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Doodlecat's Homepage

Picture of Doodle - a 
black cat

Welcome to Doodlecat, where we enjoy the pleasures of life (with a slight bias towards the outdoors). This page is regularly updated with news and views plus information about any additions or changes to the various parts of the site. It acts as Doodlecat’s Blog too, so the odd rant considered opinion may pop up from time to time.

I would love to be able to say that Doodlecat is all my own work, but it isn’t. Much of the outdoors content is courtesy of the splendid people who participate in the annual TGO Challenge (there is a section entirely devoted to this unique event) and many others.

To help in tracking down that elusive morsel on Doodlecat, the search facility under the title bar above is tailored to help you find it, either on this home page (Doodlecat's Blog) all the rest of the site (Main Site) or – if all else fails - the internet!

So have a rummage around the old cat basket and enjoy your time with us!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Outdoor Stereotypes No. 2

The Traditionalist

cartoon of traditionalist character

Eric Trucklethwaite is a believer in tradition. Unmoved by modern affectations, he holds true to the principles of hillwalking instilled by his scoutmaster in 1953. Eric’s two concessions to modernity are the adoption of a fleece to replace his old sweater and a bulletproof three layer Gortex coat bought as present by his daughter in 1995. His knee breeches are relics from the sixties, as is his Tattersall check shirt and his solid, much re-soled tricouni nailed boots. Seated on ‘his’ stool in the Yorkshire village inn, he imparts his knowledge of the hills to anyone who cares to listen … and indeed some that don’t.

The tweed hat on his head is studded with badges attesting to his conquest of, or at least visit to, all the high points of the world. A tireless fund raiser for the local MRT and founder of “The Striders” walking club, Eric believes passionately in helping folk enjoy the local countryside, and for years his advice has been keenly sought and freely given.

But lately a shadow has been cast over Eric’s world. More and more the public bar is filled with young men and women whose talk is of tarps instead of tents, running shoes in place of boots, “going fast and light” as they put it. Eric is dismayed by their casual casting aside of traditional wisdom. The current fad for lightweight gear is anathema to all that he regards as sacrosanct. He knows, and advises them over every drink that he is bought, that there is only grief to be had from such folly.

Much vexed by youths bounding past him clad only in shorts and vest as he toils slowly up the hill, Eric derives grim satisfaction from reports in the Daily Mail of younger walkers coming to grief or suffering from exposure. “And all he had were a nylon cagoule and a pair of trainers - these people shouldn’t be allowed out!” exclaims Eric, before cataloguing the solid armoury of his own outdoor wardrobe.

As for electronic aids, Eric scoffs at them all, and recounts more anecdotes to illustrate the idiocy of those that use them. “Lost - because they hadn’t got a map and the phone battery had run out,” he barks, stabbing a finger at the newspaper. “The idiots were probably relying on Google Maps - or their satnav – what complete rubbish!” Such stories, true or not, reinforce his belief that the GPS receiver is the work of Beelzebub, and all those that carry them are witless nincompoops. “Solid map and compass work, that’s all you need.”

But sadly Eric’s skills are not what they once were. He is blissfully unaware that his wife, Eunice, has secretly purchased a GPS receiver.  Fed up with Eric’s ten mile rambles degenerating into twenty mile slogs over tussock and bog (entirely the fault of those twelve year old cartographers at the OS decimalising everything) Eunice gently and discreetly corrects Eric’s more catastrophic errors with gentle observations such as, “Oh, look Eric – isn’t that Schiehallion over there” and “Could that possibly be Loch Lyon?”

As Eric is fond of telling the youngsters in the pub, the traditional skills of his youth still stand him in good stead. “We’ve been out all day in mist and fog and the navigation was spot on, absolutely spot on, eh Eunice?  You lads wouldn’t know where to turn if your gadgets went on the blink, would you eh? And what if the Yanks turned off the signal, where would you be then?”

Eunice nods assent, smiles and quietly sips her half of Snecklifter.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pentax Optio WG1-GPS Camera - a review.

After taking very few photos to record the more “exciting” parts of this year’s TGO Challenge owing to the wet and windy conditions, I was intrigued to be offered the chance to test and review an “adventure proof” compact camera from Pentax – the Optio WG-1 GPS.

The key features for the dedicated outdoors man or woman are found in the hardened design that makes it able to withstand conditions that would wreck a standard camera. It is waterproof to a depth of 10 metres, coldproof to -10°C, and shockproof when dropped from heights of up to 1.5m. It's also crushproof to 100kg, so no worries about sitting on it or it being at the bottom of that pile of rucksacks.
picture of Pentax WG1 camera

It certainly looks tough with a chunky rubber and metal outer shell. Once you get past that outer armour, you will find a fairly standard compact, with a 14 megapixel sensor and 5x zoom lens (the 35mm equivalent of 28 to 140mm). This limited range is, I suppose, the price paid for keeping the lens inside the waterproof case, but a digital zoom extends the range to almost 1000mm, although at that range the ISO is pushed to 1600 to reduce shake and noise starts to become quite evident.

underwater picture of pond snails
Taken under water! - water snails in our pond
The camera has a 2.7-inch LCD monitor, 720p HD video, digital shake reduction, face detection, smile capture (I haven’t a clue how that works) and various other software driven features that I haven’t explored. For those who like to take close ups of the odd wee beastie or tiny flowers, a digital microscope feature that includes 5 LED lights arrayed around the lens to assist with lighting extreme close ups. So close can you go that there is a little 10mm high stand included to help with extreme close ups - and yes, you can still zoom in. Whether this has much use outdoors, I can't say.

If taking a group photo those same LEDs light up to show the number of people in shot (I think a lot of features are there “because we can” rather than “because its useful”). Included with the kit are USB and AV cables, a rechargeable Li-Ion battery and charger, neck/wrist strap and a carabiner with a thick webbing strap for clipping to a rucksack, harness, lifejacket or snorkel. Oh, and for the gramme conscious, it weighs around 150gms.
picture of sunflower
Sunflower in garden

So, it’s tough, you can drop it, crush it, freeze it and dunk it in 33ft of water – but how is it at taking pictures?

Controls

Controls are simple and all on the camera back, except for the shutter release and power button which are in the usual place on the top of the body.

I found that the auto mode, which is the default mode, worked really well in selecting the best mode and settings in most conditions – even selecting macro for extreme close ups and switching on those LEDs. After playing with other settings, I was content to let the camera do the thinking for most shots, but for the record there are specific modes for under water, sport, pets, kids, microscope, fireworks, candlelight, food (I know a few people who do actually photograph food!) portrait and so on – I won’t bore you with the rest.

For the more advanced among us, there is a programmable green button. Pressing this button makes the camera default to the pre-selected settings, overriding  any automatic or previously selected setting.

The WG-1's 2.7-inch LCD screen is adjustable for 7 levels of brightness. I found the brightness and contrast rather low for an outdoor camera and sometimes difficult to use in bright conditions.

The pictures

The lens is pretty good for a compact especially with restricted space for movement behind the fixed waterproof cover. There is little distortion, even at full zoom and overall the pictures are sharp, any softness only becoming evident at the edges. Colour reproduction is good, and selecting the correct mode subtly enhances landscapes and portraits, flattering the photographer’s abilities.

mason bees nests close up
Close-up of Mason Bees' handiwork in bamboo bee house

The pictures below were deliberately taken on a humid, slightly murky day to see how the lens and sensor coped with zooming in low contrast conditions. They were hand held to represent how the camera would usually be used.

full zoom picture
33.3 x digital zoom

picture with no zoom
No zoom
five times optical zoom picture
5 x zoom


As can be seen, the equivalent of a 1000mm lens with full digital zoom in low light stretches the camera's capabilities and the image is quite noisy. However for a hand held shot at that distance, not too bad. However, with 14 megapixels on the sensor, cropping might be the way to go for best results.

Trial videos were crisp, bright and the sound passable.

Geotagging

This camera, the WG-1 GPS has the additional feature of being able to record the position of every shot via a built in GPS receiver. Unfortunately this cannot be programmed to record in any grid other than Lat Long, so is a bit disappointing for us Brits wanting OS grid references. Although you could use a phone app or online website to convert to Ordance Survey GRs, I certainly wouldn’t want the faff so for me the WG1 (without the gps) would be fine. On the other hand, it doesn't cost much so ...

Conclusions

Robustness is the WG-1's key feature. The camera also produces very acceptable images, not the absolute best in class, maybe, but given that it’s “raison d’etre” is to be able to carry on taking pictures when other cameras are carefully stowed out of harms way it’s more than good enough. In fact it equals most compacts in image quality, and is better than average all round.

Battery life of the WG-1 is rated for about 260 still shots or 120 minutes of video capture. Obviously with prolonged use of the monitor or flash this will drop considerably, so for long (i.e over a week) trips away from civilisation, I would invest in a spare battery.

It’s not the only ‘outdoors-proof’ compact on the market, but I reckon that the Pentax WG-1 is worth considering for walkers, climbers, canoeists or snorkelling - or for anyone as clumsy as me with cameras (I did drop it, and it still worked).

A minor gripe is that the GPS isn’t that useful in the UK, but it usually only costs an extra £20. The one real criticism is the screen (there is no optical viewfinder) which is difficult to see in bright conditions.

Prices

From around £215 from on line retailers (it's never sold at the SRP of £299).

Bottom line - a well designed camera for outdoor use with good performance and, most importantly, useable in all weather conditions. And considering its capabilities, good value.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Outdoor Stereotypes

This little series owes much to the Telegraph Magazine's "Social Stereotypes". During the summer months I don't do a lot of walking, at least not a lot of hillwalking, on account of various nuisances such as excessive heat, midges, midgets (schoolchildren) and ice cream vans and burger stalls in all my favourite parking spots ... along with their bloated clientele who clutter the countryside oh, for at least 200 yards from the car park. At least that seems to be the perimeter of dropped crisp packets, cans and sweet wrappers.

But enough of my misanthropic rant, and back to the series. For those unfamiliar with the Daily Telegraph, Victoria Mather has written a series of sketches, spendidly illustrated by the drawings of Sue Macartney-snape, which accurately lampoon middle class "types".

I thought it would be fun to cast a similar, but less coruscating eye over the "types" that we regularly encounter. Here is the first of a series of (currently) ten ... but there may well be more.

The Octogenarian


cartoon of elderly walker

You first see Fred tottering along the narrow path ahead. A thin figure with a fringe of wispy white hair around the rim of his knitted hat. His improbably small rucksack is faded canvas with leather straps. The only concession to the biting wind seems to be a thick woollen sweater with holes in the elbows. The only recognisable pieces of modern kit are his Rohan trousers  (tucked neatly into socks) and a cheap pair of Regatta boots. No poles, no apparent waterproofs, although the rucksack might just conceal a light jacket. He looks for all the world as though he has absent mindedly strayed from an old peoples’ home and somehow become  lost in the wilderness.

You catch up and pass a few words. He apparently knows where he’s going and seems perfectly relaxed. “Oh just a little stroll – not up to the walks I used to do when I was a lad. “

An hour later, after a tricky heart stopping scramble you reach the summit cairn. Lungs heaving, you stop for a rest to ‘admire the view’ – or more truthfully, wait for vision to be restored and the hammering in your chest to subside. Ten minutes later he ambles into view. Not out of breath nor seemingly interested in stopping.

“Having a rest?” he enquires. “Well, it is a bit of a haul up that last bit. Here, have a barley sugar – that’ll get you up and going again”.

From deep within his trouser pocket he produces a sticky sweet covered in grey fluff. You mumble thanks, but he’s already gone to “Bag that wee Corbett before teatime”. You stagger to your feet to see that a small figure, moving improbably slowly, has already crossed the boggy bealach and is halfway up the next hill.

Dispirited, unable to face the swamp below and the near vertical heather beyond, you take the short route back to the car. The only other vehicle is an elderly Rover 400. Through its open window you see its elderly occupant pouring tea from a flask and contentedly eating a sandwich.

Yes, it’s him.

“It’s been a grand day,” he says. “Nothing like a day in the hills to put a spring in your step.” He observes your weary stiff legged gait. The thump of your sack hitting the ground. As you heave your gear into the boot you become aware of someone standing next to you. A kindly voice says, "Here – have another barley sugar. And don’t worry lad. You’ll get used to it in time."

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