om-d, om-g?!

It’s been a while since I’ve done a photography post. Apparently it’s been a year, since the last photography post on my blog appears to have been from November of last year. Man it’s crazy how fast time flies. It’s not that I haven’t been taking any pictures. I’ve just been too lazy to write lately. Last year I made a point out of trying to post at least once a week, but most months this year I barely even managed to crank out one post. So yeah, I’ve been lazy, but I will try to be more consistent in writing for the rest of the year.

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Anyways, a lot has changed since my last photography post. I ended up selling all my Pentax camera gear. It was a pretty tough decision. I’ve used Pentax SLR’s for over a half dozen years. I started with a Pentax K100d, then moved to a K20d, then finally a K-5. And I had a fairly decent collection of Pentax lenses too, covering from ultra wide to fairly long telephoto. I sold the entire collection on eBay.

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I had thought about selling my Pentax collection a couple of years back, when I bought a full frame Nikon D600 during a holiday sale. On paper that Nikon was superior to my Pentax in just about every way that a camera could be superior, but I ended up sticking with Pentax that time. Strangely enough, the camera that got me to sell all my Pentax gear, the Olympus OM-D is actually quite worse on paper than the Pentax camera that I had.

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Although the specs are worse, the Olympus OM-D is a much smaller camera. Since most of my pictures are taken when I’m traveling or hiking I felt that having a smaller camera was worth the small tradeoff in performance.

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The size difference is especially noticeable when you’re looking at the camera from above with a lens attached. Because the OM-D is a mirrorless camera, the lens can sit very close to the sensor since there’s no need for space to clear a hinged mirror. And since the camera has a smaller sensor, the lenses can be designed smaller since they don’t need to cover as large an area. All this basically means is that there’s less weight on my shoulders when I hike and less space taken up in my bags when I travel.

I’ve been using the camera for my last few trips and have found that I really don’t notice a difference in image quality, especially in good light. I was mostly worried about losing the ability to shoot in darker situations, but have found that it’s really not that much worse than my previous camera at the high ISO’s needed for those dark situations. ISO 1600 and even 3200 is still pretty usable, which is more or less where I was at with my old camera. The Nikon that I briefly owned was better of course, shooting at 6400 fairly cleanly, but for my purposes 3200 is plenty.

Downloads

These are a couple of shots I’ve taken in dark situations in the last few months. There’s some noise visible in the images, but for my purposes the noise is not too bad. Part of the reason why the camera’s so usable in low light is the amazing image stabilization system in the OM-D. The shot on the right was taken with a shutter speed of an entire second. That definitely would’ve been a blurry mess with my shaky hands on my old camera. With my old camera at a similar focal length of around 24mm equivalent the best I could do is maybe 1/6 of a second, and even then most of my shots at that shutter speed were too blurry to use. Now 1/6 of a second seems like no problem. This ability to use slow shutter speeds is good for dark situations, but it’ll also come in handy for stuff like waterfalls where I’d deliberately use slow shutter speeds to make the water look smoother. I might be able to get away without a tripod in more situations, which again means less weight on my shoulder and less space taken up by camera gear in my bag.

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When hiking I often find myself in situations where I have a light foreground and dark background or vice versa, so it’s nice to have a camera with very good dynamic range. I was pretty spoiled with my old camera, it had amazing dynamic range, according to DxoMark it was among the best in this regard. The new camera is not quite as good, according to DxoMark it gives up almost two stops of range, and this is one of those areas where I actually notice a difference in the pictures. On my trusty old Pentax I bet I could’ve gotten more detail in both the bright areas and the shadows of both of these photos. But I’m happy enough with the pictures I got, and these sorts of photo situations seem to happen when the hiking is the hardest, in deep canyons or in forests, so I guess having a smaller and lighter camera is a fair trade.

Downloads-001One unexpected bonus is the touchscreen. I honestly didn’t expect to use it much, but it actually comes in handy in a couple of situations. First, when I’m hiking I often hand off my camera to a stranger to have them take a picture for me. It’s much easier to explain to them to just touch on my face to take a picture than to explain that they should try and get the focus point in the viewfinder onto my face. So far since I’ve started using the OM-D I haven’t gotten an out of focus shot when handing off the camera to someone else. The second unexpected bonus is that the camera is still usable when your right hand is busted. With the cast I was wearing when I broke my hand I couldn’t wrap my finger around the shutter button of a traditional camera but I could tap the screen with my thumb to take pictures on my OM-D.

Downloads12The touchscreen was a great bonus, but I’m not yet fully sold on all the tech on this camera. The OM-D has an electronic viewfinder rather than an optical one, which is nice when shooting directly into the sun. I can take my time to expose and frame carefully without worrying about burning my retina. And it’s nice to see exposure and depth of field in the viewfinder. But the electronic viewfinder is completely worthless in darkness. The first time I took my camera out backpacking the stars were pretty bright, so I wanted to get a picture of the big dipper over my sleeping bag. I found that I couldn’t see anything in the viewfinder, so I couldn’t focus and I couldn’t frame the shot. To make matters worse, you can’t focus when you can’t see since the couple of lenses that I have, since they’re all focus by wire lenses. It was only after an hour of guessing and testing, moving my camera slightly and moving the focus slightly that I was able to get a picture of the dipper.

So yeah, there are times when I really miss having an optical viewfinder and mechanical manual focus lenses. I think with the OM-D I can get halfway there, I can buy a manual focus lens with distance markers, so I would at least be able to focus, but I still wouldn’t be able to see what I’m shooting at. I guess if I bought a really wide manual focus lens, I can just set the focus and point the camera in the general direction of what I’m shooting at and then crop to get the shot I want. But it’d be nice to not have to jump through all those hoops to get star shots.

Aside from the star photography issues, I’m pretty happy with my OM-D and I don’t really have much regret in selling all my Pentax gear. Most of my Pentax gear was weather sealed, and I often shot in the rain or underneath waterfalls without worry. Supposedly the OM-D and the kit lens I’m using is sealed, so I guess time will tell if it holds up as well as my Pentax gear did in inclement weather.

Over the years I became kind of a Pentax fanboy, I would always read up on all the latest Pentax news (it was actually easy cuz there really wasn’t much news, haha) and I was at times an avid contributor to Pentax forums. I can’t say that I’m a fanboy of Olympus or the OM-D series, I’m not OMG in love with the camera or the brand but it’s been good so far and I’m looking forward to a lot of travel and adventures with the camera. Who knows maybe I will someday be OMG in love with it.

positive is positive?

Yesterday I went in for a routine physical. Part of the reason for the physical was for me to check if I needed any immunizations for an upcoming trip. The other main reason was to ask for blood lab work to be done. I was curious about my cholesterol levels, especially since I haven’t done much cardio for a couple of months. I guess I’m kind of a hypochondriac. Actually I take that back. I’m actually a massive hypochondriac.

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Today I started receiving the results from my tests, so I’ve been checking the website as the test results come in. The third test result I received was this: VARICELLA ZOSTER VIRUS, POSITIVE. So of course the hypochondriac in me kicks in and I convince myself that I have a life threatening illness. First order of business, click the link above that says “About this test.”

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Clicking the link does not ease my worries one bit. It lumps all the viral tests together, including HIV, which I know I definitely don’t want to be tested positive for. The third sentence is particularly worrying: “Viruses cause disease by destroying or damaging the cells they infect, damaging the body’s immune system, changing the genetic material (DNA) of the cells they infect, or causing inflammation that can damage an organ.” So now I’m convinced that I must be dying. Since the website doesn’t have much information on my particular viral outbreak I turn to trusty Google for more information.

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So it turns out that a positive Varicella Zoster virus test result means that I’ve had the chicken pox before. It means that I should be immune to a future outbreak of chicken pox. Reading that on a random website was a huge relief, but it’s information that probably should be on the test results page. Or at the very least it should indicate that testing positive in this case is something positive (i.e. constructive or good) unlike the case of HIV where testing positive would be unequivocally bad.

the summit. whitney. conquered.

It’s been almost two years exactly since my last trip to Mount Whitney. I failed to make it to the top that time, but vowed that I would return someday and conquer this peak. This weekend I can say that I finally conquered California’s highest peak.

permits!

The permits make it quite clear that this mountain is the highest in California– in fact it’s the highest point in the continental United States.

scale

At the trailhead there’s a scale where everyone weighs their packs. Last year my pack was over 40 pounds. This year my pack was just over 30 pounds including water.

fall foliageThe hike begins with a set of switchbacks that climbs rapidly out of the Whitney Portal area. The scenery was nice here, with the colors from the fall foliage running down the valley. At the top of the switchbacks is a creek that runs out from Lone Pine Lake. We stopped there for a short water break before continuing onward and upward.

entering the whitney permit zone

Shortly afterward we entered the Whitney Permit zone. From here there the trail becomes quite rocky.

stopping to admire the meadow

The trail then suddenly drops you off in a meadow. The orange and gold in the meadow contrasts against the green pine trees and the white granite. It’s quite beautiful, especially this time of year. At the end of the meadow is Outpost Camp, the first of two major campsites on the mountain. We thought about eating lunch at Outpost, but decided to continue on a little farther.

lunch!

We stopped for lunch on the shore of Mirror Lake. We were making great progress up until now, so we had time to take a short nap after lunch.

the upper meadow

Above mirror lake is another small meadow. We were starting to slow down at this point, the altitude was starting to get to us, since we were already above 10,000 feet at this point.

last climb towards trail camp

After the second meadow was a rocky climb towards trail camp, our goal for the day. The sun beat down on us relentlessly. There was no shade since we were already pretty far above the tree line at this point.

closer view of our campsite

We camped at Trail Camp, which is just above 12,500 ft. Thankfully there’s a good water supply here, and there are rock walls to shelter you from the cold winds.

our campsite, right near the base of the switchback section

The scenery’s at trail camp is pretty epic. Despite being over 12,500 feet high the mountains still tower over you. It makes you feel tiny in comparison.

dawn

We woke up at the crack of dawn to filter water and prepare for our summit attempt. We decided to skip breakfast, which in hindsight was a horrible idea.

looking back on our campsite from the switchback section

We started up the switchbacks above Trail Camp. There are supposedly 99 switchbacks here. It felt like way way more than that.

big patch of ice

For the most part the trail was clear of snow and ice. The only somewhat treacherous part was the cable section. It was much easier than last time I was out here.

descending to trail crest

It seemed like we made it to Trail Crest pretty quickly. Trail Crest is the top of the switchback section, at 13,700 feet. There’s a short descent from the crest where the trail crosses over to the backside of the mountains.

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At this point the altitude was starting to affect everyone. Some people get headaches from it, some people get weird, and some people stay completely cool.

looking over the edge. sheer drops down most of the backside.The backside of the trail is pretty epic, with amazing views of the John Muir Wilderness. The trail is kinda scary at times, with sheer thousand foot drops at some points.

about a third of the way into the backside sectionOne of the easier sections, about a third of the way up the backside.

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The Keeler needle area. This is where we turned back last time I was here. It was really disappointing last time, since you could see the Whitney Peak from here (it’s the slope in the background.) This time it was pretty encouraging to see that the end was in sight.

first glimpse of the summit

With the end in sight I started to quicken my pace, only to feel the effects of the altitude. I had to slow down to almost a crawl, otherwise my pulse in my neck would start to pound and I’d be gasping for air.

the highest trail in the united states

The marker at the top of Mount Whitney. Apparently it’s the highest trail in the United States. That means if I want to go any higher, I’ll probably need to learn some crazy mountaineering skills. Nah. I think Whitney’s enough for me– I don’t need to kill myself to go higher.

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Tao made it to the top first. I made it a while after him. I ended up taking a nap on a rock and was woken up when Vishal made it to the top. He said that Steve was waiting down below the peak because the altitude was getting to him. We started down the mountain to find that Steve wasn’t where Vishal had left him. We were starting to get worried, but we eventually found Steve further down the mountain. He had made the right choice to descend to a lower altitude. The altitude was hitting him pretty hard at this point, so we slowly made it down together to trail camp, stopping every once in a while to catch our breaths.

When we arrived at Trail Camp we tried to eat a bit, but none of us really had an appetite, despite the fact that none of us had anything except some snacks all day. We decided to pack up and head down the mountain. Steve was ready first, so he decided to head out first. The rest of us finished packing and filtered some water then headed out as well. By this time the sun had already set, so we had to hike out in the darkness using our headlamps. Tao, Vishal and I decided to stick together, thinking that three lights on the trial were better than one. Even with the three powerful headlamps we lost the trail a few times. The walk down felt absurdly long. Our legs were all pretty sore already, and none of us had much energy left. We were worried about Steve since we didn’t see any headlamps ahead of us the whole way down, and because he didn’t seem to be in great shape when he left camp. Vishal, Tao and I made it back to the parking area a little before 11 at night. I was relieved to find that Steve had left a note on my car saying that he had made it down safely and was driving home.

So in the end I was finally able to conquer the trail to the summit that eluded me two years ago. For much of the hike I thought about my previous trip. In many ways the trip was the same– same time of year, same cold sleepless night at Trail Camp, same brutal hike out after dark. The difference was that this time around the drought made it so there wasn’t much snow on the trail. I think the only thing that was better about last time was that Jamie had brought Diamox, a medicine that helps the body acclimate to high elevations. If I had asked Steve to bring it, I have no doubt that he would have made it to the to without any problems. So now Steve is left where I was at two years ago– having had to turn back just short of the summit. I wonder if he has the same burning desire to return and conquer the summit that I had. I guess if he does, I’ll be down to come back and conquer this mountain one more time…

healing progress

It’s been about five weeks now since my crash.

weekone

For the first week after my crash I was in a hard splint that covered my arm all the way to my elbow. The timing of the crash was pretty terrible because I had agreed to be a groomsman for Jason’s wedding, which was the following week. I had a lot of road rash on my face, but by the time of the wedding the scabs had mostly fallen off, and the morning of the wedding I ended up picking off the rest of the scabs. And thankfully my suit (just barely) fit over the splint.

weektwo

The splint came off a few days after the wedding, about ten days after the crash. I was really glad to have it off, because my hand and arm was really itchy. It turns out my hand was itchy partially because the wound in my hand was still oozing. For the next week or so I had to change out the gauze and bandages over my hand daily. At about two and a half weeks after the crash the wound had healed enough for the doctors to take the stitches out of my hand. I wore a bit of gauze for a little while longer until they were confident that the wound was fully closed.

now

Fast forward to today– the wound is fully closed and the fracture in my hand is almost fully healed. I can wiggle my fingers and can touch my thumb to almost all my fingers, where even I week ago I couldn’t even touch my pointer to my thumb. But I can’t yet make a fist or completely straighten out my middle finger independently of my other fingers. Thankfully I haven’t gotten into a fist fight or felt the need to curse someone off this past month, and hopefully I’ll be able to do those things again soon (not that I ever really do those things…)

For the first time since the crash I’m really starting to be able to use my right hand again. I’ve been able to hold a pen and make my signature with my right hand. I’ve been able to hold a fork in my hand, although a bit awkwardly still (and I’m still not able to use chopsticks.) I missed my car dearly, so thankfully there’s enough strength in my hand to hold the stick shift and start driving a manual transmission again. And thankfully for my work I’ve been able to type with both hands again, nearly doubling my productivity.

personal

I’ve been visiting the orthopedic department of the hospital and have been visiting with a physical therapist that specializes in the hand. Seeing x-rays of my hand and seeing the posters on the walls of the orthopedics department showing the complexity of the hand made me realize how amazing our hands are, and amazing our bodies as a whole are. And seeing the daily progress in my healing has made me realize the amazing ability of our body to heal itself.

Seeing all this has made me remember the passage from Psalms about how we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Its something I guess I’ve taken for granted. I mean I’ve always known that our bodies were pretty complex, but seeing my hand go from completely nonfunctional to almost completely functioning again made me really realize how wonderful we are put together, and how wonderful it is that our body is able to put itself back together.

shower’s lake

This weekend I went backpacking with a group to Shower’s Lake. Originally I was thinking of backpacking somewhere on the Tahoe Rim trail on my own. Since I had a hike to Mount Whitney coming up, I figured the Tahoe Rim would be a better place to train since the hike would be longer and at a higher altitude. But with my hand not fully healed yet I figured it would be better to go with a group, so I ended up joining with Dan’s crew at Shower’s Lake.

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We met up at the Meiss Trailhead off of highway 88. Our hike would be almost completely on the Pacific Crest Trail.

caples lake

The trail starts with a short climb. From here you can see Caple’s Lake, not too far away. This part of the trail is quite pleasant, with nice shade trees and nice fall foliage.

crazy backdrop

In addition to the foliage you’re treated to nice views of the Mokelumne Wilderness, with Round Top and the Three Sisters making a nice backdrop.

climbing the switchbacksThe trail continues onward and upward on a pretty exposed mountainside. There’s not much cover here, the sun beating down on the trail would be brutal in the summertime, but it’s bearable in the fall.

shortcut down the hill

Once you get to the top of the exposed area you hike downward towards Meiss Meadow. For some reason even though there’s a trail here we bushwacked down the side of the hill for a while.

crossing meiss meadow

At the bottom of the hill lies Meiss Meadow.

welcome to the meiss family cabin

Meiss Meadow is named for the Meiss family who used the area to graze their cattle.

meiss family cabin

Their original cabin still stands to this day. It’s actually a quite nice spot, with the meadow in front and a creek running behind the cabin.

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After we crossed Meiss Meadow there was a fairly decent sized climb to get to Shower’s Lake, which was at about 8500′ in elevation. Despite being so high up there were a good number of flat campsites. We camped a bit away from the lake.

In the morning we hiked back out. The total trip was about ten miles. On our way back home we had our usual Indian casino buffet meal. It’s pretty much a tradition for us, every time I’ve gone backpacking with Dan we’ve hit that casino buffet. In the end the hike ended up being a bit shorter than I wanted, but at least I got to spend a night at altitude, hopefully it’s enough to get me ready for Mount Whitney.