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May 26, 2008

Quick summary of the underwater shoot-out with the D80

Filed under: Philippines,Travels — stephane @ 4:17 am
Pink Anemonefish

This was the first trip underwater with a DSLR rig. Needless to say it is quite a change compared to the Olympus 5050, not only by the fact I need to carry an extra 10kg of gear containing housing, dome, ports, lenses, strobes, arms, chargers, batteries and whatever spare parts which happens to always be the one you don’t actually need.

The case (Kata OC-84) with the underwater gear was about 12-15kg while my backpack was having the laptop, the lenses (Sigma 105, Nikon 12-24, Nikon 10.5, Nikon 18-135), the D80 and the Hartenberger torch.

On the list of notable points during this trip:

  • I forgot my Inon adapters in a bag at home and realized this in Puerto Galera. Thanks to Doy and Adrien, they sent me one pair from Manila and it arrived the next day.
  • Forgot to change the auto ISO settings and only looked at the pictures after the 2nd day. It was constantly picking up ISO 1600 when shooting (low-light focus), so needless to say that most pictures are all very grainy and not quite usable with a few exceptions. I switched later to put ISO 200 as a maximum in order to get some extra stops and save strobe batteries.
  • Getting used to the DSLR viewfinder underwater despite the magnifier takes a bit of time compared to the P&S live view on the LCD. It takes a bit of trial and error to do perfect composition, in extreme macro shot sometimes you shoot what you think is perfectly composed and you’re actually off and have 1/3 full of negative space
  • The Fantasea focus light does not quite have a sufficiently large beam and sometimes on tiny dark subjects I was fighting to position the beam properly. A larger beam and also a more flexible arm would be welcome.
  • The Sigma 105 macro with an Anthias wet diopter was great. The Sigma is however a bit slow to focus and sometimes a bit hunting in low light and focus on black or very dark object is next to impossible without larger focus light (see above). The 105 was giving extra range when shooting shy medium-size objects (think small cuttlefish) and the diopter was cutting the focal distance when doing close-up macro.
  • I missed the Nikon 60mm macro. I borrowed it from Bob from time to time and it is sharp and _very_ fast to focus. Per Bob’s recommendation only buy the old lens version and not the VR one as even with the VR disabled the focus is slow. The 60mm allows very close focus and is nice for full frame fish (I cannot fit a giant frogfish into the 105 for instance)
  • Wide angle was much more difficult than anticipated and had my share of surprise between bad focus, dirty dome on the corners, dome shade badly positioned (nice curves on the corner with the 10.5mm). Only did 5 dives with wide angle. 3 dives with the 12/24 on Apo Island (deleted everything) and 2 dives with the 10.5mm on Ducomi Pier (a few keepers)
  • The 10.5mm port is now stuck into the dome and need to find a key to remove it. I broke a low-profile pad on the housing while trying to unscrew it.
  • The Nikon D80 is hyper-sensitive for sunburst and not quite useless but is far away from the Fuji S5 rendition.
  • It takes time to get used to the dive being a ‘one-lens’ type of dive. With the P&S you’re used to switch between a macro lens, a wide angle or nothing with the subjects you encounter, here you mostly have to move on or be creative in a different way. Not much you can do when you’re actually next to a large green turtle and you have the 105mm on.

I’m contemplating going back to the Philippines end of this summer (low-season) for more practice :)

April 27, 2008

Arrived in Manila… and the joy of flying Business

Filed under: Philippines,Travels — stephane @ 5:06 am

Made it without any problem to Manila..Schiphol was incredibly packed but arriving nearly 2h30 before allowed to make it without too much trouble thanks to Flying Blue Elite member. That cut the queue by at least 300m. After boarding, I had a pleasant surprise as an hostess proposed me to move to business class. I suspect it was due to overbooking so they just gave me a business class seat and gave my seat to someone else.
– “Excuse me, are you Mr Bailliez”
– “Yes indeed”
– “Do you mind changing your seat and take a seat in Business Class instead ?”
– “Absolutely not !”

I’m not going to decline a 170-degree recline seat for a 12-hour flight ! :-)

April 26, 2008

Underwater Photography Shoot-Out – Philippines

Filed under: Philippines,Software — stephane @ 12:24 am

I’m leaving tomorrow to the Philippines for a ‘Grand Slam’. I’m joining some friends for an underwater photography shoot-out from April 29th to May 24th. (yay !)

I’m bringing a decent amount of new underwater photography gear including Ikelite housing for my D80, a 8″ dome for wide angle (12-24 and 10.5mm), macro 105mm with woody diopter and all necessary ports. That will be the first time underwater with it. I’ll try not to flood it…

On the diving gear side, I’m bringing an Aqualung Kronos which has an exhaust deflector on the side and can be handy for photography (assertion to be verified really). I got tired of the Scubapro MK16/R395 which never was that great to me as I felt it was too hard to breath despite tuning and revision at the labs. (not noticeable at the beginning but after 4-5 dives a day for a week or so, you feel it.)

Anyway, off to Manila tomorrow. :)

April 5, 2008

A bank note worth $US0.00001

Filed under: Business,Software,Zimbabwe — stephane @ 10:44 pm

In May 2003, I was in Zimbawe for a couple of days. In 2 days the black market rate for $1US went from 1,200ZW to 1,600ZW.
In September 2007, official rate was US$1 for ZW$30,000 while black market was around ZW$600,000
On April 4, 2008, Zimbawe issued a new ZW$50,000,000 note worth approximately US$1 in the black market.

I kept as a souvenir a ZW$500 note from 2003. So now it’s worth $US0.00001

And this is with the US dollar worth not much. (0.637€)

March 14, 2008

GPS, Geotagging, Lightroom and Flickr

Filed under: Tanzania,Travels — stephane @ 12:56 am

I’m still in the process of reviewing pictures from Tanzania and have gone past the geotagging part. I have uploaded a few more on Flickr, and you can see what the result on it on the Flickr map.

The Yahoo! Satellite pictures are of terrible quality but still it’s pretty nice. If you want to be more fancy you can use Google Earth via the KML feed.

Burchell's zebra

I’ll give a bit more details on how I’m doing things. It’s far from optimal and there’s still and long way to go, but tools are getting there and my workflow will learn from this.

In January, in anticipation of the trip, I bought a Super Trackstick GPS data logger. The objective was to use it to log waypoints without having to bother much about batteries as it could supposedly last several weeks due to a motion sensor and configurable intervals and wobble. I had a bit of a trouble actually locking on GPS signals while in the Netherlands (which is not exactly known for its tall buildings and mountain-filled landscape) but I took it on the trip.

The Kilimanjaro hike can be classified as mostly a failure in term of waypoints collection. I could get GPS locks fairly easily, but due to my lack of use with the Trackstick and my fear it would suck a massive amount of batteries, what I did was actually to switch it on and off at interesting points and when taking pictures (and when I did not forget about it).

It was badly configured so there are no chance I could keep the bugger running for 7-days, the settings I had would have filled the 4MB memory in about 2 to 3 days.

The TrackStick eats batteries like popcorn in some occasion (ie: sometimes it seems to lock and drain batteries faster than you can blink). In any case, I got about 550 waypoints in 6 days and it died before reaching the summit so I got 0 waypoints on the last ascent. I was busy enough ascending and putting one foot after the other.

Problem with the TrackStick is also that once you’re in the wild, forget about changing the settings, you’re stuck with it as you need your laptop and the software to reconfigure it. (Well you could bring your laptop on the mountain and a solar panel, but I’m not yet in that camp)

When I got back to town and before going on a safari, I set it to saving mode and log every 15s and bought a set of new alkaline batteries. (I naively thought that 8 aaa 1000mAh rechargeable batteries would be enough so I did not bring the charger).

During the road trip and the whole safari, I had generally no problem getting a lock, I managed to get about 3500 GPS waypoints per day (that’s a lot of data and is actually too much) and most pictures do have an associated GPS waypoint within an acceptable range. I used a 300s maximum time difference with no interpolation (closest point).

The one that don’t actually have any match are when the GPS was not running (early morning, late evening) but those could be set manually as they are well-known location (camp or hotel location, etc..)

A bit of a warning when doing the geotagging though, timezone is not recorded on EXIF and I always set the camera to local time. GPS time is recorded on UTC so my pictures do have a +3 offset.

For geotagging, I googled around and tried GPicSync which is basic but did the job very well (like many similar tools, it’s using exiftool behind the hood, so forking a process per image is not exactly blazingly fast). I converted the trackstick logfiles to GPX format and applied the corresponding one to the appropriate folders (I classify pictures by day – so each folder is named ‘yyyy-mm-dd’).

When you need to geotag pictures one by one, though, it falls short. So what I did with the one that don’t have any waypoint was to use geosetter, save the GPS template for the known GPS coordinates and apply it to the ‘missing’ pictures.

I tried the LightRoom geotag plugin but it failed all over the place and was not consistent in its execution so I gave up for that.

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