All posts tagged review

Unfortunately the GM5 has been discontinued, but they are still around… I consider three levels of camera grades: Consumer, photographer and professional. The Lumix GM5 is a consumer grade camera. I just want to make this clear beforehand. After losing my Fuji X100S and Olympus OM-D E-M5 to a boating mishap I needed to buy something quickly, discreet and cheap but good enough for street photography. The new Olympus Pen-F would have been my choice, or an APS-C sensor camera, but you don’t get much for around $600.

Panasonic Lumix GM5

Panasonic Lumix GM5

The GM5 is small, very small. It means everything on it is small as well, including the viewfinder. Its size is an advantage in street and candid photography. Nobody is going to take you seriously with something that small (that’s what she says!). The mechanical shutter up to 1/500 is very quiet, and the electronic shutter beyond is silent. So as far as being discreet, the GM5 is awesome. The battery is small as well, so do not expect to take hundreds of photos without a spare. Since I rarely take more than a dozen per outing I couldn’t care less.

Quality wise, I am still on the fence, mostly because of the 12-32 kit lens, which isn’t much better than the bottom of a coke bottle. Well, I may be a bit harsh, but at f8 and darker the lens looses a lot of sharpness. Combine that with high ISO and you get unusable images. I set the aperture to 5.6 and leave it there with auto ISO in aperture priority mode. Kit zooms suck, and this one is no exception. With good light and the correct aperture though, you can get nice images.

A couple quirks with the body have left me wondering if I am missing some settings in the menus. The first is the impossibility to take a flash photo with a software filter set. I don’t seem to be able to make make the flash fire while in Dynamic B&W mode. The camera needs to be in no-filter mode for the flash to work. Correct me if I’m wrong.. The worst thing however is not being able to lock the exposure with the focus when the shutter button is slightly depressed. I have never seen a camera not able to do so. Again, I wonder if there is some hidden function or trick to do it. Someone help!

I plan on buying the Panasonic Leica Summilux 15mm f1.7. It should be head and shoulders above the 12-32 kit lens. Only then will I be able to decide if the Micro-4/3 sensor size is good enough for my type of photography. Should you get a GM5? If you need something small that you can carry in a vest pocket, then yes. The ability to change lenses and the viewfinder are good arguments in favor as well. Just do not expect high quality images with the kit lens. My review of the GM5 with the Leica lens will come later.

I like simple things, mechanical devices, elegant designs. So when it came time to buy a new watch, I wanted an automatic. No battery, no need to rewind it, nothing. Well, you have to wear it every day, otherwise it stops of course, but I have only one watch so that isn’t a problem. If I had the money, I would have bought an Omega. Rolexes are too gaudy for me, or rather, many people who wear them have given the brand a bad name, IMHO. Actually, if I was really rich I would have bought an obscure (to the non initiated) brand of high quality. It is hard tough to justify spending a few thousand dollars on a watch. So what’s left? There aren’t many brands that make watches still considered luxury items for less than a thousand dollars. Some might even look at them as sub-par. Tissot does however make a fine product, I certainly love mine. I bought the Seastar in April of 2014, more than a year ago, so it is time for a review.

Tissot Seastar 1000

Tissot Seastar 1000

Buying an automatic watch is somewhat of a statement, as well as the expression of appreciation for things well built. For me it isn’t a statement of wealth. After all, I bought one of the cheapest automatics on the market. It is a statement of taste.

I didn’t want the chronograph because of the added complexity and size. Add more gears and sooner than later something will go wrong. I won’t rehash the details of the mechanism or other characteristics here, many sites have done so already. I bought the watch online from Jomashop. It came quickly and was cheaper than anywhere else. I understand the warranty issues, but they have their own, and I was buying a new watch after all.

What a beauty! The size is perfect, not too wide or thick. There was no defects of any kind, no misalignments. I wound the watch and put it on immediately. It rarely leaves my wrist except at night. The watch keeps going throughout the night, and a few hours longer if i forget to put in on. I was worried at first, but you don’t have to shake your arm all day to keep it ticking. Just forget about it and go about your day.

The Tissot is pretty accurate it turns out. It was about seven seconds fast per day at the beginning, but I think is is closer now. I only reset the time about once a month, which is excellent in my book. it takes a couple minutes and really isn’t an issue. Who needs ultra precision anyway? I’m not an astronaut. Actually the watch being a few minutes fast per month kept me on time. It would have been more of an issue if it had been late, but again, I think it is pretty spot on now that it is broken in.

The saphire face is very scratch resistant. Actually, I can’t believe it doesn’t have any scratches after more than a year, and I don’t baby it. I’ve banged it many times on hard surfaces, which would have mared any of my previous watches.

I can’t comment on waterproofing yet, but I will be sailing soon and spear fishing a lot, so stay tuned.

My Tissot has become one of those items that you wouldn’t let go for anything.. Even if I was broke and hungry on the street, I don’t think I’d sell it. It joined the ranks of my favorite pocket knife, flashlight, and a handful of other items having reached that special status. For the price I don’t think you can find any better. It shows good taste and that you don’t have more money than brains. It is waterproof, EMP-proof, and if society collapses and batteries are unavailable, you’ll still know what time it is! Seriously though, and I have no association with Tissot, but the Seastar is a keeper.

I wanted a small CB radio with Single Side Band (SSB) that could be used for emergencies. The Galaxy DX 979 seemed to fit the bill. At a mere $140, there wasn’t much of a risk. I knew I was getting a cheap radio and did not have high expectations, only a few requirements: Small size, SSB, and perfectly legal. That means forty channels, AM, USB, LSB modes, with 4W max on AM and 12W on SSB (PEP). Not much, but you would be surprised (I was tonight) at how far you can reach with just a few watts, as much power as a small bicycle light bulb!

Most people know the Citizen Band through movies like “Smokey and The Bandit,” “Convoy” and others, mostly involving truckers. That is just one side of the coin. The other side are the operators trying to cover the greatest distance possible, and activity called “DX.”
CB has a good thing going for itself right now, that is the peak of solar cycle 24. Propagation is going to be very good for probably another couple years. Radio waves in the 11m (27Mhz) band do bounce off the ionosphere when conditions are right. SSB being excellent at receiving weak signals, you have a very good chance to skip pretty far.

The Galaxy is cheaply made (compared to a Yaesu HAM radio of similar price). The buttons on the front panel are “chromed” plastic and look cheesy. The whole radio looks and feels cheap. I even had a very hard time putting in the mounting bracket screws. I had to tighten them with a pair of pliers and was lucky not to strip any thread. Looking inside the box gave me the same feeling. I like the big meter and the fact that you can dim the blue LEDs.

I connected the transceiver to my Solarcon Max2000, a 24ft. antenna mounted about 15ft off the ground, surrounded by trees, and an Astron power supply. Good thinking from Galaxy for putting the microphone plug on the front panel by the way, which I plugged in, then turned the volume knob to ON. It worked! I shouldn’t be so negative, since I suspect that most CB radio manufacturers produce the same lever of “quality.” I tuned to 38LSB and listened, playing with the clarifier whenever I heard someone calling DX.

[tip]The clarifier is the knob that turns the “Donald Duck” voices you hear on SSB into something you can understand.[/tip]

If you are a safe cracker by trade, you won’t have any trouble with the clarifier on the 979. It takes that kind of finger dexterity to operate the darn thing. Before you have a caller “clarified,” he is usually done talking.. Aggravating.. The range on the clarifier is too broad. My old President Jackson has a much better clarifier, but of course, that radio has acquired a quasi legendary status in the CB world. With a little practice, you get better at it, but geez!

Compared to HAM transceivers, CBs are noisy… I plan on replacing a few diodes with Schottky Barrier Diodes, and replace an RF amp transistor with a 2sc2999, High Gain, Low Noise model. The procedure is described here; part are on the way (about $1.60!).

Update (May 27th): I made the modification tonight, replace Q17 with a 2sc2999, and Dl, D2, D30, D31 with 1N6263 Schottky Barrier Diodes. The radio does sound a bit quieter. For ten minutes and less than $2, I’d say it was worth it…

I remembered that I should check the SWR before transmitting, which was a perfect opportunity to test the inboard SWR meter. I also plugged in a Workman el-cheapo meter on the antenna output. They did not agree with each other! The Galaxy SWR meter barely moved while the workman showed 1:1.8! I tuned the antenna and got down to 1.6 (probably all those trees..). Oh well. Just keep an eye on the SWR warning LED.. It works (I had a short in one plug); the SWR meter also jumped up. It might not be the most sensitive SWR meter, but it will let you know when you risk frying your final transistors.

It was getting late and the band was dying down when I heard “476” calling. He did not say where he was from, but I could hear him very well, good audio and a signal of 7. I expected him to be within fifty miles of me. I asked him about his location and he said “Jamaica!” I had a low signal but good audio (mike gain turned all the way up). Not bad for a $140 piece of gear. The antenna is everything, mind you, and the IMax2000 did it’s part. The Galaxy… I hadn’t wasted my money..

The Galaxy DX 979 won’t win manufacturing quality contests. It does however work well. For the price, you can buy two and box one up in an ammo can for EMP protection. It is a small price for never being entirely cut off from the rest of the world.

The Tori Tanto is a Chinese made replica of a Japanese tanto knife. Mine arrived today, and I have to say, I am impressed. It is one of the first 50 that were made with T10 steel instead of the Swedish powdered steel Hanwei uses. They were recalled, but this one got away.

My first impression was “this is a big knife!” The blade is 11”1/4. Overall length is almost 17”. I had to grab some junk mail on the kitchen counter and cut it.. Wickedly sharp is an understatement. The blade goes through paper almost like it wasn’t there. The mount is solid, with a very nice ray skin tsuka. That grip won’t slip, that’s for sure. My blade is not folded, like the new ones. The hamon is very prominent and looks artificially enhanced, something I wish Hanwei would stop doing.

Cutting palm fronds was very easy, as you’ll see in the video. The Tori Tanto cuts even better than my Cheness Kaze Ko Katana. I did not want to try it on bamboo. It would be a shame to scratch that blade. I know what the result would be anyway, given how sharp it is.

The tanto must have been a formidable weapon in it’s time. They were worn by Samurai inside as a backup, when wearing a sword was impractical. A skilled swordsman could probably chop a wrist clean off with one of those. It is still as formidable today as it was then, as far as self-defense goes. My interest in knives has always been about how such a simple tool can take so many forms, as well as metallurgical and historical factors. The Tori is a lot of knife for the money. Priced at around $300 new, I believe it would still sell at twice that amount. So, when I found mine at $230, I couldn’t let it go.

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
[warning]A carbon steel blade such as the Tori Tanto must be cleaned and oiled after each use and you should never touch the blade with your fingers after that operation, otherwise, it will rust.[/warning]

Like I say in the video, if you are hesitating about buying one, don’t. I have no affiliation with Hanwei, but I recognize quality when I see it. Other than the enhanced hamon (hardness line), the Tori Tanto is close to perfection.