After writing a blog just a few weeks ago about contemplating getting a new camera I settled on one that was not even on my list. Or even on my radar. That’s because it’s not actually a camera like the others I was looking at. It’s a smartphone. Except it’s not when I don’t have any phone service with it. I ended up buying an unlocked Amazon Fire phone.
First off I only have a dumb phone. Since I work from my home studio that has an old fashioned land line I don’t have a huge need for a cell phone. So I have a pay-as-you-go dumb phone that costs me a hundred and twenty five dollars a year. That’s fine for how much I use it. I don’t want the sixty dollar a month bill that comes with a smart phone. I wasn’t even considering getting one except then Amazon put their’s on sale.
Normally an Amazon 32GB unlocked Fire phone goes for $450. Unlocked means that it comes with no phone service and you have to arrange for your own if you want the phone part to work. Otherwise it has wifi capabilities and is basically an iPod touch. Since I didn’t want the phone part I might as well have spent the $450 on an iPod touch. But then Amazon put the phone on sale for $200 and that caught my eye. Especially since I’m an Amazon Prime member which costs $100 a year and the phone comes with a free year of Amazon Prime. Since I was going to renew my Prime membership anyway early next year that meant the price of the phone would be $100 for me. Not a bad deal I thought. Then Amazon raised the price back up to $450 before I pulled the trigger and I abandoned the whole idea. Of course a few days later they lowered the price down to $230 and I decided to get it. So I missed out on the $30 less price tag. Oh well…
I wantedt the Fire phone to use as a pocket camera that works well with wifi and the cloud and to use as a music player. So far I like the camera aspects of it but not the music player. I have an iPad 2 that I use all the time to edit and share photos on. I have quite a few photo editing apps and like to post stuff to Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook from it. The only problem is that the iPad 2 has a terrible camera. It’s only two megapixels or so. The camera actually has less resolution than the screen. That’s insane. So I’m always transferring photos from my camera to my computer to the iPad. That’s a bit of a pain and doesn’t encourage the spontaneity that’s usually comes with Instagram and sharing sites in general.
I’m not sure what the exact megapixel count is on the Fire phone but I think it was around eleven. In general it’s an okay but not great camera. It’s nowhere near as good as my other pocket camera the Canon S95 but it’s leagues ahead of my iPad 2’s camera. It’s easier to carry than the Canon and fires up and is ready to take pictures faster than the Canon. But I’ve really liked it because it works well with the cloud.
I like to post photos of my art work in progress to the various social sites. I like to edit those photos and access those sites on my iPad 2. I don’t want to bother doing that on the little screen of a smart phone. But I’ll take the pictures on the smart phone. The LCD screen on a smart phone is bigger than the LCD on my Canon. Or any of my digital cameras. I grab a drawing, aim the phone’s camera at it, snap a picture, and then as long as I’m on wifi the camera automatically upload the photos to the Amazon cloud. I can then turn in my iPad 2, fire up the Amazon cloud app, and view and download the photos to my iPad 2. It’s pretty darn seamless. I’ve posted a lot more spontaneous photos of my works in progress this week than before the Fire phone. That makes me happy.
Other than the photos I’ve found the way things work on the Fire phone pretty clumsy. Though I’m an Apple guy I’ve never been a huge fan of iTunes since the app is basically a kludge that’s jury rigged to do a lot of stuff it wasn’t originally intended to do. But trying to do all that stuff without a dedicated app is a nightmare. Trying to get music on to my phone is complicated and I haven’t even got it to work properly yet.
I’m a make-your-own-playlist guy. I have about forty playlists that are all about an hour and twenty minutes each that I listen to when I’m out. I’ve programed my own music so I don’t need a radio station to do it for me. I even took all the mp3s on my playlists, copied them, and changed the metadata so that the playlist name is now the album name. If I’m ever on a new computer I can drop my copies on it and my playlists are intact even without them being actual playlists. Not with Amazon.
To get my music onto the Fire phone I first have to upload it to the cloud. There is no music manager software on the Mac for Amazon so all I can do is chose my files and upload. So thats what I did. I chose my first playlist that I have set up as an album. But then as they are uploading Amazon’s software tries to recognize the songs and matches them with their version that doesn’t have my version’s metadata. So they’re not in my order anymore. Instead they’re random songs from Amazon’s library. Even the ones that it kept my metadata on it somehow messed up. My songs that all come from the same album now come from six different albums that have the exact same name. It’s crazy. But then it gets crazier.
I finally discovered that the Amazon Cloud music interface was better on my iPad 2 than on the Fire phone. I figured I’d try to reproduce my playlist by creating a new playlist in the Amazon Cloud and dropping the songs on it. Except now all my songs weren’t there. I had a playlist with twenty one songs on it but only nineteen songs were in the cloud. Using the search function brought up no results for the songs. I went back to my Mac to re-upload the songs but it said they were already uploaded. But where where they? Who knows? I still haven’t figured that part out yet.
I’m glad I got the Fire phone overall. It wasn’t too expensive and works really well as a small cloud connected camera. Maybe with a little more work I can get it to work as a music player too. Until then my first generation iPod touch isn’t retired.
I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got nine new comics plus a TPB.
Check them all out here:
It’s all about habit. That’s what I have to say this morning. Writing habit. Or lack there of. I’ve been trying to get some more of my “Message Tee” strips written lately and have not been meeting with much success. All because of habit I’m guessing.
I haven’t even been trying to get more “Message Tee” drawings made. My original plan for the comic was to make it less about the drawings and more about they sayings on their shirts. I was already making new strips six days a week and adding a seventh day was a bit daunting. So I decided to do fifty two drawings, one for each Saturday in a year, and then recolor and reuse the drawing over for the next year. That was in 2011. But then in 2012 I decided I wanted to do fifty two more drawings and have a hundred and four of them to rotate. The same happened in 2013. I finally ran out of steam in 2014 and didn’t do any new “Message Tee” drawings. No explanation. I just didn’t have it in me to make another fifty two drawings this year. But on the bright side I ended up with a hundred and fifty six drawings rather than my originally planned fifty two.
I also had a rather different way of writing this particular comic too. I wrote it while on nice summer walks. I’d grab a small notebook, go for a walk, and then stop every ten or twenty yards to write down an idea for a message. I could knock out ten or twenty ideas in a walk and over a month or so of time have enough ideas (I write at least twice as many as I need and then pick the ones I like best) for a year’s worth of “Message Tee” strips. The system worked well. Until it didn’t. This year, for some reason, I took fewer walks and didn’t feel like writing as I took them. Before I knew it fall came around and I had nothing written. Whoops.
My solution to this problem of having not written anything on my walks was to sit down (or stand up) and write some comics. That seemed pretty darn logical to me but then a strange thing happened. Nothing come out. It wasn’t writer’s block or anything. I still found things to write about on this blog plus wrote a “Four Talking Boxes” strip every day but I had nothing for “Message Tee”. I’d set aside some time but get no closer to writing anything. It was weird and I think it was all about habit. I had a completely different habit for writing “Message Tee” and my normal writing habits wouldn’t do. My solution was to change the habit altogether.
I managed to make it down to Manhattan a few times this summer to take street photos. I take a train to get there. Two trains. One from Nanuet to Secaucus Junction and another from SJ to Penn Station in Manhattan. That’s about an hour on the train plus time spent waiting for trains. This summer I spent that time reading a magazine. I saved my monthly issue of “The Sun” magazine for those trips and reading it took up about the whole of the getting there and back time. It was a nice little habit but this time I decided to switch it up and write.
I got my same little notebook (a Moleskine “The notebook for people with more money than sense”) that I used to take with me on walks and took it on the train. It was interesting writng on the train. First off my little short “Message Tee” messages take a different sort of writing than normal. Or at least a different sort on concentration. With something like this blog or one of my “Four Talking Boxes” strips I have to concentrate for an extended period. Maybe ten or fifteen minutes of concentration and then a few minutes break and then back to concentrating. Repeat for as long as needed. With the “Message Tee” comic I stare off into space/look out the window for anywhere from thirty seconds to five minutes, come up with a saying, and write it down in my notebook. Writing in the notebook usually means rewriting too in that the form it first takes in my head usually changes as I try to make the wording just so.
Sometimes the ideas come fast and furious and sometimes it takes the full five minutes for me to write down something I’m not even happy with. I found that to be one of the keys for me to write “Message Tee”. I write down an idea even if I don’t like it just to get it out of the way. And who knows? I may find a way to make it work at some later date. I finished about half of the writing I needed to get done on that train trip so now I just have to get the other half done and I’ll be golden. I’ve already recolored the fifty two comics from 2011 and they’re all good to go once I get new messages on their shirts. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even draw some new ones next year.
Here is one final observation from my train ride that I’ve always taken for granted and never thought about until writing on the train. As I wrote before my process involves staring off into space and thinking (or trying to think) and as I do that I look around or out the window. When I walked and wrote I was always looking around at the scenery on my walk. I’d, of course, nod and say hello to any stranger that happened to pass me because that’s the polite thing to do out in the suburbs. Now here I was writing on the train where it was impolite to talk to a stranger or even look at them. I had to look around without looking at anybody. In Manhattan you pass a million people on the street and everybody has to ignore one and other. That’s nothing new and probably a good thing since you can’t say hello to a million people as you walk the streets but the contrast really struck me as I was trying to write. Now I have to find time to get the other half done.
I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got thirteen new comics.
Check them all out here:
I finally stared working in video a bit this year. I’ve been meaning to for ages and finally did thanks to YouTube and comic book haul videos. I know they’re not much but they’re an intro to the form. I also made a couple of four minute videos set to music this summer but they are much more time consuming to make. Plus they get far fewer views on YouTube so I’ll have to revisit what I do with those. I’ll have to find a way to make them more interesting for me and the viewer.
Being a gadget guy I’ve been thinking lately about what cameras I have to shoot with and if I need any new ones. My general philosophy has been to “Shoot with what you got”. I’ve seen too many people never do anything because they don’t have the perfect equipment. Y’know, as soon as they get this doodad or that gizmo they’ll get started and they never get those gizmos so they never start. Just use whatever you have even if it’s inferior to your ideal.
The first thing I shoot with is my iPad. That works well for my Comic Book Haul videos. I plop it on a tripod, point it at my easel, and put the comics I want to film on my easel. Works fine. The mic is good too. Or I should say that the mic is good when I’m right on top of it. Since I’m sitting behind the iPad and handling the comics that means the microphone in very close to my mouth and it picks up my voice well rather than the sound of the room.
The other camera that I use is my Canon S95. It’s a small camera that I put on a small tripod to record my ASMR drawing videos. I’m not talking during those videos and the camera mic does a nice job at picking up the sound of the pencil or pen on paper as I’m drawing. It’s only inches away from the paper so it better do a good job.
The problem I had was when I turned the camera on myself to talk for some heads-up comic book videos. First off I tried my laptop. It has the typical built-in iSight camera and everybody else on YouTube seems to use their laptop webcams to make videos fairly easily so I thought I would too. It didn’t work out so well. First off I have bad lighting for filming in my studio. I have a couple of glaringly bright fluorescent tubes on my ceiling. Great for working under but no so great for filming under. I knew that was going to be a problem and it was. But I moved a few things around and waited for some natural light and it was okay.
I tested out the video on the laptop and it looked alright but the sound wasn’t very good. The mic picked up the room sounds and my voice sounded weak and hollow. Pretty typical stuff for a laptop mic in a room. I muddled through and filmed about ten minutes of video when I noticed the spinning beach ball cursor that means things aren’t right. The video capture program had crashed and left me without any video. That made me abandon the laptop approach and go back to my iPad.
I have an iPad 2 that is getting a bit long in the tooth these days but it’s still a nice little machine. I was able to talk for fifteen minutes on video with no crashes and no problems. With my Comic Book Haul videos I film them on my iPad in little one minute segments. I talk for about a minute for each comic and then quickly edit them together in iMovie for the iPad and upload right from the iPad to YouTube. It’s amazing how smoothly that all works. But with the heads up video I ran into the same microphone problem. It all sounds hollow when I’m not right on top of the mic.
These are typical mic problems and there are typical mic solutions to them that usually involve buying a better microphone and keeping it closer to you mouth. This line of thinking, of course, always leads me down the path of evaluating all of my equipment. I have the money right now to replace one of my things but which one? The iPad is the most expensive but would it give me the most bang for my buck? Probably not. My iPad 2 has a terrible still camera and I’d like an iPad with a better one but I’m not sure that’s worth the $800 bucks I’d spend to get it. And for video it’ll be about the same. I’m not lying. I want a new iPad. I just don’t think it’s worth the money right now.
My small Canon camera is just fine. It works well for filming my drawing videos so I don’t really need another small camera. It’s my Canon SX30IS super zoom that might need replacing. I bought that camera back in October of 2010 and it was supposed to be a sort of stop gap camera until I decided if I wanted to get a digital SLR or micro 4/3s camera. Turns out that I really didn’t need either and the Canon SX30IS suited me just fine. I shot with what I had. Though one of the things that camera is missing is a microphone jack. So if I shoot video with it I get a lot of room noise. Or wind noise if I’m outside as I shot with it this past summer.
All that lead me to check out various digital SLR or micro 4/3s cameras once again. Turns out that though those two types of cameras offer a lot of advantages they’re still too expensive for what they’ll offer me that I think I’ll actually use. I’m going to settle for another super-zoom. The latest Canon SX60 even has the mic jack that I’m looking for. I’ve noticed that those high end super-zooms often get mediocre reviews but I’ve muddled through with my Canon SX30 quite well. I have no doubt I will do the same with the SX60. Meanwhile I’ve actually bought a USB microphone this week. I caught a nice one on sale at Amazon yesterday and decided to order it. Not quite spur of the moment but almost. Since it’s USB it won’t be able to plug into a camera but it turns out than I can get a camera mic for only about $25 bucks. I don’t know how great it’ll be but we’ll see. Maybe. I still haven’t decided yet. Meanwhile I’ll continue to shoot with what I got.