D-Link Omna vs. Logitech Logi Circle: Which home security camera to keep?

I didn’t intend to do a comparison piece between the D-Link Omna and Logitech Logi Circle, but here I am, with both in my house, and I only need one. One has to go. But which is it?

First: Let’s talk about my needs. I’m really only looking for something to check in on my kids during the day. I want something more full-featured than a baby monitor, but it doesn’t need to be a full-fledged security cam (which I already have through my security company). I’m looking for something in between.

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The Omna in all its glory.

The brand new Omna immediately stuck out to me. It’s the first web-enabled “security” camera with built-in HomeKit support, which I currently use with my Hue lights. (What is HomeKit? It’s a protocol that allows smart home devices from different companies to work with each other — and to blend seamlessly with Apple’s ecosystem of products and software.)

It also has a built-in microSD card slot allowing it to store video locally, no cloud service needed. Looking for a dedicated security cam? Don’t get this one, because if the crook steals the camera, they steal the video evidence of the crime too. But if the idea of paying $4-$10/month just for access to your own videos sounds like a pain, this is an alternative. Guess which boat I’m in? (The boat that doesn’t want to shell out any more bucks per month.)

Because it’s not cloud-enabled, there’s no need for a subscription to unlock core features. What you see if what you get.  Zone motion detection? Check. Notifications when activity is caught on camera? Check. Ability to look at past events? Check.  The only limitation to how much it can record is the size of the microSD card you put into it (which is an additional, albeit only one time, purchase, of course).

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Above you can see the motion settings. You pick the zone. You pick the sensitivity. You pick how often it triggers (i.e. if it senses motion twice or more in a given amount of time, it only sends one notification).

Nice benefit: Even if your home internet goes down, the camera will still keep on recording when it senses motion.

Potential drawback: In only records in 20 second increments (the 20 seconds immediately following when it first senses motion).

The feature I love the most (and the main reason why I bought it)? Once it’s set-up, you don’t need the dedicated Omna app anymore…if you’re an Apple user. You can just use Apple’s Home app — the same app I use to control my Hue lights.

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The ability to see my room specific lights, cameras, and other smart home devices on one screen is SUPER convenient.  It also makes sharing with other people in the household a breeze.  Once I set it up on my phone (which is done in 3 easy steps), the new camera automatically appeared on my wife’s Home app. Didn’t have to do anything at all on her phone.

So as you can tell, I bought the Omna. I set it up. And I was happy…until I went to Best Buy to get a microSD card and saw that the Logi Circle had just gone on sale.

Two days ago, the Logi Circle and the Omna were the same price — $200, which is why I went with the HomeKit-enabled Omna over the Logi Circle, despite it’s great write-up at thewirecutter.com (where tech reviewers go for reviews). But as of this writing, the Logi Circle is now only $130. That’s $70 in savings. With the Omna still in its return period, I had to check out the Logi Circle.

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Both have the same basic (and free) functions: A live view of any room in your house and the ability to record motion-triggered events.

The Logi Circle has no local storage, though, so you’re dependent on Logitech’s cloud-based hosting of your video. At the free tier, you get a 24-hour recording archive. NOTE: That’s not 24 hours OF recordings. Just recordings FROM the last 24 hours. Like the Omna, the Logi Circle only records in snippets, based on when the motion sensor is first triggered. Unlike the Omna, the snippets vary in time and can go well-over 20 seconds.

Possible detriment: If you put the camera in a place with a lot of activity, that’s a lot of video uploading. It could tax the speed of your home network a bit.

But the cloud-service (even at the free level) does come with a perk: You can view a special time-lapse video (30 seconds in length) of all the activity over the previous 24 hours. And you have the option to pay $4 or $10/month for a 14-day or 31-day recording window.  The $10/month option also unlocks the ability to record by zones (something free on the Omna), as well as some other features — like the ability to tell when a “person” triggers the motion sensor instead of an animal or the wind or something.

So that’s how they are the largely the same at the free level. But how are they different?

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  1. The Logi Circle is vastly more customizable.

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You can choose another resolution if the 1080p setting uses up too much data (either uploading or downloading on your mobile device while on the go.


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The ability to set up motion zones might be extra, but the Logi Circle has some free “alert” settings missing from the Omna, like “smart location” which checks to see if you (i.e. your phone) is home. It also has more generous delay times, up to 30m, which can keep your phone from getting cluttered with notifications for the same activity.

2. If your internet goes down, so does your ability to record anything on the Logi Circle. Not a problem with the Omna.

3. Degree of visibility and video quality. Both offer HD imaging, but not all HD is the same.  Blurry pixels in HD are still blurry pixels. Also: The Omna has a much wider degree of visibility.

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The Logi Circle’s 135 degrees of visibility.


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The Omna is 180. Note: Both pics were taken from the same exact spot.

4. Night Vision. Both offer night vision. But the Logi Circle made a weird “click” noise whenever it enabled its night vision mode (i.e. anytime it senses motion in a dark environment, or you if you check-in for a live stream). I think that’s because the Circle senses for motion first (or waits to be contacted for a live stream), then looks for light, then enables the night vision mode if needed.  The Omna senses its dark first and already has it’s night vision lights enabled (and ready) for when it senses motion.  The click noise was definitely noticeable, and it draws attention to the camera.

5. As mentioned, the “alert” options are quite different.  The Logi Circle’s added customizations results in much fewer notifications on my phone.

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6. Apple Watch support! Because it’s HomeKit enabled, the Omna sends preview images to your Apple Watch whenever it senses motion. And you can also watch a (tiny) live stream of your home from your watch.  The Logi Circle does none of the that. Even on your iPhone, you don’t even get a preview photo.

7. The Logi Circle has a battery! The Omna does not. The Omna is made to stay in one place. In fact, I tried moving to another room and had to set it up all over again (why? I’m thinking it’s because I have an eero system, and switching from one eero router to another changed the IP address assigned to the Omna, which confused it.) The Logi Circle can be taken off it’s dock (i.e. the permanent place in your house where it sits) and moved anywhere for up to a few hours. I had no issues moving it all over the house. Just know that the battery can drain quickly in a place with a lot of motion. (Putting it in battery saver mode turns off the motion sensor, saving energy because the camera only turns on for remote live viewing).

So which will I be keeping? I love the look of the Omna… I love the HomeKit integration, but for a saving of $70, I can do without those things.  And I’ll get some other things, too, like a battery and some modest, free cloud storage. So I think I’m going with the Logi Circle… Or not.  I need to think a little longer on it…


Products mentioned in this write-up:

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Why I switched from Canon to Sony

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About two years ago, I decided to take my interest in photography up a notch. Several notches actually. I’d been using an interchangeable lens camera since 2008, but it wasn’t a very good one. So in early 2013, with a baby on the way, I made the plunge into the Canon ecosystem. Deep into the Canon ecosystem. I didn’t just a buy a Rebel. No, I’d already been using a cropped sensor, and just getting another (albeit newer) one wasn’t a big enough upgrade. I had to go full frame or bust. I got a Canon 5D Mark III.

The 5D was not my first choice actually. I had my eye on the 6D, which is widely considered a “lesser” full-frame of the two. (And also much cheaper.) But I was able to get my hands on refurbished 5D Mark III through a private transaction (i.e. no sales tax) for not much more than the 6D — the offer was too good to pass up.

The Canon 5D Mark III is an amazing camera. There’s a reason why Canon gear is a go-to brand for professional photographers.  I took some amazing images I know I never would’ve gotten with a smaller sensor or a less capable auto-focus.

But there were even more pictures I never took at all, because I didn’t have the camera with me.

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Nothing’s Lost Forever: Data Recovery For When You Need It Most

A little over two months ago, my newborn daughter took her first breaths, and I was there with my new camera.  I documented her first day like Errol Morris on crack.  First bath? Check. First snuggle with mom? Check. First poop? Check. For two days, while we were all stored up at the hospital, I snapped away.  Then came time to take a look at what I got…

Nothing. The computer told me that the memory card was empty.

Back in the camera, though, the SD card showed all my photos and video were present.  So everything was there… it’s just that none of it was readable to the computer.  Curious, I put the memory card back into my Macbook Air’s SD slot.  I loaded up Disk Utility, Apple’s handy diagnostic/repair tool for storage devices.  Sure enough, Disk Utility found an error on the SD card.  I hit the “repair” button and, boom, the SD card was “fixed.”  No more errors.

But no more pictures either.

Whatever Disk Utility did to “fix” the memory card wound up making it appear empty to both the laptop and the camera now, too.  Oops.

“That’s okay, it’s just all the video and photo I took from the first two days of my daughter’s life, I’m sure I’ll have another chance to capture those same exact memories” is not what I said.  I was pissed.  Of all the pictures I’d ever take with this camera, those were the most unreproducible.

So I scoured the internet for an application that could retrieve deleted files.  This is where you have to be careful.  In all truthfulness, if you have good online habits, you can avoid viruses and spyware with 99% certainty without the need for any anti-virus software.  Downloading programs off the internet, though, is not a good online habit.  Malware, like vampires, typically can’t enter your computer unless it’s invited.  The most harmless (and seemingly useful) application could really be a nasty trojan horse.  You have to be careful to whom you open your door.

Even though I’m a tech guy, I’ve don’t have much data recovery experience. I’m such a devout believer in backing up, I’ve never really lost a file before. A Google search turned up a lot of programs, but I didn’t know which companies were trustworthy.  Before you download any software you intend to run on your computer, always look into the company.  Look for reviews from as many reputable sources that you can.

One of the programs I came across is called FileSalvage.  It claimed to be able to recover image and video file formats specific to my Canon camera, so it immediately rose to the top of the list of programs I wanted to try.  I then set out to find some reviews.  Various user forums had people both praising and complaining about the product — but the complaints were limited to people who didn’t think it worked for their needs or hated the speed/interface.  No one complained of malware.  And I even found a couple positive legit reviews of it.  It didn’t matter if the reviews were from several years ago — it’s actually a good sign if a program has been around for a while and is continually updated.

So I downloaded FileSalvage from their main website (always get it from the source) and installed it, fingers crossed.  The free demo mode is limited to just telling you it found a lot of files and not much more than that. You definitely can’t recover anything for free. But that’s par for the course with a lot of programs.  Just enough free functionality to peak your interest, and that’s it.

When you run data recovery programs on a storage device, the software will scan for anything it can find, even files you intentionally deleted a long time ago.  The free preview found A LOT of files on the SD card… but I had no way of knowing for sure whether it found my most recent pics and video.  At this point, though, I had nothing to lose besides $80, so I bought a user license and unlocked the “recovery features” of the program.

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FileSalvage can’t tell you anything about the files you’re recovering other than “file type” and “size.”  That’s all the info you get before you start recovering.  No metadata of any kind, not even original file names.  At this point, there’s a bit of wishing and hoping that that the files I wanted were among the thousand it found.  I went ahead and recovered all of them.

Note:  The way digital storage works, files are never truly deleted.  When you delete a file or do a routine format of a hard drive, the file structure is merely changed to allow new files to be rewritten over old ones.  The less you use a memory card (or hard drive, flash drive, etc), the more likely you can recover deleted missing files. (Because of this fact, it’s unwise to restore recovered files to the same drive you’re restoring from.)  If you’re ever giving away a computer and want all your old data as hard to recover as possible, do a specialized format that overwrites old data as it formats.

So what was the verdict on FileSalvage?  After going through all the recovered files, I got all the videos and pictures back that went missing.  Yay.  Well worth the $80 even if I never use this program again.

Review: Kamerar QV-1, a good LCD viewfinder at a great price

There are two kinds of camera accessories. Those that directly affect the quality of the images/audio you record and those that merely affect the experience of capturing it. Examples of the former: lens filters, specialty microphones, and light kits. Examples of the latter: carrying cases, external monitors, and focus assisting devices.

LCD viewfinders are in the second group. They’re accessories designed to help you see better what you’re shooting. They take the image from a camera’s LCD screen and funnel it into an eyepiece. They won’t change how light reaches the image sensor. They won’t give you the ability to record shots you wouldn’t otherwise be able to capture (for the most part). They just make shooting a better experience, particular in certain circumstances.

Those circumstances include shooting in sunlight, where an LCD can be hard to see. They are also beneficial with handheld shots, as your head can now provide additional stability to the camera. And regardless of where or how you’re shooting, LCDs on the back of cameras — which nowadays run about 3 inches in size — aren’t ideal when it comes to focusing. An image that looks in-focus at 3 inches could turn out blurry on a bigger screen. Eyepieces, which fill your field of vision with the image being captured, have a major edge in that area. So if you have a camera that doesn’t include an eyepiece, or it has one, but the eyepiece isn’t of much using when recording video (as is the case with most DSLRs), an LCD view finder can be a lifesaver.

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Like the Carry Speed VF-3 and VF-4 viewfinders, the Kamerar QV-1 is designed for hobbyists on a budget or a professional just getting started. The Kamerar bests both those models on price, though.

FYI: I didn’t even know this product existed until I saw it on Cheesycam.com. If you’re interested in buying this, you’ll want to check out their take on it, which gets more into detail on what specific camera models it works well with.

Like the Carry Speed viewfinders, the QV-1 mounts to the bottom of the camera via a special baseplate (that comes with it). To me, this is preferable to viewfinders that attach directly to the back of the camera (via glue or rubber bands or straps of some kind). The baseplate that comes with the QV-1 uses a magnet to hold the viewfinder in place. This is a nice touch. The magnet is strong enough that you never worry about the viewfinder coming loose when you don’t want it to, but it’s easy enough to remove when you don’t need it.

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Magnet out.

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Magnet in.

The included baseplate is compatible with some tripod heads right out of the box (those that work with Manfrotto 501PL-type plates). But if it’s not inherently compatible with yours, that’s not a huge deal, as it’s designed to be used in conjunction with whatever baseplate goes with your current tripod head. I don’t have the “right” kind of tripod head, but, as you can see below, it still works well with the QV-1.

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Now, I wear glasses. One concern I did have is whether or not it’ll have an adjustment to compensate for my poor eyesight, since most viewfinders don’t work well with glasses. There is a “diopter adjustment” that allows you to change the position of the “glass” (which is really plastic) inside the viewfinder ever-so-slightly. This can help compensate for people with poor eyesight. But it didn’t work for me. My eyesight was just out of the range the diopter could correct (which, to be honest, seemed to have a very limited range). Fortunately, this turned out NOT to be a deal breaker, since the generously sized eyepiece works well with my wire-framed glasses. I don’t have to remove my glasses to use it, which is great.

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The QV-1 also fits snuggly right up against the screen, with no light leakage, which I’ve heard is a problem with other view finders that mount from the bottom of the camera.

The QV-1 comes with an allen wrench used to tailor the location of the viewfinder to your particular camera. I’m only using this on a Canon 5D Mark III. The Mark III has a 3.2 inch screen, which, at the moment, is still an atypical screen size (3 inches is more common). But the QV-1 works well with it. It doesn’t seem to block any of the image, nor does it block any of the buttons on the back of the camera (or the battery door on the bottom of it). Again, if you’re interested in whether or not this will work with your camera, I’d check Cheesycam review and this web page from people who sell it.

The main selling point for me, though, was the upgraded kit which includes a rail system. This kit comes with QV-1 and the baseplate it attaches to AND with an additional base and two 8 inch long “rails.” The rails are 15mm in diameter, which is a standard dimension in DSLR gear circles. I look forward to using these rails to add a “follow focus” (which makes keeping focus easier when shooting video) and a matte box (to block excess light from leaking into the lens).

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The base that comes with the rail kit has a sliding quick release that’s a lot easier to use than the “not-so-quick release” that came standard on the tripod I already have (it’s technically a quick release, but the baseplate is square and a little finicky to lock into place… not very quick at all).

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The above photos show how QV-1’s baseplate slides into the “rail base.” By keeping the rail base on top of my tripod pretty much all-the-time, I’ve upgraded the tripod head substantially at a minimal cost (and definitely less than the cost of a new tripod).

The other thoughts on the product:

Build Quality — Lots of plastic. It definitely “feels” like a budget item. But there’s nothing flimsy about it. I would still describe the build as “solid” overall.

Instructions — There weren’t any. The kit only comes with a handful of items, each with it’s own clear purpose, but some documentation would’ve been nice. I can see some people who are really new to DSLR videography being a little unsure what does what.

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Features — In addition to the nice magnetic mechanism that allows the viewfinder to be easily removed when not needed, the eyepiece can also be “flipped up” so other people can see the LCD screen while still having some shade from the sun.

Strap — It does come with a strap, so you can keep it around your neck when not needed during shoots (since it’s way too big to fit in a pocket).

Competition — In this price range, you can get a “loupe” that more or less serves the same purpose as an LCD view finder. A loupe is a smaller magnifying device that is meant to be held over the LCD so you can get a better look at your footage. If you want an accessory that’ll aid in handheld shooting, though, a loupe won’t cut it. You need a viewfinder that mounts onto the camera.

CONCLUSION

I’ll definitely be keeping the Kamerar QV-1 LCD view finder (which I purchased with my own money, like all the products I review). The kit that includes both the view finder and the rail system is less than $150 as of this writing. Products in the same ballpark as the QV-1 could be had for that price alone, without the rails. Will the product hold up over time as well as some more expensive models? That remains to be seen.  I’ve only had it for a couple days.  If you’re on a budget and want both a viewfinder and rails, consider this. If you just want a view finder, even better, especially if you can get the $65 price.  Is this an “essential” accessory, though? Not really. If you’re not shooting a lot of video — particularly handheld video — you might not really benefit from it. If you wear thick glasses, you may have issues. And if you just need something to shade your LCD from the sun, there are cheaper ways to do that. But if you’re a videographer looking to experiment with more complex set-ups, this appears to be a great first step.

Products mentioned on this page:



iPhoto Tip: Copying location data from one photo to another

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One of the pleasures of using a smartphone to take a photo is that it’s (most likely) embedded with GPS data.  This is especially handy for applications — like iPhoto — that allow you to search for photos by location.  But if you use a stand-alone camera for better quality pictures, you probably aren’t getting any location data.  iPhoto will allow you to manually add an address, but that’s time consuming if you have a lot of photos (which you probably do), not to mention not very helpful if the photo was taken out in the woods or on the beach or something.

So here’s what I do…

Wherever I take pictures with my camera, I also take one photo with my iPhone.  It doesn’t have to be a good photo.  You just need the GPS data.  For example, here’s a photo of my shoe taken in my home office.

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And here’s a photo of me in home office, taken on a much better camera that lacks built-in GPS.

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To grab the location data, I just “right click” on the shoe photo (or “control click” if you don’t have a right click spot on your mouse/trackpad) and select “copy.”

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Note: You can also select the photo and use the COPY option in the EDIT menu.

Then I select the photo(s) I want to give a location, go up to the EDIT menu,and select “PASTE LOCATION.” (Note: You can select more than one photo by pressing the COMMAND key as you click on them.)

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And that’s it. Now your “good” photo (or photos) will have the GPS data.

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I did this on our honeymoon to Italy, easily giving hundreds and hundreds of photos location data that didn’t otherwise have them.

It’s time to get a better camera (Part 2)

These are all the cameras I heavily researched — and seriously considered — before ultimately choosing one: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 and DMC-GH3, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Sony Alpha NEX-6, Canon EOS Rebel T4i, Sony Alpha a57Nikon D600, Canon EOS 6D, Canon EOS 5D Mark II, and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III.  [Note: The just-announced Nikon D5200 and Sony Alpha a58 are two cameras I would’ve considered had they been around a few weeks ago.]

People seem to LOVE their Panasonic GH2s and GH3s.

People seem to LOVE their Panasonic GH2s and GH3s.

The Panasonics and Olympus were the first to be eliminated. Easily. They got great write-ups, have nice form-factors, and can shoot great looking video (with a lot of know-how), but they aren’t for me.  They have the same sized sensor as my Olympus E-420.  Though I can use my current lenses with the new Olympus camera (and the Panasonic, too, with an adapter), my current lenses aren’t that great.  I’m more than happy to buy new ones.  Lenses and software are upgradeable, but the image sensor is the one thing I’ll be stuck with for years to come. I can’t spend another 4-5 years with an image sensor of this size.

The NEX line of Sony cameras aren't much bigger than a typical "point-and-shoot" camera.

The NEX line of Sony cameras aren’t much bigger than a typical “point-and-shoot” camera.

The Sony NEX-6 and A57 both have larger APS-C sized sensors, a definite step-up from my current camera.  The beauty of the NEX-6 is its svelt profile.  The strength of the A57 is its speed — able to take up to 10 photos to per second, which is twice as many as other cameras in its class.  Sony is able to achieve these feats because of how they treat the mirrors in their cameras.  The A57 uses a fixed, translucent mirror technology that speeds up focusing and shooting (whereas its competitors use moving mirrors).  There is one tiny trade-off, though.  Unlike a mirror that moves out of place, the translucent mirror traps some light that would otherwise reach the sensor.  It’s not much, but it could be enough to affect low-light photography.  The NEX-6, on the other hand, has no mirror whatsoever.  But it has far too many other trade-offs to be useful as a primary video camera.

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Canon EOS Rebel T4i. It’s that cool in person, too.

Next up was the Canon T4i. This was a SERIOUS contender.  I love the size of it. Not too big, not too small. The articulated touch screen is the future of the product line (and something found on no other Canon, not even the more expensive ones).  The downside — its optics are more-or-less the same as used in the Rebel line for the last four years. That was enough to give me pause, to get me to consider something a little more future-proof.

So that took me into the realm of full frame sensors.  If I could get one for the right price, that would be ideal.  In terms of future-proofing, the bigger the sensor, the longer you’ll be happy with it.  It’s as simple as that.  My prediction: In 4 years, you’re going to see a lot more cameras designed for consumers with full frame sensors, but cameras with even bigger sensors will still be considered just for pros.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

The full frame Canon EOS 5D Mark II is the camera that started the DSLR video revolution.  Whole TV episodes have been shot with it.  The camera was first announced in 2008, making it ancient by technological standards, but that just means it can be gotten for a fraction of its original price, and the image quality is no worse than it was back then.  If you’re going full frame on a budget, this is a definite consideration.  But it’s not for me.  There are just too many other — and newer — options for not that much more.

Those newest full-frames are the Canon EOS 6D and the Nikon D600.  The Canon 6D has gotten a bad wrap in my book.  It’s designed to replace the aging 5d Mark II, and in that respect it bests the 5D Mark II in every category at a price lower than the 5D Mark II’s when it was first released.  But people keep comparing it to the Nikon D600, which wins on the feature-list, and were quick to declare the 6D a loser before it even reached store shelves.  The Nikon D600 includes a built-in flash, more auto-focus points, and a headphone jack, among other things that seem a lot more practical than the 6D’s exclusive new features: built-in GPS and WiFi.  Canon enthusiasts counter that built-in flashes really aren’t that useful on a full frame camera, the Nikon’s many auto-focus points are too clumped together (i.e. they don’t really cover more area than the 6D), and if you’re shooting video you shouldn’t be using the camera’s headphone jack anyway (you should be recording sound separately for optimum quality).  Nikon enthusiasts counter that it’s better to have those options than not, and that GPS and WiFi are things they still get extra if they really want them.

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Nikon D600, which on paper, is the entry-level full frame DSLR to beat.

I read dozens of reviews of both cameras and watched every side-by-side comparison I could find to parse through the brand biases.  And you know what?  The Canon actually won me over.  I would use the GPS and WiFi. I hate using built-in flashes.  Yeah, I might miss the headphone jack when I’m “run-and-gun” shooting, but for this next film project of mine I’m using dedicated sound equipment.  Also: The Canon 6D got the edge in low-light performance, which if you read Part 1 of this series, you’d know that’s very important to me.

The Canon EOS 6D.  It might not have everything, but what does have is enough for me.

The Canon EOS 6D. It might not have everything, but what it does have is enough for me.

The internet response to the Canon 6D reminds me of the initial response to the Canon 5D Mark III when it was announced a little under a year ago.  Many quickly dismissed the Mark III as overpriced and not delivering enough new features to pry them away from their Mark II’s.  Eleven months later, though, the Mark III has firmly taken its place as THE full frame camera to beat, especially for video.  I have a feeling that by the 6D’s first anniversary, it will have a nice reputation as a great 2nd camera for pros and a terrific first camera for full frame amateurs.  Why?  Because the people who actually use it (and not just study spec sheets) seem to really, really like it.

So as of a couple weeks ago, I was set on purchasing the 6D.  That was the camera for me.  But there was just one thing holding me back.  All the cameras I’ve talked about produce excellent video in well-lit circumstances.  And some of them, like the 6D, still take highly usable video even with much less light.  But they all have the same drawback:  Moiré.

"Moire" is the distortion you get -- usually in the addition of lines & artifacts that aren't really there -- when filming certain patterns.

“Moire” is the distortion that occurs when filming certain patterns, usually in the form of additional lines and artifacts that aren’t really there.

To me, moiré is to video what feedback is to audio.  It can be very distracting and gives off an air of cheapness.  Most professional videographers, regardless of the camera they’re using, simply avoid shooting certain backgrounds or clothing patterns just to insure they don’t get any moiré (or it’s non-French sibling aliasing).  For example, the Canon 5D Mark II definitely isn’t immune from moiré, but that didn’t stop many pros from using it.  They simply avoided filming patterns that have a tendency to produce the effect.  (In fact, because television sets can produce moiré on their own even when the image is recorded perfectly, most TV cinematographers always avoid filming moiré-ish backgrounds and clothing, regardless of how good their equipment is.)

The Canon 6D and Nikon D600 are no worse at moiré than the 5D Mark II.  But I guess the fact they hadn’t eliminated the issue completely disappointed a lot of people.  Particularly because the 5D Mark III, which came out before both those cameras, seemed to conquer it. By all accounts, the Canon 5D Mark III is the first (mostly) moire-free DSLR and still the only full frame camera that can make the claim.  In other words, if you’re shooting a lot of brick buildings with shingle roofs near power lines, there’s only one camera for you.

I’m not a pro, but I’m definitely in the “avoid moiré as best you can” boat.   Unlike the pros, though, I won’t have the luxury to location scout or select ideal wardrobe for most of my projects.  I want a film-look for my short, but as soon as you see moire, your first thought is “oh, this was shot on video.”

For this reason, I held off on getting the Canon 6D on the off chance I could buy a used or refurbished Canon 5D Mark III. A full price 5D Mark III was definitely out of the question, though.  As important as the moire issue was to me, it wasn’t worth paying full price to address it.

(Note: I didn’t even consider the Nikon D800, as it’s roughly the same price as the 5D Mark III, but still marred by some of the same image issues as the less expensive full frames).

Sadly, its definitely a seller’s market for Mark IIIs, with buyers having to shell out almost full price even for used ones (granted, they can still save on sales tax, but it’s still a steep price to pay to get into the moire-free club).

Side note: Around this same time, I tried to see how much I could get for my old Olympus E-420.  Samy’s Cameras here in LA, which has a large used department, wouldn’t take it.  I thought about Craigslist and eBay, but I hate selling things online.  Too many bad experiences.  I turned to B & H Photo in NYC.   They gave me a quote on the internet and emailed me a free shipping label.  So I shipped them the camera, hoping they’d find no fault with it,and give me the the $230 they said it was still worth.  I opted for Store Credit because I figured the turnaround would be faster than a check.

By this point, I’d already been to Bel Air Camera, and they told me they’d match any prices I could find from reputable online dealers.  Though I’d have to pay sales tax, I wouldn’t have to pay for expedited shipping to get the camera in a timely manner.  I was ready to buy the camera from them, as I’d about given up on finding a refurbished 5D Mark III.

This should be the last photo I take for this site with my iPhone.

This should be the last photo I take for this site with my iPhone.

That’s when I got an email from B & H saying they inspected my camera and were issuing a store credit for the whole amount quoted.  It was redeemable immediately.  On a whim, I searched for a refurbished Canon 5D Mark III one more time on the B & H site.  And this time… They had one!  Between the store credit, the lack of sales tax, and the refurbished designation, it was actually only slightly more than the Canon 6D brand new in Los Angeles. So I bought it right then, as I knew it wouldn’t last long. (I had seen only one before, and it didn’t last an evening on their website).

And yesterday it was delivered.  The 5D Mark III a lot to take in — not only is it my first full frame DSLR, but it’s also my first Canon DSLR, which has a learning curve of its own — but I can honestly say I got my “no compromise” camera at the price of the compromised ones.  I’m happy. My wife is happy that I’m happy. All is right in the world.

Now I just have to make this short… (and I have zero excuses not to)

It’s time to get a better camera (Part 1)

I bought my first digital camera in the year 2000. It was a Canon Digital ELPH S100. The screen was only slightly larger than my thumb. The pictures it took could barely fill an 8 x10 frame. It had almost no zoom capability.

And it was AWESOME.

Check out that zoom!

Check out that zoom!

I wasn't lying about how tiny the screen was.

I wasn’t lying about how tiny the screen was.

Back then, digital cameras were still for early adopters only. Apple’s iPhoto — the first real application to make importing photos, organizing them, and then ordering prints as easy as it should be — wouldn’t be released for almost two more years. But, man, was that little camera cool. Suddenly I was free to experiment with taking pictures in a way not possible before. I walked around my parents’ home and took hundreds of pictures, just trying different angles, exposures, etc.

Nursery2 Study4 Bedroom1

It doesn’t hurt that my Mom is an incredible decorator. In sunlight, the photos were even better.

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I didn’t have to pay for film or development. I didn’t have to wait for a contact sheet with a preview of my pics. I just went to my room, imported the photos onto my PowerMac G4, and started messing with them even more. With some tweaking — and no formal training whatsoever — I was able to make pictures like these…

This is a simulated "tilt-shift" photo, where blur is used to create a "miniature" effect.

This is a simulated “tilt-shift” photo, where blur is used to create a “miniature” effect.

I can't even remember how I did this. I do know this: It was before anyone could do it in one click.

I can’t even remember how I did this “paint” effect, but I do know this: It was way before it could be done in with a filter. (Click to make bigger)

The camera certainly had its drawbacks, though. The photos maxed out at 2 megapixels (yes, I said “2”). Lighting had to be excellent or else you’d have to use the flash, and flash pictures never looked good. The biggest issue for me was the zoom, though. It was practically non-existent. You HAD to be close to your subject to get a decent photo because cropping in post just wasn’t an option (you’d lose way too much data).

So the first thing I did when I moved to Los Angeles a few years later was buy a new camera.  Digital SLR cameras were a thing by this time, but they were way too expensive. So I opted for a Minolta Dimage.

Not quite a DSLR, but still a big step up from the PowerShot.

Not quite a DSLR, but still a big step up from the ELPH.

It didn’t have interchangeable lenses, but it came with an excellent zoom, a fair amount of manual control, and a better image sensor than the ELPH. I used this camera for many a film project, to augment my digital video work with high resolution photography. Some examples of what the Minolta could do that the ELPH couldn’t…

The better zoom made it possible to get shots with a shallower depth of field.

The better zoom made it possible to get shots with a shallower depth of field (i.e. blurrier backgrounds while the foreground remains sharp).

The larger sensor made it easier to catch action. Click on the pic to make it bigger and note how the ball stays in focus.

The larger sensor made it easier to catch action. Click on the pic to make it bigger and note how the moving ball is completely in focus.

The camera worked better indoors than the Digital ELPH, but it still needed the flash more than I liked. So a few years later, when NBC hired me to produce web content for them, I took the opportunity to upgrade again. Bigger sensor and interchangeable lenses were a must this time, as I’d be shooting a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff indoors, at night, and from afar. It was finally time for… a true DSLR! My first.

You always remember your first.

You always remember your first.

I had read a preview of the Olympus E-420 in Popular Science where they billed it as the smallest DSLR soon-to-be on the market. It also had a diminutive price tag to match its diminutive stature (not to mention its diminutive 5’5″ owner). I snatched it up as soon as it came out.

This photo of the whole set from an episode of KNIGHT RIDER (2008) just wouldn't have possible with my Minolta.

This photo of an outdoor, night-time set from KNIGHT RIDER (2008) wouldn’t have been possible with the ELPH or Dimage. (I don’t think)

The even larger sensor yet, not to mention the variety of lenses, allowed me to take photos I just couldn’t take before.

I thought I had finally made it to the big leagues… and then I saw photos that our Production Assistant took with her early Canon DSLR (a 20D, I believe). Her photos were MUCH better than mine, even though my camera was almost 4 years newer. She took photos of a barely lit soundstage that were just too grainy when shot with my E-420. Even though our cameras were both DSLRs, the sensors were completely different.  My Olympus is what’s called a Four-Thirds system. Her Canon was an APS-C system.  The major difference between those systems? Her sensor was bigger than mine.

The Olympus has served me well, but it’s time to upgrade yet again. I want to shoot a short film during hiatus and my Olympus (like most DSLRs from its era) can’t do video. Up until now I’ve always had separate video and still cameras, but my video camera is ancient, too. I could buy seperate gear again, but why do that if I don’t have to? Over the last couple years, the video capabilities of DSLR cameras have begun to rival (and even surpass) the quality of similarly priced camcorders. Time to finally move up to an APS-C camera, no? Something that can ably handle both stills and video? Something like, say, a Canon T4i or Nikon D5200, still cameras that excel at video for people on a budget?

Canon T4i (Photo from canon.com)

Canon T4i

That’s exactly what I was about to do. I was fully prepared to buy one of those two cameras until… I read that Canon and Nikon were now starting to put “full frame” sensors into “prosumer” cameras.  Until recently, full frame sensors could only be found in high end cameras for professionals (at high end prices for professionals). For a regular joe like me to have one would be overkill, unless I wanted to start photographing weddings (which I would be TERRIBLE at; I’d take about a hundred pictures of the cake from every angle with every lens at every shutter speed and maybe two of the Bride).

What’s the big deal about a full frame sensor? The image sensor is even bigger yet, which means even better low light performance (not to mention better quality all-around). Quality low light shooting has always been my achilles heal. It’s the thing I’ve been yearning for ever since the ELPH. Sure, if I got the T4i, I’d be happy for now. It’d definitely perform better than the E-420, not to mention allow me to shoot video in 1080P with a selection of lenses. But any APS-C set-up would still require a fair amount of lighting work to be done to get the shot right, especially in video mode.  With a full frame sensor, I could do more with less. A lot less. The learning curve would be steeper, but it’d be worth it to get the highest quality video I can get. I don’t have room in the budget to hire a full lighting crew, so I need to be able to maximize available light as much as I can.

The Canon 6D and the Nikon D600 are both full frame DSLRs made for people stepping up from smaller sensor cameras. They are designed to be an amateur photographer/videographer’s first full frame (kinda like how the BMW 3 series or the Mercedes C-class is supposed to be someone’s first luxury car). The Canon 6D is in particular a techie’s delight with its built-in WIFI and GPS. The camera seems to be made specifically for a tech guy like me, so that’s the camera I got, right?

When I was a kid, my family had a few still cameras, but only one was considered the “good” family camera. That’s the one my parents bought for their use, not for the kids to mess around with. While the kids played with polaroids, Mom and Dad had their 35mm film camera. The good camera. But, sadly, there comes a day in every kid’s life when you realize that your family’s “good” [insert item here] isn’t as good as some other family’s “good” [insert item here].

I can't remember the brand, but our family's "good" camera looked something like this.

I can’t remember the brand, but our family’s “good” camera looked something like this.

Now’s my chance to level the playing field. Buchman Family 2.0 might not live in a house as nice as Buchman Family 1.0, but we’ll have a kickass camera, goshdarnit.  It’ll be the best camera any Buchman has ever owned. We’ll have the “good” camera that will put my future children’s friends’ parents’ “good” cameras to shame.

The Canon 6D is not that camera. And neither is the Nikon D600. Yes, both are designed just for people like me. But I won’t be me for that much longer. (Huh?) What I mean is… The camera I buy now will be our camera for years. And it isn’t just for family photos and vacation video. I will be doing some professional work with this camera, too, just like I did with the Olympus. And I need the best video capabilities possible for the film I plan to shoot.  A year from now, I don’t want to feel hamstrung because I went with the best camera for 2013 Eric and not 2014 Eric.

So what did I choose? Tune into Part 2