Archive for the ‘europe’ Category

Sony NEX-5 versus Sigma DP2, looking for the perfect travel camera

August 16, 2010 16 comments
Check out the Tallinn Photos by clicking this image

Check out the Tallinn Photos by clicking this image

Here is a gallery of some of the photos I took while in Tallinn, Estonia.

The two cameras I used were the aging, yet still very capable Sigma DP2, and the new, hot off the shelf Sony NEX-5.

I pretty much stuck with the 16mm (24mm equivalent) f2.8 lens on the NEX-5, and when I needed a bit more reach I used the Sigma DP2 with its 41mm equivalent field of view.

And as happy (dare I say ecstatic?)  as I am with the NEX-5 and 16mm pancake lens, I do have to say that I actually prefer the images from the Sigma.  The sharpness, color fidelity, and dynamic range of the Foveon sensor continues to astound me.

While I was travelling, the excellent LCD on the NEX-5, and the comparatively horrid LCD on the DP2 had me thinking that the Sony was going to be the one with the superior image quality.   But after downloading the images and viewing them on a large monitor, I am once again caught between two systems.

I love the wider choice of focal lengths on the NEX-5 due to its interchangeable lenses, as well as its superb image quality at higher ISO’s.  The flip out LCD is also a great feature, especially when doing street shooting as it lets you shoot “Rollei-Style”, looking down at the LCD, instead of upright and pointing the camera from your face.  I could do with a few more external buttons and less menu digging on the Sony, but after a day of shooting that part became pretty transparent to me as I got more used to it.

Yes, the new Sony NEX-5 coupled with a pancake lens is a very compact, and portable travel camera.  It really is a pocket camera, and I very much enjoyed travelling light and not toting around a DLSR with a sack full of lenses.  Considering all this, it would seem that the Sony had pretty much nailed it with the NEX-5, making it the perfect travel camera.

But in situations with adequate lighting, the Sigma DP2, with its seemingly anemic resolution of 4.7 megapixels, actually mops the floor with the Sony NEX-5’s and its 14.2 megapixels when it comes to resolving power and pure sharpness.

This could be partly to blame because of the Sony lenses, which do not have a reputation for being very sharp.  But I think it has more to do with the sensor technologies being used, and the resolution advantages of the Foveon sensor technology compared to CMOS and CCD type sensors.

The Sigma is capable of producing astounding images, if you know what you are doing, AND you can put up with its horrid user interface which pretty much cripples what could have been an excellent all-around travel camera.

The DP2 used to be burdened with an extremely slow focusing system, but some recent firmware updates actually solved that problem.  (THANK YOU SIGMA!)  And while you are not going to be doing any sports type photography with it (not without manually pre-focusing anyway) it now has a respectably fast and responsive auto focus mode.

So once again, I have come to the conclusion that there is no single perfect camera.

Although, if a person were to use a Sigma DP2 with its 41mm field of view, AND a Sigma DP1 and its wider 28mm field of view, you may be able to cover most all of your bases for a lightweight travel cameras setup, the benefit of which would be you could share batteries and memory cards between the two, carry only a single battery charger, AND not have to take along a netbook or other portable photo storage device since more than 1,000 RAW images fir on a 16GB SD memory card.  This is all thank to that measly 4.7 mega-pixel resolution.   But don’t let number fool you into thinking the image quality will suffer.   The proof, as they say, is in the pictures.


European Vacation day 5: Helsinki

August 6, 2010 13 comments

Not much to write about todays events, mainly because there weren’t many.  After waking up we walked to the market for some breakfast.  I had a plate of sausage and potatoes.  Saori had a wonderfully delicious thin pancake with berry sauce and cream.  We enjoyed our leisurely breakfast and then strolled back to our apartment for a quick nap.

That quick nap turned out to be a five hour nap.  After waking up (again) we relaxed in the room, and then went back to the market square to meetup with  Tokyo University student that Saori had met while wandering around the previous day.

We chatted a for a couple of hours and had a couple of beers and then said our goodbyes.

Saori and I then made our way back to our room so we could work on making our hotel reservations for Prague, our next destination which we were catching a flight to the next morning.  It was an early night, and we went to sleep before 10pm.

So far, the most uneventful day of the entire trip.  But also, the most relaxing.

It; nice to go slow once in a while.  After all, that’ what vacations are for, doing exactly what you want, when you want.

Let’s see what tomorrow and Prague have to offer us.

Categories: europe, finland

Europe Trip, Day 4: Helsinki

August 3, 2010 8 comments

OK, I  must admit it.  This is more than a little bit strange.  I am in a place where everyone looks like me, yet I can hardly understand a word they are saying.  At first anyway, everyone I have met here so far has been able to speak excellent English, so true communication has not been a problem.

Now I know what it feels like to be an American of Japanese descent who goes to Japan for the first time.  Everyone speaks to you in the local tongue, and you have to sheepishly explain that you do not understand.  It’s only natural that people assume you are a local from the way that you look.   I think what helped to perfect my disguise for Helsinki was deciding not carrying around a backpack full of 15-20kg worth of photo equipment.

And i think I have been able to fake my way through a few brief encounters with shopkeepers.  I grunt and nod, and end the exchange with another curt nod and a quick “Kiitos”.  I think I’ve got the accent and mannerisms right too, the benefit of having grown up around a lot of Finnish speakers in Upper Michigan.

And I really have been enjoying the feeling of travelling light.  It has allowed e to focus more on where I am at, instead of juggling ideas of what lens i should be using for a particular situation.

I’ve never been much of a wide angle type shooter, but the Sony NEX-5 with its 24mm pancake prime has started to change the way I shoot.  I know it’s not ideal for all situations, but for this trip it has been just what was needed.

I’ve heard a lot of people say it before, but now I really understand it.  Europe really needs to be shot with  a wide angle lens.

Saori decided that she wasnot interested in visiting the UESCO World Heritage site on Suomenlinna, so I went there by myself in the morning, only meeting back up with her later on in the afternoon back in the room.

The island museum of Suomenlinna was a very nice break from the semi crowded streets of Helsinki proper.  Compared to Tokyo Helsinki feels almost like a ghost town, but still, Suomenlinna was like taking a walk through the countryside in comparison.

After taking the ferry boat back to Market Square I grabbed a late lunch from one of the food vendors.  Grilled salmon, small potatoes in butter, vegetables, and a beer. With my fuel tank once again topped off I went wandering through Helsinki.

In front of a large shopping complex I met a young Japanese couple who were on a year-long world tour.  They were hippies through and through and were  funding their trip by selling hand-made jewelry along the way.  They had already sent 8 months in Asia, bouncing from country to country, and now were just beginning a three month tour through Finland, Sweden, and Norway.  They said that India was so affordable that they did not have to sell any jewelry, but Finland is entirely different.  But looking on the bright side, they did say that rice was cheap in Finland.  I chatted with them for a few minutes, enjoying the fact that I could communicate again with someone in a language other than English.  After that I dropped all the Euro coins I had in my pocket into their hat, wishing them luck on their continued adventure around the world.  It was only later that I remembered that with the coins being in denominations of 2 Euro and down, I likely passed on the them a not so insignificant amount since most of the coins were of the 2 and 1 Euro type.  No worries though, it’s always good to feed your Karma.

From there I found myself an outdoor bar and enjoyed a cold hard cider as I watched the world go by for a little while.

Observation: What’s up with all the Mowhawks I have seen here in Europe?  Between Estoni and Finland, over he course of 3 days I have noticed no less than 10 or 12 Mowhawks, and not all of them have been on men!  But, I guess it could be worse, instead of a Mowhawk, they could be sporting Mullets.

For dinner Saori and I went to a restaurant that specializes in food from Lapland.  We had Elk steaks, roast Reindeer,  Reindeer sausage, and winter vegetables (Potato, carrot, and turnip).  A real meat and potatoes type of meal, all washed down by some rather sweet Finnish fruit wine.

I’ve enjoyed the food so far, but I do have to say, a little bit of rice and miso soup now and then would not be a bad thing.  There have been quite a few Japanese restaurants I Helsinki, but I would no doubt be disappointed with them so I have stuck to the local food.

European Vacation,Day 3: The third time is the charm

August 2, 2010 4 comments

Woke up at 05:00 this morning to the sound of Saori trying to be quiet as she made herself a cup of coffee.  In truth I was not really woken up by her, I was fully rested and kind of half awake at the time anyway.

Having seven hours before checkout time I decided to take another walk through Old Town to take advantage of the early morning light and empty streets.  Upon exiting the hotel I took an immediate right, and about 40 meters from the front door a couple of guys stopped me to ask if I wanted to buy any drugs.  I politely declined and went on my way.

I made a quiet circuit of Old Town in about an hour and a half and went back to the hotel to find Saori fighting with the underpowered hair dryer.  It took her forever to dry her long thick hair.

We went down for breakfast at 8:00, and after that we decided to go for a walk outside of the Old Town area.  We just skirted the edge of Old Town, stopping off at a shopping center with a really large book store.  It was around 11:00 when we went back to the hotel to check out.  Since the Ferry was not to leave until 13:00 we decided to walk to the Terminl D Ferry port instead of taking a taxi.  It was a nice walk, and we arrived at the ferry terminal around 12:00.  The problems started when we went to buy a ticket.  We were told that the ferry was fully booked for the entire day.  There were no available seats on any of the boats leaving for Helsinki that day.

Strike One.

I then asked about other ferry lines and we were told to try Terminal A.  A 20 minute walk later we came upon terminal A and in first seeing it I was not feeling very confident.  It was quite a bit smaller than Terminal D and nearly deserted.  But we went to the ticket window just the same to inquire about a couple of tickets to Helsinki.  No dice.  We were given the same stoy, nothing available until tomorrow mornirng at the earliest.

Strike Two.

Damn, two swings, and two strikes so far.  I was not liking he avegare we were developing.  It was starting to look like we were going to be spending another night in Estonia wether we wanted to or not.

So I asked about any other means of getting to Helsinki that day, and I was directed to the Linda Line terminal, another 25+ minute walk further along the sea side.  So we struck out for thr Lind Line terminsl, and the closer we got the more my hopes sank about getting to Helsinki that day.  We walked through a couple of overgrown long-term parking areas, past a large monolithic building who’s purpose I have yet to ascertain.  It was your classic Soviet era structure, all big blocks of granite and concrete, but definitley showing its age with weeds and small trees sprouting up between the frost-heave cracks.  The closer we got to this last ferry terminal, the larger the weeds became, and the smaller and rougher the sidewalks and roads became.

Upon turning the corner and seeing the ferry port I was not filled with any sort of confidence.  There was only one very small ship, and a long line of people cued up to buy tickets.  People likely in the same situation and Saori and I.  So I found what looked to be the shortest cue at the ticket windows and crossed my fingers that there would be at least two seats available when I got to the head of the line.

As luck would have it, they did have seats avaialable, but only in “Linda Class” (Whatever that meant), I quickly agreed that those would do, and paid the 1,625 Krooni to secure the tickets.  We went traight to boarding from there, and that was when I fould out that “Linda Class” is the top deck where you get a free meal with drinks. (Score!)  So I am typing this directly after having a Salad, Fanta Orange soda, and an ice cold Olvi Beer.

I guess whom ever they were, they were right when they said that “The third time was the charm”.  And as a bonus, the Linda Line express appears to be faster than the ship we had first intended to take, so we will be getting in to Helsinki just about the time when we can check directly into our apartment hotel. Instead of taking three and a half hours, the trip will only take and hour and twenty minutes.

And as an added bonus, the Linda Line docks very close to our next point of lodging.  So even though the days travel ordeal started pretty poorly, but all things considered, I guess things worked out pretty well after all.

Saori is pretending to sleep, but she appears to be pissed at me for some reason.  I think it is because I told her to speak more simply when trying to talk to someone who’s fist language is not English.  This came about when she was trying to order a coffee on the ferry, and in her Japanese accented English said, “Excuse me, could I please have a coffee?”, and the waitress responded with a blank stare.  I told her it would be much better if she just sad “Coffee please”, and skip the formalities.  I’m not relly sure why she is pissed, I was just trying to help.  Women.  Can’t live with them, can’t throw them off the side of the boat either.

Just checked in to our studio apartment hotel.  It’s reall nice, and loacted in a ncie quiet area a short walk from the center of town. It’s kind of strange since it does not feel at all like a hotel, even the checkin was like going to ana apartment.  There is no front desk, and no on-ste staff that I can see.   To check-in, you proceed to a small locked panel that opens once you input your code and you then help yourself to the keys. Efficient, and easy.

After checking in we made a quick stop at the local market t byu some bread, cheese, snacks, and beer.  After that we took a sauna and spent the rest of the evening relaxing in our room.

That’s it for today, more to come tomorrow.

Categories: estonia, europe, finland, wanderings

Day 2, Time warp in Tallinn

August 1, 2010 1 comment
click here for the photos

click here for the photos

It is just after midnight.

Saori is sacked out after taking a shower, and I did a little wandering after we checked in to the hotel.  The Old Town area of Tallinn looks to be beautiful.  I took some photos, and now I’ll take a shower and hit the hay myself.  No alarm being set for tomorrow, this is a vacation.   🙂

07:43 – Woke up about an hour ago after a very solid nights sleep.

Spent a glorious hour just lying in bed enjoying the feeling of having no schedules and no deadlnes.  Saori is in the bathroom getting ready to go while I am lying on the bed typing this out.  The weather looks to be really good again, light high clouds with quite a few patches of blue sky poking through even at this early hour.

No real plan for today other than to wander the streets throughout old town and soak up the traditional architecture, local food, and of course local beer.  Saori is just about ready now (07:46) so I will sign off for now.

11:46 pm – What a day!  Had a great breakfast at the hotel at 08:00, from there we started wandering though Old Town Tallinn.  Made a circuit of pretty much the entire place by 2 pm, even with stopping off at a coffee shop for cappuchina, cake, and a beer.  The part I enjoyed the most was being able to get up close and experience the medieval architecture.  There is a certain “authenticity” to some of the structures I saw today that made them feel more directly connected to history that what I saw when I was in London a few years back.

Took a lot of pictures, and generally just enjoyed the perfect weather.  We went back to the hotel at 2 pm, planning to take an hours nap.  That hour turned into six hours, and we then caught a late dinner near the hotel.  I had a Cinnamon beer (sounds bad but was delicious) with salmon, barley, and beans.  Saori had stewed lamb with barley and beans.

We’re thinking abou going to Club Hollywood since it is located right ocross the square from our hotel, but then again we may give it a miss and just get some rest.  It’s supposed to be a very cool place, but I’m not that interested in waking up with a hangov er tomorrow morning.  Instead, I’ll liky go to sleep soon, wake up extra early due to jet-lag and then go take some more early moring photos prior to checking out from the hotel and catching the ferry to Hellsinki to see what Finland has to offer.

Estonia has been great though.  Beautiful weather, more hsitorical buildings that you can shake a stick at, and extremely friendly people.  This is a place I would not mind coming back to in the future.  The guy at the coffee shop said that Old Town Tallinn is like a mini version of Praha.  If that really is the case then I guess I will really love Praha!

OK, off to bed with me so I can get an early start tomorrow and capture more Estonian light befor catching the ferry back to Helsinki.

ps: The Sony NEX-5 has performed brilliantly so far.  As I had guessed, the 16mm prime has been pretty much glued on to date, and when i need a tighter shot I pull out the Sigma DP2 with it;s 41mm perspective.  I am very happy to have chosen to travel light versus going for the absolute maximum in image quality that a more bulky camera would have provided.

European Vacation: Day 1 Japan to Helsinki to Estonia

July 31, 2010 25 comments

Woke up to howling rain this morning after getting only about 3 hours of sleep.  Was up late last night making hotel reservations for Tallinn and Helsinki (The first two destinations on our trip) as well as packing and cleaning up the apartment as much as the limited time would allow.

I decided to leave my usual photo gear at home and instead am taking only my new Sony NEX-5 with 18-55mm zoom, 16mm prime, flash, and three batteries.  I also took the Sigma DP2 for its like-like rendering in good light.  I’m pretty impressed with the NEX-5 so far and I think the 16mm prime will be the lens that gets used the most.  The low light capabilities of the Sony are really impressive, not to mention the sweep panorama feature.  I will be putting both of them to good use on this trip.

Saori is shooting with the Olympus E-P1 and Panasonic 20mm f1.7 lens.  I also picked up the new 9-18mm zoom for her yesterday as she really enjoys shooting with a wider perspective.

And I guess I should mention that I am typing this on the Toshiba netbook I picked up for the trip.  With its 250 GB hard drive, and price of only $380 it makes more sense than buying more than the 4 extra 16GB cards I already bought for the trip.  It will also come in handy during the trip with the ubiquitous wifi access in Finland.  I had no time to make hotel reservations n Praha or Vienna, so that will have to be doe from the road.

Breakfast consisted of a peach given to us by Saoris sister.  I also cleaned out from the fridge those items which would have gone bad while we were away.  This being Friday, it was Burnable pickup so that worked out nicely.

Saori called  a taxi to take us to the station since it was pouring buckets, an even with the short sprint between our apartment and the cab I received a minor soaking.  The taxi driver was thoughful enough to drop us off under a roof near Yokosuka chuo station so we could avoid the same soaking.  (Taxi ride was 1,040 yen for what would have been a 15 minute walk)

we caught the YCAT bus in Yokohama, ad arrived at Narita around 8:30 am.  After checking in, we bought a few last minute items (neck pillow, toiletries, and a money belt) and then  exchanged yen fr Euro (170 Euro) so we would have at least a little bit of cash when we arrived.  We then caught a meal at a miso restaurant before boarding the flight.  I ate miso chicken with rice, tofu, miso soup, and pickles, AND a beer.  Saori had a bowl of miso ramen soup.  (2,640 yen)  From there we went to the airplane, making a brief stop to pick up a couple of bottles of water and a some snacks.

It was funny when I walked onto the airplane, the cabin attendant greeted me in Finn.  Can’t blame her though, I am after all Finnish by heritage.  It was just a bit amusing, and one of those cool moments that remind you if entering a new place.  It’s 11:52 now, Saori is already passed out (and using MY neck pillow) so I will  likely down a sleeping pill soon to see if I can manage to stay unconscious for most of this nearly ten hour flight.

ps: The Crying Baby section is not too close to me this time, and has been relatively quiet so far.  Just a couple of little outbursts.  Let’s hope that holds true for the rest of the flight.

Day one continued: 7:20 pm

Well, we are on the Tallink ferry about 45 minutes out of port from Helsinki, on our way to Tallinn.  The rest of the flight was pretty quiet, I think it was anyway.  The sleeping pill I took knocked me out so I was oblivious to the world for a few hours, and that is always a good thing on an international flight.

Getting Euros from an ATM at the airport went very well.  No problems whatsoever.  We also got lucky with the timing to catch a bus to the city center, from where we hopped in a taxi for the ride the rest of the way to the ferry terminal.

My first impressions of Finland from the ride from the airport to the city:  The climate and Geography are very similar to Upper Michigan.  The people look the same as well, and the only off part is that everyone is speaking Finnish.  Were it not for the difference in Language it would be hard to tell the difference between the two places.  Helsinki itself seems like a nice city.  Not crowded or congested like the cities in Japan.  Finnish people like to drink!  As soon as the grocery store on the ferry opened it was mobbed by people buying beer (and vodka!) by the case! I am a bit overwhelmed by all the blond people here.

We exchanged $200 for Estonian Kroon on the ship so we will have money to pay for a bus and/or taxi to take us to our hotel when we arrive in Tallinn at 10 pm.

Caught a a taxi from the ferry port to the hotel  and checked in.  The hotel is right in the  heart of the odl city (score!) and our room is up on the fifth (top) floor.  Great view, and very spacious.