Iceland (day 1)

October 2017

The adventure started right there on the plane. My research indicated that if we were to see the aurora, it’s gonna happen on the flight, since for the time we were in Iceland the forecast wasn’t promising and the cloud cover was non-stop for the entire trip. I’ve been instructed to sit on the right side of the plane. 

 When we saw the green dancing streaks of light, I was happy as a child. 

When we saw the green dancing streaks of light, I was happy as a child. 

Driving for the first time in years turned out not to be a problem. Our red Mistusbish Outlander looked like a nice car. Ten minutes later we were in our hotel room in Keflavìk where we were to sleep until the morning. 

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Next morning we were greeted with a beautiful light from the low norhtern sun. It didn’t last - the weather in Iceland changes quickly. After a brief chat with the receptionist and pinning our home city - Novosibirsk - on the map of visitors, we headed out to the Golden Circle - a popular touristic route near Reykjavìk. 

  Þingvallavatn, the largest lake of Iceland

Þingvallavatn, the largest lake of Iceland

 On the way to Öxarárfoss waterfall

On the way to Öxarárfoss waterfall

 Öxarárfoss

Öxarárfoss

 View of geotermal activity in Þingvellir National Park

View of geotermal activity in Þingvellir National Park

The weather was great - we only encountered a short patch of mist and some clouds, but mostly we were bathing in the golden light.  

 One of the geysers in Geysir area

One of the geysers in Geysir area

The geothermal activity here is a result of the tectonic plates drifting apart. I’ve never seen it so apparent before: geysers, hot springs, black volcanic sand, lava fields - everything in Iceland is a reminder of this power. How cool is that?

 Boiling water in a baby geyser

Boiling water in a baby geyser

From there we headed to Gulfoss, the Golden Waterfall, although on a cloudy day we didn’t get to enjoy it’s color. But the power of the 100 tons of water per second cascading down a curved staircase is truly impressive even on a day like that. 

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Finally the sun was slowly setting, so we had to head to our guesthouse. Our last stop on the way was to pet the beautiful icelandic horses. 

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 Anna petting a horse

Anna petting a horse

In the guesthouse we found a hot tub and a sauna. It was such a great end to such a long, beautiful day. The trip was off to a good start. 

 

Busy times

Towards the end of the year we all have our deadlines, right?

 IPhone X

IPhone X

Since we came back from Iceland, my life boils down to work-gym-commute-TV. For a few weeks, there was essentially no sun, and I felt like I was in a hibernation. In fact, the only thing I was productive with was my work. I didn’t even find time to go through my pictures from Iceland, let alone writing a blog post about it. 

 Fuji X100T

Fuji X100T

All of this is pretty unusual for me, but I guess it makes sense that when it’s raining and grey outside I can’t make myself do much. At least I know it’s gonna be over really soon - the longest night of the year is next week, and it’s only gonna get better from there.

 IPhone X

IPhone X

I think I’m going to publish a day-by-day story about our trip to Iceland until the end of the year. I tried to come up with something more creative than a linear story, but it just doesn’t seem to come together very well.

Back from Iceland

So we went to Iceland for a week. It was a great trip, I really didn't want to leave at all. Iceland is beautiful. I will write more, right now I'm too busy unpacking and going through 1500 pictures and, you know, working my day job. 

Here's a picture of my favourite place, Jökulsárlón

 Black volcanic sand and chunks of iceberg hit by the ocean

Black volcanic sand and chunks of iceberg hit by the ocean

Switching from iPhone to Fuji

Everyone seems to write about switching from Canon, Nikon, or Sony to Fujifilm X cameras. But no one seems to talk about switching from the most popular camera in the world to Fuji. 

 

iPhone 4 

  • 5 MP
  • f/2.8
  • 1/3.2” sensor

I started with iPhone photography in 2010 - that is, with the iPhone 4. It had a 5MP autofocus camera with an LED flash. With a tiny sensor, it had a pretty modest dynamic range, somewhat facilitated by a then-new HDR mode. It also had a touch autofocus. I loved it.

 Lopez Island, iPhone 4

Lopez Island, iPhone 4

Before the iPhone 4 I had a digital point-and-shoot, but it was so crappy I never really used it. I had no interest in photography. Getting a camera that was so easy to use, always with me, was a revelation. I was also lucky enough to get it right before a road trip to the US, which I saw then like a distant wonderland that I could only dream of visiting. Needless to say, there was no shortage of inspiration. 

 Sunrise on Lopez Island, iPhone 4

Sunrise on Lopez Island, iPhone 4

Sure, even at the time I could see some shortcomings in it. It had no zoom, and in low light things would get blurry pretty quickly. In the good light, however, it was insanely good. Seeing my pictures on the retina screen, I couldn’t imagine why I would possibly want to view my pictures on anything else: the pictures were breathing!  

 Somewhere in the USA - iPhone 4

Somewhere in the USA - iPhone 4

Of course, viewing these photos on anything bigger than a modern iPhone screen reveals pretty terrible noise, and the colors of all of the shadowy pictures are all wrong. Did I care? Not in the slightest. I shot moving subjects at night, I shot straight into the sun, and I shot with the built-in flash. The results were hit-and-miss, but I am incredibly grateful I had that iPhone. I have so many pictures to remind me of the good times I had. 

 Cold frost and sunshine - Russia, iPhone 4

Cold frost and sunshine - Russia, iPhone 4

Nexus 5 

  • 8 MP
  • 1/3.2” sensor
  • f/2.4 lens with OIS

I kept this phone around for a long, long time, until I broke the back glass for the second time in 2013. I’ve sold it and got a Nexus 5, the “value pick“ of the time. It was a flagship phone for half the price of an iPhone. Camera-wise, it was quite an upgrade, too! It sported higher resolution, HDR+, a brighter flash, and fun features, such as Photo Sphere and Lens Blur. Finally, the Auto Awesome feature created gifs, fake snow, twinkling lights and other cute effects that made me laugh and appreciate that phone even more.

 Nexus 5X + Google’s auto awesome. Russia.

Nexus 5X + Google’s auto awesome. Russia.

iPhone 6 Plus 

  • 8 MP
  • f/2.2 lens with OIS
  • 1/3.0” sensor

Unfortunately, its cheap plastic body didn’t last long : a year later I picked up an iPhone 6 Plus. With same 8MP resolution, OIS, better autofocus and an f/2.2 lens, it was a modest improvement over my Nexus. It was a HUGE phone though - very uncomfortable to carry around with me, and thanks to a non-ergonomic slippery aluminum body, quite a nightmare to handle, even in a grippy case. Compared to iPhone 4 and Nexus 5, the noise performance seemed quite a bit better - I don’t see much noise when viewing uncropped pictures on a regular-sized iPad. 

 Tuileries Garden, Paris, iPhone 6 Plus

Tuileries Garden, Paris, iPhone 6 Plus

X-T10 

  • 16 MP
  • APS-C sensor
  • Kit lens - 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6

Around that time, I was following Ash Furrow’s blog. He was shooting with a Fujifilm X100. I loved his pictures, and I loved his camera, so I decided to get it myself as a Christmas gift. However, after reading a few articles, I’ve convinced myself that I’d rather get an X-T10 with a kit XC 16-50 lens: I thought I’d get more flexibility with a zoom lens, and more upgradeability with an interchangeable lens camera. 

I loved the camera, but I had to sacrifice tons of iPhone’s useful features, such as: 

  • Built-in HDR
  • Touchscreen autofocus
  • Instant editing/sharing
  • Built-in backup

Needless to say, getting a real camera gave me some huge benefits, too: 

  • Improved image quality
  • Interchangeable batteries and memory cards
  • Optical zoom
  • Viewfinder (readable in bright conditions) 
  • Real shutter (for long exposures)
  • Real aperture (for depth-of-field control) 

A real camera comes at a price, and it’s not just the money I’m talking about.

Usability

Most people take their phone with them everywhere and charge it every day. This is because it is an indispensable tool for social communication as well as a great personal computer. 

 Taking your phone on a hike is a no-brainer. Would you hike up here with a DSLR? – Swiss Alps, X-T10  

Taking your phone on a hike is a no-brainer. Would you hike up here with a DSLR? – Swiss Alps, X-T10  

 An iPhone is a size of a small filter pouch. 

An iPhone is a size of a small filter pouch. 

A camera is huge. My X-T10 is a smaller brother of a “compact” X-T1. Here it is next to an iPhone 4. Just the plastic lightweight lens weighs 195g, vs iPhone 4 at 137g. It certainly won’t fit into your pocket, unless you detach the lens from the camera. This means you’ll need a bag to carry it around, and it is going to take a considerable part of said bag. 

On the other hand, a camera gives you countless improvements in ergonomics. Any camera is more comforable to hold than any phone; and all the switches, dials, and buttons actually work in gloves, unlike your phone. You also get the interchangeable batteries and SD cards, which is great! However, this also means that you’ll have to carry a charger for your camera when travelling. 

Image quality

 New York, X-T10, XC16-50, 30s

New York, X-T10, XC16-50, 30s

It’s tempting to say that the camera is always better than a phone. Certainly, a larger sensor of a camera and a bigger, brighter lens gather more light; the larger pixels mean give you a wider dynamic range, lower noise in high sensivity and so on.

But what the cameras are lacking in is software and CPU power, and this is when the smartphones are miles ahead. A camera manufacturer typically assumes that the user will use their computer and some high-end processing software to get the best out of their image, and this certainly gives you great results; but when it comes to straight out-of-camera capabilities, my iPhone 4 made better HDRs in-camera than my 2016 Fuji X-T2.

 Paris, iPhone 7, built-in HDR, no post-processing

Paris, iPhone 7, built-in HDR, no post-processing

In my opinion, you always get better results on a camera if you take your time with post-processing. Straight out of camera though, iPhones are above and beyond. It is also worth noting that unless you print your pictures or view them on something larger than an iPad, the image quality difference isn’t that big. 

Utility

 Some of the ways your phone is more powerful than your camera. 

Some of the ways your phone is more powerful than your camera. 

Obviously, it’s not a fair comparison, because an iPhone is much more than a camera. Even in photographic department, it gives you direct printing and sharing and some high-quality post-processing tools. And thanks to downloadable apps, you’ll never have a problem of “not having a timelapse feature” on you phone. 

A camera gives you interchangeable lenses, DOF control, external flashes, long exposure capabilities and many more.  But in my experience, cameras are much dumber than phones when it comes to auto white balance, autofocus, and autoexposure. Sure, I can control them all myself, and I can fix some of them in post, but I’d really much rather have this done for me most of the times. 

 Auvergne, France, X-T2 + Samyang 12mm f2

Auvergne, France, X-T2 + Samyang 12mm f2

Conclusion

Gear doesn’t matter in most situations and for most people. I have two boxes full of lenses, bodies, tripods, brushes, filters, and batteries, and I still carry my phone with me every time. I spend considerable time processing my pictures, I have bags dedicated to carrying it around, and in many ways this gear is a burden. Thanks to two years of practice and a small fortune invested into photographic equipment, my photos are less noisy and mostly in focus. I enjoy the process of photography very much, and I evidently am willing to sacrifice a lot to practice it; yet I still love pictures taken on my iPhone 4 back when I had no idea about the rule of thrids.

I’ve learnt to be a better photographer thanks to a real camera. I had a lot of fun in the process. I’m probably not going to stop using a dedicated camera in next 5-10 years. But it’s a real shame that camera manufacturers pay so little attention to software and user experience: just imagine how awesome would it be to have iPhone-quality JPEGs from your camera appear on your phone moments after you press the shutter button. 

But at the end the only camera that’s always with me is my iPhone.  

 

 

 

Woke up for sunrise

This whole summer I was too lazy to wake up in time for sunrise. Today it was at 7:30, early enough for me to get up and get out. I'm feeling a bit sleepy, but it's totally worth it. 

I've decided to meet the sun at Notre-Dame, because I've never taken a tourist-free picture of it before. I think it looks beautiful in the first light of the day. 

I’ve reset my phone today

 

Ever since I bought an iPhone 7, I had an issue with my internet connection. I was using Free, the French carrier known for misleading Wi-Fi networks and affordable international roaming.

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It wasn’t until this summer that I’ve learned that my spotty reception issues were common amongst Free users! Apparently, Free has some sort of agreement with Orange, that the former uses the 3G infrastructure of the latter, but at a throttled speed, while 2G and 4G physical networks are fully separate. The process is supposed to be invisible for the user - the displayed provider name is always Free. Most smartphones struggle when it comes to switching from 3G to 2G or 4G (while switching providers), for reasons that are beyond my comprehension. I’ve seen numerous reports on the web about this, and my coworkers told me they’ve seen these issues with Free, too. 

However the last drop was a new symptom my phone developed this summer, where after switching to 3G it was missing calls and SMS in addition to data; all while displaying a strong 3G connection! The symptoms disappeared after switching to the airplane mode or complete loss of connection (like in subway), but I had to notice the lack of connectivity myself. Needless to say, it was pretty irritating. 

So I’ve decided to switch to Orange, reasoning that if its 3G infrastructure was good enough for Free to lease, it should really be pretty great. Additionally, they offer a second SIM to share your data plan on another device, which is ideal for the iPad. My new SIM card arrived promptly in my mailbox, but imagine my horror when the problem only grew worse after the switch! Now, in addition to my previous issues, my phone stopped picking up data connection altogether.

I was devastated. I thought, if changing providers didn’t help, it must be my phone! Luckily, it’s under warranty still, but what’s the first thing they’ll do in the Apple store when I bring it in? They’ll hard-reset it, right? I can do that myself! So I made a backup and performed a restore of my phone, setting it up as new. Reinstalling applications and logging into them took me half a day, and after this tedious process I was ready to leave home and check if the reset helped. Last moment before I left, I noticed that in Settings I have a loading indicator next to Personal Hotspot, as if my phone was undecided wether it can let me use it or not. And so I looked this symptom up, and the Orange website instructed me to... activate my SIM.

Two minutes later, my SIM was active, my reception issues were gone for good. You might ask - but why didn’t I activate the SIM card upon reception? Well, I was mislead by the tons of papers Orange sent me with it; additionally, I couldn’t imagine that an unactivated SIM can make and receive calls, send SMS, and have data! 

And since in the process I’ve reset my phone, I now have a clean one with 3 times less apps. I also had to reset my watch, which lead to loss of activity data (come on, Apple, find a way to sync this already). While setting it up, the Activity application offered me 3 choices of calorie goals - low, moderate, and active. Turns out, my previous goal was just under the default “moderate” one.

Maybe I should try to have a perfect month with the highest goal in September?

Hello world

So this happened today:

 Siri App Suggestions: Squarespace Portfolio, Squarespace Analytics, Squarespace blog  

Siri App Suggestions: Squarespace Portfolio, Squarespace Analytics, Squarespace blog  

Siri suggests I write a blog post, it seems? It’s about time I do this.  I’ve got so much stuff to tell the world about: my gadgets, my travels, my struggle about not being able to afford more gadgets and travel... How about I give you an outline, a promise, if you will, of all the things I am planning to tell you about.

  • My experience with the iPad Pro (12.9” 2015 and 10.5”)
  • Airpods - Are they any good? How do they compare to other bluetooth headphones? 
  • Long-term review of a Fuji X-T10 and some lenses
  • Long-term review of Côte&Ciel Isar Rucksack
  • Long-term review of Peak Design Everyday Sling
  • Travelling efficiently - lessons learned
  • My trips to Lisbon,Munich, Geneva,  
  • Road trip to the Riviera and the Alps

I don’t know when this stuff will be out, but I’ll do my best to update this blog once a week. 

If you have any topic you’d like me to cover, ping me on Twitter.

Why do I build this website.

This website is at least my 6th attempt at building one. However, here I am, typing and paying for yet another hosting. Why?

Because I think I have something to share, and I don't want it to be constrained to 140 characters in Twitter or 1 megapixel in Instagram. For the first time in my life I recognize that I have some content that I find worth sharing. 

My previous websites were never like that. They were mostly an attempt to be that cool guy with that cool website. Once I was trying to be that employable guy with open source contributions. Not this time. 

This time I plan to primarily share my photographs, occasionally some random research that I did for lack of a stackoverflow/reddit post answering my question.