Wednesday, September 29, 2010

New Toy -- Panasonic GF1

Picked up a used GF1 from Uwe today.   I have known Uwe for years from buying/selling on Craigslist.  He's a super nice guy who also enjoy old, manual focus lenses.

Now, I really do not need the GF1.  It's just more evidence that I am a real incurable gears addict.  Part of the reason was that my son Ryan has been nagging me to get a camera that can do HD movie, since I no longer have the T2i or the 7D.  Another reason was that I want to see if it can replace my G1, so that I don't have to carry a larger camera.  The answer is probably a "No".

It's awkward to hold the GF1, especially if you have larger/long lenses.  This a camera not suitable for manual focus lenses, unless you put it on tripod.  The high-res viewfinder and articulated LCD screen on the G1 is much much better for this purpose.  The major strength I see with this camera, is to use with pancake lenses, especially the 20mm f1.7, which unfortunately I do not have.

The movie is quite respectable.  Very high quality video and the continuous focusing in video is a real plus.  The speed of focus is a magnitude faster than the T2i/7D, even with the slow kit lens in dim light. I think I will use this camera more for video clips than taking pictures. 

The image quality is similar to the G1 -- very good in low ISO but falls apart after ISO 400.  I will use ISO 800 in emergency, but anything higher than that is too noisy.

Overall, it's a nice little camera that needs some nice small AF pancakes.

Flower -- GF1 & Canon FD 50mm f1.4 SSC at f1.4. Click to enlarge.

Dead Leaf - GF1 & Canon FD 50mm f1.4 SSC. Click to enlarge.

Bridge - GF1 & Canon FD 50mm f1.4 SSC. Click to enlarge.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The New Jimmy Simpson Recreation Centre

For many years, my kids have been going to Jimmy Simpson Recreation Centre for swimming, summer camp, and other activities.  This community centre has served the community well over the many years but it needed some upgrades and fixes.  So, for most of last year, it was closed for renovation.  The pool filtration system was replaced, solar water heaters installed, new lighting system for both the gym and the pool, and a fresh new coat of paint, among the many upgrades.

My kids started the swimming team today at Jimmy Simpson and I had a chance to check it out.  It is now indeed very nice.  The lighting in the pool is now 2.5 times brighter before, but with a much more energy saving light source.  This would be a much better environment for pictures and video if competition is held here.  I haven't looked at all the upgrades at the centre, but what I saw was very nicely done.  Even the landscaping outside looks much better than before.

Flower outside Jimmy Simpson -- G1 & JML 50mm f0.95 TV Lens.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hello Again, Brantford!

Once again we drove to Brantford yesterday for the Guitar Hero Competition.  This time, the Gardiner Express Way was not closed, but it took just as long to get there as last time.  Traffic in Toronto is horrid. We arrived in Brantford's Harmony Square, where the competition was hosted, with barely a few minutes to spare.

The Harmony Square is relatively new.  According the Syd Bolton, founder and curator of the PC Museum in Brantford, and the main organizer of this event, the place was a mess before the Square.  I like the way Harmony Square is designed.  It is surrounded by a mix of residential and commercial spaces.  In the winter, the Square becomes a skating rink.  There are lots of sitting areas all around, compared to the Nathan Philip Square in Toronto, where sitting benches are scarce.  I like it a lot.

One thing I noticed about the streets of Brantford, is the lack of parking meters.  There is a two hour parking limit for most parking spaces.  I was actually looking for a parking meter, as I have had my share of the parking tickets lately.  In Toronto, the meter-maids will be right at your vehicle 2 minutes after your meter (ticket) expires.  Refreshing!

Another thing I felt warmly was the hospitality of the Brantford people.  Very friendly and we felt very welcomed.

The local band KGB provided amazing performances of some great music.  The sound system was first rate.

The actual competition was long, started from 2pm until 11:30pm.  The kids were tired, and the sudden cold temperature didn't help.  We had to shop at the local mall and got some clothing for the kids as we didn't bring enough warm clothes.  It was great fun though.  There were four age groups: 5-10 years, 11-15 years, 16-20 years, and 21 years or older.  The winner of each age group wins a $200 gift certificate, and the person who wins all age groups wins $1000 cash.

William won first place in his age group, and won $200 gift card at a local games store.  Ryan got eliminated and couldn't advance to the semi finals.  There were so many great players in this age group and it was tough to get to the finals.  In the final grant prize round, William played against Justin Reilley from the 21+ age group.  Justin was the runner up of last years grant prize winner and is an amazing player.  He proved to be too skillful for William, who put up with a good fight and got lots of cheering from the crowds.

At the end, it was Sean Gallea, last year's grant prize winner, and Justin Reilley, last year's runner up, dueled for the grant prize.  It was a very close match, but Sean Gallea edged out Justin slightly and took home the grant prize once again.

I must say that I have never seen so many great players playing in one event.  These guys are world class players.  Watching them played against each other, from the young age group to the oldest, was a treat to the senses.  I can't wait for next year's competition.

For more pictures than listed below, please click here to see more.

[Update September 27, 2010] The Guitar Hero Competition web site posted a video coverage of the the event.

Harmony Square -- 1D IIn & 16-35mm f2.8L. Click to enlarge.

The KGB Band performing -- 1D IIn & EF 200mm f1.8L @ f2. Click to enlarge.

Commodore 64, a classic never gets old -- 1D IIn & EF 16-35mm f2.8L II. Click to enlarge.

William at the elimination round -- 1D IIn & EF 16-35mm f2.8L II, click to enlarge.
Ryan at the elimination round -- 1D IIn & EF 16-35mm f2.8L II. Click to enlarge.

The official video recorder -- 1D IIn & EF 85mm f1.2L.

Sean Gallea, two time grant prize winner -- 1D IIn & EF 85mm f1.2L. click to enlarge.

William Interviewed by local Roger's TV -- 1D IIn & EF 16-35mm f2.8L II. Click to enlarge.

Syd Bolton interviewed by local TV -- 1D IIn & Ef 85mm f1.2 @ f1.2. Click to enlarge.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Premium Price for Third Rate Service

Now that most of my car's repair/services have been tended to, except the timing belt which still need to be replaced, I have taken a look at this whole fiasco with my repairs at the Toyota Dealership and found that two of the jobs done on my car are horrible.

Let's go back to the trunk door handle replacement, which I mentioned here.  Few days ago I noticed a wire sticking out from the back panel after they replace the door handle.  See picture below:

Exposed Wire after the door handle replacement. Click to see larger picture.

Yesterday, I noticed the cover plate of the window switches felt a bit funny -- there is a gap in one of the corners.  Looks like after they replace the glass in the door, they did not put in the cover plate properly.  See picture below:

The Gap. Click to see larger picture.

The other three corners are nice and flush, but this one corner sticks out.

I understand these are cosmetic issues, but just think.  This is the part of the job that I can see, how would I know how bad on the part of the job that I can't see?  This clearly shows how little attention they paid to details.

I keep hearing the Toyota ads on TV and radio, claiming that "We service your Toyota the way we built it."  Sorry, if this is the way you built your cars, I do not want to buy one.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


William - 1D IIn & EF 85mm f1.2L.

The 85mm f1.2L remains one of my favourite lens of all times.  True that the lens focuses slower than most other Canon lenses, because the physical glass elements are huge, but you can still use it for some fast moving pictures.  The 85mm f1.2L is one of those lenses that keeps me in the Canon camp, despite my disappointments with their recent crop of cameras with a sensor that simply does not measure up to Canon's usual clean and sharp image quality.  If the next generation of sensors continue to be like this, I AM going to go with others that offers better quality.  Pixel count is not everything.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Underdogs

Two camera companies I have a great deal of respect for, are Sigma and Fujifilm.  Specifically, Sigma's Foveon sensor and Fuji's Super CCD sensor, which are only used in their own cameras.  Sometimes I wonder if they even recoup their R&D costs from selling cameras with their sensors, as they are very niche products that you seldom sell anyone else use.  I did own an Sigma SD-10 briefly, but the quirky camera was so early 90s -- slow, unresponsive, and horrible LCD screen.  But, you have to respect their stubbornness, persistence, and the never give up attitude.  I really want to see them succeed, and one day produce a camera that is just right, and people will beat down the doors to buy them.  So far, this might be becoming true.

First, Fuji announced the X100 retro fix lens rangefinder digital with a large sensor, a camera similar to that of Sigma's DP1 large sensor compact.  No, the DP1 (or the DP2) is no where as beautiful in design as the X100, but both companies are thinking along the same line: a compact large sensor fix lens camera for people who want small size, yet which can produce high quality images.  The rumored $1000 price tag of the X100 will ignite the market, and I don't think they can make enough to satisfy the initial demand.  I can see other players jumping into this camera segment.  Nikon and Canon both made rangefinder cameras before, and the most logical next company to introduce such a camera is Cosina.  I would love to see a digital version of the Nikon SP or S2, even a fixed lens model will do or the digital Zeiss Ikon.

Sigma also introduced the SD1 flagship DSLR with a 15x3 MP Foveon sensor.  In the past, the 5MP low resolution of the Foveon sensor was a huge drawback for most people.  As good as the Foveon sensor was, 5MP was just not enough.  Now, at 15MP, this sensor will satisfy a majority of the people, if the image quality is competitive with today's Bayer sensors.  The camera body looks nice, and I am sure a lot of improvements have been made to it.

If the Fuji X100 sells for $1000, I will buy one.  It will be my carry everywhere camera and I can see myself using it a lot.  As for the Sigma, I can hear the Foveon fanatics weeping in joy already, but it's just not my cup of tea, unless it's in a body similar to the X100, or Nikon SP, or the Zeiss Ikon.

William -- Panasonic G1 & JML 50mm f0.95 @ f0.95.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fuji X100 - The Arrival of DMD?

Shortly after the Fuji X-100 was announced, the world of photography has gone nuts.  All major photo sites and forums are talking about it, and almost gets universal praise. Why did camera manufacturers take this long to come with something that resonates with so many, including me, who never liked rangefinders.

Barring the high prices, this camera will sell like hotcakes, but I am afraid the initial price will be too expensive for most people.  Rumor suggest that the initial price will be something like $1500-$1700, and that's very close to the Leica X-1 territory.  True, the Epson RD-1 was something like $3500 at introduction, which did not include a lens, but has interchangeable mounts.  I think a price of $900-$1000 is reasonable.  Look at it this way: how much does a very good 35mm f2 lens cost these days?  About $300-$400, and that's not counting the Leica.

I can see why a camera like this ignites a fire in so many, especially the older generations who owned film rangefinder cameras before.  It's pocketable, behaves like a rangefinder, with expected very high image quality.  But, can it be the Decisive Moment Digital (DMD)?  If the focusing is fast, and shutter lag is fast like a film version, I think there is a good chance the X-100 is very close to be one.  There are so many things done right about this camera: 12MP, small but fast 35mm f2 equivalent lens, optical viewfinder (and tis one has both OVF and EVF), excellent image quality, analog knobs, and a nice retro style.

Can't wait for the review of the production camera.  If the price comes out to be close the the GF1, then I can already hear the angels sing!

Lines -- G1 & Kit Lens.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Don River at Lakeshore -- G1 & Kit Lens. Click to enlarge.

I think the G1 has the best implementation of black and white filters.  I can't convert from RAW into anything even close to the Dynamic B&W filter.  I wish cameras would have more film emulation filters built-in -- Tri-X, Velvia, Portra, RVP, or whatever your favourite film is.

As I have said before, the kit lens that came with the original G1 is an outstanding lens.  Very sharp and the IS is effective.  The only downside I can see, other than the slow maximum aperture, is the inherent distortion.  If you shoot jpeg, or process the RAW file in Photoshop/Lightroom, the images are automatically distortion corrected. I can't help but feel that there is a cost to the correction.  Image quality must be affected.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

PC Museum in Brantford

We drove the kids all the way to Brantford for a Guitar Hero Competition tryout today.  The only highway from downtown to Brantford, the Gardiner Expressway was closed, so it took a LONG time to get out of the city.  This was the first time we were going there.  Brantford has a population of about 91,000, and it is known as the telephone city.  Alexander Graham Bell, who was a resident of Brantford, made the first long distance call from Brantford to Paris, Ontario, in 1876.  Brantford is also known for another famous person -- Wayne Gretzky the Great One.

The competition tryout was hosted in the garage and second floor of the Personal Computer Museum. The tryout turned out very uneventful.  Both Ryan and William qualified for the final next Saturday, but what was worth the trip was the Personal Computer Museum.  Man, did that bring back memories and I feel nostalgia.  It has all the Commodore computers I ever owned, from the Vic-20, C-64, to the Amiga with a Sidecar!  Of course the museum is not just about Commodore computers.  You can find the Timex Sinclars, Ataris, KayPro (the first portable computer?), and Apple.  Even the very short lived Coleco Adam was there.

The museum also houses a huge collection of magazines, software and other artifacts.  There is a display case with some items from Jim Butterfield.  Now, who can forget Jim Butterfield, the Commodore Guru extraordinaire?  I remember learning 6502 assembly language from his articles from the Transactor, Compute!, and other magazines.  Never heard of assembly language?  It was the only way to program when all you have is 3.5K of RAM to do your magic.  Assembly language can help you squeeze out the last byte of your valuable RAM.

If you ever in Brantford, check and see if the museum is open.  It's free (but donation is accepted) and well worth the trip.

Many old computers are running -- 1D IIn & EF 35mm f1.4. Click to enlarge.

My very first computer, the Vic-20 -- 1D IIn & EF 35mm f1.4L. Click to enlarge.

This is the exact setup as my first "real" computer -- 1D IIn & EF 35mm f1.4L. Click to enlarge.

Oops. Almost forgot, the Guitar Hero Competition Tryout. Click to enlarge.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Micro 4/3 lens Disappointment

It has been two years since the first Micro 4/3 camera, the Panasonic G1, was introduced.  Quite a few lenses have been made for this format, but where are the small and fast primes, except the 20mm f1.7?  The potential for very small and fast primes for Micro 4/3 is there.  If they want to, it's not difficult to create 25mm f0.95, or 50mm f0.95 and still keep it relatively small.  So, where is the 7mm f2, 12mm f1.4, 25mm f1.2 and 50mm f1.0?  Instead, we are bombarded with uber long zooms with aperture as small as a pin hole.  Look at the Olympus 75-300mm f4.8-6.7!

Add to this frustration is the lack of truly wide angles.  OK there is the Panasonic 7-14mm f4, but it's priced to the wazoo at $1500. It's kind of insane for an f4 lens.

The only thing that keeps me interested in the M4/3 is that I can mount cine lens on it, but the NEX is looking might good right now.

William -- G1 & JML 50mm f0.95 @ f0.95, ISO 400. Click to enlarge.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Canada Life Building

Canada Life building viewed from inside Eaton Centre - 1D IIn & EF 16-35mm f2.8L

It has been about six weeks since I traded my 100-400mm L zoom for the 16-35mm f2.8L II, and I can't be happier.  I have used the 16-35mm more in these few weeks than I have with the 100-400mm in more than two years.  The best lens is the one that's mounted on the camera and ready to shoot.  So far, I can't complain about the image quality -- totally happy with it.  It's an amazingly versatile focal length.  I only wished I had done this sooner.  I would have gotten more pictures if I had. If cost is not a factor, and you are looking for an ultra wide angle full frame zoom, be sure to test out the 16-35mm f2.8L II.  It's expensive, but you only need to buy it once.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ricker Choi in Concert

My wife and I attended Ricker Choi's charity concert on Saturday and what a performance!  Ricker is a full time professional who works at the same company as I do and a very accomplished armature pianist.  He has won many awards and featured in the Toronto Star, The Investment Executive, and other media.  He's been performing for charity for many years.  For a part time musician, his performance has been exceptional.  If you are interested in live classical piano music, be sure to check his web site for upcoming events.

Ricker Choi Performing Listz Sonata in b -- 1D IIn & 50mm f1.2L

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Red Motorcycle

Motorcycle -- Panasonic G1 & Panasonic 45-200mm Lens. Click to see larger.

I have had the Panasonic 45-200mm lens for almost a year, but never really use it much.  For some reason, this lens doesn't give me the desire to use it, like many of my other lenses.  In my opinion, it's a fine lens, but nothing spectacular.  For one thing, it's maximum aperture is slow at f5.6 at the long end.  I don't like slow lenses, especially slow zoom lenses.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Let's Go to the EX

Swing Tower at the CNE -- 1D IIn & EF 16-35mm f2.8L II. Click to see larger

The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE, aka the EX) is one of the oldest and the largest continuously running annual exhibition in Canada.  It happens every year on the last two weeks leading to and including the Labour Day in August/September.  

For many young people, this is the place where their romance start.  The rides that get them close to each other, the big prizes you could win to impress your mate.  It's a place/event that many will always remember as something significant in their lives.  My wife (and then girl friend) have been going to the EX on and off for many years.  After we got married, we have taken our kids to the EX, and I am sure my kids will take their kids to the EX in the future.  It's really is a fun place for all ages, especially the young ones.

Games & Rides -- 1D IIn & EF 16-35mm f2.8L II. Click to see larger.

William trying his luck-- 1D IIn & Sigma 50mm f1.4. Click to see larger.

Live Shows -- 1D IIn & Sigma 50mm f1.4. Click to enlarge.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

OT: Getting Shafted in Car Service

When it comes to car services, I am always a little apprehensive.  There is this nagging feeling inside me that tells me the dealer is screwing me with the price/services.  In fact, at times, i feel like a piece of meat on the chopping block.  But, what can I do?  If I need to service the car, I have to do it.  I don't know any mechanics personally, so the service is always done at the dealership.

It was a real eye opener yesterday.

A bit of history before we begin: I have been servicing my Toyota at the same dealer ship since the mid 90s after I got my first car, the Cressida (a great car, by the way.  It was the grand daddy of the Lexus).  I bought my first new van from them too, in 2001 due to the growing family.  So, you would think that for such a loyal customer, I would get some respect/better deals in service, no?  Let me give one example before we get back into story.

In early spring, the rear door handle stopped working.  I could hear the cable snapped inside.  Unlike a car, where there is a cable to release the trunk, the rear door handle is the only way to open it.  It was a real inconvenience, so I took it to my dealer and get it fixed.  They first quoted me $150 to fix, but needed to be confirmed by the technician.  Couple hours later, I got a call and it would cost $350.  Now, that's ridiculous.  I told them not to fix it.  Few months later, I couldn't stand not being able to use the trunk, so I went back to them,  and what do you know, they gave me a different quote, and was eventually fixed for $215.  Same problem same service rep, with a big price difference.  My suspicion that the dealer is screwing me deepens.  I swore not to go back there.

OK, back to yesterday's experience.

On Thursday, I drove to work instead of biking, because my wife was a bit late.  When I came back to the car in the parking garage, there was a blanket of shattered glass on the floor -- Some crack-head broke my driver's side window to steal the GPS inside.

Shattered -- for a cheap GPS. The car was parked inside a supervised Green P garage.

Anyways, I need to get the window glass replaced ASAP so the next morning (yesterday), against my promise, I drove back to my dealership (on Queen & DVP).  They quoted a Toyota glass would cost $400, plus 1.5 hours of labour ($160); an after market glass is $250, plus labour.  So I went for the after market option.

After I went back to work, I called Speedy Glass, and was given a quote of $258 to place the window with genuine Toyota glass, and that's including labour!  Upon hearing that my insurance does not cover the replacement, he gave me an even better deal of under $190, including labour.  Needless to say, I was shocked by the price difference!

What follows was a few calls back and forth with the Toyota dealer.  Their excuse? The parts manager said that's what the supplier quoted him, but said he would call other suppliers.  The final price was $277, including labour, for an after market glass.  I went for it, since the weather has been rainy for the last few days and I was already caught in the rain on Thursday with no glass window.

What have I learned?

The dealership will screw you and scam you any chance they get, regardless of how loyal you are.  Since my van is out of warranty, I will not be using their service again, unless I can't get my van fixed by independent technicians.  This will be tough for me, because they are just so %@#$ conveniently located.  I will have to go out of my way to get services for my van from now on.  Also, call around and ask what others charge before taking your car in.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cube Art

Eric Limeback is a celebrity among Canadian speed cubers.  My kids, especially the older two, see him as a hero, a role model.  In fact, Eric appeared in Oprah once, and was interviewed by many media.  The Toronto Star ran an article on him about a week ago.  My kids found out that he works at CubeWorks in the Distillery District, and dragged me there to see him work.

It's fascinating to see pictures (sorry, art) created using just cubes.  The art pieces range from small ones using around 100 cubes to the gigantic Sistine Chapel made up of more than 250,000 cubes.  These art pieces are not cheap. The prices depends on the size, from a few hundred dollars to millions of dollars for the Sistine Chapel.

It's an eye opener, especially for an art blind person like me.

The CubeWorks Studio. You can see Eric and Sarah Strong (another amazing cuber) unpacking the cubes. Click to see larger.

The newly finishned Campbell's Soup piece. Click to see larger.

This is my favourite piece. The original has more pieces at the bottom. I had to crop it slightly due to some boxes at the bottom that I could not avoid. Click to enlarge.

You can find more pictures of art pieces in my gallery here.