"Life is brought down to the basics: if you are warm, regular, healthy, not thirsty or hungry, then you are not on a mountain... Climbing at altitude is like hitting your head against a brick wall - it's great when you stop."

Chris Darwin

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Cameraderie

I am considering buying new camera. As most of my photographing is done during the climbing trips, its suitability for climbing photography is the driving decision factor. Unfortunately, no one is producing s camera that would fulfill all my requirements.

My wishlist for climbing camera consists of:

  • Very small and light. Camera needs to fit in jacket pocked, otherwise it will see very little action. This rules out both SRL and larger compacts as well. We are talking about sub-200g range and as small as possible, especially depth is important.
  • Robust and weatherproof.
  • Lens. This is where it gets challenging. To be useful, the lens needs to have proper wide-angle. On the other hand, it needs to have reasonably long telezoom as well. Obviously the overall quality should be outstanding and it should not have any distortion to speak of. Tough order, I know. And it gets worse. As the lightening conditions are often difficult, large aperture is needed.
  • Controls. On top of proper automatic and metering, the camera should have usable manual controls. The key here is usable, which pretty much requires manual focus ring (you can't really use menus when trying to focus, can you).
  • Features. Ability to shoot RAW is probably on top of my list. GPS would be very handy for automatic geotagging.
  • Video. To be useful, optical zoom needs to be available when shooting video and the camera needs to be able to shoot HD video with normal frame speed, otherwise the whole feature is useless to me.

During my research, the following models made it to the short list:

Panasonic DMC-TZ7
Followup model of successful TZ5 with improved video features. Looks possibly the best compromise. However, based on reviews there are some rather alarming shortcomings. First and foremost, it has very small censor. This is almost a necessity if you want to pack an impressive zoom into a very compact body. The downside of this is of course reverse impact of aperture, noisiness and dynamic range. And sure enough, e.g. Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 and Fuji Finepix 200EXR reportedly boast vastly superior dynamic range. LX3 would shoot RAW as well, but unfortunately it has much shorter zoom, is quite a bit larger and its video features are far inferior to TZ7.
Fuji Finepix 200EXR
Reportedly very good dynamic range and boasts 5x zoom which would be acceptable I guess, but its video features are sorely lacking.
Ricoh CX1
Ricoh seems to have an interesting looking model in their offering as well, namely CX1 (only SD video, though). Very interesting features such as in-camera HDR.
Canon PowerShot SX200IS
Canon's entry into compact superzoom market. Sorely lacking in the video department (no zoom during recording, seriously?).
Nikon Coolpix S620, S610, S710
Nikon offering in its Coolpix S range sport both wide angle lens and reasonable zoom (up to 7x), however sadly not in the same camera. The video-side can't really keep up with the competition either.
Olympus μ9000
The Olympus µ-9000 (also known as the 'Stylus 9000') is the flagship model of Olympus' µ-Series line of point-and-shoot digital cameras. The µ Series consists of compact cameras characterized by small profiles, relatively great optical zoom function, and a focus on stylish outward appearance.
Samsung WB500
Interesting feature set but reportedly can't hold its own in image quality department.

If only Panasonic offered similar camera to TZ7 with larger censor (granted it would limit the zoom, but something like 6-8x would still be very good. Combine that with with lower pixel density (meaning that instead of 10MP, it would have "only", say 8MP) and it should sport greater dynamic range and shouldn't suffer from high noise as badly as it currently does. In my book, something like that would be very hard to beat in supercompact point and shoot market.

Auto-magic, take 2

I went on and replaced the "web 2.0" links available on some of the pages with JavaScript menu, which I reckon is less obtrusive and ultimately better from the maintenance point of view as well, as it would not require changes in markup. The script used on the site is based on JavaScript Context Menu by Luke Breuer.

The sample has been changed quite a bit though. Unfortunately my tweaking seemed to have broken compatibility with Internet Explorer 7, though. I tested the script with Firefox (3.0.7 and 3.1 beta), Internet Explorer 8, Chrome 2.0 beta and Safari 4 beta. Furthermore, it should work just fine with other browsers as well as long as they allow replacing right-click menu. The best part of this approach is that whenever the integrated services syntax requires changing or if I want to add new services, all I need to do is change the JavaScript. At this point, the integrated services are:

Essentially, the functionality pulled off with the JavaScript is rather similar to Accelerators, introduced in Internet Explorer 8. Those are pretty handy BTW; if you are using Firefox, IE8 Activities for Firefox comes highly recommended.

Caveats

Recently some book recommendation came my way courtesy of Amazon's marketing ploy. I've picked a habit of checking their "customers who bought this also bought" recommendations. Which is where I noticed Andy Cave's "Learnign to Breathe" and "Thin White Line".

As I had read Mick Fowler 's books not too long ago, the name immediately sounded somewhat familiar given that Andy was part of the same tragic Changabang expedition featuring in one of Fowler's book. As I found out that both of Cave's books are highly acclaimed, I went on bought both of them. So far I am in the middle of "Learning to Breathe" but already it's safe to say that it was money well spent.

Standards compliance

I recently noticed that Internet Explorer (including Internet Explorer 7) did a pathetic job of displaying this very site; (at least) all unordered (ul) and ordered lists (ol) were displayed incorrectly. This seems to be caused by IE:s inability to process such elements correctly whenever they are located within floated elements.

Which is rather sad given that many pure-CSS layouts rely on floats to build the layout. Which is the case with this site as well. To make matter worse, there's no real solution to remedy this. Fortunately upcoming Internet Explorer 8 (currently available as beta 2) seems to finally fix this.

However, since lists are heavily used on this site and lack of bullets and improper indents can seriously impair the readability of some of the pages, I added IE conditional comments along with CSS targeted to IE7 that fix this problem. At least up to the point where the layout is at least pretty close to what it should look like.

I also changed the mime-type to application/xhtml+xml which is what is recommended for xhtml 1.1. I am well aware that this may cause issues with old browsers. Tough shit. Furthermore, references to xhtml 1.1 schema are now added to html-root element.

Multi-pitch efficiency

  • Lead in blocks. Leading in blocks reduces the wait time, as it distributes leading and belaying more evenly (timewise, that is). This is very significant during the winter. It also often means less need to swap gear at belays if the pitch took less than half the rack.
  • Limit the number of belays. On multi-pitch routes very easy way to save loads of time is to build as few belays as possible. Usually this means using the full length of the rope. Naturally this isn't always feasible, but aim to run full rope length before placing the belay. Sometimes simul-climbing or soloing may be called for for the easier sections.
  • Get efficient on belays. By far the easiest way of shaving off time is at the belays. The key here is not so much to do things as fast as possible, it's more important to do the right things and nothing more. Stuff like building a belay so that no fumbling with it is necessary when continuing upwards, handling a rope when bringing up the second so that no recoiling is needed, efficient way of swapping gear, the second starting to clear the belay as soon as the leader is secured (in ice this means the first solid screw is placed) etc. make a lot of difference.
  • Make do with a single pack (if at all possible). Leading with a pack is so not my favorite thing to do, especially if the climbing is anywhere close to my limit. If you can't get by with just one bag, use small leader's pack and large second's pack.

The Alps

 Shot on 2009-10-09 Photo taken.Licensed under: Public Domain.

I just noticed there is a newish climbing-related film available in Blu-Ray: The Alps: Climb of Your Life . It was originally shot as Imax, so the feature length is substantially less than the is the case with typical films. Furthermore, it is more of a document than a feature film.

Just as one might expect from a HD transfer of a Imax film, quality of shooting as well as picture quality leave very little room for improvement.

In praise of Abalakov-thread

Now that the winters isn't too far far away, I decided to pay homage to Abalakov thread (aka V-thread), ingenius, yet extremely simple ice anchor. Knowing how to build one efficiently is a necessary skill for anyone planning on doing multipitch ice climbs.

It can be used to bail off a route without the need to leave expensive screws behind. However, it's greatest potential lies in a use as belay anchor. Whenever you can't descent by simply walking down, Abalakov thread is often a better way to rappel than to use trees. Of course, on alpine terrain trees are often not readily available either. But even if you had abundance of sturdy trees, using them usually involves criss-crossing across the fall to get from the tree to next. Meaning that you often can't use the full length off the rope. However, by far the biggest downside of using trees is rope's magical tendency to wrap around them and bushes, making a tedious, and often dangerous, process of retrieving a stuck rope a very real possibility. Using Abalakov's the risk of rope getting stuck is far diminished as you can follow a vegetation-free line.

Suit up!

About a year ago I finally decided to dig my pockets deep enough to dish out cash to purchase "Mountain Hardwear Transition Featherweight Zip T", lightweight, yet windproof shirt made of Gore-tex Windstopper Next2Skin (N2S). After using it in rock climbing and trail running, I can't rave enough about it. Why more manufacturers don't make apparel like this, is beyond me.

Windstopper N2S is typically far thinner than (most) softshell fabrics, thus it breathes better, packs smaller and is not too hot. In my book, you can't find a better clothing for summertime rock climbing in alpine surroundings or otherwise chillier days. Granted, these things don't come cheap, but they are worth every hard-earned cent.

Few year back I decided to replace my old and reliable bombproof Marmot Alpinist jacket with new hardshell. Finally I decided on Mountain Equipment Matrix, basically a Paclite shell with reinforcements of Gore-tex XCR. After experiencing its greatly enhanced breathability, reduced weight and bulk through simpler design, I doubt I'll ever go back to full-on armour-like shells. Granted, these things aren't as durable (which I experienced first hand by tearing mine with an ice axe pick during one less controlled slide during a walk-out). That being said, very few fabrics are particularly resistant against well-sharpened picks. Furthermore, light weight shells are also so much cheaper that I feel somewhat reduced longevity is justifiable for getting better function and added comfort.

Double dipping "Touching the Void"

Licensed under: Public Domain.

I went to shopping spree after founding out that a film based on Joe Simpson's classic Touching the Void is available on HD DVD as well. Clearly this was too good to pass, no matter that I already owned a copy on DVD.

Although mountain footage would benefit greatly of High Definiton quality, there is very little climbing-related stuff available on HD. That being said, there is BBC's documentary Planet Earth , one episode of which contains beautiful mountain scenery. That being said, Vertical Limit is available in Blu-Ray. In it's unrealism it is either a very funny comedy (however unintended that is) or failed attempt at action/thriller.

Articles up for grabs

There are several great articles by Andy Kirkpatrick available at his site PsychoVertical.com. It seems that book of the same name is in the works as well.

Andy collaborates with Climb Magazine, which currently offers host of articles for free divided in three sections:

To access those articles you have to registered though.

History