Thursday, May 24, 2012

How much Memory is enough Memory?

Sandisk 64gb SD Cards
Over the last few weeks, I have been preparing myself for the upcoming trekking trip to the Himalayas, by carefully choosing the right camera gear that will allow me to shoot for around 8 days straight, without any access to civilization. This means I should not only have enough battery power to last for 8 days, but I also need to have enough memory cards to keep all those images.

Luckily for me, the Panasonic GX1 camera supports the newer (and higher capacity) SDXC cards. I found a good deal on Amazon for the Sandisk 64 GB Ultra cards, and decided to pick up 2 of them. That effectively gives me 128 GB of memory for shooting.

I just want to marvel at the sheer amount of data that is crammed into these postage sized cards. Each tiny 64 GB card has about 549,755,813,888 bits inside it. I can't even comprehend that number. Just 10 years back (when we first starting shooting digital), we would feel very good when we could get our hands on a 16MB card (that's about 4000 times less capacity that the one shown above!).

I am sure in another 10 years' time, we will laugh and remember the good old days, when a 64 GB card was considered capacious, and I am pretty sure we will be shooting images that easily take 1 GB per image (if not more). If you think about it, the current champ (excluding the medium-format system), is the Nikon D800, which easily takes around 100MB for 1 image (75 MB for RAW + 20 MB for JPEG). A 10 fold increase in image size in 10 years seems like a sure bet.

During my trip, I plan to shoot simultaneously RAW+JPEG fine. This makes it more easy for post processing. 90% of the time, I can just take the JPEG file and do some tweaks or use it as-is. For the few exceptions where some serious post processing is required, I can always revert to the RAW file.

The RAW file size on the GX1 is around 18MB, and the JPG is around 7 MB. So that's 25MB per image. This gives me the ability to shoot around 5000 images on both the cards - which is more than sufficient for 8 days of shooting. I can even shoot some high-definition video without worrying too much about it.

The only real danger I can see is if something goes wrong with the card. I will basically lose everything. Most of the newer dSLRs support dual-card slot where the camera writes to both the cards simultaneously. So even if one card fails, you can always rely on the second card as your safety backup. Unfortunately, the GX1 does not have this feature, and I will just have to trust Sandisk and their quality control to make sure something like that does not happen to me.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wasabi Power Replacement Battery Review.

Wasabi Power Batteries for GX1
While preparation for my trekking trip to the Himalayas, the first thing I realized was that my new camera would require addtional batteries that should last me for 7-8 days of continuous shooting. The original battery costs $50 on Amazon, so buying a bunch of them was going to burn a big hole in my wallet.

I decided to look for alternatives, and saw this Wasabi Power batteries selling for a fraction of the cost ($13.99 to be precise). Reviews suggested that even though the battery is not decoded (i.e. it does not have the proprietory chip to communicate battery level information to the camera), it work just fine on the GX1. In fact, they have a special bundle that nets you 2 batteries plus a charger for just $28.99. Also, the charger has an additional trick up its sleeve. It comes with a car adapter, which would certainly come in handy when you want to charge the battery while on the go.

So for the price of 1 original battery, I got 3 batteries plus a charger and car kit. Not a bad deal.

Below is the summary of the differences between the Original Panasonic battery and the Wasabi Replacement Battery.

Feature Panasonic Wasabi
1. Power Rating 1010 mAh 1500 mAh (50% more)
2. Accurate Battery Level Yes No
3. Car Charging Option No Yes
4. Number of Shots 200 300 (approximate)
5. Price $49.99 $13.99

So now I have 4 batteries (1 original and 3 replacement). The big question for me is: "Will this be enough to last for 7-8 days of shooting without any access to a charging source?"

I have done some rough calculations, and it looks like this may not be enough.

Last year, when I did a 7-day trek in the Himalayas, I had carried with me the Nikon D300 and 3 batteries. At the end of the trek, I had shot around 2000 pictures (about 40 GB), and all the 3 batteries were completely drained.

But the D300 is a different beast altogether. It's battery is rated at 1000 shots, and I had disabled all battery draining featuers (for example, the LCD display was switched off and I would switch it on, only to check exposure once in a while).

Unfortunately, that cannot be done with the GX1. It's a mirrorless camera without an optical viewfinder. This means all framing has to be done with the LCD display (or an electronic viewfinder). This ensures that batteries get over very fast. Even if I take the optimistic numbers, I will get maximum of 1100 shots (900 with the 3 replacement batteries, and 200 with the original Panasonic battery).

Obviously this is not good enough. The question now is: "Should I get more batteries or look for other alternatives?".

I have to decide soon, as the trip is just one month away.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Panasonic GX1 Review

Panasonic GX1

My journey into the Micro 4/3 camera systems began when I purchased the Olympus E-P2 few months back.

After carrying my semi-professional Nikon D300 with some heavy lenses for 8 straight days (during my trekking trip in the Himalays), I had come to the rather painful realization that I needed something compact and light - but at the same time, did not compromise on image quality. The E-P2 seemed to fit that bill perfectly.

I liked the E-P2, and its abundant manual controls that allowed me to manage all aspects of the shooting without the need to dig into the menu system. The camera, however, had one main problem. It's auto-focus system was nothing to write home about. After being pampered with super-fast auto-focus systems in my Nikon dSLRs, I realized that this was just not going to work for me. I should have waited a bit longer and got the E-P3, which has resolved the auto-focus issue.

Instead, I decided to try the other Micro 4/3 alternative. The much acclaimed Panasonic GF1. I immediately fell in love with the GF1 - especially when paired with the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 pancake lens. The combination is perfect and I thought I had found my "no-compromise" camera option for trekking.

But then Panasonic went ahead and released the GX1. It is like a clone of GF1 except that everything that the GF1 does, the GX1 seems to do just a little better. It was too tempting to resist. I gave in to my geeky side, and purchased the body along with the new Power Zoom lens (14-42mm).

This is not a technical review of the camera. For that, you can read a very comprehensive review at dpreview, This is just my quick observations, and the features that matter to me the most.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Trekking in Ladakh : Introduction.

Ladakh, India.
It seems like only yesterday that we completed our gruelling 7-day trek in Srinagar, Kashmir. Now that July is just around the corner, it is time to start planning our next trek.

This time, our destination is the beautiful land of Leh and Ladakh. Like last year, I will be accompanied by my son Shawn, and my brother Roy.

I have not yet identified the exact route we will use, as I am still researching the best options available. My objective is to stretch ourselves a bit more than last year, by doing a trek that is around 8-9 days. Also, I want to ensure that we reach an altitude of at least 5000 meters (the highest point we reached during our Srinagar trek was 4100 meters).

Why this obsession with height, you may ask?. Well, next year, I have set my sight on the "Mount Everest Base Camp Trek". This trek lasts for nearly 15 days, and at the highest point, we would be at 5500 meters. If you find yourself suddenly at this height, there is a very good chance that you will get altitude sickness. Hopefully, the Ladadkh trek will help us gauge our readiness to tackle the bigger challenge ahead of us. Also, my son will be much bigger by then.

I have already booked our flights from Goa to Srinagar. We plan to drive from Srinagar to Leh (via Sonamarg/Kargil). The 2-day journey from Srinagar to Leh, and back to Srinagar, promises to be an adventure in itself.

Looking forward to the challenge.