John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Hybrid and plug in hybrid discussion

I love math, spreadsheets and the like. They have a real way of making sense of stuff, well for my head they do ๐Ÿ˜‰ This discussion is about numbers, and have nothing to do with you buying a hybrid to help save the planet or some other non monetary reason, just so we are clear, this is cost effectiveness and payback only. So let’s talk about the math behind hybrids and plug in hybrids. The difference, in case your unclear, plug in hybrids generally have an additional battery for use on some limited range in all electric mode. Once exhausted the vehicle slips into standard hybrid mode. And for the sake of completeness, hybrids have a way of capturing braking energy, storing it, and then using that energy to power the vehicle, more often supplementing the gas engine. The most common way is electrical but there are hydraulic based systems on trucks and the like. Ok with the basics down let’s have a boo shall we … The 2022 Ford escape provides the perfect opportunity for comparisons. I’ll be using CDN $$s at time of this article from the web, and MSRP.

Ford SE Escape gas comes in at $29,149 base, with the hybrid coming in at $32349, or a cost premium on the hybrid of $3200. Fuel efficiency goes from 7.8 l/100KM down to 5.8 for the hybrid using combined numbers from Ford’s web site. At a cost of 41.75 per litre this means it will take you just over 90,000KM to even break even on the hybrid. Obviously higher gas prices means a quicker payback.

Ford Escape Plug in Hybrid adds a 14KWH battery for a range of 61KM of all electric. Vehicle cost goes from $32,349 up to $37,649, or a premium of $5300 for the plug in option. For the sake of simplicity let’s say you drive at least 61KM per day, 5 days a week, and let’s assume you don’t have access to a charger at work. If you have a charger at work then this could potentially half my projections. Using a off peak electricity cost of 8.2 per KWH means a full fill will cost $1.18, meaning a savings per weekday of $8.53. Additionally you will need to install a Level 2 charger in your home for this to be practical, otherwise charge times go from 3.5hrs up to 10. A rough cost for the charger is $1000. So, to recoup your costs will take almost 3.3 years. (Oh by the way I didn’t even bother including the additional sales tax on the price premium).

Similarly let’s have a quick look at Toyota Prius to see their numbers. They don’t offer a non hybrid model, so we will skip that part and jump right to the plug in hybrid numbers. Toyota, by the way, fought the market for years, arguing there is no cost justification for a plug in hybrid, but eventually mollified the market and added one. So the base Prius costs $28500 with the Plug in hybrid, the Prius Prime coming in at $33500, or a price premium of $5000. For this you get a 8 KWH battery with a range of 40KM of all electric. Using all the same points mentioned above the projected payback is just under 8 years, right around when the warranty runs out ๐Ÿ˜‰

Now, this does not even take into account that the all electric range is what it is the day it rolls out of the factory, this can only be expected to decrease as the battery ages, look at your cell phone or laptop batteries for an idea of how much that range will drop off in 3 years. Additionally, batteries are ALWAYs less efficient in the cold, and Canada gets some cold weather. Not to mention you have the demands of your heating and cooling of the passenger compartment that will additionally impact the all electric range. So with that, I’ll close out the post … if your getting the idea that I’m not a fan of either, hybrid or plug in hybrids, ya that’s true. I drive a big honking V8, climate change might not be at the top of my priorities.

September 9, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Organizing photos

Ok, so you’ve decided to start taking photos, casually or seriously, what’s next? Well … photos can quickly become unruly or impossible to find that one photo if you don’t focus on some form of organization, and data loss is a real concern when you start talking about years of photos, or precious family memories. I’m going to share what I do with my photos. Now, I admit, my organization skills are nuts, maybe even bordering on OCD, but maybe something in this post will be of use for you …

So to start off with some basics, you should insure your camera is set to the max resolution you can, and if it supports it, RAW mode. RAW insures the photo is not compressed in anyway, JPGs are often a lossy algorithm resulting in poor quality off the camera. RAW also includes data photo editors like Adobe lightoom can use to correct things like lens aberrations and the like. RAW increases the size of your stored image on the card significantly so it may end up requiring a newer, faster memory card for your camera. The slower the card the longer it takes to save the image slowing how quickly you can take the next image. To give you some perspective a JPG off my camera is around 6MB while the RAW is around 27MB. If your not going to edit or print your image however, don’t bother with RAW mode. Not all editors, ok most, don’t support RAW mode, and there is no standard for RAW mode, Canon and Nikon for example do it differently.

So the steps I am going to go through are 1) sort/organize, 2) add keywords/tags 3) edit 4) Publish/share

Ok so now you’ve taken a bunch of photos, now what. Well, personally I come home and create a folder with the date and location of photos. This to me, are two basic facts about the group of photos. The next step is to sort them. As much as we might hope, not all photos are good, or worth keeping. So I then create a directory under that one with the same name and copy the ones I want to keep. Sometimes I keep photos that aren’t the best ever, just to record that I saw that animal/bird whatever on that date and location. To give you an idea we went out on a rather long jaunt, out for over 5 hours, shooting wildlife, walking around. We took 802 pictures between two of us. We kept 214 of these and edited 194. Editing can be anything from cropping, to playing with exposure and the like. One of the reasons I was slow to start editing my photos, is it is a rabbit hole, from which you may NEVER return ๐Ÿ˜‰ There are lots of photo editors out there, be careful, they are not all equal and some do a HORRIBLE job of munching your photos. I have acquiesced and been assimilated into adobe’s lightoom, it really is hands down the best, sigh.

Once in directories it’s important that photos have keywords (also called tags) added. There are a lot ways to add keywords, they can be added by Adobe lightoom (and other photo editors) manually added in Windows/Mac, etc. Keywords if they are added correctly are searchable by Windows/Mac to allow you to find them. These keywords can be as narrow or specific as you like. It’s important these are consistent, and spelled correctly, errors will need to be corrected if searches and lists are to be accurate. I’ve written my own scripts to be able to create linked lists, do searches and the like. These lists tell me when and where I’ve seen a particular species. I love the way this works, and was something sadly missing, but in reality, not something I would recommend. I’m an IT person at heart so this works for me. Wouldn’t for most.

So now you have the photos you like the most, it will most likely need some editing. Not all photo editors are created equal. I used a free one called Paint.Net for a long time and it works and is basic. Be careful to insure that whatever editor you are using does not overly compress the images. If your image is being shrunk in size, it’s likely being ruined. Always insure you keep the original, so if you learn better editing techniques/tools, you can come back and re-edit. When I started using Adobe lightroom one of the things I did was go back and re-edit the best of the best photos I had! Editing can be anything from basic cropping, to adjustments in lighting etc. You can spend a lot of time editing. The king of photo editors is Adobe Photoshop but it’s a monster. I use Adobe Lightroom which is designed to be quick and easy, I really like it and it has all kinds of options including watermarking which marks a photo as yours. When you share images on facebook amongst other, images are altered, EXIF tags (including owner info) are all stripped for “privacy” reasons. So it’s important to add a watermark to your images in the editing process for the purpose of sharing. Lightroom makes short work of adding watermarks and I found very easy to create a nice caligraphy like watermark for my images. I try hard to make my watermarks less prominent than some, having an image with your watermark across the center of the image ruins the image IMHO, so why bother sharing it. If your that concerned with your images, don’t share them? I put together a brief into to Lightroom if that get’s you going on your editing path …

Sharing your images can be done in many ways, social media like Facebook, instagram, flickr etc but, in the end, I have gone with self hosting to insure my images never end up in the cloud. Here’s a list of self hosting options in case you want to go with that. I also have an email distribution list I use for people that either aren’t on facebook, or not on my facebook. This works well, and does not take a lot of extra time.

Your pictures will quickly become VERY important to you. So you need to take some time considering where you are storing them. SD cards fail, get lost or just get full, so getting them off the cards as quickly as possible is best. Hard drives fail, laptops fall down stairs or get stolen so where to store your precious image. There are lots of Network attached storage devices and these are not bad choices, but make sure you are using RAID 1 or mirrored storage otherwise your back to a single point of failure. The biggest cause of data loss, believe it or not, is user error, what we in the business call “fat fingers”. So it’s important to make sure you are also backing up your photos, and if at all possible off site.

Now I admit, all this may sound extreme, and over the top, well … it is, until it isn’t IMHO.

July 30, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Instant Vortex Plus 10-Quart 7-in-1 Air Fryer Oven

I last reviewed the Crownful 19qt airfryer but had to return it due to a major design issue of having an exposed bottom element that lead to food dripping on it and then smoking. I considered the Crownful 10qt unit which does not have a bottom element but decided to go with a Instant brand Airfryer 10qt instead, it was on sale on Amazon. This unit is quite a bit smaller, which like most people, means it uses a little less counter space which is welcome. We only have between 2 and 4 people generally speaking so this is large enough. Accessory wise it comes with two non stick cooking trays that have lots of hole in them, not as good as the cooking rack the Crownful had but, I have to say, NOTHING sticks to these trays or the drip tray. I have no idea what they are coated with, and I probably don’t want to know, but man, amazing. This unit has a rotisserie that can be turned on and off on any cycle you want, perfect. You can use it with either the fry basket or the rotisserie attachment. There’s a slider on the left side of the oven that locks the rotisserie in place which works fine. The fry basket itself is poorly designed in that it does not lock closed. A number of times I have had it come open spilling the hot food. I contacted Instant and they are sending me another one, so I’m not sure if this is just a manufacturing issue or what, but at least their customer service was good. It took about a day to get a response. The fry basket in the picture below is different than the one I got, so I guess they redesigned it. Here’s everything that comes with it.

Buttons on the front are simple and well lit, but they are really frustrating to push, and you end up taking multiple presses to get what you want. Not a big deal, but irritating none the less, especially when setting the time and temp. The unit once started goes into a preheat mode, pauses for you to insert food, and then enters the cooking time and begins. Time and temperature can be changed on the fly at anytime, quite well done, with one exception, for some bizarre reason the display ALWAYS display OFF, what a waste of a display and power (now matter how little), yes this is nit picking. This unit does NOT have a bottom element so no worries about the food dripping on it. There is a LARGE exposed upper element so the lower the food in the oven the better the chance it won’t smoke, so far I have not had any issues with smoke.

Noise wise, this is not quiet, but then it is called a Vortex? The extra air movement seems like it ends up cooking faster at a lower heat.

The unit does NOT come with a kabob rack, which is a little unfortunate, but I don’t know if I’d use it anyway.

The unit can be used and can totally replace an existing toaster oven, this was something I wanted, which is why I didn’t go with a basket air fryer. Being convection, it cooks faster and more evenly.

All in all I like this air fryer, a LOT, here are some of the things I’ve done so far in it.

I tried to roast pumpkin seeds in the rotisserie basket, but the holes in the fry basket were too large and they pretty all fell through ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

I used the rotisserie and did a pork tenderloin, skewering right through the center, and it was perfect, tasty and reasonably moist.

Store bought, frozen, sweet potato fries are some of best I’ve had in shorter time than in the oven, nice and crisp. Home made fries I’m still perfecting. This was the best so far, which was done with regular white potatoes, preboiled, tossed with corn oil and salt and air fried. Fairly crispy and no additional ingredients or coatings required. Chicken fingers, onion rings and chicken schnitzel are all perfect, with little to no oil required.

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Air fried cornish hen was done in 35 mins at 375, we stuffed the cornish hen with a sausage meat stuffing. The end result was, tender, tasty and probably one of the best cornish hens ever. as you can see in the image, even well tied down, it’s pretty much the max size you could do in this oven.

June 2, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Crownful 19 QT air fryer toaster oven review

Back before Instapot popped onto the market small kitchen appliances were simple, then we got a device that promised to do so much more, and replace so many existing devices that the old 70’s informercial came to mind, it slices, it dices it even does julian fries. Sadly, this device too promises to be your everything … I digress.

I’ve had toaster oven for a long time and like it, it heats up fast, draws little power (compared to a full size oven), has a reasonable footprint, but it has it’s limitations, making crispy fries just isn’t happening. My main oven isn’t a convection oven, and replacing it anytime soon seems unlikely, although I will insure my next oven I purchase will be … Intrigued by these air fryers I decided to have a look. I tried one of the first generation TFAL air fryers and was totally unimpressed, it took forever and never resulted in crispy fries. I did some digging, and I didn’t like the basket air fryers, they all required flipping food half way which seem to defeat the purpose of a convention oven, which is even heat, even cooking. This one caught my eye as being quite well optioned, it comes with a lot … So I bought it. The price was attractive, footprint reasonable. It comes with a number of options that interested me, a rotisserie (which even my BBQ does not have, although I can add it), a rotating basket, and a air frying basket. It comes with kabob rack but I don’t think I’ll use that. Straight out of the box I was impressed. The design is good, and all encompassing, shockingly so, and then my GF, being a pundit, decided to add I hope your still impressed once you start using it. How insightful … And so on we go … As expected this product is made in China, with all the expectations that go with that. Honestly, trying to find something in this space even if your willing to spend the money that ISN’T made in China is a quest.

So I have it out of the box and start reading over the manual … to say that the product is let down by the manual is an understatement of EPIC proportions. There are little to no details of what goes where, what the different modes mean, what the label on the glass front mean, or much of any details. In fact, they spent more time on the Amazon description then they did on the user manual. On first play I couldn’t figure out why the rotisserie wasn’t working, then I discovered there was an update to the manual on website for the device that hinted (not even that was clear) at the fact that the rotisserie only works on roast mode, like that was somehow obvious. There’s a drip tray that seems like it could be put below or above the bottom element, what you eventually discover, at your peril, that the bottom element ALWAYS comes on during preheat, and if the drip tray is above the element it ruins it. Unbelievable … It SEEMS that the fan is on faster during air fry, but this is not mentioned anywhere in the manual … The best advice, line the drip tray with aluminum foil and that way clean up is even easier.

Documentation aside, convection ovens always take less time, or less temperature to cook, but how much is challenging.

The device is pretty intuitive to use, well outside of you have no clue what the different modes are, ie what they change. You select your mode, select your time and temp and press start. The oven goes into preheat mode, which turns on both burners, then once at heat decides whether you need one or two burners (based on your mode). The timer does not start until it’s preheated, and the oven goes off once the time is complete. With only the top element you can only get up to 400 degrees. Each of the modes has limitations on time, and heat. Rotisserie ONLY works in roasting mode. No clue why this is, I would have used the roasting basket in air fry mode, nope … Here’s a summary of the “10 modes”

Air fry: Upper element only, fan on, 1-45mins 120-400F (Upper and lower elements to preheat)
Bagel: Upper and lower element
Toast: Upper and lower element
Bake: Upper and lower elements, fan on 1min-4hrs 120-450F
Roast: Upper and lower elements, fan, rotisserie, 1min-4 hrs, 120-450F
Reheat: Upper and lower elements, fan, 1min-2 hrs, 120-450F
Pizza: Upper and lower elements, fan, 1min-1 hr, 120-400F
Broil: Upper and lower elements, fan, 1min-20 min, 300 or 400F
Dehydrate: Upper and lower elements, fan, 30min-72 hr, 85-175F
Warm: Upper and lower elements, no fan

I first roasted some pumpkin seeds, which in a non convection takes about 12 mins at 350. At 8 mins the seeds were burned. A sausage that takes 30-40 min was also burnt in 20 mins. Sweet potatoes fries, however, were PERFECTLY done in 12 mins Vs a package recommendation of 18-23, nice and crispy! Home made potato fries done 20 mins airfry at 400 was burnt on outside never crisped. I did a cornish hen on the rotisserie, roast mode, 375F and after 45 mins it measured 88C temp (74C required min). Most tender juicy cornish hen ever. There was a MAJOR issue in that the bottom element is not not covered so anything that drips on it immediately smokes, and is potentially a flame hazard. My other 20 year old toaster oven had a shield above the element.

The net learning of this is, it works, is efficient and a LOT faster than a conventional oven. Add two or three items into the oven at the same time and you have a very challenging learning curve, yes that’s what I tried, EPIC fail … But that’s my fault.

If it hadn’t been for the fatal flaw of the exposed bottom element I would have kept this and been happy. But this is really unusable. The smoke in the house even with something so small as a cornish hen, let alone a chicken, was unacceptable to say the least. I don’t know maybe a quail? Honestly, it is beyond my capacity to understand how such a BLATANT design error does not get caught before product is in the market. I contacted the company to see if there was a work around, so far no response. So back it goes. Shame really, I know it likely will end up in a landfill somewhere, but what am I to do ๐Ÿ˜ฆ While this one is a bomb, maybe even literally, stay tuned I’ve ordered another one.

May 15, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Camera modes explained

If your like me, you got home with your new camera and started using auto mode, figuring at some point you’ll look into the other modes the camera has to offer … years go by and you still haven’t gotten to it. At least that’s what has happened with me. Cameras have modes where you can choose to manipulate individual settings without have to go all manual, which can be quite daunting. So, I finally decided it’s time to start looking into things a bit more. If I don’t get this exactly right, be gentle, I too am learning. A picture is captured using 3 primary parameters: Aperture (camera shutter opening size), shutter speed, and ISO (sensor sensitivity). There is an exposure triangle that helps to explain how these three inter relate and what changing them does. There’s a lot of info on this, so take a moment to digest it.

Exposure triangle

In full auto mode the camera does it’s best to select these, BUT the camera has little to no clue what your taking pictures of. Some cameras have what they call scene modes, where you tell the camera what your taking a picture of (bird mode for example an a Nikon P900) to guide the camera’s automatic mode. You can look into the scene modes of your camera to see if there is one that is close to what your taking. Watching your display when it’s in auto mode will help you understand what the camera is choosing. As you get a feel for what the auto mode is choosing, and then looking at the photos that it creates you can start to understand how to use your camera better to get better pics, because you know what your taking a pic of. So for example, in Shutter priority mode you can choose what you want as the shutter speed of the camera. The faster an object is moving, if you want to reduce motion blur, the faster the shutter speed you want. So for birds in flight as an example you want a pretty quick shutter speed, maybe around 1/3000 of a second. By contrast an auto mode might choose something like 1/800th. It can make a HUGE difference. You can see the parameters chosen by the camera in the details of the photo on windows once you get home.

There are also tools like EXIFTOOL that you can use to show all of the data that is recorded about how the camera captured the image, a lot of this data, is NOT shown by windows. For example you can figure out what mode you had the camera in.

Similarly there is also aperture priority where you tell the camera the aperture you want and it decides the others. On some cameras there’s also a User programmable setting where you can change a host of different settings and lump them into one. This can be super useful, for example, for shooting birds in flight where you want continuous shooting, a change in focus mode and a change to very quick shutter speeds.

Another area where you can control how your camera works is the size of the area of the screen chosen for auto focus. If your trying to shoot a very small bird, or if your trying to shoot through distractions like branches, a narrow focus area will help. But, if your trying to capture birds in flight, trying to keep that narrow point of focus on the bird while it’s moving is challenging if not impossible. In this case you benefit from a much broader area of focus. Somewhere in between, when your taking a picture of say three birds in a group, or a larger duck, then you can choose a large focus area, but not the largest. On my Canon T7i this is what changing that looks like:

single point of focus for taking photos with distractions or a small subject
Broader focus area for larger birds for example

This is a good start to get you exploring what your camera can do!

May 5, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Birding apps

When you first get started with birding it’s amazing how you start to see things you’ve spent zero attention to in the past. There are so many varieties of birds out there waiting to explore. Getting started isn’t that hard, and needn’t be that expensive. You can get started in your own neighborhood, or your own backyard with a feeder.

Identifying birds
Being able to start to identify specific birds can be daunting but there are a couple apps out there that can make this a LOT easier. Merlin and iNaturalist can take pics of a bird and attempt to identify it. iNaturalist can also do plants and animals too. iNaturalist has a website you can use as well as mobile apps. Both Merlin and iNaturalist are free by the way!

Where to go
Ok, your hooked, now you want to be able to find places to go … there’s a great web site that aggregates lots of users data it’s a little complicated to use, but you can find where a specific bird has been seen (if at all) in your area, you can see what birds have been seen at a particular location and so much more. There’s a mobile app to record your sightings that feeds this web site, but I’ve had no end of issues with that part of it.

A number of other apps use the back end data of eBird and then present it in different ways to you. There’s an app called Birders Nearby that has a much nice interface to record the birds you are seeing as well as you can see what others have seen. It pulls from eBird as well as it’s own database for entries people put on the app. It does not (I believe) feed your sightings back to eBird.

There’s another one called GoBird that pulls eBird data, and then filters into near you, as well as rare bird sightings near you. And it even allows you to define what nearby means.

Here a bird sound you can’t identify? Well there’s an app for that too, called song Sleuth that allows you to record and then identify the songs of birds.

I’m sure this is not all, but that’s enough to get you started!

May 4, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Samsung A51 review

Got a new work phone, so you get a new review. This is another work horse business model so expectations should be set at that. Personally I own a iPhone XS so that will, unfortunately, be my point of reference. I say unfortunately cause nothing does polished quite like an iPhone, that said, I also own a Samsung Tab A so that too is my reference point. I originally moved back to an iPhone from Samsung because I got tired or the bloated, slow experience. Inevitably the device has these pregnant pauses where the device goes off somewhere and comes back when it feels like it, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with physicals:

158.5 x 73.6 x 7.9 mm 172g (XS for comparison is 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm 172g)

Display wise 1080 x 2400 pixels ~405 ppi ( XS for comparison 1125 x 2436 pixels ~458 ppi)

As in the past this is an Octa core processor, sort of, it’s a dual quad core, two low power, two high performance 4×2.3 GHz Cortex-A73 & 4×1.7 GHz Cortex-A53. Android does a great job of using these and allows for very good standby power consumption. After quickly ramping up the number of processors for years, this has been max’d out at Octa core a LONG time.

This phone has a dizzying array of cameras, as well as a flash:

48 MP, f/2.0, 26mm (wide), 1/2.0″, 0.8ยตm, PDAF
12 MP, f/2.2, 123หš (ultrawide)
5 MP, f/2.4, (macro)
5 MP, f/2.2, (depth) (Vs the XS having Dual 12MP wide-angle and telephoto cameras)

Oh, and a front camera 32 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1/2.8″, 0.8ยตm

Video wise the phone is capable of 4K@30fps, 1080p@30fps, Vs XS which can do 4K@60fps

The battery is 4000 mAH (2658 mAH for the XS), spec wise Samsung says 85 hrs of battery while Apple claim 60 hrs (it’s worth noting the battery on the A51 is 50% larger so this is comparable). The charger that comes with the phone supports 9V 1.67A=18W for quick charge mode, as well as 5V 2A=10W for normal charging. the XS by comparison can ONLY do quick charge if you pay money for an optional adapter. The A51 charged from 4% to 70% in 60 mins while the XS charged (using an optional iPad charger) from 19-84% in 60 mins. These charge speeds are comparable, which is notable given the added size of teh A51’s battery!

Security wise the A51 has both a finger print scanner as well as facial recognition while the XS can only do facial recognition, in the short time I’ve had this phone I’ve found the finger print scanner to be almost useless, very inaccurate.

The A51 uses a single nano SIM and can only support one line, while the XS supports a physical SIM, and an ESIM so can support quite a number of lines, a feature I use to be able to only carry one phone.

The A51 does NOT support DEX, it does work correctly with my USB3 Display link adapter however you immediately run into the same issue that is with a LOT of phones, the home screen does not rotate.

The phone is at Android 10

May 4, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Carrying a heavy camera lens

I recently upgraded to a Sigma 150-600 contemporary lens, upgrading from a Canon 70-300 lens, the added reach is amazing, what isn’t so amazing is the weight, going from 710 up to 1930g, and honestly, there are lenses that weigh even more. A lot of people use the shoulder strap (I can’t tolerate weight like that on the shoulders), or use the tripod mount to hold onto the lens, but I don’t find that comfortable either, only two of four fingers carrying the weight. Trekking around forests looking for beautiful wildlife to shoot means sometimes your out for a number of hours lugging this thing around … So I began to look for solutions. I have to admit, I was SHOCKED there are no easy solutions. Both the tripod mount on the bottom of the camera as well as the one the lens use a 1/4″ thread, I found some handles that use a 3/8″ thread but that won’t work. I MIGHT be able to remove the 3/8″ and replace it with a 1/4 bolt but that assumes the bolt is removable, some of which I couldn’t tell for sure.

So I found this handle on Amazon, seemed like it might be possible, obviously I’m using it in a way they didn’t intend.

First off the handle is octagonal and slippery. So I managed using some detergent to coax a bike handle bar grip over the handle. This works well, and is MUCH more comfortable. I toyed with the handle on the camera’s tripod mount but that did not work well, and was prone to smacking your face off it, weight balance was also off. So I mounted it on the tripod mount for the lens, but, no matter how much I tighten the twist knob, after a number of hours the handle would start to twist, not surprising, it’s a reasonable weight. So I set about finding a solution. I toyed with the idea of drilling and tapping the tripod mount but I was nervous about that, it’s aluminum and easy enough to bugger up. So I came up with a thought, if I could use an eraser to butt up against the back end of the tripod mount this would limit how far it could rotated. In one day the proof of concept proved it would work, BUT the eraser was too soft. So I found a block of metal laying around the house, butted it against the tripod mount, cable tied it in place to find the exact location and then drilled through the block of metal and the handle. The net result is a solid permanent solution to the handle rotating. Weight balance is really good and the camera/lens hang nicely off your hand. I use wrist straps from Amazon as an added protection, should it slip out of my hand.

And with that I have something that works. Now this comes at a price, even more weight. The handle weighs 176g, and with my hacks comes up to 252g in total (40g for the grip and 36g for the block of metal and bolt/nut). Here’s the ending result, and it is SOLID.

I also found a SmallRig handle that uses a 3/8″ bolt on, looks like it might work, so I’ve ordered that and will give that a try next. You can buy it directly from Smallrig but they ship from China and this could take forever to come. Weight looks good at 139g, and if it will go on the camera I can remove the tripod collar from the lens when not in use saving even more weight. I’ll update this post when I get it/try it. SmallRig has assure me, one of the two bolts can be removed.

April 25, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Using ebird to find sightings

I’ve been really enjoying learning about and photographing wild life. The birding world is so diverse with so many different birds out there. We are currently in the middle of migration season when birds fly over, and sometimes stay for brief periods of time, in the oddest places. A tool like ebird can be a great way to find birds you may not have seen before, but I have to say, the web site is, to me, less than intuitive, so I thought I’d put together this page to help others. First off, ebird gets it’s data from birders, as they are walking along with their phone, so the data can be as good, or bad as the birder, but if your out and about, be sure and contribute if you can. So let’s get started.

Head over to ebird and create an account (if you don’t already have one), logon, and click explore:

Click explore

Down on the left click species maps:

Click species maps

Now change the date range to whatever you like. The narrower the less data, the broader the less relevant during migration season:

Change your date range

Now start typing the bird your looking for and then select it:

Type in the bird your looking for

Then type in where you want to find them, in this case I’m selecting Halton region. You can zoom in if you would like later to narrow where you want to look.

Add the location you want to look in

And low and behold you get a list of reported sightings:

Reported sightings

From here you can click on a reported sighting for more details. Sometimes people add comments on where it was seen or pictures, as well as anything else seen.

Details of the sighting

And with that your armed and dangerous, but be aware, some data of “sensitive birds” is withheld. There is another great app to find bird sightings in your area, Go Bird. And if you don’t know about them Merlin and iNaturalist are great apps to identify what a bird is that you have a photo of. iNaturalist can also do plants and animals. iNaturalist also submits it to other humans to confirm (or deny). There’s also another app called song sleuth that can identify a bird by it’s sound!

April 6, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary (Canon)

I’ve been maxing out the zoom on my 70-300 lens constantly so started doing some digging on what the next step up in zoom might be. I came across two lenses in my price range Sigma 150-600mm f/5.0-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary 1900g at $1399 and a Tamron 150-600 $1479 F5-6.3 2010g. There’s a sports version of the Sigma lens but it’s even heavier and more expensive and reviews seem to say not a lot better. So the Contemporary it is. This is not an easy lens to find, I ended up finding one at Aiden Camera a store in downtown Toronto that has been in business over 40 years, at a good price, but be aware they do not sell extended warranties, and will not accept returns on this lens in spite of their web site saying they do. I had also looked into teleconverters, and there are non Canon ones, but they don’t come cheap and come with distortion trade offs, so I ruled those out.

To be upfront, this will NOT be a detailed review discussing the lens’s optical characteristics, I have neither the skills nor the equipment to do that, so head on over to google there are lots of WAY more qualified people than I …

What struck me immediately, although not literally, was just how BIG this lens is, it’s huge. It’s a significant piece of engineering and it positively DWARFS the 70-300. Here’s an image comparing the Sigma, the 70-300 and for sh.ts and giggles the stock 18-55.

Lens size comparison

To put this in perspective the lens measures 27.5mm without the hood, 33.5 with, Vs the 70-300 at 16.5 and 24.5, and that isn’t even mentioning the MUCH large radius … Weight wise the lens is 1966g without the hood and 2072 with, compared to 719 and 770. The tripod ring, that can be removed weighs in at 127g, so it your not using that you can remove it, although it provides an easy way to carry the lens.

The lens came VERY well appointed with front and back caps (of course), the hood (I had to buy the one for my 70-300), a very nice carrying case for the lens, shoulder straps for both the lens and the carrying case, and even comes with a rubber collar that attempts to provide more dust resistance for the camera/lens interface. Keep twisting the lens hood until you get resistance, otherwise it is not properly locked. Getting the lens on the camera is a feat that takes some patience and I can not imaging doing it in the field without a solid surface to work on. On second look I can see why. My camera body has two dots, one white for EFS lenses and white red for EF lenses. The lens is then correctly color coded to show you which one to line up with. The Sigma is colored wrong in that it is white when it ought to be red, so I was lining the lens/body up incorrectly.

Carry case that came with the lens

Updating, or even checking the firmware on the lens requires the purchase of an additional USB dock, roughly $70. The version of the firmware is STUPIDLY NOT written in the EXIF data. If you do buy the lens from a physical store, you may want them to check the version of the firmware before you leave. I, sadly, didn’t think of that so i am left wondering just how old the firmware is. By comparison, the Canon lens firmware can be udpated from the Canon app … Update: I bought the USB dock only to find the firmware was up to date. The most unfulfilling $70 I’ve spent ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Its worth mentioning, that given the weight, the chance of this lens or the camera with this lens surviving a fall are slim IMHO.

EXIF data wise it’s a total bomb, in one place the lens is noted as a “Lens Type : Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | S” while in another “150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Contemporary 015”. And Adobe Lightroom does not have lens correction data for the Sigma, but did for the Canon. I have to say this is disappointing, and good luck trying to find a way to contact Sigma to ask questions, you get directed to a repair rep. I did however get a hold of Adobe and they pointed me to a web site that lists supported lenses, well it turns out that Adobe support my lens in Adobe Lightroom Classic but NOT in Adobe lightroom (cloud). So it would seem I need to change the Adobe product I’m using to get this feature, and relearn, because even short cut keys are not the same on these two products. A little maddening I have to say. Update: Well someone from the community forums told me that was WRONG and it is supported and showed me how to do it, you just manually tell it that you have a Sigma and it finds the right lens, for whatever reason the auto detect on the lens didn’t work right. It’s sad when your user community knows more than your support people. I’m totally unimpressed

The mount on the bottom of the lens for a tripod or monopod is a good way to grip and carry the lens, we do mostly wildlife stuff, so lots of walking about with the lens. There is an ODD clause in the user manual which states “Please do not use optical stabilizer in the following situations … When the lens is mounted on a tripod.” Ok so if I want optical stabilization use the camera’s tripod mount? This is odd … speaking of odd, the user manual is one of those multi language fold outs where you have to find your language, I hate them.

The switches on the side of the lens for things like turning auto focus off, optical stabilization off and the like are easily bumped, especially if your carrying the lens under your arm. They are raised above the surface of the lens, likely to make them easier to operate even with gloves. I solved this by cutting a piece of electrical tape making a flap over them. I can still change them if I want but they won’t get hit accidentally. I had the same issue by the way with the Canon lens.

Lens switch flaps made of electrical tape

I had planned a light day of first shoot, but it didn’t end up that way, we ended up on a 9 hour trek at multiple locations allowing me to put the lens to work in a number of different settings/conditions. I found no perceivable difference in battery life, and was able to get shots hand held without a monopod or tripod. It did get tiring holding it up while waiting for the next shot, a weight issue. I had no issues in the lighting through the day.

I did find with the higher zoom that capturing birds in flight was more challenging, but this is nothing specific to the lens, other than it seemed a little slower to focus tracking the moving object. There is a mode for the optical stabilizer designed specifically for vertical movement, that may help.

The lens has been in the market since 2015 according to the firmware logs, and the last update to the logs was August 2020.

When your use to your setup, you learn what are going to turn out and not, change up your gear as significantly as this lens upgrade is, and you have to reset your thoughts and expectations. At first, I have to admit, I expected too much … The double reach of this lens over the old one is a definite upgrade, but to state the obvious it still has limits of when things are too far off. I personally found, based on the optical viewfinder I expected pics to be better than they were. Upon comparison with my GFs 2000mm reach P900, my expectations were off … Overall the lens performed well, and in lower light, it faired better than I expected. I did notice a “perception” that the resulting pictures when at max zoom are not as crisp. I see this when I see just how much the image can be cropped, compared to the old lens. I haven’t quantified it yet, I have to think about how to do that.

Weight wise, I have to say, this thing is heavy, but everything is relative, here’s a comparison, so in the end if you want more zoom, buckup.

Canon 70-300 710g,
Sigma 150-600mm f/5.0-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary $1399 1930g
Sigma 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM IS $2399 2700g
Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports $2399 2860g
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II $2999 1640g
Tamron 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 $1479 2010g

Let’s look at an optical comparison, this is a picture shot at the same distance on different days (both images were shrunk to make them easier to see). As you can see, optically speaking the differences are stunning, don’t pay attention to the lighting, different time of the day etc, the point is more how much more zoomed in it is. I thought a picture would drive home the point.

70-300 lens at max zoom
150-600 lens at max zoom

I had an impression that the Sigma wasn’t as sharp, so I did a test and printed out of graph paper and then took a pic of them with the same camera, the two lenses, same distance, same lighting, same zoom, 300mm. And I have to say, the pictures are startlingly similar and if anything the 150-600 is slightly crisper. I have no idea if this is even a fair or reasonable test … I’m out of my depth.

Sigma 150-600 5 inch graph paper

Canon 70-300 5 inch graph paper

Sigma 150-600 1/8th inch graph paper

Canon 70-300 1/8th inch graph paper

So all in all time will tell if I’m happy with this lens or positively thrilled. The weight of it means I will not be likely to take it with me in the kayak, so I will keep the lighter, easier to handle lens for the boat. So with that …

March 24, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment