Monday, July 21, 2014

Climbing in Indian Creek

To celebrate my 28th birthday last year, my Golden Birthday (28 on March 28), I had planned on skiing two fourteeners in a day (14,000+14,000=28,000!) but I broke my back on 11 days before. Needless to say, my birthday was way less exciting. I turned 29 this year and didn't have any crazy ideas for commemorating it. My friend, Alex, invited me to climb desert sandstone crack in Indian Creek, which sounded like a good enough celebration of another year.

I'm a sport climber. I like clipping bolts, engaging my "try hard" and not really worrying whether the bolt I just clipped 10 feet below me will hold if I take this massive whipper. It's freeing being able to just try your hardest, and if you fall - no worries.

The last few weeks, though, I've been climbing a lot more trad - placing your own protection into cracks in the rock. If you fall, you hope you placed the last piece well enough that it will hold you. And if that piece blows, will the next blow too? That's exactly what happened when I broke my back.

It's taken some time for me to get my trad "head" back, the confidence in my ability to climb and place solid gear that I stay calm throughout the climb. This past weekend I climbed more trad than ever in the South Platte, and really gained the confidence I need to start pushing myself again. But this time I have proper knowledge and technique to do it right!

Back to Indian Creek. Ah yea, I'm a sport climber. Indian Creek is huge splitter sandstone cracks with slim to none face holds that only protects with Trad gear. Definitely not my strong suit. Crack climbing technique is very different from sport climbing, using your hands and fingers to wedge into the cracks instead of pulling down on holds. Your feet don't stand on holds either, instead twisted into the crack in a way that the most rubber touches both sides of the crack. When you complete a sport route your forearms, fingers and possibly back are tired. After climbing a crack your entire body is spent from working together merely to stay connected with the rock. It's a full body battle against the route. And it's fantastic!

Enjoy a few photos from the trip!

Alex Vidal climbing a challenging 5.10 "Elephant Man" at Donnelly Canyon

Unknown climber working his way up "Chocolate Corner" 5.9+

Anthony Biolatto working through Elephant Man


Miniature Klass enjoying the crag. 

There's two miniature Klass's


Miniature Klass fights his way up Unknown 9+

Alex Vidal climbing Unknown 9+ at Blue Gramma Wall.  



Micah Salazar sending Unnamed 10+


Newspaper Rock pano - really unique place! 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sony A6000 Review - First Impressions in Ten Sleep Canyon

View of Ten Sleep Canyon from my campsite
I've been desiring for some time a compact camera I can take with me on adventures that I can rely on for great quality images. Carrying a 5D Mk II on all day backcountry adventures was cumbersome and I wanted something WAY lighter and smaller. I'd been drooling over Sony's NEX-7 and NEX-6 but wasn't ready to make the plunge. This spring a buddy told me about the new one they just released, the A6000.
Photo from Sony

The A6000 has a 24mp APS-C Sensor, which is the same sensor found in many new Nikon DSLRs. The image quality is fantastic! It was one of the biggest selling points, along with the autofocus system, and the fast frame rate.

The compact mirrorless category of camera is growing at a rapid rate, with companies like Fuji, Pentax, and Olympus flooding the market with great cameras, but with Micro Four Thirds Sensors. I like a lot of features in Micro Four Thirds systems, but I couldn't get myself to buy a camera with such a small sensor. Size Matters when it comes to photographic quality. Comparing Micro Four Thirds to 35mm (Full size DSLRs' sensors) is like comparing 35mm to Medium Format. There is very little comparison in quality. It can be seen in the ISO noise, the bokeh, and focal length of lenses.

The crop of APS-C sensors are 1.5x that of a 35mm, Micro Four Thirds is 2x. This means that your 16mm lens on an APS-C is equivalent to a 24mm lens on a 35mm camera. Similarly, that 16mm lens on your Micro Four Thirds is equivalent to 32mm on a 35mm Camera. You lose quite a bit of your field of view. Also, a Micro Four Thirds lens with an aperture of f/2.8 is equivalent to f/5.6 on a 35mm camera (You lose a lot of that beautiful depth of field).

Photo from Sony

Sorry, I got off track. I'm talking about the A6000. First off, it feels great in your hands. It's small, light, and fits in one hand. The grip is very natural and makes it easy to hold the camera. The physical mode dial is on top and is easy to turn (not it's also easy to bump, so make sure you're in the right mode before taking a photo.) Next to it is an exposure dial that you can program to be Aperture or Shutter. I prefer shutter because it most closely resembles my Canon setup.

Side note: I wish the Mode Dial and Exposure Dial were switched. I use the exposure dial way more often and the Mode Dial is slightly easier to reach with my thumb. On that note, most of the other controls are located under your palm when you're holding the camera with a solid grip. It's easy enough to get to them by moving your hand and it's a consequence of how small this camera is.

Photo from Sony

I definitely would not want to be shooting outside without the viewfinder. Bring the camera up to your eye and the image automatically switches the viewfinder. One advantage of the EVF (Electronic View Finder) is you can review your images with no sun glare, a feature that would be incredible on my DSLRs while I'm shooting on a ski slope.

The menu UI is not the most intuitive, but I'm getting used to it. I wish that it had one menu that I could put all of my frequently used options. There are custom buttons that you can program. In fact you can program most of the buttons to do different functions, which is a great feature.

The autofocus system is incredibly fast and robust. You can select points that cover nearly 90% of the frame (better than any camera I've used. My 5dMkIII is still awkwardly in the center, but leaps and bounds above the Mk II's autofocus system). Shooting 11+ frames per second I'll never have to worry about getting the perfect shot when shooting someone hucking a backcountry cliff. And with a 75+% autofocus accuracy rate the great majority of shots will be acceptably in focus (I think my 7d was about 40% accurate).

My Sony A6000 arrived a day before I left for a Ten Sleep, Wyoming climbing trip, so I decided to test it out. In short, I was thrilled with the results.
Alex Vidal never skimps on breakfast.

The camera did a great job with backlighting

Alex Vidal climbs a 10c warm up at City of Gold in Ten Sleep Canyon

Dave Champion warming up on a 10ish 11 with the rest of Ten Sleep Canyon behind him. 

Alex Vidal contemplates a very challenging 5.11c crack

Wally Malles gets the heel on the 5.11c crack

Wally dropping clothes like a pro stripper. 

Sending the crux of the route, before a sustained finger crack to the anchors. 

Fingers and hands. 

I put up, then red pointed, this thin, crimpy, techy 5.12a

Yeah Footwork! 

In my photography I do a lot of manual HDRs. I take a bracketed exposure (3 shots, one underexposed, one over and one right in the middle) and combine the images by hand. The A6000 lets you shoot HDR's which are processed in camera. It gives you a few options to fine tune it to your liking. Below are two photos, first an HDR that I blended by hand, and second the camera's blend.

A single raw image with 3 different exposure edits to create this HDR image. Great view of Fickle Finger of Fate and Dry Wall from the Ice Plant

An HDR processed in camera. 
The results are pretty great. You press the shutter once and it takes 3 images faster than you can let off the shutter button. One downside is you must to change the camera to JPG for this function to work. I wish that  I think the camera would automatically do whatever necessary to get the image when I select this mode, not tell me that it's not possible while shooting in RAW. It just adds an unnecessary complex step between seeing the image I want and taking the photograph. Because it has to be in JPG the camera processes the image and adds it's own version of reality, over sharpening and saturating the image.

Sonja Nelson climbing Question Crack Right (5.12) on the Question Wall. Measuring only 4'9",
 the first move off the flake was an exposed one since the first bolt was well out of her reach. 

It's a superb route with an amazing view.


Alex Vidal enjoying Lake Point after our last day of climbing. He's rocking my new Roscoe shorts. 
The trip to Ten Sleep was a great climbing trip with friends. I'm psyched on the limestone routes and can't wait to go back and try the south facing climbs when it's not nearly as hot. I'm also psyched on my new Sony A6000! It's the perfect size, weight and has amazing quality. Will definitely be my go to camera for non-pro shoots. And it fits super comfortably on my backpack with my Peak Design Capture Camera Clip!

If you're looking for a compact, lightweigh camera that can do just about everything your DSLR can do in spectacular quality, this is the camera for you. And it's only $800! It was out of stock most places when I was looking for it, but found it at Adorama.com!

Edit: A couple things I can't figure out. There are menu options about bracketed exposure, but I cannot figure out how to make the camera take 3 bracketed exposures. I've heard that you can do it easily with the Sony Smart Remote app on your smart phone, but after downloading the appropriate app and following the directions online I cannot get my phone to connect to my camera. Once I figure that out I should have a lot more shooting options. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Exploring the Bay Area - Playing with a 5D Mk III

At the beginning of April I flew out to California to do a shoot with Jansport. I had been having trouble with the LCD screen on my Canon 5D Mk II (2) not being visible in direct sunlight, and since this was an outdoor shoot I figured I should have gear I could depend on. Luckily Borrow Lenses is based in the Bay and I was able to pick up a 5D Mk III (3) for rent the same day. 

After picking up the camera I decided to drive to Half Moon Bay and take the 1 back to Marin county, where I was staying. If you haven't done this drive, it's spectacular. Even crossing over the pass from the East side of the peninsula is incredible. 

I stopped at a beach with a lot of surfers playing around in the waves and decided to take the new camera for a test drive. It's always good to familiarize yourself with new equipment before a shoot (I learned that the hard way). 












There was a halfpipe set up just across the street and several kids were rocking it.


"Dog is my co-pilot"

Por mi madre

Loved this coastline! 


I met an awesome trio from Germany traveling around the west coast in an Escape Camper Van. Shared a few beers and laughs and wished them well on their travels.


Click HERE to see this larger. Panorama of San Francisco as seen from Treasure Island
 After my shoot I took several days to hang out with friends and explore. I met Anthony a couple weeks before while climbing in Indian Creek. He took me mountain biking on Mt. Tamalpais. It was awesome! Go say high to him at the Sports Basement! 
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I really loved the Bay area. Marin County was incredibly beautiful and I would love to live there! The weather was incredible while I was there and I was happy to get to see all my friends. If it weren't for the damn traffic it might be almost paradise.