Christmas toys

Merry Christmas!

I had two surprises under the Christmas tree, a Nikon Coolpix S5100 and an Apple iPod Touch Gen4. I wasn't expecting either of them, and one is a more welcome gift than the other, but a gift is still a gift.

I played with the Nikon during the family party, and the one thing that bothers me is the flash. In normal mode, it fires twice, with a noticeable delay between bursts. It's distracting to the subject(s) and to myself as it throws my timing off. I've read the manual, combed the web, and haven't found any mention of this behavior. It's not red-eye reduction; turning that on gives me four slow flashes. Talk about not being able to capture the moment.

The iPod Touch's camera is a good upgrade from my old 2nd gen. It's lighter, thinner, and those smooth, rounded edges are gone, which makes it easier to hold. The screen is sharper and compares well to my ancient HTC Touch Diamond phone. I haven't noticed any speed increases, and I've already ran an app that gave me a low memory warning, so that hasn't changed either.

More in the days to come as I use the two new toys.


I just realized that I hadn't done a blog post in some time, my apologies to anyone who's reading this page. So here's a quick one of the recent lunar eclipse. The clouds started coming in a few minutes before it started, but luckily there were a few clear spots during totality.

This was a difficult shot to take. The moon was almost directly overhead, which caused problems for my tripod setup. I was able to rest the camera against one of the legs, and I used the DR-4 right angle viewfinder to allow me to see the viewfinder. You'd be surprised at how much the moon moves; images taken at 1sec were blurred. I had to boost ISO to 1600 to get a useable 1/2s exposure. The little white spots are either stars or distant planets.

D3, Sigma 500mm f/4.5, Nikon TC-14E

Farewell Olympus EP-1, I hardly knew you

The Olympus E-P1 went back to Costco today, after two months of use. I'm sad to see it go (one less toy), but it didn't satisfy my need for a small body.

I can't complain about the image quality. At low ISO, it's more than good enough. At higher ISO it starts to fall apart, but still manageable (equal to the D200). No dust spots, so the cleaning mechanism works, I was really careful when changing lenses, or it's only been two months. I enjoyed using the video, and that's one feature that I'll miss the most. I finally got the hang of manual focusing, and it was fun to use with my Nikon-mount lenses. The smaller size and lighter weight is definitely a plus, allowing me to bring two lenses in my bag yet not feel overloaded.

On the downside, AF wasn't fast, almost as bad as my Fuji F45fd. The LCD screen is not the best, and difficult to see in bright daylight. This is a major drawback since there is no optical viewfinder (side note, I tried the EVF on an E-P2 at a camera store, and it would solve that problem except for the problem that it won't mount on the E-P1). Battery life is not the best, especially when taking video (I've been spoiled since the D2H, but even the Fuji has good battery life).

I probably won't try the Sony NEX-5 as it again doesn't have a viewfinder, and there are other issues. Keeping my fingers crossed for Nikon or Canon's rumoured small bodies.

Fare thee well, E-P1, would that I had known you better before we parted ways.

Going through the backlog

Millbrae had its first Chinese New Year parade this year. The weather forecast was for rain, and it did sprinkle in the morning and remain grey the rest of the day. This caused a change in the parade route, shortening it drastically and catching me (and several other spectators) off-guard. Not many keepers from this event.

I chose the Nikon 28-105mm f/3.5~5.6 AF over my SOP parade lens (the 70-200VR) as I wasn't sure if I'd need a little on the wide end. It was a good choice: checking my shots, I didn't really need much reach. Hit rate: 7%, or 5/73 (ouch!).

I've also completed the photos from the Cherry Blossom Festival parade. Hit rate: 20%, or  74/355.

Small change to my blog: I've got the slideshow working. I had a bit of a problem, where I somehow triggered a lock on my Picasa album, preventing the blog from accessing the photos. Got that fixed but I'm unsure how it happened.


After almost a month of turtle-like speed, the Bay to Breakers photos are done. I seem to be slowing down as it shouldn't have taken more than three weeks to edit the shots. There's still the photos from the Cherry Blossom Parade, Asian Heritage Festival, Carnaval, and the surfing shots from the last Hawaii vacation to go through. Oh joy.

B2B hit rate: 36%, or 280/787

I've continued my scanning efforts, but have hit a stumbling block. My ancient Epson 2450 scanner has an intermittently dead sensel that gives a nice line across the scans. I can still scan using one negative slot instead of two, but this does slow things down a bit. For the 126mm film, I've tried using the 35mm slot, but this results in heads being lopped off. Two pieces of glass work, except for the occasional Newtonian ring. I haven't tried scanning any of the 110mm film, although I am really curious to see how well that tiny negative holds up compared to 35mm film. Who has access to a machine shop so I can carve a nice holder?

The fun part of scanning old negatives is the discovery of old photos that you've never seen before. Who would have guessed that I'd find a set of images from a beach outing with the extended family back in 1969? I've also discovered colored photos from my parents' wedding that they didn't remember seeing ever.

I still have to watch "Up." The dvd has been in my possesion for over a week now, but Netflix doesn't care.

More scanning fun

Made a trip to K&S to grab some supplies. Their prices are quite a bit higher than B&H, but at least I don't have to wait. The negatives are piling up, and if I don't get them organized as I scan them, they'll just end up in a big mess.

I bought some film cleaner, a Giottos Rocket clone, 100 35mm sleeves, 25 120mm sleeves, a microfiber cloth and some lens cleaning fluid, all for $80 (ouch). The same list of items would have cost me about $68 after shipping at B&H, but they won't ship the film cleaner. I'd have to wait for the items to arrive though, so it's a small price to pay for instant gratification.

In the meanwhile, I've found even more negatives to scan. Some of the photos I've never seen before, and some are a pleasant surprise to find in negative form. Sadly, most of the color negs have gone wonky, and resist my efforts to correct the colors (mostly too green/yellow). They make good b&w pix though.

The range of negatives is causing a problem. It's easy to scan 35mm. The 126mm film fits in the 35mm holder, but about 3mm gets cut off the top. I tried looking for extra 35mm holders online (I can use a Dremel to trim the top), but no luck; my scanner (an Epson 2450) is so old that no one carries parts anymore, not even ebay. I could buy another scanner, but that'll be a last resort. Some of the negs from the early 60's are larger than 35mm, but smaller than 120mm. No holder for those either. I'll probably just have to trap them under a piece of glass. Probably the same solution for the 110mm negatives.

And I actually found a photo of my first camera, a Diana F. It was a gift from my godmother when I was around 6 years old. Now if I can find some photos taken with the camera, that would be sweet.

Stuck together

While searching for old photos (thank facebook for making me hunt), I ran across more than a few negatives that had stuck together. I (rather stupidly) tried pulling two apart, only to see the negatives delaminate and end up with two useless negatives.

Off to the web to find a solution. Turns out that a soak in cold water should do the trick, with a touch of Photoflo (where is my nearest photo supply store?), followed by drying in a clean place.

Let's see if that actually works.

The search for those Kodak moments turned up some small prints b&w from circa 1940. Roughly a square inch, the prints scan nicely and hold up to enlargement. Much better than the results I got out of a bunch of color prints from the 70's that had very little sharpness to them. There's something to be said about old technology.

Update 1: It's been over eight hours of soaking, and the negs are still stuck together.

Update 2: Success! 24hrs later and I can peel the negatives apart, and they don't look the worse for wear. Unfortunately, they now have water spots. Off to Calumet or Keeble & Schuchat this weekend to look for some archival sleeves and other fun stuff.

Waking up early helps

Success! After five years of trying, I was finally able to wake up early enough to make it to the Haight, find parking (tons on Haight itself), and catch the elite runners at the Bay to Breakers. I made it early enough that I had to wait almost an hour before I took my first photo (need to adjust that wake up time). And I found out that the women actually run ahead of the men, but the men catch up and pass them at the end.

Being that early in the morning, I'll blame my shots on my lack of sleep. And it's tough to watch the runner's feet to time the photo just right.

Women's winner Lineth Chepkurui of Kenya on her way to breaker her record:

Will Ferrell impersonator crosses behind the lead male runners:

Race winner Sammy Kitwara (#21) and runner-up Peter Kirui (#24), both from Kenya:

Events beyond your control

It really bites when your timing is spot on, and something just gets in the way of that perfect shot. That's what happened to me a few times today while shooting Muay Thai at the Asian Heritage street fair in San Francisco earlier this afternoon. The referee was just doing his job of course, and didn't really worry that he blocked several good photos. The fighters didn't help by moving around the ring so much. And why do they have to put all those ropes around the ring...

There's something to be said about having a press pass.

I did manage to take some good photos this year, out of 1,971 taken. At last year's event, I was too far from the ring, and two years ago I found out too late about the fights. This year I got ringside seats by dint of waiting for a few hours before the bouts started. The Nikon 28-105mm f/3.5~4.5 managed to keep up with the action, although it did mis-focus on a few shots. I would have liked just a little more FOV (maybe 24mm?), but until Nikon releases an updated 24-120mm, I'll use what i have in my bag. The 28-70mm AF-S would have focused faster, although it's a little on the short side. I didn't use the 70-200VR that I brought since I was close to the action.

Metering was off my hand, shutter speed, aperture and ISO set manually to match and adjusted as the lighting conditions changed. Fill flash? Always a good idea when you have bright sunlight in the background and a covered tent for the foreground, but flash wouldn't have been able to keep up with the action. And I don't think the fighters would appreciate an SB-800 blasting in their faces at 8fps. So I have a blown background, but that's fine with me.

I started out in machine gun mode, and managed to hit the buffer limit a few times. As my timing improved, I throttled down to shorter bursts and single shots towards the end of the event.

Batteries are charging for tomorrow. Need to get up early to reach my oft-missed goal of photographing the lead runner of the Bay 2 Breakers.

Olympus E-P1 + 14-42mm kit lens initial impressions

I bought the kit through Costco, and received two $50 refunds within two weeks of purchasing the camera. And I have 90 days to be satisfied, or it goes back, no questions asked. Gotta love Costco.

A new camera is always a fun thing, from unpacking the box, charging the battery, and finally being able to use it to take photos. The Olympus E-P1 fits nicely in my hands, and feels solid enough. The mode dial turns smoothly, with strong detents as befits a mode selector. The vertical dial also turns with a quality feel to it.

The kit lens is another story, from the flimsy focusing ring, to the loose front barrel. I guess that's why it doesn't cost that much more to buy the camera with the lens than without. And what was Olympus thinking when they picked the filter size (40.5mm!)? There is no hood available for this lens, another design flub.

IQ is acceptable. It's definitely better than my current pocket camera, a Fuji F45, with cleaner, more detailed output. I have seen some puzzling skin tones though, and bad white balance in the shade. It pales in comparison to the images I get out of the D3, but then that's not a fair comparison. I've been trying to get the JPEG output close to what I get from the D3, but still haven't gotten there.

The video quality is good, better than I expected. The sound quality is excellent, but the microphones pick up every little breeze, and every little nearby sound. It's too bad the body doesn't have an external mic port. The mic also pics up AF and zoom sounds, along with the shutter button. Editing all the video I've shot is going to be another story. I'll have to learn to tell a story instead of just letting my images stand for themselves.

So, will I keep the camera? I haven't decided yet. I have ordered a Nikon adapter, to see how well my Nikon-mount lenses work (Video at 500mm! I wish I had the adapter when I was at the North Shore earlier this month). The Sony Nex-series is also very tempting, but the initial images show poor lens quality and very few controls on the body.

Come back in a month or two for the final result. In the meanwhile, here are some photos from the E-P1.

Kahala resort

Small beach, but the view is very pretty. The dolphin pool is great for the kids. I didn't bring the polarizer, but the sky was blue enough in this shot.

The Diamondhead gazebo is tiny, but perfect for a small wedding. The staff was very helpful, and even comped the parking. The ceremony was sweet and short, a bonus in the hot afternoon sun. The strong breeze caused a problem for the E-P1's microphone, but without an external mic port, you live with what you get.


Remember to test your equipment first

Time for the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japantown in the city. Brought my usual parade kit, D3 + SB-800 + 70-200VR. Got to the event, started firing off some shots. Blinking highlights. Odd, but I ignored them and continued to shoot. Even more blinking highlights.

Decreased the aperture, and whoa, major overexposure. Stopped the aperture down (whoops, flash is strobing in modelling mode) and looked down the lens barrel: aperture is wide open. Removed the lens, and the aperture lever is stuck. It was easy to move it back to the fully closed position, and I moved it around just to make sure it was ok. No more blinking highlights after that fix.

Capture NX to the rescue. Of course it can't give me back the missing DOF, and some shots are just too overexposed to be of any use.

Lesson learned: always test your equipment before shooting, and don't ignore the blinking highlights.

On a side note, the Olympus E-P1 and 14-42mm lens are arriving tomorrow. New toy!

Struggling with night time parades

I've never understood why the Chinese New Year parade starts at dusk. Most of the participants don't come equipped with lights, and the fireworks really aren't big enough to warrant darkness. But it is what it is, and every year I struggle to get good shots of the parade.

This year I decided to skip using a flash, and went with the D3 and 35mm f/2. I set auto ISO to a limit of 3200, and got decent enough shots. The mix of sodium lamps, incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, neon tubes and flash makes white balance tricky, but I'm happy with this year's images, more so than with other years.


There's less than an hour left before the premiere of the final season of Lost. I've almost done re-viewing last season's episodes as a refresher course.

It's been a fun ride, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it all wraps up. More than any show, I've enjoyed watching Lost and always look forward to new episodes. I'll have to find something else to do when it's finally off the air.

Here's my minor brush with the production crew. Taken in 2006 in Manoa valley when I was on my way to hike the Manoa Falls trail. Of course the guards wouldn't say what was being filmed at the time, but it's not too hard to guess.