I'm a little late in making a New Year's update this year - I've been busy trying to have a holiday ;)
First things first, the friend of mine I've mentioned is now on the mend and made it back here for Christmas. The hospitals try to wind things down and get people back home for a few days. The next week we took him back to Brisbane for more treatment (they didn't complete all of the treatment before Christmas due to some problems), which was finished in a few days. Watching the fireworks on TV from a hospital bed must have been a pretty boring way to spend New Year's Eve, but I guess it's worth it if it means getting your health back.
Meanwhile I've taken another lesson in kiteboarding and stepped up to a 9 metre kite and harness. Whew - fun and tiring! :) When I buy a kite it's not going to have to be a huge one... 9m was enough to lift me out of the water when thrown into the powered zone. I think I'm getting the hang of it pretty quickly and my body is getting whipped into shape in the process. That I didn't kill or injure myself or anyone else is a good start! ;) The wind should be good for the next week so I might try to get out there again soon.
Last week I also finished completely stripping the Getaway cabinet (about time), including the backbox. The backbox artwork wasn't a decal, so it had to be stripped using a chemical paint stripper. There are a number of environmentally-friendly paint strippers available now, which won't also strip the lining of your lungs while using them. The one I used worked better, in my opinion, than traditional paint strippers based on Methylene Chloride.
In the process of removing the backbox and taking reference photos to ensure I get all of the 30+ connectors back in the right place, I became so frustrated with my current digital camera that I decided it was time to make the jump to a Digital SLR. I've ordered a Nikon D70, which seems to have a good price for its performance and functionality. Although Canon have been producing some really good DSLRs, the rival to Nikon's D70 doesn't have as many functions and controls (to be fair, the Canon also costs less). A local kiteboarder, Mr Bonk, also has a D70, and having seen the quality of the images it produces I feel confident I've made a good choice. It's a lot of money and people are usually very loyal to a certain brand (and thus occasionally gloss over shortcomings of a particular model when comparing it to another brand's rival model), so you want to ensure you know what you're getting yourself into and see some real world results before deciding.
I've bought a Nikkor AF-S 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lens for general purpose shooting, and a Nikkor AF 80-200mm f2.8 for telephoto work. Nikkor is Nikon's lens brand by the way. The AF 80-200mm f2.8 was a difficult decision because it's been superceded by an AF-S version (which weighs even more than the AF's already-weighty 1.3kg of glass). The AF-S lenses have faster and quieter auto focusing that utilises an internal Silent Wave Motor focus drive. This means that they have a more complex internal lens arrangement (with "Internal Focusing") and can achieve a focus lock faster, which is important if you're shooting moving targets from a distance. Because I won't be doing a lot of that, and because the price of the AF-S is over $1000 more than the AF, I decided to just go with the AF. The AF-S version's new and more complex optical system tends to produce a little more ghosting anyway (ghosting is an optical artifact you occasionally get when pointing the lens at a very bright object).
The advantage of shooting with a Digital SLR and telephoto lenses like the 80-200mm is that Digital SLR's have a "focal length multiplier" caused by the image sensor being smaller than a piece of 35mm film. Because the focal target is smaller, it's like having a longer lens focal length. For the D70 the FLM is 1.5 (the image sensor is diagonally 1.5 times smaller than a piece of 35mm film), so an 80-200mm lens on the D70 is really like using a 120-300mm lens. This is great unless you're trying to shoot with a fish eye lens where the focal length multiplier works against you. For example, a fish eye lens with a focal length of 16mm becomes like a 24mm lens, so the fish eye effect is reduced.
There is an upside to the focal length multiplier effect even for lenses with small focal lengths though: it's possible to produce lenses specifically for Digital SLRs at a lower expense. Because the lenses don't have to be able to focus on a full 35mm target like they would with film, it's possible to reduce the sizes of the lenses (and thus the cost). A 16mm fish eye lens that would normally cost $1600 or more can be produced as a 10.5mm lens for digital (10.5mm x 1.5 FLM = 16mm) for around $1200.
The D70, 18-70mm lens and 1 GB Compact Flash card should arrive before Friday, and I'm going to pick up the 80-200mm lens on the weekend. I can't wait!
Now, back to work so that I can restore my bank balance! heh... 8|