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Help support this site with my End of Summer Nature Photography 25% off Print Sale at http://www.winnebagophotography.com/ now through September 30, 2016.  Use coupon code:  25percentoff  at checkout.

Boardwalk to the lake.

Boardwalk to the lake.

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Sony DSC-HX20V Point and Shoot Camera: Terrible Problems

Wisconsin State Capital

The Capital Building in Madison Wisconsin lit up at night. Photographed with the Sony DCS – HX20V

I’ve had the Sony DSC-HX20V camera for a few years now and while the image quality was great the camera has been a big disappointment over the last few years.  The problems I’ve encountered with this camera and other Sony products over the years has really soured me on the brand, and I don’t think I’ll ever by Sony again.

First off the good stuff, I was really happy with the image quality.   The 18.2 megapixel claim is a little misleading, because it isn’t your standard square pixels.  When you zoom in close you will see the pixels sort of swirled together to avoid the angular edges of normal pixels.  In terms of image quality, I would say it really is more equivalent to 12 megapixels or so, which is still way more than is normally needed.  As long as you don’t pixel peak the quality of the sensor and Sony G lens is very, very good for an upper mid-range point and shoot.  What impressed me most though was the quality of the video.  It was far greater than anything I have experienced with a P&S before.  Even the sound and the autofocus exceeded the camcorders I had ten years ago.

 

Like with most digital cameras the Sony DSC-HX20V comes with a ton of features that I never used, and never will use.   A few features I did like are the built in level in the view finder to help keep the camera straight and the built in GPS.  The GPS allows you to instantly geotag your photos, so you’ll always know where you took them.  Some people are creeped out by the camera keeping track of their location, that’s understandable, just turn it off.  Some think it is a useless piece of hardware and software weighing the camera down.  I absolutely love it though.  I like to “collect” locations and view where I’ve been and what I’ve photographed in Adobe Lightroom, or on Google Earth.  For my main job I work as a biologist on lakes and wetlands and having the location data to go along with restoration projects or plant surveys is a huge benefit for me.   I’m a little sad that most new cameras like my Nikon D750 don’t come with a GPS, like my Nikon P6000 and Sony A-65v did.

Adult Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

Adult Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) highly cropped

The biggest problem with all camera GPS’s that I have experienced is the time it takes for the camera to obtain satellites and get an accurate location.  Another problem is the GPS can really shorten battery life.  I plan ahead for that by carrying extra batteries in the field and having a Watson Battery Duo Charger I can use in the car.

 

Major Camera DSC-HX20V Problems:

Dust on sensor

Steady Shot motor

Delamination of LCD Screen

Command dial easy to accidently move and change settings

The biggest failure of this camera is dust on the sensor.  After about a year I got some nasty dust on the sensor of the camera.  Although point and shoot digital cameras don’t have removable lenses they are not perfectly sealed.  There are necessary gaps in the zoom lens that can allow dust inside.  Once inside dust removal requires the camera to be disassembled, something I don’t have the skill to do.  I shopped around for a repair shop that could do it and the cheapest repair I found was about $100.  That’s a lot of money to repair a camera like this, so I looked for some alternatives to turning this camera into a paperweight.  YouTube is a great source of help, and I found that if you but a vacuum hose over the lens it can suck dust off the sensor.  However, you risk damaging the camera, and introducing even more dust.  I thought I would give it a try despite of the risks and it worked.  Over the course of a year I would have to do this several more times as new dust made its way onto the sensor.  Now it’s gotten to the point where the dust won’t come off the sensor and a lot of dust is stuck between the lenses.  Because of the dust, I can’t use the camera for good photos anymore, but I can still get away with shooting some review videos for YouTube purposes.

Another unfortunate problem with the camera is the delamination of the LCD screen back.  The LCD screen has a clear plastic layer that is separating from the rest of the screen bubbles form underneath this layer and it is pealing from the sides.  The same thing is happening to my A-65v SLT and I know it happens to other Sony cameras made at about the same time.  Boo Sony.  You can buy a new layer on eBay for relatively cheap and do the repair yourself, but you shouldn’t have to.

Something strange is happening to the Steadyshot motor that reduces camera shake.  Sometimes when it kicks in I can feel my whole hand vibrate, which should never, never happen.  I’m guessing the motor is going to go out very soon.

The surprisingly beautiful male flowers of a Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) tree in the early spring before the leaf buds open.

The surprisingly beautiful male flowers of a Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) tree in the early spring before the leaf buds open.

One of the issues I’ve had with this camera since the beginning was the command dial.  It is very easy turn the dial, and suddenly you are in panoramic, 3D or some scene selection function, that will cause you to miss or ruin a photograph.  I have to be diligent and check the dial every time I use the camera.

If you can’t tell by now I think this camera is a piece of crap.  It worked well for about a year, but now it’s nearly worthless.  If you are thinking about picking one up on the used market don’t and if you’re thinking about any Sony product, I’d think again.  I hope I’m just having some bad luck with Sony, and not too many others are feeling like I do.

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Garbage to Photograph

I often encounter litter out in the landscape.  Sometimes it is a heap of garbage purposely dumped by the side of the road, a paper cup tossed out of a car, or a lost item.  This rugged leather glove lay on the Lake Michigan beach soaking up the sun without its mate.  It was in fair shape, so it is unlikely it was thrown aside.  It probably got lost somewhere floated around on the lake and some big wave deposited it on the beach.

Old leather mitten on the beach

A leather mitten on the beach without its mate.

Sometimes garbage is just garbage, but sometimes it makes you wonder.  Who lost the glove, an ice fisherman?  How long has it been alone, outside in the sunshine?  It is one of life’s little mysteries, unsolved and unimportant.  It is a little story nonetheless, captured in a photograph, posted on the internet for google to scan and index.  Now you can discover the glove the beach and wonder why I took the photo and chose to write about it here.

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Getting Out This Spring

The snow has stayed away for a few weeks now, and a few very nice days have allowed the green to creep in among all the dead grass and plants from last year.  The transition from brown to green has begun, and I am thankful for that.  The natural world is becoming a little more interesting to visit and photograph.

Water filled ditch

Water filled ditch on a moody day

Out in the sedge meadow marsh it is still brown, but the grass-like sedges are growing and sometime in June they will turn the wetland into a rich green color.  In the meantime the migrating birds are visiting.  Some of the birds are setting up breeding territories, while others are stopping to rest and feed on last year’s seeds and the emerging insects.  Wood Ducks, Green-wing Teal, Mallard Ducks, and Canada Geese glide on the water of the ponds and ditching dipping their bills in the water for food and drink.  Sandhill Cranes walk the marsh, and barely seen sparrows work their way through the vegetation.  I’ve left my long lenses in the car so the wildlife will remain unphotographed.

Sedge Meadow in early spring

Sedge meadow marsh in early spring.

Today I brought out the Nikon D750  and Nikor 24-120mm f4 VR lens to do the picture taking.  The poor thing has been idle for far too long.   I really need to get out more, and now that the weather is improving and nature is become more alive I think I will.

 

 

 

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Be Safe When Photographing Trains and Railroads

Train crossing a draw brigde.

A railroad train passed over the river on a great steel drawbridge.

When you’re down by the railroad tracks to take you photos please be careful, and it is a good an idea to go down there in the first place.  The main reason not to go there is the danger from the trains.  Trains take so long to stop you should probably consider them unable to stop at all, and there room for error with this fast moving vehicles.  Recently there have been a number of people in the news who were killed by trains while taking pictures on railroad tracks.

The other major reason not to go down by the tracks is that you are usually trespassing on the property of the railroad, or even government property.  You may come away with a warning, or a fine for trespassing.  In the old days you might come away with a beating.

But… if you are going to photograph the trains stay off the tracks, photograph from the sidelines, in other words, off the tracks.  The only time I really photograph from the tracks is while briefly crossing them and only at a railroad crossing.  When I’m taking picture I often get into the “zone” and I am not necessarily focusing on the danger of train, and not focusing on the possibility of a train rolling down the tracks is a very bad situation.

Railroad Crossing in the Country at Sunrise

Railroad crossing at sunrise. Fog is lying low Morning on the Railroad Tracks over the road and bathed in a golden light

Railroad Spike

A railroad spike has come loose, could this lead to a train derailment?

Continue reading

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All Day Timelapse Video: How to

Last June after some testing of equipment, I decided to make a timelapse video from dusk to dawn.  It would involve trekking out to the marsh before sunup in the morning and trudging back to the car after dark.  I would not babysit my camera all day long, so I had to trust in my fellow man not to steal or vandalize the camera since it was on public land.

In the beginning of the video the camera is swarmed by mosquitoes that were drawn to the heat of the camera.  Later in the video a buck deer with antlers in velvet visits the camera and later takes a nap not too far away in the grass.

For equipment I needed a camera capable of shooting at intervals, a tripod, and an external power source for the long, 16 hour shoot.  For the camera I used a GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition.  It was incased in its standard waterproof housing and mounted on a cheap tripod.  The housing was modified so I could gain access to the USB port to plug it into an external power source.  The modification involved drilling a hole in the side of the plastic housing.  For a power source I used a battery pack designed to jumpstart cars with dead batteries.  The Stanley model I used has a USB port on it to power phones etc.  The amount of power in the jumpstart battery is overkill, it probably had enough power to run the GoPro for more than a week.  A smaller batter would have worked well, but I used what I had handy.

Peeking Deer

Deer peeking at the camera.

I set the camera to take photos at 10 second intervals.  It ran from 5:04 am to 9:04 pm and took over 5,000 photos.  The photos were then edited in Adobe Lightroom 6.  Editing consisted mostly of cropping and correcting for the GoPro’s fisheye effect.  The photos were then imported to Sony Movie Studio 13 to create the video.

Mosquito on camera lens

Mosquito on camera lens

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Portabella Mushroom Growing Time Lapse Video

As a Christmas present to myself I got a Portabella Mushroom growing kit made by River Valley Ranch in comes in a cardboard box with a large bag of growing mycelium. This company also makes White Button, and other species. All you do to get it going is add a growing medium to the top of the bag, water, and wait. I had to wait awhile because my basement is pretty cold in the winter, about 50 degrees F. After about a week I put in a small space heater in a room in the basement and raised the temperature to about 60 decrees. After I did this the mushrooms really started to grow well. So far we have gotten a good tasty crop of Portabella Mushrooms and should at the least get a few more crops, provided I take good care of the fungi.


For the Timelapse video I used a Nikon Coolpix P6000, which has a built in interval timer, and ac power supply so I don’t have to worry running the old batteries down. For lighting I used to bare-bulb daylight balance compact florescent bulbs. I took a photo at 10 minute intervals, and stopped taking pictures after 2,146 frames or about 15 days, and then I harvested the first mushrooms. After that I edited the photos in Adobe Lightroom 6 and imported them to Sony Movie Studio 13.
The only real problem I had with this set up was when the mushrooms started growing quick they didn’t stay in focus. I decided it was better to keep rolling and the video turn out a bit soft. It is only for YouTube, and I thought it would be better that bumping the camera in the middle of shoot. Now in Reverse

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Rainbow in the Winter

I took a recent trip by Lake Butte des Morts and Terrell’s Island.  Terrell’s has a trail created along a breakwater that takes you way out into the lake.  It was something of a blah day in the winter, but one interesting sight was a snowbow, which is much like a rainbow in winter, except it is created by tiny ice crystals in the air.

Snowbow winter rainbow

Over a snow covered marsh, ice crystals high in the air have created a snowbow, much like a rainbow in winter. A rare weather phenomenon.

Overall it was a nice walk and an ok day for photography.  Although winter is strong at the moment spring will get here quickly.

Camera used for all the photos was a Nikon D750

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Winter Wonderland after a Snowstorm

Winter snowstorm and nature sign

Waukau Creek Nature Preserve map and information sign in a snow-covered landscape.

When the snow falls quietly with little or no wind, and the snow is soft and sticky, it piles up on everything including thin tree branches and plant stems.  These are the most beautiful snow falls possible.  Usually we get one of two snowstorms each year that produce this effect.  It is often a very brief and beautiful sight.  The day after a snow either the wind begins to blow the snow off the branches, or the sun strikes the snow, melting it away.  Today it was the wind that was felling the fragile accumulations of snow.

Icicles splashed with water in the creek

Icicles in the Creek

The snow fell in the night and I tried to get out as early as possible to photograph it.  I often find the scene overwhelming, such beauty everywhere, even the car looks pretty covered in snow.

Cross Country Ski Tracks and Trail

Cross country ski tracks cut through fresh snow on this woodland trail with snow-covered trees.

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Frozen River Photography

One more trip down to the Fox River to get some photos of the reflected sun off the ice before the snow covers it up.  Along the shore I went to today are several old fishing shacks and a fishing dock and bridges to safely take me out over the unpredictable river ice.

Fishing Shack in Winter

Fishing shack locked in river ice with a drawbridge.

Drawbridge Span

Drawbridge Spanning the Fox River

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