The Papuan Scorpionfish – Junior and Senior

Posted in Under the Sea on January 31st, 2010 by MadDog
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Today I have some more shots from my dive at Magic Passage yesterday in a ripping current. That’s exactly what you want at that site, as long as it’s coming in, bringing cold, clear ocean water. It make for great visibility, but it was a little too strong yesterday, making photography difficult. The strong currents there cause a lot of swirling around the features of the passage, so, one second you are being sucked in one direction and the next moment, it’s just the opposite. It can be hard on cameras and heads alike.

But first, here’s this morning’s yummy sunrise, a five exposure panorama:

For the techno-geeks out there, this shot was taken at first ligh, just enough to barely read the knobs on the camera, hand held from the bobbing stern of Faded Glory and shot at ISO 1600. Not bad for a point and shoot camera. Click to enlarge and have a look. There was noise, alright, but I smashed it into submission with the normal settings of Noise Ninja Pro after merging the frames in Photoshop. This is a huge reduction of the original which was about 6000 pixels wide – enough to paper your lounge room wall.

Back into the water, here are some very young Silver Sweetlips (Diagramma pictum)  right at the mouth of Magic Passage. I got this snap shot as I was fighting against the current. The G11 did a fine job:You all know that I like “find the fish” shots. This isn’t the most difficult one that I’ve shown you, but it’s still a good example of a master of camouflage:It’s a rather large specimen of the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis),  probably the most common variety of scorpionfish that we see here. Did you find it quickly?

Here is a close up and personal shot of its head:

Pretty, isn’t it? In a functional sort of way.

Thanks to the eagle-eyes of my good dive buddy Rich Jones, I got my first good image of a baby version of the big daddy above. I wouldn’t have spotted this in a million years unless I was stuck on that rock with nothing else to do:It is about 3cm long and fades in perfectly with its surroundings.

I’m very happy with my new G11. The next step is to take both cameras down on the same dive and take identical shots for comparison. Get ready for some techno-babble, but with pretty pictures to soften it.

Then I’m hoping to start conducting on-site UW photography lessons. I”m looking for serious students with at least an Advanced Open Water certificate.

Anybody interested?

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First Drenching of the Canon G11

Posted in Under the Sea on January 30th, 2010 by MadDog
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I won’t waste your precious time today with a lot of blabber. My own semi-precious “time for myself” is withering as my workload increases while my pay simultaneously shrinks. However, I did have a bit of fun today. I did my first dive with my new Canon G11 in its cozy factory housing.I still have a lot to learn about squeezing this new lemon, but first results have me feeling dreamy and wishing I had time for a mid-week dive.

The current at Magic Passage was raging and I had two divers with me with whom I had no experience, so I didn’t get much chance to shoot. I did get enough frames to tell me that I like what I’m seeing from the G11.

Here is a pretty ordinary shot of a Silver Sweetlips subadult (Diagramma pictum).  You’ve seen these many times here before, and much better images. However, this was a snap shot which I did not even expect to save. With a few minutes work, the G11 image came out acceptable:Here is a mob of what I think are Lunartail Snappers (Lutjanus lunulatus)  finning vigorously against the current. Again, as a snap shot, I’m very happy. The G11 seems to save more images from doom because of its increased dynamic range (the range of colours and shades that it can record accurately under varying conditions) and its lower noise level:Again, I didn’t expect for this image to be usable.

Here’s a sweet shot of a Circular Spadefish  or Batfish (Platax orbicularis)  that really illustrates how the two extra stops of dynamic range allow me to save a nearly impossible image:Where I would have had muddy dark areas and blown out highlights (such as the top of the frame), now I have decent detail in the very dark areas and smooth gradations with colour detail left in the very bright areas – just what I was hoping for.

I never pass up a chance to photograph the ridiculous Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata): When God was a little kid, he left some of his toys scattered around the planet. This is one of them.

Here is a close up shot of this very special toy:The detail is amazing. I’ve lost no ability to capture fine details by dropping from 15 to 10 megapixels. I think a lot of the extra megapixels were wasted because they were too small to gather enough light to put together a decent image. The pixel race is over.

Here is a reader favourite and mine also, the lowly Hermit Crab (Dardanus sp.):This little fellow will soon be receiving a notice from the Neighborhood Association for painting his house such an outrageous colour.

Back tomorrow with more wholesome G11 goodness.

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Mystery Insect

Posted in Mixed Nuts on January 29th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today’s post will be all over the place, because that’s where my head is. I’m the worlds worst mental multi-tasker. Physically, I’m okay. I can simultaneously pat my head, rub my tummy, hop on one foot, roll my eyes, chew gum and twirl a hula-hoop while singing the national anthem of Papua New Guinea (most of it, anyway). But, I can’t think about more than one thing at a time. This makes my workday feel like a picnic in one of the lower levels of Dante’s Inferno.

So, since I’m even more scatterbrained than normal, it would be asking too much to expect any kind of theme today. I’ll start with the Mystery Insect. Up at Blueblood, Pascal Michon found this weird thing:

Though it looks very much like a mosquito, it’s not. Pascal tells me that it is a fly of some kind because of the shape of the mouth parts (ugh!). I had to take about twenty exposures to get one while it was sticking its tongue, or whatever you call it, out. All the while it was sitting on my hand, presumably deciding whether or not I was edible. Pascal put it in a jar and sent it off somewhere for an ID check. More later on that.

Switching subjects completely, here is a nice shot of a gang of Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)  down deep in Magic Passage:It’s worth clicking this one to enlarge it.

The polyps of this Gonipora  genus coral (I can’t identify the species.) remind me of waving wheat:The metaphor works better if you can see the water currents making it sway back and forth.

The new Canon G11 came into play this morning at about 06:15 to catch the sunrise. This is the fantasy version:

I couldn’t resist playing with the colours.

This is what it really looked like:That’s a four frame panorama more or less exactly as it came from the camera. So far, so good.

Finally, I’m happy to announce that Bozo the Clown made a guest appearance recently in Madang and I was proud to take him diving. Here he is all google-eyed and frazzled, looking as if he’s enjoying a giant licorice all-day sucker. Someone should tell him that you’re supposed to lick it, not stick the whole thing in your mouth:

Okay, okay, it’s actually me.

Is it any wonder that I’m the laughingstock of Madang? Hey, everybody is entitled to a job.

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Direct Comparison – Canon G9-G10-G11

Posted in Photography Tricks on January 28th, 2010 by MadDog
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This post may cause some of you to reboot. Sorry for that. Not everybody is a photography geek. However, since I find myself today with all three of my Canon G series cameras at the office, I decided to make an extremely unscientific comparison of them. Canon has been all over the map with megapixels in the G series. The G9 was 12 and shot pretty good pictures. The G10 went to 15 and gave amazing detail in good light conditions, but was too noisy for the low light levels that make such sweet available light shots. The G11 gives you  10 megapixels. Why the backtracking? To give you a better all-round experience. Fifteen megapixels are overkill for most uses. And, the “buckets” are too small to catch enough photons to keep the sampling fair. Remember, all this dancing around of pixel counts was done without changing the size of the sensor.

Anyway, that’s way too much detail for most folk and the geeks already know what I’m talking about. Here’s a series of three shots at my bolted-to-the-wall computer in my office. All were shot at ISO 1600, which is adequate for most indoor shooting without flash as long as there are no kids or pets in the shot and you can brace a little to avoid motion blur. Just the ticket for those romantic, candle-lit dinners. All of these are a small portion of the centre of the frame – about a 300% enlargement:

Here’s the G9:

It’s noisy, no doubt, but it’s not unmanageable. I’ve made no compensation for megapixels here and the shots are compressed with JPG, so it’s not a technically sophisticated comparison, to say the least. Non-photographers probably won’t even notice the differences.

Here’s the G10 image:

We have to click all of these to really see the detail. If you do, you will probably note much more noise and a generally poorer image. That’s because of trying to cram 15 million pixe3ls on something smaller than your little finger nail.

Here’s the G11 image:

I would certainly call this better than the G9 or G10. There’s less noise and it is of the manageable kind, using a good noise filter such as Noise Ninja Pro. The detail level is better and the whole thing simply looks better.

So much for low light. How about normal shooting? I grabbed this image in front of my office today on the G11:

Nice and clean for a snapshot, but it doesn’t tell us much.

Here’s a blowup from the G9:

Pretty crisp. You can read the PNG on the plate.

Here’s the G10:

Not so hot. I didn’t get the apparent size the same, but you an still tell that it appears a bit blurry compared to the G9. Again, more pixels doesn’t necessarily make a better camera.

Here is the shot from the G11:

Frankly, I can’t see a lot of difference here. That’s to be expected. At high light levels, we shouldn’t expect to see much, although my imagination whispers that there is more detail in the shadows and highlights for the G11. This is is one of the Holy Grails for point and shoot cameras – low noise, high dynamic range. The extra detail in the shadows and highlights make a huge difference when you’re trying to achieve magnificence on a budget.

So, what does MadDog think?

Well, first MadDog wonders if anybody cares. I took this shot with the G11 in miserable lighting conditions at ISO 1600. The G11 has a swivel screen, so you can do all of those exciting things with a camera that you’ve only dreamed about. Just don’t tell me about them. I’m as happy as a clam. I can’t wait to get it into its UW housing and take it diving on Saturday.

I’m probably going to start carrying my G11 as my daily camera, though I’m a bit nervous about that, given the security situation here. When my G9 was stolen and thrown to the pavement, it still worked, except in the UW housing, Still they are tough cameras. I can’t think of many cameras with which you could club a thug unconscious and then take his picture.

I’ll still use the G10 when I need massive detail. Good light and lots of pixels can’t be beat for some jobs. But, my new sweetheart is the G11.

I’m so fickle.

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More Underwater Critters

Posted in Under the Sea on January 27th, 2010 by MadDog
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Well, the charter to Bag Bag Island  is off. There have been several small craft lost at sea in Astrolabe Bay  over the last few days. There’s a fierce nor’easter blowing and the chop is reported to be up to three metres. I’m poor and wild, but I’m not completely insane. The money was good, but the risk too great. As soon as I told my good friend Trevor Hattersley about the charter he called me back several times to talk me out of it. That is what good mates do. Thanks, Trev.

So, I find myself presently incomeless, but safe and dry.

Therefore, let me attempt to entertain you for a few minutes with some miscellaneous pretty pictures and some verbal rambling. This Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)  is not the stuff of of raw excitement, but it’s interesting to speculate how something that looks like this is actually alive:I’m reminded of the old Star Trek  episode in which the rocks were sentient, albeit slow movers.

After a few thousand dives and more time underwater than most people spend at church in a lifetime, you get to the point at which you can make educated guesses. Here’s a shot of a motion-blurred Oriental Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus orientalis)  and terror-frozen Many-Spotted Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides):I knew how this shot would play out. The Many-Spotted Sweetlips will freeze for a while when it spots you. It will try to hide by pretending not to be there. “Look at me. HAH! Can’t see me, can you?” Then, as it slowly sinks in that it’s being observed, it will begin to swim away, usually without too much fuss. The Oriental Sweetlips, however, is easily panicked and makes haste to use the nearest escape route. I could see around a corner that the two fish were slowly finning in the sluggish current side-by-side. As soon as I popped my head up over the top of the coral bomie, the spotted fish froze for a moment and the Oriental Sweetlips headed for the door – thus the blurry fish image.

You’ve seen these fat slugs before. It may not sound politically correct to call them that, but that’s exactly what they are, so it’s okay:It’s a Sea Cucumber (Thelenota ananas),  a particularly pink one. They are usually more brownish. Possibly it has a fever.

Sometimes I need to show you a really bad image just so that you can see that underwater photography is a crap shoot. This is a Blacktip Shrimpgoby (Cryptocentrus polyophthalmus),  a fish which I seldom see:I knew the shot would be awful, because the fish was back in a hole and I couldn’t get close. Nevertheless, it’s the only image that I have of this species. I’m not bursting with pride.

This, however, is a nice little reef scene with a couple of male Purple Anthea (Pseudanthias tuka):When I saw these two, they were engaged in a little ritualised sparring. I snapped the shot as they were returning to their corners for a time-out. That’s why they are swimming away from each other.

Here is a perfectly beautiful image of a nudibranch that I still  can’t identify:I’m going to have to invest some money in a better nudi book.

You’ve seen these Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)  here several times. I’ve mistakenly called them Diverticulate Tree Corals elsewhere. Gonna have to fix that:The one above is particularly nice. Good, symmetrical shape, rich colour; I like it.

Enough of the fishy stuff. Let me show you two UFOs that I caught on camera the other day. Actually there may be three, a big green one with an orange one riding on its back and a purple one up higher:

I yelled at them, but nobody came down to visit. If there were aliens aboard, they must be a snooty lot.

Of course, all that is wishful thinking. The coloured blobs are obviously lens flares caused by internal reflections within the optics of the bright orb of the sun.

Someday I’ll show you my real  UFO shots. They’ll blow you away!

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Undersea Bits and Bobs

Posted in Under the Sea on January 26th, 2010 by MadDog
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Don’t ask me why, but I think of nudibranchs as the furry little bunny rabbits of the sea. They’re not furry. They don’t breathe air. They have no legs. They do sometimes, however, have what may appear to be ears, but are not. Here’s a little funny-bunny Nudibranch (Phyllidiella pustulosa)  for you:As you may have surmised, I’m a bit mentally frazzled today. I have a tentative job to run someone out to Bag Bag Island  in two days and it has me a bit disconcerted, as I usually have more time to plan a trip like that. It’s only about 120 kliks round trip, including a fudge factor for finding the spot where the guy wants to be, but it’s wild country and if you have problems, you’re in for a long, long stay. There are no regular boat runs out there, so the money is good. I can’t afford to pass it up, but I’m not like the fishermen with big boats who tootle out to Bag Bag on a lark. I’ve got to get my act together tomorrow and be ready to go at 06:00 the next day. I need to get used to this kind of work, because there will be a lot of it in our future.

Here’s another P. pustulosa  (I hate that name – it’s so . . . indelicate) for you:

The one in the shot above is a fairly small specimen. Most of those that we notice are three or four times as large. It was crawling on a bit if stuff that wasn’t attached to anything. That’s why I picked it up to show to you. We don’t normally bother the critters unless there’s sufficient reason and a genuine purpose (the reason being that I wanted to show you the size and the purpose was that picking it up was the most interesting way to do it).

This Nudibranch (Fryeria menindie)  is even less bunny-like, but it does have a couple of yellow ear-like appendages:I could not get myself around to shoot this one sraight from the side without scrunching my face up against the coral, which would have induced an itchy rash oozing stuff that you don’t want to hear about and lasting for weeks. Therefore, its front end and back end are slightly out of focus. These are the travails of an underwater photographer. I like to dwell on the minor irritations of life. I do this so that the big ones can’t take up all of my precious moaning time.

I’m a little puffed up about this image. These Trumpetfish (Aulostomus chinensis)  are difficult to shoot:I managed to fire one off at this fine specimen just as he was attempting to scurry from one completely ineffective hiding position to another. Of course, they can’t really hide. They just like to imagine that they are invisible. All that they require is a few sprigs of sea fan or coral to make them believe that they have disappeared. I can still see them, of course, but the shot is ruined. It’s rare to get a good side shot such as this of one which is not obscured by something.

I include this shot simply because it’s a good example of “what I see when I’m diving”:It’s a little mob of female Purple Anthea (Psudanthias tuka)  hovering over a lovely coral formation which I think is Turbinaria reniformis.  It does make a pretty scene. I got that shot at Barracuda Point.

Returning home on Saturday, I stopped right in front of our house and took this shot to the South showing the big wood chip loading equipment at JANT (Japan and New Guinea Timber). They grind up trees to make paper:That’s the Finisterre Mountains  in the background. You can also see the Lutheran Shipping Engineering Yard on the far shore.

I seem to have nothing witty to wrap it up.

Happy Australia Day.

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A Few Lower Invertebrates

Posted in Under the Sea on January 25th, 2010 by MadDog
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Ah, the pictures are here, but the words, they don’t flow today. If you suffer from writer’s block, it’s handy to have a camera and a wet suit. Let’s jump right in and see if I can loosen my tongue a bit. I have a few recent amusing photos of lowly invertebrates to get us going, including a couple of puzzles. I’ll begin with something that’s not supposed to be here, assuming that I have correctly identified it.

This is what appears to me to be the Red Encrusting Sponge (Monanchora barbadensis):There is no denying that is simultaneously beautiful and spectacular, a combination of attributes not achieved since the days of the likes of Sophia Loren and Elke Sommer. The problem with it being:  it’s not supposed to be here. I can only assume that either I have misidentified it (most likely) or  it has begun to wander dramatically from its home waters in the Caribbean. It is even more stunning in person, as I am certain were Sophia and Elke, though I missed my chance to verify this.

Switching colours and approaching certainty we have here the Blue Encrusting Sponge (Haliclona sp):It’s equally spectacular in colour, but a little more messy in form.

Moving back to a warmer colour, if not improving the shape, we have this rather lumpy orange sponge which I can’t identify at all:I can find plenty of orange sponges on the web, but none of them fit the profile of this blob. It is incredibly bright. You can see it from a great distance. Apparently the colour is particularly good at penetrating sea water. Why anything that can’t move quickly would want to be so flashy, I can’t imagine. It’s like wearing a sign that says, “Eat me!”

This is a particularly neat, round Acropora hyacinthus  coral:This colony was particularly green, which caught my eye.

As I was working with the image, I noted that I had caught more detail than I imagined. Here is a close-up of the center of the colony showing the individual polyps:Quite a lot going on down deep inside there.

You’ve seen images of this Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata)  here before, but I’m showing you this one because it’s the best specimen image that I’ve managed yet. It shows all of the features needed to make a positive identification:Not that that’s critical in this case. There’s simply nothing else that looks anything like it.

Finally, here’s an image that features not one but two  Sea Squirt species in one frame:The green slimy looking stuff is a Sea Squirt (Lissoclinum patellum)  which I only recently came to the realisation of what it is. I’ve been looking at them for years, wondering what the heck they were. They look for all the world like blobs of moldy mint jelly. The tan thingie in the middle I am less sure about. I previously thought that these were some kind of sponge. Now I’ve changed my mind (easy enough). I now think that this also is a Sea Squirt of the genus Botryllus.

Did the earth shake for you?

Never mind. Just do as I do. Look at the pretty pictures. I can’t remember the last time that I actually read  National Geographic.

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