Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Olympus E-510 DSLR (Updated)

I recently had the chance to play around with a friend's Olympus E-510 DSLR.

A lightweight, entry level DSLR with 10MP, body IS and live view, based on the smaller 4/3-sensor system. With the two kit lenses, it's probably the lightest image stabilized DSLR available covering the range from 14mm (24mm effective) to 150mm (300mm effective). An ideal hiking DSLR for weight weenies.

However, I wanted to see how the smaller sensor performed in low light conditions. One of the biggest and most obvious differences between pocketable P&S and DSLR cameras is the amount of noise in the image at higher ISO levels. This is generally related to CCD/CMOS sensor size (small with P&S cameras) and the number of megapixels (MP).

As an informal test, I took the following interior picture of the main library at the University of Arizona. Handheld with body image stabilization (IS) on.

100% crops of the bookcases:
400 ISO (1/30s, f4.0, 40mm)
800 ISO (1/30s, f4.0, 40mm)
1600 ISO (1/60s, f4.0, 40mm)

What does one look for? A noisy image obviously. But also bear in mind that at high ISO values, most DSLR apply some form of noise filtering (NF), i.e. smoothing, at the expense of detail by default. The E-510 does this: I used the default settings. (It can be switched off.)

You can see both an increase in the noise and loss of detail from 400 to 800 to 1600 ISO.

I opened a thread on the thread itself got a bit noisy, but there were some good suggestions put forth:
  • The noise filter is too strong at default setting. It should be either OFF or LOW to give a fair high ISO test.
  • The first thing I noticed about your photo is that it is slightly underexposed and the majority of tones are below the halfway point of the histogram. This is fairly common with the E-510 using ESP metering in low contrast indoor settings. All digital cameras show more noise in the shadow areas and the E-510 is no exception, so when using ESP metering indoors I generally add +0.7 EC.
Unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to borrow the camera again for a while. I'd love to repeat the test.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

crosscountry by car this time

I went crosscountry again last week. This time by car.
(Last summer I rode my bicycle.)

Wedged my Garmin Etrex Vista with street maps between the windshield and the dashboard. Same exact GPS as the one I had on the handlebars of my bike while crossing the continental US in summer.

Bike crossing from San Diego CA to Savannah GA took 17 days. In the car it was a tiring but comfortable 4.5 days (43 hours of driving time not including pit stop/meal times) from Tucson AZ to Boston MA for about the same number of miles (2800) and climbing (84000 ft). Basically, around 12 hours a day from motel to motel.

Stats below:

Yes, it is cold in January! Fuel economy was good though. Almost 30.5 mpg. No speeding tickets. And averaging nearly 65 mph is a pretty sensible average for a multiday drive.
(My friend Jim shadowed me in his Dodge Grand Caravan the whole way. I wonder what mileage he got.)

The Etrex switches to night mode automatically as it gets to dusk. Some of the driving ended up after dark (up to 9pm one day). Never saw it switch on the bike, on the PacTour Elite Transcontinental, the daily miles always finished before dark.

Cost of this trip is around $800 for gas and hotel. Cost of the bike trip was $3000.

Friday, January 18, 2008

marathon pictures rant

Action Sports International is the outfit that took pictures at the marathon.

They want $35 for a single digital download at 1024x1536 resolution (barely more than laptop screen resolution and not good for enlarging), or $80 for all of them. In this age of inexpensive 10MP cameras, this is pitiful!

For the money, you get a limited license to use the jpg (no RAW):

This license allows you to make prints from this file, and to use the image for any other personal use, but does not grant any copyright to the image.

Sounds a bit restrictive: I'm not even sure you can put it up on your own website or blog.

A 10 x 16 print is $55.

They took 3 snaps of me:

UPDATE: In the interests of full disclosure, having said all that, I went ahead and ordered the electronic download of the 2nd picture. Apparently, 1024x1536 is what they use for printing. I'll see if it stands enlargement...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A marathon post-mortem litany

I need to remind myself of what's crucial before this event recedes into the distant reaches of my mind.

Just a couple of quick notes for posterity. (I put the aluminum foil backed space blanket that they hand out at the finish line on my laundry room wall. Every time I come home, it's the first thing I'll see entering from the garage.)

And perhaps that'd jog my memory to read this post many times (thanks to guys on cyclingforum for these!):

  • #1. Toughen up. Do one long run every weekend. 10 miles. A half-marathon.
  • Aerobic capacity. Short runs at higher speeds work but I overdid it.
  • Electrolyte tablets for cramps during long runs.
  • Running doesn't always translate well to cycling. Need to keep those muscles biking too.
  • Weight control.
Baseline fitness goes but doesn't come easy.

Monday, January 14, 2008

P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon

Yesterday, I ran the Phoenix Marathon. I didn't do well, so I am a bit disappointed.

It has been just over a year since my very first attempt at a marathon. That was the Tucson Marathon back in December 2006. I didn't train properly and still managed 3:51. (See my report here.)

Personal philosophy-wise, I believe in maintaining a baseline level of fitness. No matter what the pressures in life or work, I try not to abrogate responsibility for maintaining fitness. This means reserving some inviolable core time for working out a certain number of days a week.

And as we age, this becomes increasingly important. Let ourselves go for a few months, and the road back to decent fitness is very long and discouragingly hard. So it's far preferable (and cost effective) to achieve a certain baseline level and hang on to it.

So what are the benchmarks? Well, basically, I should be able to comfortably run a marathon or do a double century (200 miles) on the bike at ANY TIME with ZERO NOTICE. In other words , if a friend says, let's go and run a marathon tomorrow... I should be able to say: ok sure, why not? Same goes for a double century. That'd be done on my so-called baseline or everyday fitness.

Of course, if I spent 4 months training for some specific event, I'd expect to do a lot better.

In the case of running, I decided I should test this by running a marathon every year on baseline fitness. This year, being year 2 for me, I'm actually a much smarter runner technique-wise. I was pretty clueless about running last year. So I had sizeable hopes I'd do better in Phoenix. Turns out I am still clueless. I was actually slower. 3:56.

I'm a bit bummed because:
  1. I bought the Evolution Running dvd, shortened my stride, had fewer ankle problems and ran faster than I'd ever run.
  2. The Running club at the University of Arizona had evening runs (6pm, 5pm) during the Fall semester to prepare for the marathon.

    I participated in most of the runs apart from 3 or 4 weeks or so when I was either traveling or sick.

  3. They also had one long run per weekend at 6am. 6am was tough. I did a few of them but inconsistently. 10 miler a couple of times and a 20 miler.
  4. I use compression socks, which helped with calf muscle fatigue.
  5. I felt aerobically quite fit.
  6. My weight was down from a high of almost 76kg to 70kg. I didn't eat once at Fat Greek's all semester long.

    Weight is very important in running. I can feel the difference each kilogram makes.

    Although my upper body is similar to a runner's physique (read: sorta wimpy), overall my body is not really a runner's type. I have muscular and very heavy legs from cycling. So 70kg for me is below 10% body fat and a reasonable accomplishment.

So what went wrong?

I believe there are three limiters to performance for endurance events:
  1. Aerobic fitness.
  2. Nutrition.
  3. Muscle fatigue.
Basically, my muscles failed me through lack of miles/conditioning. To run a marathon successfully, one has to put in enough base miles, and I didn't have enough.

During, the race, I felt my muscles tightening up significantly shortly before halfway. Then I felt one of my quads on the verge of cramping. Later on, around mile 20, I locked up completely in the right hamstring. Last 6 miles, my calf muscles were on the verge of cramping as well. See the decline in pace reported by my iPod Nano Nike+ kit:

(Notice the distance discrepancy. My shoe sensor has the default setting. For calibration, figures have to be discounted to the 95.42% level.)

Being muscle limited, I couldn't even tax my aerobic system during the marathon at all. In other words, I couldn't make myself breathe hard because my muscles wouldn't let me run fast enough to do that.

Conditions were good. 45F at the start, warming up to 66F. Dry. Ideal running weather. The course was not totally flat but there were no hills, just one bridge near the end.

Nutrition-wise, I opted not to use my Camelbak this time to save weight. I carried Gu packets and took water and Accelerade from every water station. No trouble there. I did not run out of energy.


I'm in the 45-49 male age group. 199th out of 510 in the division. Timing chip time was 3:56:28 despite a big decline in pace towards the end due to muscle problems. I was stubborn enough to keep going and not walk, thus allowing me to sneak in under the 4 hour mark.

Lessons? I believe aerobically and nutrition-wise, I'm capable of going under 3:30 without improving my baseline aerobic fitness. However, I realize now I need a big enough distance base to acclimatize my muscles to the pounding. Unless I pay those dues, e.g. a friend says run 4 days a week religiously, I'd be restricted forever to hobbling in just under 4 hours.