Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Winter blahs - in spring

It's starting to brighten up out there.  However, I will have to have a talk with those gophers that predicted an early spring because it's been anything but for the last several weeks.

I managed to turn an ankle while running frozen trail a couple of weeks ago on some ruts and sidelined myself for a week.  I could have run as it doesn't really affect straightline running but I wanted to play it safe, and the less than desireable weather meant I didn't feel too bad about sitting around for a few days.

The trail system is peppered with signs informing users to stay off the trails in muddy conditions as this damages the slopes and really messes up the surface.  I've been running them all winter and conditions have been good but it looks like plenty of people ignored the signs when the temps crawled over freezing and the trail was heavily rutted from walkers and a small handful of cyclists.  After it froze over, which is when I ran it, it's like cobblestones turned on their edge and I managed to misjudge on a downhill, rolled my ankle and hobbled home.  The swelling a couple of days later let me know it needed some rest.

Nonetheless, back at it this weekend and inspected the trails on Sunday.  They seemed fine until I got to some messy muddy sections near Bayview Avenue and had to run off-trail.  While high in the section near Bayview I heard a consist trundling it's way southbound on Bala near the trial crossing at the 5 mile mark.  I had my camcorder with me and was a bit out of position for a clear shot which left me finding a reasonable opening through the trees.  Much to my surprise, being a Sunday, it was VIA train #2, the Canadian, running more than a day late after being held up by snowstorms in Saskachewan.

Related news article:


Quite the catch as there isn't much activity on south Bala outside of the Canadian and the weekday GO commutes.  I used to see a lot more freight action along this line.  For freight action these days I hang out around the level CP crossing at Wicksteed when time allows:

Happy Spring!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Some notes on the new camcorder - Sony HDR-CX250

Having now played around a bit with the new camcorder (Sony CX250B) I thought I'd write some notes on its use and performance in case anyone is considering purchasing one or its current incarnation.  It previously looked like Sony was reducing options in this segment, but I returned to the .ca website today and see the range is similar although the 250 and 260 versions are no longer offered (the 260 versions shows available on the US website).

The CX250 I have is the same as the more common CX260 versions but without internal memory.  Same G lens, imager, processor, interfaces and so on.  While I'm plenty happy enough with it, the G lens has some obvious chromatic aberration which is particularly pronounced at long zooms.  The winter has made this much more apparent with strong contrasts between bright white snow and just about anything dark in the frame.  It becomes even more apparent when you have dark tree branches against a white cloud background.

The low light performance is pretty good and you can get a lot of detail that's hard to see even with dark adapted eyes.  I'm quite surprised at how good it is especially compared to my older SX63 standard def.  With low lux on (sensor backlighting) you can see stars in the sky and subtle shadings albeit with some definite graininess, but the images are quite usable.  I'm hoping to do some night shooting on some busy lines when it warms up outside and compare it to a couple I did with the older 63.

The optical Steadyshot is much better than the electronic version of the 63.  You can zoom in near max and still get a usable image, although you'll never completely eliminate the shake without a tripod.  Normal wider shots appear rock steady.  The optical Steadyshot also avoids the tendency to chase a moving image.  With the 63 I had to kill Steadyshot when close shooting a train.  If I didn't you could see the background and side areas shift as the camera tried to lock onto the foreground object, which in this case was a moving train and it renders the video unwatchable without feeling seasick.  The optical version doesn't do this since it works to reduce physical lens motion.  I've been keeping it in optical mode only.

Colours are much better.  The 63 always seemed washed out while the 250 is much closer to what you see.  It's not up there though with some of the higher end non-pro models.  To be fair, I've had mainly dull grey conditions to shoot in, with brighter sunnier summer weather it might show better.  The interference with the chromatic aberration cuts into some of the colour accuracy as well since it tints darker areas slightly towards the purple side even when it's not otherwise noticeable.

Autofocus works better than the 63.  I think the higher definition has a lot to do with this.  Manual focus, as with a lot of these models, is wretched.  Much better is spot focus by zooming in preshot and getting it sharp at the critical point, then zooming back.  I prefer to disable auto focus when I can to prevent focus motor noise in quiet settings.  Mind you, passing trains aren't known for quietness so it hasn't been an issue.  It also helps to not have the autofocus jump away at an awkward point.

The white balance is basically indoor, outdoor or auto, with auto just switching between the two.  I leave it on auto and so far so good.  Manually selecting means I might blow it when outside as the screen is hard to see and detect in bright outdoor light.  I have one vid I did (Richmond Hill New Year's Eve GO Train) that would have been great except it was outdoors with incandescent white balance on and everything looked purple.

One peculiarity, I have had to stop/start it a couple of times when it indicated a failure to detect media.  Some searching says this can happen if the camera is jostled a bit (shocked) and simply needs resetting.  It hasn't happened in a while now so maybe I'm just being more careful in transit.  I use a soft case when I run with it held in one hand to keep it from being banged about.  I've also noticed the memory card picks up some scoring on the terminals, which I didn't seem to see happen on the 63, perhaps the connectors are a lot tighter in this model.  Nonetheless, I've decided to use the USB dongle to transfer content instead of removing and reinserting the card.

Battery life is better than in the 63 even though it's the same capacity battery.  A virtue of more efficient circuitry.  I think I could get a good hour and a half or more out of a charge and I've only had to recharge once every couple of weeks despite now having 3 batteries on hand.  HDMI connector works great, I could use a longer cable though, this one is a bit short and stiff when connecting up to the TV.

That G lens tho, it's a shame about the chroma issue because it's otherwise quite sharp and zooms well.  The Zeiss lens on the 63 also had chroma issues so it seems a trait to all of the lower end Sony camcorder lenses.  I have no experience with the higher ends or the SLR lenses to compare.  If I keep the zoom to a reasonable level it's pretty decent.  A lot of the higher end cameras keep the zoom range down anyway to more modest 10x or 12x instead of 33x or 55x.  A sort of a paradox that lower end cameras have longer zooms, I guess because that's what sells.  Nice to have if you want it but I need to discipline myself to avoid the long zoom in the interests of quality.

Audio was really good in the 63, with Dolby digital stereo.  Same on this one and it is selectable in two steps of sensitivity.  You get a good rumble on the low end and the stereo has great separation.  It also has a jack if I want to upgrade but I don't see too much of a reason beyond reducing some of the clicking and clacking as I work the controls and maybe get more low-end thump from a better external.

Bottom line, it works pretty well.  I've been recording in 1080 60i (instead of the max 1080 60p) at max quality.  I haven't seen any diff between 60i and 60p and 60i saves a lot of disk space.  I use windows movie maker to reduce the vids down for upload to youtube in 720 30P to preserve bandwidth since we're on Rogers and they cap limits to 80 gigs before adding a hefty per-gig-surcharge, and that's between 4 of us in the house sharing it.

This will do for a while.  I might start pining for a Panasonic 720 or higher down the road.  We'll see how it images in bright summer weather with high overhead sun.  I did some test vids yesterday in bright morning sunshine and they looked quite smashing without noticable chroma, but that was all wide angle.

I think about how it compares to cameras from the past, big clunky things that sat on your shoulder with crappy resolution, tape media and iffy colour.  These cameras are tiny, much less expensive and blows all of those old units away.

My channel is here if you wish to peruse some of the content.  All of the HD entries are shot on the 250 while the SD entries use the 63.