doing things, but in practice it works very well. They're also incredibly sharp, with a fine pitch that's going to be miserable to resharpen, but so far that hasn't been necessary.

The handle on the Soldier is dark green nylon with grippy bits and a bas-relief shield. Like all 111mm knives, I find it far too large and heavy for pocket carry, but keeping a grip on it shouldn't be a problem.

I said in my review of the standard Trekker that the one-handed model is what I would buy if I had to do it over again, and the Soldier proves me right. This is the knife that I carry in my work bag as a backup to my lighter pocketable SAK, ensuring that I always have the ability to break down an inbound skid of product, reduce the wooden pallet to kindling, and reassemble the best bits into a serviceable table. I may never need to do that, but there's no doubt that the Soldier is a very capable knife.

last updated 1 feb 2014

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