San Diego

Ok, so this is a bit old......

Gary and I, along with Gary's daughter, Kerrie, went to San Diego to see his father who was suffering From Alzheimer's, We hadn't seen him in quite some time, so it was sad to see how his condition had deteriorated. Unfortunately he passed away a few months later. RIP Chuck Copelin.

We took the opportunity to check out some fun places in San Diego while we were there - first the famous San Diego Zoo:

Next, on to the Safari Park. I guess it used to be called the Wild Animal Park, but it got renamed. I don't think I had been there for at least 20 years. It was quite a bit different than I remembered it. We got to see their Cheetah Run - nothing like Animal Ark's. It was a straight line, between fences and very short. Because of the crowds, I got one fleeting glimpse of a running cheetah.  Here's my favorites from the Safari Park:

And finally, we visited the USS Midway Museum. The USS Midway is an aircraft carrier parked in San Diego Bay and now open as a tourist attraction. I've never been on a carrier, so I thought it was fascinating!

Samsung NX1 Test Drive

So the next camera I wanted to try out in my search for a smaller travel camera was the Samsung NX1, along with the 55-200 lens (not their top-of-the-line). I used it around the house for a bit and then a friend and I made a trip to Safe Haven Rescue Zoo out by Winnemucca.

I'm not going to do a detailed review - this camera has so many features and options that I didn't have time to dig into. I only had it for a couple of days, and it didn't come with a manual. I downloaded the PDF manual, but it was really long. So I just delved deeply enough to get the basics down. 

So, the PROS: 

The autofocus was much better than the Fuji. The Samsung rep at WPPI said it was the best autofocus of any camera. A slight exaggeration - it was better than the Fuji, but nowhere near my Canon 5DMkIII. I set it up like my Canon, with back button focus and center focus point.

This camera does a lot of things I didn't even get in to: wifi, bluetooth, NFC, time lapse, video, my laundry....... I did like the electronic viewfinder on this one - it was bright and didn't show the same lag I saw in the Fuji.  It felt good, and I was comfortable holding it.

The CONS:

It's expensive. To get the camera and a couple of top-end lenses would be over $3000. It was also not exactly compact. It looks like a DSLR, only about 2/3 the size. It's also heavy. I just don't see spending that kind of money for something that is not a whole lot smaller/lighter/better than what I have. I was intrigued by it, but still waiting for the perfect kit..

So, to end this post, I'm just going to share some photos from my trip to Safe Haven. Their founder, Lynda Sugasa, gave us a wonderful tour of the facility and a look to the improvements they are making.

Fuji XT-1 Test

I rented a Fuji XT1 for a couple of days because I am looking for a lighter weight and smaller size camera package to take with me on trips. My aging back is not getting any younger, and hauling around 24-28 pounds of camera gear as a tourist is just not getting easier.  Also, especially in Europe, airlines are really getting picky about the 8 kg (17.6 lbs) limit on carry-on baggage. The last thing I would ever want to have happen is my expensive camera gear disappears into the checked baggage, never to see the light of day again.

 

I went to WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographers International) trade show in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, and checked out the mirrorless offerings. There were three possibilities that I decided to check out further: Fuji XT-1, Samsung NX-1, and Sony A7II.

 

First some disclaimers to say that, First, this is by no means an exhaustive review. Just a few thoughts and sample images and my impressions. I only had a couple of days to play with the camera, which, by the way, did not come with any instructions. I downloaded a PDF manual, but did not get all the through it.

 

Second, I am spoiled. I have the Canon 5DMk3, a bunch of L lenses and I LOVE THEM. I know going in that nothing will be that good.  I am extremely pleased with the Canon gear, know it very well, and will never give it up.

 

Third, the type of shooting I do – I want this “new” camera to be an all-purpose travel camera. Personally, I don’t shoot a lot of fine landscapes (think sunrise is a great time to be in bed….), and I don’t really have the patience for it. I hate lugging tripods, and even if I try to shoot a landscape, if I see a squirrel, I’m after it! The way I shoot my Canons most of the time is in Aperture Priority, Auto White Balance, and with only the center autofocus point selected. I use One-Shot focus for still objects, and A/I Servo for moving subjects. I always use Back-Button focus. I only shoot in RAW.

 

So, for the Fuji, I tried to set it up as similarly to my Canon as I could. The only thing I could not figure out was how to get auto-focus off the shutter button. I could use the back-button, but could not figure out how to disable it from the shutter button. I’m sure it’s possible, just didn’t figure it out in the short period of time I had the camera. Along with the camera I rented their mid-range lenses:  the XF18-55 F2.8-4 R OIS, and the 55-200 F3.5-4.8R LM OIS (don’t ask me what all that stands for). These are not actually the lenses I would buy, but their higher end ones were not available during my rental period.

 

I spent one day in the backyard chasing my cats around with the camera. Then my mom and I headed to San Francisco for a couple of days, touring Chinatown, North Beach and one day at the zoo. Since this was a vacation for my mom, I could not spend the entire time playing with the camera.

 

First Impressions:

The camera is definitely smaller and lighter. Liked that a lot. Also, when I checked out the camera at the trade show, I really liked the design in that all the common shooting functions that I use were dedicated dials on the body. No digging around in menus to change common functions. The set-up was really easy:  If you want full manual operation, you can set shutter speed, ISO and aperture individually. If you want aperture priority, put the shutter speed dial in the “auto” mode and set the aperture. If you want shutter priority, set the aperture dial on “auto” and set the shutter speed. If you want full automatic functionality, set all the dials on “auto”. Doesn’t get any easier than that.

 

The first day, chasing my cat around was very disappointing when I looked at the photos. I’d say 75% of them were out of focus.  Or, the focus wasn’t where I wanted it. I thought I focused on his head, but focus was on his body. Or the rock next to him, or the grass behind him. And that was when he was sitting still.  When he was moving, forget it.

 

Even thought I really liked the idea that the aperture dial is on the lens (just like the old film cameras), I found it was way to easy to turn, and every time I grabbed the camera I turned the ring. As a result, I had to visually check the aperture setting almost every time I took a picture. I thought it was at F4, but was at F10.2 or something. Way too easy to turn. It definitely needs a lock or stiffer action.

 

I studied the manual and learned that you could vary the size of the autofocus point. So, even though I thought I was using only one point, it was pretty big. I made it as small as I could for my trip to the zoo.

 

I did a little better at the zoo by using the small autofocus point and got a much higher percentage of photos in focus. The 55-200 lens was a nice reach for an APS-C sensor, even though I was at the 200mm range most of the time. If I were to purchase this camera, I would probably buy the new 50-140 F2.8 lens.

 

Here are some photos – all of these are RAW files with absolutely no correction applied other than the default Adobe Camera Raw settings.

My first test subject - this is Jasper:

Here I was trying to focus on his face, but the middle of his body is in focus.

Here I was trying to focus on his face, but the middle of his body is in focus.

Here the gravel just to the left of him is in focus.

Here the gravel just to the left of him is in focus.

Here's his little feral buddy stretching out. He's just soft and I can't figure out exactly where focus was.

Here's his little feral buddy stretching out. He's just soft and I can't figure out exactly where focus was.

Here the focus is on the rocks behind him. On all of these I kept the autofocus point on his head.

Here the focus is on the rocks behind him. On all of these I kept the autofocus point on his head.

Tried tracking his buddy in continuous focus - that didn't work at all.

Tried tracking his buddy in continuous focus - that didn't work at all.

So, off to the zoo. Here's my results from that day:

With stationary subjects I had much better luck.

With stationary subjects I had much better luck.

This is with the autofocus on the monkey behind the fence. No camera is going to do a good job with this.

This is with the autofocus on the monkey behind the fence. No camera is going to do a good job with this.

This is with the autofocus turned off and manual focus. Much better result. I'm pleased with this functionality.

This is with the autofocus turned off and manual focus. Much better result. I'm pleased with this functionality.

Moving target - yuck.

Moving target - yuck.

Stationary target - much better!

Stationary target - much better!

Oops. These guys were scurrying around very quickly.

Oops. These guys were scurrying around very quickly.

Better!

Better!

Just because I love meerkats! (especially in harsh sunlight at noon).

Just because I love meerkats! (especially in harsh sunlight at noon).

Autofocus did not like focusing on black fur..

Autofocus did not like focusing on black fur..

Manual focus worked much better.

Manual focus worked much better.

And finally - this guy was shot through 3 inches of glass that was filthy and green. With a little color correction, it should come out fine.

And finally - this guy was shot through 3 inches of glass that was filthy and green. With a little color correction, it should come out fine.

In Summary:

 

PROS:

 

1)   Small and compact. Carried the camera and two lenses around all day for a couple of days and it didn’t bother me a bit.

2)   Like the accessibility and operation of the camera. Don’t need to dig in menus too much.

3)   Image quality appears to be very good (when in focus…). I played with a couple of files in Camera Raw and they look great!

4)   I played a little bit with the manual focus/focus peaking. I think it is a great feature and probably has a lot of uses, but I don’t want to focus manually all the time.

 

 

CONS:

1)            The aperture dial is just too easy to change.  I found that to be a pretty major annoyance.

2)            Could not figure out how to get autofocus function removed from shutter button. Probably operator error though

3)            AUTOFOCUS! This is the probably the deal-breaker for me. I suspect it would get better with practice, but I was very disappointed. In single shot mode I was starting to get better shots, but the Continuous focus was useless. I couldn’t track anything moving.

 

Next week I have the Samsung NX1 coming for three days. At the trade show, the Samsung guys swore that their autofocus is the best in the business, better than even my Canon. (of course, the Sony guys said the same thing). We will see….

 

More to come!

Air-to-Air Photo Shoot over Lake Tahoe

I was contacted by an old friend from my Flight Test days, who has a freshly-painted airplane, wanting some aerial photos of the plane over Lake Tahoe. A friend of his came up from Torrance with his Bonanza to serve as a photo platform. We departed from Carson City airport, and flew over Lake Tahoe photographing his Baron over the lake, Stateline, Emerald Bay, Heavenly Valley and Kirkwood ski resorts and the beach at Sand Harbor. Here are my favorite images from the session:

Cheetahs! My Favorites From Last Year

Animal Ark Wildlife Sanctuary has very special events - the Cheetah Runs! A few other facilities also have cheetah runs, but Animal Ark is unique in that the run is a fabulous opportunity for photographers. The cheetahs run, off-leash, on a big field in a "U" shaped pattern, with five photography blinds at the bottom of the "U". Photographers can capture the cheetahs running down towards them, then turning sharply in front of the blinds, then turning and running back up the hill. It allows the photographers to be at eye-level with the cheetahs during the turn. Here is a collection of some of my favorite photos from last year: