Friday, 21 November 2014

Hare Brained

I was reading in New Scientist today about Snowshoe Hares and how they are becoming increasingly out of step with the environment in which they live.

Snowshoe Hare (image by©)
Climate change is meaning that snow melts sooner and the hares white coats cease to be camouflage and become instead "target identification" for some predators.

So while the white stands the Hare in good stead in the snow time, by it being white during the early melt changes this attribute from a survival attribute to an early death attribute.

I thought it interesting that the researchers identified that the Hares seemed to not be aware of this coat coloring and did not alter their behavior in response to the changed environmental conditions.
Snowshoe hares appear to be oblivious to whether or not they are camouflaged. "They do not act in any way to reduce colour mismatch, or to reduce the negative consequences of mismatch," says Zimova. When mismatched with their environment, they don't hide more, flee more or hang out in areas that match their coat. In short, these hare-brained creatures don't seem very smart.

Interesting ... I immediately thought that applied to humans  as well. I don't think we are much smarter, in fact as we are aware of the issues we do not change, so we are dumber for it. For instance Urban Development goes on willy nilly , despite great evidence to demonstrate that what we are doing is neither the best nor good for us (even in the medium term) nor good for the environment.

This graph shows the general trends of population growth rates in Australia:


So its fairly clear that our population is increasing at a high rate, yet what is our response to this? Well so far it seems to be "clear more land, increase urban sprawl, and make things worse for every other living creature" (and perhaps even for ourselves).

Back in 2011 I wrote (over here) that the infrastructure supporting our lifestyle was under stress and that (for instance) the roads are unable to sustain our needs (let alone support growth, which in my view is actually the problem).

I happen to live in Southport and commute to a small town for work (the city of Logan). It is 51Km from my door to my work door, which isn't a long commute by modern standards but forces me up and down the highway every day.

The other day an event occurred which  is perhaps a bit more drastic than usual, but as anyone who travels that road knows was only a matter of time.

Yep, you read that right closed for 6 hours.

The population density of this region is not really high by European standards, yet (I would argue) that due to urban sprawl and geography there is really no alternative but to accept that this madness is the only alternative if we want to live in the way we do here.

With a population growth rate that's actually the highest in Australia ...

I don't see that the congestion is going to ease until the population growth does.

I live in an area of the world which was once a beautiful natural haven and has for the last 40 years been fast paced into becoming the most overcrowded and over developed part of Australia (well except for perhaps Sydney). This Google Maps screen shot shows the area, hard to find anywhere now that's natural which will support construction. Indeed the only areas as National Park are swamps, wetlands and tidal sand islands.

In fact not yet appearing on that map is a bunch of new clearing (the last patches of bush) in that bit of green up near Coomera. So more population to be going up and down that highway ... more congestion longer delays and an erosion of lifestyle. It doesn't look good for the environment either.  In fact since I put that graph together the data has emerged that the population here has gone to over 700,000. Which from less than 50,000 is a massive change. Of course water will be the next problem....

Who benefits from this? Its not the people who really have no choice but to live in this "pseudo-planned sprawl" and its sure not the ecology or the wildlife (which we seem to say we love so much). Is it just the greedy few? Or is it that as a society we are just stupid and greedy?

As I wrote back in 2008, its bye bye Koala and hello urban sprawl, roads and cars.
So you tell me ... are we much smarter than the hare?

Sunday, 9 November 2014

fudging figures (and fooling spec sheet gazers)

I know that people don't usually have a head for numbers, and specifications get bandied about with gay (numerically illiterate) abandon by both gear-heads and testers alike. The sad fact is that by fiddling the books, sales departments can pull the wool over the eyes of blind wangers who only read spec sheets (but don't understand them or look into the details). One that I happen to find amusing at the moment is the comparison of latest model digital cameras and the older versions. To explore this I'll discuss three cameras using the specs from DxO:

I happen to like DxO as a site for data, I've already discussed their P-Mpixel metric (and that I find it useful) but their technical camera data is very handy too, especially for seeing through the bullshit. Everyone on the interwebforums will tell you about how good the Olympus OM-D is, and if you read the various kool-aide sites they would have you believe that the OM-D was the first proper SLR micro43 and somehow the best micro43 camera. While it sure is a good camera the reality is that nothing much has really changed in terms of image quality since way back in July 2009 when Panasonic released the GH1 and set the bar. The problem for Panasonic is / was they made a camera which was really too good for the time, and perhaps (to quote a phrase) feeding truffles to the pigs. Who knows, perhaps they needed to. Just quickly, while I've tossed the GX7 in here for good measure I think its clear that what I say about the OM-D applies equally to it.

The first thing of importance when discussing the specs is that Panasonic actually delivered more on their ISO then they claimed. Quite stupid of them from a strategic marketing point of view, but they were facing an uphill battle at the time as people still didn't get the concept. Looking at the DxO ratings this is clear:

The actual measured ISO of the GH1 set to 100 is above the ISO100 level. Comparing this to the OM-D (which doesn't even have a 100ISO setting) we see that when the OM-D is set to 200 its measured ISO is actually about equal to the GH1 set to 100.

This difference in ratings vs measurements continues along the scale, with the measured ISO being better than the next stop up the scale of the OM-D. So much so that at ISO 400 the OM-D needs to be set to 1600 to be as sensitive to light at the sensor on the GH1. Indeed hovering over the GH1 point with the camera set to ISO400 gives a measured ISO = 591 while the OM-D needs to be set to 1600 to be closer to that (in fact its measured at 782 there which is about 1/3rd a stop more, but 800 is still under the GH1 at a measured 394)

Essentially this means you can get a higher shutter speed on the GH1 without going up an ISO step.

This of course has an effect on the specs for dynamic range and the Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) which are dependent on ISO.

When you load the graph and hover the tooltip over the pints you see that there are no equal settings, but:
GH1 at a measured ISO of 137 = SNR of 36.8dB while the OMD @ 214 = 36.2dB

Its confusing that DxO put a 100ISO blob in this graph for the OM-D, but its significant that the lower axis is measured ISO not set ISO ... important. The interesting thing there is that the OM-D would appear to lead the GH1 but that seems to change further down the graph at around 200ISO and onwards.

So while the specs of the OM-D exceed the specs of the GH1, when you equalise back to what the setting actually means they are essentially on par.

The same goes for the the Dynamic Range

Where at the measured ISO point of somewhere around 1000 ISO the now elderly GH1 is performing better than the OM-D

Its certainly not the chalk and cheese that the bleating (you know, the sound sheep make is called bleating) one reads about how good the OM-D is and how much better all the new cameras are ...

As I discovered back in May when comparing my GH1 to my friends OM-D, there really isn't much in the whole upgrade to make it worth doing for me. While the out of camera JPG's from the OM-D seemd much better than the GH1

GH1 on the left OM-D on the right.

The OM-D image just leaps off the screen as being sharper and more contrasty.
However, the raw files processed up to appear almost identical (as indeed the specs would imply they should).

If you happen to like the OM-D physically to hold or (it seems more important now-a-days) how it looks and how it feels in your hand, then by all means the OM-D is a fine camera (I'm not degrading it). But if you just want a tool to do the job and cost benefit means anything to you then at under $200 on the second hand market, to me, the GH1 is still competitive and today represents bargain buying .

Friday, 31 October 2014

tiny beauty

Its easy for us to appreciate what is essentially shoved in our faces for us to see in daily life, however the minuscule and insignificant (to the eye) often conceals a beauty.

My Mum loved "Spanish Moss" ... I grew up knowing it only as "Father Christmases Whiskers", she had it hanging off trees in the back yard (with the orchids). This is it in the picture below.

It is an epiphyte which seems to do well enough out in the backyard without any care or attention from me.

I thought it might be nice to hang some off a hook in the bathroom, where it may do "better" given the daily "air moisture" from having a shower. So I put a bit of it on the hook by the window and went about my business (admiring it occasionally). I noticed a few days ago that it had something I've never seen before growing on it ...

and to my eyes it looked like a flower of some sort. Its quite tiny and putting on my glasses (God I hate getting old, well God, while we're talking I hate a number of the other things you've done too) saw that it was indeed flower like.

So I whacked on my 50mm lens onto my extension tubes and took some shots.

Its quite beautiful when you get in closer isn't it

Sunday, 26 October 2014

the Roulettes

 Yesterday (well and today too) we had the Gold Coast 600 race (because we lost the Indy har ha ha ha) and as part of the circus we also had the Roulettes doing an air show at the start of the "big race".

I happen to live quite close to where the event is (Main Beach , Gold Coast) and so get a great view of it all.

Even better I live on top of a hill in the area and get an excellent "back row grandstand" overview of it.

I have found in the past that my Canon FD 300mm f4 lens does a fantastic job of aircraft at that range. The shot to the left here is "straight out of the camera" with no cropping to make my lens seem to reach further.

Given that its a 70's mechanical camera lens whacked onto the front of my GH1 I'm happy. Actually I've had it for a five years now and remain happy with it.

Just by way of comparison, here is a shot showing 100% pixels (its a 4000x3000 pixel image capture, so naturally it won't fit on a 1200 pixel wide screen right?) that top aircraft.

which all things considered (you know, like atmospheric losses {shimmer and such}, it being hand held...) I've got to say that I don't think that you'd get that much better with any other lens no matter how much you spent on it.

My technique for this is to focus on something about half a mile away (hat tip to the UK and American readers, as I usually use metric. ... and yes you can see the difference in focus on something further away at f4) and lock it down with my "rubber band" technique.

I then set in f5.6 so that I can get a DoF that covers almost everywhere the aircraft will be in (its called Hyperfocal Distance). Eg, from this online calculator.

So you can see that the amount of blur will trail off gently as they get further away (further than 2.6 Km anyway by which time the combination of atmosphere and distance will soften that loss). To put a perspective on that graph's "Blur" (which is the Circle of Confusion, excellent tutorial there) the value of 0.01 is the minimum discernable size in a 8x12 print and I reckon that the combination of this lens and camera will not attain such. So vrom 300 meters to 2km it won't really change the image.

Anyway, there's more to a good picture than just sharpness and maths right?

I liked this shot (even though it was further away)

and when pixel peeping you can see heat shimmer is already eroding the quality (no matter what focus or what lens I had, even if I'd had a SciFi Anopticon)

Anyway, some other shots from the day ...

It was nice to see the Roulettes