An Update On Computational Devices

It had been 38 days since Backblaze had seen my local hard drive to backup, but I’m very pleased to say an inherited backup state is being pushed to their servers as I write this.

After returning the 15 inch MacBook Pro, I had myself a bit of a computer crisis. I had little desire to wait another 4-6 weeks1 for a replacement machine with the risk of receiving another wobbly button, so my strategy was to buy a smaller, less expensive stock configuration from the Apple Store that I could exchange easily if necessary, hoping I could get a perfect one.2 A 13 inch MBP would tide me over until new desktops that are rumoured to be announced this Spring, at which point I would get a machine with some serious guts.

I bought a stock configuration entry level 13 inch MacBook Pro with TouchBar. The Power/Touch ID button was better, but still not great. I went back to the Apple Store the next day, exchanged it, opened that unit in the store, and got a wobbly button that was even worse.

The Apple employee suggested it was in my head–it’s not—and even tried to convince me to just keep it—I didn’t. Additional exchanges would have required manager review since officially, Apple considers play in that button to be normal,3 and I didn’t want to be the guy who goes through inventory looking for what seems to be a unicorn unit, so I decided to just return it and further explore other options.

Windows

As readers of my previous MacBook post know, for the first time ever in life, a Windows-based machine was a consideration.

I tried a Razer Blade Stealth→ a bunch at the Microsoft Store, the only place in Canada to try them, and aside from the imprecise trackpad that I intended to work around with a Razer mouse, ironically, it seemed alright. Microsoft offers a return policy twice as long as Apple’s, and this Windows thing was something I just needed to get out of my head.

Shortly after I returned the 13 inch MBP, I placed an order for a Razer Blade Stealth 4K UHD Touchscreen with Kaby4 Lake processors, 512GB of storage and 16GB of RAM with 1-3 day express shipping. The storage is slow, but replaceable, the screen is small with monstrous bezels, but its touchable and crazy, like, actually crazy, high resolution. Maybe I’d buy myself one of those Razer Cores and a GTX 1080 graphics card, join the “PC Master Race,” and, wait, what the hell was I thinking?

Before the Razer even arrived, I knew this PC thing wasn’t going to work out. This isn’t to suggest that Windows is bad, I’m just so heavily invested in Apple that switching to another platform would be a huge time-suck. Without even opening it, I took the Razer Blade Stealth to the Microsoft Store for a refund. I have to say, the entire experience outside of them missing their shipping date by a day due to weather in the U.S. was exemplary.

So what do I do? Settle for a 13 inch MBP without the TouchBar or any possibility of a wobbly button? I came close to doing that, but I was already struggling on my old 15 inch MBP with its 8GB of RAM. That GFX isn’t going to go easy on memory either, not to mention those 51.4 megapixels all but demanding a large display for viewing. No, it turns out a 13 inch laptop was never the way to go. And what if Apple hasn’t gotten their desktop shit together by Spring? A 13 inch laptop from now until November would not be pleasant for the kind of work I do.

iMac

It’s been a relatively long time since iMacs have been updated. They will probably get updated in a month or two, so I wasn’t feeling great about buying one, but I needed something right away.

iMac Upgrade?

The other thing is the luke warm reviews of Intel’s Kaby Lake desktop processors that will almost certainly be going in new iMacs. By virtually all accounts, the performance increase is minimal.

What I would get is faster M.2 storage like they have in the new MacBooks, but appears to only affect large sequential reads/writes, a 2TB storage option, up from the 1TB max they currently have, and USB-C possibly joined by all the dongles I needed for the MacBooks if they elect not to include “legacy” ports.

Apple also seems to be very interested in bumping up the average selling price of their products these days, so if the MacBooks are anything to go by, a similarly spec’d 2017 iMac is sure to cost more than 2015 units.

Refurbished To The Rescue

Apple probably has the best “refurbished” reputation in any business. It’s not fire-sale pricing, but you can save a fair bit. I ended up ordering a maxed out 27 inch 2015 iMac:

  • 4.0 GHz Quad-core Skylake Processor
  • 32GB RAM
  • 1TB Flash Storage
  • AMD Radeon R9 M395X

I added a Magic Trackpad 2, which I love, and so far I couldn’t be happier with the decision. This display is phenomenal, I can have four USB-A items connected to it while being hard wired to the internet with two Thunderbolt 2 ports and an SD card at the ready. Yes, I could have tried to buy a unit without Apple RAM and saved some money by going third party, but since I was already saving $600+ and these units come with full AppleCare available, I decided to keep things simple. Now, if anything goes wrong, it can only go straight to Apple.

I’ll probably be a little gutted if new iMacs are announced in a month or so, but I have a feeling once I check the pricing on those new units, I’ll go back to feeling alright. I really only wish I had the sense to do this sooner.

Finally, Back Up To Speed

Work on this site hasn’t stopped since December—I’ve made lots of progress on my X-T2 Review, done a Pre-Review of the GFX, updated my XF 14mm F2.8 Review, added an XF 18mm F2 Review, and I plan to get more lens reviews up soon—but now I can really kick things back into high gear, which is nice. And with a 5K display on hand, I’m ready for those GFX files.

  1. The Radeon Pro 460 was causing the most delays for Apple. That seems to have be rectified. ↩︎
  2. I need to stress (again) that my criteria is based solely on what Apple has available in their own stores. Some Power/Touch ID buttons on floor models have some play to them, but others are rock solid. If it weren’t for that last part, I probably wouldn’t be writing this. ↩︎
  3. Again, despite them having shim kits for this very button, but no matter. ↩︎
  4. It’s pronounced “cay-be” folks, not “cabbie.” Rhymes with “baby.” If Intel says otherwise, they spelled it wrong. ↩︎

Returning my 2016 MacBook Pro

Yesterday evening I handed my new 2016 MacBook Pro with TouchBar back to UPS, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do about a computer now.

My Mid 2013 MacBook Pro was showing its age. The battery would spontaneously crap out at 40% when under heavy load,1 it never seemed to like the replacement OWC Mercury Aura Pro Internal SSD,→ 2 and for all those people complaining about 16GB of RAM not being enough, try 8. Two X-Trans III images open in Photoshop with some layers meant swap city for me.

When Apple announced the 2016 MacBook Pros, I was about as underwhelmed as anyone, but I’ve been waiting and in need of a computer upgrade for too long, so I decided to pull the trigger.

And I pulled it hard.

Fastest processor, beefiest GPU, 2TB of storage, AppleCare, the works. Oh, and dongles. Gotta have some dongles. New computers are always huge, infrequent purchases for me3 that are not taken lightly.

Wobble

Out of the box, the Power/Touch ID button felt fairly loose to me, and had some side to side play. It would almost stick to my finger when using Touch ID, and “click” back into place. It felt awful and cheap. Some searching suggested this is pretty common, but I figured I would check things out for myself. I went to an Apple Store, and wobbled my finger back and forth on every Touch ID enabled MacBook they had. Some were rock solid, others had a little bit of play, but in the noisy store it was tough to hear the weird clicking sound if it existed.

I thought I might just live with it. It didn’t bug me that much, and I can be really picky with this sort of thing, but soon after I concluded there is no way in hell I should keep such an expensive machine when I know good power buttons exist.

Genius

Off I went to the Apple Store for my Genius Bar appointment where the Genius agreed the button was indeed “not seated correctly.” I asked him what my options were.

The Perils of a Custom Order

Because I had decided to give Apple more money by way of a custom built machine, he suggested I could either return it and place an order for another, or order another machine, keep the one I had until a new one arrived, and then return the first. Neither option worked for me. I didn’t want to be without a computer for another 4 weeks, nor did I want a second enormous charge on my credit card. Frustrated, and after calling Apple to confirm these were my only two options, I decided to just return it for now, and contemplate my options.

For what it’s worth, had I bought a configuration Apple carries in store, they would have swapped it for me on the spot, without issue. It’s a real shame that those who give Apple more money receive a poorer exchange experience. Apple’s support team acknowledged that too.

“Shim Kit”

Moments after leaving the Apple Store, the Genius called to inform me of one more option. This issue is so common that Apple has an official “2016 MacBook Pro shim kit” for the Power button. The Genius said he’s never actually done it before, wasn’t sure of the success rate, and it would take 3-5 business days to complete. Again though, I don’t think I should be looking at having a repair done to a brand new expensive computer that would have meant cracking it open, especially not within the return policy.

What Are My Options?

There’s a chance I’ll end up placing an order for another MacBook Pro, but I would be really concerned about getting another crappy power button, and by the time I’m ready to do that, new desktop computers from Apple could be around the corner. Realistically, it will probably be at least 4 months before a rumoured desktop would ship, so for now, I’m going to have to see if I can get by with my iOS devices, and a somewhat locked down Mid 2015 MacBook Pro from work.

There’s Really No Good Mac For Me

A new MacBook Pro is probably the most “right” for me, but it was pretty unsettling to have a new computer in front of me that I just wasn’t at all excited about. Maybe if it was flawless I would have felt better about things, but I doubt it. It’s also expensive, especially after the few tweaks you can make to a base machine.

32GB seems like the right minimum for RAM right now. 2TB of storage is what I would like. I would love a decent GPU. Can you guess where that was leading me?

PC Land

I’ve been using and loving Macs since I started college. Almost 20 years. I know my way around them very well. But all the recent reports about Apple not prioritizing the Mac or macOS and Apple’s own actions have me wondering if it’s the right platform anymore. Something like the Razer Blade Pro looks awfully enticing, for instance. The trouble there is the company is so small, it’s impossible to even try one of those machines out, and further research has lead me to believe that there are aspects to macOS and the Mac in general I would miss too much. Still, I know I’m not the only person thinking this kind of thing, and I hope that’s something Apple still cares about.

Adobe Box

Personal Computers are fast-becoming “Adobe Boxes” for me. The OS that surrounds Adobe’s apps matters less, but it still matters. It’s a shame Adobe has been relatively slow to make better use of things like “Metal” to really get their software optimized for the Mac. And it’s also a real shame that Apple seems to want to kill off business units these days. I’m not the least bit confident that applications like Final Cut and Logic won’t meet a similar fate as Aperture did.

Conclusion

Ultimately, I’ll likely end up waiting for early 2017 when it’s rumoured desktops of some kind could be announced. I’ve waited this along, another 4-6 months won’t kill me. Probably.

This has got to be the one of the worst times for photographers and creative professionals to buy Apple computers. As a fan for so many years, it really just makes me kind of sad there’s no “right” option.

Waste of Time

The last thing I’ll note is this has been an enormous waste of time for me. Getting a new computer set up, redeploying my old one, then backing up all my data before wiping the defective unit and not being able to just return it to a store was a really big pain in the ass. I lost a couple weeks worth of my free time to this whole process. Something to consider for those looking to embark upon a computer upgrade of their own.

  1. Bizarrely, it functions as expected during light tasks. I suspect this is to do with the discrete GPU. In any event, it’s working great for my wife and she’s thrilled to have a larger Retina display, coming from a 2011 MacBook Air. ↩︎
  2. This is the second product I’ve purchased from them that has had issues. In this case, waking from sleep was slow, and the login screen would flash on and off a number of times before allowing me to log in. The other was a refurbished external enclosure with a single USB3 port that was spotty at best.
  3. The last computer I bought, excluding iPads, was an Early 2011 17 inch MacBook Pro with an anti-glare matte display, obviously. I maxed the RAM and GPU out on that thing, got a 256GB SSD which was pretty big money at the time, and promptly ripped the optical drive out in favour of an OWC Data Doubler→—an OWC product I really like—and a nice big spinning platter HDD for my media. To this day, that and my 2008 MacPro are the best Apple computers I’ve ever had.

FujiCloud

Now that I’ve had a couple days to consider Apple’s WWDC announcements, I put together some thoughts on how they will, or could, impact us as Fuji photographers. Perhaps the initial response is one of dread, doom, and gloom. Yes, Apple is opening up the iPhone’s camera API to allow for manual control, but as I’ve stated elsewhere on the internet, we are a long, long way from a smartphone becoming my primary camera. I use my iPhone for photography when it’s all I have or for less important images like pictures of prices and dimensions of furniture or images headed directly to one social network or another. Smartphones are perfectly capable of producing great images, but I don’t enjoy using them as a camera, and will always have that nagging feeling that the image could be better if shot with a proper camera.

 
 

The things I think will be interesting for Fuji shooters are Apple’s cloud offerings, and the potential for Fujifilm within their app. With the iCloud Photo Library and iCloud Drive announcements, even more people could switch over to using an iPad as their primary photo management and editing platform, complete with remote backup of all your photos.

Initially this might mean shooting JPEG as iPads and RAFs don’t exactly play well together where editing is concerned.1 Even that might be ok—since switching over to Fujifilm, I’ve been shooting JPEG a lot more—but this is where Fuji needs to step in. What’s stopping them from giving their iOS app the ability to process RAF files the same way their cameras do? In fact, now that I think of it, why doesn’t it already?2 Fuji could also conceivably let users shoot “tethered” wirelessly to an iPhone or iPad. JPEGs get pushed merrily along, complete with GPS coordinates to the Photos app and then to the cloud, RAFs sit in the app waiting to be processed out to JPEGs. RAFs could also be stored on your iCloud Drive,3 or deleted when you’re done editing or your device runs out of space. Making use of extensions, our photos will gain access to VSCO filters via their iOS app which is considerably more affordable than their desktop alternative. That’s just one example of photo-editing.

Even if the idea of using an iPad exclusively doesn’t sound appealling, iCloud Drive offers some great potential features. Go on vacation, shoot for a day, then copy all your photos to your iPad. They’ll be backed up, and waiting for you to edit back home on your Mac.

In short, I hope Fuji have their devs working hard on adding as many iOS 8/Yosemite/iCloud features as possible, as soon as possible. Getting my photos onto my iDevice needs to be even faster and easier than it is now. There are too many hoops to jump through, too much back and forth connecting, reconnecting. I want to open my Fujifilm app, select my camera, and start mucking with images. I want to edit on my devices with real Fujifilm X-Trans demosaicing algorithms and Lens Modulation Optimizers.4 This, in my opinion, is how Fuji will come away from the smartphone camera slaughter as unscathed as possible, and ahead of their competition. By embracing it.

  1. There should be no trouble storing RAF files on your device, and iCloud via Fujifilm’s app.
  2. Manually processing photos in-camera is not fun.
  3. At $3.99/month for 200GB, this is a decent-sized photo library and isn’t a bad price for a remote backup of all of it. Now if only Fuji offered lossless compression of their RAF format.
  4. Not Adobe’s reverse-engineered Camera profiles.