Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tweed Up Grand Rapids!

Hear ye, Hear ye! An olde fashioned bike ride will take place this Saturday, October 3, in Grand Rapids. This will be a good tyme for dapper chaps and lasses to dress up in their finest and enjoy the companionship of other like-minded riders on a leisurely jaunt around town.

The ride will begin at The Winchester on Wealthy at 4pm and continue to its logical conclusion at around 6ish The Hopcat, a fine pub with many a draught and plenty of food.

Dress in your Sunday best. If you're strapped for ideas, simply google "Tweed Ride," and you'll find some fantastic inspiration. Herringbone, bow ties, and vintage bicycles are encouraged. I'll certainly be there.

Feel free to invite everyone you know!

You don't have to dress quite as fancy as all that, but don't you dare show up in lycra!

SF Tweed Ride photos, byy3rdua

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The New Crop of Compact Serious Cameras

As I mentioned in a previous post, high-quality compact cameras are hard to come by in today's digital camera market. In the SLR arena, the trend has been bigger sensors, bigger (and more!) grips, and bigger bodies. There is no doubt in my mind that at the top of the SLR market, and even the bottom, in quality and versatility today's cameras are superior to those made 20 years ago. A more recent trend, unsurprisingly began by Olympus, is the creating of a new market of compact SLRs. I am anxious to purchase a compact SLR to replace my digital Rebel, and the market is finally near the point where I feel comfortable jumping to a new system.

The modern SLR takes great photos, takes up lotsa space. by fotographix.ca.

This all began when Olympus released their E-410 compact SLR. They began by designing a small, lightweight body around their proprietary smaller sensor, and eliminating the body grip. The image quality and handling was the same as their larger cameras. A good starting point, but the unveiling of a new system, micro-4/3, soon took these innovations to a new level.

The new µ4/3 system is designed around a non-SLR base, with electronic viewfinder instead of a mirror box, interchangable lenses, and near-compact size. The Panasonic G1 was the first camera for this system, and it boasted a small body, albeit styled in the conventional SLR manner. This didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, with all the extra space the viewfinder and grip took up. The Olympus EP-1 was next, launching with the new tiny 17mm lens available, a small external flash, and no viewfinder, a much smaller footprint. Panasonic added HD video with its GH-1, and recently announced its own compact GF-1, which has a tiny integrated flash, an optional electronic viewfinder, and a 20mm pancake lens. The current lens offerings cover 35mm equivalents of 14 to 400 mm in this format, and there are official adapters for 4/3 lenses, Olympus OM system lenses, and the classic Leica lenses.

Panasonic GF-1, image by micamica

Perhaps the most exciting development around the new µ4/3 system is the availability of a myriad of lens adapters to allow the use of old manual-focus lenses with the camera. Because of the camera's mount design, many systems of lenses, including old cinematic lenses, can be used with the new µ4/3 in manual focus mode. It appears that manual focusing by the camera's rear screen is quite possible, and the camera can meter the old lenses in stop-down mode as well. This gives a useful depth of field preview, and because of the way these cameras work the viewfinder does not dim while the lens stops down. That in and of itself is incredible and could make shooting in such a way much simpler than in the past.

Olympus E-P1, with Voigtlander 12mm lens. Photo by euyoung

I'm currently torn between the Panasonic GF-1 and Olympus E-P1. The Panasonic has an optional electronic viewfinder, on-body flash, better screen resolution, and doubly fast autofocus. The olympus is cheaper, sleeker, and has Image stabilization for reducing camera shake. If I had to choose now, I'd probably go with the Panasonic because its autofocus speed is so much faster, and the flash. But something tells me that Olympus will up the game before the Panasonic hits the streets.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fuji MTB

A while back I had a little indecision between two bikes, an old funky Mongoose ATB and a newer boring Fuji MTB. I ended up keeping the Fuji as a trail bike because it fit me so much better, and really didn't need any work. I rode it stock once, and it performed quite well for a heavy lower-end mountain bike. I was able to climb well enough, it felt stable, and the brakes worked. Once I had made the decision to keep it, I went about trying to solve the boring factor.

First, I changed out the black stem and riser bars to these old-school bullmoose type bars that were OE on the Mongoose. They're actually the wrong diameter stem, so I had to shim them in the Fuji with aluminum stock (Sprite can). They're nice and wide, and ugly in a good way. The Mongoose also donated its old beartrap-style pedals. The grips got changed to these gray and black salsas, and I swapped the saddle to a Brooks professional I had been given by a friend. I wasn't sure how the Brooks would feel offroad, but I actually like it quite a bit.


The Fuji graphics were very "90s," in that they had that tealish blue color, cartoony font, and a silly name to boot, "Sunfire." The Sunfire was a terrible car, and in no way do I want to be associated with it, if even in passing. So out came the heat gun, and off came the decals. It looks pretty clean now, with its Silver-and-Black scheme. I tried to swap the nasty black crankset for a nice Takagi triple I had on the Mongoose ATB, but it turned out the Fuji's bottom bracket doesn't provide enough clearance. I may do the swap eventually, but we'll see.


If I had my druthers and money to burn, I'd probably powdercoat this bike a light pink, and get all-silver components. I dunno why, but a light pink MTB seems to me like the perfect dichotomy. Maybe I'll compromise and spring for these when the time comes to switch out the tires.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Wanted: High-quality Digital Compact

I've talked before about my disappointment with digital camera manufacturers in regards to camera design. In the past manufacturers, notably Olympus, came out with high-quality cameras and lenses in small packages. Cameras like the Olympus Pen half-frame series, the compact but professional-quality Olympus OM system of SLRs, and the ultra-compact 35mm rangefinder Olympus XA series were pocketable, with high-quality fast lenses that performed as well as anything on the market, then or today. I myself have an Olympus OM-1, and an XA as well, and find them wonderful cameras to use, but of course the pain and increasing expense of getting 35mm film processed and printed is quite the limiting factor.


I have used many compact digital cameras, and I can say the handling, image quality, and versatility of any compact digital currently on the market is well below the standard set decades ago by cameras like the Olympus XA. The XA is silent, a quick shooter, with a high-quality 35mm f/2.8 6-element glass lens. Its integrated clamshell design allows for pocketed carrying, its rangefinder focusing is accurate and fast, and the hair-trigger shutter release allows for shake-free exposures. It has a minimum of controls that allow for quick but accurate exposures every single time.

Olympus XA

By contrast, my wife's Canon digital Elph has a tiny, near-useless viewfinder, but even that is absent on many compacts. Instead you have to use the battery-draining LCD to compose, which is only partially useful in bright light situations. There is of course the well-known compact camera autofocus shutter lag, which can cause many users to miss "the moment." The lens has the bonus of having a small zoom range, but the quality of the lens, and the resulting photo quality, is inferior to the aged XA. Worst of all in my opinion is the way designers have added so many features as to make these cameras so user-unfriendly. 10+ "scene" modes, button- and menu-based controls that are not intuitive, white balance controls that neither produce pleasing results nor are simple to set, all of these factors contribute to make a camera that is the opposite of what a "Point and Shoot" camera ought to be.

New toy

The marketplace is wide open at the moment for a pocketable high-end camera with good picture quality and a simplified interface. Leica seems to have gone after this market with their new X1, but the cost is too high for average users to even think about, at $2000. Other cameras in the marketplace that are closer to the XA standard include Ricoh's GR-D series and Sigma's DP-1 and 2, all of which have their positives and negatives that dpreview does a good job covering.

As it is, I still wait for a camera that combines a good sensor, intuitive controls, and a superior fixed lens. Give me a camera that has manual aperture-priority mode only, a 35mm equivalent lens at f/2.8, an optical viewfinder and preferably a rangefinder, and make it small enough to fit in a pocket. Make it quiet, quick, and black.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Post 100: Why I ride and take photos...

Milestone post #100, this calls for a look at why I ride and take photographs.

Why I ride
- It's a heckuva lot of fun
- Exercise that is fun, which is hard to come by.
- It gets me outside, even in terrible weather.
- It's a cheap way to commute
- And an easy way to make friends
- I'm a gearhead, and bikes are great in that they're cheap and fun to wrench on.

Why I shoot
- It's something I've always felt I'm good at
- The satisfaction of nailing a shot
- Photography connects me to a community of other artists
- That gearhead side of me always finds joy in making use of antiquated oddball cameras.
- The great surprise on others' faces when I show up with the big cameras.

One of the things that has annoyed me so far about this blog is how the blogger interface is so photo-unfriendly. The "large" photo size is much too small for appreciation, and photos are shared unprotected in even original sizes. That's ok in some cases, but I'd like to safeguard some of my better photos if possible. I've redone the layout a bit and now the photos will point to their flickr urls if clicked, and they should be a bit larger too, which should make it more photo-friendly. Some of my recent favorites for your enjoyment:

The Old Toad

Ross's old red sweater

Chucks and Colors

Twilight Gradient, Silhouetted Tree, and Moon

Maeby and Penny

Up North, Sunrise

Sunrise over Long Lake
Long Lake, in Alpena Michigan. I can't ever seem to sleep in when I'm up there, and maybe this is why.

Sunrise over Long Lake

Sunrise over Long Lake

Party Fish