Friday, February 12, 2016

Are we having fun yet?

From the 'sporadic musings department

Just expressing some outrage about a comment on Facebook, not even directed at me. The discussion was about ice fishing in Algonquin Park (not allowed, it's a fish sanctuary in winter according to the ministry) but someone posted that it probably doesn't apply to (various racial and ethnic groups I don't even want to type the list here.) One phrase he used was 'colored people' (note the American spelling...). He also disparaged Syrian refugees. I took issue.

I said I was a 'coloured person'. I said my skin is mostly pink but some people call it white, but why does that matter? I got fried by at least one person supporting him, who said they were of native origin and they didn't take offence, so why should I? And also that "you don't live here" (well, actually I do...).

So I'm outraged. I probably should have a thicker (pink) skin, then again NO! It's 2016, not that that should make any difference either, but what really got me was that Facebook said his message didn't contravene their 'social standards'. Bullshit.

I also watched a news item about a Detroit suburban cop who was sentenced to 1-10 years for tuning up a guy just because he was 'driving while black'.

OK, rant over. Share the link to this blog if you agree. You can now resume your regular programming.

Just for fun!

My D800 with Opteka 500mm mirror lens
and 2x teleconverter attached. 

Some years ago, I had a 500mm mirror lens for my old D70 (I just had it for a short time and it got lost in the mail but that's a whole other story!). They're not very good, they're fixed aperture (f/6.3 or 8), manual focus, the glass isn't up to Nikon standards and due to the geometry, the bokeh is pretty ugly.

Why did I buy it? Because I can't afford a long super-telephoto from Nikon (unless I sell my car!) and I wanted a chance at reaching out for some long distance birds. I'm sure I'm not going to get any images I can print 20x30, but maybe something acceptable at web- or projection-size. With the teleconverter, it's a 1000mm f/10 lens! Why did I buy it? $150 delivered to my door. Canadian dollars. From Amazon, by the way.

So a few hand-held tests the day I got it confirmed my impression: I don't think I'll be blowing anything up to 1:1

This is an uncropped picture of an ice fishing hut 1/4 of a mile away across the ice. Yes, I did some post-processing to try to get the maximum
sharpness out of it. 1/1000 second, 1000mm, ISO 800.

I'm going to need to shoot at 1/1600 second handheld with the teleconverter, and probably 1/1000 second with it attached: but the beauty of the D800 is its low noise at high ISO, so I just may be able to get away with it.

When I get a chance, I'll try it on the tripod. A good test would be to shoot the same image with the Nikon glass an crop it to the same size to see a comparison. I will when I get some time. Meanwhile, hey! 1000mm for $150!  Just for fun.

OK, update. You get what you pay for. After a week or so of trying, I couldn't get a reasonable picture out of this lens no matter what I did. BUT: I bought it on Amazon, and guess what? They're taking it back and giving me a full refund. Not only that, they're paying the postage! Kudo's to Amazon for great customer service. 

When life gives you lemons, you know what to do, right? Use Topaz Impression! That's the blurry door handle on the ATV shed at the Red Umbrella Inn, uncropped, 1000mm handheld. 1/2000 second, ISO 2000. Now a fine art impressionistic piece!

Once again, the original was unacceptably blurry so I made lemonade in post-processing. I tried all of the sharpening tricks, still not good enough, so Topaz Impression to the rescue! This is a male house finch that dropped into my feeder today with his significant other. Last sequence I shot with the lens before packing it up for return. 1/800 sec, ISO 1800, 500mm, f/6.3.

Trying out a mirrorless camera

Sony Alpha A6000
picture borrowed from the web 
A friend of mine has too many cameras in the house and decided that this one – almost new and still under warranty – has to go. Since I've put aside a few dollars for such eventualities, I thought I'd have a look at it. What I'm writing here is my first impression, after about an hour of playing with it. My intention is to add to this as I go along and render my decision whether to buy it by the time I finish this article!

My motivation to look at it was the announcement from Sony of the A6300 a couple of days ago. In many ways it could even be considered to be an upgrade from my D800: higher ISO capability, faster burst rate, lightning fast autofocus. It does 4K video but I don't do video but you never know... then I remembered that my friend had the A6000 and I called her and asked if I could try it before buying it.

Clearly the other reason was the gradual accumulation of lenses and accessories for my D800 putting me at the point now where I have to decide which lenses to take with me since I can't take them all! I haven't actually weighed my basic bag (camera plus three lenses and accessories) but I'll bet it would exceed airline carry-on limitations, not to mention my back. It's got this great swiveling LCD that might save my knees, and of course it's relatively tiny. 24Mp APS-C sensor, by the way.

It took me a little while to figure out the menu system and start to set it up. At one point, it wouldn't take a picture even though it autofocused and appeared ready to shoot. I still don't know why. I have it in manual but can't figure out yet how to vary the aperture without going into the menu. I know, I know: RTFM. But there really isn't a printed manual, there's an online "manual" that really just says what the controls do, I've just started working through it. I'm reading that you can buy a decent manual from third parties.

So here's a photo I took on the way home from picking it up.

This was with the 55-210mm lens at 210mm. Cropped a little, otherwise nothing special done in post.  

I shot this image with the same lens, zoomed out to 88mm and some post-processing. Too bad the sun had disappeared.

By the way, off-topic, it got warm and rainy last week. Those ice fishing huts are sitting on Mountain Lake and the ice surface is covered with water. You couldn't pay me enough to go out there although clearly the buildings haven't fallen in yet. Maybe in a hovercraft, wearing a dry suit and floater coat, with a helicopter standing by...

Anyway, that's day 1 with the A6000. Battery life seems to be a problem since the LCD/Live View is always on, but we'll see. Stay tuned.

On the way home from Toronto on Saturday, I wandered over to the spot where some Snowy Owls have been seen... nada. So nothing to shoot with the 500mm lens. A little later I stopped for my "mid-drive nap" (better than having one while driving!) at the York Regional Forest on Ravenshoe Road. Got out for a stretch and saw an interesting little trail through the forest, so I got out the Sony camera, put on the 16-55mm lens and took a few shots.
This fellow came along – his name is Jay and I think he said his brother had something to do with building this refuge many years ago – and he was riding this trail bicycle with studded tires (needed because the trail was slick with ice). He cycled away for yet another lap around the forest. He subsequently emailed me a picture of himself cycling in Moab, UT 'way up high on a ridge.
Anyway, I hope you like this photo, Jay:

I've decided NOT to buy this Sony A6000 mirrorless. Although it's a great little camera and I'd likely use it a fair bit, there were a couple of reasons for my decision. (a) I'd be forever trying to decide which camera to take with me (and probably end up taking both!); (b) the 'operating system' is very different from my Nikon DSLR. Some things that I take for granted are much harder to implement, but admittedly a lot of it would simply be learning curve. Rico (whom I ran into on Saturday night and who has an A6000 to complement his Canon) put it well when he pointed out that it's very menu-driven where, he guessed, I would be more comfortable with a camera that controls more via external controls.

The biggest argument in favour of buying it was the fact that I would have been able to just toss it in a pocket for a hike down the trail instead of carrying a 50 lb camera bag (and STILL not having the right lens with me when I came across something I wanted to shoot)!

I'm not ruling out going mirrorless. I actually see it as inevitable but I'm not ready for it yet.

Gales of November workshop update

The October 20-23 weekend is FULL so we opened a second session the following weekend: October 27-31. That's already starting to fill up so if you're thinking about it, you'd better get in touch! 

We may have a space or two on the first weekend because a couple of people are thinking about switching to the second session. Contact me!

The web page with details is at

The challenges of Country Living

A couple of nights ago I woke up around 2 or 3am hearing noises outside. When you live in the country, it's quiet. I hear when my sump pump comes on. Or the water heater. I figured this was some kind of animals, although I remember thinking it can't be bears because they're hibernating. I went back to sleep.

Next morning I looked out my kitchen window and saw this:

What the Hell? My property is surrounded by these pine trees, all big and healthy. Why are all these branches down? Have I been feeding the squirrels too much in my bird feeders? 

Near as I can tell, we had freezing rain in the night that coated the branches, thick enough to break them (we've had ice before... never broke like this!) when a burst of wind came up. It warmed up in the morning so the ice melted. That's my best guess. I asked around, some other people had some damaged trees too, but nothing at the Inn across the road or down the road, as far as I could tell.

Big healthy branches.

It took me about 3 hours of work to drag these to the brush pile behind my garage. I used the ATV, couldn't have done it by hand.

Anyone want some fresh pine boughs? Smells great! Free for the taking. This is my brush pile. 

Here's a Topaz Impression sketch:

By the way, the first two pictures were done with the iPhone, the second two with the Sony A6000. I also did a video with the Sony of me dragging the brush to the back but it's 78Mb, so I haven't put it up anywhere.

Speaking of the challenges of country living, there are good things and bad things that happen when the temperature wanders down to around -30°C. First of all, I fully expect my sump pump line to freeze up – it has every year. When it does, I have to go out and disconnect the line, and connect up a temporary outside line, or the pump will keep going continuously. That always happens between 2am and 3am...

The other day my smoke detector started emitting low battery beeps. Naturally, at 2:30 am. Since it's up on a 12' ceiling, I had to go out to the garage to get the big ladder. Then I climbed up to discover it was the OTHER one beeping. And only one spare battery.

City folks generally don't heat with firewood. I do (I have oil heat but the fire is better and cheaper). So today, my job list included chopping some kindling and bringing in three loads of firewood (I load about 25 pieces on my snow scoop and drag it to the door). One of the three loads was wood I bought this year, it'll burn OK if I have a hot bed of coals going. I also plowed the driveway , then found the trickle charger for the ATV battery because it'll be tough to start when it's 30 below. I also cleared the snow off the satellite dish with my extending snow rake.

Here's the good side, though. As I write this, I'm looking out at a beautiful bluebell and gold sky sunset over the lake. The snow is a clean, beautiful white. I've had blue jays, chickadees, two species of woodpeckers, nuthatches and house finches at the feeder. And the ubiquitous red squirrels. It's crystal clear at 25 below zero and the snow squeaks when you walk on it. I might sojourn out on the lake tomorrow if I'm not feeling too chilly after my trip to the landfill and the post office. And there are no mosquitoes!

Also I live less than an hour from Algonquin Park. Maybe I'll drive up on the weekend. Oh wait, 30 below...

I could shoot stars tonight... nah. Too cold. Well, we'll see...

Here's something else most of you city folk aren't used to. I've been using my cast iron skillet (and saucepan – you can see it at the top of the picture with the other little skillet) constantly. I've finally got it to the point where nothing sticks to it, it's perfectly seasoned. My trick for keeping them that way? Rinse it out while it's still hot, and occasionally brush a tiny amount of oil on it before it cools. I just use a paper towel.

Cheesy chicken and rice and broccoli casserole hot out of the oven, made in my cast iron skillet. The beauty of it is, you can start on the stove then just throw it in the oven to keep baking. Try doing omelets that way! Awesome. This is just a quick iPhone photo.

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