My photographic portfolio

Updated 8/16/09: I now have an entirely new standalone photo catalog with e-commerce enabled, which means you can instantly purchase prints (in varying sizes and finishes) or digital downloads (at varying resolutions according to your needs) of each of my published photos. The link is the same as below: raoulpopphotography.com. See this page for more details.

A few weeks back, I announced my portfolio site, Raoul Pop Photography, and I got positive feedback about it, which was nice.

Raoul Pop Photography

Updated 1/12/09: Since I wrote this, I worked to create a standalone photo catalog, outside of my Flickr photo stream, and that’s what you’ll find when you visit my photography site. I’m leaving the thoughts you see below for historical reference, but keep in mind they no longer apply.

Now I’ve gone through an extensive process of sorting, winnowing and re-organizing the photos I’ve posted to Flickr, and I’m happy to announce that my portfolio site is all the better for it. You see, my portfolio site feeds directly from my Flickr account via Satellite. The big advantage is that every time I make a change to my photos and sets on Flickr, the change is reflected instantly on my portfolio site.

On the whole, my photos look significantly better now, because I deleted many, many photos that I didn’t think were good enough any more. Going through my photos has made me think hard about the sorts of photographs I take, and categorizing them into sets and collections has given me a new and deeper understanding of what makes me tick as a photographer. It’s all pretty interesting stuff to me, and I think you can tell it’s gotten me excited. 🙂

Also not to be missed, if you’re interested in that sort of thing, is my list of photos taken with each camera I’ve used over time. These photos are grouped into sets, and they’ll give you a good idea of the sorts of images you can get with each camera. Don’t read too much into it though. Short of various differences that can be limiting or advantageous between camera models and brands, a camera is only a tool. While it’s important that the tool perform as expected and be flexible enough to capture the photo, there are three more parts to a good photo: there’s the photographer, who’s got to know what he or she is doing, then there’s the quality of the light, which can make or break a photo, and finally, the post-processing, to make the photo stand out.

What we use on our hair

For about four years now, Ligia and I have used the same hair care product, and I thought I’d tell you about it. I’m doing it for a few reasons. First, I don’t like pretentious hair care products that cost a fortune and yield the same results as the less expensive stuff. Second, I like tried and true products. Third, I’m trying to do my part to see that this product doesn’t exit the market. (The last time we went to buy some, we couldn’t find it on the shelves… That could be both bad and good, I suppose.)

While we use some other things from time to time, and you’ll see them below, we use Murray’s Super Light Pomade all the time. Here it is.

Murray’s Super Light Pomade

Do you know those ridiculously expensive hair waxes they sell nowadays? They cost anywhere from $20-30, barely do the job, dry up in the hair giving you flakes, and have a TON of ingredients… Not so with this pomade. It costs somewhere between $1-2, and do you know what it’s got inside? Petrolatum, Lanolin, Coconut Oil, Aloe and Fragrance. That’s it. It’s had the same ingredients for quite some time. Not sure how long it’s been in existence, but I do know that they were using pomade regularly back in the early 1900s. Guess what? If it’s managed to do the job since then, I know it’ll do the job now as well.

The great thing about it is that it’s versatile. I used it back when my hair was short, and I’m using it now that my hair is long. I still apply it the same way, and it still works great. Back when I wanted my hair straight, it kept it straight, and now that it’s longer, it keeps it wavier. Love it.

Here’s a photo of me back when I had short hair. I was picking mulberries somewhere, I think it was the National Seminary before they started rebuilding it. Ligia took this photo.

Picking mulberries

Here’s a photo of me with longer hair. Same pomade did the trick on both occasions. Ligia took this photo as well.

Composing the shot

Don’t think I’m the only one using the pomade though. Ligia uses it as well, and her hair is wonderful. Here’s a recent photo.

Ligia

If you’ve never used pomade on your hair before, particularly this pomade, it’ll take a couple of weeks to get used to the way your hair feels. You wash your hair as usual and apply it after the wash, while your hair is still warm and wet.

Should you want to purchase it, we’ve seen it at CVS and Bed Bath & Beyond. There’s another place that sells it, but I prefer not to go there if I can help it: Wal-Mart… Murray’s makes two different kinds — the Super Light, and the regular kind, which is thicker, and which I’ve never used. Make sure you get the Super Light.

Murray’s Super Light Pomade

We use some other stuff from time to time.

Hair care products

Nothing else I’ve tried works quite as well as the pomade though, and believe you me, I tried many other things, including other brands of pomade.

We use one more thing which works great to help comb longer hair. Ligia just loves it. Since she’s got curly hair and it’s fairly long, it always gets tangled. All she needs to do is to spray it into her hair, and she can comb it as if it were straight afterwards. I’m surprised myself at how well it works.

Olive Oil Sheen Spray

Merry Christmas!

I know Christmas isn’t celebrated by everyone, but if you’re one of those who does celebrate it, Merry Christmas! Even though the origins of the date are pagan, the meaning we have chosen to ascribe to it over time is certainly worth celebrating. For those among us who are Christians, it means our Savior’s birth. For others, it means that time of year when we think of others, and give them presents. For others still, it’s a joyous holiday time spent with family, winding down the year and looking forward to the next. However you choose to celebrate it, I hope you’ll enjoy these next several photos I’ve prepared.

As Christmas nears, I love the change that comes over the home. The decorations make it a special time of the year.

Christmas time

Keep the light burning brightly

Let’s not forget to pick out just the right Christmas tree.

Got that tree?

And fill it full of wonderful ornaments.

Play that golden harp

A wreath of holly

How about the last minute gifts that we forgot to get? What to pick, I wonder?

The last minute gift

As Christmas Eve draws near, some of us like to sing Christmas carols.

Let’s sing in the town square

On Christmas Eve itself, we have a wonderful Christmas meal. In my family, the food we make this time of year is always special and plentiful.

Seeker of light

By the way, this is how the sunset looked on Christmas Eve this year.

Christmas sunset

Those of us who choose to ascribe a religious meaning to Christmas remember the story of the star in the East, and of the angels’ appearing.

Visitation

A star in the East

That ocean of angels that filled the sky on our Savior’s birth night must have been a glorious sight. This is a poor approximation, but it will have to do.

Apparition

According to popular legend, the little town up North where toys get made is pretty quiet on Christmas morning. Perhaps it looks something like this?

The little town where toys get made

Merry Christmas!

Photography, take two, part four

I continued my ongoing effort to replace photos hosted at third party services with self-hosted ones, in order to reduce the dependence of my content on others. As part of that effort, I’m also re-processing some of the photos, and editing some of the posts to make them read better. Here are the posts I modified:

Document your community through photos

Trevor Carpenter is running the “2008 Challenge“, a project which is meant to encourage people to document their community through photos and to share them online. All it takes is to publish one photo per week (52 in total) to your site or to a photo sharing site. Check out Trevor’s post for the details.

I thought I’d share a few photos from my community a little ahead of the deadline. After all, I’ve been doing it all along, but you may not have known about it since I didn’t call attention to it.

This is a typical morning view from our terrace.

Reflected sunrise

We took a walk during a warm fall afternoon. This is one of the photos taken on that walk. A “Now Leasing” blimp floated in the sky above a neighboring building. The beautiful trees in the forefront obscured that photo, so it looks as if the blimp is advertising them instead.

Now leasing - trees

These next few photos were taken during various afternoon walks.

Red and redder

Bloomathingamajig

A brook dressed for fall

Twigalicious

I am literally in love with the color of these tree branches. It’s not personal bias because I took the photo, but that shade of brown coupled with the fresh green just floors me.

Stretching toward the sky

This is another view from our terrace. It’s a night scene, taken during a dark and stormy night.

Night rain

You might think there’s something wrong with the next photo. It seems a bit off, and there’s that strange thing jutting out in the bottom left corner. Look carefully. That’s a reflection you see in the water of a lake from our community. The odd piece in the corner is the shore I stood on when I took the photo. If you examine the bottom of the photo, you’ll see tiny ripples.

Looking glass

Hardware review: Drobo

Updated 3/18/09: My review of the new Firewire Drobo is now published. You may want to have a look at that as well.

The Drobo is a new way to store your data. It works like RAID, only better. Made by Data Robotics, the Drobo is an enclosure that can use anywhere from 2 to 4 SATA hard drives of any size and brand to keep multiple copies of your files and ensure against hard drive failures.

Drobo (front view with cover on)

It’s all about the data

The main advantage is that consumers are freed from the problem of having to use identical hard drives (which is how things work in RAID) and can rely on the largest and cheapest drives they can find on the market for their data storage. In a word, the Drobo turns hard drives into a commodity, a building block of your data storage that can be replaced at any time with any SATA hard drive without negatively affecting your data.

Depending on the amount of total space available on the Drobo, it can withstand the failure of one or even two of its hard drives without losing any data. (Naturally, you’ll need to have more than two hard drives in there in order for it to protect against a double hard drive failure…)

It is its capacity to withstand drive failures and use any SATA hard drives that makes it both remarkable and unique for a consumer product.

I bought a Drobo a few weeks ago, and have been using it since to store my photo library. You may recall I first tried a WD My Book World Edition II, then a WD My Book Pro Edition II to store my photos, and both failed me. The My Book Pro failed me miserably, but that’s another story. (Incidentally, I’m working with WD’s advanced tech support to see if my issues can be resolved, so I may have an update on that in the near future.)

I believe I’ve finally found my storage solution with the Drobo. It offers the data redundancy I need to keep my over 36,000 photos alive and well, and it works on both my Mac and my PC. Not only that, but I know it will grow with me as my data storage needs expand.

➡ Updated 1/6/08: Since writing this article, I purchased two more Drobos. An additional one to store my videos and other files, and one more for my parents.

How it works

I bought two 500 GB SATA hard drives with 32 MB buffers and installed them in my Drobo. Installation is a snap, you just need to slide them in and a locking lever snaps into place, securing them in their slots. (If you think a 32 MB buffer is overkill for a hard drive, you might want to have a look at my review of the Dell OptiPlex 745.)

The two drives give me about 464 GB of total storage. There’s a wonderful tool called the Drobolator that lets you see exactly how much storage you’ll get with your Drobo when you stick in drives of various sizes.

Drobo (front view with cover off)

There is one detail I want to point out here that you may or may not be aware of, depending on how well you read through the Drobo literature. Because there’s an upper limit of 2 TB on a single USB volume, if your Drobo’s storage capacity exceeds that limit, your computer will then see two Drobo volumes.

Let me put it another way. If you use the Drobolator and you stick 4 (four) 1 TB hard drives into the Drobo, your total available storage will be 2.7 TB. This means, according to Drobo’s literature, that you will see two volumes on your computer. (This is because of that pesky 2 TB limit on USB devices.) Given that USB 3.0 specs are in the works now, and that Data Robotics has acknowledged they’re looking at the possibility of Firewire connectivity in the future, that may be a non-issue at some point, but it is something to know about now.

Updated 1/17/08: Data Robotics will soon release a firmware update that will bump the upper limit up to 16 TB for a single USB volume. Those who already own the DroboShare accessory will already be able to format the Drobo volume at 16 TB. To get the details on how this works, read my comment below.

The perceived vs. actual size of the volumes can be confusing, so let me explain it a bit further. Even now, my computer sees my Drobo as having a size of 2 TB. The Drobo only has 2×500 GB drives in there, and the total size of my available storage is 464 GB. But since the Drobo’s storage can expand or decrease, and it needs to be a platform-independent device — one that does not depend on the computer for sizing information or partition tables — it has to declare its maximum size (2TB) from the start. That’s the perceived size. The actual size is indicated by the capacity meter, and if you’ve installed it on your machine, the Drobo software, which communicates with the device and displays information from it locally. In our case, if we were to put in 4×1 GB hard drives in the Drobo, we would have two actual volumes: a 2 TB volume, and a 700 MB volume. Their perceived size will be 2 TB each. If this is still confusing to you, don’t worry. Just go by the Drobo’s capacity meter to monitor how much free space you have left, and don’t worry about the perceived size.

Transfer speeds

Some people are saying that it’s slower than other storage solutions. In terms of speed, I’ve found it to be equivalent to RAID 1 drives like the My Book Pro II (which can be configured in RAID 0 or 1). I haven’t done benchmark testing, and I don’t intend to — I focus on real world use in my reviews, not lab tests — but it’s not what I’d call slow, and it’s not what I’d call fast. It’s somewhere in the middle, and it’s good enough for me. I’m willing to give a little when it comes to transfer speeds in exchange for data redundancy and safety.

Updated 5/1/08: When the Drobo will get up to and a little over 70% used space, and even before the orange light will turn on in a drive bay to indicate that you need to puchase additional hard drives, the transfer speeds will start slowing down. I’ve experienced significant slowdowns in transfer speeds, to the point where copying a 1 GB file onto the Drobo takes 10 minutes or more (when it usually takes 1-2 minutes) when the used space was 80% or more, and the orange light wasn’t yet turned on. You may want to keep this mind as you plan your storage needs. As soon as I put in another drive and the used space dropped back down, the transfer speeds went back to normal.

Updated 7/1/08: Data Robotics has released a firmware fix for the issue pointed out above, and it doesn’t occur any longer.

Updated 7/15/08: Data Robotics has recently released the Drobo 2.0, a Firewire/USB version of the Drobo, which is much faster than the original USB-only Drobo.

How it looks

In terms of physical size, or footprint, you should know that the Drobo is significantly larger than other consumer-level storage products out there. It’s big, as you can see from both the photos and the video that accompany this review. If you’re thinking about buying it, make sure you have enough space on your desktop to accommodate it.

Drobo (top view - size comparison with other external drives)

In the photo shown above, I’ve got a NewerTech miniStack (1st generation) sitting next to the Drobo. I’ve also got a WD Passport Drive on top of the miniStack. This is to give you an idea of how it compares to other external hard drives. The miniStack, for example, is the same size as a Mac Mini, and is actually meant to be stacked with it. I’m using it as a standalone drive, because it has both a USB and Firewire hub built in, so it’s quite versatile.

I like the design of the Drobo. I like rounded corners and glossy surfaces. Apple has spoiled me that way. The Drobo’s black, glossy ends (front and back) are really beautiful.

How it sounds

I think it’s quiet — when not accessed. Even though it has a big fan in the back, it makes barely any noise. The Drobo becomes audible when you are reading or writing to the hard drives. Because it’s a metal enclosure, the sounds generated by the seek operations are amplified slightly by it. The metal adds a melodious echo to each sound. It’s not what I would call loud, and I find it somewhat interesting. Ligia doesn’t share my opinion, but I guess you can’t please everybody. At any rate, just be aware of the fact that you will hear sounds coming from the Drobo when you’re actively using it.

Updated 4/2/08: I had some noise issues with my Drobos, which were resolved nicely by Data Robotics. You can read the details at the end of my review.

Updated 5/1/08: When you fill up the Drobo (all four drive bays are taken) you will notice that the fan will kick into high gear a lot more often, and even when the Drobo is barely being accessed, or not even accessed at all — only plugged into the computer’s USB port. It’s not an overheating issue, because I put my finger on all four drives, and they weren’t hot to the touch, only warm, so I think it’s a firmware issue. This has happened with two of my Drobos. It seems that if the temperature gets above 75 degrees Fahrenheit in the room, the fan will start spinning faster, and if it gets close to 80 or over it, the fan will start going nuts and will generate quite a bit of noise. For a consumer device which isn’t meant to sit in a server room (controlled temperature environment), I think this is excessive, and the fan speed needs to be adjusted in one of the next firmware releases.

Drobo (back view)

Video review

I hope this video will give you a better idea of Drobo’s looks, size and functioning, as well as its sounds. I tried to make the video as useful as possible by looking at the Drobo from various angles and by comparing its size with other external drives that I own. I also pulled out one of the drives with the Drobo turned on, so you could see that that they’re hot-swappable and that it wouldn’t miss a beat. You can also watch it here, and download it as well.

If you’ve just finished watching the video, don’t worry, the hard drive status lights stopped blinking after the data check. It’s just that when you remove a drive and stick it back in, the Drobo does a thorough check to make sure all the data that should be there is there. It may even re-sync all the data across the drives. It took a few hours for that check to complete since I had over 300 GB of data. By the way, all of it (the data, that is) was accessible during the check, so yes, you can work with the Drobo immediately after you do a hard drive replacement.

A few thoughts on the design

I like the idea of the lights on the front of the drive. It’s great to have an easy-to-use capacity meter, and to indicate the health of each drive through different-colored lights next to it. What I don’t like is the blue LEDs used for the capacity meter. They’re very blue, and very strong.

Generally speaking, blue LEDs cause headaches, because the eyes can’t focus properly on them. They always seem out of focus when you look directly at them. Every time I see blue LEDs on something that’s meant for constant use I cringe. Fortunately, the Drobo isn’t meant to sit directly in front of the user, but off to the side, which is where I have it.

It would be nice if Digital Robotics would do something about the capacity meter in their next build of the Drobo. They could even leave the blue LEDs in there, but obscure the light slightly by orienting them at an angle instead of having them point straight out toward the user. I’ve found that when I look at blue LED light from an angle, it doesn’t cause the same vision problems.

Drobo (front view with cover off)

I like it

Is the Drobo a keeper? I think so. I’m happy with it. Even though there are a few sticking points, it’s nothing that would have dissuaded me from buying it, even if I had known about them beforehand. As a matter of fact, I’m so satisfied with it, that I signed up for the Drobo Evangelist program. That means that between now and December 31st, if you buy a Drobo from the Digital Robotics online store and you mention my evangelist code (EVPOP), you’ll get $25 off its purchase price. In the interest of full disclosure, you’ll also help me, because I’ll get $25 for each successful sale as well. Remember, this is only until 12/31/07, unless Data Robotics extends the program — and I haven’t heard anything about that. (Updated 1/2/08). I heard from Data Robotics today: they’ve extended the evangelist program until 6/30/08. That means the discount code will work until June 30th if you decide to use it.

Let’s review

The good points:

  • Data redundancy ensures availability, even if up to 2 hard drives fail
  • Virtually unlimited data storage (but remember the 2 TB limit for each volume when connected through USB 2.0)
  • Independence from hard drive size and manufacturer: as long as it’s SATA, it’s fine
  • Size can expand as your storage needs grow
  • Great design
  • Ease of use

The sticking points (nothing bad, just some things you need to consider):

  • Price is hefty: total cost is significant when you count in the enclosure and the individual hard drives
  • You may or may not like the sounds it makes when data gets accessed on the drives: make sure you listen to my video carefully to see what I mean (if yours is making too much noise, you may need to get it replaced)
  • Blue LED lights used for capacity meter are too intense and may cause headaches if you look directly at them
  • Transfer speeds may not be fast enough for you

Buy a Drobo

If you’re interested in buying one, here’s where you can find one:

Updates

Updated 1/6/08: Since I now own three Drobos, I can tell you that my first impressions about the noise were wrong. It seems my first Drobo is unusually loud. My other two Drobos are very quiet. I can barely hear them, even when writing or reading to the hard drives actively and for prolonged periods of time. I’ll need to contact Drobo Support to see if I can get my first Drobo replaced.

Updated 1/7/08: I called Drobo today to ask them why one of my Drobos is making more noise than the other two. I described the situation to them, and told them I’m using the exact same drives inside each Drobo (2x500GB Seagate SATA drives with 32MB cache). Their initial response was to blame the hard drives. I doubt they’re at fault, but it’s possible, since it’s the hard drive churning noises that are louder in this particular Drobo of mine. So what I’m going to do later today, since I have the luxury of having more than one Drobo at home, is I’m going to take out the two hard drives from the louder Drobo and stick them in one of my two quiet Drobos. We’ll see what happens next. If the hard drives are at fault, then the quiet Drobo will start being loud. If not, then there’s a problem with my original Drobo. I told them all this, and asked for a case number. I indicated that I’ll be looking for a replacement if it turns out that the Drobo is at fault, not the hard drives. I’ll keep this review updated with my findings.

Updated 1/7/08: Okay, spoke with Drobo again about the noise, and it turns out that the hard drives are at fault. I did just what I described above. I wouldn’t have thought it, but these two drives that I’ve got in the original Drobo are louder than the four I use in the other two Drobos, even though they’re the exact same size, brand and model. I’m going to return them and order new ones, and I believe the noise will go away. This is definitely something to keep in mind if you’re having noise issues with your Drobo. Don’t assume it’s to blame. If you can, check the hard drives first. Remember to do it properly though. You have to turn OFF the Drobo and unplug it BEFORE removing the hard drives, or you’ll lose your data. Read this clarification, and if you’re still not sure, don’t take risks, call Drobo Support and have them stay on the line with you while you swap out the hard drives.

Updated 1/9/08: I still have noise issues with that original Drobo even after swapping out the hard drives. At this point, I’m not sure what to think. Could it be that Adobe Lightroom, the application I use to process my photos, places such a high I/O load on the Drobo that the hard drives will churn heavily no matter what, or could it be that this particular Drobo of mine is not phonically isolated as well as my other two? Not sure. I ordered hard drives of a different brand, to see if those will be quieter. I’m going to try those out for a day or two to see what happens. Then I’m also going to switch Drobos, and use one of my quiet Drobos for a day or two with the new hard drives and with the old hard drives, and then I’ll be able to get a better idea of what’s going on. Perhaps it’s just Lightroom causing this. Perhaps it’s the Drobo. Perhaps it’s the hard drives. But one thing’s for sure, while I was on the phone with Drobo Support, I didn’t use Lightroom heavily enough in order to compare the noise levels.

Updated 2/6/08: I sent two of the original Seagate 500 GB drives back, and purchased two Western Digital 500 GB drives. The difference between them, specs-wise, is that the Seagate drives have 32 MB caches, and the WD drives have 16 MB caches. But it turns out that there’s a problem with the Seagate drives where their caches default to 8 MB if the latest firmware upgrade isn’t applied. And there is NO way to apply a firmware update to the drives while they’re in the Drobo. Doesn’t work, I tried it. At any rate, the two WD drives are quieter than the Seagate drives, although they run hotter. At least noise-wise, things are alright now, and the Drobo’s cooling system seems to handle the extra heat just fine.

Updated 2/6/08: You’d think now that I’ve got the noise issues straightened out, things have quieted down, but they haven’t. I’ve got noise issues with one of my other Drobos, and this time it’s related to the fan for sure. I’ve swapped out the drives, and I’ve swapped the Drobos, and I’ve pushed on various drive bay flaps and listened carefully, and it’s the fan. Trust me, I spent about a month ferreting out this particular noise issue. I arranged for an RMA, which arrived today, only to disappoint me thoroughly.

Guess what? I received a heavily used Drobo from Data Robotics in return for my brand new Drobo (thanks for nothing!), even after I’d asked them kindly over the phone not to send me a used one or a damaged one. To make things worse, there’s serious dust in the crevices of this Drobo. The drive bays themselves are lined with dust that sticks to my finger when I touch it. One of the blue LED capacity indicators doesn’t light up (it’s broken), and as if that’s not enough, one of the ejection springs for the drive bays doesn’t work. When I wanted to take out a drive, it wouldn’t push it out. I had to point the Drobo’s mouth downward and shake it. To top it all off, it makes the same fan noise as my own Drobo.

But wait, there’s more! The firmware versions are different! While this replacement Drobo was able to read all of my data from the drives, when I turned it off (disgusted by all its problems) and removed the drives, intending to put them back in my own Drobo, I found out I couldn’t! That’s right, because the firmware versions are different, my original Drobo now can’t read any of my precious data. I’m stuck. My Mac wanted to initialize the Drobo, which would have meant erasing all of my data. I think at this point I’m stuck transferring all of my data to external USB drives and reformatting my Drobo, only to stick all of the data back onto it afterwards.

Understandably enough, I’m upset and disappointed with Data Robotics. To send me a heavily used Drobo with existing problems, and then to also put my data in danger when they’re supposed to make my data safer, is simply not acceptable. I notified them by phone and email, and will give them a chance to make things right. I’ll keep you updated of what happens.

Updated 2/7/08: Drobo’s Tier-3 Support replied to my emails. They were courteous, apologized for the experience, and promised to make it right. I believe they’ll try to ship out a new drive to me in replacement in a few days. Until then, they emailed me the latest version of the firmware (which is not yet available to the public) and showed me how to upgrade my Drobos manually. I upgraded the firmware on all of my Drobos, successfully, and now my original Drobo can read my drives without any problems. I didn’t lose any data after all. I’m very glad things have worked out!

Christmas abstracts

I thought I’d put together some Christmas abstract photos I’ve taken lately. As mentioned in past posts, I love abstract photos, and I love out of focus photos even more, but only when they’re done right. I’m not saying I own the recipe for making out of focus photos, but I like the way mine come out. 🙂

Not sure if you’ve noticed this with past photos, but if you put your mouse over them, you’ll see the title. It might be nice to see what I have to say…

O, Christmas tree

Holiday lights

Reflecting on Christmas

Star bright

Holiday buzz

Pass me by

Unclear on the concept

Vision

Afterglow

Aglow

Blue eye is watching you

Attack of the holiday cheer

In which the 4th dimension is glimpsed

Blinded by Christmas

Cut through the clutter

Camera review: Kodak EasyShare v610 Dual Lens

I have owned the Kodak EasyShare v610 Dual Lens digital camera for the past year and a half, and I’ve meant to write about it for some time. This will be a nostalgic review, since the camera is no longer being made.

Last weekend, I put together an 8-minute video review, and also took some photographs of the camera. I’ll accompany those two offerings with my insights, gathered after a LOT of use in just about any weather and light conditions. At the end of the review, I’ll also post selected photos taken with the camera.

There’s what the camera looks like at first glance. I purchased a matching leather case for it, and I’m not sorry I did it. It protected the LCD screen from scratches, and it helped protect the camera itself when I threw it about from bag to bag. Back when I was in college, in the mid 90s, my parents gave me a first generation Canon Elph. It used APS film, and it was a small, beautiful and elegantly designed little camera for its time. I’m talking about this because I got a leather case for that camera as well, and it helped keep that camera running in good condition for several years. My advice to you if you get a small camera is to get a good case for it as well. Make it sturdy, so it can withstand abuse, and make it stylish, so you won’t be ashamed to be seen with it in public. Leather fits that bill quite nicely, doesn’t it?

Video review

The video I recorded is enclosed below. You can also view it here, or download it if you like. If you’ve seen some of my other video reviews, you’ll have to excuse the lower overall quality of this one. I shot it this past Sunday, informally, during a very hectic weekend. I had a limited amount of time at my disposal, I was rushed, and it shows. But I managed to get my points across, and I’m happy about that, so it is worth watching.

Kodak EasyShare v610 from Raoul Pop on Vimeo and on YouTube

Dual lenses

One of the striking features of the camera is its dual lens setup. Back when it came out, a 10x zoom on a camera this compact was virtually unheard of. It’s still fairly uncommon. The only way this could be accomplished, while still keeping things looking great and with no external zoom extending outwards from the camera body, was with two lenses, one for closer distances, and one for what could be called tele. The first lens — the bottom one — is for 1-5x, and the second lens — the top, larger one — is for 5-10x, as you can see below.

Kodak v610 dual lens setup

The two lenses together have an astounding range of 38-380 equivalent focal millimeters. The first lens goes from 38-114mm, and the second goes from 130-380mm. I have good things to say about the quality of the optics. The images were sharp when in focus, and there was little fringing and chromatic aberration. There were two drawbacks to the lenses.

  • One, they were fairly slow. What I mean by that is that they didn’t open up quite enough, and that tended to make the camera pretty hard to use in low light situations without a tripod. The smaller lens (1-5x) is rated from f/3.9 to f/4.4, and the large lens (5-10x) is rated to f/4.8.
  • Two, there was a pause when zooming out past the 5x mark. The camera’s zoom would stop when it reached the end of the focusing range of the first lens, and I would have to press the tele button again to pick up the next lens and focus further than that. Over long periods of use, that tended to be pretty annoying.

But I didn’t let these things bother me too much. After all, I got 10x zoom in a very compact package.

Kodak v610 mode and on/off buttons

Controls and ease of use

What I liked most about the camera was its ease of use for basic photo taking. That proved to be both good and bad. Anything more advanced (such as long exposures, a change in ISO, or White Balance) required some menu surfing, and any custom settings were erased when the camera was turned off. Even something as simple as delayed exposures (2 or 10 seconds, for example) needed to be set for every single photo where they were needed. One couldn’t just turn on that setting and keep it on. It would reset after every exposure.

Even though I didn’t like this, I can understand the rationale for it very well. After all, this camera is a compact point and shoot meant for people who just want to pull it out and take photos, not for more serious tasks. And let me tell you, if someone that doesn’t know much about cameras picks up a Kodak v610, messes with the settings, and doesn’t know how to get it back to normal, they’ll be VERY much relieved when they find out all they have to do is turn it off, then back on.

The controls on the camera are wonderfully designed. The buttons are either metal or very hard plastic, and I am not about to scratch them to find out what they’re made of. At any rate, they’re the right shape and texture, and it’s fun to press them.

They’re intuitive, they fit well within the camera’s interface, and there aren’t too many of them, which is the right decision for a compact camera such as this.

Kodak v610 zoom and selection controls

I loved the easy way to switch between normal, macro and tele mode. See the big, square button above? Turn the camera on, and you’re in normal mode, where the camera can focus from 2 feet to infinity. Take photos as would normally do. Press the bottom part of the button once, and you’re in macro mode, where the camera can focus from 2 inches to 2.3 feet. Press it again, and you’re in tele mode, where you can take photos of things very far away and not have to worry about focus. The camera focuses to infinity automatically and picks a higher aperture, which means you’ll get a larger depth of field.

The build quality of the camera was evident everywhere. The tripod mount is a great example of this. It was pre-planned and integrated into the silver metal border that lines the camera’s sides. Not only that, but the mount itself is metal, not plastic. Given the camera’s light weight and compact size, one wouldn’t think it’d need a metal tripod mount, but there it is, and I love it!

One point of contention with the camera is the USB connector, which is a custom one. I would have loved to see Kodak put a standard USB mini connector on the camera, but they didn’t. That’s probably because they wanted it to integrate with their camera stands and plug right into their photo printers, but come on, there are volumes to be said about standardization… It’s really important when it comes to good design.

Capabilities

The camera includes a movie mode which records Quicktime movies using MPEG-4 compression at 30fps. I found the quality of the movies (640×480 pixels) to be plenty for my on-the-go needs, and often used it as my primary video camera. I have a confession to make: it was also my only video camera. 🙂 Remember my video review of the Canon Rebel XTi? It was done with the Kodak v610 mounted to a tripod. Came out great, didn’t it?

With a 2GB SD card in the camera, it could record over 1,100 photos or 1 hour of video, which is more than plenty for such a compact camera. The only problem was, the camera’s battery would only last for about 125 photos. I’m not sure how many minutes of video the camera could do on a fully charged battery, so I can’t speak for that. But I did find myself frustrated by the low battery life when taking photos, and ended up purchasing a second battery. With judicious use of the zoom and LCD screen, I found I could extend the battery life to 135-150 photos, but that was still not quite enough for me, and it was pretty frustrating to be out in the city, taking photos, only to have the camera die on me.

Again, I think this is a design issue, and I wouldn’t necessarily call it a flaw. This is a small, stylish camera meant for the person who would pull it out every once in a while and take a few photos, not for someone who wants to take lots of photos. That person should opt for a bigger camera with more battery life.

One other point I wanted to mention was the sensor’s light sensitivity. It was capable of 64-800 ISO on paper. In real life, I found 400 ISO to be barely acceptable, and 800 ISO unusable. 64, 100 and 200 worked out great. If I left it on Auto ISO, it varied it between 64-200 automatically to get the optimal exposure. The camera changed the ISO settings in increments of 10 between 70-200 ISO, and I’d always get a chuckle out of seeing all sorts of ISO speeds show up in my photos’ meta-data.

Overall, I was pretty happy with the camera. I say “was” because I recently gave it to my parents. They had a more complicated digital camera, and they often couldn’t understand the settings and were frustrated because they couldn’t get the photos they wanted. The Kodak v610 will work out much better for them since it’s more compact, it’s fully automatic, and it resets its settings with every “reboot”.

The camera also has a blurry photo indicator that can be turned on. If a photo is good, a little green hand will appear. If the photo is marginally acceptable, the little hand will turn orange. And if the photo’s not good at all, the little hand will turn red. That’s easy enough for anyone to understand. I told them to re-take any photos where the little hand will turn red, and if they can’t get anything orange or green to seek more light or give up. I think they’ll finally be able to get more decent photos now.

Let me show you a few photos I took with the camera to illustrate what it could do. I can’t emphasize enough how useful that 10x zoom proved to be, and you’ll see what I mean as you look at the photos.

Sample photos

This first photo is quite appropriate for this time of the year, as it represents a group of merry carolers on a sled.

This is another macro shot, this time of colorful beads in a public market.

The wide focal range allowed me to get photos of entire valleys from mountain tops. This is a photo of a portion of the Shenandoah Valley, as seen from Skyline Drive. Here you can see the typical bluish tinge caused by UV haze. This gets exacerbated by the CCD sensors of smaller cameras. I’ve seen it on many small cameras. For example, the iPhone’s built-in camera suffers from this defect to what I consider an unacceptable degree.

The camera’s CCD sensor was fairly adept at capturing color.

These very red and vibrant fall foliage was captured last year at our local Audubon Naturalist Society in Bethesda, MD.

During one weekend morning, I decided to set up the camera on a tripod and play around with water drops on petals. I got some really nice photos out of that session. This is one of them.

Waterdrops on petals

There’s a WWI memorial in downtown DC, and the crowning piece is this golden statue.

Liberty points the way

I love great sunrises, and I captured many of them with the Kodak v610. This is one of those photos.

Passionate sunrise

The inside courtyard of the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC is shown below. The camera always managed to expose photos decently when confronted with situations like this: a wall in shade and the bright sky above. A LOT of cameras have problem with this kind of a setup, including my 5D, which tends to overexpose the sky.

Watergate

Taken during a fierce snowstorm (we get one of those every year around here). It’s too bad the snow melts away so quickly afterwards.

During the snowfall

The next day, snow began to melt, as expected. I rushed to get a few photos before it would all be gone. This photo was post-processed to emphasize the frozen atmosphere — wishful thinking on my part, since the temperature was above 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Frozen

We were walking along the C&O Canal this past spring, and spotted a fox walking around in the forest. It stopped to check us out as well. This is where the camera’s 10x zoom was very useful. We were able to get up close even though we were separated by a body of water.

Fox in spring

The camera’s compact size made it a breeze to use when an opportune moment was spotted, like with this lone tulip outlined against a green wall.

Tulip

The zoom once again proved useful for getting closer to this lovely country house. In reality it was quite far from the road.

Lovely country house

Although there’s some lens flare in this photo, which could have been avoided with a lens hood (but the camera isn’t equipped with one) I love it. This is a portion of the C&O Canal where the water has pooled and is now stationary. Since the canal is no longer maintained, this portion has turned into a swamp. While I wouldn’t wade around in it, it makes for an interesting wildlife habitat, and the afternoon light is superb.

C&O Canal, now stationary

Guess where this photo was taken? It was at the top of the Tyson’s Corner Mall parking lot, looking toward DC. Summer was in full swing, and that’s the reason for the rich, deep green foliage of the trees.

Virginia forest from above

This was taken more recently, right in my community. Those beautiful golden hues can be seen every fall, but I won’t tell you where. I’ll keep it a secret for now. 🙂

Golden fall foliage

I leave you with another beautiful sunrise.

Golden sunrise

Summary

If you’re interested in a capable little point and shoot with a very powerful zoom for its size, try finding the Kodak v610. I checked and it’s out of stock even at Kodak’s own online store. It seems only Amazon still has a few units left. Though it’s no longer being made, if you can pick up a used one at a reasonable price and provided you understand its limitations, I think you’ll enjoy using it.

More information

Hardware review: LaCie 500 GB external hard drive

Updated 11/3/08: I’ve seen renewed traffic to this post, and wanted to let you know that at this point the drive retails for $99. I think that price point is a little high given that 1TB drives have become affordable, and bare 1TB drives only cost $110-130. This means that if you’re looking for an external 500 GB drive, it should cost you somewhere between $79-89. Keep in mind that the manufacturer has to strike a balance between the cost of the drive and the cost of the enclosure, and while 500GB drives are bargains now, it will soon become impractical to manufacture them at the large scale needed for low price points, because the 1TB drives will become the new commodity hard drive. My message is, get them while you can, or spring for the 1TB external drives. The original review continues below.

This unassuming little black drive is a great product and a great buy at only $120 for 500 GB. It seems that LaCie has discontinued it. Buy.com, where I purchased two of them, no longer has it in stock. Amazon still has it, thankfully. Read below to see why I like it.

500 GB LaCie USB hard drive

The price is right for all that space. C’mon, 500 GB for $120? Sign me up! On top of all that, it’s whisper quiet! My big complaint with a previous 500 GB LaCie drive that I owned was the noise it made. Boy, was it loud! Not this drive. It’s so quiet, I can’t even hear it, unless it’s being actively accessed, and even then, it’s pretty quiet.

What’s also REALLY nice about it is that it doesn’t have a power brick. You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s that big, heavy annoying power adapter that sits in the middle, between the part you plug in the outlet and the part that plugs into the drive. Not on this drive! I love that! It only has a simple, unassuming cable, and that does wonders when it comes to cable management and keeping the underside of my desk neat. These are all the cables you’ll need with the drive.

500 GB LaCie USB hard drive with cables

Here’s what the back of it looks like. Again, no annoying and loud cooling vents, just the adapter and USB ports.

500 GB LaCie USB hard drive (back view)

I love the simple, unassuming, but very efficient design. Instead of a cooling fan, the drive cools via a grille built into its bottom.

500 GB LaCie USB hard drive (bottom view)

The only other drive that compares to it in terms of how little noise it makes is the LaCie 250 GB external hard drive, which I also own. But I don’t think this drive can be found on the market any more, and besides, why go for 250 GB when you can get 500 GB for $120?

250 GB LaCie external hard drive

If you want a great little drive to store your files, jump for the LaCie 500 GB USB drive before it’s gone. It’s hard to get 500 GB drives by themselves at this price point nowadays, much less already packaged up in a neat little enclosure and with cables. I’m not sorry at all I bought two of them, and I might get one more in the very near future — if there’ll be any left on the market after the Christmas season, that is.

USPS, how slow can you go?

I’ve written about the USPS before, and how slow and unreliable it can be. I want to give you an idea of how terrible their service can be with hard, indisputable evidence (see screen shots enclosed below).

A package was mailed to us from a vendor on 11/14/2007. It came from Capitol Heights, Maryland, and shipped to my city, which is North Bethesda, Maryland. [For those unaware of this, North Bethesda is not officially a city (yet); it’s a borough between Bethesda and Rockville. The Post Office treats it as Rockville but anything addressed to North Bethesda will get there just fine.] It arrived on 11/27/2007, approximately 13 days after it left Capitol Heights.

Here’s the kicker: not only are Capitol Heights and North Bethesda in the SAME state, but they’re only 25 miles apart. According to Google Maps, and taking the long way around DC by going on the Beltway (I-495), it’s approximately 25 miles from Capitol Heights to my place.

How in the world could it have taken them 13 days to deliver it? I don’t know how, but there it is. If you want to talk about incompetent service, I think this would be a good example. If they’d have walked the package to my place, it would have been faster. But no, they have fleets of cars, and automated systems, and all sorts of things to speed things up, and somehow they not only manage to miss deadlines for Priority Mail and lose packages on top of that, but they bungle up a 25-mile delivery so badly that it takes them 13 days to get the package to me.

Here’s the proof. The package was supposedly processed on 11/20/07 at their Capitol Heights facility.

 

It arrived at my place on 11/27/07.

 

USPS Track & Confirm (screen 2)

But they received the electronic shipping notice sometime on the 14th, according to the Additional Details page. That means they received the package itself either on that same date, or shortly afterwards. Whether the vendor took their time to get the package to the post office, or whether it sat at the post office between 11/14/07 and 11/20/07 is irrelevant to me. Even if I give the USPS the benefit of the doubt and say they started working on the package on 11/20/07, that’s still 7 days to transport it 25 miles. It’s still unacceptable.

 

USPS Track & Confirm (screen 3)

Any way you look at it, the USPS is a mess. If it takes them this long to process and transport what’s essentially a local package, I suppose I should be happy it “only” takes them 7 days to get a letter from me to my parents down in Florida. That could be called an improvement on their local delivery service.

To top it all off, they want to keep increasing the price of first-class postage and other services. I’d like to know what we’re getting in return, other than copious amounts of junk mail.

A bouquet of chrysanthemums

Friends of ours had a gorgeous bouquet of chrysanthemums at their place, and I couldn’t resist taking a few photos. These were taken handheld, with the wonderful 580 EX speedlite from Canon and the 100mm macro lens.

Rows upon rows

Upon receipt

Burning upwards

Eager

Snow!

We had our first snowfall of the season yesterday, here in the DC area. We couldn’t miss the opportunity and went out to take photos.

Autumn’s few last vestiges hung precariously by their frozen stems.

The few last vestiges

Snow fell quietly upon the brook behind our building.

Bend in the river

It weighed down these oak leaves as well.

Weighty matters

The brook kept flowing, regardless. It might soon be covered in ice, but it’ll still find a way to flow underneath it all. Water always finds a way.

Flow

Snowflakes trickled down through the bare branches to the forest floor, covering its carpet of fallen leaves with a fresh coat of white powder.

Snowing in the forest

Bunches of red berries were slowly building little snow hats.

Berry cold

I love the contrast between the vibrant red of the berries and the pure white color of the snow.

Abundance

My sweet Ligia, with snow in her curly hair.

My sweet