Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Grand Cru Wine Bar

I met up with a couple of foodie friends, Brenda and Nurit for happy hour. We decided on meeting at a wine bar in Bellevue none of us have been to called Grand Cru. They have a half price wine and apps happy hour all day on Monday and Tuesday nights. Even at half price the wines start at $8 a glass and go up to $17. The apps were more reasonably priced and started at $3.

I ran into Brenda in the parking garage and we took the elevator up to street level. Just outside the elevator was a door to Grand Cru with a sign to go around. We proceeded out the door and around the corner to another door which was locked. We continued around another corner to door #3 which finally let us in. We sat up at the bar to have a glass of wine while we waited for Nurit. The bar counter was uncomfortably high and shortly after Nurit arrived we moved ourselves to a more comfortable table.

They ended up being out of at least two of wines we were interested in on the happy hour menu as well as one of the appetizers, the black truffle oil popcorn. Nurit joked saying they can just bring us the Truffle Oil but they didn't seem to think that was as funny as the rest of us did. We ordered a couple of the Crustini Trios, Mushroom Ricotta Crépe, Pappardelle Pasta, a cheese plate and a couple of $1 tacos. I didn't try the crépe since I'm not a fan of mushrooms. Though the company was good, unfortunately the food wasn't very impressive. The tacos were probably the best thing we tried. We weren't offered a regular menu and didn't think of asking for one till it was a little too late. It felt dark and uninviting. The decor was mostly black and silver, very modern and industrial looking.

The wine was good, though I thought they could have had some more inexpensive wine options for happy hour. We saw a flyer advertising free dinners on Wednesdays. You only have to pay for gratuity. This seemed a little strange and sounded like they are getting desperate for customers. I don't have plans to revisit Grand Cru anytime soon even if the meal is free.
Grand Cru Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 23, 2009

Photobooth with Pocket Wizards

Mark and I set up a photobooth in my living room for the 2nd Annual Wine & Cheese Party at my place last month. Before I proceed I should explain what a photobooth is.

Traditionally, a photobooth is a box about the size of a phone booth with a curtain on one side, maybe that's where the name photobooth came from. You enter this box, close the curtain, and give it some money and it takes a series of pictures and then processes and spits them out.

Today, people use the term to define a studio type setup usually with a backdrop of some kind with a flash. Using a remote trigger to fire the flash and trigger the shutter, you can take photos of yourself without anyone behind the camera. This is what we set up in my living room using a yellow backdrop and WL 1600 studio strobe shot through a 47" Octabox. To the right is a pic of Jeremy using the photobooth.

Since we hadn't done this before we had a little trouble initially getting it to work using Pocket Wizard Plus II's. We thought we would need one PW attached to flash, one attached to camera, and one in the subjects hand to trigger with. We set them all to the same channel but it just would not work. Finaly, thanks to Jeremy, he showed us how to do it but instead of 3 Pocket Wizards we needed 4. doh! We needed an additional PW.

4 Pocket Wizard setup:
1. PW for subject to trigger on channel 1
2. PW cabled to camera's remote trigger port on channel 1
3. PW on camera's hot shoe on channel 2
4. PW connected to flash on channel 2

Wow that is a lot of PW's for a setup! It worked and that's all that mattered at the time, but I kept thinking there had to be a way to do this with 3.

We had a Pocket Wizard meetup with Mark Wallace of Snap Factory this weekend and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to see if there was any way to do this setup with 3 PW's. I actually hadn't thought about asking about this until we were just about to walk out the door. Mark assured us you can do it with 3 and he assisted with setting it up right then and there to show us. Sure enough it worked with 3! We were so excited it could be done with 3. So this is how it's done.

3 Pocket Wizard setup (Relay Mode):
1. PW for subject to trigger on channel 1
2. PW on camera's hot shoe and cabled to camera's remote trigger port on channel 1
3. PW connected to flash on channel 2

In order to use relay mode of the pocket wizards the PW attached to the flash must be one channel higher than the other PW's. So you could use channels 2 and 3 or 3 and 4 of you want. Transmit mode on the PW's should be set to BOTH.

Here are a few shots taken with this setup. They were triggered by various people and not necessarily by those in the pic.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

E-P1 First Look

I received the E-P1 on Oct 28th and have had about a week to get familiar with it. There are a few features I have yet to try like the art filters and video. I have a feeling I won't be using the art filters all that much but I will check them out at some point.

E-P1 Front E-P1 Back

I planned to take it out for the first time that evening to a Seattle/Tacoma PUG meeting. I had a little less than 2 hours to get the battery charged before I had to leave, which was not very likely. I charged it as much as I could before I left the house and plugged it into my car. I was afraid after going from charging inside to the car that it would start the charging process all over again but I was pleasantly surprised when the charge was completed about 20 minutes after I left the house.

I ordered a Lumix 20mm F1.7 pancake lens a few days prior but it wasn't due to deliver until the following day so the only lens I had to use was the 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 kit zoom lens that came with the camera. Also on order were adapters so I can use my digital four thirds lenses and OM film lenses as well as an extra battery.

Before going to the meeting we stopped at a couple of wine stores. First stop was the Wine Outlet in SODO. My first shot with the Olympus E-3 was also taken at a wine store. Probably just a coincidence. :) I hadn't been to the Wine Outlet before, it was smaller than I thought it would be but they had some good wine specials and the layout and decor of the store was unique. Even without racks of wine there was no question it was a wine store and the manager working was friendly and helpful. We ended up purchasing 8 bottles to help fill up a wine rack we are building which may be another blog post when finished. We also made a stop at Esquin and got a couple more bottles to bring to the PUG meeting.

I took a few shots at the store in aperature priority using auto ISO and color balance and from the lcd it looked like I was getting some pretty good results. I didn't know at the time what ISO it was shooting at. It was only after I got home to process the photos that I noticed it was shooting at ISO 1600. I was beyond impressed at the minimal noise in the photos. Even my E-3 has quite a bit at that level. Some of the photos were taken as slow as 1/15 of a second and even at that rate the photos were sharp so the image stabilization must be doing a good job. The color of the photos was also spot on. Here are a few of the results taken at the wide end of the zoom lens.

E-P1 First Shot
Wine Outlet: 15mm, 1/30, F3.6, ISO 1600

Wine Outlet SODO
Wine Outlet: 14mm, 1/15, F4, ISO 1600

Esquin: 14mm, 1/50, F14, ISO 1600

I also took a few photos at the PUG meeting. The ISO somehow switched from auto to 125 so these were all taken at ISO 125 which means the shutter speed was very slow. I'm sure I would have gotten some much better results had I been on a higher ISO. If the camera is on and it bumps around it seems to be easy to accidentally change the camera settings so that's one that that you should be careful of with this camera. Always check your settings.

Seattle/Tacoma PUG - long exposure
Seattle/Tacoma PUG: 14mm, 1 second, F4.5, ISO 125

Seattle/Tacoma PUG
Seattle/Tacoma PUG: 14mm, 1/2, F4, ISO 125

Seattle/Tacoma PUG
Seattle/Tacoma PUG: 14mm, .8, F4, ISO 125

Overall I think it's a great camera. Very impressive image quality especially for the size. I don't think it's small enough for me to use it as a carry around camera, unless I get a larger purse. I will still use my Olympus Touch for that. I think it's the perfect camera for low light and will definitely bring it to restaurants and bars instead of my bulky E-3. The size/weight is great for a digital SLR. The body is smaller and 4 oz. lighter than my Olympus OM film body.

The two biggest complaints people have had about the camera is the missing viewfinder and flash. I don't miss the in body flash at all. I rarely ever use it on my cameras. It has a hot shoe so you can still use an external flash and/or remote trigger a flash with a remote trigger, like pocket wizards. I do however miss having a viewfinder. I have put the camera up to my face more than once already. The viewfinder is nice and clear though but it would be nice if it swiveled. If these are features you really want, you may want to hold off buying an E-P1 and wait and see if the E-P2 has any of these features added on. If I were buying one myself, I would have waited for the E-P2 but if Olympus wants to give me one I would certainly take it and put it to good use.

One warning to anyone who has or is planning on buying this camera. The auto focus out of the box is absolutely horrible. I'm kind of glad I got to experience it though to see how much the firmware update helps and it does indeed help, a lot. I had a really hard time focusing most of that first night but have not had any issues since updating the firmware. I didn't have time to update it before I left because you need a charged battery to do so.

Stay tuned for more blog posts and pics from me with this camera.