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GOTW & my Sony Alpha review

this drawing is closed

I waited far too long to tell you all about my favorite camera ever, but the result is that I’m even more in love than I was back when I should have done this post.

Remember when I scored 3 free cameras from Sony?  And I told you about the sweet little cybershot, which can usually be found in one of my daughters’ purses.  Now, I’m going to tell you about the star of the show.

Isn’t it beautiful?  This was the camera that I thought would be hubby’s.  He was longing for a DSLR, while I didn’t even know what that meant.  As it turned out, this was the camera I waited all my life to own and I didn’t even know it.

features and design

I fell in love with it right away, even before I got home.  I arrived home with a tenuous grasp of the concepts and effects of aperture and F/stop, shutter speed, white balance,  iso, etc.  Thanks to Me Ra Koh’s instructional videos, I was able to go beyond the green box (the auto mode) and start learning to use and control these features right away.  I still have a ton to learn, but I feel like a real photographer!

The Alpha is easy to learn and easy to use.  The intelligent design lets “green box” photographers get the photos they want, while wanna-be’s and control freaks like me can find the features we want to control.  We might not always get the photo we want, but we know how to try!

I’ve learned that it’s a snap (snap.  get it?  it’s a snap. I slay myself.) to take a photo in front of a window without turning the subject into a silhouette (hold down the AEL button).  I can catch droplets of water in midair when the kids splash in the pool (super fast shutter speed).  I can keep my baby from looking green even when she’s lying on the green couch (adjust the white balance).

And I can take photos of my sleeping baby in my dimly lit bedroom without waking her up with the flash.

That last sentence requires a bit of explanation.

compatible lenses

We briefly considered selling the Alpha to buy another DSLR that had less expensive lenses. After all, what’s the fun of having an SLR if you can’t switch lenses?   The lens that came with the camera is a very nice lens indeed, but we wanted to be able to get that super-shallow depth of field that blurs and softens everything except the subject.

This lets you take photos of your kids without showing the world your baskets of laundry, overflowing trash can, or sink full of dishes in the background.

As it turns out, we didn’t have to pay top dollar for brand new Sony lenses.  We spent some time on google and learned that the Alpha is an update of the old Minolta Maxxum, a film SLR.  Do you know what this means? It means that the lenses are interchangeable!  Rather than paying hundreds of dollars for each extra lens, we were able to buy the 2 lenses we wanted from Craigslist for about $50 each.

Incidentally, this will work for most other DSLRs.  Just google the name of your camera model along with the words “compatible lenses” and see what turns up.

Why did I tell you all this?  Because I have learned that the same lens that creates that blurred background also lets in so much light that the flash is rarely necessary.  All of the photos below were taken in a dim room with just one small north-facing window.

This one was taken with the standard lens, just the way the camera recommended.  It’s not bad, but Bethany looks a little scared by the flash, and see the harsh shadow at Natalie’s jawline?  If she were old enough to have wrinkles or bags under her eyes, they’d be highlighted in technicolor!

Now we try it without the flash.  This slows down the shutter so much that the girls are blurry – either they moved or I did.  Or we all did.  If you have a pulse, chances are you’re going to move just a little, and that’s all it takes to blur a flashless photo in dim light.

Now look at the same photo with my $50 Craigslist lens – the one that would have cost $300 or more new, but came from an old film camera that nobody wanted anymore.  Remember, dim room, no flash.

Can you see why it’s my favorite lens?  And it attaches to my favorite camera.  That works out very nicely, you know?

Another feature that I really love is that the LCD screen tilts up and down, making it very easy to:

  1. take pictures of really short people kids at their own level without lying on the floor.  I can just hold the camera way down low and tilt the display up so I can see it well.
  2. take pictures over the heads of other people without standing on a chair.  I can just stick the camera up over my head and tilt the display down.

Of course, equal and opposite benefits apply to really short people kids taking pictures of adults.  This is important because we have a lot of kids in our house who think they are allowed to use my Sony Alpha.

cons

There is a short list of petty things I don’t like about this camera – petty, because they wouldn’t bother an organized person.  They only bother me because I know my limits.

  • Instead of a convenient docking station, you have to pull out the battery to recharge it. I don’t know about you, but I’m sure that one of these days I’m going to walk out of the house with a fully loaded camera bag and leave the battery behind on the charger.  The main reason I’m sure is because it’s already happened with other cameras.  Yes, we’re slow learners.
  • The usb cable for transferring my photos to my computer is not the common size that fits every other electronic device in my house.  It doesn’t match the other 19 usb cables floating around our house.  This is a problem because we already lost it and none of our other cables fit.  Since it takes a common memory format, we can still transfer photos using almost any card reader (which, incidentally, plugs into the computer with a common usb cable), but eventually I’m going to have to spring for a new cable.  That bugs me.

That’s it.  I told you it was a short list.  I heart my Sony Alpha.

THE GIVEAWAY

You thought I forgot, didn’t you?  Well, I can’t give you a Sony Alpha.  You’ll have to save your pennies for that.  But I can help you make better use of the features in your own humbler digital camera.

Me Ra Koh has generously agreed to give away a set of her instructional DVDs here on our blog!  It was her workshop that helped me understand the features and functions in my camera – features and functions that my old Fuji also has!  She also taught me a lot that has nothing to do with the camera and everything to do with who’s holding it: framing and composition, lighting, choosing and creating the moment, and much more.

These DVDs will teach you to capture memories in your photos instead of just a collection of cheesy smiles.

Now who wants them?

TO ENTER:

Visit Me Ra’s photography blog and spend a couple of minutes looking at the Tips for Moms category.  Come back and tell me what you learned.  That’s all you have to do.  It doesn’t have to be anything profound or complicated – just share us a tip that you picked up.

To double your chance of winning, blog about this giveaway and then leave another comment with a link to your post.  Be sure to include at least one link to Me Ra’s site and one link to this giveaway in your post.

I’ll announce a winner on Friday.

4 Moms air dirty laundry

The other 3 Moms:

Welcome back!  This time, we’re going to air our dirty laundry, literally.  You have questions, we have laundry.

Oh, you were hoping for answers?  Sorry.  I have more laundry than answers.  Maybe you can sympathize?  I thought so.

I have to admit that we might have less laundry than you would expect.  All told, we wash 12-15 loads/week.  Cloth diapers added 3 loads/week, but we’re taking a break from those.  At the Baby Conference, I mistakenly told the audience I did 3 loads/week instead of 3 loads/day.  I’d like to know what they thought about that.

We ditched the electric dryer nearly 2 years ago, opting for the solar powered one instead.  This saves not only on the electric bill, but also makes clothes last longer and is surprisingly quick in warm weather.

With our huge and very cool drying rack from IKEA, we can hang up to 3 loads in just a few square feet.

The breeze and heat outdoors dry the laundry almost faster than we can wash it if we keep on top of things.  In cold or rainy weather, we dry the laundry inside with a fan blowing on it.  This takes longer, of course, but it’s still not hard to keep up.

Question:  If you line dry your laundry, how do you prevent lint build-up, especially on dark items?

This is one problem that has plagued us.  We sort colors carefully and wash towels and rags separately, but somehow we still get enough lint to cause problems.

Speaking of sorting laundry, I do love my stacking bins from The Container Store.  They weren’t cheap, but they are super sturdy and just the right size.  We have 4 of these, labelled white, light, dark and towels.

Each bin holds one load when it’s full, and the laundry is already sorted and ready to toss into the washer.  They can easily be rearranged or moved, and can also serve multiple uses – we find them very handy in the van on road trips.

For detergent, we briefly made our own.  It was fun and cheap, but unfortunately it’s not a good choice for extremely hard water like ours.  Nothing really works well in our water, but for the time we have settled on Charlie’s Soap.  It’s as effective as anything I’ve tried.  I love that it doesn’t have fillers so it’s very concentrated: we’re a year into our bucket and it looks like it will last for several more months.  Not only is it inexpensive, it’s also one less thing I have to remember to buy.

Right now, dry laundry is sorted in the living room, either on the sofa or the coffee table, and people are called to come put away their laundry RIGHT NOW.  Stalling or forgetting is a third degree misdemeanor, punishable by forced nudity.  OK.  Maybe not, but it sounded good, didn’t it?  Anyway, they’ll do it right away if they know what’s good for them.

I still look back with fondness on the days when all the kids were little and I sorted their laundry on the dining room table.  Each child’s pile was at her place, so she couldn’t eat until her laundry was put away.  I just might go back to that system.  I didn’t have to issue threats and reminders then. Food is a mighty effective incentive.  Maybe better than clothes, at least for some people.

Want to share how laundry works in your home?  Join the linky below.  Remember to make sure your link points to a single post about your laundry, and the post must link back to at least one of the 4 Moms.

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Upcoming topics:

  • September 16th: Storage Solutions
  • September 23: Questions for the Four Moms, in which we answer questions from our mailbag.
  • September 30: How to find individual time with our husbands without spending money

Sleep question

Sonya asked:

…How does it work in your family when you all sleep in one or two rooms and you have little ones that have sleep issues. Although my little ones do generally sleep well at night, if we have teething going on or an illness, there can be a lot of night disturbances…and it seems with more children, the more potential for someone to be “off” causing potentially a poor night’s rest for everyone. How do you handle this? Do the older ones sleep right through? Do they handle the night waking? Do you? Do any of the older ones come to resent having little ones with sleep issues always in their rooms? Thanks for any thoughts on how to handle this!

We have found that children (like adults) can adapt to the situation they are in.  With several children sharing a room, there are going to be some learning experiences.  Some children will take longer than others to fall asleep.  Some will wake up during the night.  Some will be heavier sleepers than others.

Adjusting to new roommates – whether it’s just one or 6 – doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s still a work in progress in our home, but I think it’s an important part of learning to live with sinners while exercising love toward one another.

Our light sleepers have learned to sleep through minor disturbances or to drift off easily after they are awakened. They are also learning to exercise courtesy if they simply can’t sleep: keep the light off and don’t wake up the others!  Our older children (and even the younger ones) have learned to help soothe a troubled baby back to sleep, or bring the baby to me if necessary.

When one child is having a really bad night – rare, since they tend to become very good sleepers when they have to sleep through the disturbances of others – we all pull together.  We naturally take turns, since the person least in need of sleep tends to wake first.

When it comes to having the older ones help out, I try not to take advantage of my older children, but this is valuable training for future mothers as well.  It’s a wonderful season in life for hubby and me to have so many helpers around us, and I remember how thankful I was as a new mom to my parents for teaching me to help out.

Vote for Keilah today; win a digital camera for yourself!

update: due to technical difficulties which kept some people from voting, the contest has been extended. You can go here to give it another shot.

Keilah and her family are real-life friends of ours.  Remember when fantasy and reality blurred and I was chosen to receive a luxurious all-expenses paid trip to La Jolla, California where Sony gave me ~$3k in cameras and photography classes from world famous photographer Me Ra Koh, then paid for me to fly up to see  my grandparents in Portland, OR?

While I was up there, Keilah’s mom arranged and hosted a fun get-together for local readers and bloggers.  We had actually met the Engstrom family in San Antonio a few months earlier, but knew them from blogging long before that.

I’m not sure, but we may have introduced the Engstrom’s budding photographer daughter to Me Ra Koh’s set of instructional DVDs.

At any rate, Keilah has a great eye and superb timing, and she is one of 5 finalists in a contest on Me Ra’s blog right now.  Her photo is #1 in the lineup and is clearly the best, but this contest could be just as much a popularity contest as a photography contest.  Who can rally the most votes?  Who wants to support a sweet-spirited homeschooler with a ton of talent?

Vote for Keilah! It’s good for you!

There are 2 good reasons for you to vote for Keilah.  First, she needs the most votes in order to win. duh.  But also, if the contest receives at least 600 votes in total by midnight tonight, two random voters will each receive a Sony Cybershot!

See my review of the Sony Cybershot here.

Remember to vote before the contest ends at midnight tonight (Monday, Feb. 22)

We are a bloody people.

Bear with me there are extensive quotes below from several different articles.

From Whitehouse .gov

Speaking shortly after the confirmation, the President said he was grateful for the Senate’s confirmation, and gave special thanks the Senate Judiciary Committee for their hard work. He then reflected on Judge Sotomayor’s qualifications, and the historic nature of her confirmation:

….They’ve gauged her respect for the proper role of each branch of our government, her commitment to faithfully apply the law to the facts at hand, and her determination to protect our core constitutional rights and freedoms….

This is a role that the Senate has played for more than two centuries, helping to ensure that “equal justice under the law” is not merely a phrase inscribed above our courthouse door, but a description of what happens every single day inside the courtroom...And in the end, the outcome of your case will be determined by nothing more or less than the strength of your argument and the dictates of the law.

These core American ideals – justice, equality, and opportunity — are the ideals she’s fought for throughout her career…

You can read the President’s full statement here.

(emphasis mine and every time I read one of the phrases I thought “Unless you are an unborn child”)

In a National Review Online article titled “Death by Privacy” Contributing Editor Mark R. Levin tells us

“Finally, Blackmun focused on his legal rationale in Roe. He began with a review of the right to privacy, writing, in part:

The Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy. In a line of decisions, however…the Court has recognized that a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy, does exist under the Constitution. In varying contexts, the Court or individual Justices have, indeed, found at least the roots of that right in the First Amendment…in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments…in the penumbras of the Bill of Rights…in the Ninth Amendment…or in the concept of liberty guaranteed by the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment….These decisions make it clear that only personal rights that can be deemed “fundamental” or “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty”…are included in this guarantee of personal privacy. They also make it clear that the right has some extension to activities relating to marriage… procreation…contraception…family relationships…and child rearing and education….

Blackmun felt that the right of privacy, wherever it comes from, includes the right to abortion. Do not look any further for legal argument amidst the voluminous opinion, because it does not exist. Perhaps the extensive historical analysis was included to compensate for the lack of legal analysis.

But Blackmun went further, and the Court followed. Not satisfied to strike down the Texas law, Blackmun began to write what seemed to be a new federal statute. According to Blackmun’s opinion, a woman’s right to abortion could only be abridged by a compelling state interest. In effect, Blackmun argued that there was an inverse relationship between a woman’s interest and the state’s interest that ranged across a spectrum from conception to birth. Therefore, the state’s interest at conception was minimal but increased as the pregnancy progressed, reaching its peak at the end of the pregnancy. A woman’s interest, paramount at conception, began to give some ground to the state’s interest in protecting the fetus as it matured toward being able to live outside of the mother. But Blackmun specifically declared that the unborn child was not a “person” under the Fourteenth Amendment, and thus had no equal protection rights.”

During her confimation hearings Rupublicans asked Judge Sotomayor how she felt about the status of abortion in America.

“The court’s decision in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey reaffirmed the court holding of Roe. That is the precedent of the court and settled in terms of the holding of the court.”  - Sonya Sotamayor speaking before the Senate Judiciary Comittee during her confirmation hearings.

You cannot make immorality moral by court precedent or legislation. Abortion remains an evil, murderous thing whether or not the court and the legislative branch.

So in honor of Judge Sotomayor’s historic confirmation I am posting a video that puts a live face on the “private” act of abortion, and saying a prayer. I am prayng God will grant repentance in time to spare us from chastisment.

Now I will be joining the 40 days for life campaign this fall.

How about you?

Winner of Me Ra Koh’s DVDs

Thank you so much to everyone who took part in this week’s giveaway.  I loved hearing which tips caught your attention and learned even more about photography by listening to you all.

As usual, the  winner was chosen by the integer generator at Random.org – and by the hand of God.

I’m really excited to announce this winner because I have met her in real person.  She has a new blog dedicated to photography and full of truly beautiful photos.  I can’t wait to see what she does with her new DVDs!

This week’s winner and the happy new owner of a set of Me Ra Koh’s instructional DVDs on photography is:

drumroll….

Keilah

Congratulations, Keilah!

Reminders

The Persecution Project fundraiser has been moved to a tab at the top (For Sale), and new items have been added.  Prices are also reduced, so please take another look.  The girls have made a few sales and received one extremely generous donation toward their fundraiser.  You know who you are; thank you!

If you want to donate, you can either use your credit card on the PPF site, or you can use Paypal to donate to our girls’ fundraiser and they will send it all at once.


The GOTW (giveaway of the week) ends tomorrow, so hurry and enter if you haven’t already.  You don’t want to miss this chance to win MeRa Koh’s set of photography DVDs – she is a fun and fantastic teacher who will get you excited about using your camera to the fullest!

Happy Birthday, Deanna

Today is our oldest daughter’s birthday.  I can hardly believe it has been 15 years since we first met Deanna.  She was born just a month before our first anniversary, back when we were still newlyweds.  It had taken all of 2 months for me to get pregnant, and we couldn’t wait to be parents!

The day of her birth also happened to be my father-in-law’s 40th birthday.  Hubby still chuckles over that 2 AM phone call in which he first greeted his dad with “Hi, Grandpa.”  His dad instantly went from groggy to wide awake!

Deanna has taken an interest in photography lately – she was nearly as excited about our new cameras from Sony as I was.  She was especially captivated by the Alpha, which is also my favorite.  She takes many of the photos that you see on our blog, but in honor of her birthday I want to show off some of the first that she took with the Alpha while she and I were in Oregon together.

I love the promise of spring color in this shot.  It snowed while we were at Grandpa and Grandma’s house, but there were buds and blooms everywhere!

Bleeding heart, right?  Deanna worked hard to get the “blur” effect, where only the subject is in focus.  You can see it in several shots, but I think it’s most pronounced here.

Is it weird that the dandelions are my favorite?  I know they’re just weeds, but I love the color, contrast and composition in this shot!

Horsemint, maybe?  I think we have this one around our part of the country too.

And I love all the layers of color echoing in the bluebells above.  Ummm…are they bluebells?

Again, I’m just guessing.  I’ve heard some people call this trilium, but in our book it looks more like rain lily.  Whatever it is, I love the way it just pops up in the middle of nowhere.

I just love the way these photos of hers turned out!  They are uncropped, shown just as she shot them.  I’m just guessing on the names of the flowers, so please correct me if you know something I don’t.

Happy birthday to a talented photographer, my first and oldest daughter.  May you take a million more pictures!

Just visiting

I’m still alive, though I think my brain is rusting from all the rain. We haven’t laid eyes on the sun since we’ve been here in Oregon and I probably have moss growing in my hair, but I keep telling myself we’ll look back fondly on this weather when August in South Texas rolls around.

fog.jpg

Deanna and I are enjoying our time with Grandma and Grandpa. Deanna brought her dress and has begin to work on it in earnest under Grandma’s expert tutelage.

sewing.jpg

On Saturday, one of my cousins came to dinner with her husband and 3 children, along with my lumberjack uncle Steve.

On Sunday, we drove south to visit my aunt and her husband, and 2 cousins with their children. One of my cousins is expecting her 3rd child just a few days before our baby is due.

On Monday, we visited with MamaK, PapaPyro, and a few visitors in their home.

Yesterday, my maid of honor came to dinner with her parents. We talked as quickly as we could, but still the evening flew past far too quickly!

gina.jpg

Today, we had lunch with a sweet musical friend of Grandma’s, and Uncle Steve is here for dinner.

Tomorrow, Grandma’s musical friend will join us for dinner and music: Grandma and Miss Goff will play the piano and the organ in Grandma’s music room. I suspect I will be talked into playing the violin, though I haven’t picked up a musical instrument since Grandpa and Grandma were in Texas back in September.

The interviewing has gone well on the few occasions that we remembered to set up the camera and get down to business; somehow even this quiet slow week has been packed with busy-ness, and we haven’t found time to do as much as we had hoped.

But when we do it – oh, it warms my heart! I’ve heard new stories that I never heard before, and old stories that I forgot. I recorded the two of them together, reminding each other of stories to tell and gently teasing each other. Their interaction was so sweet! Grandma told me that Grandpa has said more on camera than he normally says in 6 months. Then he winked at me and said, “Well, women have a daily allowance of 50-60,000 words; men only get 5,000. We use ours up and then we’re quiet. Women never run out.”

kitchen.jpg

I just have to mention what a blessing our new HandyCam has been. I haven’t moved any of the material to DVD yet so I can’t say how easy that is, but the video camera itself is so easy to use and charge, so easy to switch between still photos and video, has a remote control (!!!), fits perfectly on the tripod we already had, and there are no little cassettes to worry about. Everything is stored directly on a hard drive in the camera.

Thank you so much for all the ideas and suggestions of what to ask. We have used many of them. Kaitlyn also loaned me a 2 page questionnaire that she brought home when she and her dad went to the 2007 Father/Daughter Retreat and I found that we have covered many of the questions in there. I was worried because I didn’t make time to create a detailed plan, but it seems that it is all coming together nicely. I just hope I don’t get home and realize that I forgot to ask all the most important questions. Of course, that would mean I have to visit again very soon and finish up the job…

The gear: Cybershot

At the risk of sounding like a commercial, I want to share few notes so far on the free loot one of my new gifts from Sony:

Cybershot: I was completely prepared to fall in love with this little baby, but it hasn’t quite been love at first sight. I’d say we’re still in the getting-to-know-each-other stage.

Here’s my first impression:

Love

  • size – it’s tiny. Really, really tiny. It looks like a cell phone and it actually fits in a cell phone holder.
    It’s so small my daughter wants to send a picture of it to Cute Overload.
  • touch-controls on the lcd screen – I can change settings and do nearly everything without ever hitting a button by navigating on the lcd screen. It’s easy enough even for my big undainty fingers.
  • features – in spite of the tiny size, it does a whole lot. The specs are impressive, and it does everything I was hoping: macro, zoom, built-in flash with several modes, night shots, landscape, etc. All of the standard choices are there, plus some fancier ones like ISO.  I haven’t even begun to explore the possibilities in the album and scrapbooking mode which is built right into the camera itself!
  • video – yes, this little cutie actually does video with sound. Again, don’t let the size fool you. It’s a real camera, not a toy.
  • on board memory – I love this about the Cybershot! Although it can take a memory stick, you just don’t need it. There’s 4 gigs of memory built in! That’s enough for nearly 1300 photos at the highest resolution (10 megapixels!) or up to 25,000 at the lowest setting!
  • smile shutter – it really works. Set the camera to Smile Shutter mode and point and shoot. Then make funny faces at your kid. Even though you already pushed the button, the camera won’t actually snap the shot until the subject smiles. For real. I’m not kidding! You can set the sensitivity so that it will settle for a pleasant relaxed face, or set your standards higher: “We’re not done until you give me a big smile, young lady…”

Don’t love

  • tiny buttons on the back – the Play button and the Scrapbook button are tiny and flat, making them a real challenge to push. I have to use my thumbnail. The zoom buttons are also on the back, but these are rocker-style switches and are easy to operate.
  • charger – to use the included charger, you have to take out the battery pack. This is a bit of a hassle. I suppose this could be an advantage if you shell out $59.99 for an extra battery pack that can be on the charger while you are shooting, but I don’t want to do that. The adapter which lets you just dock your camera on a charger is $49.99 extra. If it looks like a cell phone, why can’t it come with a charger that’s as easy to use as a cell phone charger?
  • unintuitive navigation – I won’t say it’s overly complicated, but navigating all the options and settings is going to take some practice. I guess that’s the price you pay when there is so much magic in one tiny package. One thing that is extremely helpful is the brief explanation of each function that pops up when you tap the icon.

As you can see, there are far more pros than cons. I think the Cybershot and I have real potential, so I’m willing to work on the relationship.

Just one more quick note: I have to say that Sony was utterly classy in the way they planned and handled the Mommy Blogger event. There was no pressure to post about any of it; there wasn’t even any heavy hinting. They seem to be just that confident in their products, that they know we’ll be excited enough to share the joy. And they’re right to feel that way. This was as close to a negative review as I’ll be getting. Just wait til I tell you about the other two cameras.

I heart Sony.