Sunday, March 25, 2012

Searching for spring

Three weeks ago we had full winter with 40-50 cm of snow and rather cold temperatures. Since then the winter has almost disappeared and something resembling spring has arrived instead. But is it really spring? There are lots of people out jogging and riding their road bikes, smaller kids are out riding with their parents, there has been some warm days, the air quality is poor in the city due to dust from sanding the roads during the winter and I switched the studded tires to ordinary tires on my Fargo. All this points to the winter being over. On the other hand, the lakes and sea are still covered with ice and the night temperature have mostly been below freezing. A bike ride to check out spring signs in the nature was therefore in place.

The spring has certainly not arrived to the pine and spruce forest next to my home yet. There is snow and the trails are still covered with ice, though it is soft enough not to make studded tires necessary.

Lots of meltwater, though, so something is going on.

The Goat Willow catkins are not a reliable sign, since they can be visible long before spring.

Going to another kind of forest with mostly leaved trees could perhaps show something, but the first impression is that everything is cold and bare.

The liverwort (Hepatic nobilis) is one of the earliest flowers, but it will need maybe a week more.

Wait a minute! Could that be a liverwort bud?

The Blue Tits and Great Tits are here all winter, so they don't signal spring.

Riding home again I feel that the the spring is arriving, but is not yet here, but suddenly a bunch of small yellow suns stare at me. Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)!

Maybe it is spring after all.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Crust overnighter video

A video from the overnighter two weeks ago:

Preferably viewed fullscreen with at least 720p resolution.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Snow crust overnighter

The winter has moved on and I have been slightly limited by my frostbitten toes. Skiing puts too much pressure on the still not completely healed parts and thus I have only been on a single overnighter on skis. Bike riding works better, and when the conditions suddenly seemed very promising for rideable snow crust, I had to get out. Strong snow crust usually demands great temperature differences between night and day and does not happen every year. In fact, just two week earlier I did an overnighter in the area on skis and sank straight down through the snow, so things have changed rapidly. The weather forecast showed a window of maybe three or four days of possible snow crust and I seized the opportunity.

On Sunday afternoon at 16:35 I started riding from my home. I would have liked to set out a little earlier, since the sunset was at 18:11, but could not get away. I had about 37 km of riding along mostly small roads to get to my starting point, the Vajosuo bog.

I started to get closer a while after the sunset. The temperature rapidly sank, from having been slightly below freezing to about -10C.

I got out on the bog and confirmed that the crust was indeed strong enough.

After a while I found a good place to set camp. I had actually intended to test my new Alpkit Rig 7, but ultimately decided to just roll out my sleeping pads in the snow to enjoy the surroundings even better. There was no wind and no risk for precipitation (snow), so the tarp would not have added any value. I ate my sandwhiches with a cup of hot chocolate. Life was good.

The night was crisp and clear, with the moon being a few days from being full. The night was also very quiet: No owls, no wolves and no black grouse.

The following morning was a little colder than forecasted at -16C, but still not cold enough to start making things difficult. I just ate a very quick breakfast, with sandwhiches and real French dark roast coffee, for which I used hot water from a thermos bottle. My sleeping place opened up to the east.

Walking through breaking crust before getting out in the open, where the crust was strong enough for the bike. I got going around 7:30 in the morning, a little after the sunrise.

The Vajosuo bog.

Riding into the sun.

The burning bush.

I haven't learned to identify animal tracks with certainty, but I think it is safe to assume that there were a bunch of wolf tracks on the bog, based on the size of the tracks and the weight of the animal. A lynx weighing at most 30 kg would not break through the crust.

Nice ice crystals.

Big Fat Larry track.

Ski tracks.

Most of the wet places on the bogs currently seemed to be frozen, but I didn't push my luck.

Yet another bog pine.

Three different modes of transportation. Skating on XC skis is great fun, as is a fatbike, but the snowshoes seem a little unnecessary on this hard a surface.

Occasionally I broke though the crust.

The side of the Cokin filter box is about 65 mm. I guess from the size of it, this should be a wolf track.

Just riding along.

At some time after ten in the morning I took a second breakfast with coffee and some cookies. I also melted snow to fill my water supply (0.75 liter thermos bottle, 0.75 liter insulated bottle and 1 liter bottle).

It was quite warm and nice in the sun. The temperature was now about -9C.

A quick field amputation is the only possibility...

I continued to ride. but a little after noon the crust started to get soft and I started to break though more often.

Finally, I left the Vajosuo bog for some trail riding.

I rode a small road section to the Kurjenrahka bog, to find that the crust was too soft there as well. There were however some snowmobile trails to ride there. After a while it was time for lunch and a decision. The lunch was nice, but it was with some regret that I decided to head home in the afternoon. The original plan was to be out one more night. Toni was to join me in the afternoon, but I had to call him and tell him that I was heading home. My frostbitten toes are still a source of some uncertainty, and I did not want to risk prolonging the healing process. The problem is that I still don't feel whether they are cold or warm, which isn't really an optimal situation when the following night is forecasted to be quite cold.

I headed home and rode 40 km in a little less than three hours on smaller and bigger roads. I was home at 17:30 after a rather exhausting last section.

All in all, a rather nice outing again.

And a short video:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

New camera gear

A desire to start doing some more serious video work has slowly grown stronger. Finally I took the plunge and bought one of the best video capable interchangeable lens cameras, the Panasonic GH2. This camera uses the same m43 system as my Olympus E-P2 camera, meaning that all the lenses can be used on both cameras. I ordered the kit with the 14-42 lens, which actually was only marginally more expensive than just the camera body, to a local shop, Kamera-Aitta. It was a little more expensive than it would have been from a German internet store, but I am willing to pay a little more to get it locally.

Parallell to this I streamlined my existing system a little, due to some ridiculous rebates at another local camera store, Rajala Pro Shop. I sold some existing lenses and the Olympus E-P2 body, since I can't afford and don't want to have stuff I don't use.

The net result of this is seen in the following picture:

The E-PL1 is a cheaper version of the E-P2, which I sold. It has fewer controls, a slightly less advanced image stabilizer and a fastest shutter speed of 1/2000s. The image quality should theoretically be slightly better: It has the same sensor, but a weaker AA-filter that should help resolving a little more detail. I doubt I will be able to notice any difference, though. Somewhat surprisingly, the E-PL1 does have a small internal flash that can be used to trigger external Olympus flashes, giving full wireless TTL control over several external flashes. I tried it and it really does work. This camera should be a good second camera body to have.

I had contemplated the Panasonic GH2 for some time, but wanted to see how the new Olympus m43 flagship, the OM-D E-M5, would turn out. The E-M5 is a very interesting camera, with most features better or at least equally good as those of the GH2. According to the first reports, the E-M5 has an exceptionally good image stabilizer that works wonders for videos as well. Unfortunately, the video capabilities of th E-M5 are otherwise no match for the GH2, so I ultimately decided to get the GH2. It has the best sensor of the current m43 cameras (the performance of the E-M5 sensor is still undetermined) and is especially good for videos. The GH2 offers a lot of functionality and it will take some time to learn it to get the most out of it. There is even a bunch of hacks for the GH2, which improve the video quality quite a bit. I tested out a simple and well supported version to get a higher bitrate, which translates to more details when a lot happens in the picture, and high ISO in manual video mode. ISO 8000 did seem quite usable for video, at least when using the maximum  noise reduction setting. A lot to learn and test out.

These two cameras and the lenses all follow the m43 standard, and hence all the lenses are compatible with both cameras. I will probably not bring the entire system at the same time, unless explicitly doing a photography excursion.

In addition to the cameras above, I still have the Canon S90 pocket camera. It gives good image quality in a truly pocketable format and has a bright lens with a maximum aperture of 2.0, so it is quite usable when the sun isn't shining as well. I also have the CHDK software for the S90 and intend to use it for some time-lapse photography.