31 January 2009

Personal Lens Roadmap

Yvon Bourque just posted a personal lens roadmap in his blog, where he recognise that his unchecked Lens Buying Addiction (LBA) has got the better of him a long time ago. Apparently he's going to use the roadmap as a tool to consolidate his inventory.
I too have found a roadmap document to be a very useful instrument to manage the lens inventory. I set up my first just after the first time I saw an official Pentax Lens Roadmap, realising it was probably necessary to match Pentax' plans against my own. As for the official Pentax document, a private Roadmap should be a dynamic document, to be updated for every sale or purchase. It doesn't cure any LBA, but it helps rationalise purchases and to consider need-to-have against nice-to-have. If suffering from LBA, it will be particularly useful as a guide to where to channel the lust. :-)
It will also reveal how some redundancies are harder to weed out than others. For my own part I have both the DA 16-45 and the DA* 16-50. I keep convincing myself that the 16-45 is too nice a little lens to sell, in case one of my kids pick up on photography and suddenly wants to borrow some of dad's gear. I have managed to rid myself of some futile arguments for keeping the FA 50/1.4, and my trusty old Sigma will have to go once the 60-250 hits the market.
Actually, I'm pretty proud of myself to have cleared out the inventory as much as I have. You should have seen the first version...

Click image for larger version.

28 January 2009

Is Apple the only game in town?

On my trip to the eagles photosession the other week, the only option I had for a laptop was a Lenovo X61, which was very far from being a usable tool for on-the-go image editing.
Two of the other photographers I met had Macbook PRO 15,4" laptops that worked very smoothly indeed. One of the guys had his machine configured to boot with Windows XP as well, giving a fair hint of how well the same machine performed in an enviroment more familiar to me.
It also struck me that the ability of Macbooks to run Windows makes it easier to compare them to normal laptops, so I sat down and had a hard look at the hardware specs.
As far as I can see, the power offered by the 15,4" Pro Macbooks is on par with other laptops in the same price range, such as Dell Precision M4400 and Lenovo W500. Where the Macs have glossy LED screens, Lenovo offers only old-style TFT monitors with fluorescent tubes. With Dell, one can choose. The CPU, RAM, HDD, weight and connections are comparable for most part. Apple has a few fancy connectors with magnets and small form factor, but functionally they do the same as what the others offer.
So as tempting as the Apple may be, I don't think I'm going to listen to the snake.
- Well... Microsoft's garden is no kind of Eden, but I just couldn't resist... :-)

26 January 2009

Another night photo

Before I went digital I used to do a fair bit of night-time photography. When I got my first DSLR, the Pentax *istD, I didn't trust the battery enough to go out and play. So in the 4 years before I got the K20D I forgot all about it. The Night Shot I posted here in October was in fact my first digital attempt at night-time photography at all.
It gave an appetite for more.
The bridge above was one I found on my way home from the Eagle Photo Session last week. The K20D is excellent at long exposure times; I have no complaints so far about the level of noise reduction applied. The details for the above is 90 seconds at f/5.6 and ISO 200. The lens was a DA* 16-50/2.8.

The inspiration to get restarted with night-time photography, by the way, was Andy Frazer's Night Photography Blog.


16 January 2009

Eagles day 4

Sorry, no pic today.
Right after the shoot I loaded everything into the car and headed for home. Right now, I'm parked somewhere on a quiet side-road just outside Steinkjer, and here is where I'll spend the night on a mattress in the back of my car.
The little laptop I have for this trip, a Lenovo X61, has been very useful for getting on the internet, but that's just about how far its usefulness goes. The graphics card on this model does not accept ICM colour profiles, so calibration is a waste of time. Also, since it is a laptop from work, the harddisk is protected by some peculiar encryption mechanism. This works well for office applications, but is pretty abrasive on image editing tools. Even such relatively simple software as the Pentax Photo Browser and Adobe Photoshop Elements 6. The latter has crashed on me serveral times while generating thumbnails, and doing some real editing like converting a raw file or somesuch will nearly kill it, poor little machine.
Today's shoot at the eagle hide was great fun. No sea eagle, but three golden eagles (btw, some of you may know the sea eagle as white-tailed eagle - alledgedly the fourth largest eagle species in the world). For a few precious minutes they were even gathered at the feeding site simultaneously. There were a few moments of antagonsim too, which passed too swiftly for me to grab the opportunity.
Today I had new company in the hide, and lo and behold, one of them was a Pentax user! For once Pentaxians outnumbered Nikonians 2:1. But the Nikonian got the better of us when the eagle fighting started. His frame-rattling captured the moments we missed.
Anyway, I know I got a few decent captures myself, even if I missed the best action. I can't wait to have a look at the files on my calibrated screen back home. But it's going to be a long drive before I get there. Some 600 km, I think. By now it's getting close to midnight, and both me and the laptop are running a little low on the batteries.
Expect a more illustrated report on Sunday. :-)

15 January 2009

Eagles day 3

The goshawk site was in a dense spruce forest where the amount of light was low even with a blue sky overhead. But the goshawk didn't disappoint, so I have come back with a bucketload of images shot at ISO 3200 and ISO 1600. I know I can do the above image more justice, but I desperately need a better screen and my usual arsenal of image editing tools.
The bird experts around here have explained to me that this is an adult male. The horizontal stripes indicate "adult"; the juvenile birds have a more spotted appearance. The colour of the eyes indicate "male". The female's eye colour is more yellow; closer to that of the base of the beak and the feet.
According to my guide I have good reason to be satisfied with my results; it has been shy lately. I had a good two hours continuous session with this bird, which my guide describes as "very well done". So I must be doing something right on my first attempt. :-)
What kinda scares me is that I'm beginning to like this. Well... not really the part of nearly freezing my ass off in the hide, but there is a certain cameraderie with the other photographers here; a very including atmosphere where the day's catch is subject of a very constructive discussion and how one can improve the results next time. The guys into bird photography has a highly specialised knowledge of this type of photography, where there apparently is a black hole's worth of details to pay attention to. I really feel like a novice here.
But now I'm babbling. There's time for thinking inside those hides... Sometimes too much time, and sometimes too little.
After re-reading the above I realise I must have suffered from both, to end up writing something like this. But I'll let it stand. It seems like a good description of the situation, after all.
Oh, and the shot was made with K20D and DA* 300/4, exposed for 1/80s at f/5.0 and ISO 3200. Some noise reduction has been applied.

14 January 2009

Eagles day 2

The winter storms have passed for now. A gust of arctic air has followed in their wake. Temperature dropped from +9 to -2 °C last night, and crept another few degrees down while we were inside the hide today. However the sky cleared up and gave us much better light. Yesterday's session was shot mostly at ISO1600, with a period of about 90 minutes around noon allowing ISO 800. Today, ISO 400 was the gold standard.
The FA*600/4 continues to shine. It's a great lens for this kind of stuff, despite its noisy autofocus. The only thing I miss in my Pentax cameras now is a higher frame rate. I never thought I would say that, because I've always thought that timing was more important than rattling. However I see that it would be useful in such circumstances as I shoot now. In particular when one eagle lands on the bait to chase another away.
Tomorrow will be somewhat different; at a site specifically tailored to feeding goshawks rather than eagles.
The forecast says temperature could drop as far as -15 °C. Wonder what sitting still for 7 hours in that temperature will be like. I have plenty of clothes and will further wrap myself in a sleeping bag, so I'm pretty sure I will endure. Hopefully the camera batteries will endure too.
The picture is a golden eagle from today's efforts. Sorry about the intruding crow. I probably have some without that little bugger too, but they were not easy to lose.

13 January 2009

Eagles day 1

Today the weather had improved, and I got my first experience with the eagles.
I was certain that I would have plenty of time to get bored, sitting inside the hide from 8:00 to 15:00. So I had brought coffee, snacks, food, and even some stuff to read.
I had time for some coffee and a quick bite, but that was it. Even without rattling off frames in long series I collected 400 exposures, with a keeping rate of about 25% after the first weeding tonight. That's better than I expected, but maybe I'm just not critical enough.
The 600mm performed very well, as did the DA* 300/4.
The two guys beside me in the hide used Canon 5D, 500/4 and 70-200 zooms. It struck me that the Image Stabilisation in the Canon lenses was surprisingly audible. The Canon AF was about as Pentax SDM, but with more hunting in low light. :-) The whizz from the Pentax FA* 600/4 however, was by good margin the loudest noise produced inside that hide today. To my relief the the birds didn't mind much. One of the visiting eagles sometimes looked up at the sound and earned me a couple of shots with direct eye contact. I haven't dug deeply enough into the raw file pile to scrutinize that yet, though. The shot above was one of the first this morning, made with K20D, FA* 600/4, f/7.1, and 1/30s at ISO 1600.

12 January 2009

Almost grounded

I've not been able to do much photography at all today. The winds and the rain has kept me indoors most of the time. I took a quick trip to the local food store, and grabbed this. Good thing the camera and lens are moisture protected.
This shot has been prepared for the blog using Photoshop Elements 6 on a borrowed laptop, so the layout does look a bit weird.
And as much as I love strong colour, I think this one looks best in black and white. Not a lot of colour in there in the first place anyway...

11 January 2009

Bad weather

Yours truly has just checked in with Norway-nature.com at Flatanger. Tomorrow's session photographing birds of prey has been called off, however, due to bad weather. The cold spell we've had since New Year has just ended, and storms have lined up in a queue across the North Atlantic awaiting their turn to bring their wet misery ashore right here. One passed the day befor yesterday, another will pass tonight, and another is due towards the week-end. The map below is a snapshot from the excellent weather service http://www.yr.no/:

My host is hoping for colder weather with snow from Tuesday. I will use tomorrow to look for places to photograph the weather instead. Good thing I brought a raincoat. :-)

08 January 2009


Next week I will put my precious FA* 600/4 to action here. Hopefully I'll capture some pics that are the blog worthy.
Now I'm in the process of packing; and currently wondering where the heck I put that Wimberley tripod head after last time I used it. Not a thing one is likely to lose by accident, so I'm sure I've put it in a very, very clever place.
The shot above (K20D and FA 77/1.9 ltd.) is another one from my autumn excursion to Sølen, which was a very successful trip. I cross my fingers in hope that this trip will be equally successful.
With or without that Wimberley thingy. :-)

06 January 2009

A dramatic change for Pentax in Scandinavia

An era is coming to an end.
For more than a generation, Fovi A/S has been synonymous with Pentax in Norway. They have been both national distributors and authorised Pentax repair shop. They have also represented an oasis of excellent customer service in a marketplace where sales volume and distance between vendor and customer has been the norm.
Alas, in a new marketing strategy, Pentax in Japan or centrally in Europe has decided to regard all the Nordic countries as one market, and handed the official distribution rights to someone with a scope to match. This also affects the Danish distributor, and the Swedish branch of Pentax has been closed down.
Where Fovi targeted traditional photo retailers and chains, the new scope is directed more towards consumer electronics chain stores. This could be good for market penetration of the brand, but I worry for what else it could bring.
I worry for the availability of the prime lenses, for the accessories like decent flashes and battery grips, and for the high-end zooms. I worry for the level of customer service and the competence (or lack thereof) of the salespeople in the stores and the service departments.
My hope is that Fovi will survive as a gravitational centre for all things Pentax in Norway. They have a unique competence, a well-tended customer base, and outstanding service. I just hope it will be enough to keep a healthy bottom line too. I keep my fingers crossed for these guys, and will buy my stuff there as long as they stay in business.
May that be long.