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Drive By Cross Country

22nd August 2016

From the Midwest to the West at 75 mph

It’s a long way from Grand Rapids, Michigan to the western USA and when you’re driving there’s an awful lot of space between here and there. For those of us who enjoy traveling, there are many familiar sites along the amazing interstate highway system that connects the great expanses of our country.

My journeys are accompanied by a camera or two. These cameras usually stay packed until we reach our final destination. However, I have a nice little point-and-shoot which sits on the dashboard – waiting for me to grab it to capture “stuff” as we pass by at highway speeds. Below is an abbreviated scrapbook that shows you some of that stuff that we saw along the highway as we made our way from Michigan to California. Excuse me if some of the photos are 75mph blurry.

 



the rolling farmlands of Illinois

the paths between rows in Iowa are irrigation ditches


colorful clouds as the day nears sunset

huge irrigators watering corn


rolls of hay in Nebraska fields

gigantic stockyard in Ogalalla, Nebraska


Lincoln statue near Laramie, Wyoming

oil refinery in Sinclair, Wyoming


solitary monuments near Green River, Wyoming

steep upgrade ahead in western Wyoming


skyline of downtown Salt Lake City

salt processing factory near Grant, Utah


Tree of Utah sculpture

production company filming at Bonneville Salt Flats


mountains leaving western Utah

mighty diesels pulling freight at Battle Mountain, Nevada


hillside letter at Carlin, Nevada

work train near Lovelock, Nevada


weather approaching Reno at sunset

Lake Tenaya in Yosemite Nat’l Park – driving much slower!

 

 


the compact Canon SX710

it’s small but capable of recording excellent images

 

 

I hope you enjoyed our most recent cross-country adventure in these few photographs courtesy of my handy Canon SX710 camera.

 
Written by: Arnie Lee

 

 


SuperBloom

11th March 2016

The Desert Explodes with Color

Nature never ceases to amaze me.

Death Valley National Park is the driest, hottest place in North America. Although its climate isn’t very hospitable, wildflowers do appear each Spring. However this past October, a series of rainstorms set in motion the favorable conditions for a literal explosion of colorful wildflowers that blanketed the normally harsh landscape of the park.

This phenomenon happens seldom, perhaps once in every 10 or so years and arrived in mid-February. When I visited Death Valley in early March, I was fortunate enough to see many fields still shimmering in the SuperBloom.
 





 


I’ve visited Death Valley more than a dozen times previously, but I’ve never seen as many visitors taking in the colorful wildflowers as I saw in March.

Click here to see one of the DV Park Rangers describe a “once-in-a-lifetime” visit to Death Valley.

How lucky I was to be able to see this unexpected event.

Written by: Arnie Lee
 
 


 
 

Canon 5DS

23rd March 2015

WOW – 50MP Sensor

The Canon booth at Wedding & Portrait Photographers International Expo certainly drew a lot of visitors who wanted to view and ask questions about the upcoming Canon 5DS.

The reason for the crowds was Canon’s earlier announcement that this new camera features a sensor with a whopping 50MP! This is a giant leap in resolution compared to existing full-size sensor cameras.

The camera body is remarkably similar to the 5DMkIII, both in size, weight, LCD monitor and controls. But it’s the inside where the action is. The sensor alone has more than twice the MkIII’s 22.3MP resolution. The 5DS uses a pair of the next generation DIGIC 6 processors to handle the additional pixel load.

A new feature lets you crop to either 1.3x or 1.6x to match the lens factors of the EOS 1D and APS-C respectively. In turn, camera blurs the cropped portion of the image in the viewfinder and provides resolutions of 30MP and 19MP. The mirror lock-up has also been improved to minimize camera shake. Canon has also added an intervalometer for time-lapse photography without requiring a remote control.

So while Canon has drastically increased the resolution of the sensor, the tradeoff is in the sensor’s sensitivity. The normal high ISO for the 5DS is 6400 compared to 25,600 for the 5DMkIII. So this is the price you’ll pay for higher resolution.



The 5DS autofocus uses the same 61AF points as the 5DMkIII. The metering is composed of 150,000 pixels RBG+IR found in the 7DMkII and is said to provide better exposures with artificial lighting.

In addition to the 5DS, Canon is also offering the 5DSR. The 5DSR cancels the low-pass filter to provide higher edge sharpness – useful for detailed subjects such as landscapes. Both cameras are scheduled for June release for prices of $3700 and $3900 respectively.

You’ll also notice that one of the photos above shows Canon’s new 11-24mm super wide angle zoom lens. This is not a fisheye, it’s a rectilinear but comes at a hefty $3000 price.

 

 

Written by Arnie Lee


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Taking Flight

08th February 2015

Things With Wings

 

Like many others, I’ve been fascinated with flight and things that fly.

On a recent trip to the parts of the USA where the sun is bright and warm, I had another chance to look skyward.

Here’s a short gallery of some of the sitings that caught my eye.










 
 

For those who are interested these photos are from Death Valley National Park, Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, McCarran International Airport, Creech AFB, Nellis AFB and Everglades National Park.
 
 
Written by: Arnie Lee
 
 


 
 

 
Mother Nature often stages wondrous events for us to see. One of these arrived today.

Those of us who arose early on this crisp Michigan morning had a perfectly clear sky to witness a full lunar eclipse. I peeked out my bedroom window and against a dark, black backdrop viewed a single bright orb slowly become a silhouette behind the earth’s shadow.

To get an better look, free of trees and leaves, I headed to my office a few blocks away to take in the magic show from an unobstructed balcony.

Once there, I grabbed a camera, a long lens and a tripod.

Here’s the lovely scene that graced the western sky.
 




here is where we’re just about approaching the full eclipse

as the moon settles toward the horizon, daylight is starting to lighten the sky

Here, the sun has awakened and brightened up the sky.

At this juncture the trees are starting to interrupt our view and we’re about to loose sight of the moon.

The sky gazers further west, perhaps in Nebraska or Colorado, are able to view the next stage – the unveiling of the moon as the earth shadow recedes from the sun’s path.


 
 
I thoroughly enjoyed the sights. In case you missed this morning’s, we’ll be treated to another lunar eclipse in April 2015.

What a wonderful way to start the day! Thanks again to Mother Nature for a fine performance.
 
 
Written by: Arnie Lee
 
 


 
 

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Am I Equipped Right?

30th September 2014

Like many other dedicated photographers, I’ve somehow accumulated a sizable stash of photo equipment over the years. I’ve also gained a lot of experience knowing what equipment I’ll need for a particular type of shooting.

My last two assignments were a combination of travel and outdoor shoots. My aging back and wobbly knees beg me to travel as lightly as possible for two reasons: a) to minimize the size and weight of the load that I carry and b) to reduce the amount of time I need to get ready for any given shot.

Since I don’t like carrying camera bags or backpacks, I rarely carry extra lenses. On hikes, it’s a chore for me to search for the right lens and change it on the fly, especially if wildlife is the subject matter. It’s far faster for me to slide the desired camera/lens setup on its shoulder strap up to my eye and be ready to shoot in a few seconds.

After these two recent assignments, I’ve zeroed in on a reasonable set of cameras and lenses to use when traveling long and far. I based my choice on the range of the lenses that I typically use: a very wide angle, a medium range telephoto zoom and a long range telephoto zoom.

For several years, I’ve come to rely on Sony’s NEX series of mirrorless cameras. Not only are they compact and lightweight, but they have several features that I appreciate such as the electronic viewfinder which instantly previews your exposure adjustments and a mode that captures in-camera panoramas. One drawback of these mirrorless cameras is that there isn’t a long telephoto lens available. For this I have to stick with a full-frame Nikon DSLR.



Here’s the short list that I’ve found works well for me:

For very wideangle, I use a Sony NEX7 with a manual focus Rokinon 8mm fisheye.

For the medium telephoto, I use a Sony A6000 with a Sony 18-200mm lens.

For the long telelphoto, I use a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-400mm lens.

As you can see, the Nikon DLSR setup is monstrous next to other two cameras. But lugging this heavyweight around is the price I have to pay for the lens’ long reach.



The NEX7 is a very a very capable camera. I like its large 24mp APC-C sensor, excellent electronic viewfinder and brightly lit tilting LCD.

The 8mm Rokinon lens is about 1/4th as large as my expensive fisheye lens for Canon DLSRs. Using the Rokinon lens I have to manually focus and set the exposure so it’s less convenient than the Canon setup. But the savings in bulk is a major plus for me.

Below are a few photos using this setup. The extra wide angle lets me record everything in front of me. I especially like how the fisheye exaggeratingly bends the horizon.



The A6000, Sony’s successor to the NEX7 is also mirrorless. Feature wise it is very similar to the NEX7 except that it has a superior autofocusing mechanism. This enables high speed captures at frames rates up to 11fps.

When not traveling, the A6000/18-200mm setup is my everyday camera. With a large zoom range I have a wide angle to medium telephoto in a single lens.

When traveling, it becomes my primary camera with the other two cameras reserved for special points of view. Below are a few examples that illustrate the versatility of the 18-200mm lenss.



The Nikon D600 is a full-frame DLSR with a 24mp sensor. It weighs in at two pounds which is twice as much as the A6000.

The Nikon 80-400mm zoom lens weighs just under three pounds making this setup a combined five pounds. Although this is hefty to carry, the lens lock (prevents the zoom from unintentionally sliding) keeps it secure while carrying it with a shoulder strap.

This long telephoto comes off of my shoulder mostly for the long distance shots such as these below.



So there you have it, my equipment of choice for outdoor photography. Of course, not everyone has the same preferences or requirements in the field as myself so this set up may not work universally. But for me being properly equipped has proved to be an ideal way for me to work comfortably, quickly and efficiently.
 
 
Written by: Arnie Lee
 
 
 
 


What a View

27th August 2014

Wide Angle to the Extreme

It’s eye-catching when I see a photo that “bends” the horizon.

This bend comes from the camera’s lens. Use a very wide angle lens and you’ll see the curved “barrel” distortion on the images. One well-known type of wide angle lenses is the fisheye. These lenses typically have a field of view approaching 180 degrees – allowing you to capture the entire scene in front of the camera.

Until recently, fisheye lenses were expensive. I have one that cost well over $1500. But when I was looking for an ultra-wide angle for my Sony equipment, I found an inexpensive lens made by Rokinon. With its $300 price tag, I was a little skeptical of the quality of images from such a low cost lens but decided to try it regardless.

Here’s a short gallery of some of the scenes that I captured during my first outing with the lens a few weeks ago.
 
 



This is an 8mm f/2.8 fisheye. I wanted an ultra-wide angle for an extra Sony Nex7 mirrorless camera.

The Nex7 is very compact and lightweight. The Rokinon 8mm fisheye is also surprisingly compact.


The Sony Nex7/Rokinon 8mm setup is only about 1/3 the size of my Canon 6D with a Canon 8-15mm fisheye – a true space and weight saver.

One of the first images that I recorded with the new lens was in the Tetons. I especially like the curved horizon.



Here in Yellowstone you can see that the bridge rail curves upwards. The lens does not support the camera’s autofocus feature.

However an 8mm lens has a very wide depth of field which makes focusing less critical as you can see in this image taken at Mono Lake.



At Grand Canyon, the bend in the horizon is amazingly scenic. The lens does not support autoexposure so I set the camera shooting mode to manual, set the lens aperture to f/8 and adjusted to the proper shutter speed.


In both of these photos, you can see that the exposure for both a shaded and sunny scene were correct. Neither the manual focus nor the manual exposure requirements of this lens is a concern.



At Monument Valley I took advantage of the lens’ extreme wide view. Here I was able to take in a 180-degree view to photograph this huge monument within a single image.


The fisheye excels for those of you who like shooting portraits that include the vast surroundings.



At Mesa Verde, we encountered another “tight squeeze”. However, we were able to capture this with the lens’ wide view.


In Rocky Mountain National Park, the lens took in not only the winter’s left over snow but the billowing overhead July clouds.

What about the sharpness?

Here I’ve enlarged a small section of one of the above images. You can clearly see the detail in the face, the lettering of the cap and the tufa formations in the background.

I found the sharpness of this inexpensive lens to be very acceptable.


After my short time with this lens, I am no longer skeptical of it’s quality. The images are tack sharp with very good color reproduction. If you’re on the lookout for an ultra-wide, include this lens in your search.

The Rokinon 8mm f/2.8 fisheye is also available for other camera models as well: Fuji, Samsung and Canon M mount. Other similar versions with a maximum f/3.5 aperture are available for Canon, Nikon, Sony A mount, Pentax and Olympus 4/3.
 
 
Written by: Arnie Lee
 
 


 
 
 
 

The Sony A6000 Mirrorless

14th August 2014

My 6300-Mile Field Test

On our recent vacation, my camera of choice was Sony’s newest mirrorless camera. While I also brought a much larger Nikon D700 conventional DSLR, I relied mostly on the the Sony A6000. As a comparison, I captured about 150 images with the Nikon D700 and more than a thousand images with the Sony A6000.

My setup was the A6000 coupled with Sony’s 18-200mm lens. This combination is lightweight and compact, produces quality images and just happens to fit beneath the driver’s seat for fast, convenient access.

Hopefully, the following photographic sampler illustrates the A6000’s versatility. I’ll add a few techie details afterwards.



The A6000 is smaller than a conventional DSLR so it’s both lighter and more compact.

You can compare the sizes of the A6000 next to the conventional Nikon D700 DSLR.


The A6000’s high resolution 24MP sensor renders scenics with very high detail.

Additionally, the camera can capture subjects that have a wide range of exposure levels.


The A6000’s articulated LCD makes it easy to capture stills and closeups.

The much improved focusing system works well for wildlife shots.


With the 18-200mm lens, I can keep dry while still in on the action.

Here’s some quick, responsive focusing


The A6000’s bright viewfinder makes it easy to compose and frame in bright sunlight.

The electronic viewfinder previews the scene with the camera adjustments applied.


It handles action shots well and can capture up to 11 frames per second.

The exposure system works quite well with a wide variety of subjects.


I used the camera’s sweep panorama feature often to automatically produce some very pleasing large images.

I suppose it doesn’t matter than I traveled 6300 miles with the camera other than I used it under a variety of conditions.

My “film” was a 32GB SD card, but I never filled it with the 200 pictures a day (the camera was set to record simultaneous RAW and JPG images). All in all, I’m very happy with the images that the camera produced. The one small gotcha is that the A6000 has a short battery life – probably due to the electronic viewfinder. Thankfully, I had an extra battery that I carried along.

Since this is my third Sony mirrorless camera, you can safely assume that I’d recommend this camera to others. In fact my daughter must have agreed with my assessment and purchased one.


For those interested, here’s a few of the technical specs for the A6000:

Sony A6000 os a mirrorless with a 24MP sensor. One of the reasons for choosing this camera is its fast and accurate hybrid focusing system that allows up to 11 frames per second capture. Other proven features are its “sweep panorama”, automated HDR capture, easy exposure bracketing, and Sony’s proven video recording.

List price for the A6000 body without lens is $650. The 18-200mm lens cost $850, more than the body but this single lens allowed me to enjoy the scenery without clutter of additional lenses.


 

 
Written by: Arnie Lee


Vacation Time

24th July 2014

Documenting the Memories

I have to admit that I like vacations.

I especially like the ones where we drive and see many different scenic parts of our vast country. Having just returned from another such jaunt, I’ve already recovered from being away from home these past few weeks. Here’s a look back to some of the photos that I took on the trip.

On this vacation we drove some 6300 miles and took in some wonderfully gorgeous areas including the Tetons, Yellowstone, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, San Diego, Phoenix, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Mesa Verde and finally Rocky Mountain National Park.

My wife Kris and I left Grand Rapids and at this time in our lives, instead of traveling with our children we had four grandkids in tow. One of our goals was to drop off two of the grandkids in Reno. But these two also had a wish to see Yellowstone, so we set the GPS to guide us to Old Faithful. Afterwards we would meet up with several of our adult children and additional grandchildren as we made our way to additional destinations.

Naturally I had several cameras with me to record our travels. And while I thoroughly enjoy photographing the amazing mountains, canyons, monuments, waterways, forests, sites and scenery, more importantly are the photos that let me recall the precious time that we spent with our family.

Here’s some of the pictures that illustrate those moments.


Admiring Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton Nat’l Park
Waiting for Old Faithful in Yellowstone

In awe of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone
cooling off in the Firehole River in Yellowstone

at the swimming pool in Reno
aggressive paddleboarding at Lake Tahoe

inspecting the tufa at Mono Lake
colorful wildflowers of Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite

surfing the Pacific in San Diego
catching a mermaid in San Diego

picking grapefruit in Phoenix
sitting on the edge of Grand Canyon

among the wonders of Monument Valley
straddling NM, AZ, UT and CO at Four Corners

As you can see, we visited some very gorgeous landscapes: incredible mountains, pristine wildernesses, jaw-dropping gorges, crystal clear lakes, raging rivers, enormous farmlands, five sensational national parks – just a vast array of features that make up our amazing country.

And while I have many more images that record these places that we visited, I’m just as content to see the faces of the grandkids, many of which we get to see but once a year.

house warming at Mesa Verde

How lucky we are to be able to capture the smiles on their faces like this.

above the snow and clouds at Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park

 

 
Photographs are certainly a powerful way to record memorable events.

Whether I’m on vacation or not, I try to keep the most meaningful memories as part of my photos.

 

 

Written by: Arnie Lee

 

 


 

 

Showing Off Your Photographs

Digital gives us the opportunity to take hundreds and hundreds of photos for almost no cost at all. This is an amazing turnaround compared to the price of using film cameras that had a processing charge saddled to each roll of film that we shot.

So what are we doing with all of these “free” photos? Are they sitting on the SD memory card or cell phone? I’m sure that my friends and relatives are impressed as I flick through the tiny screen to show them my recent vacation shot – NOT!

Well, to be frank, my fingers are tired of flicking the screen. And my friends and relatives typically avoid asking to see pictures of my travels. So I decided to print – yes you heard it correctly – print some of the photos.


One afternoon I collected a set of my favorite nature shots and sent them to the photofinisher. A few days later received back a short stack of 8″ x 10″s and 8″ x 12″s

Now the issue is how do I present them?

I didn’t really want to arrange them in a conventional album that would sit on the top of a coffee table. No, I longed for a different way to display them.

I decided that I’d show them off by making a small gallery in an unused room. The room is well suited for this purpose with a large, uncluttered wall painted white.


Rather than “hanging” the photos, I decided to make a very miniature shelf system. I bought a few 10-foot lengths of “J-TRIM” used to install vinyl house siding. These strips are lightweight and inexpensive. Use scissors to cut to desired length.

Use a tape measure to mount the J-TRIM level about 54″ above the floor. I used these ribbed plastic anchors (3/16″ size).

Here I’m drilling a hole through the J-TRIM into the drywall.


Next you push the plastic ribbed anchor into the drilled hole.

Then fasten the J-TRIM to the drywall with one of the screws.


By themselves, the prints are too flimsy to stand on the miniature shelf. I purchased these sheets of mat board precut for the 8″x10″s and 8″x12″s.

Using the 3M spray-on adhesive, I mounted the photos onto the mat board.


I found it necessary to use this Scotch “mounting putty” to keep the photos from falling from the miniature shelf.

The putty is pasted between the photo mat board and the wall to keep the top of the photograph from falling.

Here’s another view of the putty which hold the mat board agains the wall.

Here you can see the photo resting in the channel of the miniature shelf.


When all is said and done, I have a small gallery of my latest travel photographs. As you might guess, when you’re tired of looking at this group of photographs, it’s very easy to change them.


 
Material List:

2 pieces of J-Channel – 10′ Vinyl 1/2″ J_Trim @ $2.40 each (Home Depot)
1 pkg – plastic ribbed anchors #4 – 1″ @ $7.99
1 pkg – 8″ x 10″ or 8″ x 12″ mat board 25 sheets @ $12.50
1 can 3M General Purpose 45 spray mount @ $5.00
 
 
Written by: Arnie Lee
 
 


 
 
 
 

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