My Thoughts on the MacBook Pro 14-Inch

Having just bought the new MacBook Pro 14-inch (M1 Max, 24 core GPU, 32 Gigs, 2 TB), I have to say it is great to have a machine that feels like Apple made it for creators and pros, not Jony Ive’s design sense. Don’t get me wrong, I love (most of) his iconic designs for Apple over the years, but there are times where it felt like the design overtook the user requirements. Things have gone the other way in the new design, with the ultra-slim-looking tapers gone and most of the ports back. All these go to what pro users need, and after the initial impression that the new MacBooks are enormous (they are not, it is just that the full thickness goes to the edges instead of tapering), the design still looks great. The look harks back to the earlier unibody MacBooks, or even further to the G4 Titanium PowerBooks and iBooks, which I am old enough to remember wanting. OK, OK, I remember when the original G3 iMac and iBook were the hot things.

After several years of laptops that did not feel like there was much “Pro” about them, these are refreshingly designed to address the issues that pros have had with the MacBook Pros in recent years. The keyboard feels great, the HDMI and SD Card slots cut the need for dongles and readers, and everything seems ready to get stuff done.

Why I bought one

First off, I’m a Mac user. I edit in Final Cut and Motion, develop for iOS, and feel more comfortable in macOS than Windows or Linux. After a couple of years on an iMac, I also missed the mobility of a laptop, whether traveling, just getting a change of scenery, or working when I am away from my desk. I have been enjoying getting away from my desk, whether it is just to the living room or out to coffee shops. Also, it is finally possible to get a laptop that has the power to do everything most desktops can, and better yet, get it in the smaller size, not just the larger 15 or 16-inch models.

What I Like

The size.

My first Mac was a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, and while I loved the form factor, the power was not there. The new Pros have plenty of power for everything I want to do. Even the 13-inch Pro covers what most people do for most business, creative, and programming uses. Adding the M1 Pro or Max means you have the horsepower to do just about anything, in a form factor that is easily carried even in smaller carry-on bags (and my 13-inch camera bags). For everything I have done, it is on par with or (almost always) better than my well-equipped 2019 27-inch iMac.

The Build.

The new MacBooks feel like they are made for professionals. Professional is a somewhat loaded term, and plenty of people who are not classical professionals will use this. But if you are someone who relies on your computer to get stuff done, create, do business, etc., it feels like (with a few minor exceptions) they were thinking of you.

The screen is beautiful, especially when you throw HDR content at it. The 14-inch size is a nice improvement from the 13-inch.

The camera, keyboard, and speakers are all great. Since everyone uses these things all the time, it is pretty important to get them right, and Apple did. Things like the new TouchID sensor are also nice touches.

The SD card slot.

Even with higher tier cameras (Nikon D850, D500, Z50) in the house, they all support SD Cards, and having a reader built-in makes it much easier to work on the road, at events, and while I am not at my desk.

The return of MagSafe.

I was as appalled as anyone when USB-C replaced MagSafe. The design is just so good, with the significantly lower risk of dropping your laptop or even breaking the power port with an errant bump or tug. Then I got used to the convenience of USB-C, sharing power adapters with other things, access to third-party chargers, and charging from either side of the computer. When I heard the rumors of MagSafe returning, I was actually kind of torn, thinking I would be missing out on those benefits. However, the new implementation is truly the best of all worlds. You can use MagSafe most of the time, but if you are stuck with just a USB-C charger, it still works. The cord is detachable from the charger, so it works with third-party USB-C chargers, and you only need to replace the cable if something goes wrong. The new MagSafe is as close to a perfect solution as I have seen in quite a while. The only improvement I would like to see is the cord going from $50 to $20.

What I Don’t Like

Not a whole lot here. I have seen a couple of times when it got hot, and I wonder if it is too tuned to keep the fans low. It would be nice to easily tweak them to spin up a little more in some cases.

The price.

This one would not be an issue if the M1 didn’t exist. Even as expensive as they are, the Pro and Max represent plenty of value. In the pre-Apple Silicon days, my wife and I were pricing new MacBooks. Each one would have cost almost what it cost us to get both a 13-inch M1 for her AND the 14-inch for me. This was due to the higher memory, discrete GPU, etc., and it would have required the 16-inch since the power wasn’t available in the 13-inch.

Looking at it another way, Apple has compared the M1 Max’s video editing capabilities to a Mac Pro with the 28 Core CPU and an Afterburner card. To put this in perspective, for the price of just those upgrades, you could buy a MacBook Pro with everything except storage maxed out and have enough money left over to buy a second one. And that doesn’t even factor in the cost of the Mac Pro; that is solely the CPU upgrade ($7000) and afterburner card ($2000). By the time you include the price of the Mac Pro, you could buy 3 to 4 well-equipped MacBook Pros.

For anyone who needs the power, the new MacBook Pro represents exceptional value. So why is price a problem? As I said before, because the M1 exists. Even the M1 MacBook Air is so powerful that it will do everything most people need to do at half the price. So consider what you need from your computer and if you need to spend the additional money for the M1 Pro or Max.

One last port.

OK, I’ll be that guy. I wish there was one USB-A port. While plenty of stuff has moved on, some things are still USB-A, and oddly, many are pro-level equipment. Wireless adapters for many mice, presentation controllers, and graphics tablets are still USB-A, as are hardware licensers like the iLok and most multi-factor authentication hardware. You can use dongles, but especially for the wireless adapters that can usually be left plugged into a USB-A port, it is not an ideal situation.

Other Thoughts

The Notch. Some people loath it, some defend it, and some, like me, accept it as an annoying compromise that makes sense. It takes up a part of the screen that is usually not used to move the title bar up and provide a higher-quality webcam. These days, with the prevalence of video conferencing, webcams are a vital consideration. It could be smaller, but I am guessing (hoping?) they left space so they could add FaceID later without expanding it. Having used it for a few weeks, you usually are not looking at that part of the screen anyway, so it has not been a problem. I have seen a few reports of menus disappearing behind it, but apps do pretty well wrapping around it from what I have seen. (Based on Capture One Pro, Affinity Photo, and Xcode)

The Removal of the TouchBar.

Like the notch, I am somewhat ambivalent about the TouchBar. I don’t think it was a bad idea, but with no support for desktop keyboards, even the ones from Apple, developers had less incentive to invest in optimizing for the TouchBar, and it languished. So I don’t feel like we are losing much here, and the function keys are more stable and less likely to be inadvertently pressed.

HDMI 2.0 and UHS-II

I’ve seen some complaints about the HDMI and SD Card not supporting the newest, highest-speed versions of the protocols. UHS-III would be nice, but not much supports it now. HDMI 2.0 supports up through 4K60, and for the vast majority of uses cases, this will be completely fine. I think Apple targeted this much more for ad-hoc use, like conference rooms, shared workspaces, and so forth, that are usually not more than 4K60. Most high-end monitors will be USB-C/Thunderbolt anyways, so while the newest and fastest would always be nice, I don’t think either will be that much of a limitation in real-world use.

Battery life:

It is good, but, especially with the Max SoC, you aren’t going to get 17 hours out of it most of the time. This isn’t surprising; the battery life numbers are based on some pretty specific workloads (which Apple lists) that maximize battery life. So while I have found battery life to be very good, there have been times where I had to plug in a bit sooner than I would have expected.

No Bootcamp/Windows virtualization support:

This isn’t a problem for what I am using this computer for, but I also use a MacBook for my day job, and it may be an issue there. Hopefully, Microsoft will allow for properly licensed ARM-based Windows, but until then, there will be a bunch of Intels that are kept alive just for that purpose.

In conclusion:

If the new MacBook Pros indicate where Macs are going, the next several years will be good. They are very capable and have been designed to address the needs of people who use them to get stuff done. Almost everything users have been asking for has been addressed, and most of it is done very well. I am very happy with mine, and I am looking forward to what is coming in the future.

How about you? Have you bought one, or is it on the shopping list?

Does the new 14″ MacBook Fit in 13″ Bags?

Any time the dimensions of a device change, one if the questions is whether the existing accessories like bags or cases will still fit. I recently bought a 14″ MacBook Pro, and since I own a Think Tank BackStory 13 (which I received as a review product) I was wondering if the new MacBook would fit. While the 14″ MacBooks are a little larger than the current 13″ MacBooks, they are very close to the dimensions of the earlier Retina MacBooks, so they fit many of the bags for 13″ laptops. I have a few different ThinkTank bags, and managed to check a couple others at a local camera shop. Here is what I found:

Any of the 15″ bags should have plenty of space. The 14″ MacBook is closer in size to 13″ computers than 15″, so it fits in any of the 15″ bags I’ve tested (The MindShift BackLight 26, Retrospective 30 shoulder bag, and Retrospective Backpack 15)

BackStory 13: It fits snuggly without stretching anything. I have managed to barely fit an 11″ iPad Pro, as well, but that is getting very tight, especially with the Magic Keyboard.

Retrospective 7: The computer fits and the bag closes fine, but the computer is a bit taller than the laptop sleeve. I would use it, but the computer is maybe a little larger than planned.

Vision 13: Nothing special to note here, the MacBook fits great.

PhotoCross and Urban Access 13: I was not able to confirm these, but the size listed is similar to the Vision 13, so I would expect it to fit in either of these.

Let me know in the comments if you have tried any others, or have different experience with any of these.

Use this link when buying from Think Tank, and receive a free gift with qualifying purchase of $50 or more. (This is an affiliate link, if you purchase using it I will receive a commission)

New Gear – Tether Tools ONsite Relay For Continuous Power

Sometimes we need to run cameras longer than the stock batteries allow for. Time lapses and shooting video are just some of the activities that can benefit from a continuous power source. Most camera manufacturers have a way to provide external power to the camera, but there are drawbacks to these systems that the Tether Tools ONSite relay (formerly/also called the Case Relay) address.

For most of the systems, there are two parts, a power supply and a battery adapter. The adapter fits into the battery compartment of the camera, and provides the correct interface between the camera and the power supply. Tether Tools provides both parts of the system, although some camera systems require the use of the OEM battery adapter (check tethertools.com for compatibility information.) If you have multiple cameras, check them all to see if any have special requirements. My Nikon D610 is listed as working with the Tether Tools battery adapter, while the D850 needs the official Nikon one.

The main advantage to the ONsite system is in the power supply. Instead of being locked to a specific plug type, it uses a USB connection, so anything that provides a 5 Volt, 2 – 2.4 Amp power, including wall chargers and power banks, will work to power it. Even better, the adapter includes a battery, allowing it to be moved between power sources. For example you can switch to a new power bank without interrupting the camera. This also eliminates the concern over a power interruption, since the battery will keep the camera running for quite a while. The battery is 1200 milliamp hours, making it about two thirds the size of a stock Nikon EN-EL15 (original, a, and b at 1900 milliamp hours, or a little over half an EN-EL15C at 2280 milliamp hours.)

The OEM Nikon battery adapter and Case Relay power supply

What I like:

  • Provides constant power for video or time lapse.
  • Internal battery to to move to a fresh power bank and protects against power fluctuations.
  • USB input for maximum flexibility

What could be improved:

  • To work with Nikon and Canon OEM battery adapters, an additional adapter cable is required. I would prefer the whole camera-side cable could be replaced with a compatible one.
  • The power level of the on-board battery is only visible as a 3-color LED, it would be nice to have something a little more detailed, such as a 5-LED strip.
Adapter for the Nikon OEM Battery adapter.

Other notes:

  • The cables are rather short. This makes sense for using power banks, but you will probably need an extension if you plan to use AC power adapters. You can get a camera-side cable from Tether Tools, any standard male to female USB extension for power side, or an AC extension cord. I prefer the shorter cables, since it makes it easier to keep cables organized.
  • Make sure to check compatibility for your camera. There are some instances where specific cameras need the OEM battery adapter and others can use the Tether Tools version. If you are looking at a new Nikon or Canon camera, you probably want to err on the side of ordering the OEM adapter.

You Might Need One if:

  • You do time lapses that run up against battery limits.
  • You shoot a lot of video.
  • You use a video rig that makes it hard to access the battery.
  • You shoot weddings or other events and frequently have to change batteries.
  • You have a camera set up for YouTube, streaming, or the like that stays in one place.
  • You shoot in the cold. Not only can you use a larger power bank, it could be kept insulated or even warmed to maintain power.

You can buy one at:

Amazon*
Adorama*
Or Tethertools.com

Overall, this is a strong product, and the integrated battery is a great idea. If you are looking for a constant power system, I would recommend this over the standard manufacturer adapters.

Do you use constant power? What are your use cases? Let me know in the comments.

Looking for more gear information? Check out my post on whether high-end memory cards are really worth it.

* Affiliate links, if you purchase from this link I get a commission

Keeping track of Lensbaby Data

For anyone used to EXIF data, it can be frustrating not having lens and F-stop data from Lensbaby lenses. You can take notes, for instance in the Lensbaby Field Guide, which is great for the purpose, but taking notes can be cumbersome in the field.

My first version of lens tracking was to take a picture of the lens/optic before putting it on the camera, which gets you the information on the lens you are using but can be a little problematic since you might not have the opportunity to, or you can easily forget to, take the image before putting the lens on, and you do not get f-stop data.

My latest version is a card (well, a folded piece of paper) that lists the current (and some out of production) lenses and optics on one side, and the F-stops on the other. At any point, you can take a picture of the card with your thumb on the appropriate lens and flip it over for the f-stop (if you want to record that.) Once you import the images to your editor, you can tag them with the appropriate information (most will not let you edit the EXIF data, so I just use keywords) and delete the photos if you want.

Indicate the lens you are using, and flip the card over for the f-stop

Here is a PDF of the card, feel free to print and use it. The blank spaces can be used to add other lenses or other data you would like to add. Fold the page into thirds along the long lines first, then fold it in half. In this format it also fits perfectly in the top of my favorite case for Optic Swap optics:

The GP-2 Kit Case from the MindShift Gear Gear Pouch Bundle – Small or Medium bundles is perfect for three optics and the card (Purchase from Think Tank with this link and get a free gift with a qualifying purchase of $50 or more. Affiliate link.)

Do you have any tips you would like to share? Drop them in the comments below, and remember to use discount code WHOLDMANN at Lensbaby.com for 10% off.

No, the 58 Noct isn’t crazy

Since it was announced, the Nikon 58mm Noct lens has drawn its share of criticism. Earlier this year, Alex Coleman at Fstoppers said “Besides trying to grab headlines, I can’t figure out who this lens is aimed at.”

Well, I can tell you who (or what) it is aimed at.

Grabbing headlines.

Plenty of companies do stuff like this. Show cars, hot models of some cars that come in at prices even more ridiculous than the $8000 the Noct cost. This lens exists to prove that it can be done, and to get people talking about it. And they are talking, a lot.

Arguably the promotional value is not needed now, since the other new lenses are already getting plenty of press, but it is a headline grabbing lens, and it’s doing that job well. If I was in charge of such things, I would have announced it early, but not bothered to put it into production until near the end of the current roadmap. I am guessing that the the lens was mostly developed early on in Z-series development, so there wasn’t as much to finish on it, so it was easy enough to release relatively early.

The images I have seen from it look amazing, so it appears they did a great job on it, although I do think they should have made it autofocus.

In short, I doubt they are going to sell a ton of these, but I doubt they ever planned to. It is a lens most people don’t need, but so was the 6mm f/2.8 Fisheye, and we are still talking about that. This is a proof of concept that you can buy (Amazon or Adorama, affiliate links,) not a mass market lens. It is a lens to get people talking, and it has already been quite successful at that.

New Nikon DSLR and Lens

Nikon announced the development of the D6 (which we expected) and a 120-300 f2.8 lens, which I hadn’t seen rumored.

I am not at all surprised that they are releasing a new flagship DSLR. The target market, mainly professional sports photographers, will probably have enough mirrorless holdouts to make it worth it. From my testing of the Z 6, I would not be real fast to use EVF as a sports or other high action shooter, and the D5 autofocus is already generally accepted to be superior to the Z autofocus, and it will probably take some time to get the on-sensor PDAF to be that good. I am not knocking the Z autofocus, I was quite happy with the Z autofocus when I tried a Z 6, but I don’t shoot professional level sports, and for my use the almost complete coverage of the sensor area and video abilities more than makes up for any loss of speed.

I was a little more surprised by the new lens, since there is so much focus on the Z-Series lenses. I personally would not have been shocked to never see any new F-Mount lenses, but this one does seem to fit the sports and wildlife markets that may be more likely to stay with DSLRs for a while longer.

Are High End Memory Cards Really Worth It?

What is the difference between a $20 SD card, and a $120 UHS-II or XQD card, and are the premium cards worth the extra money? I recently got an XQD card and a Sony Tough Card, a hardened UHS-II SD card, and here’s what I found.

The cards used were (links are Amazon Affiliate):

The 3 test cards, slowest to fastest

To test the cards I am using a D850, shooting full resolution 14-bit compressed RAW files in continuous high. I was shooting high ISO to make sure the shutter speed wasn’t slowing it down, and shot the stopwatch on an iPhone. I then took the first 50 shots from each series, and compiled the times (a few times are estimates since the numbers are changing in the image). The running average is based on the current and previous 2 times.

I did not test exporting to my computer since it seemed to be limited by the speed of my external disk as much as anything.

Continue reading “Are High End Memory Cards Really Worth It?”

More shots of the Milwaukee Art Museum

D850, 24mm PC-E, Platypod MAX, 3 Legged Thing ballhead. Processing in Luminar.

Like almost anyone in Milwaukee, I love shooting at the Milwaukee Art Museum. We have a family membership, so I have more opportunities to shoot inside, too. My son and I went last week, and I set up on my Platypod MAX with a 24mm PC-E tilt/shift.

The Platypod is great for getting super-low angle shots like this. I had envisioned the blurred people, so I was shooting with a 6-stop ND filter, about .7 seconds.

The Final. Processing in Capture One Pro 12.
Reuben helping out.

This building is the gift that keeps giving. What are your go-to places to photograph? Leave it in the comments.

62 Megapixels from a Mavic

One of the features of the Mavic 2 Zoom is the Super Res mode. Super Res creates a multi-row panorama that starts at the wide end of the zoom range to compose, and when you hit the shutter button it zooms in and takes 12 images, stitching them into a panorama that covers the original field of view.

I have not used that much, since it creates a JPEG rather than a RAW file, which among other problems loses too much dynamic range. Unfortunately due to the nature of RAW, it is not really possible to save a panorama in RAW. RAW takes the data directly from the sensor and writes it to a file, and that only really works with one image.

Then, I found buried in the settings: “save originals in RAW|JPEG”

In DJI Go 4, select Camera Settings > General camera Settings > Turn on “Save original panorama”, and then select RAW. 

Eureka!

With this I am able to get access to the full dynamic range of the camera, and really high resolution. 

Super Res image, original is about 62 Megapixels
100% crop, bottom center

So far, my workflow is like this:

Import the images into Capture One (or your favorite editor), and edit one of the images. I usually pick either the image with the most of the main subject in it, or the most contrast to set black and white points.

Once you are happy with this, copy the adjustments to the remaining images. Double check them all to make sure the adjustments look alright across all the images. If any further adjustments need to be made, they need to be copied to all the images. 

I export the images as 16-bit TIFFs, which stores the most data, and gives the final panorama almost RAW-like editing options, but take up more space, so you may want to remove them after the panorama is stitched. 

For stitching, I usually start with Photoshop, which is very good about 80% of the time, and pretty much useless in the other 20%. So far the Super Res panoramas stitch well in Photoshop. 

Once the stitch is done and you are happy with it, crop the image, flatten the it, and do any final color and exposure adjustments in Adobe Camera RAW. 

The final images that I created were around 62 megapixel, since you an get a little more around the edges than the default stitching in-camera.

Having the ability to create high resolution images with reasonable dynamic range in RAW format really adds to the flexibility and value of the Mavic 2 Zoom. 

You can get the Mavic 2 Zoom from DJI or Amazon. (Affiliate links)