Articles from January 2010



Never too much of a good thing

There is a Zen saying that, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.” I have come to realise a slightly adapted version of this, which is: “When the kayaker is ready, the paddling opportunities will come.” This has certainly been the way of things lately. When Alan and I started out, we didn’t know any other kayakers.  We then made friends down at Garnock and, now, we find similarly minded folks right on our very doorstep, providing no shortage of opportunity to get out on the water. It’s a truly wonderful thing.

Misty Holy Loch

Last weekend saw several of those folks stranded on the “wrong” side of the water. Those of us on the Cowal side had intended to meet our friends at Kilcreggan, however, a thick, pea-souper of a fog had descended upon Greenock. Not possessing any suicidal tendencies, our friends quite sensibly abandoned any plans to cross the Clyde shipping channel. Sadly, therefore, they missed out on the beautiful sunny window that had opened over the Cowal Peninsula. We gazed over at the fog-enshrouded gloom in disappointment, which was only assuaged by blue skies, sunshine and beautiful scenery as we made our way from the Holy Loch to Dunoon and a hot cuppa at the Yachtsman’s Cafe.

Heading for the Kyles

Paddling in the Kyles

This weekend saw everyone gathered on the “right” side of the water where more blue skies and sunshine, if not exactly balmy temperatures, beckoned us out for a paddle from Toward to the East Kyles of Bute. After a great deal of deliberation, Alan decided that this would be the day of his “official” return to the world of sea kayaking after a nearly 4 months’ absence due to injury (give or take a couple of short practice outings). It was really excellent to have him back. Also a little strange. I confess to having become a bit “precious” about organising my kit, and I did try not to show my irritation upon discovering bits of his kit appearing in “my” Ikea bag. On the other hand, it’s awfully nice to have someone help you tug your mukluks off (paddlers will understand) at the end of a day’s exertions.

Taxi for Alan

Taxi for Alan

The wind was coming from the NNW  at about 20 kph as we headed straight into it on the way up the Kyles. Fortunately, the sun was out sufficient to keep us from freezing, despite the 3°C temperature and, indeed, my hands became quite sweaty in my pogies. I watched Alan with some concern, hoping that he wasn’t at risk of undoing all the hard physio work he’d undertaken in order to heal, but he assured me that he was feeling fine.  It seemed like the wind was picking up a bit as we pulled into shore for a spot of lunch. Most conveniently, our lunch site sported a rope swing, the temptation of which was too great to resist. Several of us let loose with our inner child and were soon flying through the air in a state of reckless abandon.

Loch Striven meets the Kyles

Loch Striven meets the Kyles

Returning was a quite different experience, with the wind now behind us. We soon established that, at the rate we were being pushed along, we were acquiring 2-3 knots of wind and tidal assistance. It took me all my time not to pull out a newspaper and make a cup of tea as we coasted along. As the waters exiting the Kyles met up with their relations exiting Loch Striven, however, things became a little livelier and required a return of all hands on paddles as we negotiated a bit of F4 chop. The optimists within our party had anticipated that it might be possible to not have to skirt around the fish farm at the southern end of Loch Striven, however, such hopes were obliterated upon meeting up with the rather chunky cables and pipes inconsiderately placed between the shore and the fish cages.  And so we laboured through the chop all the way around the fish farm. Suddenly Alan was making excellent progress as, momentarily distracted from his injury, he had hit the “turbocharger” button on his kayak (a well-known bonus feature of the Nordkapp). I continued to enjoy and appreciate my Rockpool Isel, which took the turbulence in its stride.

A January roll

A January roll

Soon we were back in the calmer waters of Toward. As we approached our destination slipway, not happy with a successful day’s paddling, Alan decided to test out his roll. I am pleased to report that it was present and correct, thus motivating the rest of us to duly pat him on the back and declare him mad (but in a good way).

And, speaking of resurfacing, the Cowal Kayak Club is now providing yet more opportunities to paddle. The Friday night pool sessions have re-started and future trips are in the works. If I’m not careful, this paddling thing could become a bit of an obsession …

Cowal Kayak Club

Cowal Kayak Club WebsiteAfter a small hiatus, the Cowal Kayak Club is back. And this time it’s personal. See their brand new Website here.

If you’re in the neighbourhood, why not come along to one of the trips or pool sessions.

A freezing paddle around Great Cumbrae

cumbrae kayak preparation It seems I have a bit of catching up to do, so let’s begin with the small Ice Age recently endured by the UK, when “Arctic deep freeze” conditions were making daily headlines. That now famous satellite photo of a white and frozen Blighty was actually more than a little disturbing. It looked awfully like Greenland. I suppose this might explain why it seemed to have no negative impact upon the aspirations of my paddling pals, and may actually have served to encourage them. Indeed, I did try to keep in mind that using temperature (of -3°C that day) as an excuse for not going kayaking would not fly in Inuit circles. Not that I’m an Inuit, as I later confirmed.

And so, the put-in point was set for Largs with a view to a circumnavigation of at least one of the Cumbrae Islands. There was certainly a nip in the air as we exited the coffee shop at the Largs Marina and organised our gear on the shore. Enveloped in a drysuit, 3 interior layers, 2 pairs of socks, mukluks, pogies, a neck gaiter and fleece-lined cap, I felt sure I had (literally) covered all bases when it came to maximising my chances of staying warm.

Hungry robin

Hungry robin

A robin was quite gallusly hopping about our launch area and we concluded that, along with all the other birds and wildlife, he must have been hungry, being that a large portion of his regular food supply was presently frozen. I selflessly scattered a corner of my energy bar in his direction.

There wasn’t much in the way of wind as we headed over to Great Cumbrae. Heading southwards, we passed Millport and then the mountains of Arran came into view which, although a little clouded over, were nonetheless snowy and beautiful. Agreeing that we would not encompass Little Cumbrae in our journey this time around, we turned right at the Tan, at which point a friendly seal showed some moderate interest in Barrie’s and my whistling efforts.

Arran mountains

Arran mountains

I was feeling fairly happy in the awareness that, indeed, I was not experiencing much in the way of cold when we pulled in at Bell Bay on the west side of Great Cumbrae to enjoy lunch. I use the term “enjoy” loosely. To my surprise, another robin appeared to investigate our foodstuffs … or perhaps that energy bar had really worked wonders?! After imbibing various concoctions from our respective (thermos) flasks, it became apparent that there would be no further hanging about as a chill was descending rapidly. Sadly, footering about with flasks and snacks involves the removal of one’s pogies. I had brought neoprene gloves with me, but couldn’t even get them on as my hands were damp and numb with cold. I would have given my right arm for a pair of mittens! (Or, I suppose then I’d only need one mitten …). Not only that, I could feel the cold starting to seep through my various layers. So, with visions of hypothermia setting in, I began to PLF (Paddle Like – er, Fury) in order to generate some heat. I know that my companions wondered what it was that they’d said, or why I’d suddenly developed an inappropriately competitive streak, as I paddled off ahead of them without the merest thought towards group cohesion. This was a matter of survival! Alas, they could not see the tears of pain that I was shedding over my frostbitten fingers. Fortunately, my efforts worked and feeling and warmth gradually returned to my person.

Bell Bay, Cumbrae

Bell Bay, Cumbrae

We re-grouped before paddling eastwards back to Largs. It was a long slog back against the wind and there were moments when I could have sworn we were getting no closer to our destination. Upon arrival, the cold torture was not over, of course, as we then set about unpacking our kit, loading cars up etc. Once again, I cursed the absence of mittens, however, ever-thoughtful Julia produced a gel hand warmer for me to clutch in order to aid my hopeless efforts at knot-tying and general fumbling. This is the best invention ever! You can guess which section of the outdoor store I made a beeline for at the first opportunity.

It’s no surprise that during our excursions in the colder months, we are frequently interrogated by passersby, with comments ranging from the observant “Is it not cold out there?”, to the more judgemental “You must be insane” variety. I fear that our attempts to reassure everyone that we have a firm grasp of our sanity are not very effective – but they just don’t know what they’re missing!

Astronomical view of our tripUpon returning to the shores of Cowal, we discovered that (still injured, but now healing) Alan had been busy in our absence. Left to his own devices, the thought had occurred to him that the inventive use of one astronomical telescope and a camera might produce results. Indeed, he managed to locate us at the northern end of Great Cumbrae from a distance of 7 miles! This is quite a technological breakthrough, I feel and just goes to prove that, even when you think you’re not being watched, quite possibly you are!

Big Brother is watching you.
1984, George Orwell

Camera Review of Canon Digital Powershot D10 (waterproof 10m)

Review posted by guest blogger:alanf

Canon D10 Powershot Waterproof Camera

The Canon Powershot D10 waterproof digital camera has been around since mid 2009, and is the first Canon aimed at the watersports market. It is a 12 megapixel digital compact camera.

On first inspection, the camera is very stylish, with barely a hard edge anywhere. Most surfaces are smooth and round. The detachable front cover is a snazzy teal colour and, as an optional extra, can be interchanged with extra coloured panels. The teal one is quite nice though. The construction feels good with a lot of impressive looking hex screws clamping the body shut. The lens for this camera is a 6-18.6 mm f2.8-4.9 zoom lens, which actually protrudes out from the front of the camera by about 25 mm (a new first for waterproof compacts?). The zoom lens can actually be seen to move in and out when zooming, inside the waterproof lens housing. In this sense, the camera is a lot more like conventional compact cameras rather than the thin and flatter waterproof ones available to date. This may give better optics, but will also take up extra buoyancy aid pocket room, although it fits with room to spare into a Palm Kaikoura BA pocket. In use out on the water, however, I did find that the lens catches a bit on the pocket zip, although it is tolerable (just not as smooth as my older, thin Pentax Optio W20).

There is no viewfinder on the camera, and the 2.5” large bright LCD screen produces a very clear, crisp and visible display.

There are two waterproof access seals – one on the bottom of the camera for memory card and battery access and one on the side for DC adapter/USB cable access. This is one more access panel than the old Optio W20 which dispenses with DC input and USB access. The optimists would say that it is nice to have a USB access point, but the pessimists would say that there is double the chance of seal failure and water leak into the camera! (I do however need the USB cable since my laptop can’t read High Capacity SD memory cards directly). The seals themselves are a side o-ring for the bottom panel, and a face o-ring for the side panel. Both are secured in place by a grey plastic catch. Only time will tell how robust these are, but I remember having similar reservations with the Optio W20 a couple of years ago, and have had no issues with it.

The rather strange feature on this camera is perhaps the strap attachment and tether mechanism, which gives the user the choice of the 4 corners of the camera to attach the cord to. There are really only two positions that are practical, so it’s a bit gimmicky rather than being an important feature. The cord attaches to a metal bayonet type fixture which can plug into any of the 4 corner fixtures. The corner fixtures themselves are metal, and give a sense of robustness, however they are locked in place only by the actions of a small plastic pincer mechanism which, when squeezed, can cause the whole tether mechanism to be released fairly easily. This makes me feel that it’s not that secure. Do I really want to trust this mechanism out on the water where I’m taking the camera in and out of my BA pocket all day? I feel that Canon should have used a more secure attachment for this purpose. I also feel that once I have settled on the corner that I want to use, I will more than likely try to make it more permanent by squeezing some silicon sealant into the mechanism to solidify it (will my warranty still stand?). I would also have liked Canon to have supplied blanking caps for the other corner tether holes, since they are just left open and serve no purpose other than to collect grit and water. A carabiner fixing cord is available from Canon, but at £35 it’s a bit of a steep price, and I’ll just have to settle for making my own cord and attaching a carabiner!

The turn-on time of the Canon D10 is much faster than the Optio W20. It is really fast! I can turn on and take a single shot in under 2 seconds. The auto focus seems a whole lot quicker than the Optio too, even in lower light conditions. I have been getting fed up using the Optio due to the slow turn-on, slow/poor focusing and shutter lag, and in comparison, this camera is great. These two factors alone make the Canon stand head and shoulders above the Optio.

The 12 megapixel sensor delivers fairly good quality detailed 4000 x 3000 pixel images, although for me, an obvious downside is that Canon seem to have used too much jpeg compression to limit image file size (full size files are in the 2.2 – 3 MB range, compared to the 4+ MB file size range of my 12 megapixel Nikon digital SLR camera). I have never understood manufacturer’s desire to trade off image quality for memory card usage via jpeg compression. I’d prefer less compressed jpegs (or at least the option of setting the camera to use less compression!). Unfortunately there is no ‘super fine’ image quality option in the camera’s shooting menu, only a ‘fine’ and ‘normal’ mode (you don’t select ‘normal’ mode – it’s not normal!). With ISO at 200, aperture at F2.8 I ran a side-by-side comparison of shots between the D10 and a Nikon DSLR, per the 2 images below. The detail from the Canon D10 is good. However, when cropped down and magnified to 500% as shown in the cropped/zoomed images in the comparison chart below, the greater jpeg compression on the Canon D10 image becomes more apparent. On the second image comparison, the nice almost uniform blue sky suffers from jpeg artifacts too, which I’m sure could be eliminated by less jpeg compression. The D10 images also looks a bit more contrasty, probably due to internal auto leveling and sharpening algorithms inside the D10, which the user has no control over.

Image comparison chart Canon D10 v Nikon dslr both (12 Megapixel)

(Click on thumbnails for full image size)

Canon D10 image Nikon DSLR image
Full frame shot – scroll to click outside of large image to return
Cropped shot same image
Cropped shot same image 500x magnification
Full frame image (new scene)

Cropped frame image (new scene)
Cropped shot same scene

As well as control over jpeg compression, it would also have been a big plus to have seen the option to use RAW files. Maybe its a deliberate choice by Canon so this camera doesn’t compete with their more expensive pro-sumer models?

Exposure Control

Click to enlarge

The other slight gripe with the camera in ‘P’ mode (where the user controls the settings) is its propensity to overexpose images on multi matrix ‘evaluative’ mode, with 0 ev compensation (ie the default). In an image that has average brightness in the foreground and bright sky, the sky will have very burned out highlights ( a big no-no in photography). In order to preserve the highlights, it is necessary to knock the exposure level compensation in ‘P’ mode down to -1 ev (others may prefer -0.33 ev or -0.66 ev).

Spot metering seems to deliver better results, but how often do you have time to spot meter on an action shot on a watersports day out? You usually just want to point, click and forget!

The ‘Auto’ mode fares quite well with highlights, but do I trust the auto mode to not blow highlights 100% of the time? I don’t think I’ve used ‘Auto’ mode on any camera before, ever!

Apart from it’s handling of the highlights, Auto mode has a tendency to switch to ISO800 a lot of the time leading to grainier images, even when it doesn’t need to do this, eg when there are ample light conditions.

I normally prefer to knock the ISO level down to 100 from the default ‘Auto’ to prevent high ISO graininess, but unlike some other cameras, in ‘P’ mode the auto iso setting seems to limit at ISO400, so this should prevent the camera from producing excessively grainy shots in low light conditions. However you will notice image graininess at ISO settings of above 200 so manually setting ISO to 100 or 200 may be the best overall option. The Image Stabilisation system will also help out shooting in lower light conditions.

There is no manual exposure or aperture priority mode, ie you can only manually control ISO, exposure compensation, and focus, not shutter speed (apart from long shutter speed in scene mode) or aperture, which is a pity.

Summary

Why am I comparing the D10 to the DSLR? Well doing most photography outside of kayaking with a DSR, I ultimately need a camera to compete with my DSLR when I’m kayaking. Is the comparison fair? No, but it does give you a flavour of what corners are being cut with compact digital cameras. Overall, however, once the settings are optimised, the D10 is a fun to use camera. The controls are smooth, the menu buttons are great, and the image stabilisation seems to work very well, as does the Auto-focus including the facial recognition system. Menu system and functionality options are wide, including the standard scene, movie etc modes. Editing features eg movie editing etc seem to be very handy and powerful, and the images produced are certainly very lively. It also has the option of an intelligent ‘i-contrast’ option which will auto correct dark “contrasty” images, eg bright sky and dark foregrounds. (Note: I am normally adverse to auto corrections, but the D10 does a very good job of brightening up dark foregrounds whilst maintaining overall image contrast).

Other advanced features include facial AF, eye blink recognition, AE lock, AF lock, custom white balance and tone controls, servo focus for moving subjects, and slow sync flash for nigh time photography, which tend to be found on more advanced pro level cameras.

Click to see full, 12 megapixel image. Click outside of large image to return

In conclusion, this camera packs quite a punch for it’s size and price. That coupled with a 12 megapixel sensor, fast turn-on time and minimal shutter lag times make this a big upgrade from the Optio W20, and I am really looking forward to using it out paddling in 2010.

D10 Pros

  • 12 mega pixel sensor
  • smooth edged design
  • robust looking build quality
  • good optics
  • choice of tether mount point
  • fast turn on time
  • responsive autofocus including low light conditions
  • fast responsive shoot time, minimal lags
  • good image quality
  • fast lens F2.8-F4.9
  • image stabilisation
  • auto white balance seems to work well
  • intelligent ‘Auto’ mode, guesses scene type
  • some interesting exposure adjustment tools like i-contrast to help brighten up dark areas
  • intuitive buttons, menus and features
  • programmable ‘print’ function key
  • some advanced features
  • usb/ dc input
  • price (notably reduced from original early release price)

D10 Cons

  • tether mount point locking mechanism robustness/security/ease of unlocking
  • no covers for unused tether points
  • lack of superfine mode for less compressed jpeg image files
  • no raw file support
  • ‘Auto’ mode varies Iso up to 800 which can be grainy
  • 3x optical zoom a bit boring especially given the IS
  • tendency to blow (overexpose) highlights in ‘P mode evaluative metering’ (needs manual compensation down to -1ev)
  • Second waterproof seal panel for USB/dc adaptor means 2x risk of seal failure?
  • full operation manual only available as pdf on supplied CD – I’d have preferred it on paper instead of 5 different language paper versions of the ‘quick start guide’!

D10 Kayaking specific pros

  • waterproof
  • fast lens (quicker shutter speeds, fewer blurred images)
  • image stabilisation (fewer blurred images)
  • fast turn on (no excuses for not photographing that dolphin that just appeared!)
  • fast focus even in low light (faster shots, fewer blurred images)
  • good auto mode (point and click photography)
  • multiple tether points
  • optional tether with carabiner available

D10 Kayak specific cons

  • tether point robustness, ease of release/durability
  • lens protrudes, may not fit some BA pockets
  • lots of crevasses for salt water to stick around in (will need rinsing after every outing)
  • twice as many waterproof seals to worry about!

New Year’s intentions

What better way to start the year than on the water, even if it is a little chilly out there? Recent weather would suggest that the much rumoured “switching off” of the Gulf Stream (which is supposed to keep our climate from going the way of Canada’s) has now occurred. We’ve had snow and ice on the ground for so long now, I can barely recall the colour of grass. OK, I exaggerate – but it has been a couple of weeks at least since our “big freeze” began and it’s going to take a bit of practice to re-learn how to walk without shuffling or clinging on to walls and such by the time the thaw does come.

No such worries on the water and New Year’s Day found a group of us shaking off 2009 with a refreshing paddle from the Holy Loch to Loch Long and back. Some eejit suggested that, in the tradition of the New Year’s Day “dook” (trans: swim), a New Year’s Day roll might be in order. Fortunately no-one heard me.

Palm River Tec Paddle Mitts

Palm River Tec Paddle Mitts

Santa was very good to well-behaved paddlers this year, and I donned my new Arctic gale-proof Palm River Tec pogies, eager to test them out. Northern Kayaker has already reviewed them here – and I concur with her opinion. They are a little tricky to get on, I’d say impossible without the use of teeth. I’m thinking about asking Palm what they recommend – surely it’s not the inelegant tugging and biting performance that I put on (people with dentures can forget it). Once in position, however, the pogies sure are toasty.

 

Alan - back on the water (for a little bit)

Alan - back on the water (and testing my pogies)

Suitably bolstered by this auspicious start to the paddling year, I was back out on the water a couple of days later, but this time a special treat was in store – the return of Alan! After hand surgery which was immediately preceded by a sternum injury, the latter being particularly debilitating, he has been out of commission since October. We didn’t go too far, not wishing to cause re-injury, but it was lovely to float about on the Clyde and do a bit of seal-spotting on a bright winter’s day. And it was especially lovely to see Alan back in a kayak. I have missed him.
Bustin' a moveI do like to set a few intentions at this time of year (or in the yoga nidra tradition, some sankalpas). I won’t bore you with the minutiae of my more minor resolutions (mostly addressing sugar intake and time spent on LOLcats). It would be easy to say my primary intention is to go paddling (well … it is!). But I will also mention my other “big ticket” item, which does tie in: I intend to live in the present tense. It is, after all, the only thing that exists – the past and the future reside only in our minds, and all we have is this very moment. Kayaking has a way of plonking you straight into the moment and making you literally sit up and pay attention. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why we get so much out of it, because it relieves us of all the other “junk” in our heads for a short while. And what a relief it is.

On that note, as we raise a glass to the New Year, indeed, the new decade, let’s also raise a glass to this very moment.

Makes much more sense to live in the present tense.
Present Tense
, No Code, Pearl Jam