Geeking It Up

A few years ago I replaced my dormant Nikon F80 film kit with a new D5500 digital system. I really liked the compact and lightweight new DSLR and eventually got 3 new autofocus DX zooms to go with it.

These new zooms give me image stabilization and cover a wide range of focal lengths from ultrawide to telephoto, and make up the bulk of my photo sessions with the Nikon. I never have to worry about focusing as they have ultrasonic motors in the lenses that provide fast and accurate focus.

My film kit also had a number of very nice lenses that I could mount on the new camera, and although they had excellent optics. presented me with some challenges:

  • The lenses were for film rather than my DX system and as such their focal length was 1.5X higher. No wide angle any more although I got a better telephoto performance.
  • The lenses had Nikon’s 30-year-old screwdriver autofocus system. Although some of the new heavier and more expensive Nikon bodies still support this legacy system, my camera did not. The only solution was to focus manually, something my old and out of focus eyes could not do well.

Then a miracle of sorts happened in the form of my cataract surgery in late 2017. After this, I was able to see so clearly that I could focus a camera manually and accurately for the first tie in close to 20 years. 

The camera does make it easier with a rangefinder icon and focus light in the viewfinder but I do OK just focusing the view.

My favorite lens right now for nostalgic photography is a 1989 35mm F2 Nikkor AF. It is lightweight and corresponds to a 50mm lens on a film camera. The photo above was taken on a nice November day with that lens.

Here is one from 2015 taken with a Nikkor 50mm 1.8 AF lens. This one has a slightly telephoto performance on the D5500. I wasn’t as adept at focus back then but the focusing aid in the camera helped me.

 Finally here is another landscape photo from 2015. This one was taken with a Nikkor 24mm 2.8 AF lens. This lens was quite wide in my film set but here is showing only a moderate wide-angle view.

All of these lenses have great optics and contrast, so it would be a pity to stuff them into the closet and never use them at all. At the same time, their lack of autofocus and image stabilization limits them to bright sunny days and short term rambles.

I have many happy memories of using these lenses with my film kit. They are a valuable set of tools when I decide to go out and geek it up around Almonte.


So Vinyl LPs Sound Better, Eh?

Yes, I have a turntable. Even had to buy a phono preamp when my replacement stereo receiver didn’t feature one.

I have lots of LPs too. I’ve collected them since I got my first stereo record player back in 1965.

I have a complete set of original Simon and Garfunkel vinyl. The Doors too. I grew up with the stuff.

All that changed when the CD player came out in the 1980s. My first CD player was a Samsung, and I later got a Technics model which is still going 35 years later. The first CD I bought was Phil Collins’ “No Jacket Required.”

Now I admit that a vinyl record is beautiful in appearance (CDs look like a Tax Return program.) And the cover art on a vintage LP is to die for – especially if you got a poster included.

However I have read quite a lot of bumph lately about how Vinyl LPs sound warmer and frankly better than CD audio – and to this I say simply “Pah!”

I think one reason for the belief in the superiority of analog vinyl over “digital” is that the comparison is made with streaming audio like Spotify and/or MP3 files. Vinyl is analog and the whole sound wave is impressed on the disc, whereas any digital reproduction has to sample the wave discretely. CD WAV files do this sampling in enough detail that little quality is lost, if any. MP3s and streaming data must be compressed and as such will not sound as good.

Having said that, it must be stated that a vinyl master which makes up the master disc for pressing has to undergo changes of its own. Sound engineers have to be careful to adjust the mix to avoid the needle skipping out of its groove. This mastering might give a desirable ‘warm” effect, but it is a change from what went down in the studio. In fact, some early CDs sounded muddy because it was the vinyl mix that got encoded, rather than a digital remaster of the master tape from the vault.

Then there is always the problem of surface noise, snap crackle pop on a vinyl LP. You can’t clean it well enough to avoid at least some of it. In other cases the disk gets damaged – I have a few that might give a “whump” rather than a click. I’ve been careful enough that few of them actually skip ( I have a decent enough turntable.)

A CD, in contrast, is quite noise-free. In fact, some of the most popular CD remasters (Beatles albums for example) have been so well restored that they were able to filter out the tape hiss from the master.

I was just listening to a digital remaster of Chicago IX. To hear the horn riffs on “Just You and Me” today is quite unlike any other recording I listened to in the 1970s. And this is on a CD from that era which was redone in the 1990s.

A CD is in its own way dead technology. I’ve got lots of them, but I rarely buy any these days. For most uses, Spotify works for me. My Sony receiver is 5 years old but replaced a deceased 30-year-old Yamaha. The speakers, turntable and the CD player date from the 80s.

But I don’t intend to resurrect my vinyl collection any time soon. And I’ve got remastered CD versions of most of my favorite LPs long ago.

Maybe the younger set can convince themselves that vinyl is the best audio media, But I grew up with the stuff, and I know better.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Redux)

A few years ago – when we got serious about cruise holidays – I had to accept the idea that I would not be taking my very best camera equipment with me any longer.

This happened early on when – after a couple of cruises with an SLR, 4 lenses and lots of film – I decided that I couldn’t schlep so much equipment off and on the ship every time.

When I went digital in 2007 I still carried a rather large and bulky bridge camera, but this wasn’t a good solution either.

I embarked on a search for the best travel camera, and I got a pretty good one in 2016. The Lumix ZS50 I use now has a viewfinder, a huge zoom lens, and is very lightweight.

No travel camera is ideal. The ZS50 has a slow lens and small sensor. My Nikon DSLR is infinitely superior as a picture taker. But I don’t want to haul a large camera and lenses around anymore – especially onto an aircraft.

When the light is good, the ZS50 really shines. I can get a photo like the one above (from an orchid garden in Barbados.)

Or this riot of color that is Willemstad in Curacao.

This pic of a Spanish patrol boat shadowing our cruise ship could only have been taken with the travel camera. It is at the limit of the 30X zoom.

But you can’t always get what you want. The tiny Lumix photosensor means that I sometimes have trouble in low light situations. I have to be very careful when trying to photograph the interior of churches, like this cathedral in Barcelona. The film sensitivity has to be cranked up, and the shutter speed must be slow. There is always the problem of blur and noise, and autofocus can be inconsistent.

Sometimes I can take advantage of the light coming through stained glass, and if I hold the camera very steady, things look OK. At least they do in photos I want to post on this blog.

High contrast photos such as this rose window in the cathedral of Palma de Majorca can also be a problem, although this one is not too bad.

One of the best things about a travel camera is that you’ll have it available at the right time, right place. How often will my daughter and grandson be in the Mediterranean with me off the rock of Gibraltar? Here the Lumix does a decent job of filling in the shadows with its flash.

Since I got the Lumix ZS50, a number of camera companies have come out with small units featuring much larger photosensors. This might solve my low light problem, but none of them have such a large zoom lens. I would have to say goodbye to the patrol boat photos. These large sensor compacts are also heavier and more expensive. At this point, I can’t justify switching.

Taking photos with a travel camera will always involve compromise, but it’s better than no camera at all. I have to take advantage of my knowledge and experience as a photographer, and accept the fact that some photos just will not be the best. Of course, with a film camera 20 years ago I would not have been able to take the picture at all.

You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find you’ll get what you need.

A Boy for the Ages

So on January 20, our grandson will be turning 11. Time flies – Teddy was born at the start of the Obama administration, and you all know how far we have come from there.

If you are into Generation speak, Teddy is part of Generation Z – the post-Millennials I guess. What that means has yet to be determined, but it is a long way from Grandpa’s early Boomer status.

Teddy is a poster boy for “Sunny Ways.” He has the sunniest disposition of all our grandkids, and he’s a rabid cheerleader for his sisters and friends. I think he is as happy to see them succeed as he would be for himself.

He’s a voracious reader and demon Beyblade player. He loves to team up with his sister in video games. He has a tremendous spatial feel in anything 3 dimensional.

Like his Grandpa, he loses interest in things he finds boring, but can hone in like a laser on stuff that catches his interest. He got into watching baseball with me last summer, and it wouldn’t take much to turn him into a fanatic.

Teddy enjoys his martial arts training and has moved through the ranks of colored belts. Don’t ask me where he is now, but he’s made good progress.

He’s still a couple of years removed from the teenage years and the challenges of Middle School, so I wish him a bit more time of boyhood before he has to face it. I’m sure he’ll be fine.

When he talks on the phone, or visits in person, it’s always “Nice to hear from you (or see you) Grandpa.” It sure is nice for me too, Teddy.

A boy for the ages. Happy birthday, and many more.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Winter

It’s been a strange winter so far in Almonte. The temperature has fluctuated up and down, and we have had a lot less snow than normal.

Last weekend we had a major rain event that normally would have buried us in snow, but all that happened was the snow we did have melted away.

Things are changing though. Last night a clipper system brought us about 5 cm of snow and a more robust Colorado low is due in on Saturday. Before that, the temperature is supposed to go down below our seasonal normal.

So winter ain’t over yet. Not by a long shot.

Digital Photographs Through the Years

I began the 21st Century as basically a film photographer – both at home and while traveling. At the time I did not think that the newly developing digital camera could compete with a real film based one like my Nikon F80. I was still willing to tote an SLR, a lot of film, and a bunch of lenses for any serious travel photography.

However, as the years progressed I gradually got more into digital and my digital cameras got better – to the point where they not only replaced a film SLR but took the place of a large heavy camera system entirely.

Just for fun, here are a few digital photos I took with each of my digicams.

The Camera: Canon Powershot A60. This was my very first digital camera and had only a 2 Megapixel capacity. I used it mainly as a backup to film.

The Photo: Tomb of the Unkown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery 2003.

The Camera: Nikon Coolpix 5000. Bought used, it had decent Nikon optics and 5 Megapixel capacity. I still have this one in the closet somewhere, but it’s very obsolete now. It never was a good camera for flash photos, and was slow and balky.

The Photo: St John’s Harbor and Signal Hill, 2006.

The Camera: Fujifilm S6000fd. This 6.3 Mp Bridge Camera had a fixed 28-200 equivalent lens, a rudimentary electronic viewfinder, and was the first digicam I felt confident enough about to replace film on a holiday. It was still pretty large and heavy, but if you needed a zoom lens, it was good.

The Photo: Village of Oia, Santorini Island Greece 2007.

The Camera: Fujifilm F480. Cheap and lightweight. I got it as a companion to the larger bridge camera. mainly to bring on shore excursions. I featured 8.2 MP and under the right conditions could take a decent photograph. It was slow and frustrating in low light though. No viewfinder sometimes made it hard to use in bright sunshine.

The Photo: The Harbor, Vlaardingen Netherlands, 2009.

The Camera: Canon Powershot S90. A little gem of a camera – tiny and light and capable of great images. This camera accompanied us on many cruises and was the only one needed on our TransPacific cruise in 2015. It was limited in zoom length and did not have an electronic viewfinder, but otherwise a great travel camera. My granddaughter Veronica uses it today, and is learning to be a fine photographer.

The Photo: Opera House and Sydney from the ferry to Manley, 2015.

The Camera: Nikon D5500 DSLR. My very first digital single-lens reflex camera. I have a complete system of interchangeable lenses for it, and I can use the collection of old autofocus primes and zooms from my film system with it. It has a 24MP sensor and is great for just about any situation. But I would never haul all this stuff onto an aircraft.

The Photo: Deer in the backyard, Mont Tremblant QC, 2016.

The Camera: Panasonic Lumix ZS50. This one is my current travel unit. It has a huge 30X zoom lens and a decent electronic viewfinder. Its sensor is 12 MP and although a bit on the small side, serves the camera well. Some low light photos are a bit noisy, but in most conditions it is fantastic.

The Photo: Notre-Dame de Bon Voyage church, La-Seyne-sur-Mer France, 2016.

There you have it – seven photos, seven digital cameras, four brands, seventeen years. From backup toy to full-time photo machine. I’d like to think I had a bit to do with it as well.

Winding Up Another Decade

As the end of the year approaches, so does the end of another decade. These past 10 years have had their share of changes for us, although we have remained in Almonte as our home base. Some notable changes include:

Grandkids. At the start of 2010 we just had this little guy.

By the end, we had these three giants – growing, learning about their world, developing in mind body and spirit.

Family Joys and Sorrows. During the 2010s we lost two well-loved brothers-in-law, Maria’s aunt and uncle in Italy, and her uncle in Washington. On the positive side, her mother is still doing well and just celebrated her 90th birthday. Maria’s mother had a serious fall that necessitated a lengthy rehab and convalescence, but she has returned to independent living after all that. Her sister in Albany is still on the go as well – into her early 90s.

Pets. We said a final goodbye to a big, gray, cuddly loud-purring bundle of love and made the acquaintance of a smart, vocal orange tabby who might just be the most affectionate cat we’ve ever had. So goes life with felines, always the same, never the same, never long enough.

Travel. This was probably our busiest cruise decade and marked the go-go phase of retirement I guess. We had many Transatlantic and Caribbean journeys – some with Sarah, Dave and the grandkids. We also had a trip of a lifetime TransPacific cruise. We do have a cruise or two ahead of us this year, but it’s less of a priority than it was in the past.

Aging. We began the 2010s just easing into official senior status – at least I did. Now both of us are solidly there. I think this might be our go slow(er) decade coming up. It’s nice to spend our time at home, especially in the winter months.

Well, I had hoped to write this post before the end of 2019 but a nasty virus got me right after Christmas, and I’m just digging my way out now. Better late than never, I suppose.

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