Sunday, November 18, 2012

Confessions of a Gardener - Part 2

Gardening for me at the moment involves hiding bulbs from squirrels and collecting endless amounts of leaves from the big oak trees that hang over the end of our small plot from next door. So here's a few more photogenic things from the garden over this last year.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Wood Panoramics

I'm lucky to have sizeable local woods less than 5 minutes from my house still well inside Sheffield's city boundaries. I thought I'd try out the panoramic mode of the Sony RX100, it's a neat function - in some ways easy to use, in others not. I'll give some proper feedback in a review post in a week or so. In the mean time here's a few images from a walk with my daughter this morning:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Confessions of a Gardener - part 1

So I expect most folk who read me blog log on for climbing chit chat, but the reality is that more and more there are certain things I do a lot more often than climbing. So it's time to come clean, this year (and half of last year) I've been a closet gardener. There you go I've said it... and it gives me an excuse to show some pics.

Delivering The Goods

I was tempted to post the classic Judas Priest track (there's numerous versions on YouTube) but this is about that most aesthetic of UK crags White Goods. Having said that Rob Halford intoning...'You better watch out and hold on tight...' is quite good advice.
There's not really too much to post about the day - the most impressive part of the which was the drive down into Ruthin with a spectacular display of vivid double rainbows - unfortunately I didn't stop and get the camera out.
Good news for us mortals is there are now some more moderate routes at the main crag.
This is 'Don't Tumble' (M6+) which felt quite Scottish.
Dave G on 'Bold Start' which seems to be given M7...ahem!
As usual at White Goods I did the usual struggling, screaming and bleeding...
But after seeing Dave A put in a big fight on Tumble M9
More Dave A fighting on Tumble. 
After his effort I managed to drag my sorry large behind round the lip of White Goods (M8+). 
So I guess that is a fraction of progress - yipee. What with rainbows, redpoint success and Judas Priest that's plenty of inspiration to keep the training going. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Day at The Works

Had a trip with Jon yesterday to the new dry tooling venue in the Lakes 'The Works'. After a full days dry tooling your body ends up being more wrecked than pretty much any other form of climbing but as Jon said the thing that was most bruised by The Works was our egos! This place has tough tough grades. Still congratulation to Brian, Paddy and all the folk who helped develop a place which has the potential to be the UK's best dry tooling venue (its pretty close to that already).
 This isn't actually one of the climbing areas, I think it's occasionally still worked on but that cave entrance is about 20m high and wide and 40m deep - could be the home for Greg and Andy's next M25s!
 We started in Bakestone Quarry, which seems to get a lot less traffic than The Works proper. We did the red line - Outside Leg a challenging and varied M5 (felt like a pumpy M6 to us). The yellow line is Outfield a very worthwhile looking M6.
This is The Fang an M8 that I worked the moves on including my first proper figure four. It was the best route I tried during the day and one I'm motivated to get fit for.
We then went to the industrial sector at The Works proper, the area that has probably seen the most traffic. This is Time and a Half the crag warm up and given M4! Considering this is pretty much the lowest grade in dry tooling it's crazy - solid M6. The guys climbing are local guns 'The Two Petes'
It's The Two Petes again this time on Stein Pull an M6 on the industrial sector. We didn't do this one but did do Overtime M6 and Grand Design M6+, both of which were good.
 This is where the wilderbeast roam! The cave is much steeper and bigger than it looks. The lines are 20-25m long each and range from 60 to 80 degrees overhanging. Left to right: (yellow) Bloodline M10, (red) Blood Donor M9+, (blue) First Blood M9+, (green) Project M impressive.
One of the Petes on Bloodline (no fig 4s for this young beast) "It's only got one hard move on it, about M8" Luckily Petes arms are much better developed than his ability to grade!

So in summary this is a great spot particularly at the grades M6-7 and M9+ and upwards.

Edit: I should have added the best thing about The Works is that OK its a series of industrial holes in the ground but yesterday was at times truly beautiful.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The loneliness of the long distance dry tooler

Training for winter climbing has long been a challenging process - scratching around of old stone walls or under bridges, and more recently upsetting other wall users with hooky rubber band axes. The best training is offered by dedicated dry tooling crags but until recently there was a choice of two Newtyle (a 5 hour drive from Sheffield) or White Goods (a 2 - 2 1/2 hour drive). Luckily there is a little more choice with a new (by all accounts an excellent) venue at Hodge Close Quarry in the Lakes (still 2 1/2 hours drive from Sheffield) and Masson Lees near Matlock (45 minutes drive - yipee).

There has actually been a couple of routes for a 2 or 3 years at Masson. A short M5 and an upside down M lots. There has been a fair amount of activity recently and now the M5 has an M6 cousin, the M lots has doubled in length and become M lots and lots! plus there are two further lines drilled one completed (the left of the two) at M8+ and the other, when its been finished, should be around M7/7+.
Jon and paid a visit yesterday - behind him (click on photo to see full image) you can see the 20 quickdraws of the M lots and lots recently put up by Andy Turner and called Marginal gains - from the dark cave on the left it traverses to the far right hand lip of the cave. The two easier routes are to the left of the picture just right of the tree and the M8+ goes through the overhangs on the right of the photo.
 Heres Jon on the M5 - almost completely drilled like most routes but actually quite good as a moderate graded training route/warm up. I personally didn't like the M6 just to its right which is almost entirely natural but uses several natural threads which feel like they could snap at any moment. An axe in the face seemed an imminent possibility but I suspect it was early season wussiness.
I dogged out the M8+ (this is the first half) again totally drilled. I found it desperate for the grade and there were some moves I couldn't do. It would be at my limit if I was going well and I'm definitely not going well at the moment.

Newtyle and White Goods have a lot more to offer at the moment than Masson. But being so close and desperately needing to sort out my fitness I'll be back for more humiliation and sore arms at Masson soon.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sony RX 100 Camera Review

Having broken a string of compact cameras recently and finally managed to put aside a little cash I was in the market for a new snappy. I opted for the Sony RX100 and the following review is based mainly on my experiences using it on a weeks climbing trip in Switzerland at the beginning of September. I'm sure my ticklist of what I was looking for in the perfect compact will be a familiar one. It's also one that perhaps until recently was unrealistic!

So ideally my compact would:
- Be genuinely compact, and portable (I used a Canon G10 for awhile a year ago which had a lot going for it but it was so big I couldn't carry it in a case in my jacket pocket when climbing - luckily it was strong as chimneying up a winter route in Glen Coe I tore through my jacket and gauged chunks out of the camera body).
- Have good enough quality resolution for double page spreads at 300dpi in the magazine I edit. Of course this isn't just a case of more megapixels but the quality of that image - noise etc.
- Be useable in a climbing situation - i.e. simple controls, useable with gloves and fast, or at least fast enough for the relatively slow sport of climbing. Many compacts, and most of the current interchangeable lens high res 'semi-compacts' suffer from being serious shutter lag, slow focussing etc.
- provide reliably metered exposures in automatic, semi-automatic operation. I tend to shoot on shutter priority or full programme modes.
- Have a great lens. I'm less interested in telephoto shots on this type of camera and much more interested in the wider angles plus as fast as possible. The fact that my favourite camera has been a Voigtlander (Leica M copy) on which I would use 15mm lens (sometimes a 12mm) might give you an idea of where my heart lies.
- Ideally it would be tough too, I'm realistic that I put cameras through much worse than the typical high street user, but I would hope a compact would last 2 years. So far none have.
- Oh, and it would be nice if it was cheap!
So how did the RX100 measure up?

It's definitely a genuine compact - here it is in it's dedicated case. It might seem strange to show it in it's case first but funnily enough this 'old school' case was one of the big deciding points for me on buying the camera as I've always struggled with finding cases that have worked with compacts. This works very well, and in Switzerland I was confident enough to just climb with it slung around my neck and over my shoulder - scraping away against the hard granite of Grimselpass.

 The lens does stick out a bit (plus its got one of those potentially easy to clog up auto-sliding lens covers which have gone wrong on numerous previous cameras).
 The payoff for this small size - no viewfinder - boo hiss.
Amazingly this tiny camera produces 20.2 million pixels (the DSLR I use has 12.3 million - although admittedly dated by todays standards - but 20million compares with top pro DSLRs). Theoretically this should be a disaster in a compact with their smaller sensors. The RX100 however has a 1" sensor four times the size of most compacts and over twice the size of similar sized 'performance compacts' although still smaller than a DSLRs. From that initial weeks shooting I'm extremely impressed - below is a shot at 125iso and a crop to show detail.

The following shot is at 400iso with the crop showing very healthy low noise details.

So in use - I haven't properly played with this with gloves on (something I normally would do before purchase) and it will be interesting to see how it does in winter conditions. The good news is the power switch, shutter, zoom and main mode dial are sizeable and chunky. A ring around the lens can be used to cover aperture or shutter speed depending on mode - which is very easy to use. Selecting ISO seemed a bit more of a ball ache, having to go into the camera memory, selecting flash was also a touch fiddly but typical for this sized camera. More important is that there is minimal shutter lag (see shot below), and focus seemed lively (although it definitely prefers straight edges to more organic forms).
Battery-wise it takes about 400 jpeg images and charges through the camera itself rather than through a separate charger so I bought and used a spare battery during the week. Jpeg files sizes are around 8-8.7mb - I don't shoot RAW.

Metering on the whole was reliable and accurate.
Interestingly whilst looking through my images for 'purple flaring' a problem that has been reported I noticed the 'awkward transition from rock to sky - this shot was the only one that really displayed this although I was surprised by a certain amount of noise even at 125iso in the blue skies - it will be interesting to see whether this comes out on the printed page.
Again exposure was reliable in more tricky situations - this shot was taken at 125iso 1 sec F2.8 propped up on stones.
The lens is a 28-100mm F1.8 - 4.9. The very big aperture at the wide end offers up loads of nice shallow depth of field possibilities
Heres a crop of the above shot at F1.8 at 28mm
I would need to do some more controlled tests but it does seem there is a slight drop off of quality/distortion at the edges - although minor enough to not be an issue for me (Its a lot better than my ludicrously expensive Nikon 14-24mm!). Some have talked of flare shooting into the sun or even some kind of 'purple flare' on shots with the sun just out of shot. I didn't shoot anything directly into the sun, but these two are closest and perfectly acceptable for me.

In terms of toughness - we'll have to see. So far so good - the case is a great help to that effect. In fact my general experience with the RX100 has been overwhelmingly positive. Once I've had a chance to play with things like it's video capabilities (1080 AVCHD) or gizmos such as HDR bracketing, Panorama sweep I'll perhaps do another blog.

And as for cheap? - I paid £599 (although you can get much cheaper on the web). That's not cheap in anyone's book but it has got me enjoying photography again and that's priceless.
Here is a review by a good site
This one has a nice chart comparing competitors sensor sizes and prices