Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

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Multipost

July 26, 2008

 

Have had a couple issues on hold for a few days, they are coming all togheter today in a multipost..

 

Defective Hoya R72 Infrared filter

The Ricoh compacts are legendary for it´s IR capabilities. I once had a IR converted 20D. It was fun, but I thought that having a camera for IR shooting exclusiveley was not worth it so I sold it. Have missed IR a lot. Now with the arrival of my GX100 it´s the perfect moment to get back to some IR shooting. The R72 is probably the most popular IR filter, because it allows not only B&W IR but also allows to produce great “False Colour” images. So I went and bought an Hoya R72 IR filter from a reputable dealer on Ebay on the states to a great price. The IR filter arrived last week and since then I have been trying it out with very weird results. I have not been pleased with it at all. I blamed my lack of IR skills and went to read some tutorials and tryed it out some more, but still no success. Suddenly, after watching some of the pictures I noticed that one portion of the filter was producing a blur. If you rotate the filter the blur rotates with it. Funny that the surface of the filter is flawless, not a single sign of damage.

You can see the blur caused in the area surounded by the red elipse. Not being able to see any damage signs I decided to have a look against a strong light source and..there it was!! The filter has an internal scratch that is clearly underneath the coating:

I have contacted the dealer and after providing some pictures they were very surprised becaused aparently after many years representing HOYA filters they have never seen anything similar. To be honest neither have I..They inmediately took care of the issue and kindly asked for me to return the filter so they can proceed to inspection and replacement. They have taken care of the return shipping costs, something not very common I believe. So my IR photography is on hold untill I receive my replacement filter..Oh well!

 

Panasonic LX2 VS. Ricoh GX100

This is probably useless as both replacement models (GX200 and LX3) have been announced, but I wanted to see a few things with my own eyes..So I went and shot a scene with both cameras to see the real world differences. You can click on the images to view (and download if you wish and could be of any interest to you) a bigger version.

Panasonic LX2, f5.6, 0.625Sec, 6.3mm, ISO 100

 

Ricoh GX100, f5.4, 0.625Sec, 6mm, ISO 80

Ricoh GX100, f5.4, 0.625Sec, 6mm, ISO 80

 Considering the differences inherent to this two cameras(the panasonic is a 16:9 native sensor camera with a 28mm lens and the Ricoh is a 4:3 native sensor one with a 24mm lens.) this is what I decided to do: Shot both cameras at 3:2 aspect ratio. the LX2 at it´s widest zoom setting and the Ricoh at 28mm. This is going to give the most similar output, in pixel size and FOV. I shot both cameras in their lowest ISO setting, 100 for the Panny and 80 for the Ricoh. All other setting are standard in both models. Both lenses stopped down to 5.4/5.6, which should be close to their sweet spot. Both cameras shot with self-timer, sitting on the table and with image stabilisation turned off. Both in auto focus. This is not a high ISO comparative study, I thought it would be of more interest to see both cameras at their native ISO and in JPEG in order to see the different noise strategies both machines have. Two things are evident this far:

  1. The Ricoh has a much more effective auto white balance that as I mentioned in a previous entry “nails” it every time even in mixed/difficult conditions. I am really liking the Ricoh colours. The Pany´s Auto WB can be all around the place, but it gets much better if you use the specific white balance output. Obviously all this is irrelevant for a RAW shooter..
  2. The Ricoh has a slightly wider FOV (with the 28mm setting in 3:2) , but nothing really relevant .

I thought this high contrast image could be a good candidate, plus it´s all I was willing to shoot last night..Next you will find 100% crops from both cameras in two different areas of the image.

Panasonic LX2, crop1

Panasonic LX2, crop1

 

Ricoh GX100, crop1

Ricoh GX100, crop1

 

 

LX2, crop2

Panasonic LX2, crop2

 

Ricoh GX100, crop2

Ricoh GX100, crop2

Just in case you believe an ISO100 image of the GX100 could be of interest or a more fair comparisson, here I enclose a ISO 100 crop of the most relevant portion of the image, the shadowed area where noise and the processor´s job are going to be more critical.

 

Ricoh GX100, crop2 @ ISO100

Ricoh GX100, crop2 @ ISO100

There seems to be, at least to my eyes, a slight difference in noise between the ISO 80 & 100 files of the GX100. I encourage you to see and download bigger versions of each file. I believe this images pretty much tell the story about noise, noise reduction and smearing..I believe commenting about sharpness is dificult. Both lenses are plenty sharp and capable of resolving great detail, though the Leica lens seems a tad sharper (and seems to suffer from a bit more CA). This conclution is not scientific though..I am starting to have a clear idea of how the output of each machine is but I would like you to reach your own conclutions, and It would be of most interest to have them shared here..

 

Two GX100 images from today

 

Sometimes it´s difficult to believe..

Ricoh GX100, f2.5, 1/5Sec, 5,1mm, ISO400, B&W JPEG Processed in PS

Ricoh GX100, f2.5, 1/5, 5,1mm, ISO400, B&W JPEG Processed in PS

 

Highkey “Micromachines”

Ricoh GX100, f2.5, 1/760, 5,1mm, ISO400, B&W JPEG Processed in PS

Ricoh GX100, f2.5, 1/760, 5,1mm, ISO400, B&W JPEG Processed in PS

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LX3, (personal) first thoughts.

July 22, 2008

It´s finally here, and it caused, yesterday, quite a shake with it´s anouncement. I believe Panasonic has managed to present one of the most interesting cameras in quite a while, they seem to have understood the exact place this RAW shooting “serious compacts” have in the market.

It is interesting that multimillionaire leading companies such as Canon, that produce some of the best photographic tools in the world, manage to fail, generation after generation of their products, to provide exactly what their customers demand, relying in marketing bullshit and just for the sake of profit. Crippling products by not enabling functions that are just a matter of software implementation, in order to create clear market segments and force the sales has been the  strategy of companies like Canon and Sony. Remember the fiasco when they decided to produce a G7 with no RAW capability? Talk about dumb decisions..Those of us who shoot with DSLR´s have been asking for quite a while now for little changes that would make our shooting experience a much more pleasant and succesfull one. For example, ISO changing. Come on, ISO is one of the most important parameters in today´s digital shooting, it can´t be burried in a menu in a PRO or SEMI/PRO camera. For ages we have been asking for a mirror-lockup button to avoid us going deep into the menus, but still they managed to produce a high-end camera like the 5D with a “direct print button”!!!  Who the X”@%$ wants a bloody direct print button in a Pro body??

 

 

But then it is refreshing to find little commited companies like Ricoh, that actually seem to care about what a photographer needs when operating a camera, and that time after time seem to surprise gladly including features that people had actually been asking for and that do make their little gems very capable cameras indeed.

Well, Panasonic seems to have joined the little group of manufacturers who actually managed, somehow, to “connect” with their potential buyers. Congratulations! A couple months ago I started in this blog a post tittled “LX3 Wishlist”. Many of you kindly contributed and wrote down your wishes for the new machine. Those wishes seemed to be more or less the same in every other blog or forum that discussed the posibility of an LX3. I allways thought that it would be very easy (and cheap) for big manufacturers to have a little team devoted to surf the web and actually read forums and blogs, because I believe it would be the most effective way of knowing the feeling and demands of photographers. Probably cheaper than complex market studies done by expensive companies with difficult, long and snobish names that believe they know what the people want in the street level…It looks like Panasonic did their homework (or they hired a market study company that actually has their feet in the groud..) because you will find that nearly every point in the wishlist was addressed..

RAW shooting serious compacts are not simply easy holiday snapping machines, they are often the first or second choice for people that take their photography very seriously. In that direction I believe the first great success of the LX3 is that it has become not a camera, but a whole outfit with a number or interesting accesories that conform a nice kit. Have a look at this picture:

 

I was a Leica rangefinder shooter for a while. This Panasonic kit resembles my Leica outfit in a way that no other compact has ever. I remember reading yesterday in another forum how similar someone found it to his Voightlander-Bessa kit. It does look very cool and “retro”.

The external optical viewfinder is a smart move in the right direction, but aparently they will only comercialise one, a 24mm. Interesting but not enough. I am personaly more of a 35-50 shooter. True that other manufacturers build  finders for the rest of the focal lengths, but if Panasonic has not implemented a step-zoom option the use of other external finders will be more than impossible.

Now that half case is the sexiest thing..The filter and converter adapter is a godsend. It will allow expanding the kit and it´s photographic capabilities in a very wellcome way. As much as I like the adapter I currently use for my LX2, it only stays in place by preassure, and even when it has never failed/fallen I hope the Lumix adapter will be a threaded one for maximum security and reliability. ND filters, yes, cool, but unfortunately the longest shutter speed is still 60 seconds..

The wide converter is wellcome, but not to rain in Panasonic´s parade, using the Nikon WC-E68 wide converter I currently use with my LX2 will allow a FOV of about 16mm, and is also 46mm threaded (like Panasonic´s). Quality may be another issue..Werther the Nikon converter will vignette in the new LX3 remains to be seen..

 

 

The lens, is obviously one of the greates strengths of this camera. Interestig that the focal length has been reduced in the tele end. A 2.5x zoom will obviously allow a much higher quality lens, plus making a fast lens so small requires some compromises. I just wish they had made it a 24-70. On the other hand, I could see a tele-converter coming from Panasonic in the near future..Fast (very) at both wide and tele ends  makes it a very capable low-light shooter. If the sensor´s high ISO capabilities are up to it..Good that Panasonic decided to keep it to 10Mp. Brave and clever decision. Another strike for Panasonic.

But stating that this camera´s resolution has remained the same may be arguable. Let me elaborate..In the first place Panasonic has opted for a very curios option: The camera´s sensor doesn´t seem to have a native aspect ratio. This are the pixel sizes at the different formats:

                                               16:9  =    3.968 x 2.232                 
                                                 3:2  =    3.776 x 2.520                
                                                 4:3  =    3.648 x 2.736

None of the formats makes use of the whole sensor! So the camera is no more a 16:9 native aspect camera. Actually the resolution has dropped for this format to about 8Mp. But the pixel count has actually increased in the 4:3 and 3:2 aspects to around 9.5-10 Mp. In the LX2 this two formats were actual crops of the sensor, (8.5Mp for 3:2 and 7.5Mp for 4:3) so if you shoot in one of this formats you will actually end up with a higher resolution. Even when the sensor is actually slightly bigger and they claim to have developed bigger photosites I believe the difference is not so dramatic and it will all come , noise-wise, to the improvements Panasonic has managed to make in the lasts years in the sensor area. The major part of the effort will have to come from the Venus IV engine, so let´s wait and see how if fares..

A side effect of all this seems to be that the screen is no more a 16:9 one, but a 3:2. Pitty, I liked my “panoramic” screen. But with 3 inches and 460.000 dots, if I ever get this camera my prediction is that it will take me about 45 seconds to get over it.. 😉

All in all there is so little, nothing actually, not to like about this camera. The design is in my opinion beautiful, very classy, specially in it´s black version  (I personally don´t care for the silver one..). I just can´t wait for the first “real” reviews..

Gosh, could anybody read that far??  😦


Best, Erik.

                                                

 

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The chemical illusion.

May 31, 2008

Panasonic LX2, f7.1, 1/1300, 6,3mm, iso100, B&W JPEG Processed in PS

They say there is a scientific explanation for every phenomena in life. Fraternal love has a biological origin. Nothing more than a natural conditioning factor to ensure the perpetuation of the species. Now go and tell a father that his unconditional love is nothing but a part of the perfect plan of life, and that he is just an obedient pawn on the great chessboard of mother nature..

But if that is so, then love, together with hatred, compassion and all the other human passions, are nothing but  chemical illusions, only good for the pens of the poets. There is evil and good in every being. And if that is so, then crime, genocide and abuse can also be explained under the optic of the biological conditioning for the survival of the stronger individuals. I believe that in the steep ascent of the human species, we have achieved great goals, conquered a higher level of conscience and soul that should allow us to admit that some things simply escape our understanding.

Now try to express it with a mathematical formula, or explain it by watching the esence of life through a microscope, but the truth is that a little girl will allways find a warm place in the loving arms of her daddy..

 

 

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Panasonic LX2 Filter & converter adapter

May 29, 2008

Today I received an LX2 adapter I bought in order to be able to mount filters and converters in my camera. I purchased it from HKDCPLUS´s Ebay store. You can visit their store here, and their website here. They have a ton of interesting stuff whatever camera brand you are shooting. I would highly recomend this people, good prices, great comunication, complete control over your order status and very quick service. Needless to say I have no relation to them, I am just a satisfied customer…

The panasonic LX2 is not prepared to receive filters or any other add-ons. It has no thread on the lens and Panasonic doesn´t seem to offer anything either.  Now fortunately there is an option for those that, like myself, want to achieve long exposures by attaching polarizing or neutral density filters or that want to get an ultrawide field of view  by mounting any kind of lens converter to this camera :

The adapter is metalic and has a great black finish. Really nice looking. As mentioned before the LX2 has no thread in the lens. The end of the lens barrel is slightly narrower, and this narrow end extends for a few mm. Perfect for the adapter placement:

The adapter fits tightly by simply pressing it in, and it does so without scratching the lens barrel because it has two internal rubber rings that provide the adapter a very solid grip. It doesn´t move or rotate. The adapter comes with a very nice “clip-on” lens cap that is very easy to fit and remove and that stays in place solidly.

The thread in the adapter is 52mm. This is very nice because it means that being considerably wider than the camera´s lens whatever you mount here vignetting is simply out of the equation..

I own a number of 72mm filters so I decided to mount them via a step-up ring instead of purchasing new filters. I Stacked the step-up ring, a polarizing filter and a neutral density filter. On top of all this I mounted a Cokin “P” filter holder with a neutral density graduated filter (that is a bunch of stuff in front of the lens..). Nothing, not the faintest sign of vigneting!! Obviously the lens does not touch the lenscap if extended with it mounted.

Even when the adapter definetely eliminates any trace of “pocketability” and the thing simply isn´t that compact any more, I believe the camera actually looks very nice with the adapter on. As an aside, for those that have big hands and for those finding the holding of this camera very difficult, I can assure you the adapter takes care of the problem…

I have purchased a Nikon WC-E68 wide angle converter that should arrive in the following days. Mounted in my Panny it should give me an effective F.O.V of about 19mm (35mm equiv.), bringing me into the realms of ultra-wide. The Nikon is a heavy lens, probably a bit heavier than the camera itself. Werther the adapter will be strong enough to resist the weight of the lens and stay in place is something that remains to be seen…I will be doing a write-up on the lens and the whole combo once it arrives, stay tuned!!

Now werther this little piece of metal is worth the roughly 30$ it costs is entirely up to you. What is granted is that it increases the creative power of an allready very capable piece of gear. Now if only I could get 36 hour long days so I could actually go out there and “hunt some photons…”

I´m off now, but not without throwing in some more camera porn…

Panasonic LX2 & 72mm Polarizing filter

I know this might  look a bit “orthopaedic”, a 52mm filter would surely look slicker but I decided to use the filters I allready own (wife thinks mortgage is more important..go figure!!)  😉

Panasonic LX2 & Cokin “P” filter holder and gradual ND filter

The use of gradual ND filters can save you a lot of time in front of the computer when shooting sunsets of scenes with huge dynamic range, plus you can stack several different filters and go “experimental”..

 

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One month and five days, a 2 cent veredict…

May 26, 2008

Panasonic LX2, f8, 1/2000, 6,3mm, iso100, Colour JPEG Processed in PS

It has been a month and five days since my Panasonic DMC-LX2 (why on earth do camera makers use this bloody names..??) arrived. Today I decided to make a (WARNING: LONG..) post focused on the camera and MY findings after the time we have spent toghether for whoever may be interested. I believe today´s image will help pointing many of the coments I am about to make. Though the certainty that a LX3 is around the corner may turn this into a bad moment to consider buying the LX2, it might as well be an excelent moment to get a very good deal on a second hand one, I did and couldn´t be happier. I believe there is a lot to like about this camera (and very little not to like), but before I get into it just a little disclaimer..

  • I am not a pro photographer by any means, nor a techno geek. Take my findings with skepticism, I´m just a bugger with a camera and a blog…
  • I am not a RAW shooter. I have fiddled with some RAW files of this camera in Lightroom, Aperture, PS and Silkypix. Every piece of software seems to have it´s advantages and disadvantages, and though I manage to get “SLIGHLY” better images from the RAW files (MY RAW skills may be lacking), the quality advantage doesn´t compensate for the time invested: I prefer to spend time behind my camera than in front of my computer..I´m prety pleased with the JPEG´s once you get the right settings and have a good workflow.
  • I have not printed a single file since I got the camera. My printer broke before the arrival and I haven´t taken the time to fix it or get a new one, so all my findings are based on screen inspection..I do plan on getting some lab prints one of this days.
  • English is not my mother tongue, it takes some effort to write in a foreign language, so I hope you will excuse any grammar or spelling mistakes you may find in this blog/essay.
  • If any of this points make my “review” unacceptable, well, the good news is that you can stop reading now!!

Where to start? Well, exposure modes. I wouldn´t consider buying a camera that made the exposure decisions for me. Todays image was done reaching the camera´s limits: f8 and 1/2000. A fully auto camera would have probably done an acceptable job, but being the paranoid kind of guy I am I rather make my own decisions..The camera has full manual mode as well as aperture and shutter priority. The interface is logicall, comfortable and pretty fast. So far the camera has not slowed me down too much when in need of changing my settings. One of the most important settings when shooting, exposure compensation, is not burried in the menu and can be changed very quickly with the joystick while shooting. I am afraid another very important setting, iso, is buried in the menu, though not too far. All in all, a very nice design that doesn´t get too much in the way of shooting.

I believe the most important part of a camera is it´s lens. No matter how good the sensor is, if the lens is crap you´re done. And honestly, todays sensor technology is mature enough (considering the obvious drawbacks of a small sensor camera) to be a serious limiting factor. You can start flaming me now…The little cute Leica lens in front of my camera can be described in three words: FAN TAS TIC. I used to own a Leica M7 and one of Leica´s most venerable (and controversial) lenses: The 35 Summicron Asphericall. I loved that lens(it was probably a bit TOO sharp though..) and the way it drawed. I have to say I am liking the little Leica lens on my LX2 nearly as much. Second flame coming… Maybe not as sharp as the 35 Cron, but VERY sharp. So much that sometimes when photoshopping my images my corneas bleed..But I believe there is much more to a lens than mere sharpness. Some have described the way a lens draws as it´s “signature”. I like this lense´s signature very much. It renders the images in a very pleasing way to my eyes.

No, I have not forgotten that I am talking about a small sensor “point and shoot”, and yes, I know what a clean iso800 image from a Canon 5D and a Canon L prime looks like, thanks. I still love my Panny.

I believe one of a lenses worse flaws is flare (yes, I consider flare a flaw, and even when some may like the creative possibilities flare gives, I simply HATE it). I have tried it hard, but there seems to be no way of getting propper flare from this lens..If you have a look at todays image you will see a white spot to the right, in the backlit tree. That is as much flare as I have managed to get with this camera. As an interesting note, you only get this faint traces of flare when the strong light source is on one side of the image, shooting straight into the sun seems to produce zero flare. Nice!!

While we are at it, one of the most cool features in the majority of today´s point and shoots is the macro mode. The Panny does a good job, and is pin sharp in this mode, though unfortunately it won´t  focus closer than 5cm. This is a quick grab of my wife´s Ipod Nano from yesterday:

For those of you who don´t know how big an Ipod Nano is (I know, I know. everybody bloody knows how big a Nano is..), well an Ipod nano is…Nano!! I´m afraid this is as close as I can get to a subject with the LX2. Surely it would be cool to have the 1cm macro ability offered in other models..

Another two very important features, that seem to be very related, are focus speed and shutter lag. Let´s get real, no point and shoot is going to excel in the focus department (though the LX2 is not really bad). I have been experimenting with “decisive moment” sort of pictures in the last days and there is a workaround to the lag issue: manual focusing. The huge depth of field achieved by this lenses allows the use manual focus and hyperfocal in a reliable and very fast way. Plus the LX2 has a very usefull way of letting you know how much of your image is in focus: You get a metered scale (in meters or feet) and a yellow bar that tells you where your focused area starts and ends. Using this method reduces the shutter lag to nearly imperceptible. With a bit of practice you will be soon getting the images in the right moment. As an aside, I seem to be getting the sharpest images this way, sharper than auto-focus. The lense´s sweet spot seems to be around f4.5 or f5. Using this setting toghether with iso400 allows enough depth of field and speed to get “grab” images in nearly every reasonable light condition, with an amazing sharpness and speed. We´ll talk about noise next..

Probably one of the most discussed issues of this camera has been it´s sensor and it´s noise. Panasonic has been critizised for the in-camera noise reduction that seems to be fairly aggressive. I suggest anybody doing JPEG´s with this camera turns noise reduction to it´s lowest setting, it can degrade the image details visibly. This seems to be one of the main differences with this camera´s Leica “step-brother”, the D-LUX3, the firmware and image processor seem to do a different job, and apparently the Leica has a less aggressive noise reduction, resulting in images with less of the well known “smearing”. Unfortunately, noise reduction can´t be turned completely off in the Panasonic, though using the lowest setting seems like a good compromise.  The images of a small sensor camera noiseless aren´t..and the LX2 is no exception. But if the high iso images are usable or not is pretty much up to everyones expectations (and to the photographed subject as well..more on this later.) I am finding iso 400 black and white images completely aceptable. Very nice actually, as I am liking the texture the noise gives to the images. Colour high iso images are, why deny it, ugly. iso 400 and 800 colour images are not to my liking. For colour photography I wouldn´t go over iso 200..But as said before, it also very much depends on the kind of subject and light you are shooting in: well lit images of not too dark subjects result in amazingly good iso 400 and quite nice iso 800 (allways in black and white). Bad light and dark subjects and shadows can be tricky and beging to get very noisy by iso800. Iso 1600 is, well, iso 1600. Needless to say more. Can be used if in need, but better avoid it. Anyhow, I have allways liked grain, and the noise in the black and white files is very interesting as well..

Now, even when I never view images this way and I don´t give a damn about 100% crops, for those that feel the urge to see such a test, and as a reward for having read this far, here is such a crop from today´s image (this image has been shot at f8, though I ignore to what extent there might be some sharpness loss due to diffraction, f4.5 or f5 shots seem to be quite sharper):

Original iso100 image:

100% Crop:

Sorry? Oh, you say you want a 100% crop from the sky…? Here you go:

100% Crop from the top (sky and trees):

Oh! So you would need to see a iso400 crop now, eh? O.K. no problems..

Original iso400 file:

100% Crop:

I saw this coming: you want a iso800 crop now, don´t you? Then you can have two:

Original iso800 file:

100%Crop:

Original iso800 file:

100% Crop:

Please note that all this images were shot handheld in less than desirable light conditions and that the iso800 samples were shot with image stabilisation turned off due to my mistake, so any sharpness issues may be due to shutter speed and handholdability, this images are posted for iso viewing. Now I suggest you go and shoot a roll of Tri-X of HP5, scan the negs, fiddle with them in PS and then…draw your own conclutions!!

Regarding image stabilisation, even when it is not miracolous and I am not posting any samples or test, suffice to say that it DOES work, image stabilisation does make a difference and is very helpfull when shooting handheld in low-light situations.

So what else could be said about this little cute & sexy camera in a non-scientific essay? Is this camera perfect? NOPE. But close (to me..). What would make the reincarnation of this camera the perfect companion in my opinion? Few things:

  1. Lower iso capability (iso 80 or even 50) toghether with 2 or three minutes long shutter speed.
  2. A flash hotshoe for external viewfinder and an external flash unit.
  3. Noise reduction “completely OFF” mode.
  4. 1cm close macro focus.
  5. Not a single megapixel more cramped into this tiny sensor (though I am afraid Panasonic will punish us with one of it´s new 12Mp sensors..
  6. OK, not a deal breaker but, could we have 1:1 aspect ratio in RAW, please..

Believe it or not, that would make the thing as close to perfect as I believe a P&S can be..And yes, I have realised that every single one of those features is present in the Ricoh GX100..But you would loose the long end of the zoom and the very cool 16:9 aspect ratio which is highly addictive and makes framing more natural to my eyes than the 3:2 from my DSLR which I really never liked..For what it´s worth, I haven´t done a single shot since I bought the camera that wasn´t in 16:9..

Did you get the feeling that I like this camera very much? GOOD..There is really not a lot more that can be said in a biassed and un-scientific essay. If you have read this far now you know that you´re a tough guy/gal and that you could handle hard stuff such a month in Guantanamo and a 50 year long marriage (and both in the same life..). I feel honoured that you have made it this far and feel like cutting the crap right now..This Blog is un-censored, the comments block below is open to anybody, so you can start flaming me to your pleassure…

Thanks, and have a beautifull day!!


Erik (the rambling bugger).