my parents' canon SX230 HS camera arrived this afternoon1, saving me from having to wait for it the rest of the day.2 i rode to the cafe via motorcycle3 to show my mother her the new camera.

one good thing about the SX230 is it uses the same battery and memory card as my mother's canon SD800 IS. she got that almost 4 years ago and this new camera will be the replacement. at the time the SD800 was the coolest compact camera i'd ever seen. besides being very small, it also had optical stabilization, standard (640x480) video recording, and facial recognition - which was something new at the time. after 4 years of heavy use, with the on/off button crushed to the point where it doesn't pop up anymore and the 2.5" LCD all scratched up, it was time for something new.

i had a mini-freakout when it didn't seem like the SD800's NB-5L battery would fit inside the SX230. this after we ordered 5 additional batteries soon to arrive. i ended up figuring out how to insert the old battery, along with a used memory card, and shot a few test photos. i then left for belmont, where i found my father inside the garage cutting up pieces of cedar posts.

i presented the new camera to my father, showing him all the many features. this camera is so new it only went on sale last month. due to the disasters in japan, production has slowed and there's a limited supply, with amazon setting a back-order wait of between 1-3 months. under the circumstances, it felt kind of neat getting my hands on something so highly coveted.

just like in all the online reviews i saw online, the flash on the SX230 does indeed pop up when you turn on the camera, a feature that i thought would be very annoying. in practice however, it's not too bad, and a few times i unknowingly disabled the flash by simply holding my finger on it when i turned on the camera. given the extensive list of features, the pop-up flash is not a deal breaker.

compared to the SD800, the SX230 is definitely bigger. it's still pocketable, but perhaps more like a jacket pocket than a pants pocket (unless you like showing off your bulging gadgets). compared to a dSLR camera though, the SX230 is downright tiny. the SX230 also sports a bigger lens than the SD800. big lenses are a good thing if you're a fan of quality photos.

the SX230 features a wide 3" screen. i just assumed it had a 16:9 aspect ratio, but it's actually a little wider than that. what that means is even when shooting 16:9 photos/videos, there is always a black bar on the right of the screen. it's kind of weird and seems like a bad design, but not something noticeable unless you look for it. i set the camera to shoot in 16:9 "widescreen" mode so it was less noticeable than shooting in 4:3 mode (in that case there'd be black bars on both sides of the screen).

the LCD screen is amazingly bright and clear, covered in a thin glass material that i assume is at least somewhat scratch resistant, but it wouldn't hurt to get a clear screen protector sticker for the LCD. the image is so clear that you can view it from any angle, which makes unconventional shooting a breeze (e.g. shooting from above the head or below the waist).

the 14x optical zoom is pretty cool. you wouldn't think it's possible, but it's for real. the effective 35mm equivalent range is 28-392mm, so there's a pretty amazing reach. for me to duplicate that with my digital SLR, i have to start with my 17-50mm lens (35mm equivalent 27-80mm) and then switch to my 70-300mm telephoto (35mm equivalent 112-480mm). true, i have a longer reach, but it requires changing lens midshoot and there's about 30mm of midrange distance i'm missing. this is what makes the sx230 an effective travel camera, no messing around with lenses in order to go from wide angle to telephoto.

something new with the SX230 that's missing from the SD800 is the AUTO mode. it uses some kind of sophisticated camera artificial intelligence to decide on the fly what you're trying to shoot and adjust the settings according. shooting a group of people? facial recognition kicks in. shooting a close-up? macro takes over. not enough light? it bumps up the ISO for you. all the while it's updating the status in the upper right cover with sometimes cryptic icons indicating what the camera thinks you're trying to do. "it's very smart," my impressed father kept on repeating. AUTO mode can only do so much though. since i'm used to the manual controlled world of digital SLR, i'm quick to spot the shortcomings. for instance, a few times i tried to shoot macro, it wasn't able to get a focus on what i wanted. that's my one big complaint about AUTO, how sometimes it focuses on the wrong thing or nothing at all. but for the most part it gets it right. i also didn't like the auto white balance choice made by the AUTO mode; the only way i was able to change it was moving up to P (programmed) mode, the intermediary mode between full automatic and full manual.

finally, the SX230 can shoot full HD videos. at 1080p it's only 24fps (which is fine, that's the same rate as movies, so videos have a film-like quality), but 30fps at 720p. it's like having a photo camera and a video camera in one! the video mode is perfect for capturing some memorable events, but i don't know if there are any manual options for when you want to get creative, like adjust the aperture or tweak the shutter during video recording. still, having the ability to shoot videos opens up a lot of "memory preservation" options.

taking a break from playing with the camera, we went out into the backyard to inspect our projects:

the blue rain barrel is leaking! from the base of the spigot. it must've gotten knocked around either during storage or transport, and now the watertight seal is broken. the only way to fix it is to drain the barrel and seal the edge of the hole with silicone caulk. since the blue barrel doesn't have a removable lid, there's no way to get inside to seal it from the back end as well. currently the blue barrel is about half way full of water, but my father said it was much higher this morning, and already a significant amount has trickled out.

one of the double barrels near the center of the house is almost to capacity (about 4/5 full). that was quick! i didn't think it rained all that much yesterday and even late last night it seemed kind of dry. i guess it was a good idea to put 2 barrels here since it looks like this particular downspout gets the most rain. we don't have the necessary hose yet to connect the two barrels, so in the meantime my father rigged up a makeshift connect using a broken length of plastic downspout. as soon as the first barrel overflows, the water will be diverted to the screened lid of the second barrel. it's fun that we're collecting all this rain but with nothing growing in the garden yet, it's water we have no use for.

the way the rain water plays on the barrel screens almost seem like pixel drawings. the screen is there for many reasons: it allows the water to pour through, it traps any debris, and it keeps the mosquitoes out. i also like the fact that it's see-through and i can look directly into the barrels to see if they're full or not.

my father also diverted the downspout to the last rain barrel, the one sitting in the former dong quai patch before i moved it to the other side of the house. he raised it by two more cinder blocks. while he was working, he inadvertently trampled some nearby irises (hopefully they'll grow back).

my father thought we might be able to anchor a few more raised beds, but with the ground still slightly damp, i told him we should hold off until a drier day. besides, after sowing all those leafy green seeds yesterday, i don't have anything else to grow. i guess i could always get an early start on the squashes, sacrificial plants in case we get another outbreak of vine borers, and then set out another wave of squashes a few weeks later. right now the raised beds don't look like much (heck, they're not even finished yet), but i'm hoping by the summer things will look a lot different.

inside the garage we nailed together the pieces of the mini raised bed (minibed). this will be mostly for the perennial mint and my sister wants to grow some lavender as well.

i ended up staying in belmont for dinner. with my mother at work (she's normally the one who cooks), we ate a spartan meal composed of white rice and leftovers. when my mother finally came home, i left for cambridge. it was cold outside, with temperature in the 40's (funny, there was a time during the winter when the 40's would be considered summery), and i thought i'd freeze on the motorcycle, but the windshield deflected most of the wind and it was actually a pleasantly warm ride back.

1 also arriving: one genuine USA passport courtesy of the state department (and a hefty $110 fee to grease the bureaucratic wheels). not that i'm planning on traveling anytime soon, but now the possibility is there. the only thing to consider now is whether or not to smash the RFID chip embedded inside. paranoid much?

2 for some reason i had it shipped to my place instead of there's. maybe i just wanted to see it first for myself!

3 the weather was a little weird today. it was overcast and i checked out several forecasts that all said there'd be periods of rain like yesterday. but when i looked at the doppler radar, all the rain was well north, up in vermont and new hampshire. i decided to risk riding the motorcycle, figured the worst that could happen would be a light drizzle.