The NHL is back. Now what?

The NHL and the Players Association finally got it figured out and the lockout is over and hockey is returning. Best guess is that we’ll see NHL games in about two weeks, and it’ll be a 48 or 50 game season.

Do we care?

More importantly, now what?

The good news: it’s a ten year deal, which can be re-opened after eight years by either side. So we have a while before we have to worry about another round of this labor stupidity.

The better news: The hardline owners who pushed the labor agenda that led to this long lockout and will not likely still be driving the owner bus the next time we have to deal with a CBA. And at his age, it’s unlikely Gary Bettman will be commissioner as well. That makes me hope that whenever the league rolls down this path again, different voices and attitudes will be in charge.

It has to be noted that whatever good Gary Bettman has done for the game of hockey — and he’s done a lot of good — his legacy will be the lockouts. And that under his watch, around 10% of the scheduled games weren’t played due to labor strife. And that twice he forced stoppages on the game and wrangled significant concessions out of the players — only to have to come back the next time the CBA went up for negotiation and do it again. So his legacy isn’t about how the game grew under his watch, it’s how he repeatedly forced the players into deals that were primarily dictated to them by the owners — and those deals didn’t solve the financial issues where were intended to solve, especially with the smaller market teams. 

So when I see the end of the lockout, I have no confidence that this agreement will actually solve those problems, either. And no confidence that in a decade, we won’t be headed right down this path again. And that’s why I think the biggest win of this labor agreement is the length of it, because it means when this agreement expires, different leaders (not just Bettman, but Jeremy Jacobs also needs to — transition — out of the game) will be in place, and hopefully, they’ll have different attitudes that will make the process less painful and confrontational. My hope is that by the time this all becomes a problem again, the rest of the league will have seen the change we saw when the Blackhawks shifted from Bill to Rocky Wirtz. God knows, the league needs it. 

With that off my chest, I think the deal they’ve come to makes sense. Neither side really wins here, but the players definitely had to give up some significant benefits. The revenue split is in line with NFL and NBA splits. I think the variance limits and length of contract limits are necessary and good for the game, but not for elite players. The reduced revenue going to players will likely further hurt the journeyman player, but they take it in the shorts no matter what. The elite players will still get really rich, but the middle guard is going to find it harder to stretch their career.

Overall, I’m mostly happy this is over so that we can have a meaningless limited season like we did in 94-95, because it’ll give the fans time to get their anger out and get over it, and let everyone start off NEXT season thinking about hockey. This season will be about limiting financial losses for the team and players, getting some income out to the stadium people and the local businesses sideswiped by this, and rebuilding the bridges burnt and healing the emotions and getting past the anger this has all caused. It’ll be nice to have hockey back, but it’ll be hard to care about it.

I’ve just seen too much of this to get too upset; business is business (and NHL hockey isn’t a game, it’s a big business based on a game). At this point? Until the NHL convinces me they’ve actually fixed some of the core problems with this agreement, I’m just going to expect more of the same down the road. And my take: the poor teams will be less hurting, but this deal doesn’t have the revenue sharing from the best off teams needed to make them fully whole. But it’s a step in the right direction. 

And now the NHL players who’ve scattered will scamper back to their teams, opening up roster spots they took from other players in other leagues for the duration, and generally wreaking havoc on leagues worldwide as they scramble to fix their rosters. The league tries to build a schedule, the teams try to fire up all of the pieces that we don’t think about that are needed to get teams on the ice and playing.

Sports writers will write all sorts of things about fans staying away and sponsors and money and all of that. Fact is, by this time next year, the sponsor problems will be solved, the fans will be past it, and except for a few hard cores wearing protest T-shirts in the cheap seats or who are writing their protest blogs, things will be basically back to normal and moving forward again.

So it goes.

Here in the household, Laurie is planning her spring training trip. I’m planning my spring photography. We’re watching NFL playoffs and Top Gear. I’ve kinda missed hockey, but less the NHL ought to feel comfortable about. I can honestly say I won’t go to a game this shortened season, the NHL can live without me for the year, but more because I’ve already planned around them, not because I’m protesting. We’ll see what I think next year when next year happens.

Hockey is back. Yay, I guess.  

Posted in Sports - Hockey

Canon 70-200 F2.8L IS vs IS II, plus bonus on 600mm F/8 Option

About this time last year I made a significant upgrade to my camera bag, retiring my trusty 100-400 and switching to a 300F4+1.4x teleconverter as my go-to birding lens, while upgrading my other lenses to “L” class glass with a 24-105F4 and a 70-200F2.8 IS. I decided at that time to buy the older IS instead of the newer, sharper 70-200F2.8L IS II. My testing showed that the 70-200 IS with the 2.0x teleconverter (the Canon II model) wasn’t sharp enough to use together to replace the 100-400, but I was quite happy with the 300F4+1.4x combo.

Over this past year, I decided I’d made a mistake in choosing this lens combo. The 70-200IS is a great lens, don’t get me wrong. But by not picking up the IS II, I was forcing myself to carry three lenses — 24x105F4, 70-200F2.8, and the 300F4, plus a 1.4x teleconverter. The problem: these are NOT small lenses. That’s a fair hunk of bulk and weight to schlep around. In case you’re curious, that’s 1.5 pounds, 3 and 2.6 pounds respectively.

I had an opportunity to fix this in the last few weeks and did, picking up the 70-200F2.8L ISII and a new 2.0x III teleconverter. While down in SoCal for Christmas, laurie and I went out for a bit and I used it as an excuse to do some quick field tests to compare the sharpness of the two lenses.

All images shows are 100% blowups grabbed out off the screen while displayed in Lightroom. All have had zero (none!) processing. no sharpening, no adjustments of any kind. These are straight out of the camera as raw images, loaded into Lightroom and zoomed 1:1 so we can pixel peep a bit. All were taken under the same conditions on a 7D with the same camera settings in Aperture mode.

This first image is from the 300F4+1.4x combo, to give you an idea of what my existing lens produced. You can see some detail in the feathering of the green-winged teal to the right, and the water isn’t showing any nasty artifacts or noise.

LightroomScreenSnapz005

First test: seagull portrait

A nearby seagull sat and modeled for me. The first image is the IS plus 2.0x. The second image is the ISII.

LightroomScreenSnapz009

LightroomScreenSnapz009

There is a lot more detail in the new image. That, in a microcosm, is why the ISII is worth the extra money over the older model. And remember, we’re looking at a 100% pixel peep here. Overall, I’d say the ISII is showing itself a bit warmer of a  lens. The noise in the sky is about the same if you ask me.

Second test: looking at textures

A second comparison. Look at the american wigeon (on the left, partially off-screen in the second image) and the cinnamon teal (the red bird, of course). Compare the sharpness of the eye on the wigeon in the first image to the eye of the teal in the second. take a look at the relative lack of texture on the bird’s bodies with the older lens, and how much more you see with the second. Again, the IS II seems to be a touch warmer.

LightroomScreenSnapz008

LightroomScreenSnapz007

There’s a very distinct difference in clarity between the two lenses. What isn’t here is that my tests a year ago were done with the 2X teleconverter model II, and this year I’m using the model III. I’m working from memory on this, but the IS+2.0xIII is a lot sharper than the IS+2.0xII was, enough so that I have to suggest that anyone using the older teleconverter consider renting the newer model and running a test — you may well find it a worthy upgrade.

If you want to see this lens in action, my first “real” shots with it were when Laurie and I went down and visited the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery a few days ago near Hearst Castle.

What does this change mean? It means I can remove two and a half pounds out of my camera bag (my back thanks me). It also means I’m going back to using a zoom for my wildlife/bird lens instead of fixed prime. While working with far-off critters a prime combo is fine 90% of the time, that other 10% of the time you end up scrambling to not clip a wing or to keep the animal in the frame, or just to find a way to take a wider angle shot. Because of that, the reality I found was that I was doing a lot more two-body shooting, putting the 70-200 on my T3i to cover the need for those wider angles; and when you do that, and you want to get really wide for environmental shots, you find yourself juggling that third lens again. Unless the weather is bad or it’s dusty and windy and you say bugger it, because you don’t want to contaminate your sensor…

Which is why I like the 2 body, two lens approach. And in my case, what I end up with is the 24-105 on one body (usually my T3i unless I’m primarily shooting landscapes instead of critters), and the 70-200+2.0x on the 7d for an effective range of 140-400. I can live with a gap between 105 and 140 happily.

By the way, I now have a 70-200F2.8L IS USM in really good shape available, if someone wants to make an offer. drop me a note.

Bonus: 600mm f8 tests

Of course, as a bird and critter photographer, the answer to “how long a lens do you need?” is always “dammit, I need more!” — sometimes. Enough that I don’t know of a bird photographer who can say “my lenses are just perfect” with a straight face. Art Morris had done a blog posting about how you can get past the “autofocus only goes to F5.6 on canon bodies” limit — if you use the Kenko teleconverters. For some technical reason, they go to F8 with autofocus.

I couldn’t help myself. I’ve been really, really trying to convince myself I could buy a 500mm lens (and failing, at least for now), because sometimes, 400mm just isn’t enough. So I grabbed myself the Kenko 2.0x teleconverter and slapped it on the 300F4 and decided to see what happened.

What happened was I was now the owner of a 600mm F8 prime lens that you can buy new on Amazon for under $1500.

And it autofocuses.

Back to the pixel peeping.

LightroomScreenSnapz004

LightroomScreenSnapz006

LightroomScreenSnapz011

I’m actually rather impressed with the sharpness of those images, to be honest. I didn’t expect that. All of those images are hand-held, by the way, including that gull flight shot which was point-focus-click-pray. NOT bad.

That said….

In admittedly limited testing, the combo has some challenges. The autofocus works. Except when it doesn’t. It will at times seek and fail. It does seem to AF poorly in poor light or with subjects without good contrast. The AF is butt slow. None of this surprised me.

But when the Autofocus works? it’s spot on, and you get a very good picture. But is the autofocus reliable enough that I want to depend on it in the field?

I don’t know yet. That will require more testing, to get a feel just when it’s usable and when it isn’t. I’d rather crop a 400mm image and know I’ll have it than shoot with the 600mm and end up with a blurry mess.

Also, look closely at those images compared to the above tests. This lens combo is coming in hot — exposure is about 2/3 to a full stop faster than the other lens, and that’s using the same body set with the same settings. That implies that if I want to use this lens I’m going to need to do some in camera exposure compensation or images are going to blow out. Not a huge deal — unless you’re in the field in a hurry and swapping lenses in a rush and forget, and… And while the above images are fixable in Lightroom, will that be true all of the time?

This combo requires a lot more testing before I decide whether I’ll trust it. And decide whether it deserves to add 3 freaking pounds to my camera bag. For now, it’ll go into a lens bad and live in the car, and I’ll pull it out on a situational basis. I think it has potential, and since a 600mm USABLE lens combo with autofocus for $1500 is going to be of interest to some folks, I thought I’d post some initial notes on it. It might be something you want to explore as well.

If I were going to be carrying the 300mm around anyway, adding the kenko 2.0x to the bag would be a no-brainer. But since the 70-200 IS II is replacing that lens, it’s not as easy a decision. And if you don’t already have the 300mm lens handy, honestly, for that money you’re probably better off with the Sigma 50-500 and a bit of a crop in post-processing. And don’t forget you could also slap a Kenko 1.4x on a 400mmF5.6 and get close to that 600mmF8 as well.

But heck, it never hurts to explore your options. Hopefully, this helps you see whether these options might work for you…

 

Posted in Photography

Risk Aversion

Risk Aversion | Cap Watkins:

Was having an interesting conversation this morning with Om and Hunter about the recent firing of Richard Williamson from Apple over the Maps debacle. Hunter posed a question that, in hindsight, seems like such an obvious one to ask:

How does that make rest of co feel? Enforces ‘only ship quality’ or makes people risk averse?

It depends greatly on why he was fired. We don’t know for sure, since we aren’t there, but was he fired because the maps software was seriously flawed?

Or was he fired because he lied to his bosses about the quality of the maps software, or misled them about the status?

I’m willing to bet, from my time working at Mama Fruit and dealing with Eddy and his teams, that the latter has a big part to do with this firing. 

If you think about the reality of shipping something like IOS and the Maps software, it’s tightly integrated with the entire OS, so it’s not the sort of thing you can simply decide to not ship and stick the Google Maps back in. This isn’t the podcasts app, it’s a key, low-level part of the operating system. So if you think of this beast from a view of project management, the “go/no-go” on including maps was a year or so ago (or further), and after that, the train has left the station. If you don’t ship the maps stuff, it means you don’t ship IOS6. And if you don’t ship IOS6, it means you aren’t shipping iPhone 5. (the whole “why they had no choice but to ship Maps as they were” would be its own blog post…)

And that’s really bad. 

So you’re shipping. After that, it becomes a question of how you manage the situation. Do you keep everyone aware of the problems and work with all of the involved teams (marketing, etc) to set the right expectations? Or do you tell everyone it’s going to be great, craft a demo that avoids the problems and makes it all look perfect, and hope to god you get the bugs wrangled before anyone finds them?

One of the mis-steps of the IOS6 announcement to me in light of how Maps turned out in reality was the disconnect between how Apple sold it to us, and how it really worked day 1. That mistake was completely avoidable. Apple could have positioned the Maps software in a very different but positive way, acknlowedged the flaws and that they needed the users to help them identify and fix things — turn this into almost a game, give away store coupons for being the first to find problems. And said up front that there were going to be hiccups, but that in the long-term, this switch made the birthing pains worth it and everyone would benefit in time. 

The situation could have been completely defused. Instead, they way oversold Maps as awesome, and set themselves up for the face plant. 

Why? I kept going back to my view that if Apple management knew they were going to have to ship a buggy maps app, they wouldn’t have bugled how wonderful it was. But what if the real problems were hidden from them? What if the maps team hid the real problems? Crafted great demos and told everyone things were fine?

Then the rest of the teams wouldn’t know they were stepping on a landmine until it went off. 

And if you’re responsible for managing that fiasco up to your management and to the other teams relying on you? 

Well, you deserve your walking papers. 

Not saying that’s what happened here, but — it sure seems like a reasonable scenario based on my time there. And it sure seems a lot more rational than Apple knowing the Maps stuff was going to suck Day 1 and still selling the hell out of it at the announcement. I keep thinking that if Tim Cook knew the tool was going to be iffy on initial ship, he would have handled the announcement differently. 

So perhaps he didn’t know. And perhaps now, some heads are going on up pikes. Not for the software being bad, but for hiding it from the bosses…

And to tie that back to the original question, if he was fired for misleading the company about the quality of Maps, then frankly, most of Apple is probably cheering this (probably quietly). That’d be a good thing and a strong message to be sent through the company.

Sometimes, software doesn’t come together as fast or as well as you hope (I know, most of you are going “duh!” right now). That’s something that we all understand, and we can deal with in some way or another. Like, oh, not making it the focal point of the announcement keynote. 

But lying about it or hiding the problems so those you work with get sideswiped?

If there’s one thing bosses and co-workers hate, it’s unpleasant surprises. 

 

Posted in Computers and Technology, Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area