Mar 282006
 

With my new toys, I’ve been producing a lot more photos. This isn’t a problem at home – I’ve got plenty of storage & backup space, desktop hard drives are huge and cheap. But they don’t help me much two weeks into a trip. I’ve got a few options:

Laptop route
I’ve been thinking about getting one for a while. At 2 lbs & the tablet features, the tiny Fujitsu Lifebook P1510D seems like a steal at roughly $1400. Certainly more money than the rest of these options, but I’d be getting a lot of flexibility with it. The main draw is that you get all the comfort of a laptop in a small package. It has a CF slot, so downloads at the end of the day would be pretty easy. The battery life is good, so it can always serve double duty as a media player. No optical drive limits my playing of DVDs though, but I can always rip a bunch and slap them on a hard drive or USB stick.

I am loathe to do much more than a little surfing on the internet cafes, so bringing my own laptop would reduce some of the key logger concerns. I guess the real question is how many net cafes let you hook your computer up to their connection. The other option is wifi, which seems to be popping up all over the place, but I doubt I’d want to depend on it in most countries.

The disadvantages of the laptop are pretty obvious. It can be a target. It is bigger and heavier than other options. But probably my biggest hesitation is that it is potentially a huge distraction. Will I be pouring over the days photos, rather than heading out to explore more?

Storage with a screen
The Epson p-2000 still seems like the best bet in this market. At roughly 1 lb and $400, it gets a decent bit of work done – photo download (though slower than other devices), viewing (not as big as a laptop screen, but better than the camera), plays movies (battery life isn’t super though), etc. Since it is relatively first generation, there are going to be better models out soon.

Portable hard drive/image tanks
These devices are basically a card reader attached to a laptop hard drive. Push a button and they dump the CF card contents to the hard drive. There seems to be two main contenders, the Nexto-CF and the PD70X/HyperDrive. There are small differences between them, but they essentially have the same benifits, and both cost around $200. I’m leaning more towards the Nexto-CF based on this guys impressions & use. Relatively light, easy, and simple, but you don’t necessarily know if your photos are crap until you get them back home.

The no hardware option
Burn to dvds in net cafes. CF readers and CD burners can be common at net cafes – I was pretty successful with this in Peru. I suspect it depends a lot on the country. Will have to do some more research to see how easy it is in Cambodia & Vietnam. Main problem is that it can eat up time getting these copied and burned to cd/dvd.

At this point I’m leaning towards the image tanks for cost & convenience, but am still on the fence.

Thoughts?

Mar 232006
 

I upgraded to Gallery 2.1 R2 and implemented the RSS feeds. The old feed address (http://www.chrisnelson.ca/photos/rss.php) should work by forwarding to the new feed (http://chrisnelson.ca/photos/main.php?g2_view=rss.SimpleRender&g2_itemId=7). If you have any troubles with it, please let me know.

Mar 202006
 

(photos can be found here)

As mentioned before, I ordered a new camera & lens. I wanted something of decent optical quality, small (in relative terms), cheap (again, relative), and flexible. I think have come pretty close to these goals with this camera (Canon Rebel XT aka 350D) and lens (Canon 17-85 IS USM lens) combination.

Rebel XT thoughts –
I like the body size of the camera, but I can see how it would be too small for many. I wasn’t ever comfortable with the camera on a strap, so I ordered a hand strap. I’ll see if that feels better. For packing the camera around I ended up buying a Rezo 20 as a case. It is slightly too large for the rebel, and it doesn’t really fit in my day bag. I need to get a bigger day bag anyway, so I will see if that changes anything.

As the body is small, the viewfinder is smaller than other bodies like the 20D. I found it quite usable, though I’m thinking about buying the extended eye cup. The 1.8″ LCD is decent when turned up, but hardly up to full sun treatment. I haven’t bothered with a screen protector yet, it doesn’t seem like it needs one. Buttons and the dial all seem well placed, and I got used to the positions quickly. The screens display almost all the information you want about the current settings. The glaring exception is ISO speed. To get that you have to press the info button. Not a huge hardship, but it would have been nice to have it with the rest of the status display.

I’ve always been a fan of photos on the sly, so I was a bit worried about the shutter noise. I’m happy to report that while there is a mechanized sound, it is not very loud, and easily ignored. I also love the black body compared with the silver, it is much more discrete.

I wasn’t expecting much out of the flash, but I found it actually fairly useful for fill-in or boosting light if exposed properly. I think I would still like to figure out some sort of bounce/diffuse situation though.

I spent some time playing around with most of the settings, though I tend to keep it on P and make adjustments that way. The auto modes seem to work fairly well, I think the camera would perform just fine if you handed it to someone who wasn’t familiar with photography.

One thing I keep having to remember is that exposure compensation and ISO speed are not reset when you switch off the camera. One thing I wish they had done was an auto ISO setting – you would tell the camera if shutter drops lower than x, increase ISO. Probably not a budget line feature. That said, I am really impressed with the ISO performance of the Rebel XT. 1600 ISO is fairly usable, and 800 is downright amazing. Hand held & lowlight being some of the driving forces for the upgrade, I’m very happy with the results so far.

The color and exposure seem quite good for the most part. Out of the few hundred photos I’ve taken testing the camera out, only one had color saturation issues. The exposure issues were mostly just examples of massive exposure range.

Auto focus on the Rebel XT is contrast based. Once I got used to the focus points, it was pretty easy to use. I found that I had to be careful relying too much on auto focus in low light & low contrast, performance is not the best in these conditions.

Canon 17-85 IS USM lens thoughts –
At an inch longer, a bit wider, and around 2/3 of a pound heavier than the kit lens, the camera definitely has a different feel with this lens attached. It is much more front heavy, but feels fairly natural with the left hand supporting it. I was worried about this lens after many reviews said it was known for chromatic aberration (aka purple fringing). However I had to really try to get CA to show up. I wonder if the SMC on the hoya UV filter helps with this.. I will have to test it out at some point.

The range of the lens is quite nice, approximately 27mm-136mm after the sensor 1.6 crop is figured in. This lets me get some wide angle shots, as well as a decent bit of zoom. Seems about perfect for travel.

At F4 – F5.6, the lens certainly isn’t the fastest on the block. However, I’ve been very impressed with the image stabilization (IS). Canon claims that the IS provides up to 3 stops of compensation. But fooling around with the camera, I found at times I could get away with even more. This doesn’t mean I am going to be able to do any serious night photography without a tripod, but I found it more than adequate for snap shots.

The USM (Ultrasonic Motor) focus on this lens is very quick and quiet. It is easy to switch to manual focus, and the focus ring on the lens is easy to use. The lens also features manual focus override – if auto focus isn’t doing the job, you can override it with the focus ring without worrying about damaging the lens focus motor.

Final thoughts –
So far I’m pretty happy with my purchase. I feel like I have scratched the surface of what the 350D and the 17-85 lens are capable of. I’ve got a handle on the photo basics, but I’m not quite at the all manual stage. Coming from a point and shoot background, I’m sure I have plenty of bad habits to break.

Mar 152006
 

Holy crap:

Andrea Suastegui had been suffering flulike symptoms Saturday when she and her husband drove to the Frutería El Palsa Market on 25th Street near Broadway and purchased prescription medicine without a prescription… After the drug was administered with a syringe, the woman almost immediately went into medical distress. Police and paramedics were called about 4 p.m. and she died at a hospital just before 5:30 p.m… Regular customers of the produce store were shocked to learn of the incident as they gathered in front of the padlocked market Monday. “They sold fresh fruit,” said Guerrero Sumano. “I didn’t know they sold drugs.”

Add me to the list of shocked customers. (Link to story here)

Mar 152006
 

If you have used your debit card at OfficeMax, you might want to check on your bank statement. NJ police have arrested 14 people in connection with stolen data & fake debit cards. The crime spree forced banks across the nation to replace hundreds of thousands of debit cards. It also stranded Americans in other countries with no cash, as their banks had locked them out of the international ATM network.

“But wait”, you say, “don’t you need a pin to get access to an account?” Yes. However, a lot of the equipment for debit sales is capable of storing pins & account information. It doesn’t necessarily need to be malicious either. If the system is not properly configured, some systems could end up archiving all this information, rather than using it for the transaction, then deleting it. Once this data is being stored, all it takes is someone with a little know how to make a copy of all this, and go on a spree.

I used to work at a financial transaction company (credit cards, direct withdrawals, etc), so I’m actually surprised this hasn’t happened more. It is probably also why I watch my accounts like a hawk. Convenience comes with a price.

Mar 132006
 

FedEx should be picking up our package to the San Francisco Consulate General of Vietnam in a couple hours. Unlike Cambodia, there is no mechanism to get a travel visa on arrival (airport visa). Vietnam requires sending in an application form with a recent photo, your passport, $45, and a prepaid return envelope.

Our flight tickets are purchased, time off is scheduled. We are committed. Our final itinerary after travel time (of which there is a considerable amount) is roughly four days in each Siem Reap, Saigon, and Hanoi.

Siem Reap – Most people know this tourist town by way of the temple complex a few KM away, Angkor Wat & friends. I’m not sure if 4 days here will be too much. I’m not worried about seeing it all, the place is so massive I’m sure we will barely make a dent, but I’m wondering if we will get temple-burnout. In any case, I think a day trip somewhere else would be easy enough to arrange. Time will tell.

Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh – I’m familiar with my history, and don’t want to visit the war museums, or the tunnels. Needless to say, its not what I’m there for. I’m hoping to spend a good portion of time wandering around city and people watching. There are some amazing opportunities to visit other spots if we can tear ourselves away from the city – Mekong delta and the highlands are going to be long, but amazing day trips.

Ha Noi – Ditto as above, but I believe Hanoi also has some decent art & history museums as well as local temple sites. I wish we had some more time here, as I suspect we will only have a couple days in the city. We will probably spend the other two days in Halong Bay – ideally with some deck time, kayaking, and snorkeling. There would have been a number of great multi-day trips from Ha Noi (Sa Pa, south highlands, etc) but we simply won’t have the time. All the more reason for more trips, right?

Mar 122006
 

After much deliberation, I made the leap. My starter kit is a Cannon Rebel XT (350D) with the 17-85 USM IS lens, a Sandisk 2 GB II card, and a UV filter for protection. I wanted to buy at a local shop, but at a price difference of 15% on the body and almost 20% on the lens (+taxes), I simply couldn’t justify it. I guess they will be my accessory shops.

I should receive my shiny new toys the middle of next week. I will have a week or two to play before making a decision to keep them or not. I’ll need to figure out a way to pack them around as well. It looks like something like the Lowepro Rezo TLZ 20 will be my best bet. Protected and relatively discrete (once de-labeled), I think I can even rig it up to fit attached to, or inside, my messenger bag.

Spending money always gets my mind wandering. Reading this post from Philip really hit close to home. If I’ve got money to make my pictures better, I’ve got money to make someone’s sight better. I made a donation to Sight Savers. I value my sight above all other senses, so it feels right in a number of ways.

On a side note, I had one of my poster sized prints mounted at Giant Photo a couple days back. I can’t recommend them enough. They aren’t going to be as cheap as other spots, but the quality and service are second to none.

Mar 112006
 

Anna and I snuck a burrito in and watched Dave Chappelle’s Block Party last night at the decotastic Pacific Gaslamp. Unless you reaaaally hate rap, I can’t recommend the movie enough. It is not really a concert film, but more of a documentary of the making of Dave’s dream concert. There are great performances, but most of the film is Dave interacting with locals (NYC and Dayton), the talent, and the crew. There are some fantastic characters in the film, and Dave’s natural comedy is a perfect fit.