A tale of three cameras and selling out

•3 April, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Gather round, dear friends. Draw near and hear a tale of a passion and pain, of love and loss.  This is my story.

My first love, at the age of fifteen, was a simple Samsung compact camera. She took a beautiful picture. While the world might have said she was inferior, cheap and nasty, I had eyes only for her. Together we were a team that made my art teacher go “Oh, that’s interesting.” But on one fateful day, while trekking across waterlogged wilds she disappeared, probably lost during a poorly thought out jump across a stream. To this day, I still mourn her loss as my first and favourite camera.

Months later my parents introduced me to a cheap and cheerful 7MP Medion, bought home from the small local supermarket. Yes, she did the job, but never as well. She never had the same charm. Photos with her lacked spark. As I got older I started to appreciate more and more what I was missing. She couldn’t even do aperture priority. I’m sure she wanted to, but it was never an option. Long story short, my interest in photography waned. The relationship never really ended, we just drifted apart. I do feel guilty that I never loved her more but now she just sits there hidden away, gathering dust and longing to once again feel needed.

Life went on and I got a job. Most my earnings disappeared into my living costs or savings, but over time a little cloud of extra cash started to accumulate. My long-dormant inner-photographer reared its head and sniffed the winds of opportunity. I knew I would never have enough to court a DSLR, but after lots of searching I discovered the bridge class, the haunt of models half way between compacts and DSLRs. After lots of research I found a big Fujifilm lass with 12x zoom and I knew she was the best I could hope for. She really inspired me to get back into photography with the full range of control and extremely versatile specs. One moment she’s in my face, looking deep into my eye and capturing its intricacy and the next she’s gazing off into the distance taking in some far-off complexity. There was a lot to love about her, but over time it became clear she wasn’t the quickest cheetah in the savannah. When the light dimmed, she got clumsy. With her poor performance and my shaky hands, I began spewing out slightly-to-massively blurry images. It was such a shame. There was so much to like about her.

I know I can still do better.

If I were to name three things that I really enjoyed, they would be tech, hiking and photography. My love of tech should be obvious from this blog. Hiking is just about the only way I can tolerate keeping fit (and while I would love to be able to free run, I’m far too lazy). Photography is the only art form that keeps me interested. I just have a habit of browsing the internet or a flicking through a magazine and seeing pictures and going gasping in awe. I wouldn’t say I’m a particularly good photographer myself. In fact most of my images are decidedly blah. I do occasionally see something with huge potential, but it’s frustrating not having the proper tools to capture the moment and do it justice. I know there is more to this art than just a fancy device, but there are times when I have definitely been held back by it.

I am now at the point where I can afford a DSLR. Whether I can justify it is another matter. But if my images are so blah, should I be working towards being a better photographer rather than having the best equipment? It is certainly possible to get good shots out of naff equipment – just ask pro ‘togs Carsten Schael and Hermann Lee, who recently participated in DigitalRevTV’s “Pro Photographer, Cheap Camera Challenge” and both got excellent results.

Speaking of DigitalRevTV, it’s a fantastic series of videos. I see it as a sort-of Top Gear of the camera world. It’s irreverent at times and has annoyed people by smashing up good photography equipment, but it’s usually quite funny and definitely informative. I like that they actually review stuff in the field rather than just presenting pages and pages of clinical stats and test results as many other review sites do. It’s interesting to see passionate people (well one passionate guy really) just trying his best to get the most out of the product. Even if I don’t buy myself a DSLR, I’ll happily keep watching the videos as they are so entertaining. If I do choose to buy one, DigitalRev.com, the site that spawned the YouTube channel, is an insanely cheap photography store than beats even the usually-reliable Amazon in price.

I’m currently leaning towards buying one. I’m not going to until September/October when I’ve guaranteed the student finance I’m going to get will be enough to get me by. I would love a Nikon D7000, an enthusiast’s model currently costing £830 body-only from DigitalRev. It’s a lot of money, yes, but there’s a lot of camera for that money. Critically, it’s supposed to be a beast in low light, the big problem area for me.

This desire of course comes after hours and hours of scouring the web. The oft-mentioned DigitalRev has been helpful, as has dpreview.com, the site I was thinking of when I mentioned “presenting pages and pages of clinical stats and test results.” It is useful to have a more technical (read: serious) review.

Beginning my selling-out in 3… 2… 1:

Another site that I was ecstatic to discover was snapsort.com. It allows direct side-by-side comparisons of a myriad of different cameras, highlighting what is particularly good or bad. It’s particularly helpful that the differences are explained – apparently an extra 1.3 bits of colour depth in the Nikon D7000 over the Canon 60D equates to 2.5x as many colours (how one can get a fraction of a bit – a fraction of a one or zero – is beyond me)! Obviously this has been useful in me learning about that various cameras I could invest in.

The values are typically taken directly from the spec sheets though, and no comment is ever made about the accuracy or quality of the different features so everything needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Price is of course one of the more fallible pieces of data they quote, since they only scour a few sites for the latest costs. For a while the prices were massively skewed as they included an incredibly dubious looking site called shutterphoto – this has now disappeared from the listings so maybe they clocked on to the fact that it was quite likely too good to be true.

They’ve also devised a scoring system to help the comparisons, but the system strikes me as a bit arbitrary. I’d be interested to know how the different weightings are calculated. It is also a bit annoying that the D7000 is rated as an entry-level DSLR so is compared very unfavourably in terms of size, weight and cost, and comes out easily on top for the more technical aspects. It’s by no means the end of the world and the site is flexible enough to allow me to compare across-categories, but I’m never sure if any of the scoring is affected by it being in the wrong category.

All in all though it is another useful tool in my arsenal for determining what I should buy, if anything at all.

It would be really neat if instead of me having to justify my purchase of a DSLR, one would just fall into my arms. And conveniently there is a small chance that might happen. The ulterior motive of this post, and the reason for all this selling out, is that snapsort is holding a competition where bloggers review their site and they randomly pick one of the review writers to win a Nikon D3100. While it’s not as good a camera as the D7000, it would still be sweet, and it would certainly solve my conundrum (and free up the 800-odd quid that was going to be spend on a camera to be spent on lenses instead – huzzah!). So snapsort, if you’re reading this, I know your competition is random but I hope my little sob story and these puppy-dog eyes I’m giving you now *puppy-dog stare* encourage you to fix the system in my favour.

And thus ends my selling out.

All things considered, the solution should really be for me just to be more inventive and learn to shoot better. I certainly don’t need a super-fancy camera. But with my aforementioned love of tech, boy do I want one.

Random Facts

•28 November, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I just hit 500 views for this blog.  After 2-and-a-bit years.  That’s not impressive.

Also, I bought some new, fairly decent monitors for a computer I built (which may if I’m enthusiastic get its own blog post), and I discovered the background of my blog is a dark brown, not black as I thought for the aforementioned 2-and-a-bit years of this blog’s history.  You probably knew this already.  It was a revelation to me, anyway.  The good thing is I still like it.

 

Yes, I’m procrastinating.  I have an impossible worksheet to do for tomorrow and it’s, well, impossible.

Thoughts on cuts

•25 November, 2010 • 3 Comments

I had the opportunity last night to stand outside Oxford’s magnificent Radcliffe Camera.

 

The Radcliffe Camera

Image by DAVID ILIFF

This would be a more marvellous statement if I didn’t live in Oxford.  What bought me there was the student protests that have sparked across the length of the country regarding the cuts to education and the increases to fees.  Some of those protesters have holed up in this building and are making a stand for what they believe in.  Good for them, I say.  We’re far too English in our begrudging acceptance of what comes these days.

It was really interesting being able to talk to both protesters and police.

The policeman who we spoke to most was lamenting about how ineffectual occupations like this actually are, and pointed at Green Peace as a good model for effective complaint.  Intriguingly enough, the guy agreed with the protesters, and thought that education cuts weren’t the best way forward.  It makes you wonder how many riot police actually share the same mind as those who are pelting them with projectiles.  He was also of the opinion that the national debt could be sorted by just chasing down the self-employed – those who have a salary equal to the personal allowance and received the rest of their fat paycheck putting everything on expenses and taking the much less expensive tax applied to business.  The counter argument is that as you start cracking down on the businessmen who evade taxes in such a way they all flee abroad  and we lose the little tax they do pay.

I had a conversation with a couple of protesters who had to leave because they had work to do.  They were disappointed but told some great stories from the inside.  They were the last that were planning on leaving that evening; everyone else had a free next day (or were just ignoring any commitments) and were getting comfy and settling in for the night.  One this I did respect about them is they weren’t in there to inconvenience any of the other students – they had issued a statement welcoming those who wanted to do work, saying there was a whole area of the library that was free for use and stating that if they weren’t allowed in it was the police or the university that had made that decision.

I do wonder if leaving the occupation did weaken their protest.  Does conceding because of work or because they wanted to go home and have dinner, as happened in the case of some other people I was talking to, indicate these people aren’t so passionate about the subject as they would make out.  Certainly the pair who left to get dinner were only there “because its fun,” and knowing that it does strip any value from their opinion.    I feel differently about those who left to work – I think it is good that they respect the education they are trying to protect and still want to make the most of it while still making a stand.

Personally, I’m not opposed to higher fees.  I am think that we are benefiting from fantastic education so we should pay for it.  I only think it will work provided the government can back it up with an appropriate loan (which it is pledging to do) and keeps the existing maintenance support.  Paying back the loans shouldn’t really be an issue as  it is only a small fraction of our income above a high threshold.  The maintenance grants and loans are what are really important as they are what we have to live off while we are here, when we have minimal income.

I am not opposed to paying £6000 for my education.  This is coming from someone taking a four-year course, from someone who doesn’t (and wouldn’t) receive money from their parents in support.  I think I would even begrudgingly accept the £9000 figure.  I am at one of the top education establishments in the world, and I accept that this comes at a price.  I do get a lot of money in grants (i.e. non-repayable money) both from the student loans company and from the government, and this makes me a lot more comfortable.  One of the big counter-arguments is high fees discourage those from a poorer background, but I can’t say being from a poor background has factored into my equations, and I would hazard a guess that if the government stresses how much support is available (and encourages unis to give more support as well) this problem can be avoided.

I can’t say I’d appreciate unlimited fees.  The UK doesn’t have the correct ecosystem for it.  I often hear people claiming  America has much more expensive education and they survive, but they fail to recognise that the US has lower taxes than we do and that US parents save for their kids’ whole lives to pay for their education.  We don’t have parents with tens of thousands of pounds of savings to spend on sending us to the better education establishments.  However, a friend of mine has the theory that the labour government commissioned the Browne Review knowing it would recommend uncapped fees so it could swoop in and charge a more reasonable figure and seem like the good guys.  It sort of backfired by the labour government loosing power, but the tories did a similar thing anyway.  His point is that unlimited fees were never on the cards, and I guess that is reasonable.

Regarding the cuts, I’m not particularly fussed about the 40% cuts to education that is supposed to manifest itself in a near-100% cut in arts subjects.  This is mainly because I’m an engineer, safely protected by the S.T.E.M. umbrella of useful subjects.  Call me narrow-minded, but I do find it hard to justify some of the arts subject funding myself.  I asked an english student friend what she wanted to do with herself and her degree and she really didn’t have a clue, and was considering setting up a bakery.  OK, I don’t think all arts subjects should instantly loose funding, that is extreme, but there is a case for how useful the various subjects are.

There are a lot of subjects that don’t really need to exist in the first places.  Anything with studies in the title, anything that has sprung into existence in the past five years, anything that is the invention of any old polytechnic-turned-university has to really question it’s reason for being.  Lady Gaga Studies anyone?  Most of these are vocational anyway.  I think there should be a better, more accessible system of internships and apprenticeships.  People looking at the more vocational degrees would probably enjoy it more anyway.  And there is something to be said for a prospective film studies student just investing £2000 or so in a decent video camera and just getting out there and making short films.   It’s cheaper than the £18000 for three years of tuition fees and they actually have something of physical value to show for it.  Uni isn’t the best solution for everyone.

I know it’s not as simple as I make out.  I know I’ve probably offended a few people by implying their subject is useless.  I don’t know all the facts, and I do a good job at having really half-baked opinions, so I apologise if that is the case.  And anyway, I’m not a politician, I’m an engineer.  I don’t need to have opinions, I just solve problems.

And that’s enough politics and current affairs for a good long time.

How’s your lemonade?

•24 August, 2010 • Leave a Comment

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, or so people say.

I disagree – if life gives you lemons, switch the ‘l’ and ‘m’ around and make melonade, which sounds awesome and should totally exist.  Or more realisable, make lemon cheesecake, which is equally awesome and actually possible.

Though seriously, the spirit of that age-old-adage is to make the most of what life throws at you.  That is all well and good, but how often do we actually look back and think about what we have done with life’s lemons?

I spent a good chunk of the last year in Cambridge working for a respectable technology firm, programming, testing and being generally nerdy.  I am ridiculously under-qualified for the industry, lacking any form of degree whatsoever, so this was mainly a work-experience exercise for me so that when I do have the relevant letters behind my name I can make the most of them.

But did I make the most of the year just gone?  Sure it was good fun.  Sure I had a laugh and made some new friends.  I can’t help but feel though that I could have done more, that I should have done more.  I spent a silly amount of company time on the internet.  OK, I had little else to do during that time, but I should have found work to do rather than sitting back, wasting away the precious seconds that I had there.  I didn’t apply myself quite as much as I could have done while working, choosing the path of least resistance at times instead of the best option or cutting corners that I deemed unnecessary on occasion.   All in all, I learnt a lot and gained a reasonable reputation among my peers, but I could have done so much more.

I just spent a week at a big Christian festival, Soul Survivor, where I was stewarding.  It was a challenging week, especially for someone as introverted and unimposing as myself.  There was so much interaction with other people, often interaction that involved stopping people from doing stupid things.  It certainly challenged my communication skills and plumbed the depths of my patience.

In retrospect, I did the work I was tasked with, to the best of my ability (mistakes are inevitable, given my lack of experience), but I never volunteered to do any other work.   Should I have?  Well, I am representing God, The Most High, here and I should be approaching each and every task with an utterly servant-hearted attitude, so in hindsight yes I should be more eager to go above and beyond the basics.

Soul Survivor also challenged me on a different note.  There is a particular venue, one that I despise with particular passion, that I managed to get dragged into twice this past week.  That venue, as I’m sure some readers who know me will have already guessed, is Mr. Boogies, the 70’s-style, cheesy disco.  Disco means dancing.  I don’t dance.  But strangely enough it was my strongest regret while on the journey home after the event.  I realise now I could have fired up the social aspect of the week to a whole new level had I just dropped my inhibitions and loosened up.  That is easier said than done of course.  I wouldn’t know where to start as far as dancing goes, and my complete lack of coordination creates a constant worry that I might break myself or some poor soul nearby with my inept flailing.  I have been known on occasion to jump around at a gig if I feel particularly in to it, and even with some simple, repetitive movement along the vertical axis (in theory at least) I still manage to collapse into the unfortunate people who find themselves in my immediate vicinity.  Adding  arm movement and extra dimensions of leg movement  seems to be a recipe for disaster.  And yet, I still wish I did.

I suppose it doesn’t help that I had set a precedent earlier in the week with my cynical capers outside some of the music venues I found myself stationed on.  I was prancing in a sarcastic manner, in a style inappropriate to the music playing, but I was prancing nonetheless.  In fact, I may even go so far to say it was enjoyable (though don’t tell anyone I said that), so why did I let things take a turn for the worst?  Surely I should have been loosening up and becoming more comfortable around my new-found companions.  Instead I was regressing, retreating to my inner shell of my comfort zone.

Despite the lack of dancing, I did have a whale of a time.  The melancholy in my musings comes from the fact I did not let things go further than they did.  I know I missed out.

So what can I learn from my retrospective spiel?  Certainly, it is important to give my all to all that I do, whether it is working in Cambridge or studying in Oxford or doing whatever life throws at me, wherever life throws it.  Not only is my own reputation in question, but also the reputation of God, who I represent in front of everyone who knows me as a Christian (and everyone should).  Also, I appreciate that I should relax a bit, and make the most of social situations, even if that means making a fool of myself and breaking other people.

So bring on Oxford and a huge workload.  Bring on Cambridge and the summer job it provides.  Bring on Soul Survivor 2011, bring on Mr Boogies, bring on the dancing.

Here’s hoping no one holds me to this.

Conficker

•3 April, 2009 • 1 Comment

I don’t know if you know, but there is a lovely computer worm terrorising the web called conficker.  It’s damn hard to detect, and has the lovely ability to shut down antivirus software and dig nice and deep into your Windows computer.

The simplest way is actually to visit this website:

Conficker Eye Chart

Hopefully you’ll be clean, but if not have a look here:

Protect Your Computer

I thought it might be worth mentioning because it is spreading so quickly

Though I run linux, so it doesn’t actually bother me!

Twitter

•20 February, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Dominic is using his laptop, trawling the web for something vaguely interesting.

Dominic is going to the toilet.

Dominic is back again, idling around the internet.

Interesting?  Not really.

I don’t get Twitter.  Supposedly people are interested in the minor ins-and-outs of my life.  But I don’t find me interesting.  I can’t see how anyone else would.

OK, so maybe if I was off in the wild, exploring the unknown and discovering all sorts of crazy new places, maybe then I’d have something worth mentioning.  But unless ‘the wild’ was the Lancashire countryside, where I might just about have enough signal to be able to post using my archaic mobile phone’s GPRS web connection and WAP browser, I’d have no way of accessing this web service to tell you all about it.

I can’t understand the hype around it.  I can’t understand how it’s exploding in popularity.  I guess it must just be one of those things that work for other people, but would never work for me, like every other social network I’ve tried or been asked to try, like every instant messenger that I’ve used for a bit but got bored of.

It’s not for me.

Right, so here’s the plan…

•24 January, 2009 • 1 Comment

Ben wants me to join in with his WriMo (which I think he should call RaWriMo, or Random Writing Month, as opposed to the NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing month, he entered last November, but that’s another story). He wants to do a 40K word novel in February, and he wants me to do the same.  It’ll be fun, apparently. Continue reading ‘Right, so here’s the plan…’