I spent part of the Labour Day long weekend in Vancouver, night market in Richmond, biking around Stanley Park, and hiking in West Vancouver. It was a great weekend of outdoors activity, accompanied by beautiful weather. It was a ton of fun, and at the last moment while packing, I decided to bring my neglected Nikon D600 (I figured the night market would benefit from the high ISO performance). To test out whether my interest in the Fuji X-system and its great prime lenses will work out, I brought a fast prime, the Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4. More challenging than being just a fast prime, it’s a manual focus-only lens. Not something I envied a ton, with my little experience with manual focusing and the razor-thin focal plane of a fast prime paired with a full format sensor.

What I did forget, though, is just how stunning a great sensor and lens combo can be. That’s not to say that my go-to Panasonic GX1 + 14-42mm or 20mm pancake isn’t capable of producing good photos; it’s simply that there is another tier of image quality to be achieved, if one is willing to lug around some more weight. I took a risk by opting for the 58mm as my only lens on this trip, but I’m happy I did. I discovered that it’s very enjoyable to frame and zoom with your feet. I also discovered epic image quality, again. Below is a small crop of a shot at night (full frame is inset, top-right) at ISO 1600 with no sharpening or noise reduction (aka both are set to 0 in Lightroom). Wow. This cleans up very nicely with minor tweaks. By comparison, the GX1’s sensor quickly falls apart beyond ~ISO 800.

Nikon D600 + Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4

It certainly gets me even more excited for the highly lauded X-Trans sensor on the Fuji X-E1 and great (autofocus) primes in that system, including the 35mm f/1.4!

A New Flickr

Very impressive! Flickr received a massive overhaul today, and immediately, my inclination to post there has increased many-fold. There’s the 1TB of storage space (not that they expect everyone to use it, of course), full resolution photo support, no more paid subscription required to display more than ~100 photos and a nicer, although still somewhat clunky, photo viewing experience.

But more than all that, it’s resulted in a lot of buzz, and hopefully a rejuvenation of the audience on the social sharing site, as a result. After all, posting camera-phone photos to Facebook isn’t because it’s the best photo sharing experience, but rather due to the fact that it’s where everyone is already during their online time.

Feel free to take a look at my album, and expect new photos to appear in short order. Large photo backlogs from trips to Grand Canyon and Death Valley await.

Photo Gear

I recently had a chance to stretch some dormant photography muscles, during a trip to San Francisco. It was a quick, couple day jaunt and I traveled pretty light. In terms of camera equipment, I packed my Nikon D7000 along with a Nikon 24-70mm. For times requiring more subtlety, I decided on the Panasonic GF1 along with the 20mm pancake. I debated between taking the 24-70 or the 16-35, and actually settled on the wider lens. However, in the rush of the morning, I forgot which lens was on the camera and ran out the door. In retrospect, I think the 24-70 was the right choice.

The D7000 with 24-70 mounted is a monstrosity. Yes, a beautiful combination, in my opinion, but a monstrosity nonetheless. While it doesn’t tire me out during a day of walking around the city, it’s a bit unwieldy, showy, and doesn’t work well inside cramped shops and restaurants. That’s where the GF1 + 20mm came into the picture.

It’s compact enough to fit into an interior pocket of my light jacket. It creates a bulge with its lens protruding, but leaves my hands and neck free. It’s effortless to get out for a photo. It’s also far less conspicuous. It’s not so in-your-face like the 24-70mm. Furthermore, it’s backed up by great image quality and is a pretty useful walk about focal length.

I haven’t followed micro 4/3 news in a while, so when I found out the spiritual successor to my GF1 has arrived in the form of the GX1, I was stoked. I also discovered the wonderful Olympus 12mm f/2.0 and 45mm f/1.8 lenses, which have received glowing reviews. The combination of those two, plus the 20mm, should make for a high quality, small, carry around set. There were some situations where the 20mm alone was a bit constricting. The 12mm and 45mm should solve any inflexibility.

Then, big news came out of Nikon recently. The D800, long waited successor to the D700, was released with a whopping 36MP sensor. I purchased the 16-35mm and 24-70mm with the intention to eventually move to full-frame, but what I was hoping for in a D700 successor was something that focused a bit more on improving high-ISO performance, while moving the resolution bar ahead, slightly. Instead, we have a sensor that is 2.25X the resolution of the D7000 and, get this, 2.25X the size (area). While I’d be surprised if the D800 doesn’t have better noise performance over the D7000, I’m not betting it’ll be even a single stop better. Does this mean that I now need a D4 to get what I was looking for? A bit too rich and serious for my blood, I think.

At the same time, I can’t deny the attraction of the D800e for landscape. I wonder if the 16-35 or 24-70 will be outmatched by the resolving power of a LPF-less 36MP sensor. I’m eagerly awaiting reviews on that one.

Digital to Analog Conversion

Prtinted Photography

I’ve finally discovered the joy of printing digital photos. It’s now 7 months into my stay in Seattle, yet sometimes my apartment still feels like a hotel, not personalized to the extent that I’d like. Running on some recommendations, I tried out Costco printing, with a few 12×18″ prints. They turned out pretty darned good – one had a nasty in blotch on it, but a quick call netted a new print, and all I had to do was swap the out the misprint.

Soon my walls will be filled. It’s a great incentive to finally post-process the tens of gigabytes of RAW photos sitting on my hard drives.

Hurricane Ridge – Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge

3-shot HDR from Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park.

The weather over the past few days has been absolutely phenomenal, so I set out on Saturday to Olympic National Park. I had originally planned to drive down to Oregon for the Historic Columbia River Highway, but I realized I hadn’t visited the much closer Hurricane Ridge, yet.

No longer used to catching ferries since many, many years ago on Prince Edward Island, we ended up missing our target sailing, so had to wait about 40 minutes in the lineup for the next one. The trip from Edmonds to Kingston was aboard the MV Walla Walla, which brought back a ton of memories from before the Confederation Bridge was built, connecting PEI to the mainland – we stood out on the bow of the ship the entire time, where it was frightfully chilly at times.

Our first stop was Port Angeles, for a quick lunch, then we set off for the mountains. From sea level, we climbed (or rather, the car climbed) about 5500 feet over a span of 17 miles. It was a mainly clear day, although some moisture trapped in the mountain valleys created a few low-altitude clouds. All along the road, wherever we saw a turn-off, we prepared ourselves for awe-inspiring vistas. Although there was some haze, we could first see down to Port Angeles, then the open water, and eventually, when we got high enough, Vancouver Island. Mount Baker loomed far in the background, wreathed in clouds.

The drive was a ton of fun, with very twisty roads, climbing and wrapping around the mountain ridge, and when we burst out to the top of the ridge, we were greeted with what I think is best described as a miniature version of the Alps. There were 180 degrees of uninterrupted mountains to the south, and 100 yards across the ridge, you could look north to Canada. Breathtaking.

Hurricane Ridge
Hurricane Ridge
Winding Road - Hurricane Ridge
Volkswagen CC at Hurricane Ridge