Sunday, May 12, 2013

Compact cameras

I'm a firm believer in having a compact camera, despite also have a camera system with two bodies and five lenses as well as a usable camera in the smartphone. The reason for this is that an easily accessible compact camera is a lot faster to use than a system camera or smartphone. As an example, all the pictures from the MTB-Turku spring camp were taken "on the run" without affecting the riding speed of the group, and with a camera slower to use I would only have gotten a few pics from the short breaks. This type of photography also defines what kind of compact camera is suitable for me: It has to be small enough to fit into a larger pocket or the "gas tank" bag of the bike as well as operable with one hand, including getting it in and out of the pocket/bag while riding. This means that the largest pocket cameras are not small enough, but the biggest limit is that the lens cap has to be automatic, in one way or another. And the possibility to do time lapses is also needed, either through built-in functionality or a interval remote.

The best compact camera currently is probably the Sony RX1. With its full-frame sensor and 3000 € price it is a camera for very specific needs, and it does not have an automatic lens cap. Returning down to earth and more normal prices, we have the Sony RX100 as the current king of the hill. It is a little too expensive for my use and budget, though. The image quality should be excellent, but its 28-100 mm equivalent f1.8-4.9 lens has a quite small aperture in the tele end. Despite the rather large sensor, this limits the possible DOF control. It does have an automatic lens cap.

Another interesting camera is the  Panasonic LX7. It has a good lens, 24-90 mm equivalent f1.4-2.3, which should enable at least some control of the DOF. Is it possible to get an automatic lens cap for it?

I have a Canon S90 since three years. It is a good compact camera and has held up to a lot of abuse. The latest incarnation, the S110, is still an interesting alternative, but the RX1 and LX7 cameras beat it in almost all aspects. The 24-120 mm equivalent f2.0-5.9 has an unnecessary small aperture in the tele end, preventing any softening of the background in most cases.

The Olympus XZ-2 has the same excellent lens as the popular XZ-1. The 28-112 mm equivalent f1.8 to 2.5 allows at least some control of the DOF. An automatic lens cap is available.

The above cameras are the ones I've been at least a little interested in. For a more complete round-up, see here or here.

Some time ago the kids started to want a camera to play with. My three year old Canon S90 still works well, but I started to look into getting another camera for myself and giving the S90 to the kids. I didn't want to pay too much, though, but I do have a brief experience with a cheaper compact before I bought the S90. I returned the camera after a taking some test pictures. It had 14 MP, but the picture quality was worse than that of my previous 7 MP camera and I ended up with the S90, which I have been satisfied with. From what I've seen, the cheap compact cameras are not much better than a good smartphone camera.

I regularly checked if the Canon S100 would be on sale after the S110 came out, but didn't find one for a reasonable price. Instead I noticed that my local Rajala camera shop sold the Olympus XZ-1 for just 199 € and after some googling I bought it.

After using the XZ-1 for a month I'm quite satisfied with it. The sensor level image quality is neither worse nor better than the of the Canon S90, but the lens is significantly better. Both have 10 MP, which mostly is quite sufficient. If the picture otherwise is technically in order, you can make a pretty big print from 10 MP. The XZ-1 also has a built-in three stop ND filter, making it possible to use a large aperture also in good light. There is no built-in timelapse software, but a cheap interval remote works fine. The Canon S90 got timelapse functionality with the CHDK. I would prefer a built-in electronic viewfinder in addition to the back display, but only the Fujifilm cameras have that. I do have the Olympus VF-2 electronic viewfinder, which fits the XZ-1, but being a separate item, I might not use it much. The camera came with an ordinary lens cap with an attachment strap, that falls off when the camera is started. That doesn't still allow you to put away the camera with one hand, so I got the optional automatic lens cap that is attached to the filter thread.

The main advantage of the XZ-1 compared to the S90 is that you can actually soften the background at least a little, which I think is quite usable. The bokeh isn't the smoothest, though, which sometimes is visible and sometimes not.

You won't get the same short DOF as cameras with bigger sensors, though. An m43 camera with a good lens, like the 45/1.8 here, gives more possibilites and going up to APS-C or fullframe sensors it gets even easier.

Another feature I like a lot is the super macro setting. This is something I've never had before. It focuses, with full autofocus, down to 1 cm from the lens. The S90 didn't focus this close even in manual focus, which was a pain to use.

The large aperture is useful even in this macro mode: Compare the previous picture with this one, which is taken with a smaller aperture.

There are of course downsides. Every camera is a compromise and it is hard to get image quality, size and an affordable price in one package. The XZ-1 is a good enough solution for my purpose, but there are some drawbacks:
- The video is not good enough for me, but I do have another very good camera for that purpose.
- The camera could do the shutdown routines in a different order. Currently it empties the buffers to the memory card before it retracts the lens, while I would prefer it to retract the lens first. This is of importance in group rides when you need to be very fast.
- The mode dial on the top is too loose. I use only the aperture priority mode, but the dial doesn't always stay there. I might try some tape with it.
- It is bigger than the S90 and does not fit into a jeans pocket.
- The image quality degenerates quickly on ISO values higher than 400. A camera like the Sony RX100 probably has a two stop advantage here, though the faster lens of the XZ-1 levels the field a little.

Monday, May 6, 2013

MTB-Turku Spring Camp

It was time for the third MTB-Turku spring camp, arranged by JJ. A cabin was rented at Elijärvi, and it was to serve as our base camp for two nights.

We were supposed to meet at the cabin at 17:00, but only a few people actually managed to find the cabin. The rest of us met at the parking place a few kilometers from the cabin where the ride of the evening would start. We started to ride a little before six in the evening, the trails being mostly the Vaskijärvi tour extended to Soikeroinen.

Matti H had to take the "Orange", instead of his almost legendary rigid singlespeed Surly 1x1.

The group of eleven riders about to enter the Vaskijärvi Nature Reserve.

The Iso-Valanen lake. Just four weeks earlier I skied there with JJ.

Peippo with his Moonlander. He was one of the four riders that rode all trails during the three days. It takes a rather strong rider to be one of fastest with such a bike. My summerized Mukluk takes a little more energy to ride than an ordinary mountain bike, but a Surly Moonlander with the wide rims and tires is still a bit heavier to ride.

My summerized Mukluk. I had the full frame bag on and rode without a backpack.

Riding on...

.. until the first flat tire after less than an hour.


On the move again.

Duckboards again.

The Kajavajärvi lake.

Nature reserve forest.

A short break.

A steepish climb with Kapu...

... followed by Matti H and Pave.

JJ on top of Pirunkirkko (the Devil's Church), a steep cliff.

Matti H avoids dehydration.

Going down.

After this we rode on forest roads back to the cars, a little after the sunset at 21:40. Back at the cabin it was time for sauna and some food.

The following morning started with breakfast, after which we gathered at the cars and observed a quick field service of a rear suspension mechanism.

We then drove for maybe twenty minutes to Rantapiha, where we started riding the new duckboards north of the Savojärvi lake.

A short section of terra firma...

... before entering the duckboards of the Kurjenrahka mire.

The Kurjenrahka mire wasn't especially colorful.

Riding on...

... until an involuntary bath in the wet mire. The rest of us waited until dryish clothes were put on.

The duckboards of the Vajosuo mire.

At the Vajosuo shelter, where JJ starts the fire for grilling sausages.

Matti H is a happy man. Grilled sausage and beer.

Vajosuo doesn't look much different than Kurjenrahka.

The new duckboards are welcome, though. The old ones are difficult to ride on in anything else than dry weather.

After a short while a tired exploded with a loud bang. The outer tire had a large slit in it, but it was fixed and got the rider the closest route to the car.

A somewhat soft trail.

The final hour of riding for the day was rather speedy.

Back at the cabin a little before six in the evening. It was time for dinner and sauna.

The cooks were quite scary, but the food was great.

The rest of the evening passed quickly with sauna, swimming in the no longer frozen lake, watching Mtb videos and talking.

The next morning was grey with the occasional rain shower. After cleaning the cabin we packed our stuff and rode for 30 minutes to Mynämäki to ride the Kalliobaana trails. Only six of us now remained.

It was rather cold and took some time to get the warmth back. The rides of the previous days were also felt in the legs and in took a half hour for me to really get muscles going.

The weather was still gray, but it didn't really rain. The speed was quite good this third day. I managed to break a chain link during a climb, but it was quickly fixed.


After some more riding the following technical problem occurred. A broken rear derailleur hanger was also quickly fixed.

A long climb to really stress the last muscle fibers in the legs.

Only four of us rode the entire route. A long way home necessitated leaving earlier for the others. With one hour of riding left my rear derailleur broke down. A zip tie kept it together until the ride was over.

The sauna was not warm, so we had to make do with a hot shower before finishing the day with a delicious pizza.

Thanks to all the participants for the company and an especially big thanks to JJ for pulling this together. An excellent way to spend a weekend.