Before and After

From the earliest times in Almonte, the town fathers harnessed the river for water power – to run a sawmill, a flour mill, a number of woolen mills. Up until now the commercialization has been relatively benign. But things have apparently changed.

The greedy developer who owns a small power generation plant in the old flour mill wants to triple its size, and to do so has to alter the course of the river in ways never done before. The town council fought the development for a number of years but ultimately lost. Municipalities in Ontario have no veto power when it comes to projects generating “green” energy. And so:

This is how the Almonte upper falls looked in April of this year.

And this is how things look right now.

Any one who was concerned about the vandalizing of the river was told they were tree-huggers and johnny-come-latelys to the town. The “real” residents had no such objections since they remembered the industrial heritage of Almonte. Sure.

Now granted, this is probably as butt ugly as things will get. The townsfolk have been told the battle is lost, that things won’t look that bad once the blasting and hoe-ramming is done, that we must move on and accept progress, that we need to go back to being the friendly town again. But I wonder….

 

Grandpa’s Special Girl Turns 6

I know, I know. You should treat all grandkids the same and I love ’em all – but there’s a very special place in Grandpa’s heart for my older granddaughter Veronica.

Maybe it’s because she’s the most like her Nonna of all the kids – concerned for the welfare of others above all, but at the same time wanting everything to be fair and equal when it comes to the treat department.

Veronica came out for a few days last week for her first visit on her own. She’s a big fan of chocolate coated ice cream so we made a visit to the DQ in Carleton Place for the first time ever. It went well. She missed her brother and sister though, so we Skyped every night.

Veronica helped by making her bed every morning and getting herself ready without prompting. She’s really growing up – tomorrow she’ll be 6 and she’s starting school in Grade 1 this September.

Even Mr.Oates – who usually heads for the bedroom closet shelf when the grandkids come – made friends with Veronica and enjoyed all the attention he got from her. He’s a convert too.

Veronica’s the one it’s most fun to tease. She’s the master of reaction and double take. But she places strict limits on how many jokes Grandpa can make – about two a day will do.

Tomorrow she’ll get two birthday cards – one that plays music and one her Nonna made. Why? Because that’s just the way it has to be, and don’t you forget it! Happy Birthday to Grandpa’s most special girl.

You’ll Get What You Need

My Canon S90 Compact was and continues to be a fine digital camera. However, it is now more than 7 years since it was released and my particular unit is well over 6 years old. Since I have long ago decided I’m not hauling a heavy digital SLR and a quartet of lenses aboard ship, it’s important to me to have a smaller, versatile, good quality camera to come with me. I don’t want to mess up a cruise vacation with a camera failure though.

The S90 has always taken fine images even when the light was low. It didn’t become a victim of over mega-pixillation and its sensor was pretty good for the time. The only problem it has is that it is a little short in the telephoto range for seagoing photos. I did well in earlier trips with a 28-300 mm Fuji bridge camera but again it was large and heavy. Was it possible to get something that:

  • Has a decent enough telephoto range.
  • Focuses and makes images a bit faster than the S90 – that one is a bit of a dog when it comes to fast moving objects.
  • Is a good quality unit.
  • Does not go overboard with megapixels.
  • Gives value for money – I am not interested in paying more than I would for a digital SLR and some of the deluxe compact digicams certainly are priced that way.

You can’t always get what you want..but if you try sometimes, you’ll get what you need. (M. Jagger)

And after extensive research this might be it.

Panasonic Lumix ZS-50.

Now this is last year’s model and if I had been interested in the replacement Lumix ZS-60 I would have waited a while to get one. Unfortunately the older model is rapidly disappearing from the retailer sites, so I acted fast.

The lens, viewfinder and layout of the two models are identical. The newer ZS-60 has a touchscreen, is a bit faster in taking a sequence of photos and shoots 4K ultra high definition video – none of which interests me much. What sold me on the ZS-50 is that it has a 12MP sensor (my S90 has a 10 MP sensor.) The new camera features a similarly sized sensor with 18 megapixels, which is better for HD video but introduces more noise and poorer low light performance. I’ll take the 35% savings and better still photo capability.

I’ve always been  Canon and Nikon guy – you know, real camera makers. Panasonic always meant CD players and microwave ovens. What sold me on the Lumix was its lens – designed by Leica and built by Panasonic to Leica standards. Leica knows a thing or two about camera optics, and combining their expertise with Panasonic’s lens manufacturing and electronics prowess makes a very nice package indeed.

Of course even with a great lens you make some compromises when putting such a zoom range in a pocketable camera. To have this sort of versatility in a “full frame” DSLR would require 3-4 lenses, about 15 Kg in weight, and probably enough money to buy a compact car. Not exactly the solution for a one day stay in port.

A pocket camera needs a small sensor and a relatively slow lens to get to where it is. This means you cannot avoid some noise in photos and relatively poor low light performance (use the flash indoors, dummy!) Also a small camera can be hard to stabilize at extremely long photo lengths – you are unlikely to put it on a tripod, now are you – so a bit of camera jitter and lack of sharpness will be expected. The answer here is to keep your telephoto settings to about half the 30X zoom range if you can.

But hey, you’re on holiday. You are off to experience Toulon or Barcelona – not photograph it for National Geographic. And that’s where the awesomeness of the Leica lens will come in. Sunny ways, my friends. For bright light situations the Lumix is king.

I plan to take the tiny Canon S90 camera along too as a vacation backup. It’s a bit better for low light situations if I find I need it. Either way my total camera weight will be less than 500g. I think I can deal with that.

The Canon isn’t that shabby when it comes to photos either.

Sometimes it’s best to stop obsessing about your equipment and just look for the light and press the button.

 

One Little Life

I read recently that if all the homeless animals in shelters in North America were given homes we’d have to keep about 8 cats and dogs per household. That’s not going to happen, and sadly only about 1/3 of the cats in shelters get adopted. That means a lot of otherwise wonderful lives end every day.

But once in a while the opposite occurs as it did a year ago for our Mr. Oates.  It was a close run thing for him – lost his home and family, ended up in a shelter, most of his cute kitten stage behind him. He was in a no kill shelter but a lot of cats don’t ever leave the building.

He was in the right place and right time when I came by to see about getting a new friend after our old pal passed away after 16 wonderful years. The shelter staff vouched for him even though he was a bit depressed – sleeping tucked away in one corner of the shelter. And oh my was he handsome.

His life has turned around – he has a comfy bed, lots of cat toys, a back yard to watch the birds and chipmunks, plenty of food, water and the necessities of life. He may not appreciate it, but he gets gentle and comprehensive vet care. He’s home.

He still is a little apprehensive when the grandchildren come by, but he’s working on it. Otherwise he’s a love bug – soft purr, lots of meows. It’s common to wake up at 2 AM and feel a warm furry hot water bottle behind my knees.

As the shelter motto goes – you can’t change the world, but you can change one cat’s world. Certainly 8 cats are not on our agenda but I’m glad we made the effort to change one life. One little life.

 

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

One more post to finish up on digital photography.

Obviously the camera business has moved on since 2010, and there have been numerous improvements plus new categories of camera have been introduced. Most of the innovation has been in the premium compact area, since compact cameras were the most affected by the smartphone and tablet disruption. More expensive compacts have replaced the cheap ones that were supplanted by smartphones.

One question I always ask myself is: can I really have it all with one camera anyway – compact and light, reasonable telephoto and wide angle capability, fast focus and low shutter lag to capture fast action, viewfinder, high quality bright lens?

I haven’t played with this Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 Model IV but  – although it comes close – at this point I’d still say you can’t always get what you want. Looking in more detail:

  • Compact Size – About the same as my S90 although about a cm thicker. I’d still call it pocket sized. It’s a bit heavier as well.
  • Zoom Capability – Can go a bit wider than my S90 but not as long. This might be a problem as I find the current S90 a bit short for maritime photos.
  • Performance – the combination of a larger sensor and Sony’s technology makes for an amazingly fast action. This small camera rivals a DSLR. No problem here taking photos of kids.
  • Viewfinder – yes, a lovely pop-up electronic one.
  • Bright lens – a very fast and bright Zeiss lens comes standard.

It’s interesting that this Cadillac small camera isn’t made by photo giants Nikon and Canon, but Sony – the Walkman guys. This might seem odd until you realize that Sony makes most of the one inch photo sensors that go into this class of camera – and they saved the latest tech for themselves. As for optics, maybe they don’t have the Nikon heritage but there is nothing shabby about Carl Zeiss.

There are a lot of gee whiz features with this camera like super slo mo video, 4K HD video, wifi to connect to a smartphone, etc. None of this gets in the way of making great images though.

So aside from the very short telephoto capability this one ticks most of the boxes. Still can’t always get what you want though; right now to buy this premium pocket camera you are looking at $1200 Canadian plus tax – a DSLR with a couple of lenses goes for that price.

 

 

Good Enough? (Adventures in the Digicam Market)

Back in the day, marketers of computers used to sell their products based on the speed of the processor. A similar thing took place with digital cameras where the measure of quality (according to the sales folks) was the number of megapixels (MP) captured by the camera sensor. In both cases the more the merrier.

The actual “picture” was more complicated than that – especially in the case of the digital camera. To illustrate my point here are some photos taken from my digital archive. Each one was taken from one of the six (count ’em) digicams I have owned in the past 13 odd years.

2 MP Canon Powershot A60 (2003)

 

5 MP Nikon Coolpix 5000 (2005)

 

6 MP Fuji S6000fd (2007)

8 MP Fuji F480 (2009)

10 MP Canon Powershot S90 (2015)

24 MP Nikon D5550 (2016)

Minor differences in photo technique aside, all of these pics look OK at the resolution demanded by a typical web based blog. Yet there’s a difference of 22 MP and a factor of 12 at least in the resolution from my earliest Powershot A60 point and shoot to the Nikon D5550 DSLR. The fact that the requirements for web photos is relatively low is one reason why most people with smartphones/tablets don’t bother with a real camera any more – they can just snap a photo with their phone and post it on Facebook in a jiffy, knowing it’ll be fine.

So should I have saved my cash and just stuck with that Powershot A60? If my needs were just to get a photo of a building or mountain and post it here, probably yes. But as I said earlier the situation for any photographer isn’t that simple. Let’s take a look at each camera I’ve owned what it could and couldn’t do.

Powershot A60

A decent first digicam, the price was reasonable and the quality was good – Canon after all. It had a 3X optical zoom that covered the basic range you’d want for snapshots. The major problem though was that 2 MP sensor. A photo taken with the A60 would not even fill a wide angle computer screen today. As for photo prints you’d be lucky to get a 4X6 size print from it – no chance for enlargements. It was also very slow to boot up and focus so if you had to photograph anything that moved fast – no way. When I owned this Canon I never would consider it as a replacement for a film camera – especially if I went on holiday and wanted to get some photos printed later.

Nikon Coolpix 5000

I got this one used from a US based online camera store. It was superbly built as a “professional” compact camera – not a DSLR but pretty nice. The 5 MP sensor and excellent 3X wide angle to short telephoto lens made this a fine camera for landscapes. You could get enlargements from it and it made images large enough to fill a big widescreen computer monitor. However – this camera had some maddening design flaws. The flash sensor was easy to cover with your finger when holding the camera so that flash photos almost always came out wrong. It was very slow to start and focus – useless for any fast action. The storage medium was Compact Flash cards – large and relatively low capacity. The viewfinder was prone to parallax.

I still have this camera today. It’s a jewel of obsolescence. Again I never took it on serious trips because it did not have any telephoto capability.

Fuji Finepix S6000fd

Probably at this point I should have accepted the inevitable and gone for a digital SLR – that is the only true solution for fast action and big photo prints. However in 2007 DSLRs had in my view a fatal flaw – dust got on the sensor when you changed the lens and your photos had little goobies on them you had to take out after the fact. Cleaning the sensor was difficult and risky.

There was another partial solution if you wanted to take telephoto pics as well as wide angle pics – the bridge camera. And the Fuji Finepix S6000fd was a great bridge camera. Decent sensor, a big 28-300 mm style lens, manual zoom capability. This camera became the one that finally put my film cameras away for good. It went on countless trips and holidays.

It wasn’t perfect though. It was still slow to focus and shoot. It had a poor low res electronic viewfinder, and the LCD screen on the back was easily washed out in bright light. Taking photos in the sun was always an adventure – luckily I could crop them later on. And like all SLR type cameras it was large and bulky.

Fuji Finepix F480

OK so I had my telephoto problem solved – but did I always want to carry around a big heavy camera when I was getting off a ship somewhere for a short visit in a port? The answer seemed to be to have a large and a small digicam – both of which were capable of decent photos. The Finepix F480 certainly was a good image maker – 4X zoom, suitable wide angle, 8 MP sensor. And it went in a pocket easily. It used the same XD storage cards as my larger S6000 – bonus. Also it was cheap.

However – it had a very slow lens that made it difficult to focus in low light. It was extremely slow to focus and shoot if I wanted to take pictures of grandkids.

My daughter now has this little digicam and it still gets use from time to time. It proved to me the desirability of having a small camera for holidays and I went looking for something a bit better.

Canon Powershot S90

I believe I finally hit the sweet spot in pocket cameras with this Canon – I’ve had it for over 5 years and I’m still delighted with it. It has a bigger 10 MP sensor, a very bright decent wide angle to short telephoto zoom  lens- just a great performer. Again it’s a bit slow focusing for fast action but for landscapes and holiday snapshots it cannot be beat. It was a bit more expensive but worth it.

I am so happy with this little camera that I didn’t take anything else along on our Transpacific once in a lifetime cruise. It doesn’t have a viewfinder but the LCD screen is pretty bright and clear – it only gets a bit dodgy in the brightest of bright summer days. A keeper to be sure.

Nikon D5550 DSLR

OK so if I’m so happy with the Canon S90 howcum the presence of yet another camera – this time a real digital Single Lens Reflex? Well by 2015 the DSLR makers have solved the dust problem on the sensor so no more little goobies in your photos. As well a DSLR gives a very large sensor, a real viewfinder through the lens, multiple lens mount possibilities (including my old film lenses,) and best of all it focuses and shoots really fast. It’s fast enough to capture the grandkids in any activity.

A DSLR is still bulky with all its lenses, and I don’t think I’ll need it for most trips – but it’s there if I need it.

True digital convergence – a small, light, fast focusing camera – may be on the horizon but for now I think what I have will do the trick.

 

 

 

 

 

Disruptive

It just dawned on me the other day how disruptive digital photography technology has become. It took a few years from the earliest heavy, slow, low capacity digital cameras of the 1990s but disruption is here – has been since 2005 at least.

I mean, it’s less than 15 years since I bought my last film based cameras – a Nikon SLR and a tiny Rollei fixed lens for travel. Both of these are still in the closet at home. The last time I took a film camera on a holiday was in 2006. I remember I ran out of film in Oslo and had to buy some at extreme Norwegian prices. Today I wouldn’t be able to find it at all.

No matter, as digital storage has really taken over the market formerly occupied by 35 mm film. I was in Staples last week and picked up a 32 GB SD card which would hold over 7000 SLR exposures – nearly 300 rolls of print film. You would get even more than that in a smaller point and shoot digital camera. No wonder Kodak is out of business along with photo finishing giants like Ritz and Black’s.

Even cheap digital point and shoot cameras are the victim of disruptive tech. Most average photo shooters today use a cell phone to take selfies and post them on Instagram or Facebook. I haven’t gone that way; I have a digital SLR for serous photos and for travel I use a small but fairly sophisticated compact. I have given up hauling a heavy SLR and a bunch of lenses onto the aircraft and ship. Last year I photographed an entire TransPacific cruise with my Canon S90 – a camera the size of a deck of cards.

Maybe I didn’t have a truly telephoto capability but I managed OK.

More disruption appears to be on the way as high end point and shoot units begin to challenge the DSLR and even the video camera. But that’s a subject for another post I think.

 

7/7/77

39 years ago we were on vacation in the US with our Scotty travel trailer. After a July 4 weekend in Vermont we headed south down US Route 7 to Connecticut. July 7 found us near Hartford where we camped in this State Park.

Our neighbors were a couple of older couples from CT who were friendly and informative. One of the guys was a retired long haul trucker so he had quite a few laughs at my feeble attempts to back up and park a 13 foot travel trailer. To his credit he gave me some pointers which I remember to this day – not that I plan to back up a rig anytime soon.

The 1970s were still the heyday of AM radio – no Sirius XM back then – and we listened to the legendary Bob Steele on WTIC Hartford. It turned out we were in Hartford on a special day – July 7, 1977 or as Bob described it “seven seven seventy-seven.”

Bob Steele started at WTIC in the 1940s so he had been at the station to celebrate 4/4/44, 5/5/55, 6/6/66 already. So 7/7/77 was a big deal. I believe he celebrated 8/8/88 and after he retired the station had him back for 9/9/99. Amazing guy.

So on 7/7/77 what did we do? Went shopping at K-Mart and got a screened in tent to put around the picnic table. No bugs and we had a lot more space to eat. I believe the manufacturer – Camel Tents – went out of business in the 90s when a major sporting goods chain purchased them. But it was a great unit.

So many years, so many memories.

Eleven Years On

Eleven years ago today – July 6, 2005 – we moved to a new home, a new town, a new stage in life. This is how our place of abode looked back then – not all that homey, to tell the truth.

Well the neighborhood has improved a bit.

And the landscaping is a bit better.

No matter. On July 4, 2005 we were packed up by our movers in Georgetown. The truck was loaded on July 5 and we locked the door at 56 Pennington in a driving rainstorm. Then it was off in two cars to Almonte. We got as far as Peterborough, spent the night in the “Nite Owl” motel and next day were up early and off to our new life experience.

After we got unloaded and unpacked here we were joined by Sammy who had spent a few harrowing hours with Dave and Sarah as they took him to Ottawa earlier. He was glad to get settled, as were we.

And now we’ve been here 11 years. Our old pal Sammy went off to the Rainbow Bridge last year. We have had many joys (grandkids) and sorrows (deaths in the family) and of course we’ve gotten older. We learned the fun of cruise vacations, enjoy being close to the US without driving to Buffalo, and especially like the fact that Maria’s mother and our daughter and son-in-law live much closer than if we had stayed in Georgetown.

And although Maria worried that we moved to too small a town, she’s been happily received into volunteer work here. As for me – I love the scenery, the small town feel, the river, cool nights under a canopy of stars.

There are far worse places to retire than the Ottawa Valley.

 

No More Pencils, No More Books….

Today is the last day of school for my grandchildren for the 2015-2016 year. They were pretty excited about bringing all their work home and taking the summer off. Who isn’t?

It struck me that the last day of school – and more significantly the first day of school in September – occupied a central position in my life for about 50 years. Here’s my timeline:

1946-1952 – blissful ignorance

1952-1965 – wend my way through the educational system

1965 – 1969 – attend university

1969-1972 – blissful indifference. I’m working with no ties to the school system.

1972 – marry prospective teacher

1972-1982 – teacher goes to school

1982 – 1996 – teacher and daughter go to school

1996 – 2002 – teacher goes to school and daughter attends university

2002 – 2005 – teacher still goes to school after daughter gets on with her life

2005 – present day – blissful relaxation. How sweet it is.

I don’t want to count how many anxious days before school starts, how many moves and counter-moves, how much school stuff purchased, how many vacations taken at prime time for cost and and airport congestion. It’s over now – except if we want to take a holiday with daughter, son-in-law and grandkids. Then it’s deja vu all over again. Or will be when Teddy and Veronica get a bit older. No missing school in their future.

It’s funny how much I used to look forward to the summer. Even if I spent the time working, the rest of the family were enjoying low stress days kicking back by the pool. Now it seems kids are all over the place and former teacher and I look forward to Back to Pencils, Back to Books…you know the rest.

 

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