Archive for June 2012

Gear Review : Nikon AW 100 Cool Pix Adventure Camera

When Dana and I landed in Bozeman, the first thing we did was go in search of a replacement for my Samsung point and click. I’m loathe to spend money on myself but I thought, “How many times in my life will I get a chance to capture the beauty of this western landscape?” I figured it a well-justified expenditure.  The Samsung had actually served me nicely for several years but due to an open housing acquired moisture spots on the internal optics. I’ve talked a little about a couple of waterproof, shockproof adventure cameras here in the blog section so went in search of one of them.  My search ended at the Bozeman Costco where I picked up Nikon’s contribution to the adventure camera category, the AW 100.  I read over the specs, played with the display a bit and though it was well beyond my budget, thought good of my purchase and shrugged off my usual buyers remorse. After charging the battery, I experimented with different settings, functions etc.  The next day we ventured into Yellowstone where I gave my new toy a workout.  Over the course of the week I shot nearly a thousand pics/videos.  Here’s what I discovered:

Likes:

– Panoramic function. Didn’t realize this was one of the perks until I unpackaged it.  Simple, easy to use and gives great results.  Perfect for the wide open spaces and majestic summits of Montana.

– Video function.  “Easy button” on the back of camera gives me video capability with a single click. HD video, I might add.

– Macro.  Simple to use,  Beautiful, detailed results.  Love it.

– Landscapes.  Great camera for landscapes. Unlike my Samsung, it gave me nearly perfect focus every time.

-GPS.  Though I didn’t explore it fully, the AW 100 boasts onboard GPS which, as a hiker, I consider a phenomenal feature. I often return from a trip, sort through my pics and wonder, :Hmmmm, where was this?” Assuming it functions well, I consider this a huge plus.

Dislikes:

– Location of lens.  It took several screw-ups before I re-trained my finger away from the top left corner.

–  Rechargeable battery with heavy external charger.  Neither convenient nor practical for backpackers.

–  High maintenance.  This is supposed to be an adventure camera.  When you peruse the manual you’re given instructions to be careful about getting it wet.  Really?!  Don’t get a waterproof camera wet? If exposed to moisture of any kind, you’re to immediately dry the camera with a cloth.  Nice, Nikon.  Really nice.

–  Focus issues.  Though it performed admirably on macro and landscapes, anything in between was no-man’s land.  I have a slough of disappointing pictures of wildlife that I’ll  never get another chance to capture.  The automatic focus on this camera is a miserable, epic fail. Were it possible to buy a point-and-click adventure camera with manual focus, I’d be a happy man.

–  Digital zoom takes waaaaaaaaay too long to initiate. Missed a lot of shots waiting for it to kick in.

– Shutter lag. Pretty severe and at seemingly random intervals.

– Resolution.  The AW100 boasts 16 megapixels.  Again, great color and detail on macros and landscapes but anything in between is washed-out and sort of hazy in appearance.  Dana’s 8 mega-pixel Sony consistently gets strikingly better shots than the Nikon. Without exaggeration, many of the 2 or 3 mp shots from my crappy phone camera look better than the results from the Nikon. No excuse.

-It locks up.  No kidding.  This happened, not once, but repeatedly. If I left the power on for more than a few minutes without snapping a pic, it would completely lock up. The only way I could restore function was to open the battery compartment, eject the battery, re-install the battery, close the compartment and cut the camera back on. Geez.

The Gist

Nice try Nikon.  Some cool features but bells and whistles do not a camera make. Let’s start with the basics:  A good camera should take good pictures. Fail. Just praying Costco will let me return this since I left the inconvenient packaging in Montana.

 

Update:  Costco was amazing!  The store in Greenville gave me a full refund plus an adjustment in sales tax, with nearly no questions asked despite the fact that I purchased the camera in Montana and had neither the original packaging nor the receipt.  Thanks Costco!  You guys ROCK!

 

Meet Frank and his new t-shirt!

Several weeks back Dana and I found ourselves in Hot Springs, NC where we had the great privilege of meeting and befriending Frank, his lovely wife Debbie, his crazy Jack Russell Rosie and their Airstream Diva. The four of them are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime across America. Frank just sent me this awesome pic of his new t-shirt. You can probably surmise why!  Thanks, Frank.  I love it!  Looking forward to following your journey online.

You can keep up with them too, here:

http://www.streamingtogether.blogspot.com/

Happy Trails, DiBona family!

Montana, Days 7, 8 and 9: Paradise Lost

 

We saw our wolves.  To be precise, we heard them first. Several people had gathered by the roadside.  We pulled up, quietly pushed our doors shut and, as stealth as coyote, walked up to a wildlife enthusiast equipped with a tripod mounted lens nearly as big as our rented Subaru.  “What are we watching?” I whispered. “Listen,”  he replied. ”  We did as suggested and from far away heard two wolves raising a long, beautiful howl to the cloud covered Wyoming mountains. We lifted our little cameras, zoomed in and just barely made out two wolves, one gray and another that appeared distinctly cream colored.

I had been reading Shadow Mountain by Renee Askins, her well-written account of the role she and her compatriots played in re-introducing wolves to Yellowstone.  Due primarily to man once again meddling in the affairs of the wild, the natural wolf population had been completely decimated. Her book details the long, hard battle to bring restoration to the natural order; to undo the damage we’d done. It was a pretty moving encounter to experience firsthand the fruits of her labor. Thank you, Renee.

Our original plan had been to hike to the summit of Emigrant Peak in Livingston, just a few miles from our cabin in Paradise Valley.  18″ of snowfall on our second day in Montana added to an already frozen summit had rendered that dream a risk not worth taking. The boulder covered approach would have been treacherous enough without it’s icy coating.  Now? Darn near impossible. In lieu of breathing the rarified air at 11,000 feet we hoped to instead find a few hikes in Yellowstone, at least getting into these woods we’d so longed to wander in.  My run-in with the boulder changed that plan as well.  We spent nearly all of our remaining 3 days driving through Yellowstone, stopping every 1/4 mile or so to snap a picture. It’s a difficult trap not to fall into, especially when one of us (Uh, yeah…that’d be me) had the misfortune of being run over by a boulder. Would I recommend seeing Yellowstone from behind a car door?  No.  Definitely not. Friday came so quickly that both of us had to stay vigilant in fighting off remorse for not using our time in this idyllic setting better.  It was a blur. I convinced Dana to get a two day fishing license to at least wet a hook in these legendary waters.  On our last voyage into the Park we headed toward Cooke City, again taking in the majesty of these spectacular mountains.  Along the way we stopped off at Soda Butte (Yeah, I know.  Funny. It’s pronounced “byoot”) Creek, where I hung my hammock, lost myself in Norman MacClean’s classic and watched Dana try her hand at enticing a few trout to rise. I watched ground squirrels play beneath my nest and observed the cartoon-like antics of a yellow-bellied weasel as he darted in and out of the ground squirrel’s tunneled home. Although Dana never saw much success we both enjoyed our few short moments of relaxation…something we wished we’d spent a lot more time doing. An hour or so after we arrived the sun was once again swallowed up in grey clouds, while rain and sleet drove us back to the car and on toward Cooke City for lunch.  That old adage applies here more than anywhere I’ve visited,”  If you don’t like the weather here…just wait 5 minutes.” Unfortunately for us, we saw a mere 12 hours or so of sunshine in our entire week. Take it like it comes, right?  Well, as disappointing as the weather and my accident were, the wildlife just about made up for it.  Over the course of the week we saw bison, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, coyote, bighorn sheep, bison (Yup, I realize I mentioned bison already), osprey, a yellow-headed blackbird, magpie, a badger, ground squirrels, a hoary marmot, a yellow-bellied weasel, wolves, a moose, bison, more bison, bison calves, black bear, black bear cubs, grizzly, (did I mention bison?) and more.  At one point there was so much wildlife in one location I half-expected Rafiki to step out with Simba raised over his head.  Instead we saw a herd of bison convince a grizzly to find something other than a bison calf for lunch.  Pretty amazing stuff.

So many people have asked if we’d go back.  Absolutely.  Would I hope for better weather?  Yup.  (And less boulder contact as well.)  Would we try to return with only a week?  Probably not. The jaw-dropping magnificence of this incredible country was other-worldly and more than the eye could take in…especially in 7 or 8 days. It was indeed a balm for two heartbroken and war-weary people.  Had we not gone….I don’t even want to think about it.  Would we like a do-over?  You bet. We’d love to see Paradise Lost redeemed. Next time, closer to summer with a month to spend….maybe a year. Next time we’ll see it from the midst of the wildness, rather than the safety and convenience of a cozy Subaru.  Next time, maybe from the Continental Divide Trail.  Next time…

 

I’ve posted some pics from our trip at the All Who Wander Podcast facebook page.  Here’s a link:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.381032811943464.81325.146364628743618&type=3