Bikes are Great

I have been feeling a bit down recently, with an overwhelming feeling of “What is the point?”. It is probably a combination of being busy at work, lack of sleep from doing the late shift with Henry and not having time for my usual coping mechanisms – yoga, coding projects and riding my bike. However I am feeling much better after a day of bikes in the sun. Getting out on my bike is always something that lifts my mood, it must be the combination of exercise, fresh air and adventure! Whatever it is, I really needed it today!

In the morning I took Owen to his usual #supersaturday Ready Steady Riders session at the Birmingham BMX track. Owen was riding really well. In the last few weeks he has really got the hang of his Strider balance bike, taking his feet off the ground and well, balancing! He is also gaining in confidence on the bike and really enjoying himself. With the nice weather we have been having I was expecting the session to be busy, but it was really quiet. So towards he end of the session Coach Kazzi asked if the riders wanted to go on to the “big track”. The big track is a full sized UCI spec BMX track – the sort of thing you may have seen at the Olympics, as opposed to the mini “Strider track” that Owen usually rides. They were only using the last part of the finish straight, but even so it was a big moment for Owen. He needed help on the steepest section – it was big enough and steep enough that I would think twice about it on my bike with brakes, but he aced the rest, which was still much bigger than the Strider track. Owen seemed so happy each time he passed under he big “Finish” banner. It was a morning full of proud Dad moments.

In the afternoon I joined my friend Partho for a ride around Sutton Park – his local trails, which I had not ridden before. It was just a gentle ride, as Partho is recovering from being knocked off his road bike earlier in the year and I tweaked my knee going over the bars on the way home from work earlier in the week. When we first arrived at the park it was extremely busy – to be expected on a sunny bank holiday weekend. By the time we climbed the steep hill to the top of the park we had the trails to ourselves though. On the climb I noticed that my heart rate monitor (a Wahoo Tickr, linked to my Apple Watch) was showing “2..”, which I assume means heart rate over 200 beats per minute. In any case my heart rate was higher than could be displayed. I later found out that the hill is known as “Cardiac Hill”, which figures. We followed some fun single track back down the hill, stopping for some photos before climbing back up “Cardiac Hill”. At the top the trail was blocked by two wild Exmoor Ponies. I had seen warning signs dotted around, but expected it to be like the bear signs in Yosemite National Park, where we did not see any hint of a bear. This time we took a mellower route down the hill, past more wild ponies, which unfortunately did not want their photo taken. The trail culminated in either a steep up and over bridge or a ford. Both looked like fun, but as it was such a warm day I opted for the ford, which was just that little bit too deep to keep my feet dry. We finished the ride with a gentle cruise back to Partho’s house, stopping for an ice cream before we left the park. What a great way to spend an afternoon!

When I got home, Owen helped me clean my hardtail, as we had a special delivery, which we need to fit to the bike tomorrow – watch this space…

 

Temporarily Switching Back to Canon

Last year I blogged about switching from my Canon 5D DSLR to a Fuji X-T2 mirrorless system (and also my experience one month on). Rarely in these situations do you get to switch back, however due to the struggles of trying to get a newborn and a toddler out the house (Henry needs loads of stuff and Owen is a typically stubborn two year old) I forgot to put my camera bag in the car when we visited my parents for Mother’s Day. I knew my Dad had his 5D tucked away, so I asked if I could borrow it, along with his 85mm f1.8 prime lens.

After trading in my Canon kit, getting to use an almost identical kit was a rare opportunity to compare the systems again. My first thoughts were “this is huge” and “how do I turn it on?”. Even after ten years shooting Canon, my muscle memory has switched to Fuji after only a few months – fear of learning a new system should not be a barrier to changing!

When I started shooting, the fact I was using an optical viewfinder passed me by. This surprised me, as seeing the result before pressing the shutter is one of my favourite things about mirrorless cameras. Maybe the X-T2 electronic viewfinder is good enough to be indistinguishable from an optical viewfinder? The biggest difference was the autofocus – it is rubbish on the 5D! It is slow, and the nine focus points are clustered around the centre of the frame – the Fuji is able to focus anywhere in the frame. Not having it set up to my liking with back button focus also hindered me – especially for photos like the one above, where I wanted to have the foreground sharp, but frame the shot to include some background interest.

Despite the points I made above the 5D still produces great images! Fuji are known for their colour science, but files from the 5D also seem to have a special quality to them. The shallow depth of field from the full frame sensor and fast prime lens is the one area I have had to compromise as I switched to Fuji – it is simply down to physics and camera/lens size is more important to me at the moment.

I have been asked to take some headshots for work in a few weeks, and after borrowing my Dad’s 5D I will be asking to borrow it again for the headshots. I am unsure if this would still be the case if I owned a decent Fuji portrait lens, such as the 56mm f1.2 or the 50mm f2, but given the kit I have access to the Fuji loses out this time.

Top Five from 2018

As is now customary, the PistonHeads.com Photography Forum had a thread to share your top five photos from the previous year, in this case 2018. As I had selected my five photos I also decided to share them on my blog, as I have done for 2017, 2016 and 2012.

I was surprised to open the curtains in Owen’s bedroom on morning to see a partridge perched on our fence (annoyingly nowhere near our pear tree). I grabbed my camera, opened the window and took a few shots before it flew off. The was the only photo I took with my old Canon 70-200mm lens last year – I love the quality of the image, but the fact that the lens did not even leave the house was part of my reason for part exchanging it towards my Fuji kit.

Jen and I love the Sandleigh National Trust Tea Room in Croyde, their cream tea is the best I have had! With an inquisitive toddler, the fact it is in a walled garden is great, Owen could explore on his own, still in the safety of the garden. The was one of the first portraits I took with my Fuji X-T2 (using the kit lens) and I was really pleased with how it came out.

Another shot from our trip to Croyde, although this was taken from the Capstone Parade in Ilfracombe. It was the first real landscape shot I took with my X-T2 – and ideal for trying out the Velvia film simulation.

Since swapping my heavy Canon camera gear for a lighter Fuji set up, I am more likely to have my camera with me. In the past I would not have taken my camera for an excursion to the playground, but the little Fuji is great for this sort of trip out and means I can get photos like this one of Owen! He was playing hide and seek in this little cabin, so I set up the shot and waited for him to pop his head out. I really feel that Owen’s personality is captured here.

I posted this photo from the Trent and Mersey Canal just after taking it, but it made my top 5 because I like the colours and the reflections.

2019

Happy New Year!

2019 is going to be an exciting year for us – Owen will be getting a little brother! Baby Craik is due in March, hopefully he will wait a bit longer than Owen did before coming out! Owen seems to be excited about being a big brother, he has already been shopping with us to pick out a special toy for his new brother – he was very decisive and chose an elephant soother – hopefully it will be loved as much as Owen’s blue rabbit toy! We are currently busy preparing for Baby Craik’s arrival, my office is being relocated to the dining room (meaning a lot of sorting/decluttering in both rooms) and Owen is being promoted from cot to proper bed. I’m sure that wrangling two little boys is going to take up most of our attention this year, but we do have a few other exciting things planned!

June is going to be especially busy, with Coventry Motofest, Monster Jam in Coventry, Malverns Classic MTB festival (including Strider racing for Owen) and Owen will be racing again at the Strider Cup at Kingsbury Water Park. In September we’re planning on going away for a week, somewhere in the UK, ideally near a beach – but for the first time in ten years, not Croyde! Pembrokeshire is looking favourite, but if you know anywhere good to holiday with two small boys, please let me know!

We saw in 2019 with our friends in York, which was really nice. Especially as Owen is now big enough to play with the other children. Owen loved having access to lots of toys, and a few slightly older friends to play with. This meant the adults could have a good catch up. I really hope Owen is as good with his baby brother as William, Billy, Violet and Catherine were with him! New Years Day continued in the same style, albeit at a different house. The kids had a hotdog party and the adults had a burger party – my sort of party! Owen slept through most of the long drive home, but it gave Jen and I plenty of time to reflect on how much we always enjoy seeing our friends in York and also to discuss our goals for the year ahead.

As in 2017 and 2018, I have set myself some goals, stating them publicly gives me more motivation to get them done. Having said that, I had a few fails last year.

Get my weight down to 85kg

This is carried over from last year, as I ended the year weighing 88kg. I got close to 85kg in the spring, but got carried away with too much nice food in Spain.

Reinstate my mid week cardio session

I used to get out on my bike, or go for a swim pretty much every Wednesday evening, but I have slacked off over the last few months. I need to get back on it. I also want to start climbing, after my taster in 2017.

Do a strength workout at least once a week

Jen bought me some resistance bands for my birthday, I am ashamed to say that four weeks later they are still in the packaging. There is also a new gym opening next to my office. I have no excuses for not fitting in at least one workout a week!

Ride at the pumptrack at least once a month

After riding at the pumptrack last month, and realising what a good workout it is, I want to make sure I do more of it in 2019. My plan for 2018 had been to ride at the pumptrack with Owen, but it didn’t quite work out, as he still isn’t confident enough to ride without me following close behind. Hopefully 2019 will be the year we can ride together at the pumptrack. As a stretch goal, I would like to be able clear some tabletop jumps and/or manual through some rollers.

Ride at a bike park

I used to think that downhills had to be earned, but after doing some van assisted riding in Spain with Basque MTB last year my opinion changed. Not killing yourself on the climb gives you the energy to focus on the downhill, and doing laps of the same trail really allows you to hone your skills, so I can now see the benefits of doing an uplift day at a bike park. 417 Bike Park is an hour’s drive from Coventry (about the same as Cannock Chase), so I will be booking a day there fairly soon! I hear they also have good trails for kids, so maybe Owen will get to ride there too.

Clock over 100 active hours on Strava

I have added this goal mainly because I “only” clocked 99 active hours in 2018 and it seems a good target to aim for.

New blog server

I have been dabbling with AWS for a few years now, and have identified a few ways that I can improve the server set up I have for this blog. I would also like to move it to blog to WordPress 5.0 and write a new custom theme. All geeky stuff, but as my day job is getting more and more project management based I like to keep my technical skills sharp.

Take control of my open tabs in Safari

I have been thinking for a while that I have too many open tabs in Safari across my two Macs and iPhone. I counted (well used the “Bookmarks” menu on the Macs and “Close all tabs” button on iOS) almost 400 open tabs, so need to work through and close them. I am sure that there are some duplicates and ones that I opened for something i was researching, but never got around to implementing. I am going to try and close a few each time I use Safari.

Replace my ageing iMac

I have been thinking that I would do this the last few years, but keep stretching it out for “one more year”. However, now that it will not run the latest version on macOS, is running out of space on the hard disk and is incredibly slow, the time has come. There are two things making this difficult – deciding between an iMac, Mac Mini or MacBook Pro and saving up for it!

Do some night photography

I always look at astrophotography in awe, and enjoyed doing some night landscape photography when I lived in Rugby, but haven’t done any in ages. Now that I have switched camera systems to Fuji, and I am more interested in photography again I would like to get out and try some night photography. Hopefully I will be able to get my Dad to join me…

Detail my MR2

I took the MR2 out for a quick spin on Sunday and realised that I last washed it in 2016! After the Peak District hoon, I know I have not driven it much, but it deserves better! I bought some special Japanese car wax for Jen’s Yaris, I think it would also work well on the MR2.

Get my MR2 to 60,000 miles by its MOT in April

I actually set this goal after its last MOT, when it had 57,239 miles on the clock and I was disappointed that it had done less than 2,000 miles in the previous year. Unfortunately I forgot to check the milage last time I drove it, so have no idea how likely I am to meet my goal.

Drink more whisky

A strange resolution I know! I am not a big drinker, but do enjoy the occasional wee dram of single malt whisky. However people have latched on to this and I am being bought whisky faster than I drink it! I currently have ten bottles (plus one miniature), with six that haven’t even been opened. I am still yet to finish the Tomatin twelve year old that I bought when we visited the distillery in 2014!

I got this off to a good start by seeing in the new year drinking a dram of Tasmanian whisky, that our host Will had been given as a gift. As a Scotsman I usually only drink Scottish whisky, but I doubt I will have another chance to try Tasmanian whisky, so I gave it a go. Now to make a dent in my own collection…

A look back at 2018

2018 has been an exciting year! Owen got a new bike (and had his first bike race), Jen got a new car and I got a new camera, which has encouraged me to take more photos.

I We had a great holiday in Spain, with our friends Nicki and Mat, where I managed to squeeze in a day mountain biking with Basque MTB. We also had our first family European roadtrip, to visit my family in France and a rainy week in Croyde!

Aside from all the adventures we have had some fun family time without straying too far away from home, making the most of the glorious weather we had this summer. We spent a lot of time visiting zoos. We had annual passes to Twycross, where the photo at the top of this post was taken (by Jen), in the “Lorikeet Landing” enclosure. Our pass also got us into other zoos, including Chester Zoo, which combined with visits to Chester Ice Cream Farm and our friends Richard and Anna made for a great weekend away! My little brother also treated us to a trip to London Zoo, which was both Owen’s first trip on the fast train and to the centre of London (having only visited Hackney, by car, previously). As much as we enjoyed, and would recommend, the zoo pass, we have not renewed it. We will take a few years off to visit other attractions, and maybe get another one when Owen is a little bit older, so will be able to experience the zoo through new eyes.

At the start of the year Owen was only just taking his first steps, now he is running around, exploring everywhere. Except where you want him to go, in typical toddler fashion. He has also developed his own interests – he still likes cars and bikes, but what he really loves are construction vehicles. I have no idea where he gets that from! His personality is really coming through – he knows what he wants and can be quite stubborn about getting it. He is also very chatty, and still a charmer. This year Owen has moved through two classes at nursery and made some friends. The teachers have been very pleased with his development – I think they were a bit surprised when he was able to recite the whole of his favourite book to them. Sometimes I think he is getting too clever, like when we visited the Apple Store a few weeks ago and within second of walking in, he asked me for a new iPad!

At the start of the year I set some goals, I also did a mid year update back in July, but here are the final results:

Get my weight down to 85kg

Fail! My weight seems to have hovered around 87kg, it did spend a while nearer to 86kg, but after a good Christmas it was back up to 88kg this morning. What has happened though is that I have had to buy a load of new clothes, as none of my old ones fit any more. That has to be a good sign, right?

Get my fitness back to where it was in October

Up until the end of November I really felt like I was the fittest I have ever been. However, I had a cold for what felt like the whole of December, and took my foot of the gas a bit. My first proper rides back I really struggled, especially at the pumptrack. I have been following MTB Fitness and Matt has really helped with my motivation. I’m sure I’ll be back to where I was, and hopefully fitter by the spring.

Improve my MTB skills

I went on an MTB skills course, which was a good start, however I haven’t really followed it up. I am defiantly better at manuals and track stands, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Where I do feel that I have improved is at riding technical trails, which is probably more useful than the showy trials skills I wanted to learn.

Conquer the Tom, Dick and Harry section at Cannock Chase

Fail! This should have been easy! My excuse for not checking this is down to not getting there, rather than still being scared of it. I have ridden far more technical trails this year, including on my hardtail whilst on holiday in Devon. There have also been a lot of diversions on the Monkey Trail, which features Tom, Dick and Harry, so I have tended to avoid it when I have been at Cannock. I did make it down the Devil’s Stair case for the first time last week, admittedly helped by the tricky step being removed, but I am still going to claim it.

Ride at a new trail centre

I am going to have to count the ride I did at Lady Cannings in Sheffield for this. Even though I’m not sure that can be classed as a trail centre. I had planned a trip to Scotland with my friend Ali, but life seems to have got in the way. I was also planning to ride at 417 Bike Park for my birthday, but had a cold, so didn’t feel like I would make the most of it. I’ve also been concentrating more on riding natural terrain…

Ride more natural terrain

Yes! I can certainly check this goal off! My ride at the Long Mynd with Andy feels like ages ago. The day I did with BasqueMTB in Spain was one of the highlights of the year, even if I was a bit out of my depth on the steep rocky trails. They did however set me up well for the loop I rode around Lady Bower Reservoir in the Peak District at the end of the summer. I felt that it was fitness holding me back there, rather than my bike skills. When I unexpectedly found some technical trails in Croyde, I managed to ride them, even though I was on my hardtail, which wasn’t really the best bike for it. As fun as trail centres are, getting out into the hills is my favourite part of mountain biking!

Do some trail maintenance

Yes! I have done a bit of trail maintenance around my local trails in Coventry, ranging from small bits of tidying on a ride, to helping some local lads make a jump track. I also spent a day with Chase Trails at Cannock Chase, working on their new Snake and Adders section. Now that I’ve done a full day with them, I’ll be making more effort to stop and lend a hand for a while when I am over there riding on a Sunday.

Drive the MR2 more

This is a hard one to quantify. I have been making more effort to drive the MR2, and I have really enjoyed to occasions where I’ve been able to go for a fun drive in it. Such as a pointless Sunday drive earlier in the year, or when I used it to run an errand to Staffordshire, stopping off to do some photography on the way back. I did manage a track session at Silverstone, but now that I am working reduced hours, I can’t justify the cost of a full trackday.

Take more photographs on my DSLR

At the start of the year I couldn’t see myself selling my DSLR, however switching to a Fuji mirrorless camera has invigorated my photography. I have probably taken more photographs in the last three months than the rest of the year! Being able to take it with me on bike rides too is a real game changer for me. There also seems to be a good community around the Fuji cameras, which has helped with both learning the new system and motivation. I also mentioned that I would like to get my Orange Four into the GMBN Bike Vault, which I did.

Learn to juggle

Fail! Juggling well and truly fell by the wayside after about March. I’ve only recently found my juggling balls after Owen hid them for a few months.

Looking at my Strava statistics, through the handy Veloviewer graphic below, I beat my active days from last year, although I think that if I ignored commuting I would be way down. I matched 2017 for elevation, but I have a feeling Strava counted the elevation from the Basque MTB uplift van, even though I paused Strava whilst in the van. Just missing out on 100 active hours was annoying, I must admit I did consider sneaking in another ride to get a round number, but I will have to leave it as a goal for 2019.

Even with all the crap that has been happening in the news, 2018 has been a pretty good year for me. 2017 was always going to be a tough year to follow, but work, personal projects, mountain biking, photography and of course Owen have kept me busy and on my toes! Having the last few weeks at home with Jen and Owen, to relax and catch up on some jobs has been very welcome. Now we are up in York spending New Years Eve with some of our friends.

Softplay Portrait

I grabbed this photo of Owen in the softplay at Rock Up in Birmingham. Jen and I had taken him there so that he could show Jen his climbing skills. However, knowing that there was softplay and toy trucks that he could be playing with, Owen didn’t want to do any climbing and spent the session in the softplay.

At first Owen was the only child in the softplay so I took the opportunity to join him in the ball pit with my camera. This resulted in the photo above, which is one of my favourite portraits. I would love to say that I set up the lighting and coordinated Owen’s t-shirt to the walls, but once I had spotted the shot I just had to quickly crank the ISO up on my camera, as it was pretty dark, and capture the best expression from Owen.

Shot with: Fuji X-T2 and 18-55mm lens at 1/40s, f4.0 at ISO 3200, processed in Lightroom CC Classic.

Switching to Fuji – One Month On

It has been a month since I swapped from my Canon full frame DSLR to my Fuji X-T2 so I thought I’d put down some more detailed thoughts, incase anyone else is considering the switch.

The main point is that it has got me excited about photography again! This may just be the new kit effect, however the smaller/lighter camera is also opening up more options for me. There also seems to be a lot of excitement around mirrorless cameras at the moment, especially given the announcements at Photokina the other week – you know something is becoming mainstream when even the BBC is reporting about it!

The first real test for the X-T2 was the family holiday to Croyde, this gave me a great opportunity to shoot a lot and get to know the camera. Most of the photos I took were of Owen – it is handy having your own mini, almost tame, model that you can take around with you! This meant the auto focus mode got a lot of use! Going from 9 auto focus points on my old Canon, to 91 on the Fuji was simpler than it sounds, once I had got the hang of the various modes. At first I was using the wee joystick on the back to select individual focus points – revelling in the ability to place the focus point almost exactly where I wanted it. That was until I discovered the face detection setting – when activated the camera sets the focus point on the human face nearest to the centre of the frame. It seems pretty reliable and is certainly quicker than manually selecting focus points, especially useful when your subject is a wriggly two year old!

Before I was fully confident with the face detection setting I took the time to study the other autofocus modes and set the camera up as if face detection didn’t exist. I have set up the rear command wheel to choose the size of the focus area. The standard way to enter this mode it to press the joystick, then select with the wheel – I have set the press of the command wheel to enter the mode, to speed up this process. I have the rest of the autofocus settings allocated to three of the “D pad” buttons, as I feel that autofocus is one area where I will be changing settings frequently. I have also set the “AF-L” button on the rear of the camera to be “AF-On”, replicating the back button focus feature that I used on my Canon DSLRs. However unlike Canon, you cannot manually focus in autofocus modes; you can however autofocus in manual focus mode…

Since getting back from Croyde I have tried some still life photography at home, mostly borrowing Owen’s toys after he has gone to bed. This has given me a chance to experiment with manual focus. I have found the auto focus useful get focus into roughly right area before tweaking with the manual focus ring on the lens. Focussing manually is so much easier than on a DSLR, as Fuji have a few features to help you:

  1. Focus check – as soon as you move the focus ring (in manual focus mode) the image in the viewfinder/on the rear screen is magnified allowing you to check your focus in greater details. You also can use the joystick to move the zoomed in area around the frame, for when you are focussing on something away from the centre of the viewfinder.
  2. Digital split image – the viewfinder image is split in three, where they line up is the area in focus. This reminds me of borrowing my Dad’s old Nikon FM2, a fully manual film SLR, which to the day is still the best manual focus system I have ever used. Unfortunately the Fuji still isn’t as good as the old Nikon.
  3. Focus peak highlight – which highlights the in focus high contrast images in a bright colour in the viewfinder/on the screen. I find this easier to use than the digital split image, especially in combination with the focus check feature.
  4. Distance indicator in the viewfinder/on the screen – show you the distance you are focussing on, including a depth of field indication, which changes with aperture.

Having the camera mounted on the tripod for the still life photos gave me a chance to experiment with controlling the camera over wifi, using the Fuji app on my iPhone. Unfortunately the app isn’t as user friendly as the camera, and I found it pretty restrictive. For instance I couldn’t work out how to get from shutter priority to manual control and even with the drive mode switch for the camera set to “Bracket” it would only take one photo, instead of the three I expected it to take. In the end I switched the wifi off and used an old mechanical release cable I had left over from my film photography days.

The only other problem that has arisen from swapping camera system is that Lightroom, the software I’ve used to edit images since 2007, doesn’t work brilliantly with Fuji raw files. This is something that is well known, and was a concern of mine before switching, but I had done some testing and not had a problem. However when I was working on the photos from Croyde I noticed a few worm like artefacts, which weren’t present in the jpeg files from the camera. Capture One, an alternative program to Lightroom, has recently announced that they now support Fuji cameras, I’ve had a quick dabble and they seem to handle the raw files significantly better than Lightroom. However there are other downsides, so this is something I need to investigate further.

When I traded in my Canon kit it was only worth enough to swap for the X-T2 camera body and 18-55mm “kit lens”, which is actually a pretty good lens! However this left me lacking a fast prime, a telephoto lens and a flash gun. So I have been trying to sell things on eBay to fund at least a fast prime lens, ideally before a trip to London at the beginning of December (it turns out that shrinking my camera gear has made most of my camera bags redundant, including some very nice/expensive FStop Gear bags). I will probably go for the 23mm f2 lens, which should be ideal for fitting to the camera for bike rides. I also need to buy a bigger and faster SD card – the one I am using is almost ten years old. I got a shock when I looked up the price of the UHS-II cards recommended by Fuji, I’ll likely get a 32GB card, which makes me feel old – I remember buying a 32MB CompactFlash card  for my first digital camera – a Canon Digital IXUS v2. I wonder where that is now…

Toddler Climbing at Rock Up Birmingham

Owen is a little monkey, and like all little monkeys, he likes climbing things! I had looked at taking him to the Ballroom Climbing Wall in Coventry, where I occasionally go climbing, but they don’t really cater for toddlers. Then I learned about “Clip ‘n Climb“, which was suitable for Owen as they use a safety rope. Rock Up in Birmingham is our local one, and they run toddler sessions on some weekday mornings – including Friday, my day off! Perfect!

As expected, Owen was really excited about going climbing and enjoyed driving through Birmingham, especially looking at all the cranes and seeing a 911 GT3 in the car park. We got Owen rigged up in his harness easily enough and attached to the rope on the first wall. Owen seemed to get the hang of it fairly quickly, getting up to about my head height, with a bit of help from the staff. However, he didn’t like the idea of jumping off, even just to see how the safety system worked. I guess it must have felt a bit unnatural to him. At this point he got it into his head that he didn’t want to climb the wall again and as anyone with a toddler knows, once they have decided something there is no changing their mind!

Next we moved on to a ladder – at home Owen loves climbing ladders, but again after reaching roughly my head height on his first try he gave up and didn’t want to go again. We then moved on to the wall in the photo at the top of this post. He did really well on this one, coordinating his arms and legs to climb up to the overhang. He then needed some help to traverse across to where he is in the photo, where he climbed a bit more, once again up to about my head height.

By this point I think he’d had enough of climbing, so we moved from the walls to a circle of posts, which increased in height. Once connected to the safety system Owen was able to clamber on to the first post, looking pleased with himself. However the jump to subsequent posts was too far, so he needed help to jump between them. Fortunately the safety rope took most of his weight, so I was able to lift Owen until he was standing on a post taller than me! I think at this point Owen realised just how high up he was and he took a bit of coaxing to jump down into my arms.

At this point we decided to move to the soft play – when taking a toddler to an activity it is good to have a backup option included in the price. And all toddlers seem to love soft play! Especially in Owen’s case, when there are toy trucks to play with. Owen happily spent the rest of the session playing with trucks, jumping in the ball pit and running around, up and down the soft play. When it came to leave Owen had his only tantrum of the morning, screaming that he “wanted to stay here forever”!

Even though the climbing aspect didn’t go as well as I had hoped we’ll definitely be going back to Rock Up for their toddler session. At £6 (including three hours free parking) I thought it was good value for money and an ideal wet weather activity! The staff were great with Owen and most importantly he absolutely loved it!

Croyde 2018

Croyde, in North Devon, is one of my favourite places in the world! Ten years ago I visited for surfing trips with my mates, and fell in love with the village and beach. I have been back every year since. This year we visited again for a family holiday, with Owen and my parents. Owen has visited Croyde before, but Mum and Dad haven’t, so I was looking forward to showing them around our usual haunts.

Two years ago Jen and I drove down in the MR2, with minimal luggage, however this year the BMW was stuffed full of luggage, and a bike on the roof. I am going to need a bigger car! Traffic on the M5 wasn’t great, but Owen was a good boy, so the journey wasn’t too arduous. We met Mum and Dad at the holiday cottage, unpacked and formed a plan to head to Squires fish and chip shop in Braunton for dinner. The first of our regular haunts! After the long drive I didn’t feel like being crammed into the BMW again, so chose to ride over on my bike. I took the back roads to Braunton. It was a big climb out of Croyde, but the views down over Saunton Sands were worth it. The descent down to Braunton was fast. I was on the road, so without any tricky corners or rocks to negotiate I only had to slow down for a couple of cars coming the other way and made good time. I arrived in Braunton before the rest of the family, within twenty seconds of the time Google Maps had predicted it to take! I’m sure the fish and chips tasted even better than usual after riding over to get them! (I did wimp out for the return journey and got a lift back in the car – I didn’t fancy the narrow lanes in the dark).

We started our first full day in Croyde with a walk into the village, although Owen really wanted to go to the beach! Mum and Dad walked over to Saunton Sands, and Jen and I took Owen to the beach. He was in his element playing in the sand, digging and looking for shells! In the afternoon we walked up to Sandleigh tea room. Owen had fun exploring the garden and chatting to the scarecrow, whilst we enjoyed a lovely cream tea. Mum and Dad walked to Baggy Point, whilst Jen, Owen and I went back to the beach. As the tide was out we could clamber across the rocks from Sandleigh, rather than walking back along the road. At first Owen seemed a bit unsure, but he loved splashing through the rock pools and looking for creatures. However, he was even more excited to get back on the beach to dig some holes! In the evening he came up to me, gave me a huge hug and said “I love you Daddy” – the first time we’ve heard him say that. He is such a little charmer!

The weather forecast for Sunday was for rain, but we managed to get to the beach for an hour before the rain started. Owen did more digging and I flew my old Flexifoil Stacker kite. Owen had been captivated by someone flying a kite the previous week, so I thought he may be interested, but it was a bit too powerful for Owen to have a go with. The rain started just as we were walking home; we made it back without getting too wet, and spent the rest of the morning chilling out at the house. Whilst Owen had his nap, Jen and I escaped into the village on our own for a quiet cup of tea and a piece of cake! As we got back, Mum and Owen were heading out to the playground, so we joined them. It was good to get Owen out of the house and running around a bit. He also got to see the beach tractor – I don’t think it can get any more exciting for Owen than a tractor on the beach! We finished the day with Sunday lunch at the Manor House Inn, another Croyde tradition for Jen and I. The only problem was that due to it being a rainy Sunday the carvery had been hit hard. The roast beef, that I had been particularly looking forward to, had all gone. At least it gave me an excuse to try something else from the menu – the steak and ale pie was a good substitute! I thought it was funny that most of the other tables were also families with children and grandparents.

As I hadn’t managed to get out on my bike on Sunday, I got out on the Monday morning instead, before meeting Jen for breakfast at Blue Groove – our favourite cafe. I have already posted about my ride, so won’t fill a holiday post with bike talk. When we got back Owen wasn’t too keen on going for his nap. The weather wasn’t great either, so Jen and I took him out for a drive to Ilfracombe. Owen was looking forward to seeing boats and trains, even though I had explained that there wasn’t a railway there. We parked at the harbour, so saw the boats, then at the end of the harbour we saw a little road train! We had to go on it, even if it was just for a little tour of the town, most of which we’d seen from the car on the drive in. Owen was very happy with his train ride and it gave Jen and I the chance to scope out ice cream shops. Joey’s looked the best, so we put that theory to the test. My Bakewell tart ice cream was nice, however Owen ending up wearing most of his bright green mint chocolate chip ice cream. To work off our ice creams we took a walk around the Capstone Parade, a traffic free promenade around the Capstone, a small hill between the town and the sea. It was good to let Owen have a run around without needing to worry about traffic. I also got to do some photography, I was particularly pleased with the photo above, looking past St Nicolas Chapel and the harbour entrance. By the time we got back to Croyde the weather had improved, so we went straight back out to the beach with my Mum. Owen enjoyed more digging and filling his bucket with water from the rock pools. It really was great having the beach a five minute walk from where we were staying meaning that we could just pop down to the beach after whatever we were doing during the day. After dinner, I went back to the beach to try and do some golden hour/sunset photography, however the light was rubbish. I should have listened to my Dad, who had declined to join me – as he thought the light would be rubbish!

Owen was in a funny mood on Tuesday morning, the weather wasn’t great either, so we had a quiet morning. We popped in to Braunton to do some shopping, then I took Owen to the playground. After lunch Mum and Dad walked to Mortehoe. Jen, Owen and I drove there in the car to meet them. Then we all walked down to Morte Point. The walk was about a mile, but as it was over footpaths/parkland we couldn’t take Owen’s pushchair -this would be his first hiking experience! He did better than I expected, I only ended up carrying him for about two thirds of the way. When we got towards the headland the wind was incredibly strong – the back end of Storm Helene was battering the UK. Mum, Jen and Owen held back and looked for seals in the sea, whilst Dad and I continued to the end of the point. It was probably a good job that Owen didn’t go all the way down with us, as Dad and I were getting blown about by the wind and struggling to stay upright – Owen would not have stood a chance of staying on his feet! After all that effort we went to Bllly Budd’s for dinner. The plan had been to get pizzas, but none of us ended up ordering one. I had a massive bowl of nachos with pulled pork, which I struggled to finish! Owen seemed to enjoy his fish fingers, but playing on the playground was his favourite part of the meal. I was impressed that he’d learned to climb up a rope net to get on the slide – he is getting very good at climbing!

Wednesday the 19th September was mine and Jen’s third wedding anniversary – time has shot by! Owen woke himself up coughing before 5:00 – I thought it was going to be an early start, but by the time I got back upstairs with the Calpol, he had fallen back asleep and didn’t wake up until 8:00! Thanks for the anniversary treat Owen! My Mum had offered to look after Owen all day, so Jen and I could have a day out – Jen wanted to visit Dunster Castle, so that’s what we did! I’m not normally a fan of stately homes, but fortunately Dunster Castle is a bit different! The sun was out when we arrived, so we had a walk round the gardens, taking a selfie on the Lover’s Bridge. Then we visited the working water mill, which was milling flour. It was great to be able to not only see the mill working, but be able to clamber around both inside and outside the building to get a closer look at the whole system – from the channels taking water from the stream and over the wheels, to the gearing inside powering a variety of machines, in addition to the milling stones. Naturally we couldn’t leave without buying a bag of the flour we had seen being milled. After the mill we visited the tea room and had my favourite holiday lunch – a Cornish pasty followed by a cream tea! As the weather was now turning, we decided to head inside and check out the castle. First stop wast the crypt, to learn about the life of the servants in Victorian times, and the resident bats. We had hoped to do the Victorian kitchen tour, but it was fully booked – if you’re planning on visiting Dunster Castle, make sure you call at the castle reception and book on as early as possible! Instead we did the self guided tour of the castle, which focussed mostly on its heyday, around 100 years ago. I particularly liked the dining room and adjoining blue 1950’s kitchen with views over the Bristol channel to Wales. When I heard that you could try billiards, I instantly thought of a photo opportunity with Jen looking down the cue and was pretty happy that I was able to pull it off, especially given I am still learning my Fuji camera. It seemed like we had missed the worst of the weather, as back in Croyde Owen and my parents didn’t even make it to the beach – they had to turn round as the wind from Storm Ali was whipping sand into Owen’s face. They went to the playground instead, ironically it was too windy to fly the new kite that Dad had bought Owen. In the evening Jen and I went back to Blue Groove for an anniversary dinner, just the two of us. Both of us had our usual dishes, chilli beef burrito and moules frites.

The weather was rubbish for our last full day in Croyde, after Storm Helene and Storm Ali rained on us we had Storm Bronagh. I’m not sure what we did to deserve three named storms on our holiday week! Dad and I braved the rain and walked to Blue Groove for breakfast and that was it for the morning! The weather hadn’t improved much after lunch, and Owen was in a funny mood, so we decided that there was only one thing for it – soft play. Jen found Quince Honey Farm in South Molton, which sounded more interesting than normal soft play and would give Owen a chance to nap on the drive there. At the honey farm we learned about bees, their hives and tried some different types of honey. When we got to the soft play area we were the only ones there! This meant I didn’t feel too guilty about taking Owen on the big slides etc. Once again he got to show off his climbing skills and graduated from sitting on my lap on the slides to racing me down! We had saved The Thatch for our final evening in Croyde and all had a good meal, making up for the miserable day. Owen was on top form, eating most of his dinner and charming the staff.

Packing the car back up seemed to be quicker than in Coventry and we were on the road fairly early. Even more unusually the traffic past Bristol was fine! There was a bit of traffic on the M5 as we got back to the Midlands, but we were still home by early afternoon. As we were driving back Jen and I reflected on our week and both felt that Croyde had somehow lost its sparkle, it could have been down to the weather, familiarity, staying at the other end of the village to normal, the seeds sown by watching a programme on TV about how Croyde is being ruined by holiday lets earlier in the summer or simply that our needs are different now that we have to think about more than where we are going to go for dinner! We still had a great time, but the chat in the car was more about where are we going to go on holiday next year, rather than what are we going to do when we visit Croyde next year. I’m sure we will be back though, as it is such a special place to us, but maybe next time it will be a romantic weekend away just the two of us…

Switching to Fuji

After eleven years using Canon DSLRs for my photography, I have swapped to a Fuji mirrorless system. It literally was a swap too – I walked into my local camera shop with a bag of Canon kit and walked out with my new Fuji X-T2 and 18-55mm lens!

The main reason behind the change is that in the last few years my lifestyle and priorities have changed and a heavy DSLR camera doesn’t fit in with my life in 2018. I’m not going out on photography adventures with my Dad anymore, Jen and I aren’t travelling as much as we were and my motorsport photography days are long gone! The Canon Eos 5D which I bought as a “temporary stop gap camera” in 2010, just wasn’t being used. It was too heavy/bulky to carry around. Especially when I am on a bike or out with Owen, and other than working and sleeping that is all I seem to do these days!

On the rare occasions I was using my camera I was only taking the camera and 24-105mm lens with me, to keep both kit and faffing to a minimum. On checking my Lightroom catalogue I had only taken one picture in 2018 with my 70-200mm f2.8 lens. I had been looking a a more advanced compact camera to replace my Canon S90, but my long term plan had been to get a new full frame Canon DSLR. However, given the amount of use I couldn’t justify it. Then I started to notice a lot of my photographer friends moving to mirrorless systems. With both Canon and Nikon announcing new mirrorless ranges recently the tide seemed to be turning towards mirrorless, so I decided to ignore my misgivings about electronic viewfinders and do some investigation…

Sony seemed to be the popular choice; I liked the idea of full frame sensors, and had heard a lot of good things about image quality. Then I checked the price – way out of my league! The Canon Eos M series was more reasonably priced, but I got the impression that they were aimed at amateurs, especially the range of lenses, probably too much of a step down from my 5D and L series lenses. Whilst looking I came across the Fuji X-T2 and thought it looked good, compact and well built, but too expensive, especially for a cropped sensor camera. However the seed had been sown. My search then brought me to the Fuji X-T20 – the X-T2’s baby brother, and its cousin, the X-A3. They were more in my price range and shared the same sensor/auto focus system as the X-T2, but crucially were within budget! I read a lot of reviews and convinced myself that Fuji with manual control dials on top of the camera and well built lenses was the mirrorless system for me.

Then it dawned on me – we were off on holiday in a few weeks time, a week in Croyde would be the perfect opportunity to get to know a new camera system! I sent details of my current kit to a dealer to see if the numbers would work – fortunately they did! Now all I had to do was decide which Fuji camera to buy, I preferred the layout of the X-T20 but the features of the X-E3. The only way to make a decision was to get to a camera shop to try them out. Whilst waiting for an opportunity to visit a camera shop, Fuji announced the X-T3. It looked perfect, except it was way too expensive for me, and in any case wouldn’t have been available before my holiday. However, it did mean Fuji reduced the price of the X-T2, just about bringing it into my budget! I now had three cameras to decide between. The main attraction of the X-T2 was the better build, including weather sealing and even simpler controls than the smaller X-T20. The downside was that I would only be able to afford one lens initially. By the time I got to the camera shop I had pretty much decided on the X-T2, deep down I knew that I if went for the cheaper model, I would either end up wanting to upgrade or breaking it whilst out on my bike. Therefore buying the more expensive X-T2 was actually the cheaper option. The camera just felt “right” in my hands, I didn’t need to try the X-T20, I was taking the X-T2 home!

As is usually the way with these things, I didn’t get to use it over the weekend, I certainly didn’t want to risk taking it to the Peak District with me. Especially as I haven’t got any protection for it – all my existing camera bags are set up for full frame DSLRs, so the little Fuji is just rattling around it them. Other than a few test shots at home, my first proper go with it was taking some headshots at work – no pressure then! After eleven years using Canon DSLRs I can change anything on them instinctively, and whilst the Fuji controls are intuitive, I struggled a bit. The zoom ring being the opposite way round to Canon, is going to take some getting used to. However, the electronic viewfinder was awesome, I could see what the photo was going to look like before I took it and the shooting information was all there too. I really don’t know why I was so against them previously!

Since then, I have been tweaking the settings to my liking and practicing on my tame(ish) model – Owen! Jon Caz’s guide was a particularly helpful starting point for settings, as there is a lot more to configure than on my old cameras and to be honest I am still getting used to them. We took Owen to get his haircut in Rugby, so I knew we would be going to the GEC recreation ground after – Owen loves the sandpit and mechanical diggers there! With Owen entertained, I was able to concentrate on taking some photos of him and trying out different settings. I particularly liked the one at the top of the post because of the expression on his face. Jen even used the camera to get some good pictures of Owen and I playing on the mechanical diggers, she noted how much lighter the Fuji is than my old set up.

I had read about people having issues processing Fuji files in Lightroom, this was a concern for me as moving away from Lightroom would be a much bigger change for me than changing camera system. My friend Graham sent some raw files from his X-T2 for me to try in Lightroom, I was able to get results I was happy with. However it has highlighted that I need to revisit some of the new features in Lightroom, especially the “Profile” section of the Develop Module, but also the sharpening controls. I had the same experience with the photos of Owen, I’ve been able to get photos I like, but possibly not as good as they could be.

The main thing though is that switching systems has got me interested in photography again! Instead of finding excuses to leave the camera at home, I’m finding reasons to take it with me!