Skype + Logitech USB Headset 350

After years of delaying, I’ve finally bought a headset and installed Skype. My new screenname is jillesvangurp.

The headset is a Logitech USB Headset 350. It’s a nice plug and play USB thingy that I can use next to my normal audigy 4 sound card. I.e. I can use my fine Hennheiser HD 280 Pro  for gaming, music and movies and answer the phone on my headset. I like it that way, the noise damping effect of the Sennheiser would just be weird when hearing yourself talk.

The headset installed fine in true plug and play fashion. It was recognized right away by windows as a USB headset. It’s a nice thingy with a volume control, a big mute button and a nice blue led blinking all the time.  The sound is good too and it feels quite comfortable.

Skype 3.0 is a nice piece of software as well. I had no trouble setting up a call to my friend Christian Del Rosso who has a webcam as well as a micropone. Well almost no trouble, he had some issues with the volume and it took some fiddling to figure out that in fact there was no problem with my headset.

Photography

Like many geeks, I’ve been an enthusiastic digital camera owner for some years now who, so far, is not troubled too much by in-depth knowledge of camera’s, lenses and what not. Basically I fiddle with the controls until it looks ok on the screen. Typically I assume a pose that is not really elegant (camera at arms length, chin on the chest and frowning at the minuscule screen). And then I point, click and hope for the best. Sometimes this produces nice results but producing nice results when you want them under difficult light conditions (too much or too little) is quite a challenge.
I was editing my Paris photos and did some google searches to figure out how to make more effective use of photoshop. It turns out that the new Google search field in Firefox 2 has gotten a lot smarter. I typed “photos” and google already provided a nice autocomplete list with highly relevant options such as “photoshop curves”, which led me straight to this more than excellent site which I have been reading the entire evening: http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/. The site provides a nice technical introduction to various important concepts such as depth of field, focal length & aperture, various types of histograms and how to interpret them, the working of the level and curves tools in photoshop, etc. The site is organized around tutorials and provides great examples that make it easy to understand the concepts under discussion. I’m now planning to work my way through all of the site.

Canon S80

Today I shot a few pictures with my new camera. Wow. It’s very nice. It performs pretty much as explained on dpreview. Conditions were not ideal for photography. It was very cloudy and rainy. There was a thick layer of clouds and the landscape was still covered in (melting) snow. This is difficult for the camera because it has to compensate for the snow and the lack of light. Overall, the camera performed quite well.

As predicted, the camera suffers from quite a bit of color noise if iso values are increased. Basically, anything above 100 has noise. At iso 400, the noise is so bad that this setting should be avoided most of the time. Essentially this is an issue with all digital compact cameras. Other than this, image quality is excellent. And of course the image resolution is 8MP, so a bit of noise is not that bad.

Besides, filtering away color noise is something photoshop is much better at than most cameras. One of the things that attracted me to this camera is that it doesn’t overdo it on filtering noise and throwing away all the details in the process. Similarly, it doesn’t ‘improve’ the contrast which also translates into more detail. The downside of course is that if you want this, you need to tune the pictures yourself in photoshop. That is no problem for me.
Lets start with the lens. This is a 28mm equivalent camera which means that it has a slightly wider angle of view than normal 35 mm equivalent cameras. This is very nice since that means you don’t have to walk all the way back to get your subject framed. It also has a nice zoom range (3.6x). If find that shots at 3x zoom both with this and my previous camera to be quite unmanagable unless the camera is on some stable surface. The resolution of the pictures is of course excellent so I can crop away large portions of the photo and still have something that looks great when printed.

nice example of wide angle shot

The picture above, is a good example of a wide angle shot. Sadly I had to throw away a lot of detail to get the picture down to a web friendly size. Also the picture was touched up in photoshop a bit to cover up for the fact that this was not really a good shot (sun is behind the building, well the clouds).

probably nicest shot of today

This shot is probably the best of the shots I made today. Basically, I walk this path every morning on my way to work. To the right (of the path) is the (frozen) sea. The only things I manipulated in this picture are the levels and curves. Because of the poor light conditions, the original is a bit dark. Also, I must learn to keep an eye on the histogram. Probably I could have gotten a bit more out of the situation with a bit more fiddling with the camera.
To give an impression of the number of pixels that were in the original of this picture, here’s a cropped piece of the same shot:

Cropped guys
So, quite impressive amount of detail. And again, the conditions were really bad for taking photos. This shot was taken at 1/60 second shutter speed. You can’t go much lower without risking a lot of motion blur.

This camera is really easy to use and has a nice user interface. Two elements that not all reviewers enjoyed are the sliding cover (which doubles as on/off switch) and the rotating click wheel thingy (sort of a mechanical equivalent of the ipod wheel). I must say I like both. Especially the wheel thingy makes it really easy to adjust things like shutter speed, aperture or even focus. Much nicer than messing with tiny left & right buttons (as on my powershot A40).

You can find the shots above, and some more, on my photo site.

S80

I first began considering buying a new digital camera around 2004. Forever drooling over dpreview and other sites I ultimately decided not to buy the Canon powershot A90, 520, 620, IS, IS2. Reasons varied from “I don’t really need one right now”, “camera X sure looks nice but lets wait for camera Y” to “my A40 is still pretty nice”.

After reading the reviews of the Canon S80, I decided this camera was perfect for me. Good quality lense, smaller than my clunky Canon Powershot A40, nice zoom range, wide angle lense, 8 mega pixels (yeah I know, not relevant), etc.

This was like three months ago. Since then I’ve gone to several stores, played with a testmodel at Verkkokauppa several times. Price was essentially right. Then I queued to buy it and waited, waited and left the store. I went back on a Saturday (stupid) and again ended up not buying. Then the camera was sold out (i.e. queued for 10 minutes and then left the store disappointed). Today I checked again, they had it and money was exchanged.

Whoohoo!. Currently the battery is charging, after that I’ll make a few pictures with it and maybe upload a few.

wireless hell (3) & new hardware

After the zillionth crash I’ve given up. I managed to get the freezing down to once every few hours but it’s not good enough. I just got the good old cat 5 cable out of the closet and connected the pc to the cable modem the old fashioned way. That seems to work very nicely. I can still use the wireless connection with my laptop from work.

Naturally, I’ll take the siemens gigaset usb stick 108 crap back to the store. See what happens. If you’ve googled for that piece of shit and read my blog posts: don’t buy it or if you bought it, trade it in for a different brand. I’ve updated everything: drivers (kt400 chipset, wlan), bios. Nothing seems to work and the pc consistently not crashes without the usb stick. It might be a compatibility problem with my motherboard, it might be faulty hardware, it might be crappy siemens drivers. My guess is the latter.

Now the only problem is the cable connection itself. That too is not working to well. I’ve had several disconnects already. The online led just goes off and the modem tries to reconnect for a while, which, so far, it manages to do after fifteen minutes or so. I suspect the cable signal isn’t to good. This is an old building after all.

I almost ordered a new PC last friday. Unfortunately the video card I wanted had to be ordered and the guy from bt-mikro (right across the street) couldn’t guarantee he’d have it within a reasonable time frame so he recommended me not to order right away. Otherwise the setup seems nice: dual core amd 4400+ with an octek motherboard, 2 GB of memory, a nice 300GB disk, a samsung 204TS 20″ lcd screen and logitech mouse and keyboard (wired, I’ve had enough of this wireless shit). I’ll buy it when the video card is available again: a nvidia 7800 GT card. This card (and it’s slightly heavier brother the gtx) seem to be the card to have at the moment.

That should keep me happy for a few years. My current geforce 4200 still works very nicely despite its age. I recently played doom3 on it with reasonable framerates and some of the eyecandy turned off.

Update: hardware has been ordered now 🙂