Build a Ryzen 5 Gaming PC Costing Just $1200

I confess the title of this article isn’t completely accurate because I don’t talk about a single Ryzen 5 gaming PC, but several different possible options. However, I only build one of these options. Each option differs in cost and configuration somewhat; one even dips below $1,000 while still offering the same graphics hardware. Before I discuss the system I actually built, let’s take a look at the three configurations. I’ll begin first with the list of common component between all three, plus cost.

Component Brand Cost
Case Corsair Carbide 100R $60
Power Supply EVGA 600 B1 PSU $50
Graphics Card MSI GTX 1060 Armor OC $229
DDR4 Memory 16GB Corsair Vengeance LP (2 x 8GB) $120
OS Windows 10 Home OEM $99

I expect some people might raise their eyebrows a big at the GPU choice, not to mention the price. I’ll get to that shortly.

While I build a single PC, I’m suggesting three possible options, based primarily on differences in CPU, motherboard, cooling, and storage. Let’s see all of them, side by side.

 

Component My Build Cost-Reduced Under $1,000
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-AB350 Gaming 3
$126
Gigabyte GA-AB350 Gaming 3
$126
Gigabyte GA-AB350
$100
CPU Ryzen 1600X
$250
Ryzen 1600X
$250
Ryzen 1500X
$190
Storage Crucial 1TB MX300
$272
Crucial 512GB MX300
$149
Crucial 512GB MX300
$149
CPU Cooling Corsair H60
$65
Corsair H60
$65
AMD Wraith Spire
Included
Total Cost $1,271 $1,148 $997

Rationalizing Ryzen 5 Gaming PC Choices

Two of the potential builds seem quite similar; the key difference lies in storage quantity. I happened to already have a 1TB Crucial MX300, so went with that when I actually built the system. Using the 1TB variant of the MX300 pushes the cost above $1,200, though, pushing the cost below $1,200 means using the 512GB version.

Crucial MX300 M.2 SSD

SATA, but it works

The CPU cooler might generate a little controversy since the H60 costs roughly twice as much as a reasonably good air cooler. In my opinion, these sealed liquid coolers tend to be quieter and offer better airflow than lower cost coolers. You can find quiet and powerful air coolers but they tend to be much larger and more costly.

The CPU differences are pretty obvious. The Ryzen 5 1600X includes six cores, 12 threads, and clocks at 3.7GHz (boosted to 4.0GHz) while the Ryzen 5 1500X offers just four cores, eight threads, with the base frequency of 3.5GHz and 3.7GHz turbo. The Ryzen 5 1600 seems like an odd duck, offering six cores with a base clock at just 3.4GHz. At only $30 less, you might as well go with a 1600X. The 1500X drops the cost another $30, allowing me to hit that magic sub-$1,000.

CPU of choice for the Ryzen 5 Gaming PC

The $250 Ryzen 5 1600X

About that Graphics Card Choice

Perhaps the most fuel for discussion would be the GPU. I wanted a system capable of running games at 2560 x 1440 with reasonable graphic fidelity and decent frame rates. When I built the system, the Radeon RX 500 series hadn’t yet been released, but having read several reviews, I’m not entirely convinced I’d change my choice. First, some charts of my own. Some will note that these benchmarks may seem completely unfair, since they pit a factory overclocked GTX 1060 to an RX480 at stock clock frequencies. It’s been my experience, however, that overclocking the GPU tends to offer only marginal increases in performance.  First up are DirectX 11 game performance tests.

DirectX 11 Game Performance on the Ryzen 5 Gaming PC

DirectdX 11 Game Performance

Of course, DirectX 12 is the hot new kid on the block, so let’s take a look at how these cards fare in the same games as we used with DirectX 11.

DirectX 12 Game Performance on the Ryzen 5 Gaming PC

DirectX 12 Game Performance

Note that I had to leave out Ghost Recon Wildlands since Ubisoft hasn’t issued a DirectX 12 update. Therein lies an important point: many current games and any older games only use DirectX 11. Nvidia GPUs tend to have an edge in DirectX 11 gaming. Even when DirectX 12 support gets added, performance tends to become more even, rather than a strong win for one or the other (except Civilization 6, which loves AMD GPUs in DX12 mode).

The second issue is power and noise. The MSI graphics card I use here is astonishingly quiet even under load while the PowerColor Radeon RX 480 was quite the opposite, sounding like a small jet engine under load. It’s likely that MSI’s version of the RX580 would be quieter, but I’d worry about how much.

Finally, one more feature built into current generation Nvidia GPUs is something known as adaptive V-Sync. You need to swap to this setting in the Nvidia control panel, but it’s a great way to smooth out frame rates on normal displays which don’t explicitly support Nvidia’s proprietary G-Sync. Here’s Nvidia’s description of adaptive v-sync:

NVIDIA’s Adaptive VSync fixes both problems by unlocking the frame rate when below the VSync cap, which reduces stuttering, and by locking the frame rate when performance improves once more, thereby minimizing tearing. Adaptive VSync dynamically turns VSync on and off to maintain a more stable framerate.

GeForce GTX video card users can enable Adaptive VSync globally or on a per game basis through the NVIDIA Control Panel when using the latest GeForce drivers. Simply navigate to the section of the Control Panel shown below, and enable the Adaptive VSync option.”

I’ve been using adaptive v-sync on my primary system and it seems to work pretty well.

I also obtained the MSI card at an impressive price, finding it on sale at Amazon for $229. That price doesn’t include a $15 rebate since I don’t really consider post-sale rebates as a true cost reduction. However, it’s likely differences in performance between the RX580 and GTX 1060 remain relatively small. So I suggest you pick which one you want assuming you can find it at the price that fits your needs.

Final Build Notes

I’ve discovered you should update your system BIOS whenever you build a Ryzen-based PC. At this early stage, the BIOSes of most motherboards still seem a bit immature. For example, when I first fired up this PC, the BIOS screen showed the Ryzen 5 1600X idling at 60 degrees C — pretty excessive by any measure. Updating the BIOS reduced idle temps substantially. I’d say 28 degrees C at a fan speed of 1,041RPM looks much better.

Idle Temperature for the Ryzen 5 Gaming PC

Idle Temperature in the BIOS

The other thing I did was update the balanced power profile. You can find more details on AMD’s blog. The new balanced profile avoids unnecessary parking of the CPU into a deep sleep state at the expense of a small increase in power consumption. You get nearly the performance of running in performance mode while consuming much less power than that mode.

I’ve been playing several other games on this system, including Dishonored 2, XCOM2, and Mass Effect Andromeda, generally at the high detail level or equivalent. Performance has never been less than solid running on a 1440p monitor. I’d expect the sub-$1,000 system listed above would also run pretty well. So go forth and build one of your own!

 

Ryzen Diary Part III: Gaming on the Ryzen 7 1800X

Ghost Recon Wildlands runs well on Ryzen 7

Chilling out with the chute

When the first reviews emerged of AMD’s Ryzen 7 processors, benchmarks suggested solid multithreading performance in high-end applications, good multitasking performance, and surprisingly anemic Ryzen 7 gaming performance. But to understand Ryzen gaming benchmarks, you need to understand several things:

  • Ryzen is the first really new x86 architecture variant in years.
  • PC game benchmarks for testing CPUs run at low resolutions with low detail levels.
  • Games developed with Ryzen in mind perform better.

That Ryzen is new, yet still manages to perform well in applications tests, suggest the new architecture meets its promise of increased instructions per clock (IPC). While single-threaded performance lags a bit behind the newest Intel Kaby Lake CPUs, Ryzen remains a breath of fresh air for AMD.

In part I of the Ryzen diary, I talked about the Ryzen PC as it came out of the box. Part II discussed changes I made to the system, plus a bit of on-the-fly troubleshooting. In this third installment, I take a brief sidetrip into the art of benchmarking but eventually get to a bit of subective gaming experience on the Ryzen 7 1800X PC discussed in the first two parts.

Gaming Benchmarks are Weird

Game benchmarks, whether using simple timedemos or more sophisticated frame interval counting, are among the most complex benchmarks. That’s because games consist of multiple subsystems with different goals: graphics output, AI, world loop management, database tracking, and more. Modern AAA studio games often have a heavy focus on graphics. Games like the original XCOM and Civilization used to be graphically simple even though the internal simulations may have been complex. But modern iterations such as Civilization 6 and XCOM2 make heavy use of graphics modern graphics. Open world games like Rise of the Tomb RaiderGhost Recon: Wildlands, and Mass Effect Andromeda often result in the graphics hardware being the limiting factor in performance, not the CPU.

XCOM2 graphics

XCOM2 offers amazing graphical detail for a tactical, turn-based game

To counteract this, CPU game benchmarks tend to be run with all the graphics features dialed down as much as possible and as at low a resolution as possible. Game performance tests run in this manner show Ryzen lagging Intel CPUs, sometimes by a little, sometimes more substantially.

No one, of course, actually plays in this way, unless they’re forced to — users of Intel HD Graphics, for example. Anyone spending $500 for a CPU will likely want a damned good graphics card to enhance the game experience with that processor. Once you drop in a good graphics card and run at full resolution with lots of eye candy, performance differences become far less pronounced.

Tuning Ryzen

That Ryzen represents the first new x86 architecture in years means we’re at the start of the cycle of optimization. No current application has been compiled with Ryzen in mind, yet the new CPU runs most applications pretty well. Signs indicate that future applications may do better. AMD worked with Oxide Games, developers of the RTS Ashes of the Singularity, in an effort to optimize the game for Ryzen. Dave Altavilla at hothardware.com noted performance increases up to 20% after Oxide implemented Ryzen optimizations.

AMD also issued a new balanced power profile for Windows to work around an issue where Windows would put unused Ryzen cores into their deepest sleep state. This flushes any internal caches and affects performance due to the high performance cost of waking up the core. This can happen hundreds or thousands of times per second. PC Perspective tested the new power profile and saw modest, but measurable, performance gains with only an incremental increase in power consumption. Once Microsoft brings Windows up to speed on Ryzen power modes, this stopgap solution won’t be necessary.

But How Good is the Ryzen 7 Gaming Experience?

Let’s talk about subjective impressions. I installed Mass Effect AndromedaGhost Recon Wildlands, and XCOM2 on the Ryzen 7 system provided by AMD, connected to an Asus 1440p monitor and using an eVGA GTX 1080 SC GPU. I played all three games on my own for a number of hours. On top of my own game time, I had friends on the system during our Friday night LAN parties. Overall, we’ve logged 30 hours on the Ryzen system. During that time, we had one crash-to-the desktop during a Ghost Recon co-op session — and that was before the first Wildlands patch. One CTD in 30 hours of gaming is not a big deal; I’ve had that happen on Intel system, particularly with new games out-of-the-box.

Ghost Recon Wildlands

Flying in Ghost Recon Wildlands with enemies below

More importantly, gameplay felt fluid and smooth. We cranked up the games detail levels to Ultra mode and always ran at 2560×1440  We never noticed any hiccups, stuttering, or low frame rates. Not only were games playable on Ryzen, but the gameplay experience was excellent. I can safely say without reservation that you can build a find gaming sysetm with Ryzen 7 and a good graphics card.

So much for Ryzen 7. What would you see with a lower-cost system using Ryzen 5 and a more modest GPU? I’ll tackle that in a future post, as I build up my $1,200 Ryzen 5 gaming PC.

Mass Effect Andromeda is Mass Effect Redux

I’ve been playing through the Mass Effect Andromeda single player campaign, though my initial excitement has been tempered a bit. For awhile, I thought of the game as the Inquisitioning of Mass Effect. In other words, Bioware built an open world with a lot of pointless resource gathering in the pursuit of making their game bigger and longer. Certainly many of the quests under the quest tab “Tasks” turn out to be pointless.

The desert world, an all-too-familiar trope

As I’ve played more — I’m probably 3/4 of the way through now — I’m getting strong deja vu vibes of the original Mass Effect,. The game looks clearly to be a setup for further games in the series. My daughter Emily is a big fan of the original trilogy, and feels the same way, though not always positively. To quote Emily:

I can see how the story in Andromeda is on par with the original Mass Effect. Maybe it has to be a little simple to set the stage. But the story seems awfully familiar — evil aliens / evil technology turning good aliens (and maybe you next) into them and brainwashing them. Also, I think some of the side characters are less interesting in some cases — Joker versus the new (Salarian) pilot, etc.)

Maybe ME2 and ME3 spoiled me and some of the official reviewers. As I said, maybe it has to be simple to set the stage. But after 2 and 3… the sequels have a lot to live up to.”

I generally agreed with Emily’s assessment. Andromeda thematically resembles the first Mass Effect, even if plot elements differ, but much of it seems to be setup for a longer story arc. And like Emily, I’m a little disappointed that the story beats echo the elements in the original game. Sure, it’s great to build up the Nexus from its damaged shell to something better, but did we really need a near-duplicate of the Citadel, right down to a bar with bad music? And what’s with the inventory system, which seems like it took the worst of Mass Effect and mashed it up with Inquisitions inventory system.

Andromeda’s Departure Point from Mass Effect

I think Andromeda departs from the original story in throwing a bunch of (mostly young) inexperienced characters into the fray, dealing with events beyond the scope of their expectations and training. They have to make it up as they go along, lacking the resources and support that the Citadel Council could offer in the first game. The conflict between the Salarian pilot, Kallo, and the human engineer, Gil, illustrate the tension between the old and new, between sticking with the familiar versus adapting on the fly to the new place.

These are the elements I think Andromeda gets right. Ryder makes mistakes along the way, acknowledging that she’s learning as she goes. Peebee, young Asari who makes Liara T’Soni look like the soul of maturity by comparison, whoops with glee when she encounters the new and the strange. Liam is young, brash, foolish, and impulsive. Vetra operates in the shadows, like the dark version of Garrus, while the Krogan Drack knows he’s reaching the end of his days, but has little aspiration to being more than an old NCO. Jaal, the new alien… well, I’m not sure quite what to make of Jaal, who’s assigned to the crew by his Angaran superiors as much to keep an eye on these new aliens as to help them.

As I’m nearing the end of the story, these characters still don’t seem fully fleshed out, in the same way the characters in the original Mass Effect seemed shallow. Garrus, in particular, seemed like a really shallow character, an echo of a Dirty Harry wannabe. When he became Archangel in Mass Effect 2, he seemed much more interesting. The other characters carried through the trilogy also grew with the story. Liara, Tali, Wrex, all developed deep back stories and all became memorable characters in the longer run.

Can Mass Effect Andromeda strike the same spark? I’m not so sure. For one thing, Mass Effect’s story was tighter and more focused and personal, while Andromeda’s story is big, sprawling, and tries to do too much. Bioware would do well to make the story in any sequel a little smaller and more personal. Andromeda may have tried to hard to be Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3 all in one game. Scaling back the ambition in the future might make for a much better game.

Even with all my complaints, I’m having a blast playing the single-player campaign and the multiplayer sticks with the ME3 formula, which is a good thing. But I can’t help wondering if this good game could have been a great game if a few ideas had been left on the cutting room floor.

Ryder contemplates the future of Mass Effect Andromeda

 

Playing with the Sigma 50-100mm f1.8 Art Lens

I recently acquired a Sigma 50-100mm f1.8 zoom lens, part of the company’s Art lens series. At first blush, a 2x zoom ratio seems pretty limited, but two things set this Sigma apart from other zooms. The first is the optical quality, which is outstanding. The second is the f1.8 maximum aperture, which can be used throughout the zoom range. As others have noted, this lens effectively replaces several prime lenses, including 50mm, 85mm, and 100mm, plus anything in-between. This particular Sigma targets DX sensor cameras, making it an excellent fit for my Nikon D500, giving it an effective reach of 75mm – 150mm (full-frame equivalent). Given Nikon’s  seeming lack of interest in high-end DX lenses, it’s great to see Sigma step up to bat for DX users.

The downside to having an f1.8 telezoom is weight. The 50-100 f1.8 comes in at a whopping 1631 grams (57.5 ounces) including lens hood, lens cap, and B+W clear filter. Nearly two pounds of lens means carrying this around could be a chore, but since I can leave out several primes, the added weight won’t be too much of a problem. The Sigma 50-100mm f1.8 is a big lens as befits its optical quality and speed. Check out what a Nikon D7200 looks like with this lens mounted.

Sigma 50-100mm f1.8 on a D7200

That’s one big piece of glass.

The lens offers a few additional quirks. The most noticeable oddity is the permanently attached tripod collar. Some feel that it gets in the way of lens handling, but that doesn’t seem to be a big issue in my brief usage so far. The other quirk may be a bit more problematic: the Sigma isn’t weather-sealed. So shooting in inclement weather means a return to wrapping your lens in a plastic bag.

That’s Great, Loyd, but How the Sigma 50-100 f1.8 Shoot?

I popped the lens onto my Nikon D500 and took it for a morning spin in the back yard. This is all pretty casual shooting, so please don’t hold me to any high compositional standards! Using this Sigma reminds me of how it used to be when I used the Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8. The camera plus lens balances more forward so you can’t casually fire off shots with one hand. This forces you to compose a bit more carefully, which may be a good thing for most of us. While I didn’t really have time to try out any action photography, Barkley running down the sidewalk suggests the lens would do pretty well.

Shooting a moving animal with the Sigma

Barkley trotting

Mostly, though, I shot flowers in the backyard. Minimum focus distance is a tad over three feet, at 37.4 inches, so you can’t get too close to your subject — but the relatively long focal length mitigates that somewhat. I shot at a variety of f-stops, ranging from 1.8 up to f8. Bokeh in particularly looks great; being able to shoot at f1.8 is fabulous.

Shot with the Sigma 50-100 f1.8 on a cloudy day

Bokeh experiment

Check out the gallery below for more detail.

Ultimately, the real test for this lens for me is whether I really carry it around. I can surely use it as a portrait lens at home, but this would have been a terrific lens when I shot cosplay with the Nikon D500 at Wondercon. This has the potential of replacing several lenses in my current lens kit, including the 85mm f1.8 and possibly the 70-200 f4. However, the weight has me a little worried, so I’ll just have to give it a whirl. It sure looks like a fun lens, though, so I’m looking forward to taking it out.

How to Get the Improbable Insights Podcast

The Improbable Insights Crew

Three people sit down every two weeks to record the Improbable Insights podcast.

Eric Klein works in early-stage venture capital, focusing on companies developing a variety of hardware for consumers and businesses. As a venture guy, he keeps his eyes open for cool new tech before most people hear about it. Eric also began his career in gaming, working for Bungie back in the day. He also spent time at Palm and Apple.

David Bryant works as a Mozilla Fellow, exploring new web technologies. He’s worked at Bell Labs, Sun Microsystems, and Nokia over the years. His years of graphics and product development experience gives him some keen insights on user experience, software, and hardware development.

Eric, David, and I are also avid gamers, and often have strong opinions about games of all types, including tabletop and video games. Eric and I have been close to the gaming industry for a lot of years, which enables us to comment about what’s going on in the industry.

Eric and David are both veteran makers, and often comment on tools and projects they’re involved with.

Eric Klein, David Bryant, and I have been recording the Improbable Insights podcast for over 100 episodes now. Improbable Insights is Uncertainty’s own podcast, and focuses on tech, the tools we use, and the media we like best. We also talk about long-term usage, and what tech we’ve kept or dropped. While you can always listen on the website (click on the “podcast” menu item for a list), a lot of you may want to download the podcast.

How to Get the Podcast

Improbable Insights has been available on iTunes from day one. Just go to iTunes and search for Improbable Insights. You can also listen or download from the Google Play music store if that’s your poison. If you’d like to manually download the podcast, or use a podcast app that accepts RSS, the feed can be found here.

We continue to be excited about the podcast, but we haven’t been doing a great job of getting the word out on Improbable Insights. Give us a review on your favorite podcasting source. We’d love to hear your feedback and ideas, either via feedback on Uncertainty or send us email to improbablepodcast@gmail.com. Hope to hear from you soon!

Improbable Insights Podcast: What AMD’s Ryzen Means for the Industry and Consumers


Scott Gardner, former industry analyst and tech company executive, joins David Bryant and me on the Improbable Insights podcast to discuss the impact of AMD’s Ryzen CPU release will have on the industry. AMD just began shipping the Ryzen 5 CPUs, which sport four or six cores, with two threads per core. More importantly, AMD has priced Ryzen 5 directly against Intel midrange processors.  Can lilliputian AMD compete with the Intel juggernaut? Can the Ryzen processor deliver the goods for end users? Will the PC industry step up and adopt the new processor? We ponder all these questions as we dive into the implications of resurging competition in the PC processor business.

Fun and Tools

While I’m liking this Razer Black Widow X Chroma keyboard, I do miss my media controls — particularly the ability to adjust audio volume or silence audio on the fly, something that came built into the Logitech G810 I used previously. So I picked up the Drok Volume Control knob. The Drok connects via USB and requires no drivers since it looks like a HID device to the system. It’s large, includes subtle detents as you rotate the knob, and can disable Windows audio by popping the top like a large button

Drok USB Volume Control Knob

The Drok controls Windows audio with no driver needed.

On the fun side, I’ve been having a good time with Mass Effect Andromeda, but have to confess that it hasn’t grabbed me the way the original Mass Effect Trilogy has. I’ll have some thoughts about why that’s the case in a future post. David and I went to Wondercon down in Anaheim, where I shot photos of cosplayers using my Nikon D500. We had a great time attending panels and cruising the expo show floor. Listen to the podcast for more. David also talks about recent books and TV, plus reconnecting with old friends via Diablo 3.

 

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Ryzen Diary Part II: Fixing a Boot Failure and Reducing Noise

I ended part I of this ongoing Ryzen system diary on something of a cliffhanger: the PC had suddenly stopped booting.

I’ve been away from the AMD fold for years when it comes to actual system building, so blaming the Ryzen system for the boot issue was my first reaction. I shrugged that immediate, admittedly biased reaction off and began my normal troubleshooting process. First, I popped the OEM Windows 10 DVD which shipped with the PC into the drive. Windows setup booted normally. So it appeared that the Ryzen 1800X CPU, memory, and graphics subsystem worked properly, and the system could boot off a serial ATA drive.

I booted into BIOS setup as the next step and reset everything to system defaults, including memory clocks. The PC still couldn’t find the boot drive. So I dove back into BIOS setup and looked at the boot drive and storage settings. I saw no listing in either section of the BIOS screen for the Samsung 960 Pro M.2 SATA drive.

Samsung 960 Pro SSD used in the Ryzen PC

Such a small thing to cause such an annoying problem

I removed the SSD, wiped the contacts with a bit of isopropyl alcohol and popped it back in after the contacts dried.

No joy.

I removed the 960 Pro once again and inserted it into an Intel-based system with an NVMe-capable M.2 socket. The SSD remained stubbornly invisible. Clearly, the 960 Pro had gone to SSD heaven. I didn’t have a replacement 960 Pro (AMD has since shipped me one), but I did have a Crucial 1TB MX300 on hand. The key technical difference between the two, besides the brands, is that the MX300 is seen as a SATA device, not NVMe, so performance was likely to be a bit slower.

I slid the MX300 into the M.2 socket and fired up the system. Success!

Crucial MX300 M.2 SSD Fixed the Ryzen PC Boot Issue

SATA, but it works

I did have to reinstall Windows, but that process went pretty quickly and I was back up and running in short order.

Reducing Noise

The Ryzen PC shipped in a sheet steel case with several noisy Raidmax fans and a default AMD CPU cooler. I replaced the CPU cooler with a Corsair H60 sealed liquid cooler. You can see the Corsair cooler installed below.

Ryzen PC with Corsair H60, Crucial SSD, eVGA GTX 1080

Revamped Ryzen PC

I removed the rear Raidmax case fan to make room for the Corsair H60 radiator / fan combo. The next step was to deal with the arguably worse front fan noise. I noticed the Coolermaster case could mount 140mm fans as well as 120mm fans. Out came the pair of Raidmax front fans. That proved a bit of a chore, as Cyberpower had tightly bundled the case power wires with zip ties. Once out, I used a single 140mm Corsair fan.

Ryzen PC front fan

Corsair 140mm fan

While I didn’t take noise measurements, my ears seemed much happier. The steel case still tends to reverberate a bit, but the noise level even under heavy load was noticeably down. The CPU idles at a relatively sedate 40 degrees C. I would have preferred to see that number a bit lower, but it’s still acceptable.

So now the Ryzen PC boots and seems much less noisy. We’ll talk about how well it actually runs in the next installment.

Shooting Wondercon 2017 with the D500

Jan and I headed down to Wondercon in Anaheim for a lovely weekend of panels, cosplay-watching, geek shopping, and more. I took along my Nikon D500, along with several lenses, and had a field day shooting cosplayers. I certainly loved the energy and enthusiasm that went into these designs. And the ages ranged from small children to people clearly older than me.

I mostly shot with the 16-80mm f/2.8-f/4, but also used the 70-200mm f/4 to good effect. I pulled out the 85mm f/1.8 for a bit, and should have used it more, but got a little lazy. I also used auto-ISO, but limited the top end to 25,600 and the shutter speed to a minimum 1/100th second.

I have to admit to being a bit shy. Next time out, I’m going to talk with the cosplayers a bit more. Being shy meant I missed some good photo opportunities, including some excellent Kunari / Dragon Age cosplayers. I really need to get over my relative inability to approach strangers, especially people who clearly love to talk with photographers.

We also hung out with David Bryant (@david_bryant on Twitter) and his wife, Elaine. David co-hosts the Improbable Insights podcast with me and is a veteran of fan conventions. We all attended Wondercon the last time it was in Anaheim, but skipped last year’s Los Angeles show. While I’ve attended my share of tabletop gaming cons, these fan conventions represent something new to me. The Anaheim convention center provides a great venue, though the Hilton — the “official” hotel — was less enthralling. Still, a great time was had by all, it seemed.

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