A Terrible Thing Happened At Amazon…

6 May, 2010

Lumix TZ7


I mentioned having had a sudden desire for a new camera (John: this is *still* your fault), and I’ve been unable to shake it off. I’ve been looking at some Fujifilm Finepix bridge cameras (heh… see all the terminology I’m learning, eh? ‘Bridge’ camera, indeed!), but even though I’m no real photographer I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I didn’t want to buy a camera that www.dpreview.com has slated for image quality when I already have such a nice Canon compact (the Powershot A95).

Yesterday evening, though, I stumbled across some reviews of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ7, and a few hours later a sort of finger twitch moment occurred as I studied the Amazon page, and somehow I pressed the ‘One Click’ button for ‘Next Day Delivery’… Oops!

The TZ7 (TZ as in ‘travel zoom’, apparently) has an ultra-lovely Leica lens. It’s 25mm at the wide end, and goes to 300mm (in 35mm equivalent, as I now know they say). It doesn’t offer much manual control, so wouldn’t suit a lot of all y’all camera experts out there, and unfortunately it doesn’t have a viewfinder, but it has a range of pre-set ‘scene modes’ which are said to work extremely well, and I think they’ll be just great for me on backpacking trips. After reading hundreds of reviews of all sorts of small cameras I realised that they don’t tend to be very good in low light, due to their small sensors (I think), but this one seems to do better than most. It also does HD video.

Here‘s a gallery on http://www.flickr.com which shows what it’s possible to do with this little camera. If I ever get anything even half as lovely as some of those then I’ll be a very happy little piglet indeed.

The only problem that really stood out as I read about it concerns the battery. I prefer cameras that take ordinary batteries that I can buy in shops along the way, which is why I bought a Canon Powershot in the first place. I know that it’s possible to get by with a rechargable battery, though, if carrying a spare (or 2), and the charger. Unfortunately, reports seem to indicate that battery life on this camera is pretty dire. Panasonic claim that it’ll take 300 pictures, but many people seem to have had only a third to a half of that, particularly if recording any video. What made this more than just a major faff that could be circumvented by the carrying of several spare batteries was that Panasonic introduced some sort of chip into the battery, thus preventing the use of 3rd party copies (they simply wouldn’t work), and since the Panasonic batteries were originally about £60 each (!) that was a bit of a killer. However, it appears that it is now possible to get working OEM batteries for £10 each (or less), and so I’ve bought a 2-pack from Ebay.

It was the amazing image quality in such a small camera–Leica lens, see–that made me really, really, REALLY want to have one, but what tipped me over the edge was the great reduction currently running on Amazon. Apparently Panasonic are doing away with this camera any time soon, and replacing it with the TZ10. They’re currently selling the TZ7 for £199.99. They say that’s a reduction from £352.85, and whilst I know it’s possible to get it for less than that £350+ figure elsewhere the £199.99 does seem to be a genuine bargain.

Incidentally, the other one that really tempted me was the Lumix DMC-LX3. That’s even *wider* at 24mm, but it doesn’t have the super-zoom and only goes to 60mm. Having said that, the sensor is large, the picture quality is apparently fractionally better and the battery life is not a problem. It’s more expensive–currently £315.70 on Amazon–but by the time I was reading about it I really had the bug, and that might not have stood in the way of my desire to Have Lovely New Toys Right NOW had I felt that I could live without the zoom. Ultimately I didn’t feel I could, though, and so I went for the TZ7. Phew!

The wee monster is supposed to be arriving tomorrow morning, so I’ll tell you what I think when I’ve eased it out of the box and introduced it to Piglet and Puss-Puss. Meanwhile, I’m excited…

Aagh… Major pre-Challenge GAS attack…

30 April, 2010

Well with the Challenge almost upon us I’ve been laid low by an exceptionally virulent strain of Gear Acquisition Syndrome (or GAS).

A few days ago–and having read horrible, unrepeatable things about parasites in water–I decided that maybe I ought to update my existing water filtration plan. From non-existent, that is, to…well, something, at least. I did buy one of the original Travel Taps from Bob and Rose a couple of years ago, but because back then I was using a Platty with drinking tube I didn’t want to carry two systems and so didn’t actually use it. It’s still sitting in a cupboard somewhere.

I’m not using the Platty with drinking tube at the moment, though, mainly because since Piglet arrived I’ve rarely had space for a water-filled Platty in my pack, and so the idea of using the filter bottle seemed more feasible. I remembered reading that the original had been improved, and after a chat with Bob I decided to invest in a new one. At the same time there were a couple of other things I needed, and so therefore I’ve already invested in the following.

1. Travel Tap.
2. Primus Windshield.
3. Canister Feet.
4. Gehwol Refreshing Balm.
5. Gehwol Axle Grease. (In fact it goes by a different name, but I can’t find it on Bob’s site and so this one will have to do for now.)

The windshield was Phil’s fault. He showed me his Primus and promised that it would fit snuggly into my Kettley thing. It looked so lovely and neat–and so much smaller than my home-made windshield–that I couldn’t resist it, and so now it’s sitting on the kitchen table, awaiting deployment into the rucksack.

It does fit into the Kettley thing when wrapped around a 250 canister, but only just. The little rivets on the side scrape tramlines into the sides of the Kettley thing (thereby dislodging wee slivers of aluminium which will probably bring on my incipient dementia at a huge rate of knots…uh-oh…), and I’m going to have to tuck a piece of string or similar underneath the canister on packing up each morning, in order to be sure that I’ll be able to get it out in the evening. Still, it will work, I think, and so I’ve saved a bit of space (albeit added a little weight, on balance).

The Gehwol creams were Bob’s idea. I’ve used the Gehwol Axle Grease in the past and it’s pretty fantastic stuff, but I hadn’t got round to replacing the tube. Last Autumn I had a problem in the Dales, though, when I developed a case of trench foot after only a day of walking in consistently wet conditions in my Inov8s. Fortunately it was the last day, because the following day my foot was so sore that I could barely stand on it. That made me worry about whether I’m now so decrepit that I need less water-permeable footwear for the Challenge, but the Soloman mids I’ve been trying out have aggravated my chronic achilles tendonitis. Aaaagh! In the circumstances I propose to return to Inov8s and plaster my feeties with enough Gehwol to scare the trench foot away. Crubeens crossed, please, and watch this space.

That’s not the end of it, though. Over the course of the last few days I’ve compiled a little list of other things I’d like to get. Not so much because I actually need them, as that I’d simply like to have them.

6. Inov8 Terroc 308s. I’ve been using Roclite 315s for backpacking for several years now, but I feel like a change. My existing Roclites are looking very worn underneath, and I propose to reserve them for walking Piglet in the woods. I liked the Terrocs that I used to own (the originals: I think they’re now called Terroc 330s), but I must have left them somewhere because I’ve not seen them for at least 4 years. A phonecall to Inov8 yesterday, to take advice on the relative merits of Roclites and Terrocs in the ‘arch support’ department, suggested that the Terrocs are better equipped to pamper my ageing feet, and since that’s what I was hoping to hear I decided to buy a pair.

Sadly, it’s not possible for me find anywhere closer than Kendal where I can try on both the 6.5 and the 7. Okay: I could have gone to Sweatshop in Chorley, but they’ve only got them in the prissy light blue, and I don’t think I could live with myself in that colour of shoe. Give me the Stone/Sage over the pastel any day.

7. Inov8 Recolite 190s. In the course of looking up the Terrocs I spotted these very lightweight sandal-y things from Inov8. I love my Crocs but they’re too clunky and uncompressible to squeeze into my Exos, and I prefer, if possible, not to hang things off the back. These Recolites are about half the weight (i.e. 190g), though, and–as far as I can tell from much online drooling, and the cross-examination of various online retailers–they’re much more squishable than Crocs. When I drive up to Kendal to try the Terrocs tomorrow I’m going to try these as well. I’m sure they’re a really good investment. Definitely. Heh…

8. Inov8 Debris Gaiter. I’ve been meaning to get either these, or something like them, for a couple of years now, but haven’t yet got round to it. The plan is to keep all those nasty little bits of bracken, and pine needles, and similarly sharp bits of the landscape, out of my shoes and on the ground where they belong. If anyone knows of a much better system then please let me know–I realise there are several out there at the moment–but these seem to be considerably less expensive than some (about £10), and I’m assuming that since they’re made by Inov8 they’ll fit well onto my Terrocs.

9. Smartwool Liner Gloves. I generally use Buffalo mits, and carry a v. warm pair of padded gloves for foul conditions. Much as I love my Buffalos, though, there’s no getting round the fact that they’re a bit depressing when sodden wet. I’ve got waterproof over-mits, but I don’t always feel like fishing around for them in my pack if it begins to rain heavily. The padded gloves are blissfully comfy when I first put them on, but they’re not spacious enough for a liner and the fingers tend to try to turn inside out when I take them off, if my hands were wet in the first place. So, I’m thinking of using Smartwool liners as a basic glove (they’re quite thick, as liners go), and supplementing them with something else. I’m not yet sure what. Ideas welcome. Gloves are a bit of a pain for me, since (i) I tend to get very cold, painful hands quite quickly, and so need to be sure that I can keep them warm, and (ii) mes crubeens are quite small, and many ‘small’ gloves are too large for them. That may be the case with the Smartwools, but I’m hoping not.

10. Kahtoola Microspikes. I’d definitely like a pair of these, and reckon that they could turn out to be very useful in the Cairngorms if the snow persists into May. I must get round to ordering some this weekend.

11. Satmap Active 10 GPS. There’s no excuse for this: I simply love gadgets, and would absolutely love to have one. They’re so extremely expensive, though, that I almost certainly will be going without, for this year at least. I did try using my phone as a GPS in the Lakes last October but for me it didn’t seem to work very well. There’s the major battery issue, and I don’t like having to use a touch-screen device inside a plastic bag, and I was worried about dropping it etc etc. Basically it was such a faff that I don’t even intend to take that phone on the Challenge–I’m taking an old, straightforward light one instead, and if I need a GPS I’ll have my trust Garmin Geko to fall back upon. Still… the Satmap GPSs are truly lovely…

12. Fujifilm Finepix S1600. This one is John Jocys’s fault! He showed me his S1500, and I really liked the shape and feel of it. They seem to fall into the category of ‘bridge’ cameras, which are something in between the DSLRs and the compacts. There’s actually quite a range of them: S1500, S1600, S1800, S2000HD and S2500HD to name but a few, and they seem to to up in price from just under £100 to about £300 or so. I don’t need a new camera–I’ve got a Canon DSLR and 3 (!!!) compacts (though one is currently out on loan, and I keep trying to give one of the others to my sister). I’d like one, though, because (as mentioned above) I love gadgets, and each time I see a sexy new camera I imagine that by some sort of osmotic process the ability to take really good pictures will somehow instill itself in me by the simple act of purchasing it. Doh…

So! This is the kit I’ve been contemplating over the course of the last few days. I think I’ll definitely get the microspikes and the debris gaiters, and just see how I get on with the rest. Prolly the Terrocs too.

Any comments/suggestions/whatever from anyone re: any of these things, or re: anything else I’ve forgotten to consider buying, will be most welcome, as always 🙂

Foody morning — Yum! Plus fantastic podcasts, photography and a wee lolcat

30 August, 2008

I’ve been intending to make some pickled onions for about… well, probably about 25 years, now *g*

I finally got round to starting the process the day before yesterday, when I peeled what felt like a very large quantity of shallots (in the absence of baby onions), made some brine and set the onions to soak in the brine for 24 hours.

This morning I washed, polished and sterilised some jars, packed the onions lovingly in and covered them with a mixture of malt vinegar and pickling spices, with a couple of dried, habanero chillies per jar, since I like my pickled onions hot and spicy.

I like my pickled onions crunchy too, though, and I thought the soaked onions felt a little squidgy as I removed them from the brine, and so I made a third batch–following The Definitive Delia’s Quick Pickled Onions recipe–which haven’t been soaked at all: simply peeled this morning, washed in a dribble of cold water, dabbed dry with a paper towel (so as not to dilute the vinegar) and tumbled into the jar.

I think I have to wait at least 3 weeks before I try them, but I’m quite excited 🙂 My mother used to make pickled onions every year, and they were lovely. The nicest I’ve ever had, though, I bought from a stall at the Southport Show a few years ago, and that’s where I got the chillies idea: they were almost hot enough to blow my head off! Quite wonderful!

I’ve been getting on with various domestic kitchen-related chores for the last week, partly because I’m in the process of mucking out the sty to put it on the market, and while I’ve been doing them I’ve been catching up with the absolutely fantastic range of podcasts over at backpackinglight.co.uk and The Outdoors Station.

Because I’ve been out of touch for a while I’d fallen hopelessly behind, but this week I was glad of that because it gave me tons of great stuff to listen to. I’ve been through loads of them, including (but not limited to…) The Gourmet Hedgerow, Foraging for Fungi, the whole of Bob’s journey with Lee along the Cape Wrath Trail, Andy‘s Life as a Guidebook Writer and Life as an Outdoor Writer interviews with Paddy Dillon and Mark Richards respectively, as well as his Meet the Bloggers compilation from the 2008 Outdoors Show, Bob’s interviews with the Cicerone Team and with Gayle about the LeJog she and Mick undertook earlier this year in M & G go for a Walk, and one of Bob’s broadcasts from the Friedrichshafen Outdoor Trade Fair, which included his chat with Chris Townsend and John Manning. I’m now working my way through Bob and Andy’s Tale of Two Podcasters, as they made their way along the TGO Challenge in May of last year.

I’ve always loved the podcasts, but I was really quite staggered by the truly fantastic range, quantity and quality of the amazing recordings that Bob and Andy have now accumulated. What a brilliant resource it is, for all of us.

Thirdly, I’ve been over at Andy’s blog, excited by a new Photo Project he’s started, the purpose of which is discussion, debate and information for those of us interested in expanding and developing our photographic horizons. I’ve just bought a DSLR and I’m very keen to learn how to use it, and so I know I’m going to be spending a lot of time over there soaking up all the info that Andy and other photographers more experienced than me have to offer.

Right! Back to mucking out the kitchen, then… First, though, a quick scan at ICanHasCheezBurger… *g*

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

First flower piccies with new camera :)

6 August, 2008

Fresh from the garden this morning 🙂

Passion Flower

Passion Flower

For some people the Passion Flower is rife with religious symbolism. They’re certainly complex, and fascinating. I’m not sure where this one came from: I think my mother must have planted it.

Passion Flower - close up

Passion Flower - close up

One of my favourites is the simple Jasmine, though, with its exquisite scent.

Lovely Jasmine

Lovely Jasmine

A pal has suggested that I should take a look at extension tubes for capturing small things, so I’m about to go and do so.

CCS camera cases for backpacking – Get them while you still can

6 August, 2008

Back in 1990 (ZOMG, it’s almost 20 years ago…) I bought a really lovely padded blue case for a second-hand camera I took to Belize on a diving expedition. A few years later I bought a second one for something else. They’re the nicest camera cases I’ve ever seen–extremely well padded, and either waterproof or close to it–and perfect for backpacking, but when I tried to get hold of one for my little point-and-shoots over the last couple of years I found they didn’t seem to be in the shops any more. The Lowepro bags, which were the best I could find, really don’t hold a candle to them.

CCS Warthog - front

CCS Warthog - front

Now that I’ve got a more sophisticated camera I’ve made more of an effort to track them down, and I’m v. sorry to find that the owners have retired and CCS cases are no more. However, their friends and co-retailers at RK Photographic have bought out the remaining stock, and they still have some.

I found them on the net last night, and I’ve just rung and ordered a Warthog for my EOS and a Kite for my little P&S (Canon Powershot A570IS). If my second and slightly larger P&S (Canon Powershot A95) doesn’t fit into the Kite I’m going to get a slightly larger one for that too, because once this stock has been sold CCS cases will be gone forever.

CCS Warthog - back

CCS Warthog - back

If you’d like what’s probably the best backpacking case in the world, ring RK Photographic now and buy one 🙂

So, are all piglets this stupid, then?

6 August, 2008

Sometimes I wonder how I manage to get out of bed and navigate to my clothes in the morning.

I somehow missed out on microwaves. My father had a little one in the corner of the kitchen, but none of the rest of us really used it, and I’ve never caught up. A few years ago I thought I’d better get one, just in case. I thought it would be useful for defrosting home-made chicken stock. It seems it wasn’t, though. I think the stock is still in the bottom of the freezer.

Anyway… a couple of days ago I wanted to use some butter straight from the fridge. It was solid, and it occurred to me to shove it in the microwave for 20 seconds or so. I did, and a few seconds later the microwave started making terrifying electrical flash things, and there was smoke, and loud noise and popping, sizzling noises. I was tempted to run, but I grabbed a tea towel and made a frantic poke at the Off button. Fortunately it stopped. It seems there must have been metal in the butter wrapper. How extremely scary it was! Shouldn’t butter wrappers come with some sort of warning?

And now today I realise that I’m too stupid to be able to work out how to use the zoom lens on my clever new D-SLR camera. With my little point-and-shoot I just pulled a lever thing that rested conveniently under one of my fingers, and the flower or insect dashed in close. There doesn’t seem to be such a lever on the new camera, though. I think perhaps I’m supposed to turn the housing on the lens, but in my Canon EOS 400D for Dummies book I was told that manually turning it might damage the lens, and now I’m terrified to touch it. And when I look up ‘Zoom’ in the Dummies index there’s nothing there 😦 I’m stuck…

Edited to add:
Okay, so I think I’ve sussed the zoom thing. It seems there’s a difference between the zoom barrel and the focusing ring, and it’s the focusing ring I’m not supposed to turn unless the camera is set to Manual Focus. Phew!

New camera – Canon EOS 400D

3 August, 2008

I’ve finally bought a camera that’ll enable me to take clear pics of flowers and wee creatures when I’m out walking. It’s a Canon EOS 400D.

I’ve never had an SLR before, and it seems to be horrendously complicated. All this stuff about F stops and lenses and goodness knows what. If anyone knows of any links to simple idiot-proof guides to learning the basics then please let me know.

Also, I’m planning to take it backpacking. Are the blue CCS cases the best ones for that sort of thing? I used to have a couple but they don’t seem to be so widely available these days. Maybe there’s something better around now.