January Hike: Morgan Territory

January 16, 2022 7:28 pm

I have a goal this year to do one hike a month. It seems fairly doable. We did this month's hike today at Morgan Territory with the Spencers. It ended up having significantly more elevation change than I anticipated, so it was more strenuous than planned. But, we all made it through the other side. It was about 2.5 miles. Lots of nice dense woods, a few patches of open hillside, but the sky was a bit overcast so it wasn't too hot.

About a third of the way on we had to cross a stream and a tree had fallen right at the crossing. So we had to climb under and around the tree and as we crossed. Corinne put her foot right into the muddy water. We rung out her sock as best we could, but she did the rest of the hike with a soggy foot. No blisters though.

I got some neat pictures of mushrooms and some little wildflowers:

New Camera!

December 18, 2021 1:59 pm

I've been saving up for a few years and waiting for Pentax to release a new flagship APS-C DSLR. I wanted to see what they came out with and decide whether to upgrade to it or decide to leave the Pentax brand for something else. This year they released the K-3 mark iii, which got reviews like "The last great DSLR?" (tom's guide) and "A Great Camera Nobody Will Want" [because it's a DSLR] (fstoppers).

I like the DSLR experience and much of the reviews discussed how enjoyable the K-3 iii is to use. So after months of waffling and thinking and waiting for a discount, I bought one in order to have it before Christmas. And it's an excellent camera. A major upgrade from my K-7 and a joy to use. The auto focus is fast and accurate, the low-light capability is magical, and the shutter click sound is very satisfying.

I'm very pleased to discover that the K-3 iii can operate my 35mm lens perfectly (Pentax DA 35mm f/2.4 SMC AL). It always had focusing issues on the K-7 and I wondered if the lens was defective. I attached it to the K-3 iii, though, and it's fantastic. I'm really glad I'll get to use this lens now. With a f/2.4 aperture and short focal length it's very good for in-the-house shooting with less-than-ideal lighting. This was a big reason I bought the lens, but its performance on the K-7 was very disappointing. It had very inconsistent focus issues and calibration didn't resolve it.

But enough chatter, let's see some images.

Here's a wide-open shot using the 35mm focused right on the door handle as desired:

And a comparison shot of Phoenix using the same lens on the K-7 (top) and K-3 iii (bottom):

K-7, 35mm f/2.4, 6400 ISO. Back-focused and noisy
K-3 iii, 35mm f/2.4, 8000 ISO. Perfectly focused and no noise.

Phoenix will not stay out of the tree, despite our best efforts:

The girls' school had a "Light up the Night" event on Friday which I used as an opportunity to test out the camera in real-life conditions:

I am quite pleased with its performance. Those shots were outside at night with very little lighting, but still crisp and usable.

Hakone Japanese Gardens

October 30, 2021 9:18 am

Jess' parents drove out and visited us from the 19th to the 24th. On Friday I took the day off of work and we drove down to Saratoga to visit the Hakone Japanese Gardens while the girls were in school. We thought it'd be nice to actually meander around rather than be dragged about with constant complaints of it being boring. We were right.

Jess and I had watched a Great Course on Japanese history and we both agreed we liked the aesthetics of the gardens and then found there are a handful of such gardens in the Bay Area (which has a pretty long history of Japanese immigration).

It was cloudy (it actually rained every day her parents were here, the only rain we've gotten in 10 months) so my pictures are rather muted, so nothing spectacular. But I still enjoyed the trip.

We sat in a waiting pavilion for a few minutes which had a large window (that's one of the pictures in the gallery). I went outside to try and get a picture of Jess with her parents sitting inside through the bamboo, but the dynamic range was too much for my camera and I couldn't keep it still well enough for an HDR shot, so this is what I have. Now just imagine all the bamboo is rich green instead of blown-out white.

I had intended to set up a group picture of all of us before they left, but it kept slipping my mind until it was too late.

The girls enjoyed their visit. They warmed up to "Papa" and "Bubbie" much more readily than we had expected. Corinne was super happy to have more playmates around and Heather happily showed them projects she's working on and read them things from books.

Before their visit we had asked Heather if she'd be comfortable with them visiting during her birthday. She was a little upset at that idea and asked that we keep her birthday to just us. So they scheduled their trip to move on to their next stop at the beginning of this week.

Their next stop was in Utah and they intended to drive highway 50, "The loneliest road in America." But the storm system made a mess of the Sierra Nevada passes. One was closed due to flooding and the others were covered in snow and ice. Traffic wasn't moving at all on them when they were leaving and there were chain requirements in effect. So instead they drove south through Las Vegas.

Comet NEOWISE

July 23, 2020 7:40 pm

Comet NEOWISE is making its closest approach to Earth today. Last night I drove up into the hills southeast of Livermore to try and get a look. Visibility was apparently better earlier in the month when the comet was closer to the Sun, but it was also only visible just before sunrise and that just wasn't going to happen.

I used online maps to scout out what I thought would be a good vantage point and I drove out just after sunset. I got to the dirt road and across the cattle guard then I had to wait for the cattle to get off the road. Once they moseyed on their way I climbed up the hills until I had a pretty good view over Livermore. Then I got my camera set up and played around with the moon while I waited for it to get darker.

Dusk over Livermore

I still couldn't see the comet with my eyes and it looked like the main problem was light pollution. But I figured I could use my camera to find it. So I pointed it in the general direction, zoomed out to 50mm, and took a 20-second exposure. I did that a few times before I found it. Here's the first shot I got with the comet in it straight off the camera:

It's right near the bottom, about a third of the way from the right. So I carefully adjusted the tripod to center the comet and then zoomed in to 200mm. The light pollution made it really hard to pull out the details of the comet. Here are my best two shots:

Comet NEOWISE. Pentax K-7, 200mm, 6400 ISO, f/5.6, 6s
Comet NEOWISE. Pentax K-7, 200mm, 6400 ISO, f/5.6, 5s

Then the moon was setting and became a tiny sliver of deep red:

And since I was already out there I turned my camera around away from town and go the stars behind a utility pole:

The K-7 struggles in low-light conditions. It's 11 years old and sensor technology has improved dramatically in that time. I'm planning on upgrading in the near future. Pentax is releasing a new APS-C flagship later this year which I'm keeping an eye on. If reviews are positive I'll probably pick one up. It should be a considerable leap in image quality, auto focusing, and low-light performance.

Mercury Transits the Sun 2019

November 11, 2019 8:22 am

The transit started before sunrise in California, but I thought I'd try to get a picture before heading to work.

My first shot overexposed the sun, but is kind of neat anyway. It's wisteria below and our tree off to the right.

Pentax K-7, 200mm, f/32, 2s. (ND filters)

I took a few other shots and realized my lens has a number of spots that need to be cleaned. I thought they were mercury, but across several shots determined they were moving with the lens and not across the sun.

Looking closer I believe I did manage to get Mercury, smaller than my dirt spots. I believe the spot just above dead-center of the sun is Mercury:

Pentax K-7, 200mm, f/32, 1/25s. (ND filters)