31 March 2013

Cheap wide angle and close-up lens for the Nikon P7100

I'm getting more and more fond of the Nikon P7100 over time. It's a compact, granted. But it's a serious compact, with complete manual override of its automatic functions. And regardless of what many bloggers might say, I really enjoy the (although small!) optical viewfinder. Adding to so many functions and versatility, you have also the possibility to shoot RAW (NRW) files. Forgetting the small sized sensor and the obvious problems associated with that, this camera is pretty much portable and quite capable of professional results. It's as close as you can get to the Leica M and the "decisive moment" philosophy by a mere 300 bucks.
But it still is a compact. And despite a professional-grade body build, we are limited for all the eternity with a fixed 6-42.6mm f/2.8-5.6 (optically competent, 28-200mm-35mm equivalent, lens). Aware of this limitation, it wouldn't take long for the market to come up with a few solutions to extend its optical versatility.
A kit that is, probably quite popular, is the wide-angle/macro adapter. There are several of these on the market. Nikon, particularly, has its own (the Nikon WC-E75A lens used in conjunction with the UR-E22 adapter ring). But with a price tag of about 200 Euros I started immediately looking for cheaper alternatives. And if you search E-Bay, like I did, you'll probably will find several ones, beginning at 20 or 30 Euros. These kits are basically composed of three pieces: an adapter ring (or extension tube) and two lenses. Well, in a way it's actually a single wide lens that has the ability of being separated in two. To use the kit on its basic wide-angle function, you attach both lenses to the extension tube and all the kit to the camera body (after removing from the body the camera's attachment ring surrounding the lens).
If you want to use this useful accessory as a close-up device, you just separate the lens in two components and attach just its "Macro" lens to the extension tube. And voilá... you have two useful lenses in one.
The typical wide-angle and macro lens adapter kit that you can buy on the E-Bay, made by several independent makers, is normally composed of these items: an extension tube (used to connect the lenses to the camera body) and the optical kit, generally composed of two screw-down lenses. To use the kit as a wide-angle adapter both lenses have to be connected together. But if you unscrew the wide-angle front element, you can use the Macro one as a close-up accessory. Two lenses in one. Not bad for 30 Euros.
Just pay attention to one detail: not all the independent extension tubes on the market are a perfect copy of the original Nikon UR-E22. Meaning that the original Nikon accessory has two "dents" that interact with the camera body and blocks the zoom lens to extend more than its 28mm position (the shorter length), thus preventing serious damage to the lens if you zoom it with the accessory lens mounted on the body.
All these wide-angle kits that you can buy are to be used with the zoom in its minimum position. Naturally. However, if you are buying an independent one (as I did), just make sure that, after being installed on the camera body, the extension tube interacts with the camera's electronics and doesn't allow the zoom range to extend. It's easy to test that. Just install the extension tube on the camera (without the front lens) and try to zoom afterwards. If the lens doesn't respond, it means that you bought a "safer" kit. And therefore you are protected from a serious damage if, by mistake, you operate the zoom lever when using the kit lens.
You can, also, always go to the camera's menu and switch on the "wide-angle converter connected" mode. That way, you will be protected no matter what. Just don't forget to switch it off after removing the kit lens, or you'll go mad trying to understand "why doesn't the bloody camera zoom? It was working perfectly until a few hours ago!".
Without the wide-angle lens...
...and with it. Although the angular difference is not that great, it can, however, in particular circumstances, make a difference. And for thirty bucks... who's complaining?
My trusty Nikon Coolpix P7100 with the wide-angle/macro kit lens adapter bought on E-Bay by a mere 30 Euros.

23 March 2013

A cheap Swiss Made Invicta watch

A Swiss Made Invicta watch for only 100 pounds? As soon as I layed my eyes on it, I had to have it. And so far... I'm really enjoying it.
The model in question is the Invicta Pro Diver GMT, with the brand model nº 5125. It's a GMT watch, with a Swiss Ronda quartz movement. That's probably the reason why Invicta places on the dial the elitist "Swiss Made" words. Could it be assembled somewhere else, or is it a true Swiss made watch? That's probably a question only Invicta can answer.
According to the Invicta web site, these are the characteristics of this lovely watch:

Invicta Pro Diver GMT
Components: Swiss Quartz
Maker: Ronda
Caliper: 515.24H
Screw down crown
Flame fusion crystal

The smooth unidirectional bezel, rotating counter clockwise, is numbered from 2 to 24, allowing to a thirth time zone to be read.
The screw down crown with the already famous diving helmet engraved, and the words "Master Of The Oceans" engraved on the case.
The fabulous clasp, identical to the one on the Invicta Grand Diver. A model with whom this watch has several similitudes. It is, nevertheless a smaller and therefore more usable (portable?) watch.
The clasp lock with the Invicta logo engraved. It closes by pressure, with an additional security lock. It works.
The case back, with some nice engraving detailing several characteristics of the watch.
"Swiss Made", the magic words that normally mean a heavy price tag. This was not the case here, since this watch is on sale on the Amazon.co.uk by a mere 92 Pounds. A nice review, made by Jon Trey, from this watch is placed here, on the BDWF.net. Since the reviews of this particular model are so scarce, I leave the link to this one here. One of the very few.

12 March 2013

Orientation with a GMT watch

The art (or science) of orientation using a conventional analog watch is quite explained through the web, with a plethora of written pages about it. However, the process is not that obvious. If you check this page, of the GlobalSecurity.org website you'll see what I mean. Well, it's not rocket science. But it's also not a direct calculation. You'll have to point the 12 o'clock mark to the sun and then bisect a line between so and so... Nah... I'm getting tired just by reading it. So you can imagine how surprised I was when I've read this page from the Omega watches site. Granted, they were talking specifically about a GMT (or dual time) watch. But they were promising the perfect, direct and infallible system to find the North point (on the North hemisphere), using for it just a simple dual time analog watch. But... is it a reliable method? For the test, I used my Citizen GMT Ecodrive.
See the photo bellow:
Both the Citizen GMT Ecodrive and the Silva 15T Ranger compass were positioned flat on the ground. As you can see, the red magnetic needle in the compass is pointing to the (magnetic) North. The trick to use the watch to make the same job is to point its hour hand to the sun (as you can see by the shadow direction). And so I did. If the process is scientifically correct, its GMT (or 24 hour) hand will point to the North. Can you see how accurate it is, compared with the magnetic compass? So can I. I rest my case. Enjoy the outdoors.

11 March 2013

Marina da Calheta

Contrary to Marina do Lugar de Baixo, a massive political (and engineering) flop never assumed by the Regional Government, the nearby Marina da Calheta project navigates, so far, in calm(er) waters. Although occasionally castigated by the same rough Southerly conditions, Calheta's structure seems to be on a different league and so were also (apparently) the previous hydrographic studies and surveys that led to its construction.
Evening twilight in Marina da Calheta.
Picture taken with Nikon D40X and Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1. Manfrotto tripod and ball-head.

10 March 2013

Penha d' Águia

The SW face of the Penha d'Águia monolith and the village of Moinhos, on the North coast of Madeira, as seen from a viewpoint in São Roque do Faial.
Picture taken with Panasonic DMC-GH2 and SLR Magic 12mm T1.6 lens. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

07 March 2013

Coexistence of men and mountains

I would be a very unhappy person if Madeira was a flat island. Thankfully, in such a small geographic area, Madeira is shaped by an aggressive orography, probably the highest responsible for its many natural attributes.
However, making a living in such a violent landscape is far from easy to its inhabitants. The land is prone to mudslides in Winter time and traveling on certain roads during the rainy season is, by itself, an adventure.
But when you travel by these secondary roads on a quiet and nearly-Spring day, with a new surprise every time you turn or surpass a ridge, you cannot stop to be amazed of how adaptable the human spirit can be.
Every evening time, when I remember the postcard-like landscapes that I've seen during the day, I'm always glad to be presently living in such a beautiful place.
Civil construction in Madeira is, in itself, an adventure. A tale of conquest. Of men vanquishing (adapting to?) the natural reality surrounding them. Here, a square meter of ground is important. And it has to be used properly. Either to build a public road or a family house. But, in the end, this philosophy also adds to Madeira's particular atmosphere. And enchantment. Like these houses, near Faial, with a privileged view over the Central Massif.
Picture taken with Nikon Coolpix P7100 and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

04 March 2013

SLR Magic Hyperprime 12mm T1.6

Just received my new lens. I was looking for a cheap fast wide angle alternative to the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 for my m4/3's Panasonic GH2 for quite some time. Sadly, the market doesn't offer so much.
In fact, regardless of the Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 UMC Fisheye MFT - which is also not fast enough - there is little on the market, except for the above said very expensive Olympus one. So the arrival to the market of this lens (equivalent to a 24mm field of view in 35mm photography) is certainly welcome. Sadly, the reviews about it don't abound, and most of the ones existing are basically generalistic approaches (like this one) to the lens themselves.
A few technical ones that speak about this lens performance are a bit inconclusive. Some say it's a good product, some complain about its softness.
Two great reviews (one from Steve Huff and the other from The Phoblographer) were my starting points to learn a little bit more about this much needed product for the m4/3's community.
Later on, I checked also this one (from the Kanauru Productions guys). It's a very detailed review, comparing the SLR Magic with the (expensive) Olympus alternative.
All of them are good starting points to learn a little bit about this little (really!) piece of glass. The rest of it, like everything in life (even with well-proven equipment), is a leap of faith. Particularly if you are buying, on the web, a Chinese product from a commercial house in England and you are living in Portugal. Well, sometimes we just have to make the Sign of the Cross, forget the International Warranties (if they exist!) and... clear the way. Click the "pay" button and, afterwards, make daily visits to the mailbox.
Well, so far so good. I have it with me already. And what surprised me the most was that it's really a tinny piece of equipment.
You can see the box size here, near a One Euro coin. The box measures about 9.5*6.8*6.5cms and the lens is even (naturally) smaller. So if you are expecting that 540 Euros will buy you a big piece of kit... forget it. It's a little bit more like this:
On the other hand, I guess this is the main reason why we all (under certain situations) love the m4/3's format: its size. Regardless of its small size this lens seems to be a greatly built product. It's heavy (about 330grs) and as far as my eyes can see it has a full metal construction. In fact the only plastic I've noticed on it so far is the rear (bayonet) cap. The front one (screws on the filter 58mm thread) is solid metal. I can only expect that they were not cheap on the optics. But, about that, I can only tell you later. When I start using it.
As you can see, and contrary to conventional photographic lenses, the ring order is reversed. Closer to the mount you have the focus ring and closer to the front element you can see the (smooth and clickless) aperture ring. Both rings, although well dampened, are a bit to the "stiff" side. But lets not forget that this lens was designed with cinematography (videography?) in sight. So, used under these circumstances, with the already common DSLR racks and follow-focus units, this detail is, probably, not so conspicuous.
The front element of the SLR Magic Hyperprime 12mm T1.6. The words "Cine" and "T1.6" are not there by mistake. The lens was built with cinematography in mind. Regardless of that eventual future use, I bought it because I needed a fast wide angle for night landscape photography and the alternatives were either very expensive or less luminous. The obvious drawback is that this is a complete manual lens. So, forget about Auto Focus and Auto Aperture. All manually done... and with a smile on your face, because nobody forced you to love this hobby. Keep on shooting.

03 March 2013

Maria Emília N. de Sousa

Months ago, in a interview for the public television RTP, António Lobo Antunes - quoting the great author Miguel Torga - said that "every now and then God creates a man by His own measures". I gave up politics a long time ago but I have to say that today, while aleatorily watching the program "Portugal Português", on the Portuguese private television network TVI, where this lady was being interviewed, I had to realize that God doens't only makes a good job creating some great men, but does it so also with women. Today, in the afternoon, I felt really proud of being Portuguese.
It's so sad that these kind of people never end up ruling nations. What a great leaders they could be. And what a great world we would live in.
Maria Emília Neto de Sousa, the Mayor of Almada, interviewed by Paula Magalhães regarding the ludicrous idea, from the central government of this country "by the sea-side planted", for building a mega container terminal in Trafaria, along the South margin of the river Tagus, thus destroying the delicate ecosystem of the area and endangering a nearly thirty years social project of sustained development, a common and long-lasting struggle of all the Almada inhabitants. And all that in the name of "progress". Really?

01 March 2013

Citizen GMT Eco-Drive

I'm slowly becoming a strong advocate for the Eco-Drive technology. Why? Usability.

What do we all expect from a watch, except accuracy and reliability? We expect it to be hassle-free. So is the case with this Citizen, model BJ9130-05E. It's an analog watch, therefore you can expect the usual corrections needed for a watch of the kind: if you live in a country with daylight saving time (DST) you know that you have to change the local time twice a year (you never change the GMT hand, naturally, since the UTC time is, by definition, fixed). And since it has also a calendar you have, naturally, to correct, sometimes, the date at the end of the months. Besides that, this watch, in the mighty words of the HAL 9000 computer, is "...by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error.". Also, trusting on a machine powered by solar energy, it will never, ever, needs manual winding, wrist winding or a change of battery. Citizen, however, is - thankfully - not alone in this ecological approach to watchmaking. You'll find similar technologies in Casio (Though Solar) and in Seiko (Kinetic), just to name the most popular ones.
As far as I could see, while searching for a cheap dual-time watch, this is the most practical and less expensive on the market.
The GMT (or dual-time watches) are direct descendants of the marine chronometers existing on board ships for centuries. The purpose of these high precision watches was to "keep" aboard the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and, by comparing it with the local meridian time of the ship, to give the longitude of her actual position. Curiously, the traditional marine chronometers display twelve hours instead of twenty-four, which is kinda funny if we think about the duration of a day.
So this technology migrated from sea to land, and with the advent of modern air voyages now it makes sense that the normal traveling people, and not just the professional mariners, need to have at a certain moment, simultaneously, the time in two different zones.
It's up to you to decide how to organize that dual information. If you travel often, let's say between two countries, it makes sense to have the hour, minute and seconds hands on the homeland time and the twenty-four hour hand giving the time for the visited nation.
Me? I'm traditional. So, faithful to my nautical background, I always keep the 24-hour hand on GMT time. And I change the local time (according to DST variation) twice per year.

Regarding time setting, let's give the word to "rationaltime", the moderator of the German Watches Forum, of the website "forums.watchuseek.com":
"...The movement is the Citizen B876 Eco-Drive GMT module, which has been used in other Citizen analog GMT watches over several years. The orange 24 hour hand is set together with the minute hand when time keeping is stopped and the time is set. The 12 hour hand and date are linked, and set with the time keeping still running. Some people refer to this as "true GMT". The hour hand jumps in one hour increments when the crown is turned...”.

Enough said. Enjoy it.
The Citizen Eco-Drive GMT 180 WR100 World Timer GMT, model nº BJ9130-05E (about 100 UK pounds on Amazon) photographed on its case. Arguably one of the best dual-time watches money can buy.