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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

It’s a coincidence, of course: just days after I publish my story about the Panasonic cameras, the company announces a new version of their Lumix LX100. The “LX100 II”, as it is called, certainly comes with fine credentials and a promising lens: a 24-75mm equivalent F1.7-2.8 lens. DPReview already has a “first impressions review” about this new model.

The biggest mirrorless announcement came from Nikon, of course, and I’m certain the brand-new Z6 and Z7 camera’s will be great. But speaking for myself: those are not the camera’s I was (am) looking for. They’re way too expensive for me, to start with. The lens line-up is fine for pro photographers to start with, but not for me. Besides, those lenses are still rather bulky – as they have to be, considering the size of the full-frame sensor.

The Nikon announcement does make it clear that “mirrorless” is most likely the way of the future. Not that I needed any confirmation, but it seems to prove that I made the right choice when switching to MFT.

Did you also note that the DPReview TV video titled “Nikon Z7 hands-on first impressions” was recorded on a Panasonic GH5 ? That’s not a coincidence!

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According to DPReview, the Micro Four Thirds format was introduced 10 years ago. DPReview calls it the start of a revolution, because it enabled Panasonic and Olympus to offer serious, even professional, system cameras without a mirror-based viewfinder, thus entering a market previously reserved for Nikon and Canon.

In 2008 I was already committed to the Nikon SLR format. I had been using an F50 film camera for more than a decade, and I had just replaced my D70 of 2006 with a second-hand D80. So I did not really care about the MFT announcement, what I wanted was an affordable full-frame Nikon DSLR (still waiting, by the way).

When my Fujifilm X20 started to show its age a year ago, I started looking around for a possible replacement. I went looking for an affordable small camera with a decent viewfinder, a usable zoom lens, a hot shoe and serious controls. After a lot of searching an pondering I decided that the Panasonic DMC-LX100 could be what I was looking for. But it was still a bit too expensive for me at that time: I looking for a second all-in-one camera, not for a replacement of the Nikon D5600 I considered to be my main workhorse ;-) Some of the MFT cameras that were presented to the public the past 10 years did catch my attention, but the really interesting ones are system cameras, and they would have “forced” me to build up a second collection of lenses – and I did not want to do that, for financial reasons as well as lack of space in my photo cabinet.

At the beginning of this year, just by accident, I found out that the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX80 with its standard 12-32 zoom was offered for (substantially) less money than the LX100.  So I bought the GX80… and that was the start of an unexpected experience.

You see, the GX80 showed me that the MFT platform has matured so much that the image quality rivals that of APS-C, at least for my purposes. No, the viewfinder is not as large as the viewfinder of a Nikon DSLR like the D7500, but it will do for me. In fact, I prefer it because the electronic display is capable of displaying the complete menu system of the camera, meaning that I don’t have to get my reading glasses to change a setting during a shoot! At the same time, the GX80 and its lenses are so much smaller and lighter than the corresponding Nikon material – I admit to having bought a cheap 45-150mm telezoom for the GX80, contrary to my plans for this camera . And the results, in terms of image quality, are good enough for me even now (and I know I still have to learn more about them in order to use their full capabilities).

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G80
with the excellent 12-60mm zoom lens

To cut a long story short: I am replacing my Nikon material with Panasonic cameras and lenses. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G80 body weighs a bit more than the D5600, but the lenses are much smaller and lighter – and the whole system is weatherproof as well. The ergonomics of the camera are great as well: you need the manual to come to grips with the many capabilities and options of the camera, not with its use. I have added the Panasonic G Vario 12-60 lens to my collection. That means I now have a camera and lens that can do almost everything I want to do while on holiday without having to change lenses, while weighing less than 800g.

I know that an expert or professional full-frame DSLR with premium lenses will deliver better images, even if it’s just me using it. But these products are way too expensive for me, and I don’t want to haul them around a whole day while I’m supposed to enjoy my surroundings – so I have put the dream of owning those to rest.

Having a smaller range-finder-like camera like the GX80 or the GX9, that can use the same lens collection, is another plus. In fact, in combination with the standard 12-32mm lens these cameras are not that much bigger than the Fuji X20, just heavier – they still fit in the supple Nikon camera case I bought a long, long time ago for an L35AW. I don’t see Nikon (or Canon) offer me the same capabilities in the same small package. Unless Nikon or Canon are ready to embrace the MFT platform as well – that would be interesting, don’t you think?

For another view on the MFT platform and its place in recent camera history, check out the DPReview video:

 

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I was under the impression that I had already blogged about Theo Jansen’s ‘Strandbeesten’, but a search did not turn up any posts on this blog. To redress that inadvertence, here’s a link to the official website of these artificial beasts. Theo has been working on these animals since almost thirty years, and there are already quite a few videos and photos to be found on the internet. It’s good to see that people – be they artists or engineers or whatever – still think about the absolute simplest way of getting things to work, especially in these times of electronic devices.

Thanks for reminding me, BoingBoing!

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Our solar panels don’t measure the temperature, but they tell me that July certainly was a sunny month. They produced a bit more than 344 KWh of electricity, and that is the second best number in the history of our installation. Only in 2010 did we produce more than that, but 2010 was a very sunny year overall at this location.

Concerning the temperatures here in Belgium: the Royal Meteorological Institute calls the temperatures (and the number of hours of sunshine) for July “very exceptional” (sorry, the page with those data is not available in English). We’re beginning to get used to those 30+ degrees (Celcius) – that’s going to be a problem when things return to normal!

If you care about the impact of the ambient temperature on the efficiency of photovoltaic systems, have a look at this short article: “How Does Heat Affect Solar Panel Efficiencies?” It’s probably not a coincidence that that our panels did indeed better today (August 5) than two days ago: there was more wind today (good for ventilating and cooling our panels) and it was a few degrees less warm. I do not know the exact specs of our panels (the official documentation at Solyndra’s website is of course no longer available), but the SolarDesignTool website suggests a temperature coefficient of about 0.38%. That means that three degrees less increase the efficiency of the panels by about 1%, and that seems to correspond with our numbers for August 3 and 5 – at least if you take into account that I did not measure the exact temperature on our roof, but used guesstimation as my tool ;-)

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Interesting news for everyone concerned about the world’s energy future:

Universities in the United States, Germany and elsewhere are testing the concept of “dual use farming,” as some advocates call it, where crops grow below canopies of solar panels. They are finding they grow just fine — and, in some cases, better than crops in full sun.

The article “How land under solar panels can contribute to food security” on the Ensia website details a few of the studies. One study explains how bees in Minnesota benefit from the state regulation that promotes pollinator-friendly environments, even under solar panels. Another study shows that the decrease in agricultural productivity is largely compensated by the electricity produced by the panels. Of course, putting the panels on a high structure increases the cost of such installations substantially, and no large scale experiments have yet been started to confirm the current results.

The Fraunhofer Institute’s agriphotovoltaics research facility in Germany features solar panels tall enough for farm machinery to operate beneath. Photo courtesy of Fraunhofer ISE

Perhaps we need to replace those metal frames with some sort of photovoltaic trees, in order the realise a real “agrivoltaic” future? Current “solar trees” are designed for an urban environment; surely a country variant could be constructed as well?

Anyway, transforming the energy landscape of the world is increasingly urgent. According to the MIT Technology Review, “At this rate, it’s going to take nearly 400 years to transform the energy system“…

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The Science website has an extensive article on the life and writings of an academic of Czech descent: “Meet Vaclav Smil, the man who has quietly shaped how the world thinks about energy“.
I guess I’ll have to read at least a single book of Vaclav Smil – perhaps Bill Gates can suggest a good title to start with?

Now, Smil says, the world faces its fourth energy transition: a move to energy sources that do not emit carbon dioxide, and a return to relying on the sun’s current energy flows, instead of those trapped millions of years ago in deposits of coal, oil, and natural gas.

The fourth transition is unlike the first three, however…

You should at least read the article, if only to get confirmation that there is no simple solution to the world’s energy problems of today (and the near future)…

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If you like light shows, you may want to have a look at this record-breaking show of drones in China: “EHang Egret’s 1374 drones dancing over the City Wall of Xi’an, achieving the Guinness World Records“.

(Click on the picture to watch the video on YouTube)

This is probably just the beginning of what will be possible with drones in the near future.

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