Succinct camera buying advice

Many of my readers now that being asked for camera buying advice is a somewhat regular occurence for me. Mike Johnston of The Online Photographer summed it up about as well and succinctly as I have ever read in one in a series of recent posts:

“But seriously, here’s how to buy a camera: figure out what lenses you need first, and who has them; figure how big a camera you want to carry; figure out (from that and from the pricing and your budget) what level or tier you’re going to be looking in (and this level is a good one); then pick one and get on with it.”

My usual advice is to find the Canon camera that best fits your budget and desired features and then talk yourself into the next higher-priced model. If someone complains about not wanting to buy a Canon, I tell them that they asked the wrong person for advice. That’s not entirely true, though, since I do occasionally recommend Panasonics too.

Update: The day after writing the above, New York Times personal technology columnist David Pogue offered this even-briefer bit of advice in response to the cocktail-party question, “What camera should I get?”:

“The Canon PowerShot SD880. Or, if you’re willing to carry around a bigger, heavier model (an S.L.R.), the Nikon D5000.”

I’ve recommended the first camera. The latter I’m not very familiar with, but I have long found Nikon’s user interface to be confusing.


Meet me at SXSW ’09

I’m in the midst of this year’s journey to the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, TX. I have described it in the past as a giant, five-day-long group hug for the builders of the web. This is my fourth visit to this conference in the past five years.

You can stalkfollow me around on

Adventure Miscellany Photography

Happy Holidays 2008

Here are some links to stories and photo sets from my adventures of 2008:




Keep checking back. I might not be done yet.

Site news

Most popular content, 3Q 2008

I don’t post here often enough. I realized the other day when I was thinking about posting this that I haven’t posted one of these in a year. I hope to be able to start writing here and on the work blog more often.

Without further adieu, the most popular content here for the third quarter of 2008, according to Google Analytics, is:

  • MyCokeRewards vs. PepsiStuff – The post I sometimes wish I had never written. It’s number one with a bullet and far outpaces everything else on the site. Readers seem to like to comment on it, too, but I recently turned those off. The truth is, I pretty much stopped drinking the stuff over a month ago in an effort to resolve a health problem (tinnitus). It didn’t relieve the problem, but I don’t feel any worse for not having all that caffeine and aspartame running around my system so I now only very moderately consume diet cola and unsweet tea. I had a thought while preparing myself to write the post that you are reading of trying to dethrone it by writing something like, “Divorce – one man’s strategy.”
  • Ichetucknee Springs tubing photos – My first attempt at writing a post with the expressed intent of collecting search engine traffic. It worked. I’m currently number three behind two official pages if you use the post title as the search term.
  • Geotagging photos for Flickr with Mac OS X and a Garmin GPS – This makes me happy as it’s the type of writing I would like to do more of around here.
  • Micanopy Fall Harvest Festival pics posted – Must be all search engine traffic.
  • JBL On Stage II comments – I’m pleased to see another recent techie product-oriented post make this list.

The old photo gallery still gets a bit of traffic here, too. One of these days I may actually finish moving all that stuff to Flickr (some of it’s duplicated), properly handle redirects, and get a nice solution in place for displaying the Flickr stuff here. Some day, maybe.

The most-viewed old photo galleries here in this time frame were:

Tubing, bicycling and butterflies — yeah, that sounds like me.

If you’re interested in what search terms bring traffic here, they would be:

  • Pepsi stuff, MyCokeRewards, and related terms.
  • Ichetucknee tubing and variations thereof.
  • Digital photography presentation – leading here.
  • Micanopy Fall Harvest Festival and variations thereof.
Audio Gear Sound

JBL On Stage II comments

JBL on stage IIMy latest gizmo arrived today. The JBL On Stage II iPod speaker was an impulse buy last week when I saw it on for 40 bucks. I had been looking for something like this to take along while traveling and for occasional use around the house. I don’t like wearing earbuds.

I like the size. I’ll have no problem taking this along in a suitcase. I can leave the iPod charger at home since this will do that, too.

The sound is big. It sounded good in the large great room in my house. I have no doubt that it could be cranked up loud enough to have hotel room neighbors complaining.

It comes with a short cable for hooking up non-dockable mp3 players or, say, a laptop. I think it would work well in a dorm room too, but a student might rather have a device that also functions as an alarm clock radio.

I was wondering why these were being sold at over half off. Well, I think the most current dock connecter in the package (and there were many) is the one for my now two-year-old 5g 60gb, which is shown. Also, the remote control only seems to be working intermittently so maybe the battery in it is nearing the end of its shelf life. There also may be concerns for some about whether it is iPhone compatible. I can tell you that it is iPod Touch compatible.

Some may consider it a drawback that it doesn’t take batteries to make it truly portable. I don’t care about that. If I need to be that portable, I’ll put on earbuds or headphones.

Adventure Bicycling Gear Nature Photography

Geotagging photos for Flickr with Mac OS X and a Garmin GPS

Ichetucknee River tubingMy photos from my bike club group ride and Ichetucknee River tubing adventure over the weekend were my first successful integration of photography, my recently-acquired GPS unit, and my quest for adventure.

Here’s the toolkit:

Here’s the procedure:

  • Synchronize your camera’s time with the GPS unit’s time.
  • Take your powered-on GPS unit with you on an adventure. Garmin makes a nice handlebar mount for mine. I also have a boat mount that I plan to put in the kayak. For the tubing, I put it in my dry bag that I took along.
  • When you get home, download the photos from the camera to your Mac.
  • Using RoadTrip, download your GPS track to your computer and edit the track as necessary. I copy my edited track to its own folder in RoadTrip. Export the folder from RoadTrip, creating a GPX file.
  • Open GPSPhotoLinker and load the track and the photos. Use the “View on map” button to preview the position online in Google Maps (the default, others are available). I mostly found myself using the “Time weighted average point.” When you are satisfied with how things are looking, use the “Save to photo” button to write the geographic info into the metadata of the photo file. A batch mode is also available.
  • Before uploading to Flickr, You need to set the Import EXIF location data setting in your profile to “Yes.” I don’t know why Flickr doesn’t have a “This photo contains geographic data, do you want to use it?” option when you click, “Add to your map,” but for now, it will only automatically use the data on upload.
  • Upload your images to Flickr. If you are editing the images first, make sure you don’t save them with a method that discards the metadata.
  • Sit back and enjoy your mapped photos. Here are mine.
Butterflies Gear Photography

A tale of two lenses

It was a good weekend for butterflies in the garden. On summer weekends around the house, I usually keep my Canon Digital Rebel D-SLR by the front door (and therefore near the butterfly garden) with the Canon 75-300 zoom lens on it ready to go should my visual motion detector go off as I gaze out the windows facing the garden.

I had a visit Saturday morning from one of my favorites, the black form of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. I took a bunch of pictures and was very disappointed when I downloaded them. Maybe I was particularly shaky for some reason. I thought the light was sufficient.

Later in the afternoon, the black butterfly was still hanging around and had been joined by its more typically marked cousin, shown here. It was clouding up for an afternoon thunderstorm making it less bright than earlier and I thought that was trouble if I went out there with the big zoom. So I grabbed my fastest (and lightest) lens, the 50mm f1.8, put it on the camera, and went out and got some great results. I probably could have cranked up the ISO, but I didn’t want to deal with the noise.

I was worried about getting close enough to the butterflies with such a short lens, but I was inspired by having seen David Pogue’s funny video demonstration of how to zoom the fixed-focal-length Sigma DP-1 and no doubt also thought of Derrick Story‘s frequent admonitions to “get closer” and got as close as I could. I am pleased.

Another option would have been to grab the 17-85mm IS zoom, but it’s heavy (the 50mm is light as a feather) and not any faster than the big zoom.

One of the problems I have with shooting the 75-300mm zoom for butterflies is that you can only get as close as about 5 ft. with it. (Why do I always think 7 ft. while shooting?) I often don’t think that’s close enough. The 50mm and the 17-85mm zoom both get you within 18 inches.

I hadn’t yet listened to Derrick’s podcast show from last week about how sweet good glass is. That reinforced the decision I am mulling about getting the Canon 70-200mm f4 L zoom lens to go with the Canon EOS 40D I am thinking of upgrading to from the Digital Rebel. Derrick might say that I just ought to go ahead and buy the lens, based on what he said on the podcast. (I looked and it gets you as close as 4 ft.)

Ironically, the 50mm/f1.8 is also the cheapest lens in my bag.

Butterflies Garden Nature Photography

This year’s most common butterfly sighting

Zebra Longwing on Orange Cestrum

The Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitionius) is the state butterfly of Florida. They used to be a rare sight in my butterfly garden, but this year are the most common sight so far. The Orange Cestrum (Cestrum aurantiacum) is the most popular plant in the garden so far this year too. It’s grown too big for its spot though and needs to be moved or at least severely pruned this Fall.

View the photo on Flickr


My April “Photo Assignment” contribution


The photo was published as part of Derrick Story’s “Photo Assignment” gallery for April 2008, “Angular,” on The Digital Story web site.

View the photo on Flickr


MyCokeRewards vs. PepsiStuff

I’ve been thinking about a quick and probably oversimple financial analysis of the benefits of the and rewards programs. I’m typically more of a drinker of Coca-Cola products–mainly Coke Zero and Powerade (after kayaking or cycling)–and have participated in that program for much longer, but the affiliation of PepsiStuff with and the ability to buy music there with the points has gotten me interested in that program as well.

The simpler analysis is probably PepsiStuff. One 20 oz. bottle gets you one point. Five points gets you a song download on Amazon. A song typically goes for 89 cents. So each point is worth about 18 cents. The caveat is that not every song is buyable in this manner.

With MyCokeRewards, I often redeem 220 points for a gold movie pass good at AMC Theatres. The maximum current price of an AMC movie ticket is $9.50. The makes each point worth about 4 cents. One 20 oz. bottle of soda gets you three points, making the value of the points per bottle about 12 cents. I often buy my Coke products in 12-packs, however, and the point value on the 12-pack then works out to 40 cents.

I also saw a sign on the convenience store door that said MyCokeRewards was like, “buy eight, get one free” on 20 oz. bottles. In that case, if the store charges $1.39 for your 20 oz. bottle, the value per point is close to 6 cents and the point value per bottle works out to about 18 cents, which gets us back into the PepsiStuff value ballpark per 20 oz. bottle purchased.

I might have to do a further exercise to see if the point differential would make it beneficial to buy six-packs of 24 oz. plastic bottles rather than 12-packs of 12 oz. cans. Then you’d have to get into the eco-friendliness of plastic bottles vs. aluminum cans, too. I always recycle both, btw.