Saturday, June 30, 2012

Beauty is where you find it

I'm in Wyoming at the moment for reasons that have nothing to do with kayaking. But I brought my sea kayak along because I knew I was going to need to get out and do a little paddling while I'm here. Paddling always helps one keeps one's sanity. I didn't know what I was going to find for water, but knew that it would be easier to get out alone in my sea kayak than to find folks to paddle whitewater with. And most places have flat water around, while good whitewater can be far afield.

Entrance to Fremont Canyon
So in looking for water I found some info on Fremont Canyon here in southern Wyoming. It was a whitewater report that said the canyon had some great paddling but was normally low. Very low. Didn't sound like something for my situation. But then I ran into a rock climber who said the canyon was the best climbing around. And below the power plant in the canyon it was all flat. So I took a closer look and discovered that the Alcova reservoir is at the mouth of the canyon. And you can basically paddle up half way on flat water when the incoming water is low (like it is now).

So I got out for a little paddling. In one of the most beautiful canyons you could ever ask to paddle up. Shades of Lake Powell. So enjoy the photos and go out and find your own beauty.

End of the Flat Water Paddling
Middle of the Canyon
Rock Formations near Shore

Looking out at the Alcova Reservoir

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sony Nex-5N Camera

This is just going to be a camera review - no kayaking - so if that doesn't interest you, just scan through the pretty pictures below and call it a day.

As I said a little bit ago, I just got a new Sony Nex-5N camera and I've been playing around with it. I'm no professional, and this is my first professional grade camera, but I'm starting to get some good results. There are several advanced features on this thing that can create some interesting images, especially for kayak type scenes.

The Nex cameras are mirrorless. If you don't know what this means it doesn't really matter. Just know that it means the camera is small. The body for the camera is about the same size as my waterproof Panasonic Lumix TS3. It's not your typical bulky DSLR, but the image sensor inside is the APS-C which is exactly what most bse DSLR's use (it's 16.1 Mps). You get the performance and features of the large camera in a much smaller (and cheaper) package. I can fit the camera in my small Peli case which fits easily into my whitewater kayak or in my lap when sea kayaking. It's the same set up I've been using for years with my non-waterproof Lumix FZ28.

The Nex also uses interchangeable lenses. Sony makes lenses specifically for these cameras but you can also get adapters to use all the fancy glass you want. Right now I've got the basic kit lenses: 18-55mm and 55-210mm. They're decent but I'm sure there are much better options out there (for more money). They are also fairly compact - I can fit both in the Peli case with my camera, so my whole rig is with me wherever I go.
Aside from the ability to fully control the camera functions (most point and shoot cameras control things for you, shooting in auto mode), there are a couple of nice extras that really come into play when kayaking. The first is the continuous shooting speed. You can shoot up to 10 frames a second. This allows you to really capture action and sequences. Sequences are cool because it shows what is actually happening in a way that video does not. By freezing the frames we see exactly where that boof stroke was placed, and just how much under what the boat goes when it hits a hole. It also allows us to get lucky with an image - something that happens so quick that you would never get it if you were trying to react. And with the high quality images you can shoot wide and crop down for great detail.

Another feature I'm just starting to get the hang of is the High Dynamic Range function. This allows the camera to take the same picture with three different exposures and combines them. This is great when you have shadows (like in a canyon) and bright areas (like whitewater) and are trying to get detail with all of it. It doesn't work with moving subjects but is great for scenery.

And, so far, my favorite feature is another automatic trick that replaces tedious photoshop work: auto panorama. This allows you to just sweep the camera while it takes a series of photos and stitches them together into a super wide panorama shot. Again, it doesn't work well with action shots, but it does create some interesting perspectives on rapids. Getting it to shoot vertically is a little trickier, but helps for the steep drops.

And, of course, what modern camera would be complete without the ability to shoot full HD video. I'm still getting used to the fact that the video uses the camera settings. Most point and shoot cameras default to auto mode when you shoot video - it takes care of shutter speed and aperture for you. You can do the same with the Nes, but you can also control those settings just like you would for taking pictures. I haven't played around with this yet but it definitely gives you more control - which is good once you learn what you're doing.

I'm looking forward to learning more about this new camera and I'm excited to be able to get some high quality images. While it is true that a good photographer can frame a great shot with any camera, the real truth is that it's much easier with quality gear.If you want to check out more of my photos, from the new stuff with my Nex-5N to earlier stuff with cheap, waterproof cameras, check out my Picasa Page.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Is this Heaven? No, it's the Forks of the Kern

What makes a perfect kayak trip? Well, it's a lot of things. It's the paddling, the location, the weather, the people, the food, the stories, the adventure, the difficulties, the laughter, the uncertainty, the water, the sky, and more. But ultimately it's just the joy. The pure and simple of joy of the thing. The Kern is where I learned to boat the rivers. The Forks of the Kern is the best of the river. Doing an overnighter, spending a holiday weekend with old friends and new, celebrating my buddy Matt's birthday - that's what makes the perfect kayak trip.

I don't feel I have a lot more to say about the trip. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves (having a new camera that kicks ass is the cherry on top).
The two mile hike in makes a nice stroll.
The scenery starts beautiful and just gets better.
Lower Freeman's hole was forgiving at our low level.
We did a short first day, starting paddling around 4pm and finding this awesome camp site by 6pm. we had a great view of the Needles in the sunlight and a sandy beach to sleep on. Everyone had brought some goodies to share: we started with some wine and cheese, added some wasabi seaweed and colored licorice strings. Dinners ranged from fresh made pepperoni pizza to red pepper and cheese quesadillas. A nice fire and some good whiskey and no one minded the unseasonably cool weather. We woke up for a leisurely morning to start day two and cruised down before hitting the bigger rapids.

Vortex is the first of the big three and a variety of lines all led to eventual success.
We even had time for a short side hike up to Peppermint Creek.

Westwall was pretty easy at this level, but still a lot of fun.

Carson Falls is the last big one and everyone took the same line - some just made it a little more exciting.

 After we finished it up, Matt and I had to hit the road back north for work the next day. Our good friends let us rock star without running shuttle and we took advantage by driving up through the Sierras to get a view of the next drainage north: the Tule. An impressively steep river with some great creeking options. Another reminder that, while NorCal has more boaters and feels like the hub of paddling in the state, SoCal has the goods as well. And the boaters down there are gracious hosts. Can't wait to return the favor.

The video may be coming - depends on whether or not my editing software decides to stop crashing. In the meantime, here's a link to the full photo gallery.

UPDATE: video is here, though quality has suffered a little in the complicated rendering process I had to go through to make it work: