Barefoot hike on a volcano

In the series of pushing the envelope on barefoot hiking, this time, I tackled the Taal Volcano, a caldera located some 55 kms from Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

Taal Volcano

Taal Volcano is a caldera, a super-volcano that is estimated to have culminated at 18,000 feet in prehistoric eras, before collapsing and making it today the smallest (311 meters) volcano in the Philippines. Originally, the crater was filled with sea water as there was a channel opened between the volcano and the bay near Cavite. Since then, the channel closed, making Taal volcano a large freshwater body.

Although it was quite calm when we visited, the Taal Volcano is not a dormant or extinct volcano, it can be quite active, with a huge magma chamber below. In fact, my first visit was in 2012, and at the time, steam was hissing through some vents in the ground.

Mitchy and Maria-Sophia in 2012 on Taal Volcano.

Since then, the authorities have restricted the access to the crater of the volcano island as there have been episodes of boiling water projections down there, or toxic gases. To explain why, it is good to know that in 2012, some people even went canoeing on the crater lake!

From Manila to Tagaytay

The one big inconvenience reaching Tagaytay is transportation. Although it is only 30 kms from Manila, it takes almost 3 hours to reach by car.

Car from Manila to Tagaytay
In the car from Manila to Tagaytay

We took it the lazy way, and just called a Grab car. You must be aware that the app will provide a very low price for the transfer to Tagaytay, which makes it uneconomical for drivers to take you there. So, what we did was to negotiate a price for full day hire and cancel our booking. In all, this costed us 4,500 PHP, but the driver stuck around, hence avoiding us having to roam around finding transportation back to Manila. One caveat however, there is an incredible number of toll fees between Manila and Tagaytay when you take the highway (called “skyway” here).

Finding transportation on the lake

Once you get to Tagaytay, you must find a boat to carry you over the lake. Typically, this would cost about 300 to 500 PHP per head two ways. Since 2012, it seems most of the locals have been replaced by resorts who offer well-organized transfers across the lake, mainly for Koreans.

It was thus no surprise that our driver recommended us a Korean-operated resort. The resort operates an “all inclusive” package which includes boat crossing two ways, horse ride up and down the mountain and (if you wish) Korean buffet. Prices go from 1300 PHP per head to 1420 PHP with meal included.

Boat Crossing

The boats used on the lake for the crossing are those typical “barca”, made of a central hull and two balancers. The lake being originally the crater of a volcano, there are often algae that can get tangled around the propellers. In our case, the pilots had to jump in the water to release the propellers.

Family on boat
The family on the barca crossing the lake

Horse riding

There are a number of villagers living on the volcano itself. Namely some impoverished locals whose only livelihood is around having tourists riding their horses up and down the volcano’s crater.

As we were hesitating about who would take our daughter on its horse, Maria-Sophia announced determinedly that she would ride her own horse! It was thus that she got to climb on her own horse, with the guide taking a ride behind her.

Maria-Sophia and horse
Maria-Sophia looks at th ehorse she will be riding

The climb up is not very strenuous and the cliffs are not that steep. So, riding a horse seems a bit too much. Nevertheless, many tourists fall into the trap, but it is extremely uncomfortable to ride.

In my case, it seems my heavy photo backpack was causing the horse to have some issues with balancing, so my guide kept on telling me to keep my balance. I rode the horse barefoot, but later, when they needed to rearrange the saddle (a close way to the top), I dismounted and carried on on foot.

Barefoot hiking on the volcano

Strangely for people who keep climbing the volcano with mere flip-flops, the guides were a bit scared and surprised to see me hike up barefoot. Nevertheless, most of the terrain is sandy, with some edgy stones in some places. As such, I would not deem it as one of the most challenging hikes I did.

The crater

I mentioned earlier, the Taal Volcano is actually a caldera, a sort of super-volcano. This explains why there are actually two craters: a first, the largest, being the calderas’s main crater, and a second one which appeared later in the center of the lake. This gives the volcano that peculiarity of having two lakes in its midst. The best way of having an idea of the gigantic nature of this volcano is through drone views. Here, below, a view of the observation deck set up on the rim of the crater.

Taal crater seen by drone
The Taal volcano observation point and crater seen by drone
Taal volcano and the lake
The observation deck and in the background, a glimpse of the main Taal lake.

This video also probably gives you an idea of the beauty of the place.

A very touristy place

Taal being this natural curiosity, it is also one of the main touristic attractions for the area. They did quite some nice work to make the crater’s surroundings likable for tourists, like planting flowers.

Flower on crater
A flower planted on the rim of the crater brings a touch of color to the greenish tone of the water.

Similarly, a bit further, they planted red carnations, again, providing some color in the otherwise greenish tone of the crater.

Red carnations on the crater
Red carnations on the crater

The whole family then took a dronie and a selfie before the crater. Our daughter was rather disappointed that she could not see lava or magma as in a “real” volcano. But this volcano is quite active. All the more as since our last visit, it is prohibited to walk down to the crater’s edge.

As I walked along the crater, a Filipino seeing me barefoot took out his flip-flops and started walking barefoot too, giving me the thumbs-up.

Hiking down barefoot

After having suffered with the discomfort of the horse ride, I decided to go down the mountain barefoot. As the path was downward and furthermore, I was walking on a terrain that was mostly dusty, I arrived to the end point at almost the same time as the horses that departed with me. And this is only logical, as the horses can only ride as fast as their guides let them.

Once again, the views going down were absolutely gorgeous.

A hike worth the while

Japanese say that only fools attempt to climb mount Fuji twice. In this case, it was the second time I climbed Taal Volcano, but this time, I did it mainly on (bare)foot.

It was nice to come back to the place several years after my first visit, and more particularly to bring back my daughter who had visited the place as a baby.

The Mavic 2 Pro unveiled

There was not much to know about the Mavic 2 pro, or rather the “Mavic 2” as DJI has dubbed it. Nevertheless, this last piece of technology from DJI is already out and its specs can make you salivate. Obviously, if you just want to purchase it, or read the specs directly on Dji’s web site,  then just click here.

20 MP camera

The Mavic 2 Pro has a Hasselblad camera and as expected with the size of 1″, the camera sports a whooping 20 MP to boot. Of course, as previously mentioned, this is bound to annoy all those who purchased a Phantom 4 Pro. The Mavic 2 will provide better technology in a more compact format.

The new feature is the apparition of “HDR video”, which seems that they will apply the multiple exposure concept of HDR to video (how?).

Comparatively, the Mavic 2 Zoom will remain stuck with the 12 MP camera, although it gains a capacity to create composite images corresponding to about 48 MP.

Variable aperture

As anyone who works with the Mavic Pro knows, the current Mavic Pro has a fixed aperture, which is very annoying in bright sunlight and seems to force the use of ND filters.

The Mavic 2 Pro will have a variable aperture from f/2.8 to f/11. I would have preferred seeing f/22, but I guess you can ask only so much…

Oh yeah, now they also have a downward facing light to enable landing in low light. While it seems the drone is very much geared towards dusk or sunset operations, it is worth remembering that in many countries, operating a drone after sunset is illegal.

Onboard memory

As anybody who uses sd cards knows, these may be quickly overloaded with some 4K videos. The Mavic 2 offers a temporary fix under the form of 8 GB of onboard storage.

Hyperlapse

So, hyperlapse is a sort of timelapse, but shot while moving (instagrammers know about this). The point is that, until now, many Mavic Pilots used third-party apps such as Litchi to be able to program their Mavic along a preset route. Dji now integrates this function on the Mavic 2 Pro.

What is the image quality?

For sure, the images look a notch better than the habitually washed out tones of the Mavic Pro, but I couldn’t help but be disappointed. With all the post-production efforts put into promotional pictures, the samples Dji shows us on their web site show again a certain lack of dynamic range.

Dji sample pics
Dji sample pics
Dji Sample pics
Pics posted by Dji as samples

In short, it is probably a significant jump from the Mavic Pro, but it is not yet at the level of offering the same depth of colors as even an older camera as the Nikon D750. For more details on other aspects of the drone, you may check Endgadget.

Conclusion: a nice to have, not a must have

While the bigger sensor and the Hasselblad camera are certainly winners, I am not sure the new drone is necessarily something to have, unless, obviously, you are making a profession out of piloting drones. In that latter case, obviously, the Mavic 2 Pro should be the ideal drone, compact, yet with  a high and versatile camera. I won’t even say a word of the Zoom version, as the optical zoom, to me, is just a gadget that does not justify in any way purchasing a new drone (especially as  the camera remains at its current 12 MP).

So, if you want to buy it, I am sure you can enjoy it, as long as you keep flying safely. If you already have a drone, think hard and long about it and whether the expense is justified. Its retail price will be of $1449 for the Mavic 2 Pro and of $1249 for the Mavic Zoom (price being another argument to switch to the Mavic 2 Pro, or even grab a Mavic Pro if they are discounted).

The Mavic Pro 2: latest rumors and news a few hours before the announcement

In a few hours, Dji is having its launch event for the Mavic Pro 2. In the meantime, their decidedly leaky marketing strategy seems to have seriously deflated the expectations with regards to the event.

DJI’s teaser

DJI was not discouraged and started sending out yesterday a sort of video teaser for the persons who are registered in their database.

https://live.dji.com/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=edm&utm_campaign=live&sc_src=email_2088123&sc_eh=96efbc40ca5e53581&sc_llid=89968&sc_lid=89986007&sc_uid=8Y0FdUV4eO
Dji’s teaser

To be honest, the teaser tells or shows nothing at all except some gorgeous imagery.

The latest leaks

The Mavic Pro 2 has definitely been heckled by the leaks of media campaigns released before the initial announcement foreseen in July 2018 was cancelled. Once again, a publicity was released in Germany, according to the website Dronedj. This came under the form of two zip files containing high-resolution pictures of the two Mavic Pro 2.

The original tweet with the pics of the Mavic Pro 2.

The interesting part is thus that we have a confirmation that one of the drones will be equipped with a Hasselblad camera and, adds the leak,

Housing a 1-inch CMOS sensor with a 10-bit color profile, the camera captures four times as many levels of color per channel compared to Mavic Pro to provide maximum flexibility for photo and video editing

This means, as previous alluded, that the camera and sensor should definitely have much more dynamic range.

The Mavic Zoom, instead will just offer a 2x zoom, with a smaller 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor.

Then again, another leak yesterday appeared to provide the full technical specs of the Mavic Pro 2. Given that this leak puts the camera on the Mavic Pro 2 at a maximum iso of 6400, it is fair to imagine that the imaging quality will be great at night (oh yeah, in most countries you are NOT allowed to fly at night!).

Other rumors

Well, we mentioned earlier about the omni-directional sensors, so that may save more than one pilot from crashing his drone. Seems the range and stability of signal will also be addressed. One of the issues with the Mavic Pro is that you often get signal lost warnings when the drone is at some distance (especially if you are hidden behind something, like trees which interfere with the signal).

The Mavic Pro 2 will standardize the low-noise propellers first introduced with the Mavic Pro Platinum. I had already adopted those propellers for my own Mavic as they provide lower noise and better energy efficiency.

Some of the photos leaked seemed to suggest that the Hasselblad camera might be detached to be used as a gimbal. How would that work with the Dji Osmo Mobile 2 already launched, is a good question. Ok, admittedly consumers needing a gimbal won’t always own a drone.

There is also talk of a Mavic Pro enterprise more geared towards professional application, such as rescue services, but specifications are still not so clear about that model.

Which drone?

It is obvious that the sweet spot for photographers is with the Mavic Pro 2 thanks to its larger dynamic range and color quality. What is yet unknown is the numbers of Megapixel in the camera, but it should be a fair bet that it would be close to the 20 MP of the Phantom 4 Pro.

Anyway, it is just a few hours away from the announcement, so stay tuned for the latest news when we get all the details about the latest Dji drone.

If you are thinking of buying a drone, you may get one from the affiliated link on this web site, and if you already own one, Dji made an interesting article for newbie pilots.

The Mavic Pro 2

In recent weeks, pursuant to a leak, we got some more details on the upcoming Mavic Pro 2, the replacement for the Mavic Pro. We will most likely get two Mavic aircrafts, one gifted with a Hasselblad camera, the other with a zoom function.

Upgrade of the camera

So far, while simply the change of angle gives already an interesting possibility for the Mavic Pro, the camera and the sensor are a bit short. Dynamic range and image quality suffer hugely when it gets a little bit dark or there is a contrasted scene.

Devil's Peak sunset
The lack of dynamic range of the Mavic Pro is cruelly evidence in this picture with huge contrasts.

The new Mavic Pro 2 would have now a 1 inch sensor, which would make it comparable to the Phantom 4 Pro, currently in Dji’s range. While this was not made very clear, it seems the Mavic Zoom would instead be stuck with the reduced size sensor.

Obviously, a larger sensor would probably give more dynamic range and probably also a better image quality in low light (one of the weak points of the Mavic Pro).

Direction sensors: multi-sided obstacle avoidance

One of the big subjects for most users was the inclusion of multi-sided obstacle avoidance on the Mavic Pro 2. This would mean that the drone would avoid obstacles even flying backwards (one of the most popular drone cinematic moves). Right now, the Mavic Pro only sports forward obstacle avoidance sensors and this was a great complaint among chiefly amateur users. Personally, I try to avoid flying into danger zones or relying blindly on automatic modes (I actually think I used only once an automatic mode).

Some issues with the product line

I initially wanted to talk about the product lineup, but in fact, the original announcement by Dji for the Mavic Pro 2 was scheduled somewhere in July. They pushed back the announcement, apparently because their production lines were not able to satisfy the demand yet. So, yeah, there is an issue with the product(ion) line too.

But similarly, the Mavic Pro 2 and its 1 inch sensor bring into question the existence of the Phantom 4 Pro and its 1 inch sensor and 20 MP camera. If performances are similar, I expect most users to ditch the Phantom for the reduced size of the Mavic (which is very convenient for any photographer).

It could be that Dji may also announce a new Phantom 5 with upgraded capabilities for professional drone pilots now. While bulky, the Phantom line probably provides a top class flying experience for pilots. Nevertheless, if you are a photographer, you will have to make a choice between bringing a camera or a drone. With the mavic pro, you can bring both!

Time to upgrade?

To be honest, I will sit on the fence on this one. My drone is less than one year old, and while I flew quite a lot this year, I still feel it has some life in it. Not to mention that while I am flying it, I am still “amortizing” its cost.

The cost of replacing a drone is quite high. So, just like I advised for the Nikon D850, never mind the great capacity of the cameras, if you are not making money out of them, you don’t really need to upgrade until your camera is really obsolete.

In the meantime, as the Mavic Pro will be phased out, you may watch out for special offers by Dji via this (affiliate) link. And if you want some special discounts on Dji products, just go here.

Talking about Gear: is the new Nikon D850 worth it?

As many photographers, I too have been somehow inundated in the flow of marketing and ecstatic articles about the Nikon D850. The big question nobody asks is whether this new camera is worth it?

Technical improvements

On paper, the camera looks a beast and is looking set to again beat Canon at the game of megapixels and features.

Nikon D850 specs from Nikon USA web site.

In particular, as we are still in a game of megapixels, 45 MP looks like a formidable resolution for a camera. Video with 4K looks also interesting for videographers. It is certain, from the first pics (probably insanely retouched) put out by Nikon, that the camera looks able to produce magnificent pictures.

The question out there is how it performs in real life. While the jury is still out on knowing whether there will be some teething issues, I guess we can expect the camera to be still worth the 3,000 USD it will cost to purchase.

Game changer or consumer changer?

An article posted earlier railed at Nikon for creating a hype around the camera and pushing users to consumption and to “upgrade” their cameras.

If you already read my page “gear“, you know that I don’t advocate necessarily purchasing more and more gear. Nevertheless, purchasing my Nikon D750 eight years after my Canon 40D brought about a significant evolution in my photographic output and practice. In low light, I must say that the D750 beats the 40D from all points of view. New lenses gave new dimensions to my photography too.

Similarly, the increase in megapixel allowed me to improve the overall quality of my pictures.

HOWEVER, the evolution and the “upgrade” was after such a period of time that technology made leaps and bounds. It came also after I progressed personally and artistically, where my old camera felt limited. Getting the D750 a few years back would have been a waste to be quite candid.

The question when it comes to considering an upgrade is whether you are going to change YOUR game with the upgrade, or whether you are just being a consumer going with the flow.

What are your needs?

The big issue is whether you need this camera from a professional point of view. To answer that question, let’s put this differently: are you making money out of your current gear? If the answer is “yes”, then, by all means make a financial analysis of the cost vs return expected. The investment should only be justified if there is a positive equation at the end.

 

In Hong Kong, the D850 retails at 27,800 HKD body alone!

However, if you are just buying cameras and practicing photography as an amateur, spending for new gear should be a careful and considerate decision. All the more as purchasing such an important piece of gear is going to detract money from other important posts in your life.

For example, if you already have a D800 or a D810, the improvement with the D850 is just incremental. You are not going to suddenly expand your horizons, so I guess you can pass on this camera.

With a D750, the evolution is already more significant. You move from 24 MP to 45, which is almost the double. Yes, the improvement will be more significant and your pictures could be marginally better. However, unless you are shooting professionally, the expenditure is not justified, and especially not when the camera just came out (and is sold at its highest price tag). If you don’t have a camera and are hesitating between D810, D750 or D850, then just go for the D750 or D810. Both cameras are excellent and right now, should sell at a discount (even new) as the new big brother just arrived. But there is also another way.

A third way?

Looking at it differently, you may see the second-hand market being flooded by D810 in the coming months. The D810 is an excellent camera and would be an excellent addition if you absolutely need another camera.

While brand new, the D810 was quite expensive, with some luck, you might come across some low shutter-count camera held by a guy having enough money to upgrade (or being foolish). In which case, you might both, satisfy the desire for better gear, and at the same time, avoid purchasing depreciating gear without an income generated by this gear.

Conclusion: upgrade for professionals

In conclusion, for professionals, the upgrade may be quite justified. The camera does progress and offers new interesting features. However, for an amateur photographer, I would say that buying a second-hand D810 might be the wise decision at this moment.