Saturday, April 26, 2014

A new camera and video

I made a radical gear move a few weeks ago. The m43 gear, which I had been very satisfied with for two and a half years, was switched to a Sony NEX-7 camera and a few lenses. The reason for this was that I wanted to simplify the gear, but above all get a single main camera for both still photography and videos. I had the excellent still photography camera Olympus EM-5 and the excellent Panasonic GH-2 for videos, but to do both still and video photography during an outing I would have needed both, which isn't really compatible with my gear philosophy or even the space and weight constraints when doing bikepacking in demanding terrain.

There would have been a possible camera body in the Panasonic m43 range that might have done the trick, Panasonic GX7, but it was very expensive and reports about how well its IBIS (in-body image stabilization) worked were quite contradictory. Since the m43 primes are generally not stabilized, the IBIS was crucial for me and the Olympus EM-5 really shone at this. With sufficiently good video capabilities the EM-5 would have been an ideal camera for me. The EM-5 and the Panasonic Summilux 25/1.4 is really a fantastic combo both for general image quality and low light work.

The Sony NEX-7 was now available at a good price, since the successor Sony A6000 was becoming available. I purchased a NEX-7 with the kit lens and the excellent Sony 35/1.8 OSS lens as well as a Sigma 19/2.8 lens and will probably later get the Sony 55-210/4.5-6.3 OSS to complement it. The still image quality of the NEX-7 with its 24 MP is at its best really amazing, but it quickly outresolves poorer lenses and the kit lens really needs to be stopped down to at least f5.6 to get good sharpness across the entire image. (Note that we are talking about pixel peeping at 24 mp resolution, which really doesn't make much sense). Since the Sony lenses have builtin image stabilization, I think the low light capabilities of the NEX-7 with the 35/1.8 lens will be equal to that of the EM-5 with the 25/1.4 lens. I still think that a good camera should have a good IBIS implementation, but it would seem that most camera manufacturers would seem to disagree. There is another advantage to the Sony NEX-7: With its bigger sensor, shallow depth of field is achieved more easily. Generally, the NEX-7 is mechanically a very nice camera and despite its small size the ergonomics are very good with almost all important parameters immediately accessible (the only exception is turning on/off the image stabilizer, which is hidden in menus).

For video usage, the reports of the Sony NEX-7 on the internet are somewhat contradictory. The main complaint is that the sensor overheats easily and for most video work this would be a showstopper. I don't expect any such problems, since I live in a colder climate and only record a few minutes at a time anyway. The consensus about the video capabilities are that they are ok, but not as good as those of the Panasonic m43 cameras, with the actual resolved resolution being clearly weaker than that of e.g Panasonic GH2, but still better that that of most Canon DSLR:s. My first tests seem to confirm this.

I think the technical quality of the video is quite good and after the Vimeo compression it is probably hard to see any difference compared to the Panasonic GH2. When looking at a high bitrate file, the difference is there, but it is quite subtle. It does mean, however, that there is not much extra resolution for doing tricks like straightening the horizon and such, which is visible in one or two places in the video above. The colors are better in the NEX-7 compare to the GH2, though, and I think the dynamic range is also visibly better, though this needs some experimentation to find the correct picture profile settings and exposure. For most of the above video, the exposure was at least one stop too bright. The time-lapse sequences were made with a Olympus XZ-1 compact camera. The built-in microphones of the NEX-7 are quite good and most of the sounds of the above video are actually recorded that way, complemented with a Zoom H1 in some places.

The first impressions are that this system is a compromise that fullfills my need, but there are still things to learn about it.

Monday, April 21, 2014


A naive and optimistic person would perhaps have thought that we would get an early spring, when the snow melted two months too early in February. Since I'm only optimistic, I had no such illusions. With very few exceptions, the spring arrives in April, regardless of how long the winter has been. And this is what happened. The spring progressed very slowly and by the middle of April only the earliest signs of spring could be seen.



For the Easter holiday I went with my family to Ekenäs/Tammisaari and just in time for that the weather warmed up a little, the result of which was soon visible in the rich leaf forests (couldn't find a word in English for the forest type lund in Swedish and lehtometsä in Finnish).

Wood anemone.

I managed to sneak away from the family for an overnighter.

Most of the forest here is belongs to the taiga zone, however, and in this coniferous forest the spring won't be visible for another month or so. The pines and spruces are always green and the heather is brown for all but a few months of the year. I rode trails in these forests, passing a few lakes on the way.

I arrived at my camping spot, chosen for the enjoyment of both sunset and sunrise, after a little less than three hours and in time for the sunset. I had been there once before.
There is a period of the year when tarps are nice. During the winter tarps don't offer much over an ordinary bivy bag, since when it is snowing and windy a tent is superior and during the summer the bug situation favors a tent like my Tarptent Double Rainbow, which offers good open views and total bug protection. During the spring there is a month or so before the bugs arrive, and during that time I find a tarp nice.

After having set up camp, it was time for a cup of hot chocolate and just sit back and enjoy the views and sounds of spring, with a good number of different bird species filling the soundscape.

Some time after ten in the evening the birds had become silent and it was time to go to sleep. A few birds species were active during the night, Arctic Loons, Whooper Swans and a European Nightjar among others. I also heard the peculiar sound of the Eurasian Bittern. It didn't sound exactly as I remembered, but looking at the map I was around one kilometer from a very suitable habitat for it, so it should have been one.

The night was chilly and the temperature around freezing. While I wasn't cold in my summer sleeping bag, I did put on the light down jacket to become a little warmer.

Well before sunrise the birds started getting active again, with the Black Grouse starting the one of the first concertos. I got up half past five in order to enjoy the sunrise.

The heather is still brown and dull.

It's rising.

The morning coffee was carefully timed to synchronize with the sunrise.

I concentrated on filming during this outing, so the still picture material is a little lacking. I find it difficult to do both, since they do need different thinking.

Oh no, the heather is on fire.

Morning camp.

The warmth of the sun soon melted the frost.

I used a superlight and strong Polycryo groundsheet. It worked well, but was a little slippery.

Soon it was time to ride back.

I took a shorter route back.

After around two hours I was done with the outing and enjoyed a second breakfast with the family. A most excellent outing. Spring nights are magical!

The video I made during the outing:

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Vigu Winter Fells 1

This is a long post, you might want to start by making a cup of coffee.

Regular readers of this blog might have noticed my frustration with the mostly nonexistent winter here in Southern Finland. In January we had a three week period of very cold weather, but mostly no snow, and this was followed by an early spring like weather, that was again interrupted by a short winter of a week or so. In order not to be so frustrated by the situation I didn't think much about the winter, but rather looked forward to the coming spring. As a result, I didn't ski a single meter this winter before this course. For most of the winter, it would have been possible to ski in Turku on artificial snow, but that didn't appeal to me. During ordinary winters with real snow I have a groomed xc ski track a five minute walk away  from my home and I can actually go skiing in the neighbouring forest directly from my backyard. The course would focus on the telemark technique, something which I hadn't done since 2003, when I had a couple years of active telemark skiing. Hence I was somewhat underprepared for what was to come.

We met in the harbour of Vaasa/Vasa on Friday morning March 21, packed our gear and went on the four hour ferry to Umeå in Sweden. It didn't take long to get into the Vigu feeling of our merry gang. After Umeå we had a five hour drive to Tärnaby, where we would stay in a cottage for four nights. Arriving to Tärnaby is always exciting: When you get closer, the forest landscape is replaced by real fells in a fairly short distance.

It was evening when we arrived and we didn't have time to do anything else than to make and eat dinner. The next morning we had a solid breakfast before heading to the pistes of Hemavan for a day of lift assisted telemark training.

The local car park.

In the pistes.

Simo shows his style.



Avalanche theory after the skiing, held by Josef, an international mountain guide (SBO/UIAGM) and teacher at the Outdoor Academy. Some sufficiently scary avalanche videos helped underline the importance of the subject.

The evening ended with a barbecue party with the Outdoor Academy, which was in the area for a five week winter module.

On Sunday, we skied on and off the pistes of Tärnaby, to further hone our still somewhat lacking telemark skills. I was definitely out of my comfort and technique zone in most of the off piste skiing.

In the evening we shopped and packed food for four days on the fell.

Making ready to get going.

We started on the groomed xc track in Hemavan.

Pulling the pulk of our three person team, I quickly overheated in the climb. Photo by Monna.

Monna goes outside the snow for an authentic photo.

After climbing some four hundred or so meters of altitude, we left the winter trail. Ce-Ge, veteran guide and teacher at the Outdoor Academy and originally from Tärnaby, leads the way.

Still climbing.

Track after eleven skiers and four pulks. After more than four hours of pulling the pulk, I was ready to hand it over to another team member.

Ce-Ge checks out a promising place for our snow caves.

Yes! Monna is happy to have arrived after having pulled the pulk for only 15 minutes. I think I miscalculated this one...

The digging commences. Four snow caves for our three teams and two instructors.

Simo takes the first shift of our team...

... and after some time and hard work takes a break.

The responsibility of the one team member not digging snow is to make water.

My turn. In order not to get too wet, I used full shell clothing and only got my gloves soaking wet. Photo by Simo.

My turn to rest.

Monna digging.

After a few hours of digging...

... we started to get a little space.

After four hours of digging and around nine cubic meters, we were done for the day, just in time before it got too dark. A cold beer tasted excellent. First photo by Simo.

The dinner of the day. Pasta, pesto, lots of Parmesan cheese and prosciutto. Our three person team bought 170 € worth of food for four days, so we ate quite well.

The next morning.

The entrance is lower than the beds for protection and snow cave climate.

The chimney.

A fine day outside.

Morning briefing. Photo by Danni.

Going to the first exercise of the day, transceiver training.

Back home for lunch. Simo is either resting or doing sit-ups.

Going towards Murtsertoppen, starting with a transceiver check.

The views are opening up.

I had consistenly suffered with my soaking wet and cold gloves the entire day and it paid off: The gloves were again dry and warm. (I did have another pair, which I kept dry, though).

We didn't go all the way to the summit, since the snow became less nice for skiing. Going down, we had very nice snow to ski on. The telemarking went quite well for me and everybody had a good time.

Back home.

Our apartments.

The evening was very nice and I stayed out to enjoy it.

Back in the snow cave, Simo had been appointed master chef and the dinner was coming along well.

Fried salmon, rice and Béarnaise sauce.

The nightlife was rather limited on the fell and we went to sleep well before ten in the evening.

The next morning we again woke up to a very fine day. The tracks are from a fox.

Drying a sleeping bag. I deliberately didn't dry mine, but put it into a dry bag immediately in the morning just to see if the moisture build-up would be noticeable. In four nights I didn't notice anything, but in all fairness a full winter sleeping bag is a little overkill in a snow cave, where the temperature always is just around freezing.

On with the skins for the skiing of the day.

On the move again.

Danni gives special care to a climbing skin. The skins of the school are becoming a little poor, and Danni can probably no longer postpone the messy procedure of regluing them.

An avalanche waiting to happen. We won't ski that way.

Ce-Ge uses randonnee gear.

Nice views again.

The wind was now quite strong, and the lunch break not that cozy.

The summit is getting closer.

At the summit. The wind was now 15-20 m/s, which is rather much. My anorak, which until now had been an excellent choice, was no longer sufficient to keep the wind out and I wasn't particularly warm at this point. I had decided to try a traditional cotton/polyester anorak for its superior breathability this time, but the other side of the coin is that it is less windproof. (I usually overheat in GoreTex clothes just by standing still a few minutes and have mostly used windproof microfibre clothes, but even those ones do not breathe good enough for me).

Christa and Eddie.

After a while we started descending. The snow (and ice) was difficult to ski on and I didn't do very well. We took a break when we got low enough for the wind to be much weaker and had a long warm second lunch.


Back at the camp a digging exercise waited. The scenario was that five minutes had been used to locate an avalanche victim at a depth of two meters. We then had ten minutes to dig down to two meters in a triangle pattern, with edge of the triangle being the deepest point near the victim. This is very hard work and I think we went over the ten minute limit with a minute or so. (After 15 minutes under the snow, the survival rate starts dropping very quickly.)

Danni improves our hole into a latrine.

A cup of tea with sweetener in the snow cave.

Another beautiful evening followed.

The next morning we again went skiing.

Ce-Ge points out route alternatives, with the most important parameter being avalanche safety.

Going up again.

A first lunch break around two thirds of the way to the top.

I used my skis from twelve years ago, Elan Stinger with Riva Z bindings. By todays standards they are quite narrow and flimsy. My boots are from the same era, a pair of Scarpa T4, which also seemed quite low in comparison with the others'. A good skier should be able to handle these without problems, though I personally realized that I won't have the time and training opportunities to master telemark good enough to ski safely outside the pistes in all possible snow conditions. There might be some randonnee gear in my future...

Continuing, the views opened up nicely.

Danni leads the way.

The descent went a lot better for me this time. Two thirds down we had a break again and Ce-Ge demonstrated a technique for testing the snow stability.

A second lunch. There is no reason not to have cream topping on the hot chocolate. Photo by Simo.

Eddie and his twin brother.

Going down again.

Our home is visible again.

Enjoying the evening sun with hot chocolate a final time.

Master chef Simo again prepares a delicious dinner. Fried pork fillet and pasta with Philadelphia cheese and cream, as well as a generous amount of Parmesan cheese.

The final morning we opened up the doors fully again, to easier get the gear out.

The Swedish water bottles don't handle hot water well. The Loka water joke won't be appreciated by non-Finns.

Filling the holes we dug. Afters some snowfall our visit to the area should no longer be visible.

Skiing back.

I again took the pulk, since I had the best skins, until the Simo took it when there were no more climbs ahead. Photo by Simo.

We arrived at the groomed ski track and the skiing was soon over.

After the skiing we sorted out the gear, went to the sauna and had a lunch buffet, before we started the long way home. Due to the ferry time table not being compatible with our timetable, we drove to long way through Haparanda, almost 1000 km.

That's it. A lot of fun again and I learned a lot during the course. Thanks to all the participants and instructors.