Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6

Technically it is called the AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR. What it means is that Nikon is introducing a DX format lens that is similar to its 24-120mm lens on a full frame camera. The Nikkor 18-200mm doesn't go wide enough for me to qualify it as a one-lens solution. The new 16-85mm lens appears to be a good landscape to portrait lens. I can use this if I need a super lightweight, one-lens solution. Pair it with the new Nikon D60, and we've got a lightweight, back-packable DSLR. Woohoo!

I don't need one right now, but I'll be keeping a close eye on the reviews for this baby.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Compact Adventure Camera: Final Words

These are my closing remarks on my review of the Sea and Sea 1G camera. This is the same camera as the Ricoh GX100, and it comes bundled with the Sea & Sea DX-1G housing.

It’s invigorating to be able to wander along the beach with a camera in my pocket, and then being able to dive with that same compact camera after putting it in an underwater housing.

Sure, there are a lot of compact cameras that can do that, but I wanted the wide-angle (24mm equivalent) lens of the 1G/GX100. I never stopped wishing that I had my DSLR with me though, because the 1G/GX100 does have some shortcomings.

Shutter lag is fast for a compact, but not DSLR fast, and still not fast enough. Dynamic range seems poor, and the meter shows a willingness to burn out highlights. Metering in Manual Mode is best, if I have the time. If not, I set the meter to underexpose by -2/3 stop. And I still shoot RAW, despite the almost crippling 5-second wait for the file to be written between shots. The default brightness for the LCD is too dim, especially in bright sunlight, and I have mine cranked up to the max. Images are very noisy above ISO100, so it is basically an ISO100 camera.

Underwater, with the DX-1G housing, the camera is very versatile. I have the option to remove the 16mm Ultra-Wide conversion lens, zoom out to 72mm and use Macro Mode. This is a big plus underwater, because I can do all that without surfacing to change lenses. This means I can shoot the big stuff, like mantas and whale sharks, and shoot the small macro stuff, all on the same dive. I think that the camera’s built in image stabilization is also a great help.

Would I buy this again? My answer is a cautious ‘yes’ in two parts:

For underwater shooting, I enjoy the versatility of the 1G and I like the fact that I got the whole package (camera, housing, underwater strobe, 16mm wide-angle conversion lens) for less than the price of a housing for my Nikon D300. Plus, if the housing floods, it is far less costly to replace a compact than a DSLR. For budding underwater photographers like me, I think this is the way to go. But once I gain more experience and confidence working underwater, I think I’ll upgrade to a housing for my D300.

Above water, the camera is the same as the Ricoh GX100. If you don’t need more than ISO100, the camera can perform if you are careful with the highlights. The ergonomics are the best of any compact that I’ve handled. Manual Mode works very well. Competing compacts all have very nice features, but none match the 1G/GX100’s wide 24mm lens. If I didn’t need the 24mm wide-angle, I give the Olympus 790SW a good look. Again, a cautious ‘yes’ to buying the Ricoh GX100… but I’d keep a close eye on the market and the upcoming Sigma DP1.

Update 6 March:
Olympus has an updated model, the 1030SW, an even tougher camera with 10MP and a 28-102mm lens.

Photos:
Top: Tidal Pool Sunset. ISO100, 24mm equiv, 1/250, f4.1, fill flash, in Manual mode.
Bottom: Underwater Videographer. ISO100, 16mm equiv with DX-1G housing and conversion lens, 1/160, f2.9, flash, -2/3EV.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Let’s Have Some Fun!

Two images of a sunset, a rock, and some kids playing around it. They were shot within a few minutes of each other near Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand.

My Ricoh GX100/Sea&Sea 1G doesn't have a great telephoto range, so for the top picture, I got as close as I could get, and then cropped to get the image I wanted (ISO 100, 72mm equivalent, 1/200, f7.1). It looks ok on the web, but it won’t stand up to a large print.

Then I went around the rock and saw this one kid looking wishfully at the other kids having a good time. I climbed to the top and got the bottom picture, which is shot of their belongings and the one kid (ISO 100, 24mm equivalent, 1/250, f4.3, fill flash).

Both images taken with a Sea&Sea 1G/Ricoh GX100 in Manual Mode, and cropped to 1:1 format.

I Am Not Invincible

Repeat after me: “I am not invincible”.

It is the morning after the accident. The aches and pains that I hoped would be gone after waking are still there. The pins and needles down my right arm are still there, and so I’ve got to go see a specialist doctor today.

I’ve also gathered my hospital bills and the invoice for my bike to make an insurance claim against the truck driver.

I look back and wonder what I could have differently. I suppose could have gone slower. The thing is, as athletes, we are always pushing our limits. Going slow just doesn’t cut it. The risk is ours to take, and the choice is always ours to make. I think I’ll probably stay off the roads for a while… at least until I get a new bike.

Update 30 Jan: Added a photo of the truck that hit me. Anybody want to buy 4D?

When Right Of Way Isn’t Always Right

I just got out of the hospital. I got hit by a truck this morning while riding my road bike. I was doing the usual loop on Changi Coastal Road and was headed back towards East Coast Park when the accident happened at the junction of Tanah Merah Coastal Road.

The details are coming back to me. The light was red, so I was slowing down, ready to come to a stop. The truck was on the opposite side of the road, also stopped due to the light. 20m to the junction, the light turned green, so I began accelerating. The truck inched out, as they sometimes do, like he was getting ready to go behind me. Only the truck didn’t stop. He continued his right turn into the middle of the traffic junction. I braked hard, but at 30kmph, there just wasn’t enough time. My right of way, but it didn’t matter. When flesh meets steel, steel is always right.

My bike is totaled and I left the hospital with a deep cut on my chin that required 4 stitches on the outside and 2 on the inside to close. I’ve also got pins and needles all the way down my right arm that I hope will go away in a few days. The doctor says it’s due to a compressed nerve.

My thanks to a taxi and its occupants who stopped to help me, and also a fellow biker who was at the junction and witnessed it all. My thanks also to the ambulance crew, doctor and nurse at Changi General Hospital.

By the way, anybody know a good lawyer?

Update:
I've just gotten a call from the Police to inform me that the truck driver is at fault. Wow! It's just 8 hours after the accident. That's efficient!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dive Phuket!

I just got back from a week's diving holiday in Phuket. My wife was learning to dive and completing her open water dive training here in Phuket. Since my last dive was more than 20 years ago, I tagged along and redid the course as well.

The two main day diving trips that run out of Phuket are to see Mantas at Racha Noi and the other is to see the ferry wreck called King Cruiser. A side trip or two round out the day. The diving here is world-class, and is highly recommended.

After paying money to your agent, there is the lingering worry that somebody might be out to rip you off, especially if your transport doesn’t show up on time. But there is a strange efficiency to the Thai way of doing things, and the organizers have it worked out to a science. The dive boats leave on time, with everyone on board. The food is good and plentiful, and everyone is happy.

Back on shore, there is plenty to do. The whole world comes to Phuket this time of year. You can make like a tourist and wear fake Billabong clothes, prop a fake pair of Oakley sunglasses on your head and carry a fake Diesel bag. At night, you can chill out at one of the many ‘girly’ bars or catch the nightly Muay Thai fight.

Tips: Take your sea-sick pills early. They work well if taken an hour before you sail. If you have the time, book your day-diving trip in Phuket. You'll cut out the middleman agents and get a better price. If you have a long stay, consider booking an apartment instead of a hotel. They can be hard to find online, so the strategy is to book a night or two in a hotel, then spend your first couple of days hunting down an apartment. In high season, this can be a bit risky, and you might end up without a place to stay. Rent a scooter or jeep to get around.

Photos:
Top: Street Hawker, Patong Beach Sunset.
Middle: Dive instructor Phill Rogers and Laura.
Bottom Two: Laura takes a look around the King Cruiser wreck.
All photos taken with a Sea&Sea 1G/Ricoh GX100.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Game On

I’ve been busy this week. We (my adventure racing team and I) are being filmed for a documentary on extreme sports to be shown on national TV. The filming is taking place over 4 days and the last day is tomorrow.

Aloysius will be glad. On Thursday, he piloted the flight back from Shanghai and touched down at 6am, got back home with just enough time to pack and meet the film crew and me at 8am. Needless to say, without any sleep the previous night, he was running pretty much on empty, but managed to put on his game face and got the job done.

Incidentally, if you’re in Singapore, our episode of ‘My Secret Sports Identity’ (er... yes, that’s what they're calling it) airs on Saturday, 23rd February at 7pm.

Photos taken with a Sea&Sea 1G
Top: Game On. Aloysius gets his day 3 interview done.
Bottom: Wired For Sound. Aloysius gets his wireless mic set up on day 2.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

From 0 to 100: The Stuff No One Talks About

This is my last entry in this series. I’m embarrassed to admit that this hasn’t worked for me and I am injured, and so I am not going to encourage others by continuing this series of articles. Fortunately for me, it is only an inflammation of my kneecap caused by a tight ITB. A bit of rest and stretching should do the trick and I hope I can be ready to compete in May.

Injury
Well, needless to say, you should seek medical attention. But, as driven athletes, we often train through pain, further damaging ourselves. In general, if you encounter pain during training, you should stop, apply RICE. If the pain doesn’t go away after about a week, seek medical advice before you do some permanent damage. Fortunately, I have a good friend who was able to help me (Thanks Jasmine!).

Fungus
It thrives in moist, warm conditions. Er, that’s just what it’s like here in the tropics. Perspiration doesn’t evaporate well in humid conditions. This means that you are going to be soaked in sweat for long periods of time if you are training for an ultra event – prime breeding ground for the dreaded ‘jock itch’ fungus.

If you’ve got it, they are stubborn buggers to get rid off. There are various soaps, powders and creams that you can buy off the shelf. I find the soaps don’t work, the powders work moderately well, and the creams work best. You’ll have to continue applying the medication until well after symptoms have ceased.

It’s best to prevent it in the first place. Shower up and dry up as soon as you can after training. If you aren’t able to do so, then at least change out of wet shorts and socks and towel dry.

Swollen Feet
I wore a size 9 ½ shoe when I started training for my Gobi Desert ultramarathon. Midway through the training, I needed a size 10. By the time I left for the race, I was wearing a size 10 ½. After the race, I couldn’t even get my feet back into my shoes. My mistake was that during the bus ride back into town, I took my shoes off, got a great massage and failed to elevate my feet.
The trick to reducing swelling is to elevate your feet above your heart. You can do this after long runs, or whilst sleeping during a multi-day race by propping your feet up onto your backpack. If you need a pillow, use a rolled up jacket or an inflatable pillow.

Good luck to everyone, whatever your sports endeavors are!

Photos:
Top: Two Runners in the Vast Gobi
Bottom: The Pain of Defeet. Getting a massage on the bus after the race. Hows that for service. Photo by Aloysius Wee.
Both photos taken using a Pentax Optio 43WR