Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kodachrome is well and truly over now
I sometimes wonder if this would have gotten as much attention as it did if Paul Simon had not had his hit "Kodachrome" in the early 1970s. OK, granted, it had a unique look and yes, it was just about the first colour film available to the masses in the western world. But honestly, by the mid 1970s there were a lot of other films in the E-6 process available. I've always prefered the look of Fuji slide film over the somewhat alien look of the Kodachrome K-14 process.

But, let's honor this film with what I think is the best pic ever shot on it:
Steve McCurry's shot of an Afghan girl.

Black and White as a sign of weakness

Originally uploaded by j_wijnands.
Sometimes it feels that way. This was shot under a heating lamp with a tremendous red/orange colour cast, so much that it dominated the whole scene. Even with the channel mixer and adjusting the white balance I just could get something nice.

So... in the end I gave up and converted to B&W

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

my buns

my buns
Originally uploaded by j_wijnands.
200 grams of wholemeal flour, 200 grams of plain flower
2 tea spoons salt, 15 grams of yeast, 1 teaspoon of honey.

Sieve the flower in a bowl, add yeast, salt and honey. Add about a 100ml of lukewarm water and start kneading. Add water as needed. It's done and ready for proving if you can pull it out quite a way without it tearing.
Prove for 60 minutes in a bowl, bash and divide into buns, dust with some flour, prove for another 60 minutes. Bake in a 200 degree oven. Turn oven down to 180 after 10 minutes.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

unexpected bonus

Originally uploaded by j_wijnands.
I was shooting a very lively nuthatch when I noticed this little fellow at not even 4 meters. Slowly moved the lens and got him just like that.

Slight crop, bit of exposure correction and that's all.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Originally uploaded by j_wijnands.
Yes, 17th of December we had about 15 centimeters of snow in a day.
I went out around lunchtime to do some shooting. It was snowing so hard this quickly became a major challenge.


Near the end of my walk I found this family of swans. Yes, lousy angle but I was cold and could not see a way to get to eye level and don't fall into the water. I was attracted to the way these birds where slowly getting snowed in.


Of course this got us the usual traffic chaos again. Taken at 1430 on a friday afternoon, a time where's theres 2, maybe three traffic jams due to accidents.

All in all I like winter, even though it took me an extra hour to get home.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lost the bad bird pic mojo

caught in the act
Originally uploaded by j_wijnands.
After the disastrous shots from this weekend I think I've shaken off the bad bird pic mojo.

A few of the ladies at the office decided they wanted to have something to look at from their window so they got some bird feed and hung it in a tree. Took a few days but now the blue tits and great tits have discovered it.
This time of the year these little fellows are quite tame, especially if you bribe them with food.
Shot with the new sigma, cleaned up with dfine because it was shot at iso 1600. Added a bit of local color with viveza.
The background colors were from the building on the other side and a parked car, works nice here I think.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Annoying day

Originally uploaded by j_wijnands.
I had a few extra hours to spend so I got the camera and headed out. Solid overcast, really solid. I was at iso1200+ most of the time and struggling to get a decent shutter speed.
Pretty near the end of my walk I found my friend the dipper again, relaxing, singing a bit and enjoying himself.

Came home and, well, perhaps I'm getting picky, but I got a bit depressed when I noticed all the noise. Cleaned up best I could with dfine but still...

I love my D300, I really do but a clean iso1600 and a useable iso3200 would be nice.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Epub Reader for Symbian Series 60 5th edition!

Yes, I've finally found an ebook reader for my Nokia 5800 that is capable of handling the epub format! When I first got my phone I searched all over the web and settled on zxreader. A basic but function reader capable of handling plain text and the, in the western world, somewhat obscure FictionBook fb2 format.

Now, with the freeware tool Calibre converting to this format was no big issue but occasionally I would end up with weird formatting and the rather basic nature of the format was at times rather annoying. Additionally quite a lot of ebooks are now released in the epub format

Figuring that eventually someone would write the application I needed I kept looking for a solution every other month. I even tried Nokia's own OVI store but that proved to be as useless as ever.

Yesterday I found the Dorian Reader project. Initially started as a project for the N900 but recently also available for Symbian. My first test proved rather futile, it is written in QT, a JAVA-like "write once, run anywhere" environment which requires a seperate framework to be installed on your phone something which the author kindly pointed out to me.

So, what do you need:
QT 4.7.1
Latest version of Dorian for Symbian (0.4.2. at time of writing)
Some epub books

And you're good to go!

The application takes just a bit longer to load than zxreader but is a lot more intuitive to use, especially when you go into the options screen. It seems very stable, only imperfections I've seen so far is that having to tap the upper right corner to turn a page seems a bit counter intuitive and sometimes when you turn a page the first line is only half visible.
Main bug I've found so far is that when the phone switches from landscape to portrait or back it's inclined to switch back to the beginning of the chapter but that may be something just on my phone.


I've dumped the Nokia early this year and went to an HTC Desire. The Android platform is so incredibly much more mature for the mobile reader. I'm running cool reader on mine. Uses almost no resources, is free, reads all the major formats including epub . With Android you go to the market (build in on just about all phones) and download any of the half a dozen excellent and well maintained ebook readers for free!!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Vogelenzang at dawn

Vogelenzang at dawn
Originally uploaded by j_wijnands.
Did I ever blog this? If not why not? I had doubts at first but when I see it now it works, perhaps a bit more puddle would have been nice but I enjoy the clouds and it gives me a peace and tranquility feel.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Now, I don't know about you but this happens to me and still to often. I really should know better. You're approaching a bird and it decides to leave. Now, what you should do is remember that in the two or three steps you did you're not all that far out of focus. You should also remember that you're in single area AF and that just blindly jabbing the AF button is not going to help. In this case this is the third shot, the first two had the barn in focus, then common sense and a quick twist on the focus ring got me this shot.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Hezbollah operates own fiber optic network

In a spare half hour I've also browsed trough the wikileaks cable collection.

One interesting tidbit I stumbled upon is that Hezbollah, or Hizballah as they are called in the cable, now owns and operates it's own fiber optic network.

An understandable initiative from their part of course, after all SIGINT (signals intelligence) has always been an important tool in the hands of the US and their allies to keep track of their enemies. In fact most of the serious GSM intercept equipment has long been made by Israeli companies.

Having an own fiber optic network gives Hezbollah a secure communications channel. According to the same cable Hezbollah knows this too and has threatened the government of Libanon that they will view this as equal to an Israeli attack:

As a sign of its confidence Hizballah official Safa told Khoury and Rifi that any move against the FiOS system would be taken as &an Israeli attack8 and dealt with accordingly

Apparantly it's quite extensive too:

The current installations, as per the map Hamadeh has given us, shows lines running from Beirut, around both sides of the airport, into the south below the Litani and back up through the Bekaa valley to the far north. It covers the Palestinian camps, and the Hizballah training camps in the Bekaa, and is penetrating deep into the Christian Metn and Ksarwan areas.

An interesting point is made here:

Hamadeh highlights the system as a strategic victory for Iran, since it creates an important Iranian outpost in Lebanon, bypassing Syria. He sees the value for the Iranians as strategic, rather than technical or economic. The value for Hizballah is the final step in creating a nation state. Hizballah now has an army and weapons; a television station; an education system; hospitals; social services; a financial system; and a telecommunications system.

In the latest KLM frequent flyer magazine there was an interesting article on how Lebanon is once again returning to it's "Geneva of the Mediterranean" status it used to have before their civil war started in 1976. Makes you wonder if there's two different countries that just happen to share the same real estate.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

my winter landscape

my winter landscape
Originally uploaded by j_wijnands.
Driving to work and noticed one of these crossing the road, then in my rearview I saw a second one approaching. I was lucky enough to find a safe place next to the road and was just in time to shoot this.

This is winter for me, snow, white and yet Schiphol, which is a very defining influence in my area, continues like it always does.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM review

A review of the Sigma 150-500 from a real world point of view.

Those of you that know me must have noticed that I like to spend time outdoors, walking in a nature reserve trying to get good shots of the inhabitants. Up until two days ago I did most of that with a Nikon 70-300 VR. A very nice lens, well built, able to take a lot of abuse but 300mm is a bit short for smaller mammals and birds.

Recently I got a bit of extra cash and decided to look into the available options for going just a bit longer. I did a lot of googling, boy did I google! I've also posted in a few internet forums. What I got was a lot of confusing information and a large load of very expensive solutions and snobism.

Old and long manual focus lenses.
400mm f3.5. Quite a rare lens, I found none in my country and only 1 in europe at a very high price. Ebay had a few in the sub-1000 euro class but all showed distinct signs of a long and hard life.
500mm f4 Ai-P. Huge lens, only about 7500 of this beauty ever produced. Rare on the used market and hard to find. Goes for 2000 euros for a decent one.
3rd party lenses. There's a few 300mm f2.8 lenses from the former soviet union, none in the area otherwise I would have gone and checked one. I briefly tried an old 400mm f5.6 vivitar which was a huge disappointment. Tokina also produced a 300mm f2.8 which is supposedly quite decent but also hard to find.

Autofocus solutions
400mm f5.6 sigma. Their latest version is supposed to be quite good. Out of production for a few years already and hard to find. If you can find one it's an interesting option since they go for around 500 euros.
Nikon 300mm f4+1.4TC gives you effectively a 420mm f5.6 and, judging from the samples on various websites that's a good combination. Nikon made this in two versions, a normal AF version which goes for 600-700 used and an AF-S version which is more expensive and hard to find used. I got hints from a Nikon rep that this lens is next up for replacement by a VR version.
Nikon's 80-400. Nicely built, VR but no AF-S so glacially slow to focus. I got mixed information on sharpness on the long end so it may suffer from sample variation.
Sigma 50-500 in it's various incarnations. Once again, very mixed information on sharpness. At least two versions without OS and the current one with OS goes for about 1300 euros.

At this point I pretty much gave up the search. I very briefly contemplated moving to Canon since they have very affordable 100-400 and 400mm f5.6 lenses but then sanity hit me again.

I went to a shop, had a good look at the Sigma 150-500, shot this handheld at 15 meters, 1/30 and 500mm in the shop:

new toy at 500mm 1/30

And plunked down almost 800 euros of my hard earned cash. Sales clerk tried to sell me a 86mm B+W protective filter for 130 euros which I politely declined figuring that I could do better on ebay (a Hoya SMC filter is on it's way for less than half that)

I did get a packet of optech rainsleeves, somehow I don't trust the sealing on this Sigma nearly as much as I trust my Nikon.

At home I noticed a card in the box that promised me that if I registered on the Sigma site they would extend my warranty to three years. Sigma seems the first manufacturer to do something about the inequality in warranties between Europe and the USA so thumbs up to them.

Out in the field
Of course I was keen to see what this brute would do out in the field, after all that's why I bought it. Combined with my D300 it's about 2500 grams of gear hanging on a neckstrap and that's something you noticed. I decided to use this lens like I do my 70-300, shooting from a monopod if possible but doing the occasional handheld shot as well.


A crop from a shot at, according to my exif, 42 meters!
Exposure 0.002 sec (1/500)
Aperture f/14.0
Focal Length 380 mm (Still getting used to the zoom ring)
ISO Speed 640

hmm, note to self, that zoom ring needs to go all the way to the right!

Grey Wagtail

Camera Nikon D300
Exposure 0.003 sec (1/320)
Aperture f/7.1
Focal Length 500 mm
ISO Speed 640

A grey wagtail, cropped a bit. These are nice birds, foraging along the water they are not extremely shy but do like to keep some distance. Up until now a shot like this would have required excellent light and shooting to get something to crop this far.

Camera Nikon D300
Exposure 0.005 sec (1/200)
Aperture f/6.3
Focal Length 500 mm
ISO Speed 1000

My regular model, fallow deer. I decided to go to 500mm to see what I would get in detail from the fur on the animal.

In addition to these shots, which are good enough for flickr for me, I also produced a number of what I like to call ident shots, pictures where there's enough information to identify the animal but not necessarily of a quality that you are proud of.

That was the end of day one, light was failing me and I was cold. The next day I took it with me to the office to do some bird spotting in my lunch break. This is a lens that attracts attention, lots of it.

Due to the weather, snow and windy, a lot of small birds were absent from their normal spots. Still, in a brief bit of sunshine I managed to capture this:

Song Thrush

Camera Nikon D300
Exposure 0.004 sec (1/250)
Aperture f/11.0
Focal Length 500 mm
ISO Speed 500

This is what I bought this lens for! A comfortable working distance of about 9 meters in this shot which is enough not to spook the bird. Excellent sharpness on the body, a little less on the head but that's most likely due to 1/250 shutter speed and the fact that this trush was busy demolishing a snail.

More samples
I'm busy learning to work with this lens. I use the same tag on all my pictures shot with this lens so if you want to see more shots just go here:

I've now worked enough with this lens to form an opinion. It's heavy enough to start thinking about an alternative to the standard Nikon strap I'm using on my D300.
Focus can be a bit nervous at times, especially beyond 400mm it's easy to focus on a branch just in front or behind of your model. I've also seen it attempting to lock onto falling snow.
Optical stabilisation or OS for shot works and works well. I have observed a slight delay before it fully kicks in, about half a second (read the manual, it's mentioned in there). I got the impression that it starts up immediately but needs a bit of time to work fully, wouldn't surprise me since it's a lot of heavy glass.
The balance is beautiful! It's center of gravity seems to be just behind the focus ring right on the tripod collar.
Birds in flight is a major challenge. At 300mm+ the angle of view makes it difficult to follow the bird and at around 300mm the Nikon 70-300 VR is just quicker to focus.

If you're into birds or other wildlife and you have less than 1000 euros to spend this lens deserves a serious look. If you got a bit more to spend you could explore some of the other options on my short list.