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My personal camera evolution that led to the Nikon P1000 Superzoom

Posted 9/16/2021

As far as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in photography.  My parents had all kinds of cameras.  Manual cameras, reflex and Instamatics.  While everyone took still pictures, back in the mid 70s they went one step further and purchased a Canon 514XL Super 8mm movie cameras that featured sound recording.  We even had the boom mic. option.  For the time, that was pretty cool.  There was nothing like it.  I loved reading the manual and playing with the settings.  At family functions, I became the official “filmer”. 

Around the same time I was given an old Kodak Brownie Holiday as a hand-me-down gift.  Made of brown Bakelite, it was indestructible.  I would load up the 127 film, snap pictures and waited patiently for the pictures to come back from processing.  Half the pictures were ready for the waste bin.
In grammar school I saw my first video camera close up as we shot a play with an early version helical video camera and recorder.  As I think back, that was a pretty progressive time and would be an important influence in my future career.
By the late 70’s as my friends bought the Instamatic or Pocket 110 cameras, I joined the camera club at school so I could develop my own pictures using the school’s Olympus 35mm camera.  That 35mm film camera was like nothing I’ve used before.  I learned about the Exposure Triangle: aperture, ISO and shutter speed.  I took and processed hundreds of blurry or improperly exposed pictures.  Little by little, each shot got progressively better.
In high school we were also given access to a shoulder mounted helical video camera and record combo.  We went around the city to shoot public utility buildings as part of a civics course.  This exposure further cemented my interest in video recording - but my roots were with still photography.
Little did I know that my interest in photography and its creative aspect would continue to guide my career path.  In high school I thought about being a professional photographer or broadcast cameraman but for college I chose instead to study electronics.  While in college, one of my courses was a broadcast maintenance overview.  An instructor noted that I seemed more interested in playing with the equipment than fixing them.  I changed schools and shifted my major to broadcasting.
After college graduation, I worked in radio for a few years.  While there I occasionally took part in a few “promotional shoots” using 35mm cameras.  I left radio and moved into television broadcasting.  In this environment I was exposed to a broader range of leading-edge professional equipment.  The equipment and technology at the time was out of the realm of the average consumer but that would change by the mid-80’s when consumer video cameras were out in full force.
At the time, consumers were presented with two distinctly different formats.  Would it be Beta or VHS?  While there’s no dispute that Beta was a far better format, VHS was at the top of the marketing heap and outsold Beta in every market.  Eventually the consumer Beta format was discontinued but lived on for another decade in the professional and broadcast environment.  
Not to be outdone, evolution progressed and Super VHS was introduced featuring higher luminance and resolution levels.  I quickly went out and spent a small fortune in a Panasonic SVHS camera system.  It was considered “portable” - the carrying case was suitcase size!
While the video market was emerging, the still camera market at the time was stagnating.  The big 35mm film cameras hadn’t changed much in the past decade.  Quantity supplanted quality.  Simple disposable 110 film cameras or Polaroid Instants were cheap and everywhere.  Disposal cameras were commonplace and convenient.
Since I was regularly exposed to some pretty high-end video equipment, getting a “Wow” factor reaction from me requires something quite special.  It happened in the mid-90s when our graphics department purchased a new Sony Mavica filmless “digital” camera.  This camera was quite expensive but could take digital pictures that you could instantly see on a computer screen.  Imagine that!  The storage medium was a standard 3.5-inch high capacity (1.4M) computer floppy disk. You could take the floppy right out of the camera and stick it into the nearest computer.  What a novelty!  With extra floppy disks, you could take a seemingly endless amount of pictures and simply delete the ones you no longer wanted.  You could get about a half dozen “high quality” shots and dozens of lower resolution shots. This was comparable to existing film cameras.  With the right printer, you could even print the pictures you wanted onto photographic quality paper.  This was incredible!  By today’s standards, the .3 Megapixel picture produced was VGA quality 640x480 at best.
It would be a few more years before digital cameras would be in the mainstream.  Eventually I pulled the trigger and bought my first digital camera.  It was a Kodak DC4800 that had 10 times the resolution of the Sony Mavica I’d seen years earlier.  The DC4800 was pretty “leading edge” at the time.
Here’s a review from DP Review in 2000 of the Kodak DC4800
Technical evolution in digital cameras resulted in the ability to shoot relatively high quality video.  Within a few years my Panasonic SVHS camera was obsolete and was retired for good.  I was still a believer that dedicated physical video formats would coexist with digital still cameras.  I was convinced that the new MiniDV format was hard to beat so I invested in a Panasonic widescreen 16x9 MinDV video recorder.  This was before HD cameras were readily available.  I was a big fan of Panasonic products.  Sadly, the MiniDV  format was soon replaced with similarly spec’d. video cameras that featured hard drive or memory card recording.

As digital cameras progressed further, I was excited to see that optical zoom lenses were now taking center stage.  I liked the computerized aspect of the “Point & Shoot” cameras.  I still had a soft spot for DSLRs but at the time, a good DSLR was out of my price range.  I stumbled upon a new series of P&S cameras that featured an unprecedented 20x optical zoom.  Over the course of a few years, my wife and I added five more point and shoots to our complement.  Our cell phones were evolving to the point they were rivaling our dedicated cameras.  Eventually we were leaving our digital cameras behind.  The MiniDV was left to gather dust.
We did invest in a DSLR.  We own a Nikon D5600 with an assortment of lenses and that camera is still charged up and ready to go.  While it takes great pictures, it’s a pretty mainstream camera.
A few years ago a colleague told me about a new camera from Nikon that was featured in a technology segment of a newscast.  The new Nikon P900 camera featured an unprecedented 83x optical zoom!  The videos shot with this camera could be found online.  They were outstanding.  I can safely say this was another point in my career where I was impressed.  Consider this;  I’ve seen gyro-stabilized news helicopters with with incredible zoom mounts but those camera configurations while impressive, are in the six figure range.  The 83x optical zoom was on an affordable consumer P&S!  
It was a very compelling product but I had plenty of digital cameras sitting around.  I was also playing around with astrophotography and trying various camera mounts to use on my telescope.  I was impressed with the pictures I could take with my cell phone so I focused on using a dedicated mount attached to my telescope’s viewfinder.  The results were impressive enough.  I was able to duplicate what I was seeing and save a digital copy.
While there was nothing like the Nikon P900 in its price point, I read that Canon had patented a 100x SuperZoom lens set up for a possible upcoming P&S release.  The camera was intended to take on the Nikon P900.  I followed the stories closely but the Canon product never materialized.  
Shortly thereafter, I read a press release that Nikon surpassed the 100x magnification level and would soon introduce a 3000mm P&S with a 125x optical zoom!  No way!  This camera would be the most affordable highest zoom rate of any camera on the market.  I was skeptical it would ever happen.
To my surprise, a few months later at a sky viewing website I followed, someone posted similar pictures that I took with my cell phone/telescope set up but they claimed they took them with a pre-release version of the P1000! 

Saturn.  Unprocessed.  Handheld with no tripodSaturn. Unprocessed. Handheld with no tripod
This was the third time I was astounded.  
When the camera finally came to market, it was selling out everywhere.  I guess others heard about this camera which explain why they were selling out.  Sadly it would be months before I could make one my own.  I think it was worth the wait.

With my hands on the camera I found that I too could closely replicate what I was seeing in my telescope.  While the telescope was relegated to night time use, the P1000 could be used anytime.  It features a “Moon” mode, “Bird” mode along with the typical manual, automatic and macro modes.  

Airliner at 41,000 feet.Airliner at 41,000 feet.
I won’t kid you.  This is a huge, bulky and heavy camera.  While it’s marketed as a P&S, it’s more of a bridge or hybrid camera.  The lens set up is unmatched.  The zoom is incredible.  I’ve taken clear pictures of objects miles away.  I captured clear pictures of Jupiter and Saturn.  
I recently made a video on the P1000 and posted it in my YouTube channel.
Even as technology improves, I would be surprised if anyone can surpass the optical zoom of the Nikon P1000.  
I look forward to being wrong.
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The truth about virtual credit cards...

Posted 12/21/2020

Tired of using you credit card for ”free access”?  There is a little known work around you need to know about.

Imagine this scenario, you have the chance to try out an online service at no charge for a preset trial period. The site promise a “money back guarantee” and they tell you they won’t charge your card if you cancel before the trial period ends, yet they charge your card anyway. Sound familiar? You go to cancel but find it hard to navigate the purposely complicated cancellation process. You simply wanted to “kick the tires” and had no intentions to sign on but now they have your credit card information.  Good luck cancelling or reaching their support group.

What if I told you there’s a way to get your free trial offer without ever providing any valid form of payment? I’ve used it continuously for years. You’re still puzzled and feel obligated to hand over your credit card information. Don’t do it.  
Don’t get me wrong, if you intend to subscribe, then do so. What I’m saying is that sites that offer “free” trial periods should be held accountable. If there’s a promise to never charge your card, why do they need it?
Sure, they hope you stay and sign on, or maybe you forget you did. Having your card on file can be “convenient” - for them!
Now the trial is nearing it’s end and you find your way through the cancellation maze only to find out they’ve already charged your credit card. Sound familiar?
Maybe you sign up for the trial period then forget you provided your credit card information and get surprised when you monthly transaction records and credit card bill show up. You get the idea. They have your credit card information and it’s up to you to manage it.
There’s a way around this whole process and it works particularly well for companies that have reputations for charging you prematurely.
In many cases given the option, you should pay with electronic transfer systems which are great because the vendor can’t withdraw any money or charge you again. I use this method for yearly subscriptions.
Don’t get me wrong, if you plan to stick with a provider and they have an excellent reputation, by all means, give them your credit card information.
So what am I proposing?  Years ago I stumbled on a method used by some of the most security conscious individuals. It’s free, completely legal and best of all, it works!
If the vendor won’t give you free trial access without a credit card, I’d wonder why.
If they really need a credit card number, give them a valid one but NOT YOURS.
What am I talking about? There are hundreds of valid credit card test numbers available online. These numbers are used to test the validity of e-commerce credit card system but are not actually valid to process or go through to any billing.
If the vendor applies a “hold” on the credit card, this method does not work. Then at least you know they’re the ones who already plan on charging you in advance.
In these cases, you can provide your valid credit card information then immediately go in and change the credit card number on file. They’ve already billed you once so your new number won’t get processed until the next billing cycle. You could get charged once but never again.
This works particularly well when you’re ready to leave. I’ve done this with numerous online membership sites. I inform them I want to cancel, right after the last billing cycle. By then my credit card information has already been changed to the test number.
There are companies out there selling this service as virtual credit cards. This is exactly the same thing except you don’t pay for the information you can readily get online for free.
It should be noted that some test numbers are designed to be rejected so be careful which ones you use.
You can finally beat the crooks at their own game. Instead of putting the onus on you to cancel, you now shift it to them. The’ll have no choice but to cancel you - just like you politely asked them to do.  
Remember you’ll need to follow their cancellation rules and inform them in a timely manner. Once you do that 99% of the vendors follow through correctly. I’ve been burned in the past so I’m extra diligent providing my credit information.
Naturally if you choose to stay on, you can’t use the test numbers and will need to provide a valid credit card number. Better yet, a different form of electronic payment.

Unboxing Husqvarna 525BX Commercial Blower

Posted 4/14/2020

After a dozen years, my trusty gas powered leaf blower ceased working.  The piston couldn’t hold any compression.  I started looking for a replacement but I didn’t want to settle for the typical big box units.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s something to be said about picking up a gas powered blower for under $100.  It could be argued that I could get a couple of years out of one then move on to something new.  

I Googled “top leaf blowers” or “best leaf blowers” and two brands always came out on top.  Stihl  and Husqvarna.  What surprised me was while they were old and established brands, their products were mostly manufactured in “PRC”.  PRC is short for the People’s Republic of China.

I found that the price differential between a consumer and commercial grade unit was about $50.  It was a no brainer to research commercial grade units.  They typically sport bigger and more robust power plants.  Better vibration suppression and enclosures.

 At major gardening and landscaping sites, everyone was raving about the Husky 525.  I soon figured out it was the industry slang for Husqvarna.  Husqvarna is a Swedish company that was founded in 1689.  That’s right, 1689!  They started making rifles then went on to make sewing machines and other manufactured good.

 The 525 or 525BX as it is formally known was a new and highly praised blower that everyone was raving about.  The discussions were centered not on the product itself, but how difficult it was to find at local distributors.

 More research confirmed that it was indeed the unit I wanted.  I live in Toronto which is the third largest metropolitan area in North America, so I didn‘t think it would be tough to find one.  I was wrong.  Most commercial vendors could get the unit but would only sell at the wholesale level to gardening or landscaping companies.  Even more of a reason to get one.

I was about to settle on a consumer Stihl when as a last ditch effort, I sent a note to Husqvarna‘s consumer group.  They promptly told me the name of a few local distributors who could help me out.  A local trailer hitch company not only was a licensed distributor, they had the 525BX in stock!  

I found the 525BX locally so now I had to have it.  

I must say it’s an amazing machine.   It‘s very quiet, has anti-vibration suppression and best of all, has considerable power and blowing speed.  It started on the first pull.  After a few years, I still think it’s an amazing blower.

I put together a couple of videos on the unboxing.  Check them out.



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Samsung “Not Optimum Mode” fix

Posted 4/10/2020
Eliminating the Samsung error that plagues many computers LCD displays "Not Optimum Mode Recommended resolution: 1280x1024 60Hz".
Does this sound familiar to you? Your "out of warranty" Samsung LCD computer monitor suddenly displays an error that seems to indicate a problem with your video card. If you're like me, you spend countless hours trying various options only to have the error continually re-appear.
I bought a Samsung display because they were well reviewed. The trouble is, those reviewers commented on NEW displays. If you could jump ahead a few years, you'd fine that there is a major error that plagues pretty well all the Samsung line up with little or no comment from Samsung themselves. There is mention that if this problem occurs to "in warranty" units, they would be repaired. My unit was about eight month out of warranty! 

If you're like me, you scour the Internet to see if this is a common problem. To your surprise you find out you're not alone! Almost all Samsungs manufactured with a certain chip are found to be defective.
I stumbled across some sites that recommend that you temporarily unplug the power and display connector. Sometimes that actually works for a while but in all likelihood, the problem will return.
The problem is that unexpectedly the computer display goes blank and is replaced by a message stating ""Not Optimum Mode Recommended resolution: 1280x1024 60Hz" that floats around the screen.
There are other sites that say your computer is running too hot and overheating the video card. WRONG!
There's no need to fret any longer. I was able to find an easy fix that only requires ONE simple resistor, a soldering iron and a little bit of your time. You simply repair the circuit by adding your own 50ohm resistor across two pins.

The problem is internal to the Samsung display and relates specifically to an onboard NOVATEK integrated processing chip. There is a 50 ohm resistive circuit that has a tendancy to fail within the IC itself.
You can use any readily available 47-51 ohm resistor found in many hobby shops. If you're fortunate to live near a Ham Radio parts supplier, 50 ohm resistors should be easy to get.
If you're inclined, two 100 ohm resistors in parallel (next to each other) work well too. You can use either a standard 1/4 watt resistor or if you have a spare surface-mount (SMD) that will work just as well. I found I had a 51 ohm 1/4 watt resistor on hand rated at 5% (gold band) tolerance. It worked just fine. 

Carefully and without overheating the pins, simply solder the resistor across PIN 5 and PIN 6. It's that easy.

Check your work and ensure that you haven't inadvertently shorted out the pins. Re-assemble the display and you're done.
Congratulations, your monitor is fixed.
You’re welcome.

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