Monday, September 20, 2010

Ace Adventure Challenge Photos

Getting Ready.  Nikon D300, 50mm, F/2.0, 1/1000, ISO200
The Ace Adventure Challenge 2010 was held last weekend.  I volunteered to shoot the race and was assigned to cover the start and the area around Checkpoint 6.  So I threw my Nikon D300, a Speedlight, and some lenses into a Dakine Sequence backpack, hopped onto my mountain bike, and followed the racers around for some fun.  Here's a look at an urban adventure racing course:

The Start.  Nikon D300, 16-85mm, F/16, 1/60, ISO200

On The Bike. Nikon D300, 16-85mm, F/5.0, 1/20, ISO200
Checkpoint 6.  Nikon D300, 12-24mm, F/4, 1/250, ISO200
On The Ropes.  Nikon D300, 50mm, F1.4, 1/50, ISO3200
Full Moon Abseil.  Nikon D300, 50mm, F/1.4, 1/20, ISO3200
Thanks for taking a look.  To view these images full-size and check out more images from the race, please visit my Flickr site.


Friday, September 17, 2010

iPod Shuffle 4G Review

I destroy MP3 players.  I don't even remember how many I've had over the years.  Training here is Singapore is very tough on electronics: high humidity and sweat  don't mix very well with electronics.  The average lifespan for my MP3 players tends to be about 6 months (the shortest about 2 weeks, and the longest about a year).  Given my history with destroying these gadgets, I tend to stay away from the more expensive players.  I've had the best luck with the Apple Shuffles, and I've owned the 1G, 2G, (skipped the 3G) and now the 4G.
With the 4G, Apple brought back the buttons onto the player.  This is a good thing.  The reason I skipped the 3G is because without buttons, I had no choice but to use the Apple supplied 'click control' earphones, and I like to use my own headphones.

The 4G looks a little like the previous 2G.  The main difference (other than the shape) is an additional button on the top of the 4G shuffle.  This is the new 'VoiceOver' button, something taken from the 3G Shuffle.  Press and hold this button, and a voice reads out playlists that you can select.  This means you can create and drag playlists from iTunes and play them on the Shuffle.  I can have a fast playlist for my workout, and a slow playlist for stretching out after.  Nice :o)
VoiceOver Button
How's it sound?  Nothing new here.  To my ears, it sounds just like the 2G, which could be good news or bad news, depending on what player you're coming from.  I've been spoiled.  When my 2G Shuffle died, I bought a Sandisk Sansa Clip+ MP3 player.  After 4 months, the plastic clip on the Sansa is already broken, but the player itself still works and still sounds great.  The Sansa Clip+ sounds more open, cleaner, more defined.  I'll miss the great sound from my Clip+, but given the hassle with syncing it to my Mac, I'll settle for the convenience of the 4G.

A big part of what helps keep my Shuffles alive longer than any other MP3 player is the build, and with the 4G, it is solid and tight, without any gaps or holes where moisture can easily penetrate.  The only hole is the 2.5mm headphone jack, and that's plugged up when you insert your earphones.
I've found that a good place to clip my Shuffles when I work out is on my baseball cap, roll up the excess earphone cable around the adjustment strap on the back of the cap, and just leave enough cable for the earphones to reach my ears.  Of course, you'll have to memorize where the buttons are, but that keeps it out of the way, and dry for the most part.

My iPod Shuffle has 2GB of memory and 15 hours of battery life.  It comes in grey, orange, green, blue and pink.  It costs US$49.99 from Apple, and is available here on Amazon:



Update Dec 23 2010:

Ok, so it's been about 3 months since I bought my 4G Shuffle.  During the second week, I managed to drop it from my dresser (about 4'/1m) and it landed on the corner where the headphones go.  I dented it such that the headphones couldn't go in.  It needed a small prying tool to widen the hole again.  No big deal, but it goes to show you how thin the material is.

Last week, my 4G died, and I sent it back to Apple.  I was concerned that it was corrosion, in which case the warranty is void.  It turns out that the battery was faulty, wouldn't charge properly and was giving me about 3 hours of play.  So they kindly changed my 4G Shuffle :o)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New Compact Adventure Cameras

With three new compact cameras on the way (The Nikon P7000, the Panasonic Lumix LX5, and the Canon G12), I thought it was it's time I re-looked at what these cameras can and can't do, when compared to a DSLR.
Nikon Coolpix P7000
Sensor Size Matters
The main reason people buy high quality compacts is image quality. Some are hoping it can replace a DSLR. It can and it can't. The smaller size of the compact sensor compared to a DSLR sensor is going to cause:

1. more image noise at higher ISOs; and
2. large depth of field, even at big apertures.

Compact cameras, with the smaller sensors, have a problem achieving a 'shallow depth of field' to blur out distracting backgrounds, which may be desirable when shooting portraits. Having said that, for adventure shots, a large depth of field is often desirable to capture wide-angle action with a lot of landscape in the background.

Not For: Portrait shooters desiring 'creamy bokeh' effects.

Bottom line: if you restrict your ISOs to 400 and below, and can live with the large depth of field effects, then yes, one of these cameras will do the job.

No Creamy Bokeh Here.  At F/2.8 on a normal-short telephoto lens, we would expect the dog and building behind her to disappear into a non-distracting sort of blur. Not so easy to do with a compact.  Panasonic Lumix LX3, 60mm equiv, F/2.8, ISO400. Photo @ Norman Hoddap

Speed
One of the major complaints against compacts are that they are slow:  Slow to start up, slow to shoot, slow to write the image to the memory card... ooh, don't get me started!

Not For: Sports shooters.

Bottom line:  The upside is that most people keep their compacts pretty handy, and can access them quickly, which somewhat mitigates the slow start-up time.  Otherwise, be prepared to be somewhat frustrated, especially if you shoot RAW.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
Ergonomics
It's all about getting what you want, i.e. CONTROL.  Generally, I find that the smaller the camera, the more compromises it makes on handling: missing optical viewfinders, micro joysticks, single control wheel, etc.  It's a good idea to handle the camera in store, since each model will have it's own handling quirks.

Not For: Manual Exposure Shooters or Control Freaks.

Bottom Line:  Since depth of field control is limited anyway, and when you're busy with other aspects of your adventure, just leave the camera in 'P' (Program) Mode and let it do its thing.
Canon Powershot G12
Bottom BOTTOM Line: 
For me, a lightweight, advanced compact like those above are certainly a useful addition or backup to my DSLR, especially in adventures where my DSLR might be too heavy, or to much at risk to bring.  At this point in time, the limitations of these compacts are a little too much for me to leave my DSLR behind permanently, but I do find myself using these types of compacts more and more.

Nikon D7000: It's Official

It's out and official!  Nikon has made the long awaited announcement and Amazon is now taking pre-orders for the Nikon D7000.

For those looking for the perfect DSLR for adventure and travel, this is as close as we've ever come.  The full specifications are out on the Nikon Website, but what does this mean to me?

Size and weight are important, and although the new D7000 is close in size to the D90, it's quite a bit heavier.  The body weighs in at 690g, which is 70g (or about the weight of a spare battery) heavier than the D90.  This is due to the magnesium alloy body, which is supposed to be weather and dust proof.  Personally, I don't really care if the body is plastic (like the old D90) or magnesium, and I'd rather have a lighter body, but the moisture and dust proofing should come in handy. 

The new Autofocus system should also be good news.  It's much more than the 11AF points on the old D90.  It has 39 AF points laid out in a similar array to the D3/D700, and I'm hoping that the fewer number of AF points, as compared to the 51 points on my D300 will mean faster, more reliable AF.

Like a lot of other photographers, I've become interested lately in HD video, and the D7000 delivers the goods... at least on paper ;o) Full HD (1,920 x 1,080/24p) and a dedicated switch for video recording.  Stereo audio recording too, if you have an external mic.

There has been a lot of speculation regarding the new 'Nikon designed and engineered' sensor, and at 16.2MP, it is currently Nikon's 2nd highest in terms of Megapixels (after the D3x).  Chase Jarvis and his crew, who have spent a couple of months testing out the D7000, report that noise levels are about a stop better than the D90, and comparable with the D3: "The caveat being that the larger pixels on the D3 sensor will render a slightly smoother looking image at the same ISO because the grain pattern is not as tight." 

If I sound excited, it's because I am.  I'll probably place my order for one tomorrow ;o)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Nikon D7000 Echoes

Nikon Rumors says Nikon will release the highly anticipated D90 replacement, the D7000, this October.  According to the website, the D7000 will sport a 16.2MP CMOS sensor on a weatherproof, magnesium alloy body.  In addition to the scene mode dial, which is popular with some amateurs, the D7000 looks like it will have some 'pro' features, like 100% viewfinder accuracy and dual SD memory card slots.  It will be able to record up to 20 minutes of HD video using Autofocus.  It will have 39 AF points and a new EXPEED 2 image processor.  Read more here.

Nikon D7000 image © Nikonrumors.com
If all this is true, it will be a significant upgrade over the current D90, and have certain advantages over the current D300s.  The camera weight and battery specifications weren't released, but this looks very exciting and will be the front-runner as a replacement for my aging D300.