13 – guy trip #3

This year, we couldn’t get all of us to go on the trip, so sans-Greg, we had some flexibility with scheduling and decided to combine our annual Morro Bay race with our guy trip.

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The Morro Bay race is a 6-mile “fun run” on the beach which goes from the Morro rock to the Cayucos Pier and it is commemorated to a good friend’s father, so the race has special meaning to all of us. This year, there were several event photographers covering the event, and lo and behold, free downloads of pictures (hint, hint, Orange County marathon/half-marathon folks). Here’s a picture of me, probably inbetween some Amsterdam trap and Jamiroquai on my playlist:

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This year, I placed first in my division (35-39) and 25th overall! Not bad!

After the Morro Bay weekend, we drove over to Lake Nacimiento and basically hung out in our cabin the entire time. We ate. We drank. We played cards. We BS’ed. We looked at the sky.

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The sky overhead was amazingly dark. During the first night, the Milky Way was amazing, but unfortunately, none of us were sober enough to handle cameras or a tripod safely, so we just stared in awe and were probably pretty loud and annoying at 1:00 AM.

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The second night, I took it easy with the drinks and managed to capture an Iridium flare:

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…and thanks to Iain’s expertise with the sky, I caught my first glimpse of the Andromeda galaxy:

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Can’t see it? Here it is, zoomed in:

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I definitely saw space from a new perspective during the trip, and I can’t blame it all on the scotch or beers!

Anyway, after a very tiring but enjoyable weekend, I came back home…and I felt like I was gone for such a long time. The older I get, the more I realize how my time on earth is so finite and I need to make the most of it…

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12 – aquarium

We took my daughter to the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific for an early birthday celebration today. We used to be members of the Aquarium for several years, but as the kids outgrew it, we decided not to renew, even though membership is tax-deductible.

In any case, here are some snaps from the day. I didn’t bother taking many pictures of the exhibits…but mostly what I found interesting. All pictures SOOC jpeg from the X100s – some pictures taken with the TCL-x100, and some without.

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We had to park at the Pike parking lot because there was some event at the Queen Mary that took up the entire parking structure next to the aquarium. The bridge is interesting because it looks like there’s supposed to be a roller-coaster on it, but there’s not.

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The X100s is AMAZING with low light. The picture above was taken while the room was very dark and there was a short film playing inside the main hall of the Aquarium. Focus was quick when using the AF-assist light.

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Here’s the main hall of the Aquarium – I looked up and found the patterns interesting.

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After the Aquarium, Sara and I explored around the lighthouse while Matty and Shannon went back to grab some food in the van.

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On the way back across the bridge to the parking structure, I noticed that the Long Beach skyline is starting to become more interesting. I don’t remember so many different architectural styles in this area. I also didn’t realize that this area had an outlet shopping center…

The two pictures below were taken at home earlier this week. I had to throw in a selfie too.

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I figured out to set the FN button on the X100s to configure the teleconverter. This is much easier than diving through the menus. I can always set it to the ND filter or ISO when I need those settings.

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11 – randoms

Some recent randoms from the past week or so. All of these are SOOC jpeg – I’m using the in-camera RAW to jpeg conversion to tweak the images using the Fuji film ‘filters’. I really love the rich colors of the Velvia preset, but it can be a bit much for some situations.

We also went to the Greek festival and a Japanese restaurant yesterday, and even though I brought my camera, I was too busy stuffing my face to take pictures!

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GAS got a hold of me last week and I acquired the TCL-X100 teleconverter adapter, which changes the effective focal length from 35mm to 50mm, while still maintaining the same focusing capability and lens speed. So technically, even though the X100s is a fixed focal length camera, by adding the adapter, I have two ‘lenses’ that cover my two most-used FOVs. Also, unlike interchangeable lenses, the sensor is never exposed, so it’s much easier to quickly screw on or unscrew the adapter just to change focal length.

I also got the official Fuji leather case and strap, which, when combined with the Lensmate thumb grip, makes the X100s much easier to hold.

 

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10 – X100s Workarounds

I was a little frustrated with the exposure and focusing of the X100s, so I finally took the time to read online blogs and guidance and learned a few quirks, which required some workarounds.

First workaround: I’m now shooting RAW and processing in-camera as-needed.

Before, I was shooting RAW+jpeg and had different quick settings for ‘standard,’ ‘velvia,’ and ‘B&W with red filter’ – with each one having specific dynamic range settings. Unfortunately, the draw of increased dynamic range came at the cost of strange exposure values and ISO jumping to 800 even on a bright day. so, recommendation was to keep it at DR100 (100% dynamic range) – this resulted in behavior that I typically expected.

The added benefit is that I can edit the RAW in-camera and apply filters afterwards. The picture below was processed with ‘standard’ provia:

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…and the picture below was processed with B&W+red filter:

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Maybe my photographic tastes are maturing…but my preference for grainy B&W is now being surpassed by clean and contrasty B&W.

The downside – RAW files are freaking HUGE.

Second Workaround: stopping down the lens.

I read online that the lens needs to be stopped down a bit to achieve optimum sharpness between 1-7 ft. I guess my years of working with the small image circle of the 4/3 sensor size spoiled me with telecentric lenses that were sharp even wide open. So, I’m shooting f/2.8 indoors when sharpness matters and f/2.0 when exposure requires it. The below picture was shot in a very dim room while we drank smoothies and watched a movie indoors to escape the heat outside, so it was f/2.

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I also tried the in-camera cropping just for s&g’s:

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The focus point was my son’s left eye and glasses – so I think I got focus right where I wanted it.

The picture below was f/2.8:

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Actually, at Internet sizes, the difference between both pictures is negligible. For macro-like shots though, I guess I’ll need to keep it no less than f/4 – this is due to the inherent limitations in the lens design.

Third Workaround: I’m using the rear LCD and the EVF more.

I just sucked it up and decided that the OVF, for my needs, is going to be used primarily for when I’m outside and it’s sunny. The EVF and rear LCD are just fine for composition and exposure management. It is quite nice to have both options – and for this advantage alone, I’d have a very difficult time going back to a camera without similar capability.

 

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9 – other upgrades

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When I sold off my m4/3 kit, I made enough to also afford the purchase of the Garmin Vivoactive smartwatch.

For a year now, I’ve been rocking two pieces of wrist candy on a daily basis: my Casio G-Shock watch and my Fitbit, both of which I’d alternate for my Forerunner 310xt when I went for a run (when I trained for the OC Half, this was about 4-5 times a week).

The downside of this arrangement is that I needed to keep track of two different applications to monitor my activity. At some point, I just gave up on wearing my Fitbit during runs and I would just manually enter the run from the Forerunner into the Fitbit app. This then got too old, so I just stopped manually tying them both together.

Now, with the Vivoactive, I got rid of my Fitbit (I gave both of the Fitbits to my parents) and I’m selling the watch on eBay…which makes me sad because it’s a good watch and I used my United Mileage to get it…I think of all the pain and freaking inconvenience of flying United and the watch was my reminder of never flying United again. Save for a trip to the UK with my boss last year – which was only made tolerable by my tagging along with him to the lounges for free drinks and food before each flight – I’ve been pretty good with staying away from United Airlines.

Anyway, the Vivoactive gets me integrated activity, sleep, and run tracking in one device, which ultimately simplifies my life.

The e-paper display is really nice and it’s always on. I charged it to 100% when I got the watch, went on two 5-mile runs which used GPS, and the battery is still above 50%. I also have notifications enabled and remote music control – which is about all the ‘smart’ functionality I need. I’ve changed the watch face on a daily basis, but I keep going back to a simple one that shows simple icons for status, a big easily readable digital time display, and the date. I just swipe over one screen if I want to see my steps and I swipe to another screen if I want to see how many notifications I have. I don’t really need to see all of it on one screen.

A lot of people at work have an Android watch or an Apple watch and it’s just a slab of black on their wrist…and they’re still charging every day. I always know the time and my step count and still get all notifications, and I’ll probably only need to charge once a week…and I have built-in GPS.

The picture above shows my first Forerunner 205, my Forerunner 310xt, and the Vivoactive (yes, I’m well integrated into the Garmin ecosystem).

I’m selling the 310xt on eBay right now, along with the GSC 10 bike speed and cadence sensor (I don’t need these statistics for my rides anymore). The Forerunner 205 has been loaned out to coworkers for their run training – it’s currently being used by a coworker who is training for the Portland half marathon.

Anyway, I’m currently training for an annual 6-mile fun run in July. I PR’ed last year with 7:30/mile. Right now, I’m down to an average 7:20/mile for 5 miles, but 2.5 mile split is downhill…I basically average 7:00/mile for the first half and average 7:55/mile for the second half. On alternate days, I’ve been lifting weights (upper body workout with about eighty 50-pound squats in addition) – I’m hoping to build more overall muscle and core strength, which should help with my endurance.

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8 – relearning

After having used 4/3 and m4/3 cameras for so long, I got quite accustomed to the workflow, the limitations of each sensor, and how to work around them. I had dabbled with Sony NEX for a while and didn’t quite get along with the output, which caused me to briefly return to m4/3 again – only to make a 100% switch to a Fuji X100s.

In any case, my kids have been the unwilling test subjects while I reconfigure the X100s so I can learn to make it a transparent tool…

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So, this is what I’ve done so far.

First, I created three presets on the X100s.

  • High contrast B&W (because I love high contrast B&W)
  • Velvia (for punchy shots)
  • Standard (for normal shots)

I access the presets with the Q button and can easily switch them as needed.

Second, I set the Fn button to engage the ND filter. In sunny southern California, the ND filter has definitely proven its worth.

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Third, I cleaned up the OVF and EVF to only display the items I need to see. This makes composition so much easier.

I’m discovering that parallax is definitely not something I like, so I’m probably alternating between the EVF and the OVF fifty percent of the time. Having an OVF is awesome though, since it means that I can still compose while wearing polarized sunglasses. This was always a problem with the OMD EM5 (and probably will be a problem for any camera with an EVF): whenever shooting in portrait orientation, the EVF and the LCD are useless.

I haven’t really used the LCD for composing outside yet. I’ve used it a few times for macro, and honestly, I’m disappointed in the macro capabilities. I knew it wouldn’t match the 1:1 magnification level of my ZD 35/3.5 macro lens, but macro sharpness is not ideal…but then again, the Fuji lens is *not* a macro lens. I just need to manage my expectations better.

Fourth, I enabled RAW/JPEG mode – not that I’ve post-processed the RAW shots yet. I don’t know if I will, especially since each RAW file is a whopping 32 MB! WTF. Why is the RAW file so huge? I may actually switch to JPEG-only again. I’m quite pleased with the jpeg engine of the X100s and I haven’t had a need to process any of my keepers, other than resizing for the Interwebs.

Fifth, I bought a Lensmate thumbgrip – this does truly help with holding the X100s. I really don’t know if I like the leather half-case that came with the X100s. It looks awesome and will probably provide sufficient protection, but I really don’t like the lack of grip on the front. I did get rid of the unwieldy wrist strap that came with the camera. It’s nice and I’m sure it’s expensive, but my Op-Tech finger strap works just fine.

Sixth, I picked up a Crumpler 3MDH again. I had sold my three Crumpler bags about a month ago, but realized that I really like the handling of the 3MDH, so I picked up a new one for dirt cheap on eBay. The X100s in the leather half case with thumb grip is a perfect fit inside along with the Trek Tek T’Pod and batteries and whatnot. I didn’t like the other bags that I had because they all had zippers with flaps; the 3MDH has velcro, which I’ve tucked away, so it’s just the flap with buckle. This makes it easier to take the camera out and put it back in.

That’s it for now. When there’s an opportunity for a good photowalk or outing, I’ll be sure to bring the X100s. So far though, it’s just been the usual routine of parks and playgrounds.

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7 – catharsis (again)

So I have once again purged my photography kit and traded for a smaller kit. This is probably the fifth time this has happened…Anyway, I no longer have my OMD EM-5, 40-150, 45/1.8, and Penpal – this kit was traded for a Fuji X100s.

There’s basically no upgrade path with the X100s. It’s a 35mm fixed lens APS-C camera with hybrid OVF. It’s pretty rudimentary, especially after coming from the OMD EM5, which always allowed for G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) to slowly and surely creep in.

What I lose in gear, I gain in small size, simplification, and hopefully, better pictures.

I took it out on a sunny day, and these are my first pictures outdoors:

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The picture above was taken wide open (f/2.0), shutter speed manually set to 1/1000, ND filter enabled, with fill-flash. Awesome. No more faces in shadows.

I love the built-in ND filter. I’m looking forward to greater creative possibilities…

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The fixed focal length (effectively 35mm FF-equivalent) is not limiting at all. It’s a great all-around focal length for most of the situations I take pictures of. Sure it won’t cover ALL situations, but that’s a limitation I’ll address when it comes around…

Indoors…well, I think I need to practice some more. The X100s is supposed to be a low-light master, but I think I need to better understand the different AEL patterns and how to better gauge area of focus and final picture when using the rangefinder OVF.

The OVF isn’t WYSIWYG…but it’s nice and bright and clear.

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All of the pictures are SOOC, other than resizing for the Interwebs.

I did lose my favorite grainy B&W art filter…but at the same time, I think I was using it as a crutch.

Time to learn photography all over again…

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6 – frequency

Not a lot of updates. I’ve already taken a trip to the UK and Florida, but I still haven’t updated this site. I should get back to taking pictures again.
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It might look like summertime, but it’s not summer yet…

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5 – even more random

National holiday today, and luckily, I don’t work in defense anymore, so I got the day off.

Some snaps from this morning’s outing.

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I’m dreading the day when my K2 longboard is no longer usable. I’ve got the hang of it now and it’s a great way to get around for short distances…

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I asked Sara what she was doing stooped over the lawn and it turns out she was looking for four-leafed clovers. She said that there is a one thousand to one chance that you’ll find one. We looked for five minutes and didn’t find one.

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I did find some dew left over from the morning. So, I broke out my trusty ZD 35/3.5 macro lens and shot it at 1:1 magnification, then some brief post-processing using Snapseed on my phone.

It’s such a great workflow.

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4 – more random

I think whenever I have a ‘random’ post, it’s basically an outing with my kids. It’s not really ‘random,’ per se, rather, it’s more ‘spontaneous’ and ‘unscripted.’

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I edited the picture above using Snapseed on my phone before I uploaded to WordPress – it was too dark before the edit, so I brought out the details and made it brighter. I also figured out that WordPress was adding compression to uploaded images from the Android app, so I disabled that feature. Hopefully, these pictures look better than the last post (which I updated, BTW).

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I took a picture of this tetherball pole and video with the BCL9 fisheye. The video is so much cooler because I spun around the pole while keeping focus on the closest chainlink – the effect of the background with fisheye distortion was pretty cool.

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I find that a lot of the shots with the BCL9 are more ‘fisheye’ if I deliberately shoot from an offset position. If I take the horizon line and make sure it’s above or below the middle of the frame, then the distortion is more evident. Also, the BCL9 won’t have the neat starburst patterns that the Rokinon 7.5/3.5 had – mostly because I don’t think the BCL9 has blades for its fixed f/8 aperture. It’s probably just a small hole that’s perfectly circular.

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3 – random

Some random B&W snaps taken this afternoon with the EM5 and BCL9.

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Sure, the pictures aren’t perfectly-focused, nor are they especially sharp, however, they captured the moment with a lot of context in the background.

I uploaded everything to WordPress from my phone (the images were sent via Bluetooth)…and now, I’m editing the post on the Chromebook.

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This workflow is so much faster and convenient. I could probably hook up my bluetooth keyboard to my phone, but I like having a full-sized keyboard.

…unfortunately, it looks like there was some degradation in quality somewhere in the workflow. I’ll have to investigate…

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2 – Portability

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I got two pretty essential add-ons for my EM5 today.

First, I got the Olympus BCL9 lens – which I owned briefly a couple years ago but ended up returning to Amazon. This is basically a focus-free fisheye lens with a fixed F/8 aperture. It’s awesome – see picture above. With hyperfocal focusing and a very small front element, this fisheye can go places where ‘normal’ fisheyes won’t. I cant wait to put my camera in the fridge again.

Yes, our house is VERY messy.

Second, I got the Olympus PP-1 Penpal – this allows my EM5 to transfer files via Bluetooth to my phone. Now, my phone will always have an awesome camera with my favorite b&w art filter…and most likely, I’ll never post process a picture using Lightroom again…

I also traded my flash for a Chromebook and I’m hoping the Penpal will work with it.

As much as I like being able to use my phone for things…I sure don’t like using it for blog posts…

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1 – New Year Again

It’s yet another new year, and already, I’m behind with my blog posts.

I had two weeks off during the holidays but we really didn’t do much – we’d go to different parks every day and make it home before it got too cold.

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Being in Southern California, ‘cold’ is relative, so it’s quite normal to still play with water games in the end of December (I’m sure the water was recirculated, considering we’re in a drought).

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Additionally, we don’t have snow sleds – we have scrap cardboard and a play structure hill with sand strategically poured over it. We could spend hours here.

Other than that, we did a lot of chillaxing. It’s good to sit sometimes and just get lost in a book or a magazine…

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15 – Bikes and changes…

Things have been pretty busy and I haven’t kept up with this blog nor my photography…but here’s my last attempt in 2015 at catching up for about three months of negligence.

After the last post (in September), I had a few more trips to the UK – and during one trip which spanned a weekend, I had some time to walk around Crawley’s “high street” and in the middle of a shopping area, there was an interesting old church.

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The church was surrounded by grave stones – all of the land around the church was converted to a graveyard – which was both eerie and strange (to me).

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It looked like the church was having services, so I didn’t want to be disrespectful and walk around the grave stones, though I did see some dated from the 1700’s and 1800’s.

In all, I probably spent about five weeks traveling to the UK for work in 2015. I’m hoping my travel schedule next year will be more manageable.

Other than that last trip, we’ve gone through some changes at home, or rather, outside the house.

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Sara finally got a full-size BMX bike and now, we’re outside and terrorizing the parks and schools whenever the kids have an opportunity. I was hoping she’d be able to do long distance riding so she could at least keep up with me while I run (Matty rode alongside me while I ran distances ranging from 5 miles to 11 miles).  Unfortunately, Sara gets bored on the bike trails, so she insists on being someplace where she could climb around or play on swings every now and then…

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Fortunately, Matty is easy to please, so while Sara explores, Matty will ride around wherever he can.

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Honestly though, they probably spend most of the time chasing each other and generally just having simple fun on their bikes.

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I often just end up just sitting and watching them…and longing for those simpler times when the most important thing in life was who gets to ride first and who gets to choose where they ride to.

My bike has transformed from my long distance training bike to my weekend commuter – the bike rack is permanently on and I haven’t used my SPD cleats in months. Luckily, I have two-sided pedals – platforms on one side, SPD clips on the other.

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That’s about it for this blog in 2015. There were only 15 posts this year – granted, there were some pretty drastic life changes and significantly more international travel than before.

My photography has suffered quite a bit since my desire to capture moments has taken a back seat to experiencing the moment.

In terms of my photography kit though, I now just have the following:

  • Olympus OM-D EM5
  • Sigma 19/2.8
  • Olympus 45/1.8
  • Olympus 40-150/4-5.6
  • Olympus 35/3.5 macro (with 4/3-t0 m4/3 adapter)
  • Olympus FL-36R flash

I traded my recently-acquired Panasonic 14-42/3.5-5.6 PZ lens for the Olympus 45/1.8 lens, and honestly, I think I got the better end of that trade.

What’s in store for 2016?

I do have a goal, which I intend on fulfilling: I’m going to self-publish a book (or three) by the end of next year.

This was something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time, but I think it’s time that I actually just do it.

Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

Alric figured he was a screw-up, which in his fatalistic view, was nothing wrong or shameful. Some people are just born with better skills than others and Alric kind of assumed that he just wasn’t born with any. Alric already settled on the fact that he wouldn’t amount to much and would spend the rest of his life just being Alric – shorter-than-normal, slightly thin due to rations constantly being taken away, Alric. Unlike everyone from his ward, he never aspired to be selected for Generation – he knew that the best and brightest eventually would be selected for Generation Duty, which if you think about it, was the most important duty of all. Procreation and the continuation of the population was a tremendous responsibility and brought with it a host of benefits – your own suite, rations whenever you want them – granted you had to share the suite with at least three or four other girls who were matched with you. Sure, your job was to impregnate them and grow children, but Alric imagined that would get boring after a while.

In any case, the readiness mark on his arm was still yellow, so he wasn’t even ready to procreate. Just like his voice, it would take a few more cycles.

Alric looked down at the directions he scribbled on his slate: go down main Walkway One, left after Ward Three, right after Ward Seven. He had just passed Ward Seven and if he were to go left, he’d just go back to the other Wards. If he were to go straight, he’s go into a commissary and as hungry as he was, he didn’t hear the announcement for Ward Thirty yet. Alric checked his pocket for his ID, and he had it, and it still said Ward Thirty.

To his right was a walkway that was better lit than the others – there were definitely more torches overhead compared to where he had just come from. Alric turned and moved as quickly as he could down this hallway and at the end, there were double doors that were simply labeled, “Air Quality – entry only to assigned personnel.” He pushed on the doors and they wouldn’t move. He would have tried the door handles but they were nonexistent. So, he knocked and stepped back.

The story and subject matter are probably best described as sci-fi; it should be noted that my favorite sci-fi genre is post-apocalyptic, near-future, and alternate reality.

I will occasionally post teasers on this blog.

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14 – More Travels

A week after our Grand Canyon vacation, we went to Legoland to celebrate Matty’s birthday early. The kids don’t really like “amusement parks” and luckily, we didn’t really pay full price (we had a buy-one-get-one deal). Let’s just say that the kids have outgrown most of Legoland…and since neither of them want to ride the roller coasters, then we had a fairly short day trip. Here are some pictures.

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We signed Matty up for a 45-minute Lego Mindstorms session, which he really loved. I’ll need to find a way to continue his interest in programming – I was surprised at how simple the interface was and how he just needed a little bit of explanation and he was able to understand things right away.

It was HOT during the day, so by around 2:00, we were ready for water rides…and we were pretty soaked and miserable by 5:00 (we had LOTS of water sprayed on us from two rides and from spectators…).

Anyway, the day after Legoland, I had to return to the UK to make sure that test activity was executed per schedule, which meant I had long days and nights again. I brought my camera with me but it never left my room.

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This was the view outside of my hotel room. Green. Quaint. Kind of wet. Kind of cold. A typical English summer.

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I forgot to take a picture of this last time. Instead of an in-room coffeemaker, there’s an in-room kettle and there’s instant coffee, but there’s pretty good tea. Also, they don’t do half-and-half in the UK, but there’s milk. So, my morning coffee just didn’t have that ‘texture’ that I was used to…

Anyway, my trip was only a week, but when I landed at LAX, there was a bomb threat and none of the traffic was moving, so I hiked it to the Marriott parking lot where my car was parked – it was only a mile and there were plenty of us walking with our suitcases and bags up Century Blvd.

For Matty’s birthday, my parents and sister bought him more Legos, so he and Sara have been busy with their new creations.

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All pictures above are SOOC JPEG, resized for the interwebs. I finally sold my Olympus full-size 4/3 14-54/2.8-3.5 and replaced it with the Panasonic PZ 14-42/3.5-5.6 pancake lens, which I had mounted on my OMD EM5 and sat in a small Crumpler bag in my hotel room…

In my main Crumpler 3MDH bag (which is relatively small), I have my OMD EM5, Sigma 19/2.8, Panasonic PZ 14-42, Olympus 40-150, and the trek-tech T’Pod tripod. To think that a year ago, this bag held my Olympus E-3 and a single lens – now, it holds an entire camera kit.

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13 – ‘Grand’ Panoramas

Here are a couple of panoramas from our trip. These required a bit of post-processing in order to match exposure and to remove vignetting. I should have figured that the Sigma 19/2.8 EX DN ART lens that I used on my Olympus OM-D EM5 needed some correction. Typically, I don’t correct the slight distortion, but for stitching panoramas together, the slight distortion makes a big difference.

The stitching of the panorama below is far from good…there are obvious areas where each frame wasn’t aligned – especially visible towards the middle. Also, the sky gives it away…Boo.😦

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In the panorama above, the Grand Canyon in the background almost looks like a backdrop especially with my wife so close to the foreground, but believe me, it’s real and so huuuuuge. It’s difficult to fathom the sheer depth of the Grand Canyon without actually being there. There are some people on the rock to the left, if scale needs to be determined.

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I attempted to offset the background by including some foreground elements for reference…but as you can see in the panorama above, the trees that are close can’t even approximate the distance to the rock walls in the background (the middle?)…and even then, the rock wall is relatively ‘close’ compared to the rest of the canyon even further in the background.

Anyway, the panoramas are uploaded as full-size jpegs for full-size viewing.

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12 – A ‘Grand’ Vacation

This year, for our annual summer vacation, we decided to make a trip to the Grand Canyon – by rail.

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We took advantage of the AAA deal and drove to Williams, AZ, stayed overnight at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, then took the train from Williams to the Grand Canyon. It was a great experience and the kids enjoyed our “First Class” accommodations and views…and we arrived in style with our tour bus waiting for us.

Obviously, we came to see the Grand Canyon…and honestly, pictures can’t capture the immense depth and sheer scale of everything.

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Unfortunately, the haze at the Grand Canyon was pretty thick, so even though I captured several panoramas, the exposure differences between each frame made stitching the panorama difficult. This is the one panorama that worked.

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I’ll work on some other panoramas when I get the chance.

Some other pictures from our trip:

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Most of the viewpoints on the Rim Trail had guardrails, but there would occasionally be gaps in the guardrails to allow for the odd tree or vegetation to grow:

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We tried to use the guardrails properly, but every now and then, a head would pop through.

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We managed to take a family picture on one of the rocks at a viewpoint…and lucky for us, there wasn’t a strong wind at the time – there were no guardrails on the rock!

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We stayed overnight at the Maswik Lodge at the Grand Canyon and walked around the Village. Unfortunately, if there was one thing that could have been improved during the trip – it would have been the food. Perhaps the elevation just made everything taste…less? Or perhaps it was the fact that the average age of the average patron was the combined age of my family…and they couldn’t make the food have any recognizable taste?

Oh well. Lesson learned.

After an evening and another full day of exploring, we then boarded the train back to Williams.

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On the train ride back, we were ‘robbed’ by the “World-Famous Cataract Creek Gang” and we discovered that Matty would be the perfect victim when it comes to robberies by local actors.

We finished our trip with a visit to Bearizona, which was actually an unexpected surprise. I filled up the Odyssey’s tank in Williams and drove all the way back home on a single tank!

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We averaged about 24.5 MPG coming back…granted, it was literally a downhill drive – we went from 6800 ft back to about 30 ft above sea level. I also had the Odyssey on cruise control most of the way back.

We could have spent another day visiting the Hoover Dam and staying overnight in Las Vegas, but we all really wanted to come back home.

I’m not sure where we’ll go for vacation next year…it was pretty hot at the Grand Canyon but luckily, the shuttle bus was air conditioned and it was a nice temporary retreat from the heat every time we went from one viewpoint to the next.

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11 – UK is *not* Socal

I recently spent two weeks on business travel in the UK where I assisted with lab testing and executed tests in front of customers. I averaged about 11-hour days and had to interface with teams from the UK, Switzerland, Germany, Saudi, Florida, and California. Needless to say, it was a lesson in frustration, and I spent many nights in my hotel room sitting in front of my computer wondering how the next day would fare.

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It wasn’t until the second week that I turned the TV on and realized that BBC 3 and Dave (TV channels in the UK) showed Top Gear many times a night, so it was nice to have the Rezza and the Stig in the background while I sent out emails.

I did have most of the weekend off, so my local coworkers took me and my Irvine coworker (his first business trip and his first time out of the Southern California area) out to London for the day. We took a bus from our hotel, then the train to London, then when we got to London, after walking around a bit, we took the river boat to Greenwich, then took another train (the DLR), then the Underground, then back on the train and the bus. It was a day of public transportation and lots of walking. Unfortunately, we didn’t have an occasion to ride a double-decker bus.

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These buses and the black taxis were ubiquitous.

Also, by the end of my two-week trip, I was so accustomed to looking right – then left – before crossing a street that when I landed in LAX and had to cross to the street to catch my shuttle, I almost got run over because I forgot to look left then right…

Anyway, London. Yes, we saw most of the tourist sites…but I was actually more interested in the nuances of daily life that are quite peculiar (to me).

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What’s a trip to London without passing by Big Ben and crossing the bridge to get accosted by Eastern European and African street vendors?

Not to sound racist, but biggest noticeable difference between the UK and Socal: lack of Mexicans. Seriously. Our close proximity to Mexico means that we’re graced with everything that the people and the culture have to offer – from the food to the music to the people – and it’s normal. It didn’t feel normal to have no Mexicans anywhere. It might sound like a bad Carlos Mencia joke (he had a joke about Mexicans complaining about being under-represented in the movie “Schindler’s List”), but not hearing any Mexican Spanish while waking around was unsettling. Instead, I heard Eastern European languages that didn’t have any vowels and lots of V’s and X’s. I also heard lots of Spanish. From Spain…which made me recall my Spanish roommate from my sophomore year at UCLA.

Another thing – there were still lots of phone booths and pay phones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGranted, these red phone booths are culturally-significant, but there were working phones inside them. The inside also smelled like several bums turned it into a Soup Kitchen. My childhood was also revisited by seeing these red mail boxes:

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…and expecting this guy to be inside. I mentioned Danger Mouse to my significantly older British coworker and he seemed pretty amazed that I knew about Danger Mouse.

Another thing about my trip: the full English Breakfast.

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My hotel served a full English Breakfast, buffet style, every morning. Every typical restaurant/pub we went to had the full English breakfast in their menu…so yes, even though I had the full breakfast every morning, I had a full English breakfast for lunch in London. I accompanied this meal with a paddle of local beer.

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They had indicated that the paddle had “four thirds” on it…and I got all excited because I was shooting with a micro-4/3 camera…then it came out, and I was a bit disappointed because it was four 1/3 pint glasses and not a selection of Zuiko Digital lenses. I was going to slap my ass with the paddle afterwards, but I already looked and sounded like an American and doing something extremely American (and thinking of doing it) made me feel quite American, so I didn’t do it.

For my second week while on travel, I stayed away from the English Breakfast at the hotel and just had cereal and ‘fruit’ – which I found was sufficient until lunch time.

While we’re on the topic of breakfast, what’s with not using real creamer (half-and-half) in the UK? Whenever I went to Costa or Cafe Nero for coffee, I was visually attacked when I asked for creamer in my Cafe Americano, and each time, I would be asked, “oh, you mean, MILK?” Yes, I mean MILK, but not plain MILK. Regular milk doesn’t add the ‘fullness’ that I am accustomed to in my morning coffee…

Anyway, the English Breakfast in London was consumed at a pub called “Meantime” – which was in Greenwich. Get it – Greenwich Mean Time. What’s a trip to Greenwich without visiting the Royal Observatory where Greenwich Mean Time originated from?

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Yep – that’s me, putting my watch against the GMT line. Ironically, my watch has six receivers which automatically sync the time with a time reference…and there’s no time reference in the UK.

From Greenwich, we walked along the Thames and took trains and the Underground and saw sights along the way. The Shard. The Tower of London. Tower Bridge. Beefeaters. The Globe Theater. Tate Modern. The Wobbly Bridge. Trafalgar Square. Piccadilly Circus. ‘Chinatown.’ The Eye. Here are some random pictures.

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While walking around, there were lots of street vendors frying nuts and selling them on the street. I paid two pounds for a cup of nuts – they were honey roasted and just meh, to be honest.

We walked around until almost midnight and I swear, the streets got more crowded as the evening got later and later…

I kind of wish I was by myself and not with a local while we walked around London. I find that I really enjoy just getting lost in a city and finding my way around and seeing things by chance. I get more from serendipity than purpose when it comes to travel – though I do appreciate learning about the history and “getting a proper appreciation of the city from the river” (my British coworker’s words, not mine). I also wish my family was with me – sure my kids would have complained about the walking and my wife would not have liked the lack of variety in the food, but seeing a new place was an experience I really wanted to share with them…

I had two days free, but I spent Saturday in London and hoped to return on Sunday by myself, but instead, I did laundry (at a coin-operated “launderette”) in the morning, had proper fish and chips for lunch (cod, large, with chips doused in vinegar – I finished about 1/3 of it), and went on a long run in the afternoon. It was good to just do mundane things while in a foreign country…because even though they speak English in the UK and this was my second trip here, it’s still such a foreign place to me.

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10 – guy trip #2

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Panorama from Moro Rock

This year, for our annual guy trip, we decided to take it to a national park so we headed to Sequoia. There was a lot to see, but other than the sights, we really just needed a place to get away for a few days, lose some money on poker, and make up mixed drinks.

The panorama above was taken at the top of Moro Rock – I decided to give it the B&W treatment for more depth. Click on it and you see the whole picture at full resolution. I’m definitely printing this picture when I get the chance.

Anyway, at the top of Moro Rock, we saw some pretty idiotic people climb over the safety rails and venture onto the edge of the rock. People – safety rails are for your own safety. They are your friends.

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Initial Climb to Moro Rock

For most of us, the climb to Moro Rock was cake, but for Greg, he had to stop halfway because of his fear of heights.

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Almost there!

He missed out on a pretty good group picture.

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Group Picture without Greg

After Moro Rock, we made it to the General Sherman where we were greeted by the largest tree ever (well, at least one of fifteen) as well as the angriest rain storm above 4000 feet, complete with hail, oil on the roads, and rising steam.

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General Sherman – taken with my iPhone

We then went on a hike to see Marble Falls, though the hike was pretty interesting with rattlesnakes and baby deer acting like gatekeepers. We RAN past the very angry rattlesnake and almost missed the well-camouflaged fawn. The hike was worth it though because the waterfall was beautiful.

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Marble Falls

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Rushing water with the rocks in the background

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All of us taking a break

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Last group shot before heading back

I let Google Photos ‘beautify’ one of the uploads from my iPhone and this is what Google came up with.

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Google’s idea of beauty

Not bad. Not really my cup of tea, but not bad.

More panoramas:

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panorama from Moro Rock

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another panorama from Moro Rock

In one of the panoramas above, you can see where the stitching happens. I can’t find an easy way to clean up exposure artifacts like that.

Anyway, guy trip #2 was a success. There’s talk of actually going backpacking in Yosemite next year. Or an RV. Or even Napa.

I’m blessed to have great friends whom I can relax and spend quality time with and an awesome family who welcomes me back and will have to suffer through my stories and dirty laundry for the next few weeks.

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09 – more changes

A couple weeks ago, I said goodbye to my job – which I had working at for nine years – and last week, I said hello to my new one:WP_20150413_13_24_13_Pro 1

I’m *significantly* closer to home – in fact, my new job is a little over FOUR miles away by bike. Once HR figures out where I can safely lock my bike at my building (yes, this is a big deal), then I’ll start riding in. The main building has a bike rack, but my building does not…and I’d like to make sure that my bike is in a safe and *shaded* area so it won’t be damaged by sitting out all day or risk getting hit by cars.

The pace at work is SUPER FAST. One week in, and I’m already involved in a daily telecon, I’ve been submerged head-first into several fast-moving projects, I have a document due to the customer next week, and I have been requested to travel to the UK at the end of the month. All this, and I don’t even have my laptop, cell phone, or corporate card yet. I’m moving faster than HR and IT can move.

Speaking of movement though, the entire family is now mobile on two wheels. Well, kind of. I have my bike, Matty has his bike, Shannon is borrowing her sister’s bike, and Sara…well, she kind of has a bike:

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So far, the kids are eager to go out on the bike trails and see the sights. We have gone out a few times and later this morning, we plan on biking down to the Newport Back Bay – hopefully, we’ll see some cranes and migrating birds. If we’re not out biking on paved trails, we’re still going to parks to wreak havoc.

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The second picture above was taken at “Castle Park,” which is probably not the park’s official name, but it has a castle in it and Matty loves to ride around it while Sara loves to hide from me. She’ll run and I’ll follow. I don’t know why she thinks she can hide from me…

Other than that, my previous company’s final “going away” gift for us was a set of tickets to a math and science exhibit in San Diego.

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There were a few fun exhibits, but I kind of questioned why some things were there. A rock wall doesn’t really have any relevance with math and science, but it sure was fun for some of us:

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In my opinion, the best part of the exhibit was the “bullet-time” photo booth. There were 20 cameras arranged in a circle and in less then a second, they sequentially captured a moment in time. We all had some fun with this…and fortunately, only one of us was injured. Suffice it to say, I spent my first week at my new job answering questions regarding the carpet burn on my forehead.

Anyway, lots of changes.

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08 – crop and color

A different mood can be conveyed just by changing the crop and color of a picture.

This is the original, unedited image:

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…and this is the grainy b&w version – cropped in square format:

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I like both pictures. The first one has more context and looks more ‘natural’ but the second one is ‘tighter’ and has a different mood altogether.

With the square and b&w image, I’m focused on whatever my kids are laughing at – so in essence, the subject is external to the picture and the picture itself is just a manifestation of what caused the laughter.

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07 – random

Some random shots from the past week – too many other things going on and I had forgotten about looking for photo opportunities…all pictures are SOOC jpeg, resized for the Interwebs.

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The two pictures above were taken with the ZD 35/3.5 macro. I tend to depend on my macro lens to make typically uninteresting things a little bit more interesting.

The three pictures below were taken with the Sigma 19/2.8 – which I’m finding to be a perfectly usable focal length.

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06 – adjusting

I’m readjusting to the photographic workflow when using the OM-D. I’d like to say that it’s a world of compromise and depreciating value, but it’s not. Seriously, I’ve owned and traded a lot of camera gear over the past few years but none of what I’ve previously used can compare to the ease and the output of the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

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It’s hard to tell from the above, but my daughter’s eyes are super sharp and 100% in focus – thanks to the Olympus “face detection with eye priority” that I have enabled. The camera by default is set to use the center focus point, but when it sees a face, it focuses on the face (or faces), but when it sees eyes, it will focus on the eyes. The picture above was taken with the camera held below waist-level while she was taking a picture of me with my phone…

Here is a requisite selfie, which I guess is what I do with every camera that I’ve acquired recently,  as seen here, here, here, and here. I guess this counts too – or maybe it’s the only one that counts since it was taken in a bathroom.

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And of course – a selfie with the grainy b&w art filter applied:

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Sadly, I’m just now gaining a true appreciation for how nice Olympus jpegs are out-of-camera. All of the pictures in this post are jpegs in VIVID mode, resized for the Interwebs. I’m still saving RAW+jpeg with every shot though since inevitably, I’m going to want to tweak something in post-processing. Similarly, the grainy b&w art filter is awesome – I could probably shoot all day with that art filter enabled. Hmm…maybe I should sometime…

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The picture above and below were taken with my FAVORITE LENS of all time, the Zuiko Digital 35/3.5 macro, which I’ve adapted to my m4/3 body using a cheap ebay 4/3-m4/3 adapter. I had tried using the 14-54, but the slow focus and the size just don’t go well with the spirit of the OM-D E-M5. Besides, when I take macro shots, I deliberately slow down, so slow focus is a non-issue. For the longest time, I had insisted on an optical viewfinder for macro – but with the OM-D, I think the EVF and the OLED display are just fine, if not easier since I don’t have to constantly change perspectives when peering through the viewfinder.

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Anyway, it has been less than a week with the camera and already, there are two posts on the blog. Perhaps finding the right gear was just the muse I needed? I really can’t wait to go on a walkaround with the kit…

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05 – return

I’m back to shooting m4/3 again. It’s my *third* return to the format. I’m hoping that the third time is the charm.

I really missed the grainy B&W art filter and no matter how hard I tried to recreate it using Photoshop or Lightroom, I just couldn’t do it properly. So, I sold my NEX-3N kit on Craigslist (along with the Rokinon 8/2.8 fisheye). I also sold my Sigma 30/2.8 for the NEX online. I then took whatever I made and broke even with a return to m4/3 via a new-to-me OM-D E-M5 and a Sigma 19/2.8 ART lens.

Upon getting the OM-D, did I set a Myset to FN1 so I can get grainy B&W jpeg in square format – that way, I can get a B&W picture with a square crop at the touch of a button? You bet!

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Ironically, the second-to-last picture I took with my NEX-3N was similar:

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Yes, we sit around the table a lot. We can’t really help it – four people share a 1,000 square foot house and the only flat surface for homework and activities is the same surface we use for eating our food…

Anyway, this time around with m4/3, I’m not going to go wild with gear. The OM-D I picked up already came with five batteries and the Sigma 19/2.8 is my ideal focal length. I was entertaining the thought of picking up a Fuji X100, however, I don’t think I could live with parallax…

I think I also got the fisheye bug out of my system, so I doubt I’ll get a fisheye again. I did reacquire a 4/3-to-m4/3 adapter so I can use the 14-54 and the ZD 35/3.5 macro on the OM-D. The OM-D has amazing output, a high resolution EVF, and a tilting OLED screen – so macro should be much easier this time around. Let’s not forget the five-axis in-body image stabilization…

I accept the fact that I contemplate pictures and that I’m slow, so I don’t really need my standard zoom lens to focus quickly (though the native m4/3 19/2.8 focuses lightning quick and the touchscreen focus is a lot of fun too). The “standard 4/3” 14-54/2.8-3.5 mk1 lens that I have supposedly takes between 1-2 seconds to lock focus on a m4/3 body. Whatevs.

I’ll keep the E-3 and have the 40-150/3.5-4.5 permanently attached to that body. Shannon really knows how to use that focal range and the E-3 is still quite a capable camera. In a pinch, the E-3 will always accept my 4/3 lenses anyway if I want faster macro or a faster-focusing standard zoom.

I did get quite close to recreating the grainy B&W filter…of all places, using the ‘Black’ app on my phone, though, grain is somewhat subjective:

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The recent Windows Phone 8.1 ‘Denim’ update dramatically improved the camera performance on my Nokia Lumia 1520. It’s so much quicker to just press the dedicated shutter button and capture moments as they occur. The ‘Denim’ update also brought “rich capture” which manages to take an HDR-like picture with the ability to post-process to fine-tune the output. The picture below was taken in Newport Beach after a failed attempt to ride around the beach in a surrey (NEVER NEVER NEVER rent a surrey) – we gave up and decided to just play on the beach instead.

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Of course, I like to convert to B&W – this conversion is a lot darker and moodier:

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However, there are times when having an awesome camera in my phone probably isn’t the best thing to have…like when you’re nine miles into a 10-mile run with record-breaking heat, but somehow, those drying flowers and the rolling hills in the background really required a picture be taken, thus breaking pace and causing you to turn that 10-mile run into a 9.5 mile run…

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Anyway, I’m hoping that new gear will revitalize my waning photography hobby. As great as the NEX was, I just never really meshed with the APS-C format. Also, the E-3…is pretty heavy. Carrying that heavy camera around while chasing the kids around the neighborhood on a scooter is getting more and more difficult – yes, I ride a ‘scooter’ with them: it’s a K2 longboard which is no longer made and I’ll be sad when it craps out.

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04 – b&w bug

I’ve been bitten by the black and white bug again, and unfortunately, I don’t have the convenience of the built-in grainy film art filter that my m4/3 cameras had. Additionally, I lost my LR5 installation when I upgraded my laptop HD to an SSD, so I had to think of different ways to get my grainy B&W back.

This first picture is a simple grayscale conversion against the Sony NEX output with additional contrast added using Raw Therapee. It’s meh, to be honest. I think it’s too flat and muddled.

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I actually played around with Raw Therapee and DXO Optics Pro 8, and neither one could give me the B&W output that I liked. I then remembered that I had an OLD copy of Photoshop CS3 with NIK Silver EFEX. Some tweaking resulted in this:

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This was a film simulation with an orange filter applied. It’s also a bit meh, but definitely has more mood compared to the first shot. I don’t know if the subject (landscape versus candid ‘portrait) makes any difference.

The next picture also used Silver EFEX, but used a high ISO film simulation with added grain.

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Yes – much better. Still a bit smooth, but gritty at the same time. The contrast is definitely there.

Finally, the right amount of tweaking and grain added:

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Yes! High contrast. High grain. Low key and high key at the same time. Infinite depth of field.

This last picture originally looked like this (SOOC jpeg from my Sony NEX 3N):

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Obviously, I defished the RAW slightly and modified the exposure before sending it to photoshop for the final B&W treatment.

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03 – postprocessing workflow

My postprocessing workflow is pretty time-consuming and usually, I’ll just focus on a couple of pictures to actually work on. For all of my postprocessing, I use Adobe Lightroom 5 to convert and edit the Sony *.ARW raw files. This is the original exposure.

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I took the above shot with my Sony NEX-3N and the Rokinon 8/2.8 fisheye. I shot aperture-priority and kept the lens at f/8 with focus manually set to 3 feet (optimum hyperfocal distance at f/8 to get 1.2 ft to infinity in focus). Since it was a sunny day, ISO was automatically selected to be at base ISO (200) and shutter speed was 1/3200. Like I said, it was sunny. Anyway, it looks a bit bland and underexposed with some highlight clipping since the sun was in the center of the frame. Initial processing to push the exposure to the right and recover some shadows led to the picture below.

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Looks better. Still not as clear as I’d like it to be. So, I adjust the sliders in LR5 – I’m a big fan of the ‘clarity’ and ‘vibrance’ sliders. I almost never mess with levels. Anyway, adjusting sliders results in the picture below.

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It’s definitely got more ‘pop’ and the highlight clipping is minimized. Now, to de-fish slightly using the lens profile for the Rokinon 7.5/3.5 fisheye (almost identical to the Rokinon 8/2.8 fisheye). I’m using the stereoscopic profile.

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This makes the picture a little less ‘fishy’ but still gives a pretty good sense of depth. Now, to crop.

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I used a custom 20:8 ratio since I’m enamored with Wide-Lux photography. Jeff Bridges has a great photo album using a Wide-Lux. I’m totally jelly. I’d get a Wide-Lux if I had the means and the time… Anyway, the 20:8 crop puts my daughter in the middle – aligning her to be the central focal point while still providing sufficient context to the scene. The crop also helps with rule-of-thirds since she’s in the middle third of the picture.

Once I’m satisfied with the crop, I’ll then add some vignette to provide even more emphasis on the central subject.

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I probably could have edited out the lens flare, but I didn’t feel like it. Small imperfections like lens flare are nice, in my opinion. There are a lot of things I could have done with the picture and that’s the beauty of working with raw files – I can always start again.

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02 – Review: SIMPLE.BE Answer 400 holster

For the first time in this blog’s history, I’m voluntarily promoting something that I purchased. Well, possibly I’ve promoted other things before – like lenses, cameras, and other photographic gear – but I have never recommended purchasing something. Until now.

Anyway, since getting my Nokia 1520, I’ve had issues carrying it. The phone/phablet has a 6″ screen and it couldn’t exactly fit into my pants pockets. I had modified a small Lowepro camera case and clipped it to a belt loop, but it’s pretty dorky when even *I* feel dorky wearing it, and trust me, I never feel dorky considering that most of my wardrobe consists of shirts obtained from IT and professional conferences.

The thing is, the Lumia 1520 is so big that no off-the-shelf phone holster could hold it properly – I needed something that was custom-sized to handle the phone and the case that I’m using. A tool belt or an “EDC pouch” (EDC being code for “I’ve got a gun in this tactical-looking pouch!”) were the only viable options and I needed something that didn’t announce, “I’m here to fix things and put bullet holes in them afterwards!” So, a bit of searching on the Interwebs led me to SIMPLE.BE and a custom-sized Answer 400 holster. Cost? $29. Not bad. Not cheap, but not bad.

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I sent the company the horizontal and vertical circumference of my phone in the case and several weeks later, the holster arrived. Everything fits perfectly.

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The 3″ nylon webbing isn’t stiff at all – in fact, it’s quite flexible. I had initially feared that the material would be rough and would scratch the screen, but after closer inspection, the weave of the webbing is quite tight and uniform – I didn’t see any imperfections in the material at all.

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I had also feared that the velcro would be strong and loud, but luckily, the velcro patch is the low-profile and quiet kind – the type that I would see on workout clothes. Also, the velcro patch on the flap covers the entire width of the flap, but the patch on the holster is smaller – just enough ‘grab’ to keep the flap closed.

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The back of the holster is flat and won’t catch onto my pants. I’ll most likely wear the holster with the phone screen facing me and not facing out and luckily, there aren’t any pieces of material that would cause undue stress on the screen when worn in this orientation.

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The case was also measured *just right* as seen in these pictures – there’s not a lot of wiggle room here in the vertical dimensions, but that’s a good thing.

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There is just a little bit of ‘give’ for the horizontal webbing, which is perfectly fine since the flap will keep the phone firmly in the holster.

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Here, you can see that the vertical webbing actually has two layers. For strength? structure? aesthetics? In any case, the dual layer of webbing doesn’t compromise the flexibility of the nylon.

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The flap and the belt loop only has a single layer, which is just fine.

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And here it is, worn on my jeans. The letters are backwards because I had to face a mirror and take a picture this way.

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From the top, this is what it looks like. If I stand straight with my arms to my sides, the holster sits just a little bit behind my left arm. This is a great position for walking and moving about, but when I sit, I have to be conscious of the holster and the phone and I have to move it forward a little bit so I don’t sit on the phone. I still need to be careful.

Anyway, I’m glad I got the holster. I don’t have to wear a silly camera case or a sweater with big pockets anymore. I think when I decide to move on and get another phablet – let’s face it, our electronics don’t last forever – I’m going to get another holster from SIMPLE.BE. The folks I dealt with were tremendously helpful and responsive. Also, they handcrafted everything in Portland, Oregon, so it feels good knowing that I supported a small business.

Do I still have a big-ass phone? Yes, obnoxiously large. However, I don’t care what the naysayers say – once you get such a big screen, it’s really really difficult going to anything smaller.

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01 – a new year is here…

2014 came and went and 2015 is here.

Last year, my blog posts slowed down – life just got in the way. There was a lot going on and unfortunately, photography (which my blog revolves around) just wasn’t a priority. These were the last shots that I imported and processed in 2014:

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Yeah – these pictures were taken in early December and we were out in shorts and t-shirts. Luckily, the temperature is now sufficiently brisk (which Shannon *hates*), so it feels like winter. Kind of.

Anyway, I’m not making any resolutions regarding photography this year since I’m pretty sure I’m going to break them since any resolution would involve the actual act of taking pictures. Even when I’m out with the kids, I don’t take many pictures anymore. I may actually consider slimming my kit down further – perhaps sell my mirrorless kit?

I did gain a phone upgrade – I went from a Nokia Lumia 635 to a Nokia Lumia 1520…which also comes with a 20MP camera with a Zeiss lens and RAW (DNG) output, so I have a very good camera with me at all times. The downside, it’s huge for a phone. In the picture below, my old phone (now a backup) is on the left, the Lumia 1520 is in the middle, and for size comparison, Shannon’s old TI-82 graphing calculator (I gave my TI-82 to my sister).

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The phone doesn’t fit in my jeans, so I had to order a custom holster for it. I also needed a new running pouch which can accommodate the 6″ phone, which I needed anyway since my Amphipod waist pouch had a seized zipper.

Anyway, the Lumia 1520 can capture in RAW, so I can process the pictures with Lightroom just as I normally would with the RAW files from my other cameras. Here are some pictures taken today (obviously, processed in LR – yes, I still love grainy B&W):

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I’m still learning about the characteristics of the sensor and the lens and the camera experience in general. From what I can tell, there’s noticeable edge distortion. Also, even though the camera has optical image stabilization and a fast f/2.4 lens, I can’t control the aperture, though I can control shutter speed, focus, white balance, and exposure compensation.

Additionally, the Lumia 1520 has an awesome (in my opinion) panorama mode, though unfortunately, this mode doesn’t capture in RAW. My trail run from yesterday (the Bommer Canyon trail) showcases the panorama mode.

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If I do have resolutions for 2015, they revolve around my fitness in general. My mileage sucked in 2014 – I totaled less than 650 miles for running AND biking – which sucks. For 2015, I’d like to spend 50% of my running on off-road trails. The Bommer Canyon trail is great, but I think I’ll venture further to see what other trails are available. I’ve also been slacking on my riding – it doesn’t help that I got into a pretty gnarly spill in June that kept me off of my bike mostly due to fear.

Maybe I’ll also finally start working on my core…

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26 – rain

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So November brought rain to our backyard – though calling it rain would be a stretch for anyone outside of Southern California. I’m amazed ‘they’ didn’t declare “stormwatch 2014” when it started drizzling while we were trick-or-treating on Halloween. My kids certainly panicked though – as soon as a bit of drizzle started falling, they said, “daddy, it’s raining – I think we’d better head home.” We did head home anyway, but mostly because it was getting late.

I swear, most of the time, I love living in Irvine, but sometimes, the neighborhood and the residents (us included) collectively result in my kids acting like entitled gremlins – basically, they have all of their needs and desires met (thank you, parents and Irvine) and they can’t be fed after midnight or get wet or be exposed to bright light (again – thank you, parents and Irvine).

Though truth be told, I’m 100% guilty of coddling my kids. We’re definitely loosening the reigns as they get older though, but I don’t think I could provide a childhood for my kids similar to the childhood that I experienced…it’s a different time and a different place and unfortunately, as safe as Irvine is in 2014, I don’t think it’s any friendlier than Galveston, TX between 1984 and 1992.

Would I go back to Galveston to raise my kids? Oh, hell nooooo. Would I go back to the 1980’s and raise my kids? If I can bring car seats, boxer briefs, and the Internet, then most definitely yes.

***

Now for the esoteric bits: raindrop picture taken with my Sony NEX 3N with Sigma 30/2.8 using a combination of 10mm and 16mm extension tubes for macro focusing; crop and light post-processing in LR5, resized for the Interwebs. ISO 250, f/7.1, 1/50.

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25 – hiatus

So I took a bit of a hiatus from this blog due to other priorities and distractions, but to be honest, I just haven’t had any inclination to take many pictures since our vacation. So, below are notable pictures from the past two months.

Picture 1: Fisheye interior of the Anaheim Convention Center
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I’ve reacquired the Samyang/Rokinon/Bower fisheye lens for my NEX kit – this time, it’s an 8mm/2.8 fisheye. It’s a bit trickier to use given the APS-C format, but the tilting LCD helps with composition. I haven’t found a good lens profile for LR5 yet though, so for the meantime, I have to take advantage of lines and composition to exploit the fishiness of the scene…

Picture 2: Windows Phone 8.1
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I’m back to a Windows Phone, which is basically a homecoming for me, since my first smartphone was a Windows Phone. My new phone (Nokia Lumia 635) is anything but top-of-the-line, but it does come with Windows Phone 8.1 with Cortana and most importantly for me, has SensorCore enabled – so it tracks all of my movement and steps with a low-power sensor – basically, it has a built-in FitBit. We also left Virgin Mobile and we’re back to AT&T to take advantage of exponentially better service in our area. Definitely no complaints about the new service and not many complaints with the phone other than intermittent issues with LTE handover. I’m hoping this gets addressed in the near future, but otherwise, there’s a workaround for it.

Picture 3: Mirror Selfie with Legacy Lens
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I picked up a cheap M42 SMC Takumar 55/2.0 lens on eBay and I’m learning how to use the NEX focus peaking feature. It definitely makes manual focusing much easier. The lens (being probably close to 45 years old) doesn’t provide immediately usable output (lack of microcontrast being my number one complaint), but a little bit of work in LR5 makes the pictures pop out nicely. I have heard that the coating used on the lens is potentially radioactive…so it’s probably best that I keep it away from my crotch…but anyway, this mirror selfie from the driver’s seat of our Honda Odyssey is easy to use as a reference, since I’ve done it many, many, many times before.

Photo 4: Dynamic Range
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The NEX 3N has gobs of dynamic range and I can easily pull details out of shadows through post-processing. The picture above was tweaked significantly – in the original, the brick detail was lost and the blue sky behind the clouds was nonexistent. Workflow with this kind of output is significantly different compared to working with 4/3 and m4/3 output.

Picture 5: Tilt
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The tilt screen on the NEX 3N provides more opportunity to exploit perspective that would normally be difficult to capture with a fixed screen or with an optical viewfinder. With that said though – I do get lazy without having an optical viewfinder to assist with framing shots.

***
Anyway, it’s getting late, so maybe in a few months, I’ll have five more random pictures again…

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24 – vacation

Our annual vacation this year took us back to El Capitan Canyon for almost a week of glamping – I say “back to” since we went to El Capitan Canyon three years ago, as documented in this blog post. Anyway, we decided to stay a little longer and get a different cabin – instead of a cabin with a single queen bed and a loft, we got dual bunk beds and a loft – making our sleeping arrangement much easier to deal with.

Anyway, some pictures from the week:

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We had wanted to explore the creek again (as we did in 2011), but with the drought in California being as bad as it is, the creek was just a dry patch of rocks. It was sad.

All pictures above were taken with my Olympus E-3 and either the ZD 40-150/3.5-4.5, ZD 14-54/2.8-3.5, or the ZD 50/2.0 macro. I also brought along the Sony NEX 3N, but it never left the cabin since the bright conditions and polarized sunglasses would have rendered the LCD display useless for composition.

After four days in the rough wilderness that is Santa Barbara (this is a joke, of course), we headed back home and we went back to cruising around the parks and schools in the neighborhood.

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The pictures from the park and school were taken with the Olympus E-3 and ZD 50/2.0 combination – this combo is soon becoming my favorite since it allows for macro shots as well as a nice ‘close’ FOV, which is perfect for isolated subject framing. I think the E-3 and the ZD 50/2.0 is just about perfect for me, though an E-5 (the same as what’s being sold here) would be the only way to make it better. I realize that an optical viewfinder is the only way to go, especially since I’m out and about wearing sunglasses – and polarized sunglasses don’t work well with EVF’s or LCD’s. Unfortunately, this severely restricts my photographic upgrade path, but at this point, I think if anything needs an upgrade, it’s the photographer and not the equipment.

Anyway, the carefree summer will soon be over and it’s back to school next week (as well as back to work for me). We’re all looking forward to school starting…

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23 – snaps

Just some recent snaps…life has been quite mundane lately, but there’s a comfort to normalcy at home when everything else outside of home seems to be diametrically opposed.

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001 (Medium)Anyway, I had put the NEX 3N kit up for sale to fish for interest, but all the shots above were taken with the NEX and honestly, with a little post-processing, they’re quite nice.

 

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22 – binge

I hit a lull in activity on this blog. With my MSIT program finished, evenings are now free and instead of procrastinating from studying (which was one of the reasons why this blog was ever populated with content), I’ve been binging on Netflix and started a few series that I’ve been meaning to watch. Here are the TV series that I’ve started and where I am:

Battlestar Galactica: Season 2 – Starbuck crashed on the planet and had a face-off with Six.

Breaking Bad: Season 1 – second show. I honestly don’t remember. They caught a guy and he’s in the basement and they’re struggling with how to kill him.

Parks and Recreation: Season 2 – Leslie threw a party for Justin.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Season 1 – One of the guys consciously dates a tranny.

Firefly: Only one season, but I just finished the episode where they encounter a turned Reaver and get accosted by an Alliance ship.

Honestly, I can’t get into Breaking Bad, even though everyone says it’s AWESOME. Also, I kind of ruined Battlestar Galactica since I went on the wiki and crawled the Interwebs to do more research on Six. For science (and pictures). Firefly will be done soon, but I’ll follow-up by watching Serenity – even though I’ve already seen it, it only makes sense to watch everything in the proper order now.

I’ve also watched a lot of movies. There was a good one with some paroled guys in Scotland going on a heist to steal some Scotch – captions definitely required to watch the movie since some of their accents were quite thick.

I’m hoping to be more productive though, and with the recent acquisition of an Arduino board and a grip of sensors (bought with my stipend from work) and having unlimited access to a Makerbot Replicator 2 3D printer, I figured I’d better learn my fundamentals for electronics, so I bought a Radio Shack 200-project electronics kit, which came complete with books and of course, the breadboard and components for experiments. So far, I’ve been doing a project a night with the kids before bed – they get to help me build something and I get to make sure nobody gets shocked and nothing explodes.

Oh, yeah, pictures. Unfortunately, my photography hasn’t really evolved with all of the above. Photography, by the way, was a great source for procrastination. Anyway, some recent pictures from the past month – all taken with the Sony NEX 3N.

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It’s quite a complete and versatile kit that all fits into a small bag. Macro is quite usable with the extension tubes and the Sigma 30/2.8 – though I lose stabilization if I don’t use the kit 16-50/3.5-5.6 lens. I’ve broken out my E-3 a few times, but honestly, I haven’t had an occasion to break it out. Shannon did take some gnarly pictures of tree sap with her phone and one of these days, I’ll walk over to that tree with my E-3 and Benbo tripod to take some 1.4:1 macro shots. I’d better do it soon.

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21 – guy trip and changes

My college friends and I finally conquered our first annual guy trip in Big Sur. We kept it classy and nobody got physically hurt as a result of the trip, so I think we succeeded.

All but one of the shots below were taken with my Olympus E-3 and Sigma 10-20/4-5.6 UWA lens. Let me tell you – it took some dedication to lug around a 5 pound camera and tripod on a 7-mile hike. The first two shots below couldn’t have been easily done without a tripod.

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594 (Medium)Anyway, I lugged along my ENTIRE camera kit for the trip – two Olympus dSLR’s with four lenses and one Panasonic mirrorless camera with a fast 20/1.7 lens…and I only used the latter once (the shot of the glass of scotch and the playing cards) and realistically only used my UWA lens with my dSLR.

Upon returning home, I reassessed my kit. I sent off the spare dSLR body and the UWA lens to KEH (the UWA lens was bought specifically for this trip). I sold off the Panasonic GF-1 and 20/1.7. I even sent my big Tamrac camera bag to B&H.

To replace the mirrorless camera, I now have a Sony NEX 3N with kit 16-50 (a seller on FredMiranda had a great deal and I swept it up). The NEX 3N is a great small camera that doubles as a video camera (kit 16-50 is a motorized zoom and is optimized for video).

So the NEX 3N came out in 2013 and comes with Sony’s latest and greatest APS-C sensor and BIONZ X processing – and after coming from 4/3’s and m4/3’s – I can see what all the fuss was about. APS-C produces much cleaner images even at ISO 6400. Additionally, the NEX 3N has a lot of convenient in-camera processing – like my favorite high contrast B&W filter.

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034 (Medium)And pictures, even with the kit lens, are sharp and detailed.

159 (Medium)The NEX 3N also has an articulating screen that makes waist-level shots so much easier. No viewfinder though, but it has a great “outdoor sunlight” mode that increases the brightness and contrast on the screen for better visibility.

Anyway, I’m probably going to keep my 4/3 Olympus kit with the E-3, 14-54/2.8-3.5, 40-150/3.5-4.5, and 35/3.5 macro and won’t be adding any more. The dSLR kit will be my go-to for creative shots and for those rare occasions when the act of photography is 50% of the primary objective.

Otherwise, the ‘daily’ shooter will be the NEX 3N.

I’m looking to reacquire the original Sigma 30/2.8 for the NEX – in APS-C, the FOV would be equivalent to about 45mm, which gets me close to the ZD 25/2.8 pancake’s 50mm FOV (yeah – I got rid of the pancake too). I owned the Sigma 30/2.8 for m4/3 but found the focal length a bit too long at 60mm.

Also, I want to get some cheap macro extension tubes with AF for the NEX. I’m hoping that the credit I get at B&H for the bag would cover the extension tubes.

Anyway, changes. What fun is photography and the gear that goes with it if no change is involved?

 

 

 

 

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20 – reconnecting

My MSIT program is unofficially done. No more homework. No more midterms or finals. No more group projects. No more all nighters. No more missing out on life. Commencement (which I’m not attending – long story) is this weekend. Afterwards…freedom!

Anyway, even going out to the park feels different now that I’m done with school. I no longer feel like I’m procrastinating or should be sneaking glances at notes on my phone. Nope, I can be 100% there. This past Saturday, the kids wanted to go out to different parks in the neighborhood (sounds like every weekend, actually)…so I tagged along.
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There are some pretty awesome grassy hills at one of the parks we visited and both kids were rolling down in their own way.

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The engineer in me felt that they could be more efficient so I showed them how to get more speed and coverage down the hill by raising their arms above their heads and rolling down like little hot dogs.

Unfortunately, my kids going down the hill weren’t straight like hot dogs. They rolled down like kielbasa. Or bratwurst. Basically, not straight, but curvy. Like a sausage.

So, I ended up rolling down the hills too in order to demonstrate proper technique. Many times.

It was great fun and we all learned a few things:

1. Sara and I get seriously itchy from the grass, while Matty doesn’t.
2. When rolling down a hill with someone, don’t roll down together or roll down close to each other, unless the goal was for someone’s feet to inadvertently kick the other person in the face.
3. Take all sharp objects out of your pockets.
4. Say goodbye to chapstick if you accidentally leave it in your pocket and you roll down the hill several times anyway.
5. Facing the “other direction” while going downhill won’t undo the dizziness.

Anyway, along with the end of 20 months of my MSIT program, I’ve decided to reactivate my Facebook account. I think being away was good and this time around, I think I’ll control my thoughts and shares.

Whatever I have to say, I’ll say on this blog…

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19 – fisheye selfies

The bodycap fisheye lens is a lot of fun to put somewhere, set the timer, and snap a selfie or two. It’s such a small kit and with the front lens element being so small, I’m not worried about scratches or things like that. Typical front elements for fisheyes tend to be huge bulbous things that require delicate care…

Anyway, my selfies.

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no, the car wasn’t moving.343 (Medium)I was looking for snacks.

Both shots were SOOC jpeg from the GF-1, resized for the Interwebs.

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18 – crow

I’m eating crow. In my last post, I said that I’d be good with what I have…

Well…

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I’m blaming the Interwebs. I never knew that a bodycap fisheye for m4/3 existed! Anyway, I got one…and a body to go with it. I’ve taken some test shots, and with a fixed f/8, it’s pretty much useless indoors – the cheap Panasonic GF1 I got for it isn’t exactly a high ISO winner, but for outdoors, it’s pretty good – I should know…this is the second time around for GF1 ownership for me – but outdoors, it’s great.

When I had the Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye, I still had to fiddle with focus. With the bodycap fisheye, there are THREE focus points – infinity, hyperfocal, and ‘macro’. I don’t have reason to complain about focusing a manual lens anymore.

The best part about the GF1 with bodycap fisheye – no lens cap. The focus lever has a fourth position for a built-in lens cover. What this means is that should an occasion to get a WIDE shot occur…all I need to do is grab, point, and go. No focusing necessary. Since a fisheye won’t be used too frequently, this should work – in theory.

EDIT: Here are the shots from today’s outing – a birthday party for one of my son’s friends at a nearby amusement park. These are SOOC JPEG from the GF-1 using the ‘dynamic’ jpeg setting. Resized for the Interwebs.

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If not already evident by the picture above – the sun was BEATING DOWN ON US. There was PLENTY of natural light, which was perfect for a fixed f/8 fisheye lens.

In other news, here’s a picture of a flowering artichoke.

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17 – remorse

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I have buyer’s remorse…the bargain Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 fisheye lens that I bought was a dud. What I thought was super sharp was really only nominally sharp…and even after attempting to calibrate the focus at all apertures, there was no uniform sharpness that was similar to the Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 lens that I had with m4/3.

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So, I sent it back to Amazon this morning. I returned it for a refund, though I could have just sold it back as a used item and profited $50, however, my wife reminded me that I’m teasing camera karma by potentially giving a bad lens to someone else, so I thought better of it. I’m constantly buying and selling camera gear, and most of the time, I’ve been on the better end of the deal – no need to ruin that momentum just to gain an advantage.

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In any case, these are the last few pictures from a day outing that I processed in Lightroom. It was difficult to take these pictures because as I indicated in my last post, I should have been able to use hyperfocal distance to get everything in focus, but I was never able to do this…

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After shooting with the lens for a few outings, I realized that I really miss having an ultrawide lens. The change in perspective is so refreshing. Ironically, before I sold off all of my kit to move on to different things, I owned the Olympus 9-18 f/4-5.6 and the Olympus 11-22 f/2.8-3.5, both of which are fine lenses. It’s sad – when I had all of this gear, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but now that I’ve sold it all off – I know what I’m doing now and I know how to post-process to get exactly what I want.

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Just like the playground above – several years ago, I had so much gear to play with yet I didn’t know what to do with it…so I sold it off.

In any case, there’s remorse. Buyer’s remorse that I bought all the gear…seller’s remorse that I sold off the gear…

But I learned a lot from it all. Come to think of it, with my kit now, I’m probably just fine. I guess what I really need to do is just to love what I have and stop lusting after what I don’t have.

Stop visiting photography forums.

Start taking pictures.

Start capturing moments.

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16 – ultrawide

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I missed having an ultra-wide angle lens, but luckily, I scored an AWESOME deal on the Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 fisheye lens on Amazon recently. It’s a bit more difficult shooting with a manual fisheye with the E3 compared to shooting with a manual fisheye (the Samyang 7.5/3.5 fisheye) on m4/3 – namely, with m4/3, I could zoom in to an image during live view to check for focus. I can’t do this with 4/3.

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Also, I can’t seem to get hyperfocal distance correct on the lens. Either that, or I’m just not doing it correctly. At 8mm with 4/3 and f/8, I’m supposed to be good with 21.8 inches for hyperfocal distance from 12 inches to infinity. However, on the lens, I need to be close to infinity.

So, something isn’t right…most likely, it’s my calculation.

In any case, I got such a great deal on the lens…and considering the frequency of use, it’s probably going to stay in my bag but I’ll lug it along everywhere.

If *I’m* shooting, I bring my three primes (25/2.8, 35/3.5 macro, 8/3.5 fisheye), but if I know that someone else may use my camera, then I’ll bring my two zooms (14-54/2.8-3.5 and 40-150/3.5-4.5).

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15 – almost done

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I took my last midterm for my MS program on campus this morning. It’s also my last test – only a thesis and a couple of group projects left.

I parked in my usual spot at the top of the parking structure and on the other side of the freeway, the light bursting through the clouds was awe-inspiring. Good thing I brought my E-3.

Anyway, one more month and I’m done with the MSIT. Can’t wait.

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14 – snaps

just some quick snaps from the past three or four weeks or so. I don’t remember the last time I cleared out the CF card from my camera. Anyway, all of these are B&W conversions using my custom LR user preset – lots of grain, lots of contrast, a bit of vignette – just the way I like it.

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In other news, I just returned from a trip to Tucson. Tomorrow, my last midterm for my MS program and the day after, the manuscript for my thesis is due…which explains why I’m uploading pictures. I like to procrastinate.😦

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13 – portable

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So I recently upgraded my hacked Nook Tablet (rooted, running a custom ROM with Android Jellybean 4.2) to an Acer Iconia A1-810. There’s such a tremendous difference, it’s not even comparable. Here they are, in order of importance.

1. 1024×768 screen resolution, 8″ diagonal. Sure, it’s not high-definition, but it’s a much more usable 4:3 screen ratio rather than a movie-friendly 16:9 ratio. The 4:3 ratio is perfect for web-browsing and picture viewing and PDF’s – which is what I primarily use the tablet for. 8″ is probably the biggest I’d want to get a tablet screen – anything bigger is too cumbersome to carry around.

2. Bluetooth. I can finally use my bluetooth keyboard that I bought for my Tapwave Zodiac (geek cred ++ for you if you know what a Zodiac is) over ten years ago. A folding keyboard and this tablet make a great on-the-go note-taking and/or document-editing platform. This post is being typed on this setup right now.

3. GPS. I can load maps on the tablet and use it as a portable navigation device. I sure could have used this a while back when we were in the desert for work.

4. Built-in front and rear cameras. The picture above was taken with the 5-MP camera of the tablet and processed using the “paper picture” app. Nice. It’s not the best picture quality, but it works in a pinch. For most pictures, that’s why I have two dSLR’s.

5. micro-SD card, USB-OTG, mini-HDMI. Expandable storage, the ability to use USB peripherals, and the ability to display my screen on an HDTV? These are all great options to have.

6. Bone-stock. I don’t plan on hacking this or getting a new ROM or a new kernel. It works as delivered and with a quad-core processor, it’s already fast enough.

7. 12GB of usable memory. For my purposes, it’s plenty…but I also have a 16GB micro-SD card installed with books, music, and pictures.

8. Cheap. This tablet was only $109. It’s a refurb, but whatevs. It works.

Anyway, that’s it. Hopefully the development community on XDA doesn’t develop ROMs too soon – I’m actually digging the stock experience.

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12 – simple

childhood is so simple. Why do we have to grow up again?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe older they get, the less child-like they are, but upon closer observation, they’re still children. For instance, my kids have no idea how to really play ‘leapfrog’.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…and they both get so lost in their books.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs I sit here with looming deadlines and the worries of work, family, and health on my shoulders, I wish I could just get lost in a book and not worry. I wish I could just make up games and not worry if the game wasn’t correct or if the rules don’t make sense.

I’m glad we keep our kids low-tech.

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11 – scenes

I got my Olympus E-3 back from Precision Camera, er, Olympus Repair, and it’s good as new. Literally.

After using the E-410 for almost a month, I forgot how TINY the viewfinder of the E-410 is…and I forgot how it’s prone to blown highlights. Anyway, I’m glad I got the E-3 back. Some recent snaps – some from the E-410 and some from the E-3.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was an LR3 preset that I made – I tried my best to recreate the Grainy B&W Art Filter that I really do miss. Anyway, I think it’s close. Not bad.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASame here. It’s not bad – almost ridiculously close – though I can’t match the fine grain that the Olympus Art Filter can do.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn this one, the grain is almost invisible (at least to my eyes). It’s nice and punchy though.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd in this one, the bokeh looks a bit distracting. It’s still detailed though and has nice contrast. Below is almost the same picture, but almost SOOC (I added some vignette and a bit of clarity):

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnyway, I’m glad to have my E-3 back. After using m4/3 almost exclusively for quite some time, then using an E-410 while the E-3 was in repair, I’ve forgotten how ergonomic and stable a large camera is. Controls are intuitive and there’s no sacrifice of user control for the sake of size. Granted, it’s heavy, but it’s fun to use and it results in wonderful output.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese are all scenes from my neighborhood.

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10 – idyllic

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter last week’s trip to the frozen north, it doesn’t take much to remind myself of how idyllic my life is sometimes. I live in a resort of a town – two ‘lakes’, almost thirty swimming pools, parks, great schools, friendly neighbors, close to almost everything I can ask for.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn my opinion, it’s the ideal place to raise a family in Southern California, hence, this is where we’ve settled down for the time being.

Unfortunately, as great as it is to provide my kids with a foundation, I’m not giving them a chance to learn how to start over. When I was a kid, we moved *all* the time – we basically moved wherever the rent was affordable. Such was the gift of growing up poor.

My kids are completely clueless with struggle. It’s a foreign concept – just like homelessness, bitter cold, and ‘weather’.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey basically get everything they need without asking for it and more often than not, they also get what they want (though we’ve tried to keep their demands fairly well-grounded – we’re still fairly old-school when it comes to distractions and activities). Additionally, I’m hoping that they learn that experiences are more valuable than material things. Though my son may have received a new bike for Christmas, it’s learning how to ride a bike and newfound mobility that are more important.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe’s fallen off of his bike a couple times, and though normally, he’d cry and cry from even the slightest physical effort or pain, he didn’t cry when he fell off his bike – he just got back on and pedaled away.

In other news, I’ve shipped my E-3 off to Olympus to get repaired. It’s a flat rate and for what they’re going to do it (replace the cracked LCD screen, fix the lens release button, fix the rear LCD chassis, and adjust focus), my cost for the camera and the repair is still cheaper than the value of the camera. So, I’ve been shooting with the E-410 and the pancake. All the pics this week (and last week, for that matter) are from the E-410. This week’s pics, BTW, are SOOC – no post-processing.

 

 

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09 – frozen

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m on travel to the capital of America’s top hat to attend some meetings. The last time I was here in Ottawa, the snow on the ground was starting to melt and though it was cold, the natives weren’t complaining. This time, it’s freaking cold (at least it is to me). As a southern californian, the concept of snow on the ground sounds nice, but I surely don’t want to live with it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI mean, come on, falling ice? That’s just crazy talk. The only thing that falls from the sky is a little bit of rain and ashes from fires. Ice or snow? I think I know what snow is – it’s the earth’s dandruff.

Anyway, today was a free day since my meetings were postponed, so I decided to skate the canal. During the coldest time of the year, the Rideau Canal that runs right through Ottawa becomes the world’s largest skating rink – which for me, became a 7 kilometer challenge (14 kms round-trip) to not leave any red stains behind on the ice. Challenge accepted and met! I didn’t fall once. Maybe because my legs were FROZEN. I did manage to stop every now and then to snap some pictures of the canal.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYes, I’m a geek. This was the closest marker to ’42’ that I could find.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASkating on frozen water (as opposed to a skating rink) is DIFFERENT. The ice isn’t smooth in all places and it’s not flat. There are bumps in the ice (which I had to pay attention to so I wouldn’t trip on them) and there are cracks that were filled in by the maintenance guys overnight (or so they say). I also did see that some parts of the ice were pretty thin – it was a bit unnerving to see water under the ice beneath my razor sharp skates. I would have literally sharted if I saw Nicole Kidman floating under the ice…but that would have been to die for.

Right next to the canal is the Winterlude Festival grounds, where – gotta hand it to the Canadians – there is a proud display of ice sculptures and all things frozen.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI don’t have the proper shoes to walk around in snow and gawk at things that should really have some vodka or jaeger flowing through them, but whatevs. Ice sculptures are pretty neat.

At the end of it all though, I’m spending quite a bit of time in my hotel room…which overlooks a busy street…where I learned that snowplows come at 2:00 AM in the morning to repeatedly push snow off the road.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnyway, the next time I complain about the heat again, somebody slap me. I had always said that the cold is better than the heat because you can always layer clothes when it gets colder but you can’t take any more clothes off when it gets hotter. I was wrong. Dealing with snow boots and a parka and gloves and everything getting wet is way more annoying.

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08 – macro tripods and stupidity

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATypically, I replace sale of photo equipment with new-to-me photo equipment, but the recent sale of all of my m4/3 kit went to much-needed running and cycling upgrades, namely, a Garmin 310XT with heart rate monitor and a cadence sensor so I can monitor RPM’s on the 310XT. However, not all was lost, and I managed to squeeze a Benbo Trekker mk3 tripod in.

I’ve always wanted a Benbo tripod. I have four tripods now. An old Velbon tripod that’s probably from the late 1970’s – I picked it up for $10. It has a geared center column and the legs can’t adjust to different angles. In other words, it’s pretty useless for what I would use a tripod for. My second tripod was a bit better – a $30 Craigslist find: an Amvona ‘professional’ alumnium tripod with pistol-grip ballhead. The legs articulate and it’s nearly perfect…except it’s heavy. I actually brought it with me on a business trip to Quebec and I lugged the damn thing around through Vieux Quebec on a free day to see the sights. As a result, my third tripod is a Trek-Tech T-Pod mini tripod with magnetic ballhead. This goes with me everywhere and it works great for whenever I need a tripod (i.e., long exposures, selfies with the family, etc).

However, I really needed a tripod for my macro photography, but not just any tripod would do. I needed a tripod that could enable weird and low angles and would be light enough to take on hikes (not that I’ve gone hiking with camera gear…yet). Additionally, I needed it to be meant for outdoor use – and only one tripod available in the United States would suffice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Benbo Trekker mk3 is pretty awesome for its intended purpose. It’s a beast of a tripod to get steady and just in the right position though – the bent bolt that holds the legs and the center column together is a one-motion affair: unlock it and everything unlocks and lock it (really freaking well) and the whole thing is solid. I’m sure I’ll get used to it with more use. Today was the first day using it in our garden and it’s great. I’m using the ballhead it came with and attached the Trek-Tech ballhead to that (yes…cue Xzibit and the “yo dawg, I heard you liked ballheads” meme) so I can gain multiple methods of fine-tuning for position. From what I’ve read, using the Benbo implies that you’re not in any hurry to take your shot…and it’s true. It takes time to use it. But, why use a tripod during bright and sunny days? DoF. This is the kind of picture I would probably get without a tripod:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot too bad. You can tell it’s a flower. The reason I’d get a picture like this is because I’d try to keep the camera at base ISO but with the front lens element so close to the subject, I’m not getting much light, so my shutter speed suffers. Even with IS, the only way to get reasonable shutter speed would be to keep aperture completely open, in this case, f/3.5. But, stop it down to something like f/11 and this happens:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAh. Depth of Field – so nice of you to join us.

I do have a ring light to use with my macro lens, but unfortunately, it leaves a catch light on subjects and also prevents me from going down to 1:1 magnification since the LED lights add about another inch to the front of the lens. I can actually go down to 1:1, but the LED light casts a shadow instead of illumination at that magnification, so it’s almost moot.

In any case, though the Benbo will probably only see occasional use, it will add tremendous value to my pictures.

So, that’s the subject of the macro tripod from the title. And now, the stupidity.

I had been playing with the different heads on the tripods and trying to see which would be a good fit for the Benbo and I forgot that I had only placed the Amvona pistol-grip ballhead in the bag and had not actually attached it to the tripod legs. Anyway, I had the camera on the couch and the tripods in their bags and I opened the Amvona bag…and out fell the head – right onto the top LCD display of my E-3!!!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s worse than it looks because I already put a piece of clear tape on top to make sure that it doesn’t crack any more. Luckily, the camera is still functional, but unfortunately, the weather-sealing of the E-3 is now ruined since I won’t be able to take the E-3 out in the elements without risk of introducing moisture or dust or sand or whatnot into the body through the LCD.

😦

I had planned on taking the E-3 and 14-54 with me to Ottawa for my trip next week, but alas, I’m going to travel lighter and will take the E-410 and 25/2.8 pancake instead. I can’t risk the E-3 in the cold weather and the snow – it’s a fine camera and I don’t want to lose it. The E-410 and 25/2.8 pancake combo should be small enough to fit in my jacket, so when I’m skating down the canal, I’ll just keep it on my person and not in a bag. I’m a bit wary of blown highlights with the E-410 and with the snow and daylight, it’s going to be highlights galore, but hopefully, I can overcome that with a bit of skill and exposure compensation.

In any case, all of my tripod heads are now probably screwed on and put away!

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07 – pancake

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been quite enamored with my latest lens acquisition – the ZD 25/2.8 pancake lens. I sold off all of my m4/3 kit and I had planned on using the pancake and E-410 combo as my go-anywhere camera, but I’ve found that the pancake is a great match for my E-3. This, however, makes for an interesting combination. Using the E-3 – a large camera on its own – with a pancake lens mounted on it is akin to taking a picture while looking through a cinder block. Or a toaster. Or a dictionary. Or a yoga block. Basically, without a lens protruding from it, the E-3 looks like a brick, albeit, an ergonomic one. It still looks weird, especially when it’s directly in front of my face.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the third time I have owned this lens. The first two times – I wasn’t in the right mindset for one. After a brief interlude with m4/3, the value of a small and light prime lens with a ‘normal’ field of view was realized. When combined with the E-3 and it’s magnificent viewfinder, the FOV of 25mm is really quite close to what my eyes see directly in front of me. However, when mounted on the E-410 with it’s tunnel-like viewfinder, although it becomes a nice and compact kit, the experience just isn’t the same. I think this is probably why I never really appreciated this lens to begin with – my previous 4/3 bodies (and I’ve gone through quite a lot) had pretty small viewfinders and looking through them was work. 

In any case, for my style of photography, this lens is ideal. In fact, I think that I can get by with just this lens and the ZD 35/3.5 macro – though I’m not selling my 40-150 or the 14-54 anytime soon. I like having the flexibility of an all-weather camera which only the E-3 and 14-54 can do and I also occasionally like having the ability to get some reach, which the 40-150 provides.

Though many folks speak of color rendition and ‘mood’ when it comes to SOOC images with a body and lens combination, I tend to post-process my images with Lightroom or DxO to get the look I want, so anytime people complain about this lens and color cast or anything like that, I ignored it. Similarly, I’m one of the few people who actually introduces flare and vignetting into pictures, so again, not an issue for me. Sure it’s not as bitingly sharp as my ZD 35/3.5 macro. Frankly, I don’t think any lens I’ve ever used came as close to the sharpness of that macro lens. But truth be told, my eyes aren’t sharp either. The 25/2.8 is sharp enough for me.

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I think this lens is fast enough even for available-light photography, as long as image stabilization is turned on. I can probably gain about 3 stops with IS and I’m ok with setting my ISO limit to 2000 – grain/noise is a nonissue since I convert to B&W when it gets a bit too noisy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow, for the issue of bokeh?

It’s overrated. If I wanted subject isolation and only the iris of an eyeball in focus, I’d be shooting full-frame and I’d probably be shooting weddings and I’d probably be a member of WPPI. I’m not. I haven’t been to a wedding in YEARS and when I did go to weddings, the last thing I wanted to do was take pictures. There’s a time and a place for capturing pictures, and for me, the wedding of a friend or family member is the last place I’d want to bring my camera to. But I digress. Bokeh is subjective. Some people even go and discuss the merits of the bokeh-ness of bokeh. Whatevs. I can do subject isolation old-school style with the ZD 25/2.8 pancake – just get close to the subject and focus on it and everything else will get defocused.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut subject isolation isn’t what this lens is about.

This lens is for capturing what your eye sees. It’s not wide. It’s not a short-tele. It’s normal.

Like I said, when I want to capture just that, then this lens does it for me.

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06 – burned

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I have a fear of being burned – not physically (ok, yeah – physically too), but emotionally. I’ve been burned before by ex-girlfriends, friends, family, coworkers, neighbors…I don’t know. Whatever it was, parting was never amicable. I’m sure my behavior didn’t help either. Some people draw a line with tolerance for stupidity…well, I can cross that line if I have to. Many times. I have a big mouth and I’m never afraid to use it, though lately, I’ve been quite good and I’ve kept my mouth shut. Kind of.

Deactivating my Facebook account greatly reduced the friction that I was giving myself and probably others.

I don’t know what it is, but it really doesn’t help with getting to know people (not the big mouth, but the fear of getting burned). I do have a desire to connect, but sometimes, it seems that I’m just so wary of what might happen that I do come off as superficial. My randomness probably doesn’t help.

The few people who I do keep within arms’ length are quite close. They’re my wolfpack. They don’t know it, but I’d do anything for them. I’ll break your heart so I can give you mine – actually, that’s a quote from a song by Garbage, and now that I listen to it again, it’s quite a sadomasochistic verse. Sounds malicious, but there’s good intent there. Damn, Garbage was a great band.

But I digress. Through no choice of mine, I do spend a lot of time at work – so yeah, I can admit that some coworkers are part of that wolfpack.

I have a few coworkers from previous jobs that I remain good friends with to this day, even if our contact with each other is nowadays limited to the occasional email or text. I traveled extensively with them and I was mentored and was taught the ways of the world by them. My approach to testing and engineering was molded by a small number of people whom I can count on one hand, for which I am grateful. If there was ever a group of people who worked hard and played hard, it was my group…but yeah, sometimes, the latter manifested itself way more than the former.

I’m still struggling to fit in with my current coworkers though. I’m in a weird position – I’m not exactly young, but I surely don’t act mature. I think I’ve turned down lots of invitations to social things not because I don’t want to go, but because I can’t. My family comes first. When I die, I don’t want my kids to remember me as never being home.

Similarly, I’m in cahoots with some senior folks, not that I sought it out. A lesson I learned from different people along the way – good work is rewarded by more work. Another lesson: your reputation precedes you. Basically – my work ethic is my own downfall when I say to my family and friends that work is keeping me busy. The good thing – it’s been interesting work and for the most part, I have complete ownership of it. I do set my own milestones and though I answer to internal and external customers, at the end of the day, I can only blame myself for any lack of progress should any roadblocks exist.

Ironically, I’m struggling with becoming more professional. What exactly does it mean to be professional? I get paid to do what I do. Yes, I am a professional in that respect. However, there seems to be a well-known rule that professionalism also implies the wearing of slacks and the tucking-in of shirts, to which, I respond – did somebody die or is someone getting married? If the answer to either question is yes, then I believe that a clearly-visible beltline and pants that require ironing are required. Otherwise, if my day may involve crawling on a floor to run cables, lifting heavy equipment, or the use of a spectrum analyzer, then I don’t believe that slacks make me more professional. I’m not management material yet (though I’ve been told otherwise) so I think I can still commiserate with peers and get away with wearing jeans without holes.

I just don’t want to be burned again. The last time I hinted at upward mobility within a work environment, I was shunned and effectively, little did I know it, but bridges were being burned for me.

Unfortunately, I think that the biggest cause for concern isn’t being burned by coworkers, but being burned by work – or for my situation – impending lack thereof.

It’s looming and I know that it’s inevitable.

BTW – the picture this week – it’s a picture of my legs a few hours after a set of interval runs to calculate my maximum heart rate. I’m training with a heart rate monitor now.

My stats:

Max heart rate: 186 bpm

Resting heart rate (per Kaiser): 41 bpm

What do my legs have to do with the topic? They were burning.

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05 – haze

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went to the Griffith Observatory today – our first time – only to realize that though the weather was nice, the view from the observatory wasn’t ideal. For one…we went during the day, so our chances of seeing any stars besides the sun was pretty much slim to none. Second, beautiful LA smog. As we were looking over the side and I was being facetious about the smog, someone equally curmodgeonly (is that a word?) as me blurted out something along the lines of – if you can’t see the air you breathe, you can’t trust it. What a wise-ass that guy. He overhead me saying that the smog was so thick that you can cut it with a knife, and he had to go and make an even more snarky comment.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was surprised that the Hollywood Sign was so close to the Griffith Observatory. I’ve really only seen the Hollywood sign when driving along the 101 freeway, which, personally, is not very often for me since I’m never in the area. Living here in Socal, I just don’t have any inclination to visit these places.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn any case, I do like the surrounding neighborhood around Griffith Park – there are a lot of great hiking trails with some challenging elevation gain, so if were so inclined (yes, the pun is intended), I’d love to hike here or do some trail running. Hmmm. Also, I do really like architecture, but unfortunately, the kids and Shannon just aren’t as interested as me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpeaking of which, in the main rotunda of the Observatory – above the pendulum – there is a great fresco. I don’t know if that’s Atlas holding up the world, and I can’t tell if that god is Zeus or Jupiter (I don’t see a lightning bolt and I can’t tell if he had previously been a swan), but, since I’m an assman – I’d have to admit that the muses with very toned backsides definitely captured my attention.

The other thing that captured my attention was all of the PDA – and we’re not talking Palm Pilot. So many young couples out at the observatory for what looked like a date. I never would have thought of taking a date to the observatory (I didn’t know these kids were so interested in astronomy and the celestial heavens)…but I think the better date would be the hiking trail. That’s just me though.

Anyway, yet another adventure in LA. After driving here, as much as I like the culture and the sights – I’m still glad I live in Irvine.

The Griffith Observatory itself is quite neat and is the epitome of Art Deco. The drive up the hill and the parking however, were a nightmare – even more so when attempting to parallel-park a minivan downhill on a two-lane mountain road. Funny story – there were probably two very small cars parked where one Honda Odyssey could park (yes, I took that spot). I’m sure we weren’t too popular – I should probably check the van tomorrow to see if it got keyed. Interestingly, when we were leaving, the car in front of our van was gone and there was a brand new Mercedes with what appeared to be a young new driver (Asian, female, three friends, equally Asian and female, with her in the beautiful white C-class coupe, therefore indicating that she was probably well-off) was trying to parallel park IN FRONT of my van in a space that was obviously smaller than her car. So, I RAN to tell her that there was no way she was going to fit, but a park ranger beat me to it and told her to move on. But as she drove away, she left behind her friend who was unsuccessfully trying to help her front-end my van. We left quickly afterwards (and two cars took our spot) and down the hill we went – and yes, the new Mercedes pulled a U-turn on the downhill mountain road to try and get a spot.

/rant

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