Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Olympus PEN E-PM1 - Learning the Ropes

I've been playing around with my new camera, the Olympus PEN E-PM1, since I got it on Sunday.  By playing with it I'm getting to know where everything is, on the body and within the menu structure.  The camera looks deceptively simple, but there's a lot going on under it's hood.

Now I'll be able to get some good close ups of roasted chick peas ...

... playing with Walter's Lego ...

... and recording the growing flora around our new home.

I've got a lot to learn.  I've forgotten a lot of things that I used to know when I had a film camera, and there are a lot of things that didn't exist before digital cameras came along which makes them all new to me.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Camera Hunting - The Winner Is ...

The Olympus PEN E-PM1.

I kept on swaying back and forth between DSLR and Mirrorless.  I think both have their place, and in the end I chose the mirrorless for my needs.  I really love the idea of the DSLR, but I knew that I wouldn't take it everywhere with me; that the camera would get in the way of taking photos.  For me, the photo is the important part.  The Mirrorless camera is smaller, lighter, and more forgiving.  It allows me to stretch and push to get better photos without getting frustrated.  I can get more lenses as I need to, but the kit lens will work for now.  And, the best part?  It was on sale for a great deal at London Drugs - $249.99.  So, even if I decide to eventually get a DSLR, I won't feel like I spent wrong now.  True, it's not the newest, greatest, but it's a solid camera that will do me well.

To show you the difference in how the three cameras I have create pictures I used my handy Slik tripod to setup a position that would be the same for each camera.  I then took each camera, used their Auto setting, and snapped the same photo.

The Canon PowerShot S3IS is the camera that I have used for most of the photos on this blog.  I've always found it makes wonderful outside pictures, but I've struggled to get interior photos that I've been totally happy with (especially night photos).  We got this camera in 2006 and it was fairly expensive at the time.  It offers a 12x optical zoom lens with image stabilizer, 6.0 MP sensor, a viewfinder, and a 2" flip/twist LCD with 115K pixels.  It does 30fps VGA movies with stereo sound.  ISO to 800.  Here's the photo I got with it:

The PowerShot S3IS wanted me to raise the flash, but let me take the photo without.  A little washed out, but acceptable.

Next up, the Canon PowerShot A1000IS - the camera I got when Walter was a baby and I realized I needed something simpler to use, that I could grab and put in my bag.  It offers 4x optical zoom, 10 MP sensor, a viewfinder, and a 2.5" fixed LCD with 115K pixels.  No movie taking possible.  ISO 80 - 1600.  Here's the photo I got with it:

The PowerShot A1000IS wanted the flash too, and could have definitely used it.  It struggled between the dining light and the darker shadows.  Not a very useable photo.

Finally, my new baby - the Olympus PEN E-PM1.  This camera has interchangeable lenses - the kit lens I have is the M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 (crop factor is 2.0 so this lens would equate to a 28-84mm on a DSLR); there's 12MP for the sensor, no viewfinder (quite common for mirrorless cameras), and a fixed 3" LCD with 460K pixels.  Image stabilization (IS) is built into the body.  Some, like the Sony NEX cameras, have IS built into the lens.  Movie making can occur at 1080i60.  There's a lot more, but I'll leave it at that for now.  Here's the photo I got with it:

No problems with the Olympus.  Nice, rich colours.  Love that it was able to capture more of the room.

I love this camera.  It's just so much fun to use.  I want to have it with me all the time.  It's so easy.  So light and comfortable in my hands.  I'm very happy with my choice.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Learning More - Improving Photographs in Lightroom

I'm still hunting for a new camera.  Just when I think I've picked the one I do just a little bit more research and hesitate.

In the meantime, I got myself a simple tripod from Staples - the Slik Compact II for Digital.  It's a wonderful little tripod and I'm quite happy with it.  It comes with a little carry pouch which makes it great for taking along when you're out and about.  At $29.86 it didn't hurt either.

The other thing I bought was Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4.  I already have Adobe Photoshop Elements 10.  It's been a great program for doing basic edits on my photos, but I wanted to do a bit more and everything I read pointed me to Lightroom.  Since I work in the education field I was able to buy it for $79.98.  What does Lightroom give me?  Well, I'm still learning, but here's one thing I've just done in a few minutes.

I went from this:

To this:

I'm still learning how to do things, but I'm hoping it will give me some flexibility in improving the images I create ... whatever the camera.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Passing on the Love of Photography to Our Children

We took a day vacation this past Friday and went to the Sunshine Coast to stay with my Mom for a few days.  It was a nice, relaxing visit.  On the way back home today we stopped in at Costco to pick up some grass seed, fertilizer ... and I wanted to have a look at their cameras.  Manuel and Walter went off to look at the garden section.  Walter knew I was looking at cameras and he told Dad he wanted a camera.

After we got home and put everything away I remembered that I needed to take some photos of a bike I have.  I haven't been using it very much and a colleague and friend at work has a Nintendo DS system that she's willing to trade ... but she wants to see the bike before committing.  This would be a trade for Walter since his Leapster has about had it and the DS was something I was considering as a replacement.  Trading means we don't have to spend money on something I'm not sure will work out - the Leapster has been the perfect fit so far, but Walter is getting close to outgrowing it.  We've been considering a Leapster 2, a Nintendo DS, or an iPod Touch.  They all have their pros and cons.

Since Manuel had mentioned Walter wanting a camera I asked Walter if he'd like to take some photos while I took photos of the bike.  He was game, so I gave him the Canon PowerShot A1000IS while I took the bigger PowerShot S3IS.  I spent a few minutes explaining how to turn it on and off, how to zoom in and out, and taking the shot.

I think we have a photographer in the making.  Check this out:

That's a hard shot to take and he made a really cool photograph out of it.

My budding photographer!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Camera Hunting - Part II

Continuing on with my camera hunting ...

When I was a teenager I got my first 35mm SLR - a Chinon CS.  It was a great camera to learn all the intricacies of photography.  This was in the days of film.  You took your photos, you hoped you got it right, but you didn't know until you sent the film in to be developed.  It was a lot of money for a teenager to spend and crushing when mistakes were made and photos didn't turn out the way I had envisioned them.

Fast forward to 2003.  Manuel and I meet and fall in love.  He has a 35mm Canon ... I still have my Chinon.  In 2006 we borrow my Mom's Nikon Coolpix to take with us on a European trip.  We fall in love with digital photography.  We get our own - a Canon PowerShot S3 II.  It was incredible to not be tied to film ... to be able to snap and view immediately.  To know that the picture you had just taken wasn't a dud.  Wow!  After Walter was born we got the Canon Powershot A1000 as an additional camera - a pocket camera to have with us when we were out and about.

Still ... I missed the control of the 35mm SLR.  I just didn't want to go back in time and be tied to film.  Also, film was getting more expensive to develop.  Besides, it was just too inconvenient - you had to bring the film in and wait for it to be developed.

This brings me to the present.  I really feel that I need something better than a point & shoot (P&S).  I just can't get the right images for this blog.  I'm constantly struggling with the lighting.  I hate flash.  Of course, there are just too many choices ;)

DSLR Choices

In the DSLR arena I've focused on two models - both Nikons - the D3100 and the D5100.  The D3100 is really a beginner's entry DSLR.  It has a great guide menu that takes you through everything, yet it still allows you to go totally manual when you're ready.  The D5100 is a better camera - more controls, better features ... but it costs about $130 more.  That would almost pay for a prime lens.  The D5100 has a flip out display, art filters that can be applied while taking photos; you can even use the diorama filter while making movies ... so cool!  Yet, the D3100 takes photos just as well.  The ISO is a little lower, but still more than adequate.  Most of the art filters are there in the D3100 - you just have to apply them post-shot (the only one not included is the Selective Colour - a filter which allows you to pick a colour and have it be the only colour shown while everything else is black and white - it produces quite striking images ... still this is very likely available in Photoshop-type software ... it's just not as immediate).  The D5100 has a much larger selection of Scene Modes, including one called Food which, you guessed it, is used when taking photos of food.  For a blogger, a really useful mode.

CSC Choices

Compact System Cameras - CSC's - use a mirrorless system.  They are much smaller and lighter than a DSLR.  The price, unfortunately, is very similar (if not more) than a traditional DSLR.  The advantage?  Size.  They are more subtle when out and about - they are great for taking candidate photos.  The downside is that they generally aren't quite as good with image quality.  The more expensive ones get quite close ... but a comparably priced DSLR will likely blow it out of the water.

Which One?

I can't decide if I should take a gamble on a CSC.  The CSC would definitely be more manageable in a physical sense.  I'm more likely to take it with me and use if for everything from taking photos of Walter to taking photos of recipes that I'm trying out.  With a DLSR I'm more likely to really work at taking great photos - I'm more likely to focus on the technical.  With the CSC I'm more likely to focus on what's happening.

Which would you go for?  Why?  If you have a DSLR or CSC why did you pick it?  Do you like it or do you wish you'd picked something else?

Monday, April 08, 2013

Spring Clean Up Means Saving Money

The next two weeks in our municipality is spring clean-up.  This is an annual program where normal garbage volumes are waived and we can put out bulky items that we'd normally have to haul to the dump ourselves.

This sounds so not eco-friendly, but it's actually a great way of recycling.  The reason why is that everyone drives around looking for things they need.  What's one person's trash is another person's treasure.  We put out the old patio set that the previous owners left behind.  It was gone in less than half an hour!

What have I scored so far?

Four pictures ... I'm not really interested in the art - the frames are really what I'm after.  Getting frames with glass is expensive.  I'd like to hang up some of my artwork, photographs, and Walter's artwork ... but I hate spending so much money on frames.  I'll take the artwork out of these and replace them with our own works.

I also found a dresser that I'm going to use in the dining room to help coral some of Walter's art supplies, puzzles, and games.  It's not a mid-century teak piece, but it was free and in good working order.  I wiped it down with some vinegar-water-essential lemon oil mixture I use around the house to clean things and will let it dry completely.  I have some cheap dollar store wrapping paper that I'll use to cove the drawer bottoms to give it some oomph.

As you can tell the previous owner tried to embellish one of the sides with some Emily Carr style painting.  Don't worry.  I do plan to redo the whole thing at some point during the Summer months when I can work outside.

At times like these it's great to have a large truck to haul these great free finds.

I'll let you know if I find anything else.

What have you found for free recently?

Sunday, April 07, 2013

See Chip ... Chip!

Remember Chip?  I introduced him a few posts ago.  He's been earning his keep this weekend.  We had a tree that was starting to push into the foundation.  So, we got a permit to remove it and Manuel used the chainsaw to cut it down ...

... and Chip to chop it up.

Chipping bushes and trees is a great way to re-use a plant that's no longer viable in the garden.

Next up for Chip is some cedar hedging that's right up against the house.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Healthy and Delicious Chocolate Chip Cookies?!

I've been sick all week with a bad chest cold and yesterday I was finally starting to feel a bit better.  Enough that I was getting the urge to do some baking.  Naturally, I began reading some of my favourite foodie blogs - Joy the Baker had just published a recipe that immediately caught my eye - Buttered Popcorn Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Walter loves cookies, chocolate, and popcorn ... so, this cookie was a perfect match.  I printed the recipe off and immediately had to put a halt to baking - only one egg left in the house and no one felt like going out at night.  :(  Oh, well.

This morning after breakfast we went out for a bike sale event and after getting a great deal on a consignment bike for Walter ($15), we picked up some eggs on the way home.  Time to bake.

Of course, I wasn't in the mood for popping corn - it wasn't even noon - so I decided to do some switching out.  Cookies aren't meant to really rise much so I swapped out most of the flour with whole wheat flour, and instead of popcorn I used some Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes.  The end result was incredible - the dark chocolate chips had the right sweetness and the two cereals gave the cookie just the right amount of crunch and chew.  Heaven.

Here are the ingredients (based on what I did):

Unsalted Butter, room temperature - 1/2 cup
Brown Sugar, not packed - 1/2 cup (I used my home made brown sugar)
White Sugar - 1/2 cup

Egg - 1 large
Vanilla - 1 teaspoon

Whole Wheat Flour - 1 cup
All-Purpose Flour - 1/4 cup
Baking Soda - 1/2 teaspoon
Salt - 1/4 teaspoon

Dark Chocolate Chips - 1/2 cup
Rice Krispies - 1 cup
Corn Flakes - 2 cups

Before doing any mixing turn on the oven to 350F (I used the convection setting on my oven so I set the oven to 325F).  Spray two cookie sheets with Pam and set aside.

Get a good sized bowl out and use it to mix the butter with the brown and white sugars until the mix is light and creamy.  Next, add the egg and vanilla, making sure everything is well blended.  Next up is the flours, baking soda, and salt.  At this point you have a basic cookie dough.

By adding the cereals and chocolate chips you take it up a notch.

At this point it was good enough to eat without baking!  Not that I would do that ...

Spoon tablespoons of cookie dough onto the prepared cookie sheets and bake for 10-13 minutes (it only took 9 minutes in the convection oven).  Cool the cookies on a wire rack.

There were originally three cookies on this plate ...

... they were too good to remain untouched.

I call this a healthy and delicious chocolate chip cookie because of the whole wheat flour and the cereals.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Camera Hunting ... Or Just Dreaming?

I've been thinking about getting a new camera.  To be precise - a new DSLR camera.

We've got three cameras in the house.  Manuel has a Panasonic point & shoot, and I have two Canon's - both point & shoot, but the larger is bordering on DSLR land in that it allows me to manually adjust aperture, time, ISO, white balance, etc.  Still, it only has one built in zoom lens - a 6.0 - 72.00 mm 2.7-3.5 USM Canon zoom lens.  This camera (PowerShot S3 IS) has served me reasonably well.  Before it I had a true 35mm camera that I almost exclusively used in manual mode.  Since moving to the digital world of photography I've been making do with less.  The trade-off has been the instant access to photographs, not having to wait for processing, being able to delete bad photos, and keeping and sharing the good ones.

Where I find it most challenging is taking interior shots.  I know that it's not the camera that makes the photographer better, but the technics that the photographer hones over time.  I get that.  And that's probably what's been making me hesitate about this yearning for a new camera.  It's a lot of money.  No matter how I slice it, I can easily spend $500 or more on a new system.

I'm wondering if I should just get a new tripod and work with that for a bit (the old one got toddler-handled some time ago and important pieces are missing).  I've also been looking at refurbished cameras - of course, when I do this I push the limits and look at bigger and better systems since I'm "saving" all that money.

What would you do?  Work with what you have or go wild and splurge on a new camera?

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Meet Chip

Meet Chip, our latest addition.

We found him on Craigslist.

It all started when Manuel began working in the garden.  We had a number of bushes and trees that were either dead, dying, gone too leggy, or were simply not right for the area.  He's been doing a lot of pruning, cutting, and digging to tidy things up, and that's left us with a lot of trimmings to deal with.

What to do with all those trimmings?  Manuel asked me to check online to see how much it would cost to get someone in to chip everything.  Too much!  Then I looked into renting a chipper so that we could do the work ourselves - nearly $300 a day - ouch.  So ... I began looking on Craigslist.  Chipper gets you a lot of golf clubs :) ... but in between there were wood chippers to be had.  From the enormously expensive (think 10-20K) to the more reasonably priced.  I found two - one in Vancouver at $400 and one in Langley at $450.  Since the one in Vancouver was on our way home we checked it out first.  It wasn't too bad, but Manuel was hoping for a North American made machine with a bigger engine.  After he dropped us off at home he drove out to Langley.  And there was Chip - big, red, and born in the USA.  Manuel got him for $400.

$400 is just slightly over a days worth of renting a chipper.  Since we've likely got several days worth of chipping this is so much cheaper.  And after we've done all our chipping we can likely sell Chip and get our money back - not bad for a few minutes work on Google :)

Monday, April 01, 2013

Easter and Family

Easter is a time to visit the family farm, to play outside in the warm Okanagan sunlight, and have a feast at a long, long table with lots of children and adults all catching up with each other.

Manuel helped his Mom by pruning the cherry, quince, and peach trees.

Walter protected us ...

... and took breaks by swinging on an old tire swing.

I took time to photograph anything and everything that caught my eye - from the first blossoms of the year ...

... to shavings in the green house.

I love this time of year.