Thursday, 28 August 2014

the Rabbit Proof Fence

In the early days of the settlement of Australia some idiot released rabbits into the landscape. There was great damage to the environment and indeed great financial losses to the pastoralists and graziers of the day. In an effort to stop the spread (before eventually technology allowed biological methods were employed) a rabbit proof fence was built in many parts of Australia. This one is just near me and passes through the rain forest in the mountains near Killarney

Its a lovely region to go exploring (with the camera too). The mosses which appear on the rocks and branches are actually a lichen.

and grow on everything which they can get onto ... its extraordinarily beautiful in the mists that are common there.

Its right on the edge of the plateau there, and quite rugged terrain. Walking around the edge of the plateau is tough going as is getting up there ... for years there were only a few places up onto the range from the eastern side.

The view to the east (and the Pacific ocean) is spectacular ... and even though the elevation here is about 1000 meters the ocean is still behind a few more mountains yet.

Anyway, this has been my first trip out with my 20mm on my GF, and I must say that I find this focal length (of ever so slightly wider than normal) to be quite attractive. Better than I'd expected. Perhaps my time with SLR's spoiled me from the once more common 44mm and got me into a slightly tighter view.

I like it :-)

Sunday, 17 August 2014

telephoto by cropping - or why have a telephoto


The question arose of "I have a high quality prime such as a 20mm f1.7, so why would I bother buying a telephoto?", so I thought I'd have a whack at answering it. The asker professed to have some years experience with 35mm and seemed happy with just cropping. I covered this from another angle back in 2010 here, but as my purpose was different I thought I'd redo it entirely.

To some extent you can "increase" the focal length of your lens by cropping - which is exactly why cameras with smaller sensors than the 35mm standard format are called "crop cameras" and exactly why there is the idea of a focal length multiplier (or effective focal length). This is often a bewildering topic for beginners (and even seasoned 35mm photographers who never dealt with 645, 6x7 and large format).

The confusion often comes from the misunderstanding of f-numbers. These (often called f-stops, but that's also confusing) were designed to allow photographers to determine exposure back when a hand held light meter was used to determine exposure and the photographer wanted to change lens (and keep the exposure the same).

Commonly the confusion comes from discussions involving  Depth of Field (DoF)

Its the size of the hole

When it comes to DoF the important factor is the size of the hole (old page of mine but better javascript), not the f-number on the lens (of course magnification is the other important factor), remember that an f-number is just a ratio. It is the focal lengh divided by the aperture size (in whatever units you like, inches or mm). I thought I'd compare two lenses, a 20mm (as I have a 20mm f1.7 Panasonic lens) and a 50mm f1.4 (as I have one of them too). So the iris diameter of the aperture on a 20mm lens at f1.7 is 11.76mm and the aperture needed to make a 11.76mm diameter iris on a 50mm is f4.3 ... such a setting is not available on my 50mm lens so I picked f4.5 which is a little bit bigger at 11.11mm

So if all things were equal then a standard lens could work as a telephoto by just cropping. However, if we use cropping (essentially maths) to make our 20mm into a virtual 50mm then we would just set our apertures to be the same and all will work out the same. Of course all things aren't equal, so I thought I'd explain this with pictures.

Firstly, lets take a shot of my mate with a 20mm f1.7 lens on my GH1

This was taken with the camera on a tripod, using the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 @ f1.7 and focused with face recognition.

Now, lets put on a 50mm lens (which is telephoto for 4/3) and have a look at that.

A quick glance at the image seems to show that DoF is quite similar to the central portion of the image taken with the 20mm ... so, lets crop the guts out of it and have a look.

Well actually its close isn't it, perhaps if I'd stopped the 50mm down to 5 it would be even closer. But you can see the point here (I hope).

Whats different?

Firstly I encourage you to "right click" on the above images and open them up in separate tabs (or windows).  I think you'll see quickly that even at the modest sizes we have that there is much more information (look at hair strands) in the image from the 50mm and not much at all in the image from the 20mm (cropped image). This is because we are essentially concentrating the image to be clearer with the scaled down 50mm image, but dilluting the 20mm image with magnification (and pushing its limits). Essentially we are pixel peeping with the 20mm but giving the 50mm room to breath.

Next the 50mm is able to stop down to further  ... so lets look at that

Which  I'm sure you can see is even more shallow DoF with the focus being drawn to the eyes and the background is just a diffuse background. Personally I prefer the look of this lens at f1.8 or f2, which is still more shallow DoF than f4 yet has a higher contrast.

Then there is the point that the image from the 20mm started out at 4000x3000 pixels and just by cropping alone wound up at 1512 x 1181  pixels .. which is a paltry 1.8 MPixels and really only good for a 4x5 postcard print (or the web).

In a tight corner that may be enough ... but should you shoot for that? Well that's up to you.


Lastly there is the amount of clarity available. The 20mm is a sharp lens, but it has a maximum of about 7Perceptual Megapixels, while the Olympus 45mm has more like 9 ... by cropping you end up with 2 and given that the Panasonic had less to start with you may end up with less Perceptual Megapixels.

I'm really pleased with my legacy FD 50mm f1.4 lens(well and for that matter even more pleased with my legacy OM 50mm f1.8 which is just as sharp (see post here) and cost so little (like $18) its ridiculous. Indeed for folks now (such wasn't available to me when I got into micro43) the Olympus 45mm f1.8 is available in good condition used from around $300 or the Sigma 60mm f2.8 even less ... great optics well within grasp of many and if not then the legacy option is IMO fantastic value. Hell this portrait was taken with my Pentax 110 50mm f2.8 in another mates garage.

and that lens is ultra compact and light (and cheap too).

So, why have a telephoto? 

I guess I've answered that now.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Cycling and Safety - and confusing sinage

In a world of occupational health and safety and duty of care one wonders about sinage like this:

...and what it means.

  • Is this an acknowledgment that  riding across these tracks will rip your wheel off (therefore don't) and just about tantamount to an admission of a problem?
  • or is it advice to get off and walk it across? Strange that this is signed at a place where you cross at 90 degrees not at a tangent (note the cycle path painted on the road) it shouldn't rip your wheel off
  • just where is that wheel?

So far it hasn't ripped my wheel off, but then I think the vulnerable cycles are those with the really skinny tyres (and mine's a Hybrid MTB) and crossing at a tangent.

Unlike normal trams (street cars) this one is designed to prohibit "mixed" traffic, so it all seems incongruous to me.

Friday, 15 August 2014

eBay feedback policy - Epic Fail

I buy and sell a few things on eBay, have done since before what I then used became eBay (it used to be, which was bought out by ebay more than a decade ago now).

Lately the whole eBay thing has been (in my view) circling the drain, with more and more unscrupulous buyers and sellers alike. To me the main thing which keeps things requiring the minimum of moderation is the feedback system and the strike system. Both are apparently broken now with recent policy changes.

The problem that first presents itself to me is that as a seller I can not leave negative feedback to wankers who buy and then just sit back laughing, never intending to pay. Its just a game to them.

Some cretin at eBay clearly decided that the policy to not allow negative feedback on customers was a good idea.

Well, in a world where everyone has good ethics and a decent moral outlook, perhaps this would work.

{looks left, looks right} ... nope I don't see that round my parts either.

Instead this process allows wankers like this guy to have "fun" at my expense and get away with it.

I'm not the only one with a problem like this it seems, as when I clicked on his (gosh all postive) feedback I see the most recent feeback item (not mine yet) is a "false positive" (meaning they wanted to pan him but the system stops that).

This seller is more 'discrete' than I'd be.

In fact this policy circumvents sellers being able to apply rules to their auctions to prevent wankers from making bids.

A quick search shows that its also a wide spread problem out there with Google giving 7 million hits on this question of why can't I leave negative feedback to non payers on eBay:

I think a worthwhile read on this topic can be had on eBay's own community page here.

This situation will clearly make eBay a place for high volume sellers of rubbish which of course if they don't get paid don't care, won't post it and move on.

One more knife in the back of the 'free market'.

Its interesting that in Japan eBay has not yet taken hold and instead Yahoo Auctions predominate. I used that system for 3 years when I was in Japan and really liked it. It operates under subtly different rules to eBay and it makes quite a difference too.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Robin Williams - not a eulogy but a reflection

I heard yesterday that Robin Williams had passed, perhaps through his own choice. This is sad to hear as he was enormously talented and (among other things) a great actor.

A friend of mine on FB commented how he felt Robin died so young, and how he (my friend) was saddened and felt it that Robin had been stolen from us, and that it was wrong "not so young and not like this" which of course resonated very strongly with me.

This is not so much a Eulogy to the late Robin Williams (for of course I did not know him), as a perspective on the death of those we know and what it should mean for us.

People who know me know that my own dearest wife was taken from us at an early age.

She was only 33 when she was suddenly and tragically taken and we are all robbed of her beautiful influence.

Robin Williams in contrast was 63 when he passed from us, which is perhaps earlier than many expect but it is my view that he had a good life and a good quality of years here.

That Robin had 3 score years, was married and raised his own families is testimony to how rich Robins life was (despite the demons he felt in his heart).

Anita was in many ways just starting on her life, and she was about to embark on having a family. She taught me many things, both in life and in death.

Robbed is all I choose to say on that matter here.

From my earliest days my closest friend was Darryl, he lived just down from my house a few blocks away. We grew up together and did many things together in our childhood and adolescence. I think its fair to say I was part of his family as much as he was mine.

When we left school, Darryl went to join the Air Force to do Electronics and I went to Uni to do Biochem.

Sadly he never completed his course as he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma and died before his 21st birthday.

He left a grieving family who felt cheated, robbed of him too early. So did I. To say his death had an impact on my life would be a grand understatement.

I myself have been cognizant of death most of my life. The reminders have always been around me, even my own health, when I was recently diagnosed with an Aneurysm (rather than it being discovered at the autopsy post mortem) I instead had surgery which would "save my life".

Alas, the only truth I have found in this world is that we all die

To me what matters in life is how you live and love. Knowing that you will die, and knowing that you will not in all likelyhood know when or how should make you more strident in your quest for love and happiness in life.

The passing of Robin Williams should teach us about how we love ourselves and how from that point we can actually love others and allow others to love us.

Too many people are too busy with bullshit in their lives, making plans and probably making choices of putting things above life, love and happiness (like career or petty arguments). Too many are (at some level) lost in substance abuse, the abuse of others and the abuse of themselves. Many deny it and it is only in the death of someone very close to them they see things as they really are.

I say that if you find yourself touched by the passing of Robin Williams then in the celebration of the life he had why not reflect on your own and refocus yourself on what really matters to you.

If you knew you were going to be dead tomorrow what would you do? What would be important? Sure, statistically you probably won't be dead tomorrow, but why put off your life on the bet that you won't be?

Robin, may you rest in peace and may the world become a better place for your contributions.

Friday, 8 August 2014

a Black Box Approach (for HiFi and Cameras too)

I'm an engineering kind of guy and actually have a background in Sound Engineering; accordingly my choice in stereo has been influenced by a modular approach and the ability to tweak sounds (at the very least to match my room).

So it was quite a surprise to me when I bought these Bluetooth speakers at just how bloody good they were.

In fact they are so damn good that I when I left Finland (leaving many household items in storage) I posted these back to Australia because I wanted to side by side them with my "big" stereo to "see" if they were actually better (if lower power).

Well they are.

There is an accuracy and clarity of the bass reproduction which is genuinely amazing (for such sized drivers) and combined with an accuracy of high frequency rendition that left me surprised.

Yet these humble little speakers are as simple as you can possibly imagine. Use is simply a matter of plug them in, turn them on and pair your phone with it. Then your phone (or tablet) can then also act as your music center as well as all the other things it currently does.

The system has a minimal approach of having its amplifier built into the "main" speaker and then just connects to the other speaker with a cable (strangely to me via an RCA plug).

It has a tuned "reflex" port on the back to effect its low frequency responce ...

and you can see that it has only 3 (totally different thus not easily confused) connectors:
  • power
  • aux in
  • the left speaker output
On the top the controls are in keeping with the simple approach:

Indeed the only complexity is in the fact that the input button doubles as the on / off button.

That this system produces such quality sound is actually in my opinion related to the fact that the engineers could take total control of the system. They knew the amp, they knew the box, they knew drivers and thus they could tune the shitter out of it with Eq curves between the inputs and the drivers as well as tuned ports to match the entire thing perfectly.

And they have succeeded!

In fact this is not a first time for me to see this, decades ago in the 70's Phillips produced a similar system, which had integration of amps and speakers, you just jacked in your Tape, Phono and Tuner. Naturally it failed because back then HiFi was the realm of the fiddler (well and HiFi still is). However today more and more people just want simplicity and quality (the HiFi crowd poohoo this).

Perfect timing for this speaker system if you ask me.


Well unsurprisingly for my blog this leads me back into cameras (my other worldly enthusiasm) and the rumors of a micro43 fixed lens camera. WoW ... now that to me would be very interesting.

We already know how good such integrated black box (user can't alter the system) approach can be, cameras like the Sony RX1 are testimony on how by accepting a black box approach we can have the best of all worlds. I think that this image of a Leica M8 beside the Sony demonstrates ably the advantage of the philosophy.

Sure a 35mm f2 lens is not for everyone (and you can't change it) but its a really good general purpose size with enormous potential for image control. That its coupled in a compact yet full frame camera is stunning enough. However its clear that the quality of this camera system (the Sony) produces exceptional results.

Another example of this sort of "black box" synergy of tuned components exceeding the capacity of "system approach" of mix n match is found in the Sigma DP2.

Granted its not a camera for everyone, but if you take a moment to read this post (try Google translate if you need the words in English). To me that the Sigma DP2 is indeed so bloody close to a top range full frame camera, and a top range medium format camera is testimony on how effective this approach can be. Especially when you consider prices:
  • Sigma DP2 is about €860
  • Sony a7 is about €2000
  • Leica S is about €19,900
yet looking at the images presented there there is nothing like that level of difference in quality.

The same can be said of my speakers, as while they cost  far more than many Bluetooth speakers, they cost far less than even just my Amplifier.

Food for thought isn't it.

So, perhaps its time to consider the black box approach in your outfit too?


Since Steve asked a question I thought that for the sake of the interested I'd add some more information on the speakers.

The speakers are Pioneer XW-BTS5-W (I think the last W is related to White, as I see the black ones are -B). I'm not sure if they are still current models or if there is an equivalent as most Bluetooth stuff lately is expensive "single brick" style rubbish.

When I turn them off (with music playing) my phone pauses, to resume when I turn them back on again. Also when an incoming call occurs they turn off automatically and replace the music with the phone ring tones. They do not carry the phone call or have a mic (as some systems do) When the call is over it gently returns the volume to where it was.

If I leave my house (with the phone playing music) the phone pauses (when its worked out its lost signal) and if I return soon enough it reconnects and resumes playing. If I stay away too long the speakers 'shut down' in a standby mode and I have to turn them on again (whereupon the music resumes).

The speakers do not attempt to "carry" the phone call in any way, they have no mic on them to pickup my voice, so they are not (like some) a hands free alternative. I believe this is because the makers intended the speakers to be focused on delivering quality Audio around the room / apartment. My living room is 4 x 8 Meters and they provide a good music listening level but would not be suitable for "Rock the Roof" parties (where you're going to need way more Watts and much bigger bass drivers).


Sunday, 3 August 2014


These guys (curlew) are nocturnal, but seem to "get ready" to come out in the early evening.

where they just "chill" and pretend that if they don't move you can't see them

but of course we can't tell them they're wrong ;-)