Category Archives: Reviews

Can No-One Write A Good Book About Oracle SOA?

I’m frustrated. I’ve just read a couple of good, if somewhat repetitive, design pattern books: one on SOA design with a resolutely platform-neutral stance, and another on architecting for the cloud, with a Microsoft Azure bent but which struck an admirable balance between generic advice and Microsoft specific examples.

So far so good. However although the Microsoft Azure information may come in handy for my next role, what I really need is some good quality, easy to read guidance on how current generic guidance relates to the Oracle SOA/Fusion Suite. I identified four candidates, but none of them seem worth completing:

  • Thomas Erl’s SOA Design Patterns. This is very expensive (more than £40 even in Kindle format), gets a lot of relatively poor reviews, and I didn’t much like the last book I read by the same author.
  • Sergey Popov’s Applied SOA Patterns on the Oracle Platform. This is another expensive book, but at least you can read a decent-length Kindle sample. However doing so has somewhat put me off. There are pages upon pages upon pages of front-matter. Do I really want to read about reviewers thanking their mothers for having them before I get to the first real content? Fortunately even with that issue the sample gets as far as an introductory chapter, but this makes two things apparent. Firstly, the author has quite a wordy and academic style, but more importantly he has re-defined the well-established term "pattern" to mean either "design rule" or "Oracle example", neither of which works for me. However I really parted company when I got to a section which states "… security … is nothing more than pure money, as almost no one these days seeks fun in simple informational vandalism", and then went off into a discussion of development costs. If this "expert" has such a poor understanding of cyber-security it doesn’t bode well…
  • Harish Gaur’s Oracle Fusion Middleware Patterns. Again, this appears to have redefined "pattern" as "Opportunity to show a good Oracle example", but that might be valid in my current position. Unfortunately I can’t tell you much more as the Kindle sample finished in the middle of "about the co-authors", before we get to any substantive content at all. As it’s another relatively expensive book with quite a few poor reviews I’m not sure whether it’s worth proceeding.
  • Kathiravan Udayakumar’s Oracle SOA Patterns. Although only published in 2012, this appears to already be out of print. It has two reviews on Amazon, one at one-star (from someone who did try and read it) and one at three stars (from someone who didn’t!).

In the meantime I’ve started what looks like a much more promising book, David Chappell’s Enterprise Service Bus. This appears to be well-written, well-reviewed and reasonably priced. What really attracts me is that he’s attempted to extend the "Gregorgram" visual design language invented for Enterprise Integration Patterns to service bus architectures, which was in many ways the missing piece from the Service Design Patterns book. Unfortunately the book may be a bit out of date and Java-focused to give me an up-to-date technical briefing, but as it’s fairly short that’s not an issue.

After that it’s back to trying to find a decent book which links all this to the Oracle platform. If anyone would like to recommend one please let me know.

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Review: Cloud Design Patterns

Prescriptive Architecture Guidance for Cloud Applications , By Alex Homer, John Sharp, Larry Brader, Masashi Narumoto, Trent Swanson

Good book let down by poor high-level structure

This is a very useful introduction to key cloud concepts and how common challenges can be met. It’s also a good overview of how Microsoft technologies may fit into these solutions, but avoids becoming so Microsoft-centric that it becomes useless in other contexts. Unfortunately, however, the overall structure means that this is not a book designed for easy end to end reading. It may work better as a reference work, but that reduces what should have been its primary value.

The book starts with a good introduction and list of the patterns and supporting "guidance" sections, and is then followed first by the patterns, and then the guidance sections (useful technology primers). This is where things break down a bit, as the patterns are presented in alphabetical order, which means a somewhat random mix of topics, followed by the same again for the guidance sections. I attempted to read the book cover to cover over about a week and I found the constant jumping about between topics extremely confusing, and the constant repetition of common content very wearing. In addition by presenting the guidance material at the end it is arguably of less value as most of the concepts have already been covered in related patterns. Ultimately the differentiation between the two is very arbitrary and not helpful. For example is "throttling" really a pattern or a core concept? If "throttling" is a pattern why is "autoscaling" not described as a pattern?

The book would be about 10 times better if it were re-organised into half a dozen "topics" (for example data management, compute resource management, integration, security…), with the relevant guidance and overviews first in each topic, followed by the related patterns which could then be stripped of a lot of repetitive content, and topped off with common cross-reference and further reading material.

This is not just a book about cloud specifics. A lot of the material reflects general good practice building and integrating large systems, even for on-premise deployment, and reinforces my view that "Cloud" is just a special case of this established body of practice. As a result there’s quite a lot of overlap with older pattern books especially Enterprise Integration Patterns, which is also directly referenced. The surprisingly substantial content related to message-based integration, confirms my view that this is still the best model for loosely coupled extended portfolios, but I would have appreciated more on the overlap with service technologies.

The overlap with other standard pattern books might have been managed just by referencing them, but this would play against Microsoft’s objective of making this material readily available to all readers at low cost.

The book is spectacularly good value for money, especially as you can download it free from Microsoft if you are prepared to do a bit of juggling with document formats. That it forms part of a series also available under similar options is even better. This perpetuates Microsoft’s tradition of providing cheap, high-quality guidance to developers and sits in sharp contrast with the high costs of comparable works from not only independent publishers (which may be understandable) but other technology vendors.

The book does assume some familiarity with Windows Server concepts, for example worker roles vs machine or application instances, and doesn’t always explain these terms. A glossary or an clear reference to a suitable external source would have been useful.

At a practical level I’m pleased to see that the Kindle version works well, with internal links hyperlinked and clear diagrams, plus access to each pattern directly from the menu in the Android Kindle app. Offset against this are a few cases of poor proofreading related to problems with document format conversions, in particular with characters like apostrophes turned into garbage character strings.

Overall I found this a useful book, and I’m sure it will become a valuable reference work, but I just wish the authors and editors had paid more attention to the high-level structure for those trying to read it like a traditional book.

Categories: Agile & Architecture and Reviews. Content Types: Book, Computing, and Software Architecture.
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Review: Service Design Patterns

Fundamental Design Solutions for SOAP/ WSDL and RESTful Web Services, By Robert Daigneau

Good book, but some practical annoyances

One of the most influential architecture books of the early 00s was Enterprise Integration Patterns by Gregor Hohpe and Bobby Woolf. That book not only provided far and away the best set of patterns and supporting explanations for designers of message-based integration, but it also introduced the concept of a visual pattern language allowing an architecture (or other patterns) to be described as assemblies of existing patterns. While this concept had been in existence for some time, I’m not aware of any other patterns book which realises it so well or consistently. The EIP book became very much my Bible for integration design, but technology has moved on an service-based integration is now the dominant paradigm, and in need of a similar reference work.

The Service Design Patterns is in the same series as the EIP book (and the closely related Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture), and overtly takes the earlier books as a baseline to build an additional set of patterns more directly related to Service-oriented integration. Where the earlier books’ content is relevant, it is just referred to. This helps to build a strong library of patterns, but also actively reinforces the important message that designers of newer integration architectures will do well to heed the lessons of previous generations.

The pattern structure is very similar to the one used in the EIP book, which is helpful. The "Headline" context description is occasionally a bit cryptic, but is usually followed by a very comprehensive section which describes the problem in sufficient detail, with an explanation of why and when alternative approaches may or may not work, and the role of other patterns in the solution. The text can be a little repetitive, especially as the authors try to deliver the specifics of each pattern explicitly for each of three key web service styles, but it’s well written and easily readable.

This is not a very graphical book. Each pattern usually has one or two explanatory diagrams, but they vary in style and usefulness. I was rather sad that the book didn’t try to extend the original EIP concept and try to show the more complex patterns as assemblies of icons representing the simpler ones. I think there may be value in exploring this in later work.

One complaint is the difficulty of navigating within the Kindle edition, or in future using it as a reference work. Internal references to patterns are identified by their page number in the physical book, which is of precisely zero use in the Kindle context. In addition the contents structure which is directly accessible via the Kindle menu only goes to chapter level, not to individual patterns. If you can remember which chapter a pattern is in you can get there via the contents section of index, but this is much more difficult than it should be. In other pattern books any internal references in the Kindle edition are hyperlinked, and I don’t understand why this has not been done here.

To add a further annoyance, the only summary listings of the patterns are presented as multiple small bitmapped graphics, so not easily searchable or extractable for external reference. An early hyperlinked text listing with a summary would be much more useful. Please could the publishers have a look at the Kindle versions of recent pattern books from Microsoft Press to see how this should be done?

A final moan is that the book is quite expensive! I want to get all three books in the series in Kindle format (as well as having the hardcover versions of the two earlier books, purchased before ebooks were a practical reality), and it will cost over £70. This may put less pecunious readers off, especially as there’s so much front matter that the Kindle sample ends before you get to the first real pattern. That would be a  shame, as the industry needs less experienced designers to read and absorb these messages.

These practical niggles aside, this is a very good book, and I can recommend it.

Categories: Agile & Architecture and Reviews. Content Types: Book, Computing, and Software Architecture.
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Edge of Silence

We’ve just finished our 30th anniversary viewing of Edge of Darkness. I must now have seen the series at least 10 times, but in this case familiarity breeds respect. Like the best Shakespeare play or Verdi opera the series rewards repeated study, and every time we notice something new about the story, the production, or both.

I’ve noticed before how Edge of Darkness has such an unforced pace, with space for the actors just to act. This time I consciously observed the phenomenon. In the first episode, after Emma’s death, there’s a period of about 20 minutes where Craven is grieving and the other policemen trying to help him deal with it. There are perhaps half a dozen lines of dialogue. In the 5th episode, where Craven and Jedburgh break into Northmoor, there are no more than a couple of hundred lines of dialogue in total. In over 50 minutes. Yet in both cases your attention is held completely, and there’s never a sense that the pace should be even slightly quicker.

This was also the first time I had watched it on a big screen, but at its original 3×4 aspect ratio. Now 3×4, especially with 1980s slightly grainy video, doesn’t suit expansive vistas or dramatic special effects. It does suit portraits, much better than wider presentations. What I noticed on this viewing was how Martin Campbell and his team really exploit this, filling the screen from corner to corner with one or two faces. It was powerful in the days of 20" TVs, but really punches through on a 50" set.

Yet again our understanding of the politics and personalities deepened. When I first saw the series, I wasn’t sure that Harcourt and Pendleton were the good guys. This time, I started to appreciate some glimmers of humanity in Grogan, the chief villain. Maybe by the 20th viewing we’ll understand him as well.

It’s slightly odd that the BBC chose to repeat the series last year rather than on this anniversary. 30 years on Edge of Darkness is still unmatched as a conspiracy thriller,  and deserves some celebration.

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Review: Next Generation SOA

A Concise Introduction to Service Technology & Service-Orientation, By Thomas Erl and others

Dry, terse text which misses its mark

This book sets out to provide a concise overview of the current state of, and best practices for, Service Oriented Architecture. While it may achieve that for some managerial readers, it is simultaneously too general for those with more background, and may be too terse for those with less technical understanding.

The authors and editors have clearly set themselves the admirable aim of producing a short and concise overview of the field. Unfortunately in the quest for brevity they have ended up with a terse, dry and dense writing style which is very difficult to read. At times it feels almost like a game of "buzzword bingo". I frequently had to re-read sentences several times to understand the authors’ intended relationships between the elements, and I’m a very experienced integration architect.

At the same time, for a book on architecture there are very few explanatory diagrams, wordy descriptions being used instead. To add insult to injury a few low-value diagrams such as one depicting the cycle of interaction between business and IT change drivers are used repeatedly, when once would be enough.

The first chapter provide a overview of service orientation and its key principles, characteristics, goals and organisational implications.  This is followed by a chapter on service definition and composition. Ironically this part of the book is is quite repetitive, but manages to omit some key concepts. There’s no real concrete explanation of what a service is or does – maybe that’s taken as read, but a formal definition and some examples would go a long way. Likewise there’s nothing at this point on basic concepts such as service contracts and self-description, synchronous vs asynchronous operation or security. The second chapter goes into some detail on the idea of service composition but only really deals with the ideal green-field case where functionality can be developed new aligned exactly to business functions.

The following chapter on the SOA manifesto is better, but again doesn’t recognise the realities of real enterprise portfolios, with legacy systems, package solutions and external elements which must be maintained and exploited, and non-functional priorities which must be met.

Chapter 5 deals with service-related technologies and their potential interactions. This is good, and for me represented the core value of the book, but is crying out for some diagrams to supplement the lengthy text. There are good notes on service definition under Model Driven Service Design, but this key topic should really have been a major section in Chapter 3 in its own right. The statements about technical architecture are rather simplistic, with an overall position of "this is expensive and difficult, or just use the cloud" which is not necessarily right for all organisations.

The next chapter, on business models, is very prescriptive. It is also slightly misleading in some places about the role of IT in transactional services – such services are delivered by a business unit, possibly but not necessarily enabled by and carried through an IT service. It would be perfectly viable in some cases for specific services to have a manual implementation. This is well explained in the case study, but not here or in the Business Process Management section of the previous chapter.

The final chapter of the main text is a "case study" describing the wholesale transformation of a car rental company through adoption of service, agile and cloud approaches. It feels slightly contrived, especially in terms of its timeline, the preponderance of successes, and the surprising lack of resistance to CIO-led business change. However it fills a useful gap by explaining much better than the technologies chapter how the different technologies and approaches fit together and build on one another.

Appendix A is a taster for the other books in the series. Unfortunately the content is presented as small images which cannot be resized and are almost unreadable in the Kindle version. It has also been "summarized", with the result that it appears to add very little meaningful detail to what has already been said.

Appendix B is a useful expansion of the main text regarding organisational preparation, maturity levels and governance for SOA. I would personally have been tempted to merge the first two parts to the main text rather than positioning them as an appendix, where they are necessarily repetitive of some material which has already been read.

Appendix C is another taster for one of the other books in the series, this time with an overview of cloud computing. While this is at a fairly high level, it’s a useful and well-written overview for those unfamiliar with the concepts.

Overall this is a frustrating book. There is some good material, but missing key "reality checks" and presented in a terse, text-heavy style which makes it harder to read than it should be.

Categories: Agile & Architecture and Reviews. Content Types: Book, Computing, and Software Architecture.
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A Tide In The Affairs Of Men

There is certainly a tide in the affairs of successful film directors. After a couple of successes, they start to believe their own hype, and no one around them can say “no,  this is b*****ks”. After the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson generated the interminable King Kong. Martin Scorsese’s last effort was also an interminable, unpleasant celebration of excess,  in The Wolf of Wall Street, arguably a bad three hour film with a decent two hour film trying to get out. Now Christopher Nolan has done the same thing.

Today we subjected ourselves to the rambling mess which is Interstellar. I was really looking forward to this film. The premise was an interesting one, the trailers intriguing, and the Daily Mail’s critique encouraging.

What a disappointment. The concept may be interesting, but the execution is atrocious. For a start the diction is awful, making Jamaica Inn sound like a Radio 4 news bulletin in comparison. If you are going to tell a complex story of galactic scope, don’t allow your actors to mumble inaudibly, and don’t mask important dialogue with music or sound effects which completely drowns it out.

The story-telling is clumsy, so that Frances and I were frequently leaning over to one another and asking “what’s going on?”. We didn’t have to do that with Nolan’s even more complex Inception, but that fine, if complex film, feels like the work of a completely different director.

While we are great fans of several films with a time travel element, this one breaks the fundamental covenant that in return for suspension of disbelief the story must resolve itself neatly. The plot has major failures of causality, with the survival of the human race depending on a future invention by the survivors’ distant descendants, essentially magic. Other plot holes were equally evident.

The film is far too long. Like the other examples above, it seems as if no one was brave enough to say to Nolan in the light of his recent successes, “you must edit this down”.

It’s not even rescued by great effects, stunts or cinematography. Such effects as there are, are relatively simple, and very repetitive. There was simply no “wow” moment.

Interstellar is inaudible,  interminable, incomprehensible and implausible.

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Review: Man Up

By Alex Cay

Fun, but a very high body count!

This is a comedy thriller very much affecting the style of Carl Hiaasen. Hiaasen’s latest, the hilarious Bad Monkey, uses almost exactly the same Floridan and Bahamian locations, and reading this book almost immediately afterwards did feel a bit like a slightly distorted echo. It would be refreshing to see some authors writing this style of work but against less stereotypical backgrounds, and I hope Alex Cay does so with his future books.

That said, Man Up! is a good example of the genre, and well worth a read. It zips along at a good pace, with enough plot intrigue to keep the reader entertained, even if some twists are rather predictable, and is regularly punctuated with almost slapstick comedy which made me laugh out loud on several occasions.

The central character is a sports agent, and in this case was dealing with ice hockey. In Britain this is very much a minority sport, and the copious ice hockey references and terminology in the first couple of chapters put off at least one reader I know. Keep going and once the real action starts the sports context is no longer such an issue, but if the author wants the widest readership this is something to watch in the future.

I liked the writing style, and was impressed by how Alex Cay had captured the nuances of dialogue for the English characters versus the American ones very well. On a slightly more negative note he has adopted a habit of writing for emphasis One. Word. At. A. Time., which is rather off-putting, and I’d suggest trying to find a smoother alternative.

The book is populated with a range of interesting characters, but in many cases you don’t get to learn much about who they are, or how they have got to where they are, and a bit more background would work well. There are no “supermen”, and a number with very real mental limitations, but almost all the men are enormously well provided in the trouser department, which seems to destroy the good judgement of several otherwise single-minded female characters. I did like the animal characters, including two homosexual bull mastiffs and a shark nick-named Elvis!

This is a tale of stupid wealthy people, corrupt spies and incompetent hitmen, and a large helping of sex and violence more explicit than some other books in this genre is unavoidable. The high body count is actually quite comical, but be prepared for some writing which is not exactly “family friendly”.

Overall I enjoyed the book, and I look forward to reading some more of Patrick Finn’s adventures in the future.


Finally, I’d like to say a big thank you to the author Alex Cay for providing a review copy of this book in Kindle format. I do most of my fiction reading when travelling, and it’s really annoying that most publishers and review commissioners, notably and inexplicably including Amazon themselves, still insist on providing review copies in hardcopy form. Thanks to Alec for doing the right thing.

Categories: Reviews. Content Types: Book, Crime / mystery, Fiction, and Humour.
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Review: Resistance

By Owen Sheers

A Fascinating but Disturbing Alternative History

This is a fascinating book, although its title and blurb are rather misleading. I was expecting something along the lines of a Welsh Defiance (the story of the Belorussian Otriads which successfully battled the Nazis behind the Eastern Front), or Secret Army, but in reality the “Resistance” of this book’s title is most notable by its almost total absence. This is in many ways a much scarier story, about how a German invasion of Britain might have succeeded, but I understand totally why the author didn’t choose instead to call it Collaboration.

At one level, this is a masterful and almost believable re-telling of the progress of the Second World War with a completely different outcome, reminding us how many of the key points individually turned on the narrowest of margins provided either by blind fortune or inexplicably poor German decision-making, both of which could easily have been reversed. How, for example, D-Day could have been scuppered by poor weather, or a single effective German spy operating on the right part of Britain’s South Coast. With only a couple of such reversals the Britain of the story leaves itself open to a successful German invasion in 1944.

The bulk of the story is then a study of how war-weary British communities and German soldiers progress, as much through pragmatic accommodation and grudging acceptance as overt surrender or collaboration, to some form of settlement. As a study of human behaviours in hard times it’s excellent, but it’s empathically not a stirring tale of derring-do. The book also ends with the disposition of most of the central characters left open – I would have preferred a more definite outcome, but that would perhaps have closed things down where the book deliberately tries to portray sources of ambiguity.

The story focuses on a small farming community in the Brecon Beacons, between Abergavenny and Hereford, an area with which I have strong family connections, including a great Aunt and Uncle who farmed in a small valley in the Beacons, very like the central community. As such I very much enjoyed the portrayal of so many places I know. I have even drunk in the only pub which gets mentioned by name!

The author, Sheers, is primarily a poet, and his writing paints a very expressive verbal picture of the land, the events and the people of the story. My usual taste in fiction is more focused on action, but accept the style of the book and you will be fully absorbed by this story, even though it is not a comfortable one.

Categories: Reviews. Content Types: Book, Fiction, Historical novel, and History.
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World War Z – One from the Ministry of Strange Coincidences…

I’ve just posted my review of World War Z – The Book. In it, I liken the book to a science fiction version of “The World At War”. Now here’s the real oddity – the book of The World at War was written by Mark Arnold-Forster. The new film is directed by Marc Forster. Co-incidence, or what???

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Review: World War Z – The Book

An Oral History of the Zombie War, By Max Brooks

"The World At War" with Zombies!

Christopher Tookey’s review of World War Z the movie made me decide two things simultaneously: I did not want to spend £20 on going to see the film, but I did want to read the book. Having done so, I’m very glad I did.

The book takes the simple concept of “a plague of zombies”, and tries to tell the story of a modern, global human struggle to first survive and then fight back and retake the world. To do this the author, Max Brooks, adopts the unusual but highly effective device of a series of interviews with key witnesses: soldiers, survivors, leaders, administrators and political or social commentators.

The book is as much about the socio-economic upheaval of such a happening as it is about how zombies behave. Given the concept of “flesh eating zombie”, the emerging story then reflects a very modern understanding of virology, military capabilities, human behaviour and geopolitics.

The interview-based structure really resonated with me, although initially I was slightly puzzled why. Then the penny dropped. This is “The World at War”, adapted for science fiction. I am a great fan of that 1970s epic documentary, told largely through interviews with soldiers, survivors, leaders… The author doesn’t explicitly acknowledge that influence, but once you see it, it’s obvious.

I haven’t seen the film yet, but based on the trailer and reviews it sounds like the screenwriters have thrown away this wonderful structure in favour of a much more simplistic linear narrative focused on a few central characters. If so, that’s an enormous shame.

For an intelligent, inspiring tale which will keep you turning the pages you won’t do much better.

Categories: Reviews and Thoughts on the World. Content Types: Adventure, Book, Fiction, and Science Fiction.
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Review: El Dorado Blues

By Shaun Morey

Another enjoyable romp

Like the predecessor novel, Wahoo Rhapsody, this is an enjoyable romp which charges on at an impressive pace. As a complete antidote to all the “Templar Treasure” novels of recent years, while this does feature a long-buried fabled treasure, which is located and dug up in the first few pages. That’s when the trouble starts…

Thereafter the story becomes a tale of rich and unscrupulous dealers and collectors trying to get control of the treasure, with a few reasonably honest characters caught in the middle. It’s neither a very long story nor a very complicated one, but it’s quite fun.

I liked the new unpleasant characters, and welcomed the return of the same “good guys” from Wahoo Rhapsody. I just hope Morey has done his legal homework creating a wealthy collector with an ill-fitting toupee called Ronald Stump!

My only complaint about the first book was that it felt a bit too obviously a copy of a Carl Hiaasen, and there’s still some truth in that criticism. In particular Atticus Fish does feel like an echo of Hiassen’s character Skink. However, that’s a minor complaint, and I look forward to the next book in the series.

Categories: Reviews. Content Types: Book, Crime / mystery, Fiction, and Humour.
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Review – Olympus TG2 “Tough” Camera

There’s a salutory lesson here about not jumping to premature conclusions. Based on my first impressions of this camera I had mentally started drafting a review based on praising the hardware, but with some criticism of the software and firmware. I even had a great tag line: “A camera for adventurers who want a few pictures, rather than photographers who want adventures”. That was before the snorkelling trip…

For many years now if there’s been the prospect of either snorkelling or diving on holiday I’ve taken a Canon PowerShot S-series or G-series camera with its waterproof housing. I’ve had at least three generations of that solution, which have been utterly reliable and produced some good results. However they are a bulky solution in these days of reducing baggage allowances, and somewhat slow and clumsy in operation.

This year, therefore, I decided to try a different solution, and opted after some deliberation for one of the new “ultra tough compacts”. While Canon and Panasonic both have a comparable solution, after some deliberation I went for the Olympus TG2, based on a combination of its looks and spec.

This is supposedly a very tough piece of kit – waterproof to 15m, drop-proof to 2m, crush-proof to 100kg and with a large operating temperature range. The downside is that this is a market where the competition is intense but based on point for point feature matching, with a focus on improving things like nominal depth protection rather than the photographic features.

That meant that even before use in anger there were some compromises: none of the cameras in this class do RAW, even though Canon, for example, support this fully on their smaller high-end compacts like the S95. to make things worse the TG2 also lacks many of the some other fundamental tools to control exposure such as automatic bracketing (despite a very high frame rate which would support it well), or shutter priority.

The lack of these features is a complete mystery to me, when these cameras are allegedly designed to be used in conditions where the lighting as well as the environment will be challenging…

Early trials did suggested that the camera does have accurate, fast autofocus (which was something I particularly wanted), and makes a decent job of auto exposure in most cases. Picture quality is OK, but the noise levels rise rapidly at ISO 800 and above, the JPEGs have a somewhat “overprocessed” look, and there’s some noticeable pincushion distortion on underwater shots, even at medium zoom. These are presumably all the result of the tiny sensor, which is significantly smaller than in compacts like the Canon S95.

So, off to Barbados and into the water with the turtles. One immediate observation was that the display is very difficult to use at snorkelling depths (where there may be quite a lot of ambient light from above/behind you), and the tiny font becomes illegible for a user like me with ageing eyes. A “high contrast” option on the display, and a large-font “quick menu” option (like on all my Canon and Panasonic cameras) would be useful.

However, a few minutes into the snorkelling session I noticed a much more serious problem: the camera kept on switching itself off, and the battery level was dropping almost as I watched. I managed to snatch a couple of shots, but the camera was really misbehaving, and I had to give up.

Back on the boat the problem was immediately apparent – the camera had sprung a leak presumably through the cover for the USB port, as that had evidence of water inside it. However, instead of being limited just to the port section, the water had spread rapidly through the camera with the result that the lens was misting up and the electrical problems were getting rapidly worse. Although I tried drying the camera out and recharging it, it’s now completely dead. Fortunately I had invested in a waterproof SD card, so I managed to rescue a few decent shots, but otherwise it’s a write-off.

This is an extremely poor design. As you have to charge the battery in camera (using the proprietary USB cable – another peeve), there’s no option of just sealing the camera for a complete trip. You would also think that the camera would have some measure of “double sealing” so that in the event of a leak into the port or battery/card openings the water wouldn’t permeate quickly into the rest of the electronics, but this is clearly not the case.

This camera is completely inadequate for its intended use. Fortunately my suppliers (the excellent Wex Photographic) have promised me a full refund. I will not be spending it on Olympus equipment.

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