Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

The Farmlet Camera

Friday, April 13th, 2007

A few Farmlet readers have asked about how we make the images that we include with our posts. Mainly: What camera are we using?

We use the Canon PowerShot SD800 IS / Digital IXUS 850IS. The same camera has several different names. In America, it is known as the PowerShot SD800 IS. In other countries (except Japan), it is called the Digital IXUS 850IS.

The Canon Digital IXUS 850IS

This camera has been reviewed to death, so what follows are some of my casual observations.

Besides being a lifelong Canon user, and having earned a bit of a living with their professional equipment in the past, I chose the IXUS 850IS mainly because it has a wide angle lens (equivalent to a 28mm lens on a 35mm SLR). Decently wide lenses are very rare on consumer class digital cameras. Most of them only go as wide as 35mm.

The camera carries the IS designation, meaning that it features an optical image stabilization system. I always shoot in IS mode. While I haven’t tested the limits, it feels about two stops faster with IS activated.

I’ve carried a lot of heavy photographic equipment for a lot of years, and I can’t believe what this camera can do. While I miss the control that I had with SLR systems, this tiny camera is remarkable.

What I like:

Image stabilized 28-105mm (35mm equivalent) lens.

The image quality is very good, overall.

Spot meter. In my EOS1 days, I used to shoot almost exclusively in full manual mode—or shutter priority—with spot metering. The spot meter and auto exposure lock features are weirdly usable on the SD800/IXUS850. They work great in high contrast situations.

The camera is very fast and responsive.

The screen is huge and clear.

The camera body is only slightly larger than a deck of cards.

The sensor noise at ISO 400 is actually not too bad.

Excellent build quality.

What I don’t like:

“Manual” mode is limited; you can’t dial in aperture and shutter speed. While the +- 1/3 stop exposure compensation feature is very helpful, in terms of overall exposure, you can’t explicitly control aperture and shutter settings. While I know that this camera is intended for people who have no interest in manual control, a couple of us can’t help it. I use the camera exclusively in “Manual” mode. (“Get a digital SLR!” you say. I know. Maybe if Bex and I hit the lotto.)

Noticeable edge softness at widest focal length; not an issue for the target market of this camera. Again, “normal” people wouldn’t even notice this. Pixel pushers, though, will see it right away.

Lens is slow (f/ 5.8) at maximum zoom; IS helps.

Dynamic range seems limited; there is moderate highlight clipping.

The AiAf mode is useless. I turned it off after trying it for about two minutes.

Some Notes on Workflow:

I stick with the in-camera white balance settings for daylight and overcast. Besides cropping, the images need very little work in Photoshop. I apply a moderate unsharp mask (between 40% and 50%, radius .9, threshold 1 or 2). Occasionally, I’ll play with the curves, but it’s not necessary most of the time.

If you’re thinking about buying this camera and found the comments above useful, consider using any of the links below to make your purchase. Thanks!

Amazon USAAmazon UKAmazon GermanyAmazon France

All Steel Shovel

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

I used part of this month’s contributions to buy my last shovel: the Made in New Zealand, Atlas Trade, All Steel, Round Nosed Shovel which cost an insane NZ$99 at Mitre10. (This shovel was so expensive that, when I went to pay, the woman at the register couldn’t believe the price.)

I’ve written about broken shovels before, and my search for one I could rely upon. I thought it would be worth noting that this quest is finally over for me.

I’m confident that I’ll give out before this Atlas shovel does, and that’s the way it should be! To choose a tool like this is to be through screwing around. While someone might note that I could have bought 6.6 crappy Warehouse shovels for the price of this single Atlas all steel tool, the peace of mind is worth the extreme price.

Note the weld between the blade and the handle:

Atlas all steel shovel with close-up showing the blade welded to the handle

I’ve been using this shovel and it’s a pleasure to work with. It’s rigid and it feels damn strong.

Thanks to all contributors for making this strategic purchase possible.

For those of you in the U.S., the Fiskars Long Handle Digging Shovel seems like the closest match to the shovel I got, in case you’re interested. “Shaft is welded to the steel blade,” are the seven words that should jump out at you.

Petzl Tikka Plus LED Headlamp

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Becky and I are slowly acquiring things that will help us in an emergency. Light is something we mostly take for granted. In the Far North of New Zealand, however, the power goes out on a semi regular basis. This has accentuated the point for us: Do not wait to get reliable, backup lighting.

There is no shortage of options. While we all know about candles and lanterns, which should be a part of your plans, I would encourage you to strongly consider acquiring at least one high quality LED headlamp. Becky has owned a LED headlamp for years. I found myself borrowing it quite a bit. I decided that it would be a good idea for me to have one as well.

I wanted an excellent quality light. I wanted something that I knew I could rely upon, something that would last a LONG time. After researching the topic at length, because there’s so much Made In China garbage out there, I decided to go with the Petzl Tikka Plus.

The Petzl Tikka Plus LED Headlamp

Overall, the Petzl Tikka Plus is an incredible headlamp. It exceeded my expectations. The brightness, at full power, is roughly double what I had expected it to be. It seems impossibly bright, actually, for the size of the unit. There are three intensity modes, plus blinking, all controlled by a single button. I found that the ‘low’ setting is easily bright enough for any indoor task. The lamp will operate for 150 hours in the low intensity mode on a single set of three AAA batteries.

The build quality is excellent, it’s weather resistant and, while I haven’t subjected the unit to punishing treatment, it seems very durable. The Petzl Tikka Plus is made in France, by the way, for those of you who like to avoid buying things that are made in China when possible. (See Cryptogon references on Chinese fascism.)

It’s simple and inexpensive to stockpile batteries, or, better yet, get yourself a solar battery charger and a few sets of rechargeable AAA batteries. It will be easy to confront the darkness, with just a bit of preparation and forethought.

Broken Shovel

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

I broke the handle on my primary shovel the other day. I wasn’t even working the thing very hard. When it snapped, the handle wasn’t bent much, and it broke cleanly and suddenly away from the blade. I looked at the point of break and noticed bit of dry rot!

Please learn from my mistakes

Oh, what I would give to have the hardened steel and fiberglass shovel I had back in the U.S. If such a shovel can be purchased in New Zealand, I’d buy two of them, almost regardless of price. I might actually look into getting this Nupla shovel imported. It looks like el ultimo.

Having a tool as basic as this break is a serious, “Oh shit!” moment. It’s unthinkable, really. Until it happens. I have a backup shovel, but it’s a similar design, just made out of slightly better materials. It is not sufficient. Please, don’t wait to get your tools.

General Hint on Shovels: If the nose of the shovel is pinned to the handle, just forget it. I’ve broken two shovels, one in the U.S. and one here in New Zealand. Both had blades that were pinned to wooden handles. I’m ready to say “forget it” to wood handled shovels as well. Whatever shovel you buy, choose it like your life is on the line. Then buy two or three of them. The same goes for wheelbarrows.

Related: Nupla Tools