Saturday, July 31, 2010

Beautiful day in east Helsinki

Clouds over Helsinki, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Shore, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Nymphalis antiopa, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

We visited today Meri-Rastila in east Helsinki, where there is a nice sea landscape and paths through the forests at seaside. It was cool, 23 °C, and windy, and scattered clouds on the sky. Here are three photographs from the walk by the sea.

Sometimes is is very hard to get the exposure right, but nowadays I'm getting better at it, especially after learning to use properly the live histogram on the LX3. And I believe most cameras today have enough dynamic range to handle most situations, except perhaps low-light situations where noise also starts to raise its ugly head. At least I have found that it is the camera user who is almost always the reason for situations of "not enough dynamic range".

In addition to the seascapes, here is also a photograph of an old and scruffy Mourning Cloak. Pieces of the wings have broken away, and there are signs of wear and tear everywhere, but the butterfly managed to fly expertly nevertheless. Practice makes perfect I guess.

Friday, July 30, 2010

New firmware (2.20) for the Panasonic LX3

Leaf colors, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Field, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Panasonic has released a new version of the firmware for for the Panasonic LX3. The description for version 2.20 is short and cryptic: "Optimization of software processing. Change in software version has no effect on camera performance."

Well, I upgraded from 2.10 to 2.20 with no noticeable differences in camera operation or image quality.

One hiccup: In my custom mode C1 I have turned off the automatic preview of images. After the upgrade to 2.20 the camera was set to 2 second preview. I changed the C1 setting back to no preview, and the camera works as I want again. This same hiccup has happened previously with another firmware version.

There are some conspiracy theories about the firmware upgrade, for example that it will "downgrade" image quality to make LX5 look good, and that it will enforce using Panasonic (chipped) batteries instead of third party parts.

Well, image quality seems to have survived intact. And my 3rd party battery works as usual, no need to worry on this front.

One further point about the Panasonic LX5. It appears that the price for the camera will be 500 euro here in Finland (well, the cheapest offer is 499). This is yet to be confirmed, as the camera is not yet available for delivery. But you can get the LX3 for 370 euro, which is quite a good price. If my LX3 would break at some point soon, I would be very much tempted to get the LX3 instead of the LX5.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

More thoughts on the Panasonic LX5 - and durability of cameras

Leaning on water, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Nymphalis io, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

First, about the durability of cameras. I know that I should take care with cameras, but I often get quite involved in the situation of taking photographs, and mistakes happen. I have dropped the Panasonic LX3 half a dozen times. Two times on snow - no big deal. Two times on ice - fortunately, the camera showed no symptoms.

And twice on a floor - last weekend was when this happened last, from the waist height to a wooden floor. When I switched on the LX3, the camera moved the lens barrel forward and back several times, trying to get it to work right. It was a scary moment, but then everything came back to normal.

Perhaps I should also note that my previous camera, a Canon Digital Ixus 400, broke after five years of use when it was dropped on the floor. The lens cover didn't open any more, so I bought the LX3 as a replacement, and have been very happy with it.

After dropping the LX3 last weekend, I wondered whether the subconscious was sending me a message of some kind.

Well, then some words about the Panasonic LX5. As I wrote previously, I'm having some reservations about the camera. Is it a worthy update to the LX3?

It seems that the LX5 can generate competent color jpegs at ISO 400, maybe even at ISO 800. And for black-and-white you can probably use one step bigger sensitivity without much trouble. With the LX3, I have resorted to ISO 200 sometimes without big problems, but ISO 400 is usually too noisy with long enough exposures when noise piles up. With black-and-white images, ISO 400 is quite ok, and sometimes ISO 800 can be done, it may even suit the occasion and provide some natural noisiness to the photographs.

One big question about the LX5: how good it is to handle with gloves on, especially the new jog wheel? The joystick is not easy either but I can cope with it. This is quite important for winter use.

In all, I see no compelling reasons to switch to the LX5 from the LX3. But it would be nice to check the impressions. However, it seems that the LX5 may be available here in Finland in as late as September, so there is quite some time until one can try it out.

There are also some smaller questions. For example, what is the meaning of "my color" setting on the top wheel. Can you use it similar to the C1 and C2 custom settings, storing your favorite settings there (for example aperture priority etc.), or is the mode more limited, an automated one?

And then to taking photographs. Because of the heat, it has been exhausting to go out to take photographs except early in the mornings or late at night. Today we got a new record for summer temperature in Finland, 37.2 °C. It wasn't quite as hot here in Vantaa, but hot nevertheless.

Today I went out during the warmest part of the day, and tried to walk in shadows, in forests and shady meadows. Fortunately there were some clouds and a little bit of wind to take the worst of the heat away.

Starting tomorrow we'll have some cooler weather, it is a welcome change. And I hope there will be some rain - it is very dusty outside. You can see some of the dust in the photographs here.

As a final topic, I have been reading the essay series on color (parts 1, 2, 3) at Luminous Landscape. Good reading, although partly a bit too technical to my taste.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Color wonders

Colors, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Red, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

The wonder of colors in a garden shop...

Low water

Water, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Karjala, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

It has been hot - today 33 °C - and there hasn't been much rain, so the water level is getting low on lakes and streams. And there is a lot of dirt floating on top of the water. Tomorrow, they forecast hot weather again, it may even be that we get a new record for this summer.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer - back to nature (or not)

Caterpillar, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Dragonfly, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Green, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Night, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

I made a Blurb version of my newest SoFoBoMo photo book, of which I wrote yesterday. (I added the Blurb link to the posting from yesterday.) The process was even easier than before, as I learned a faster way of dragging and dropping the pages into the Blurb full-bleed layout. I ordered a copy using premium paper, it should arrive next week.

Here are some more colorful photographs, taken during the last weekend. If you had problems with black-and-white, you can now relax.

It is customary for Finns to spend time outside the cities during the summer. For some, it is a return to roots, preparing food on an open fire, and going to the outhouse. For some, the summer cottage is as well furnished as the city apartment, or even better, sort of a country manor. I like both approaches, but "back to nature" is, well, more natural.

Monday, July 26, 2010

SoFoBoMo 2010 - third photo book finished!

Valkmusa marsh, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

I thought I was done with SoFoBoMo this year, having finished two photo books. But then I started wondering whether it would be possible to make a book with black-and-white photographs using the square format (1:1 aspect ratio). This was sort of challenge to myself. And then I just did it.

The photographs were taken between Friday and Sunday last week, in south-east Finland. I did the layout and writing on Monday, using the same workflow as for my other SoFoBoMo books. I did a little bit of tweaking to make the black-and-white photographs come out well. But this was a quick job, nothing fancy, just to satisfy a certain curiousity about black-and-white square photographs.

The name of the book is Summer in black and white squared, and it is available in PDF at the SoFoBoMo site. The book illustrates summer in Finland: marsh, forest and lake views as well as garden, grill and sauna activities.

In the original version I had 80 pages, but I ran into the 15 MB file size limit at the SoFoMoBo site. Instead of trying to find out a better compression, I just deleted pages, four at a time, until the file size was under 15 MB. The final book has 64 pages.

And if you haven't yet done a SoFoBoMo photo book, there is still time, until the end of this month. (I'm joking. Sort of.)

Here is an updated listing of photo books which I have done in 2009-2010:

Valkmusa national park

Valkmusa marsh, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Dry, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Red, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Plant, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Butterfly, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

We visited on Saturday Valkmusa national park. We did so also last year. This time, it was a cool and windy day, only 16 °C, and the butterflies stayed mostly hidden. But it was a nice walk anyway.

On Sunday the temperature rose by 13 units to 29 °C, returning back to the normal level. Having one cool day in between was a welcome change.

Here is a little square photograph story from Valkmusa.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Mystery flower

Flower, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Flower field, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

There was a big field of bluish flowers, apparently put on the roadside to provide some eye candy for the car drivers on the Ring III road here in Vantaa. I tried to identify the flower but no luck. Any idea what this is?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Visiting the Linnanmäki amusement park

Linnanmäki amusement park, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Welcome, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Circus, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Weights, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Yesterday we went to the Linnanmäki amusement park in Helsinki. It was a hot day, but there was some wind which helped somewhat. Lots of people in the park, long queues, but nevertheless it was fun.

I did some low-light photography with the LX3 during a ride, and I rather like the motion-blur effect. It sort of suits the topic.

Speaking of the LX3, it seems that the sceptics have come out regarding the LX5, claiming that ISO 1600 is worse on the new camera than on the LX3. Well, I don't put much weight on pixel-peeping. But if ISO 800 delivers somewhat acceptable results, and ISO 400 is all right, that would be good, and rather good from a small-sensor camera.

After studying the new controls of the LX5, I'm starting to be optimistic about the usability. (See here.)

There are now dedicated buttons in the back for focus and ISO, and a dedicated playback button. On the LX3 I have mapped review to the function button, which would be free on the LX5 to other purposes, perhaps for changing the focusing mode etc.

Imaging resource provides a sort of technology preview of the LX5, which is interesting to read. The new lens seems to be very promising in terms of image quality. And autofocus speed is probably indeed improved compared to the LX3. And same for image stabilization. Well, that is the theory at least.

But without handling the camera in person it is very difficult to say how good it is in practice. For example, how the new jog wheel works, and are the LX3 nuisances corrected - the easily turning control wheel and the easily opening battery compartment door. At least it seems that the door is exactly the same as on the LX3.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Panasonic LX5 is now official - is it any good?

Clouds, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

I wrote a little bit about the Panasonic LX5 yesterday, when it wasn't yet official. Now it is, and all specs were confirmed.

The biggest open question (or worry) is the new LX5 jog dial, which replaces the joystick on the LX3. (You can see the back view here.) It may be a faster way to change the exposure compensation, aperture and manual focus, but I'm still hesitant. The joystick on the LX3 is such a versatile tool. On the other hand, it may well be that the jogwheel is much more natural and faster in practise. Well, this is something that can only be learned by trying it out.

Dpreview seems to have a good impression of this: "It's the addition of the click wheel and the GF1-style handling that was most striking or, more accurately, wasn't - I spent around twelve hours shooting with the LX5 without particularly noticing the user interface. The loss of the joystick meant I found the 'quick menu' slightly less quick to use but this was more than made up for by the ability to change aperture or exposure compensation without shifting my hands out of the shooting position. Based on what I know of the LX3 and what I've seen of the LX5, it will be a difficult camera to get near, when a production example becomes available."

Pocket Lint seems to be a little bit disappointed, writing "Most the manual fun was just too far from your fingertips."

Well, on the LX3, you can store your favorite settings in C1 and C2-1...C2-3, and then you can just forget about them, no need to browse through menus. I must admit, however, that the jog dial seems to be a step backwards. On the LX3 the joystick was really easy way to control exposure, aperture and manual focus, in addition to accessing various menu settings.

But what about the sensor? It seems that sensitivity and dynamic range are only modestly improved, but there is quite a lot of more processing power in the camera (triple processors), which seems to indicate that the camera can get the maximum out of the sensor. On the LX3 I have been very satisfied with the jpeg images, so this probably applies to the LX5 as well. But will ISO 800 or 1600 be acceptable? Maybe ISO 800 - but ISO 1600, I don't think so.

Also, first impressions indicate that autofocus speed has indeed improved. Well, this is nice, although the LX3 was good for my purposes already.

But is the LX5 good enough to switch over from the LX3? I don't think so, but I can't say yet for sure.

Update: One more thing - the 1:1 aspect ratio is now included in the settings on the barrel, in addtion to 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9. Some wonder why to have this on the barrel, but for me this is one of the most used features. And because the sensor is multi-aspect, you get "bigger picture" than by cropping afterwards.

Update 2: Beautiful "Iceland gallery" of photographs taken with the Panasonic LX5 (a Panasonic web site).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Thoughts on the rumoured Panasonic LX5

Blueberries, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Now that the Panasonic LX5 rumours are about to be confirmed (or perhaps not), I thought to write some further thoughts on the new camera from the LX3 perspective. These mirror some of the thoughts which I mentioned in the Dpreview interview a month ago.

Earlier I wrote: "My dream camera: LX3 but four stops better" This still holds, with some reservations.

Why four stops better? To be able to shoot handheld in winter here in Finland. With the LX3 I need to use 4-8 second exposures and a mini-tripod. But having four stops better sensitivity would allow going down to 1/4...1/2 second, which is well within the handheld capabilities of the LX3 (namely, the excellent image stabilization).

But four stops improvement is not possible with current technology. One stop better would be good to have, two might be borderline possible. (But I doubt.)

However, there are other things which are more important and may well shoot down the camera however good the specs. Namely, usability.

The menu system of the LX3 is far from easy for a novice, but when you get to know it and store your custom settings in C1, C2-1, C2-2 and C2-3, then things get rather easy. With the joystick, it is easy to change the exposure compensation and aperture (I'm using aperture priority), and manual focus when in use.

And programming the preview function to the function button allows easy access to review when needed. (No automatic review for me, please!)

I'm a bit hesitant about any changes to the LX3 controls, which have proved to be robust in extensive use. The leaked specs mention a jog dial for manual focus, but does this mean that the joystick is replaced?

There are two (minor) usability issues on the LX3 which would be nice to see corrected: the easily turning control knob on top of the camera, and the easily opening battery compartment door. Both need only minor improvements to make them really good.

In the leaked images of the LX5 there seems to be a red "video recording" button on the top of the camera. I hope this can be mapped to other purposes (such as autofocus/exposure lock etc.), as I don't shoot video.

What about the possible other (than sensor) improvements in specs? For example, would the LX5 have better image stabilization or autofocus? Well, the IS works already well on the LX3, so I hope it isn't any worse. And autofocus - usually it works on the LX3 as it should, but any improvements are welcome, especially faster (and more exact) focusing in low light. But this is not top-priority for me.

And what about the 24-90 mm f/2.0...3.3 lens? Well, more tele range (to the 60 mm on the LX3) is good to have, though I tend to use 24 mm mostly. However, having the possibility to shoot closeups from 30 cm away with 90 mm f/3.3 is something that would be handy to have when walking around in nature.

So, as a summary, I think preserving - or even slightly improving - the overall usability would be the biggest thing for me on the LX5. After all, if you take 100,000 photographs with a camera, usability matters.

Visit to "triple lakes" (Kolmoislammit)

Blueberry forest, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Lake Vähä-Romlampi, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Hay, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Red, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Late Monday afternoon we went for a walk - and to eat some blueberries - in the forests of "triple lakes" (Kolmoislammit), west of the Nuuksio national park in Espoo. It was cool enough to walk, and there was wind which kept the mosquitoes mostly away.

A quite pleasurable summer activity, and a lot of excellent landscape to see and to take photographs of.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Swimming and reading

Lake Myllyjärvi, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

When it is very hot, some things get more attractive. Swimming, for example. We have gone for a swim most days during the last couple of weeks, to a nearby lake where the water is still quite cool.

Another thing is reading. I have read thousands of pages, mostly Finnish books, both fiction and nonfiction. I have written some "book review" postings at Valopolku (in Finnish). These are not really book reviews, just personal feelings about the book. Writing - even a little - about the impressions helps to understand what you have just read.

Of Finnish writers, I have read Kari Enqvist, Antti Tuuri, Väinö Linna and Kjell Westö, among others.

Of non-Finnish writers, I have read Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, J. M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello, and José Saramago's Blindness. Of these I'm still wondering what to think about Elizabeth Costello. The other two novels are of the greatest literary quality.

Of non-fiction I can recommend Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought, Robert Park's Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud, and Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. All these are first-rate science books for the general audience.


Sambucus racemosa, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Linnaea borealis, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Flower fly, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

There is so much to see out there in the nature - and using the net, you find out more. For example, in the first photograph we have Sambucus racemosa. The red berries are slightly poisonous (and smelling bad), not to be eaten.

But there is also another species on the plant, Erysiphe vanbruntiana, a powdery mildew which colors the leaves gray and is rapidly becoming more common. I have noticed this grayness but didn't know the reason until browsing the net.

In the second photograph we have a bit unusual view of Linnaea borealis, in that the leaves are not green at all. The dry hot summer has made its effect here. Speaking of this plant, it has a nice way of spreading the seeds - they stick to birds and other small animals that come nearby.

And speaking of sticking, in the last photograph we see the seeds of an umbellifer, Anthriscus sylvestris, which have the property of sticking to certain types of clothes. Some similar plants are even worse in this regard, I remember it took once an hour to pick the seeds away from the children's clothes.

And there is also a flower fly in the last photograph. I don't know the species but there are 200-300 different ones in Finland. I looked for Vena spuria in the wings and I think it is there.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Help to identify a flower?

Blue flower, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Blue, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Once again, I'm perplexed with a species. These blue-ish flowers appear in "Auroras park" in Espoo. We are thinking whether these would be possible to have in our own garden. But first we need to know what they are.

From wet to dry

Pond, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Dandelion, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Dry, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

After the rain it didn't take long to dry up. Now we are back to hot and dry weather. But as it has been a couple of degrees cooler, around 27-28 °C, it feels quite nice to have a walk outside.

Update: It seems that information about the rumoured Panasonic LX5 is leaking. If these specs are correct, the LX5 will be about the same size and weight as the LX3 (a little bit more but not noticiably), and no big surprises.

The lens would be 24-90 mm (35 mm equiv.) f/2.0...3.3, and the sensor would have about the same number of pixels as the LX3 (several native aspect rations) but better sensitivity. Shutter speed would have minimun at 1/4000 s. Exposure bracketing and compensation would be at +- 3 EV.

Evolution, not radical change. If the lens is of similar quality than on the LX3 then 90 mm at the tele end would be nice to have. And if the sensor is 1.5 stops better than on the LX3, that would be the biggest improvement.

Would this be enough to change from the LX3? Maybe - but probably not. (If the LX3 doesn't break, that is.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Finally some rain

Rain, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Leaf forms, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Pair, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

This afternoon we finally got a little bit of rain, which cooled the air somewhat, down to 24 °C or so. However, the relief was temporary, hot weather will continue for quite a while still. Yet it was nice to see some water on the ground and on plants. We have seen more dead animals in our garden than is usual, the heat and lack of water must be the reason for this.

Bugs thrive

Green and yellow, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Here are two green bugs on yellow flowers - I tried to identify the species but didn't succeed. It has to be a common one as there are a lot of these around right now.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hard fight in a forest

Blueberry, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Evening, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Forest, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

It has been so hot it is best to go for a walk late in the evening. Today I walked in a nearby forest, where there is some hazel, which I like a lot. But the hazel is engaged in a hard fight against the fir, which tries to force it out of the forest. It isn't so easy to be a tree or a bush.

Monday, July 12, 2010

It is a plant world

Around, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

So hot - but the plants are flourishing. The heat may continue several weeks here in Finland, the meteorologists say. Water, water!