Thursday, January 31, 2013

The battle against MS

In 2008 and 2009, I donned Spandex and made the 183-mile April ride from Houston to Austin as a participant in the BP MS 150, raising money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

After those two endurance rides, I said, "never again," sold the bicycle and took up sailing. However, I have served as team captain and a volunteer at the event for the past three years.

I don't know what got into me this year. Maybe it was just knowing I need to do something to force myself to get back into shape or maybe I just don't want to accept the fact that I'm rapidly moving through my mid-30s, but I will be not only the Technip team captain again this year, but I will also be riding.

Let me get the begging out of the way now:

I'm attempting to raise at least $1,000 for the National MS Society by April. If you would like to donate, any amount helps.

I recently attended the first captains meeting at St. Arnold's brewery.

2013 BP MS 150 Team Captain Meeting

The volunteers and vendors brought us up to speed on all the logistics and safety requirements for the 2013 ride.

2013 BP MS 150 Team Captain Meeting

2013 BP MS 150 Team Captain Meeting

I also met several women living with MS who are participating in the ride -- very inspirational ladies.

And although St. Arnolds ended the event by graciously offering us free beer, I declined and went home to work out.

2013 BP MS 150 Team Captain Meeting

I'm currently spending an hour every other evening on a spin trainer, but I haven't even been on a bicycle since 2009, so this is going to take some work.

Thank you to anyone who wants to contribute. I appreciate it, but those living with MS really appreciate it.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Not all USB cords are created equal

I've always thought one USB cord was the same as the next. With that thinking in mind I was rather delighted as I kept acquiring devices with seemingly standard micro USB ports. First was the Mophie Juice Pack for iPhone 4s. Then came the Sony NEX-6. Finally came a XTG solar battery. Each device came with its own micro USB cable.

USB Conundrum

My iPhone 4s has never worked in the USB port of my Ford SYNC radio. However, after putting it in the Mophie Juice Pack and using the Mophie USB cable, it was suddenly playing music through SYNC and even displaying the artist and track on the screen in the dash.

Then I took a road trip, and I only brought the cord that came with my Sony camera. The iPhone suddenly quit being recognized by the SYNC system. I chalked it up to a glitch that it had even worked in the first place and went back to charging the phone and the Mophie Juice Pack through the cigarette lighter adapter, which worked fine with the Sony cord. However, when I got home and tried it again with the Mophie cord, it once again worked great.

Then I accidentally left the Sony cord at the office and tried to charge the camera with the XTG cord. No luck. In fact, the XTG cord wouldn't charge the camera or the phone. However, the Mophie cord worked great to both transfer photos and charge the camera.

So to break it down, I have three supposedly equal micro USB cables. One is seemingly magical and does all things for all devices. One will charge anything but only provides functionality with the camera. One will transfer data but won't charge anything.

What the hell is going on? I thought there was some kind of universal standard on these things!

For the birds

We finally had some sun in Houston. I took a stroll through the marina Sunday morning with the Canon FD 500mm reflex f8 on the Sony NEX-6 and snapped a few photos of the birds sunbathing.


Curious ducks


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Spreading the joy

I haven't been able to blog much the past few weeks due to work, but I have been taking photos.

Here's a few blogs that have been kind enough to link to my work:

Thank you to all the blogs who have promoted me. The recognition is always appreciated.

Leica 135mm shootout: fastest vs slowest

Long Leica lenses don't seem to get much love. The 135mm is by far the least popular focal length for the M series cameras. The M2 and the M8 didn't even have 135mm frame lines. Some people find them too hard to focus. However, this lack of popularity provides some bargains for those seeking authentic Leica glass in the second-hand market.

The current f3.4 ASPH APO-Telyt is already known to be the sharpest Leica 135mm to date. It retails for $3495 and at the time of this post was back-ordered on every site I checked. I don't have one, and I probably never will. What I do have are copies of both the fastest and the slowest 135mm lenses Leica ever made.

The 135mm Hektor f4.5 was the first 135mm available in the M-bayonet mount, produced from 1954-1960. However, screw-mount versions were produced from 1933-1959 and can be adapted to M-mount. It has a 15-blade diaphragm and weighs in around 1 pound. It is the slowest 135mm Leica lens ever made. They can be had for around $100. Read more about it here:

The first version of the 135mm Elmarit f2.8 arrived in 1963. There were three versions, all made in Canada, the last going out of production in 1996. This 135mm lens is easily identifiable by the built-in goggles. The lens pulls up the 90mm frame lines and the goggles magnify the focus area. In theory this was to enable the more precise focus needed with the shallow depth of field of f2.8. It seems a bit gimmicky to me, but it does allow for better framing when using the M2 or M8, which don't have 135mm frame lines.

The Elmarit I tested was the second version from 1974, which weighs in at a whopping 1.61 pounds. It has a 9-bladed aperture, a slide out lens hood, and uses those annoying Series VII filters. They can be had for around $500. Read more about it here:

Because of price, the Hektor was the first Leica brand lens I ever owned. It went to Brazil with me and an M8 and did a great job. Sometimes I had to review shots to check framing, but I was not disappointed in it.


However, I'm always tempted by faster lenses, so when a 135mm Elmarit showed up at the right price, I grabbed it too. I wandered the Illinois countryside with it on the M8 and was quite pleased with the results as well.

The old farmhouse

The most obvious downside to fast lenses is the weight. Now that I'm shooting with an NEX-6, if I pack the Elmarit, it will literally double the weight of my bag. I keep asking myself if I really need the extra 3 stops since the NEX-6 can compensate very well by upping the ISO.

At sunrise and sunset, it might be worth it because I can't hand-hold 135mm lenses without blur at shutter speeds less than 1/100s. I'm shaky like that. However, for most daytime shooting, the Elmarit seems like nothing but extra weight. I decided to put the Hektor and the Elmarit head to head to see which one stays in my bag.

Like all my tests, this one was super scientific. For the first part, I set up some props on my kitchen table. I shot the scene with the Elmarit at f2.8, f4.5, and f8. Then I shot the scene with the Hektor at f4.5 and f8. Here's what I got:

Elmarit f2.8
135mm Elmarit at f2.8

Elmarit f4.5
135mm Elmarit at f4.5

Hektor 4.5
135mm Hektor at f4.5

Elmarit f8
135mm Elmarit at f8

Hektor f8
135mm Hektor at f8

Although the renderings are very similar, the Elmarit had the edge in sharpness. I was using live-view on the NEX-6 to focus, so there are no questions of rangefinder calibration. When it comes to detail, the Elmarit wins. If you view the images at 100 percent you'll notice the Hektor has just a tad more fall-off in focus at f4.5, but that seems to be due to the fact that it's overall softer than the Elmarit. Other than that, the contrast and color renderings are very similar between the two lenses.

For the next test I pulled out the Christmas lights to check the out-of-focus areas.

Elmarit bokeh at f2.8
135mm Elmarit bokeh at f2.8

Elmarit bokeh at f4.5
135mm Elmarit bokeh at f4.5

Hektor bokeh at f4.5
135mm Hektor bokeh at f4.5

Elmarit bokeh at f8
135mm Elmarit bokeh at f8

Hektor bokeh at f8
135mm Hektor bokeh at f8

It's easy to see that when it comes to rendering out-of-focus areas, the Hektor wins, hands down. The Hektor bokeh stays a perfect circle and is very soft and pleasant. The 9-bladed diaphragm of the Elmarit creates jagged, harsh shapes.

So how do I pick a winner?

At web sizes, the difference in sharpness is hardly noticeable. For portraits the softness of the Hektor is also more flattering. I may not be able to shoot as late into the night with the Hektor as I can with the Elmarit, but the Hektor is going to render out-of-focus lights and foliage in a nicer manner and neither one is fast enough to do much once the sun is down.

But, if I need to crop into the photo or I need to print at a high-resolution, the sharpness of the Elmarit is going to give me a better print.

Let's face it, technically the Elmarit has a newer and better lens design, but considering the $400 price difference, I'm going to declare the Hektor the winner. However, both lenses are a bargain when you're talking Leica prices. Although I won't be lugging around the Elmarit all the time anymore, I'm not going to get rid of it just yet.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy new year

Is there anything more cliche than the constant end-of-year best-of wrap-ups and resolutions for the new year? I've put this post off for a week trying to avoid it, but it's an annual tradition we must all suffer through.

First off, the world didn't end. I still have a mortgage and a bunch of bills to pay, but hey, at least we're not dead.

I spent Christmas in Kansas. My parents got a 3D TV, but they only have three 3D movies, so we watched both MIB:3 and Spiderman twice. They got the Sharp model with the active glasses. It's pretty impressive.

The weather was frigid, so I didn't spend much time outside taking pictures, but I did get a couple shots of cold birds.

Cold bird

And I stopped on my way to Pizza Hut to snap main street of Indepence, Kansas in all of its holiday glory.


After plenty of quality time with the family, it was back to Houston for slightly warmer but rainier weather. A north wind pushed all the water out of the marina. My hopes of sailing before the end of the year were dashed on the rocks and we had a beach where our channel in and out of the marina used to be.

Marina del Sol beach

The upside to the wind pushing all the water out of the marina while getting lots of rain, it was kind of like the toilet had been flushed. By the time the water came back Monday morning, it was very clear -- at least very clear for Galveston, Texas. However, it was still raining Monday, so I still didn't get to sail.

As I cleaned house and prepped for the new year, I took some time to toy around with macro tubes on the Sony NEX-6 and got a few interesting shots.

Argus Brick

Happy New Year

Need a light?

Being the first of the year, I'm halfway tempted to officially start a 365 project. However, I think I'll keep it unofficial for now and see if I can just post one interesting shot per day to flickr.

Although I did rig my spinnaker this year, I never actually got to fly it. I either had crew and terrible weather or great weather and no crew. C'est la vie. I will try again in 2013.

I did finally spend the night anchored out this year. I also had dolphins swim along with me during one sail. Maybe that makes up for the lack of spinnaker use.

I kicked off 2013 with a major workout. I'm riding the MS 150 Houston to Austin in April, so I've got to start training. I've ridden it twice before, but not in several years. Yes, I will be hitting you up for donations in the near future. I'm hoping to raise at least $1,000 for the National MS Society this year. Dropping a few pounds while I help those suffering from Multiple Sclerosis is just an added bonus.

It's back to work tomorrow, and we're charging right into four huge projects that are all due by the end of February. I'm very thankful I have help this year.

Thank you to everyone who read my ramblings in 2012. I wish you all the best in 2013.

To end, I'll wrap up this post with one of the most serene moments of 2012.