Sunday, 7 August 2016

Camera Failures

In the olden days of 35 mm film, my last camera was a Pentax Super Program coupled with a 35-200 mm zoom lens. Beautiful pictures, big and bulky, and it used film. I remember taking it on my trip to Chile in 1997 and shooting 36 rolls of 36 pictures (1,296 pics) in 6 weeks.  These days I shoot that many pictures every 3 days while travelling.

My first digital camera was the Olympus C-700 UZ in 2002. It had a 10x optical lens -- which was considered an ultra zoom in those days -- 2.1 megapixels, and was about ¼ as heavy or bulky as my Pentax.  On my 1 Gb card, I could shoot 1,250 pictures. I was sold. It did everything my Pentax did, including the zoom, the various shooting modes, manual focus control, and was tiny. And it had what I deemed then (and still deem today) as essential: an electronic viewfinder. LCD screens suck in so many ways, and if you're zoomed in, the camera is just not the slightest bit stable unless grounded to your face.

Bye bye film. I never looked back.

In 2006, I got tired of the purple fringing problem of the C-700, so I upgraded to an Olympus SP-500 UZ, which was a very similar camera to the C-700 UZ, still with a 10X optical zoom, but with 8 megapixels. I always shot 3 megapixels, and used those "extra" megapixels to add non-digital zoom ability. That gave me effectively 15x optical zoom. The camera was slightly bigger, though.

I liked my SP-500, but in 2008, I was in Montreal for the Grand Prix, and I dropped it from the grandstand about 10 m to the concrete. Bye bye SP-500, hello the camera that had replaced it by then, an Olympus SP-560 UZ. Still 8 megapixels but now an 18x optical. Again I always shot 3-5 megapixels, so had an effective 24x optical lens. But the 560 was bigger still.

In the spring of 2010, when it was just under 2 years old, my 560 started acting up. Photos were suddenly purple. And not a little purple. I went back to my C-700 for a short while, then bought a Fuji HS-10. While almost the exact same size as my Pentax Super Program and lens, it had a 30x optical lens that was a fully manual (no motor) zoom, and a manual focus ring, and threads for filters like a polarizer!  With now 10 megapixels, I was shooting up to 42x optical without digital zoom. But...

In the fall of 2013, when it was just over 3 years old, my Fuji's lens started acting up, with lens elements falling out of alignment. In wide angle shots, the bottom of the picture was in focus while the top was not. I could not shoot anything wider than 100 mm equivalent without distortion. I looked at getting it fixed, but was frustrated by the fact the a repair would cost more than a new HS-50, and the bulkiness of the camera was getting me down.

So I bought a Pentax X-5, which was a big compromise. Yes it was a 16 megapixel camera, and yes it had a 26x optical (giving me generally 52x non-digital zoom), and yes it was smaller. But... the camera had tons of issues. The manual, shutter and aperture priority modes were a total joke, as was the manual focus. It took 5-8 seconds from power on to be ready to shoot, meaning I lost lots of pictures of things like birds and animals. It's auto focus sucked.

And last week, at just over 2½ years old, it died. The motor that drives the lens quit working, making the camera useless.

Each of these cameras cost ~$350, meaning each has cost me $100/yr just owning it. My C-700 lasted the longest at 4 years, my X-5 the shortest at 2½ years. My SP-560 lasted only 2 years, but has backed me up on occasion until it dies again, so has probably had 3 years of life.

I think these things should last longer than 3 years, personally. And they're so freaking bulky that I've lost everything I ever gained by moving away from 35 mm.

Now my options are:

  • Fix the SP-560's purple problem. Probably can't be done, given that it's most likely a CCD failure problem, and the camera's 9 years old. 
  • Fix the HS-10's lens element alignment problem. That's $500 if it can be done. And it's still a big-ass camera.
  • Fix the X-5's lens motor. Is it worth throwing money into a camera that wasn't that good to begin with?
  • Buy a new camera, most likely the Panasonic DMC-FZ70. That's $325.


I went into my one local camera shop to pick up the FZ70. First, they were out. But I had a good conversation with the manager about my needs and my problems. He observed that 2-4 years was about all you can expect in a consumer bridge camera like the last 4 I've owned. He noted that spending $1,200 would get me a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera that would probably last 5-7 years. But...

He said for what I needed, I was barking up the wrong tree anyway. He recommended either the Sony HX90V or the Panasonic ZS50 or ZS60. Both are ultra compact cameras, both have an electronic viewfinder, both have 30x optical zoom, and both are about 1/3rd the size of any camera I've had before. They had neither in stock.

I did a little research and ordered an ZS50. It was $430, but (on the advice of store guy) I bought a 4 year extended warranty. for $70. This at least guarantees the camera will work for at least 4 years... 

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Running Rain Lake (with pikas!)

It hasn't been a great hiking year for us so far. We got up West Wind Pass with our friend Kim, and climbed Jumpingpound Summit -- and that's it. Now, in part I blame July which was really rainy, but in reality, it's just that I've been really busy since getting back from Barcelona and it's only just started to calm down (a subject for a different post).

The weather and our schedules both reached alignment on August 5, and though I've got lots of "bigger" hikes on my list of things to do, I wanted to go explore something interesting and off the beaten track. We picked Running Rain Lake.

The lake isn't that "secret"; its reasonably popular with fisher-people, and also with hunters in the fall. But it's a little isolated, being 15 km or so south of the Highwood Pass on Highway 40. 

Starting the trail has always required a bit of effort, and it got worse with the 2013 flood, sort of. You park on the side of the highway, and immediately drop 15 vertical meters down to 10 m wide Storm Creek, which you have to cross. In olden days, it was a ford, but now there is a log bridge of sorts.
Karen on the crossing
Next up is a short rock hop of Running Rain Creek itself. This used to be a big deal, but the flood made it easy. You skirt silted in ponds and flood destroyed river channels...
This used to be a river channel for something but turn around and... 
...the channel got filled with flood debris.
...then climb up a new route out of the creek valley onto a pleasant ridge. There are a lot of shepherdia bushes in here, and bears in the area are  generally having a party gorging on the berries of those bushes these days -- however, on this trail, there were hardly any berries at all.

The route through the forest to the lake is pleasant but not always dry. There are springs everywhere and dozens of mudholes that you have to pick your way around. At least one ate Karen's boot on the way in, and I slipped into one on the way out. Yeuch.

Two-thirds of the way to the lake, there's another crossing of the (now) much smaller creek. You could rock hop it on the old trail, or use another log bridge made from flood debris. Unlike the big one crossing Storm Creek, this one has... a handrail!
Nice of someone to build that 
Karen on the crossing
The flood damage continues a little past the bridge. The hillside beside the trail gave way and a mudflow crossed the trail.
Looking up 
Looking down 
Looking across
Later in the day, we were atop the ridge where the mudflow started. Stay tuned...

The trail's a little indistinct at the mudflow; once you get to the flow, turn uphill, cross the tiny creek in the flow, and go another 75 m, finally heading back into the forest near more mud.

Just past here, you end up in a marshy, wet meadow. Every footstep squelches water on you, but if you stand still, you won't sink.
The meadow starts
And then you get to the lakes, which are just beautiful.
Your first view 
The massive Elk Range behind 
Looking back down the valley 
The lake edge 
There are two lakes; a shallow, sandy bottomed one home to at least one frog...
A Wood Frog
...and the back lake, which is much deeper.
Crystal clear water
The fishing in these lakes is apparently good for cutthroat trout. Two folks were fishing here today, and when we talked to them on the way out, both said they caught several fish up to 12". One was fly fishing, one was spin casting. Bait not allowed. Catch and release over 30 cm. Max 2 fish under 30 cm.

We went into the meadow beside the back lake, found a rock next to a giant scree area, and had lunch with this view...
Looking basically northwest
...and at least 7 pika for company. One was happy to sit in the grass and eat...
Wary, but... 
Lunch time!
I think he heard a noise
...while the others were all frolicking in the rocks.
And fat 
In mid-squeek 
Looking rabbit-like 
Monitoring his domain 
And being fat 
Grooming time! 
Intent on something
It was around here my camera started acting up. Our plan was to climb the ridge south of the lakes, and do the ridgewalk. The "normal" route up is on right side of this picture, along the grassy margin between the scree and the trees. Once at the top, turn left and follow the ridge.
We didn't take that route, though
I took a second picture for reference, and got this:
I'll write a separate post, but I think the CCD gave up the ghost.

Looking at the route to the ridge, we thought it stupid to climb all the way to that snowpatch, just to immediately descend. Sat imagery clearly showed that we could stay in the centre of the gully and get up in there. So we crossed the scree pile (seeing more pikas along the way), and found a few washout gullies that would be waterfalls if it was raining. It was easy (if steep) to climb them, in many case with "steps" made out of mini waterfalls.
Looking down from ~10% the way up
Karen took more pictures on descent than ascent, so hang in there for better views of the gully. The gully we picked had a 5' tall cliff in it about 30 m below the summit. We clambered out of the gully, and immediately found a well used elk trail that took us easily to the top. Here's our route up in Google Earth. The wiggle to the right was me following the elk trail further on the way down.
Reasonably direct
The ridge top wasn't the slightest bit interesting. A VERY weak game trail led along it, and we lost it on several occasions. Going was slow, and it was mostly in dense forest with no views. There were larches, but I'm not sure there were enough to call this a "good larch hike". Here's our route on the ridgetop in Google Earth.
A zig zag, with ups and downs, too
The only views were at the washouts that are visible.
Looking south into the next valley. Mt Odlum on the right
The unstable 50° slope at the top of a washout
Mt. Lipsett and Mist Mtn. Trail start just visible 
Looking north from the top of that mudflow we crossed 
Looking down at the mudflow 
The trail (I know where it is, since I was on it...)
We continued to make poor progress, crossing our fingers that the section the main "summit" of the ridge would have better views as per the sat images. But ahead of us lay a wall.
We had to climb that. It has cliff bands.
We continued to pick our way along the ridge, and it got steeper and steeper. We figured our way up above yet another washout area, and arrived at a knife-edge ridge with only 20 vertical meters to the summit. It was a 60° slope on one side, 45° on the other. Had we stayed on the "easier" side, we would have had to scramble to the summit. Okay going up, much tougher down-climbing. The ridge crest was 8" wide, had trees on it, and was windy. Not my idea of a good time, since a fall would have gone a long way and hurt very, very much. 

So I got Karen to climb onto the ridge edge, get stable, and take pictures.
Nameless Ridge. See this link
Mist Ridge in the foreground, the Highwood Range behind 
A partical view of Odlum Ridge 
More of the Highwood Range 
Due east
So we didn't quite make the summit. If anyone who's reading this knows a better way than to scrabble the last bit on the knife edge, please pass it along (and flag it).

We pulled a U-turn and headed back the way we came, the rigdewalk no easier going back.
I think that's a rock glacier on the flanks of Mt. Odlum
Only once were we able to get a partial bird's-eye view of the Running Rain Lakes.
A better view would have been nice
Then it was back to the up gully, find the elk trail, follow it further to find it ended, climb back, and descend again.
Our gully from the top 
The lake is visible 
Easy walking 
Almost down
...and back to the lake.
Mirror like, but some fish were rising 
Looking back down the valley.
Along the way we looked back to where we were and what we didn't make.
We were blocked by the bump in the middle 
Zoomed in a bit from a little closer 
The cliff bands that stumped us 
We were at the top of the mudflow, and blocked by the peak on the left
Our route looked like this:
Out and return
We ran across another wood frog on the way back to the car...
Also swimming
...and a pile of (not berry-filled) bear poo on the path that wasn't there this morning.
Eating cow parsnip, I suspect
The lakes themselves would be a great half day hike or full day fishing trip. They are in Elbow-Sheep Wildland Park, so random camping is permitted, and a weekend camping in the meadow would probably be a riot of pika squeeks.

The ridge walk? Don't bother.