July 30, 2009

The P6000

Last November I was very happy with my Canon 50D purchase. Melissa was a little stunned and confused when I started toying around with the idea of getting another new camera. I was taking more and more photos I wanted a little point and shoot camera I could take with me everywhere. I shopped around a lot and eventually settled on the Nikon P6000.

Has it lived up to my expectations?


And no.

Nikon P6000

Let's start with the pros. The P6000 is smaller and more portable than my than my DSLR, so I was able to take it with me more often than the 50D. The quality of photos is excellent. It's not DSLR quality, but it's better than any other point and shoot camera I've used.

Like DSLRs, it can shoot in RAW format, which I have used with this camera exclusively. This allows for better control when making adjustments (things like exposure, brightness, etc) on the computer after the fact.

It has built-in GPS. This was a big feature for me. It automatically embeds latitude/longitude when a photo is captured so I can later find the exact location where the photo was taken. This is the first mainstream consumer camera to have this feature, though it won't be the last. This is such a wonderful feature it will only take a few years until cameras have it.

It has a built-in time lapse mode. Again, this is another feature so fantastic all cameras will come with it in the future. In fact, how is this not standard already?

Nikon P6000

Now on to the cons. It's big. Well, it's all relative I suppose. The primary reason I got this camera was I thought it would be small and I could take it with me everywhere. It's somewhat small, but not small enough to take everywhere. It easily fits in a jacket pocket, but not as well in pants/shorts pocket. It also has enough weight to it that it pulls on the pocket noticeably. For most people this wouldn't be a problem, but I was riding my bike with it every day and it just wasn't ideal.

Next, GPS. Wait, didn't I list that under the pros section? Yes. For you see, this is a wonderful feature, but the GPS in this particular camera doesn't work as well as it should. Even with a perfectly clear, unobstructed view of the sky it takes a very long time to acquire a fix on the GPS satellites -- at least a minute or so. That means even in perfect conditions for GPS you can't just take the camera out, turn it on, snap a photo, and have GPS data embedded. The only way to get the GPS data is to take the camera out and turn it on well ahead of time, wait, wait, snap a photo, leave the camera on (because you don't want to have to wait around again next time). I got it working sometimes, but it was a hassle. Next, when conditions were not ideal (i.e. obstructed view of sky, like in a forest) the GPS didn't work at all. I tried several times in the forest and could not get signal no matter how long I waited. Grrrrrr.

The camera has a built-in ethernet jack. It works... so why is this a con? Because it's a completely useless feature. Practically speaking it can only be used when your computer is nearby (in which case you could just as easily plug it into the computer). If it had wireless, rather than wired, networking perhaps someone might actually use it.

Finally, the battery life is quite poor (by my standards). This is probably mostly due to the GPS. When I was using this camera every day I had to charge it every other day, even with light use (only a couple photos per day).

These things said, it's still a good camera... but I no longer use it. I have since purchased a smaller, lighter, (waterproof even) point and shoot camera which does not have GPS or take quite as good photos as the P6000... but I truly can take it with me everywhere.

This camera just wasn't right for me. It could be right for other people though. If you want a high quality point and shoot camera, and you're not concerned with ultimate mobility, and you accept the fact that the GPS is a nice bonus for the camera rather than a true selling point, I would have no problem recommending this camera. Anyone want to buy mine?

Anyway, here's a few of my favorites from this camera:


Moon over Memorial Stadium

Red arrows mark the trail


The lonliest cart


Rob & Melissa say goodbye to Iris

July 29, 2009

The Past Few Weeks

I've been somewhat quiet lately.

First, there was the Tour. I watched almost every minute for three weeks. There were lots of exciting moments and plenty of dull moments as well. One thing that kind of annoyed me was the extent to which the media (TV & Web) tried to create controversy around every little thing (Alberto vs. Lance, Cavendish vs. Hushovd, Hincapie vs. Garmin, etc, etc). Sure, there was probably some legitimacy to it, but everything just seemed to be blown completely out of proportion.

Next, as Melissa mentioned, I've apparently been nesting. We've done lots of work around the house in preparation for Fig's arrival, and there's still plenty more to do. On top of that we had baby week.

Fig's car seat

Hand rest

Finally, the I've been busy working on a couple of interesting (to me) software applications in my spare time. I'll probably talk more about them in the future.

The bad news is I've been out with this knee problem for around six weeks or so. Earlier this month I completely stopped riding my bike (I already stopped running at the beginning of June). I still swam a little bit, but it didn't help that my swim practices conflicted with my watching of the Tour.

The so-so news is that I started riding the bike to work again last week and picked back up with the Wednesday night rides. Last Wednesday I didn't feel great. I kept complaining about how hard the ride was when everyone else was talking about how easy it was. I've got some work ahead of me. My poor ride was further complicated by a complete bonk with about 10 miles to go. 24 mph became 22, then 20, then 18, then 16, then 14, then finally 12 mph the last mile or two. It was the worst I had felt since, well, the Illinois Marathon.

The good news is I'm feeling better day by day. Since monday I've had no knee pain on the bike around town, and only very little knee pain on tonight's hard 50 mile ride. I felt much better on this ride than I did last week, but my fitness is still very poor (by my standards). My heart rate was absolutely through the roof for most of the ride. My average heart rate was 154 and my max was 189, which is fairly ridiculous. Typical numbers from two months ago would be closer to 135 average and 178 max.

Sangamon River route

Tonight's ride combined several commonly used routes along the Sangamon river into one, making for just about as much rolling hills as one can get around here.

July 18, 2009

The 50D

As long time readers may recall, I retired my beloved Canon Digital Rebel camera (which was a low end DSLR) last fall. I really, really wanted a high end Canon 5D mark II, but the price was simply prohibitively expensive (and they weren't released yet). Instead I replaced my Rebel with the 5D mark II's little sibling, the mid-range Canon 50D. The 50D has most of the features of the 5D mark II, really only lacking video and the full frame sensor, yet cost half the price.

When I got the 50D I immediately started shooting RAW instead of JPEG and switched from using iPhoto to Aperture to manage my photos. I've always been very interested in photography, but these three changes marked the point when I dove in more deeply.

At the same time I also purchased a pair of new lenses, a wide angle zoom (Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM) and a telephoto zoom (Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM). These are both on the low end of Canon's top of the line L series of lenses, and they're both much much nicer than any of the lenses I had used previously. In addition to the large apertures and great focusing, one of the neatest things about these two lenses is that the zoom mechanisms are internal to the lens on both. When you zoom in or out the lenses don't change length.

The camera itself is relatively heavy, and these two lenses with their large glass are heavy as well. Whenever I hand the camera to someone else, the first thing they mention is how heavy the camera feels. I prefer to think of it as solid.

Canon 50D
The Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM quickly became my favorite lens

Canon 50D
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM is great for sports

After eight months of use I can say that I'm quite happy with the camera. It's not perfect, but it is very, very good. The resolution of the photos is very high. The focus is very fast and very sharp (particularly with the Canon L lenses).

The 50D (along with my newer lenses) have produced some of my favorite photos.

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM (wide angle zoom)

The Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM is great indoors.

Garter toss


...and for portraits.

Musician Rob


Dynamic duo

The Bassetts

...and outdoors

Luke & Mark


It's that time of year

...and it's perfect for landscapes


Sunrise at the Riddle Run

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM (telephoto zoom)

Marla & Brian

Happy holidays from the Ragfields


The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM lens is great for sports.

50 Free

Sandra finishes the 23K with a smile

...and wildlife.

Bird on stick


Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM Macro

The Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM Macro lens allows close-ups.


Japanese beetle

...and landscapes.


an agile tree-dwelling rodent

...and portraits.

Ravage meets Fig

I love almost everything about this camera. I can only really think of a few complaints. First, I always leave the camera in Auto White Balance mode. When I shoot indoors (usually without a flash) the white balance almost always needs adjusted. This is simple enough to do (though I can't always get it just right), but it's a little annoying sometimes.

Second (and this one's kind of big), is the camera is very noisy at higher ISO speeds. This model was supposedly much better than previous generation DSLRs, but it's not good. In most cases 800 and above are unusable, so I rarely shoot higher than 400. That by itself isn't atrocious. The bad part is that the automatic ISO mode will set the ISO up to 1600 (which is nearly always unusable), and it almost always errs on the side of setting the value too high. This means I can't use the automatic ISO mode and instead I have to set it manually. I usually use 100-200 outdoors and 400 indoors. I switch between indoors and outdoors multiple times per week so I always have to remember to change the ISO settings, but I often forget. I have two cheaper cameras that solve this problem with a simple setting allowing you to choose the maximum ISO value for the automatic mode. I would love to have a similar setting on the 50D. It's frustrating, but given that this is my biggest complaint about an extremely sophisticated piece of technology, it's not that bad in the scheme of things.

Third, the live view focusing is very slow. Other camera manufacturers have made this work (live view focusing on my Olympus E-420 is much faster). Additionally, the traditional half-press of the shutter button does not activate autofocus in live view, a separate button is required. Perhaps they did this on purpose because they knew their live view focus was so slow. Who knows. Regardless, it has room for improvement here.

This is by far the nicest camera I've ever owned (or even used). Quibbles aside, I wouldn't trade it for anything else (in the same general price range). I still dream of owning a full frame DSLR some day, but until that day comes, this one is a keeper.

July 10, 2009

The Scooter

Yes, I bought a scooter. No, I am not 12 years old. Let me explain.

As I mentioned, I've been having some knee problems lately. Weight-bearing isn't a problem, but bending the knee is. Even riding my bike two short miles to work has been bothering it. The knee kept not getting better and not getting better. It was time to take drastic steps.

I drove to work on Monday. I loathe driving to work. I had to deal with traffic & parking, all while cramped up in a tin can, spewing toxic chemicals into the air. It took the same amount of time as riding my bike. Surely there's another way.

Walking would take around 40 minutes each way, and it doesn't really solve the bending-my-knee dilemma. I checked into taking the bus, but there's not a good way to get there. I would have to go miles out of the way, change buses multiple times, and it would take the better part of an hour.

How could I travel a moderate distance under my own power with minimal bending of my problematic knee? The answer came to me while perusing the Wikipedia page for human powered vehicle: the kick scooter.

Scooty Puff Jr.
The Scooty Puff Jr. (cf. Futurama)

Kick scooters were a fad when I was a kid. This newer type has been popular with kids the past few years, though the kiddy models don't support the weight of a full grown human male. Fortunately, Razor also makes an adult model with a higher load capacity and larger wheels for a smoother ride. I was so desperate for a solution I bought one.

Rob takes the scooter out for a test ride

It arrived on Monday and it took it for a quick test ride around the block, much to Melissa's amusement. At first it was remarkably unstable. The platform is almost exactly the size of my right shoe and balancing is a little tricky. It definitely took some getting used to. I found it to be more stable the lower I adjusted the handle bars.

The "tires" on the 7" wheels do not inflate, they're a solid rubbery-platic material. The ride is not smooth, it's much more jarring than riding a bike. I've learned to seek out smoother sections of pavement and to prefer concrete over asphalt.

Urbana welcomes you

I rode the scooter to and from work and the swimming pool three days this week, putting about 11 miles on it. I assume most of these cheap little scooters don't see that much mileage over their entire lifetime. I wonder how long it will hold up. It takes 20 minutes each way, so it's half the speed of leisurely cycling and twice the speed of walking.

While riding the scooter is somewhat enjoyable, I do get some strange looks. It's not everyday you see a 30 year old man riding a tiny scooter wearing a backpack and helmet. I do not intend this to be a permanent solution. I just need to take a couple weeks to hopefully let my knee heal completely before starting to ride my bike again.

July 3, 2009

The Homer Fireworks

"Celebrate the independence of your nation by blowing up a small part of it."

My friend John and another coworker of mine were helping out with the fireworks show at Miller Aquatics and Health Club, just outside of Homer, on Wednesday. They invited us out to watch, though I didn't think I'd be home from my bike ride in time to make it out to Homer by 9 pm. Fortunately, I was home in time and we decided at the last minute to go.

The show was really well done and we sat very, very close to the launch site, so we had a different perspective than I've ever had for fireworks before. As you can imagine, I brought my camera to try to get some good shots of the fireworks. It took some getting used to, but I think by the end I started to get some good photos.

It's that time of year