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    Living with Photography: Testing Sigma's $950 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens

    For the past month, I've been testing the new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG DSM lens. Announced at the very beginning of the year and shown off at CES, it's been one of the best reviewed full-frame lenses released this year, and is the highly-anticipated successor to Sigma's 50mm f/1.4 EX lens released in 2008. That prime lens, if you recall, was the first lens I bought with my DSLR, the Canon 6D. It served as my primary lens for several months before I saved enough for some Canon zoom lenses. As I explained way back in Feb 2013, I opted to buy Sigma's f/1.4 over Canon's f/1.4 as my 50mm prime because it was just a better lens--more elements (8 vs 7) and more diaphragm blades (9 rounded vs 8) for sharper photos wide open and better bokeh, respectively. The tradeoffs were that at the time, the Sigma 50mm was $150 more than Canon counterpart, and weighed more as well. I thought it was worth it.

    Jump forward to almost two years later and I actually rarely break out the 50mm anymore. For convention photography and events shoots for Tested, I keep my Canon 24-70m f/2.8 on the camera 90% of the time. The versatility of the 24-70mm range is too convenient, and I found that the most I would close down to on a prime is f/2.0--the depth of field at f/1.4 is a little too shallow for my taste. When I do need the sharpness and wide aperture of a prime lens, I borrow Adam's Canon 35mm. What I end up using the Sigma 50mm for are macro photos (eg. for sixth-scale figures), with a Fotodiox macro adapter attached.

    But Sigma's new 50mm lens intrigued me. Instead of trying to be the best lens for the price, it follows along the path of Sigma's previous 50mm lens of trying to achieve the best image quality possible, no expense spared. On paper, that's a line of thinking that appeals to me: why not allow users to spend the extra money for the best product possible? Just as I didn't mind the 2008-model Sigma 50mm f/1.4 costing and weighing more than Canon's 50mm f/1.4, I figured I would embrace the new lens, even with its $950 price and 60% weight increase (815g vs 505g). Yeah, this single 50mm weighs as much as my all-purpose 24-70mm zoom.

    Let's start with where this lens shines.

    The Best Projector Screen Today

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    The Best Projector Screen for most people is the $200 Silver Ticket 100”, which I found after spending 90 hours building (or painting) screens, watching movies and TV, taking measurements, and comparing them side-by-side. The Silver Ticket is easy to assemble, available in a variety of sizes, and has a surface that is relatively neutral. There are screens that are better, or cheaper, but none offer the balance and value the Silver Ticket does.

    How We Decided

    We set out to review 100-inch, 16:9 screens, with as close to 1.0 gain as possible (reflecting the same amount of light that hits the screen). This is a good-sized, “average” screen that works for most people. You can go larger, though the image will be dimmer. As almost any modern projector can create a bright image on a 100-inch screen, a gain of 1.0 is fine.

    To test the contenders, every screen was built and tested in my home theater room. I used an Epson 5020UBe projector combined with a Lumagen Radiance 2021 video processor to make the projector as accurate as possible. Using a spectrometer and a colorimeter I measured the images off the lens, then off the screen, to see how much of a color shift each screen introduced and calculate the actual gain. I watched a variety of things on each screen to look for sparkles, hotspots, texture, or other issues.

    Google Play App Roundup: Kingdom Rush Origins, Sleep Better, and The Banner Saga

    If you're going to be supporting app development on Android (and you should), you might as well pay for the best content you can. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is all about. This is where you can come every week to find out what's new and cool on Android. Just follow the links to the Play Store.

    This week the king of tower defense returns, you get to sleep better (maybe), and probably the prettiest game ever on Android.

    Sleep Better

    Runtastic is known for, as its name implies, running-oriented apps. However, the developer's newest app has nothing to do with running. Quite the opposite, in fact. Sleep Better is a sleep tracking app that uses your phone's accelerometer to monitor your sleep habits and wake you up at the right time.

    This isn't really a new idea, but all you have to do with Sleep Better is plug in your phone at night and set it next to your pillow at night. Plugging it in is necessary because the app wakelocks the phone so it can monitor movement with the accelerometer. Likewise, you want to keep it close to you and not a significant other who may also be in the bed. It is, after all, supposed to be responding to your tossing and turning.

    Sleep Better can estimate from your movement when you're sleeping lightly, deeply, or just awake for short periods of time. When you start the app, there's an option to set an alarm time, but it won't actually wake you right at that time. Sleep better waits until it detects that you're not sleeping deeply, and tries to gently rouse you from slumber with a fade-in alarm. This should, ideally, make you feel less groggy when you wake up.

    When you've shaken off the last remnants of sleep, there's a graph you can check out to see how well you slept (along with weather, which is a nice touch). The graph shows yellow as light sleep, green as deep sleep, and the red peaks are times you were awake. Either before or after waking up, you can add tags to your sleep like stressful day, high caffeine consumption, worked out, and so on. This helps you track the activities that have the most impact on your sleep.

    Sleep Better also matches your sleep up to phases of the moon, which allegedly has some effect. I'm skeptical, though. There's also a dream journal, which you can use if you like. Although I feel like the the basic sleep tracking and data aggregation is the more attractive aspect. It seems to work well enough.

    All the basic stuff is free, but a $1.99 in-app pro upgrade is required to access some of the long-term stats and to remove the ad at the bottom of the screen. The app itself is rather attractive with a mostly material design theme with nice animations and a slide-out nav bar.Sleep Better is worth checking out.

    Tested Mailbag: Gears of War 3 Hammerburst Replica!

    Cap off your week with another edition of the Tested mailbag! This week's package is probably the biggest to ever arrive at our office, to the dismay of our FedEx delivery guy. It's an incredible 1:1 scale replica made by Triforce, a company we met at this year's NYCC. Thanks to Triforce for sending this massive package!

    Tested: The Show — Jamie Hyneman's Racing Spiders Project

    Jamie takes the stage at our live show to introduce his Racing Spiders project, an experiment in implementing a new linkage system that has never been tested before. Instead of individual motors responsible for each of the mechanical spider's legs, Jamie's design is powered by just two motors. The movement is mesmerizing!

    Tested: The Show — A Story in 256 Pixels

    As the resolution and pixel density of digital screens are skyrocketing, we take a step back to appreciate the artistry of telling a story with the limitations of 8-bit graphics. Jeremy Williams celebrates the history and potential of pixel art in this presentation from our live show! (We apologize for some of the rough audio in this taping of our live show. The audio mixer at the venue unfortunately distorted audio from some of the microphones.)

    Tested In-Depth: Apple iPad Air 2

    Apple has two new iPads out this year, but only one of them is a significant update to the last generation. Surprisingly, it's the iPad Air 2, which improves on last year's model in both size, weight, and performance. We sit down to discuss in-depth the differences between the current slate of iPads, and show you where GPU improvements are most noticeable.

    Hands-On with DJI's Inspire 1 Quadcopter

    DJI's new quadcopter is one of the coolest we've seen--a huge upgrade from the current Phantom 2 Vision+ we've been using. The Inspire 1 can record 4K video, lifts its propeller struts, and transmit clear HD video to the pilot. We chat in-depth with Eric Cheng, DJI's Director of Aerial Imaging, about all the new features in the Inspire 1 and then take it out for a test flight!

    Google Play App Roundup: C Notify, Flyhunter Origins, and Turbo Dismount

    It's time for another installment of the Google Play App Roundup. This is the weekly event where we tell you what's new and cool in on Android. Fire up your phone and click the app names to head right to the Google Play Store so you can try things for yourself.

    This week notifications go for a trip outside the status bar, flies must be swatted, and crashes are encouraged.

    C Notice

    The enhanced notification access that Google rolled out in 4.3 has allowed a whole new generation of apps to put your notifications in more places. Sometimes that ends up not being a very good idea, and others it fills a niche that needed attention. I'm not positive which of these describes C Notice, but it's at least really neat to try. This app puts all your notifications in floating chat head-like bubbles that can be managed with swipe gestures.

    So here's the gist of it--you grant C Notice notification access and choose the apps that it can display. The next time one of those apps produces an Android notification, it appears in a floating bubble at the edge of the screen. Multiple apps will stack up under a little three-dot header that you can use to drag the stack around. Tapping on an individual icon opens a popup window with the notification text, from which you can open the app that spawned the notification.

    When you've got one or more floating notification bubbles, you also have the option of managing them with a quick swipe. If you swipe up on an icon, you dismiss that one notification, Swipe down and all notifications are dismissed. Clearing notifications from this app also clears them from the system notification shade. Swiping to the left on an icon will immediately open the app it came from, but this is just the basic functionality.

    There's also a prime version of the app that can be unlocked with a $1.49 in-app purchase. This unlocks individual app notification icons. You don't have to turn this on, but it could be quite useful in some instances. The individual icons can be moved around the screen however you like, rather than being tethered to that three-dot header. I probably wouldn't recommend this on smaller phones, but on a phablet or tablet, the individual icons could be really useful.

    C Notice can also be set to wake the screen when a new notification comes in, which some people consider an indispensable feature. You'll only want to do that if you limit the apps that can appear in C Notice. Maybe just messaging and social apps. The app is smart enough to use the proximity sensor to keep the screen off should the phone be in your pocket or face down.

    There's plenty of functionality in C Notify, and you can access most of it for free. It's worth a look.

    Why Android Tablets are Finally Moving to 4:3 Screen Aspect Ratios

    The very first true Android tablet was the original 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, which was announced more than four years ago. Samsung actually sneaked that one in under Google's radar as the search giant wasn't technically prepared for non-phone Android devices. Still, the form factor stuck, and most of the Android slates we've seen over the years have looked very much like that device--they've all been widescreen. Well, until now.

    The Nexus 9 is the first mainstream Android tablet that has come with a 4:3 screen ratio (like the iPad) instead of 16:9 (like a TV). So, why'd it take so long?

    Supply and Demand

    Android tablets started to pop up in Asia a few months before the Galaxy Tab was official. These were not "real" Android tablets in the sense that there were no Google services built in. In fact, many of them weren't even referred to as tablets, but as MIDs (mobile internet devices) or PMPs (personal media players). These too were widescreen devices because that's what was available.

    Apple has long had a stranglehold on its supply chain. Hardware manufacturers happily line up to build whatever part Apple wants because they know Apple's going to want a zillion of them. That means steady business and an improved reputation in the industry. It was no problem finding suppliers for the iPad's 4:3 screen, but an Android OEM that only needed a few thousand panels wouldn't have such an easy time at a point when almost all LCDs were widescreen.

    As tablets were starting to take off, another product category was dying a long overdue death. Of course I'm referring to Netbooks. These machines were the hot new thing only a few years before, but the abysmal performance and razor-thin profit margins caused OEMs and users to collaboratively call it quits. That left plenty of 7-10-inch Netbook panels sitting around that could be repurposed for cheap tablets. That's what a lot of these early devices were using, which served to solidify the idea that Android tablets were wide.

    In Brief: Knightscope Preparing Rollout of Security Droid

    Knightscope, a robotics firm based in Mountain View, has been testing its K5 security robot since last year--and the droid may soon be ready for deployment. According to MIT Technology Review, the company has built seven of these robots that use HD cameras and navigation sensors to perform security sweeps and anomalous behavior along a patrol route. Four of the $6 million robots will be tested in the field at a tech company in the area, which has not been named (natch). The robots won't carry any weapons, and will be used to report activity to operators in a control room. And according to Technology Review, one demo K5 tipped itself over in a test and couldn't right itself up. R2D2, this is not.

    Norman
    Bits to Atoms: The State of Resin 3D Printing Technologies

    In light of our recent video on the Form 1+ printer and as a lead-up to a full review, I wanted to delve deeper into 3D printing with liquid resin, so let's start with a primer on the state of resin 3D printing technologies and hardware.

    Printing with resin typically offers the highest resolution, detail and accuracy available with desktop 3D printing. For example, layer height for most resin printers ranges from 25 - 100 microns (.025mm - .10mm), as a comparison, human hair can range from 17 - 181 microns and typical filament printers (FFF), like the MakerBot, have a max resolution of 100 microns. Generally when talking about resolution you only hear about the layer height, but there is also accuracy as far as small details and resin printers excel in this area.

    EnvisionTec DLP print

    There are various methods of printing with resin, but all involve a liquid distributed in a thin layer and curved via UV light. Prints will typically have some type of support material or structure which must be cleaned off by either physical or chemical means. Most parts remain UV-sensitive, and should be kept from direct sunlight and/or coated or painted in some way to block UV. Let’s take a look at our options for resin printing.

    In Brief: Samsung Announces Project Beyond VR Camera for Gear VR

    Oculus and Samsung have announced that Gear VR, the virtual reality headset accessory developed by both companies to work with Samsung's Note 4 phone, will be released early next month for an MSRP of $200 ($250 for the bundle with the Bluetooth controller). That's for what the company is calling the "Innovator Edition", which is essentially a commercially available developer kit for early adopters and developers. This announcement coincides with the release of the Oculus Mobile SDK (v0.4.0), specifically designed to work with the Note 4 and supporting several key VR features like Asynchronous Timewarp). Gear VR will ship with the Oculus Home interface, as well as the VR theater and a panoramic photo players. Samsung also used this opportunity to announce a camera system called Project Beyond, which is a 3D 360-degree camera designed to capture video and photos for viewing on Gear VR. The tripod-mounted camera houses 16 HD cameras, collecting a gigapixel of 3D data every second. The coolest part is that the camera apparently processes these images in realtime, streaming the imagery to Gear VR users with what Samsung claims to be minimal lag. The video teaser for Project Beyond is below.

    Norman
    The Best iPhone 6 Case (So Far)

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    After surveying almost 1,000 Wirecutter readers and testing 60 iPhone 6 cases over a period of about 30 hours (so far), our current pick for the best all-around case is the NGP from Incipio. The NGP has protected several generations of iPhones (and many other devices) and has a reputation for providing solid protection and a good fit. It’s slim enough to not detract from the iPhone 6’s svelte dimensions, while still offering comprehensive protection for the handset’s body, including its buttons. Openings along the bottom allow for compatibility with a wide range of accessories.

    Update: We’ve added two cases as also-great picks: STM’s Harbour, and Apple’s leather case.

    How we decided

    Truth is, there are plenty of good iPhone cases out there. A bad case is actually a pretty rare thing. But in looking for a few cases that work for most people, we sought out a case that can adequately protect your phone without adding too much bulk or unnecessary embellishments while doing so. Apple sets forth very specific guidelines for case developers. The main thesis: “A well-designed case will securely house an Apple device while not interfering with the device’s operation.” It goes into much deeper specifics.

    A respectable degree of shock absorption is important, as is a tight fit. The case should cover as much of the iPhone’s body as possible, including a raised lip around the glass display to keep it from laying flat on a surface. The best cases offer button protection with great tactility, mimicking or in some instances even enhancing what you’d feel with a bare iPhone. Based on these criteria, plastic shells are automatically out of the picture.

    Testing: Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro Laptop

    We're at a bit of a crossroads for Windows-based laptops. With Windows 10 coming out next year, the laptops on sale this holiday may be the last new generation to be designed with Windows 8.1 in mind, with all of the OS's quirks and shortcomings (touch on the Desktop and high DPI screen management still not perfected). My hope is that laptops like Lenovo's new Yoga Pro 3 to thrive in Windows 10--I can't wait for that virtual desktop manager--but you don't buy a laptop today to unlock its potential in a year. And what Lenovo has done with its popular Yoga line this year is pretty interesting. I've been testing one as my Windows PC for the past week and a half, and wanted to share some notes with you before we shoot our in-depth review.

    If you recall, I was a fan of the original Yoga when it debuted as one of the first Windows 8 laptops. It was a full x86 machine with a unique folding hinge that gave it novel (and practical) use opportunities. I never liked using it as a tablet, but it worked well as a laptop and in its "stand" mode for watching video. The second generation Yoga Pro brought a ridiculous 3200x1800 screen resolution--a pentile Samsung panel that suffered from a color problem in displaying yellows. Because of the RGBW matrix of the panel, certain power settings on the Yoga 2 Pro made yellows appear greenish in hue. Users had to fix this with a BIOS update. The high resolution display also didn't work well in Windows 8, with DPI scaling behaving inconsistently between applications and even within the Windows desktop UI.

    The Yoga 3 Pro still uses the same 3200x1800 display, but the color issues seem to be gone and Windows 8.1 is slightly better at dealing with high DPI scaling. The big changes this year are linked: a new ultra-low power CPU from Intel and a new formfactor that's significantly thinner than the past Yoga laptops, while also increasing connectivity options.

    In Brief: Good Tips for 3D Printing Adhesion Problems

    The base cause of most 3D printing failures is some sort of problem with adhesion. If that first layer of plastic doesn't stick to your print bed, it's almost inevitable that the print will fail. I love this list of tips and tricks to improve adhesion that Make posted. It's got several of my personal favorites--level that build platform, ensure the print head is the right distance from the bed, and always wipe the print surface with isopropyl or acetone to remove fingerprint oil--but they also include a few tricks I'm not familiar with. Now I'm off to find a purple Elmer's glue stick.

    Will 5