Off to Munich next week for DLD

End of next week I’ll be going to Munich/München for an interesting conference called DLD. Since the flight is so long and I haven’t been to Bavaria since I was a kid, I booked a few extra days around the conference, even though it’s not exactly the high season. I welcome comments from blog readers on stuff to do there, and in surrounding Bavaria — we’ll take some day trips to the Alps and maybe to Salzberg. I know there’s a great science and tech museum we’ll go to. What scenic winter drives and train rides are recommended and still passable in January?

Some things I’ve already noted:

The 4 day Germany Rail Pass is $376 for 2 people. Is that worth it, since there is a 27 Euro Bavarian one-day roundtrip fare after 9am?

I have 2 unlocked phones so I will want to get SIMs so we can get calls and also call one another. The MVNOs seem the best deals. One service, sold by the tchibo.de cafes, is 5 cents per minute on-network and for $4/month (ie. whole trip) you get unlimited on-network. 89 cents to USA, which is lower than most, but not nearly as low as blauworld, which offers 9 cents to the USA/Canada plus 15 cents connection charge, and 19 cents to German phones including the other blauworld phone making it not as good for finding one another. Of course Eurocents are 1.4 U.S. cents now. Since use will be limited, and incoming is paid for by the caller, the services that let you get a SIM with minimal balance for 10 Euros may be better than those which are 20 Euros ($28) with $10 credit. I’ll use SIP or Skype for calls back home of any duration, and I’ll have my wifi-enabled HTC Mogul, which as a CDMA phone won’t be able to do anything else, but it’s also my PDA.

Do I have any German readers? Let me hear your thoughts.

Welcome to Europe. I don't

Welcome to Europe. I don't know How many german readers you have, but I'm sure you have one from Italy.
Keep on the good job

ciao

Alessandro

Enjoy DLD!

Dear Brad, I hope you will have a great time in Germany and at DLD. Your SIM research pretty much covers the major players, either deal is good. I don't have any experience with their service quality though as I have never used prepaid cards in Germany. The deal for the German Rail Pass is good - provided you actually travel to cities that are 4+ hours away from Munich (Frankfurt, Hamburg, Berlin, etc.). If you stay in the Munich area, you get better deals for local connections.

Bavaria

At least one German reader. :-)

Most of the prepaid mobile-phone services use the network
of one of the big 4 (Vodafone, E+, T-Mobile, O2), so
service shouldn't be a problem. Why not make calls for
free to the US? http://www.peterzahlt.de/ should work
from any landline to any landline OR mobile in the US.
I've used the service; it works. You can just ignore
the ads on your computer screen (which pay for the call)
while you're talking.

Alps, Salzburg, Deutsches Museum---good choices. Munich
probably has more touristy type things than most German
cities---something to look for or avoid, depending on your
perspective.

Of course, keep in mind 220 V 60 Hz and different-style plugs.

I agree that the Bavarian local pass is the better deal, unless
you want to travel further. It is possible to rent a car; depending
on what you want to see, the train might be more convenient.

Be aware, though, that all the neoliberal folks who see privatisation
as the cure for all problems are now reaping what they have sown, namely
that there have been strikes by engine drivers and there will probably
be some more in January. (It seems they wanted to be able to hire and
fire like in private business (the train personnel used to be civil
servants) but didn't count on the engine drivers striking if they
weren't earning enough (and, while they were earning enough for a civil
servant in a secure job, they are not earning enough for someone working
in private business with fewer benefits and less job security).)

Thanks

Easy to ignore ads in German, I guess, unless they quiz me. However, just as easy to use SIP or Skype if I have a good connection. In hotels, you don't always have direct dial in.

Sounds like if I go with a rental car, I will want to reserve it soon, since in a strike they will all be gone. Recommendations of specific restaurants etc. are also good -- or what's the best restaurant rating site for Munich? (I see that Zagat only has 40 restaurants and others sites I know don't cover it. (I like Zagat's combination of food quality and cost ratings so I can find the best food that isn't astronomical in price for most meals.)

correction + restaurants

Of course, that should be 50 Hz, not 60 Hz. I'm sure you've got
all the necessary power supplies, though.

The advantage of something like peterzahlt.de is that you don't
need an internet connection, but can use it from any land line.
In a hotel, of course, it would have to have direct-dial for incoming
calls. I've just ignored the ads---no quizzing.

Latest on the strikes is that none are planned at the moment, though
that could change quickly.

I don't know to what extent rental-car demand will go up in a strike.
Certainly somewhat. However, most people on the train are commuters
and most of them ride the train for convenience and price (especially
with monthly or yearly passes) but could drive their own car if necessary.
Long-distance travellers would probably resort to flying. Of course,
some people will rent a car if the trains aren't running.

Normally, I would recommend the train over a car, especially in-town.
Note that most local rail transport, or other public transport, won't
be affected by a strike, just the long-distance trains. And they might
not shut down completely, since the train company will get some folks
who don't belong to the union to drive the engines, so it might not
be a complete standstill.

Don't know about restaurants, sorry!

Train vs. Car

Train would be nice, but I think for the sort of looping trip to the alps and maybe up to Rothenberg area that we want to do, car will work better. I do lots of photography, which means carrying various gear, and stopping to get shots, and a car's pretty important for that.

photography

Right, photography. A lot has happened in the last few years. Are
there any plans to update your digital vs. film articles?

I'm thinking of buying a Pentax K10D. Are you familiar with it?
One reason is that I can use some old but good lenses I have
(the Pentax SLR digital cameras work with all Pentax lenses),
though the FOV is smaller (or focal length increased, depending
on one's point of view). It's also gotten reviews, and seems
about right for me (serious amateur). You mentioned some arguments
in favour of digital: shoot like a pro and keep just the good shots,
change ISO on the fly, no fiddling with negatives, originals are
available in high resolution (possible with negatives but only
with expensive scanning, not the relatively low-res scanning one
can get done parallel with development at most places), one can
produce an image quickly (say, to sell something on Ebay) quickly.
The main drawback, for many people, including myself, until recently
was resolution. (You mention reciprocity failure, lack of bleeding
etc as advantages of film, but these are needed only in special
situations.) At 10 MP, however, resolution is comparable to standard
35mm film and thus good enough for even moderately large blow-ups.

So, for the serious amatuer photographer who, however, has more or
less normal lighting in his shots, any reason NOT to purchase a
10 MP digital camera? Any reason to want more or fewer pixels?
Any reason not to purchase the K10D, which seems to have a lot
of bang for the buck? Any real reason to wait for the K20D?

Digital all the way

Yes, it's time to update. There's almost nothing left that is better with film now. Meteor photography and certain types of large format largely. Some more dynamic range in print film but I expect we'll see that beaten soon.

I recommend selling your Pentax lenses while they still have a good market value on eBay and going with whichever you prefer of Canon or Nikon. Not because Pentax doesn't make good equipment, I am sure they and the others do. But in Canon and Nikon you will have a much bigger community, and a much bigger aftermarket for buying and selling stuff, as well as 3rd party vendors who make stuff for your equipment.

I have a new page I am working on for this at http://pic.templetons.com/brad/photo/what-digital-camera-buy.html

Pentax

For what it's worth, I bought a Pentax K10D today. I admit
that I was attracted to it since I have some some (purely
mechanical) lenses which will fit it (K-bayonet mount). However,
after reading several tests and comparisons, I came to the conclusion
that, in the $1000 price range (these days, that will buy 10 MP and an
objective), it seems a good bet even for someone who has no investment
in Pentax-compatible lenses. I think it is fair to say that no
other company offers more bang for the buck in this price range; I don't
think anyone else even comes close. Also, the K10D has, in addition to
automatic modes, several semi-automatic modes (fix what you want fix
and let the automatic adjust the rest) and a completely manual mode. So,
for folks (like me) who have never owned a point-and-shoot digital compact
(or any other digital camera, for that matter), but have been using SLRs
with film for decades, this camera might actually be easier to start out
with and one has the possibility to compose shots in the traditional manner,
if one so desires. Yes, Canon and Nikon have a larger user base, but for
someone who will buy a digital camera and 2 or 3 lenses now and use it for
10 or 15 years (or even longer---for many applications, increased camera
quality won't translate to increased quality of the end product, so why
upgrade?) and is interested in getting a very good camera for a very good
price (Canon or Nikon cameras with similar features cost 2 or 3 times as
much, and there might not even be one with all the features the K10D has),
then I think the K10D deserves a serious look.

I think this is an interesting time to buy a digital SLR. It wasn't that
long ago, as you pointed out, that there were still many reasons to go
with film. For a while now, that has no longer been true, and within the
last year or so, prices have come down so that the serious amateur can
get something for 1000-1500 dollars which will deliver quality similar to
what he has been used to with film. (Again, in terms of bang-for-the buck
and overall quality, I think the K10D is impossible to beat.)

What about the future? Will prices come down even more? Probably not; what
will happen is that the price for cameras of this quality (serious amateur, say;
yes, one can spend $10000 for a top-level Nikon, but a) who needs it and b) it
is not 10 times better than the K10D) will stabilise at what it is now or a bit
cheaper, and more and more features will appear (like with PCs or mobile phones).
For those who don't need more bells and whistles, and don't want them since they
distract (and in some cases more pixels is not always a good thing, but it might
be difficult to find a camera with only 10 MP 5 years from now), now is the time
to buy. (For me, this stage was reached about 5 or 6 years ago with mobile phones.
I bought a Nokia 3310 then, and like it and the 3330 so much that I am collecting
them so that if mine dies I can continue to use another one, rather than be forced
to "upgrade" to something with more features which, for me, only distract.)

The Pentax

A bit busy to look at it but I doubt the market is so out of whack that it is 2 to 3 times better per dollar than the Rebel XTi or Nikon’s similar offerings, or the level above that. But if you think so, then it’s a good camera to buy.

I’m afraid I find old manual bayonet lenses to be of minimal value these days. Frankly, the autofocus in modern lenses, if it picks the right target, is better at it than I am, though that depends on the quality of your focusing screen, something you don’t get much of in the base level cameras.

And no, you won’t keep the camera for 15 years, or even 5. For most of us these are like computers. The old computers don’t stop working but we don’t want them after about 2-3 years.

Newer cameras down the line will be giving you

  • More resolution (which you may not care about)
  • Less noise (which you care about)
  • Higher sensitivity with that less noise (which you care about if you ever handhold, shoot moving objects or night shoot)
  • Higher dynamic range and even near-infinite dynamic range, which you care about unless you do nothing but studio work with complete lighting control
  • Bigger better screens, better live review, better UIs.
  • All of this in smaller, lighter packages
  • Cheaper

Pentax

Making the jump from purely mechanical film cameras to (if I want it)
fully automated digital, I certainly have a lot to learn. (My
original Ricoh (bayonet lenses compatible with Pentax) was purely
mechanical (except for the light meter). I used it for 17 years
then it was stolen. I then bought a similar model, which had one
automatic setting (set the opening by hand and it will set the
shutter speed automatically.)) As I said, lens compatibility was
my original reason to look at Pentax, but as I mentioned after
having looked what was possible for what I wanted to spend ($1000 or
so including lens), the Pentax offered so much bang for the buck
that it would have been my choice even without the possibility to
use my old lenses. I've never used autofocus. We'll see how it
works.

I'm sure I'll stick to the 18--55 lens which came in the
kit at first. My old 50 mm would be effectively 75 mm, so there might
be some specialised uses for it. My 80--200 would be effectively 120--300,
so might be useful for extreme telephoto shots. I'll probably by new
wide-angle, standard and telephoto prime lenses with time. (The newer
lenses are also smaller and lighter since the sensor on the Pentax, while
not as small is some, is smaller than 35 mm film. However, cropped older
lenses might give a better image. Of course, the new ones have autofocus
etc.)

One of the nice things about the K10D is that it has a nice viewfinder.

I might keep it for 15 years! At home, I have computers from the 1989--1995
time frame still running! (Not as museum pieces, but as always-on do everything
servers: web server, my own SMTP server, FTP server, as well as for interactive
use like browsing the web, reading newsgroups, sending email etc and, yes,
even for computing (i.e. writing programs, compiling, linking and running them!).
They are not PCs, so I can actually run the newest, months-old operating system
on them.) As long as it does what I need, why upgrade? At some point, and for
me it might be now, cameras will reach the level of maturity of, say, electric
guitars 40 years ago, or violins 400 years ago.

I don't think I'll need more resolution. Noise---not sure yet if that will bother
me. I don't do much shooting at night, nor many action shots. The K10D has
a shake-reduction system, which should give about 3 more stops. (It is in the
camera body, not in the lens, so even old lenses benefit from it.) Dynamic range:
like noise, I'll have to see if it is good enough. A higher-resolution screen
might be better for previewing. (Live viewing? With a good viewfinder, why
worry about the lower resolution of a screen, sunlight making it invisible, or the
slight delay between what it shows and reality?) On the other hand, with 4 GB
cards, I can throw away only the obviously bad images and make a more informed choice
of what to keep later, on a high-resolution monitor; I can still have hundreds of
images on a card, and change cards if I need to. (The K10D can also shoot raw and
JPEG simultaneously, so one can use the JPEGs created on the fly to decide what to
keep, and if one wants to go back and really refine some of the images, one can then
process the raw files.) Like a mobile phone or a pocket calculator, I'm not sure if
smaller and lighter is an advantage (even though I have small hands), especially if
one is used to a SLR. Cheaper? Well, I've already bought the K10D!

http://www.pentaxslr.com/bodies/k10

no strike!

Latest update: an agreement has been reached and there will
be no engine-driver strike in Germany!

Deutsches Museum

The museum is a huge and wonderful place. I can easily spend multiple days there. You may want to allocate the entirety of one day (if you weren't already planning on it). Say hello to the crypto devices for me. :)

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