Sunday, December 29, 2019

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Gallery: Hawaii 2019 - Old Kona Airport State Park

In early December, my father and I left on a ten day trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. We wanted to visit my mom's memorial near the village of Milolii on the Kona Coast, the west side of Hawaii, where her ashes were scattered in the ocean back in 2008 following her long struggle with cancer.

On this first mostly overcast and occasionally rainy day on the Big Island, we decided to visit the Old Kona Airport State Recreation Area, which is the official name as near as I can tell. When you search the Internet, there seem to be numerous other designations: Kailua-Kona State Park, Old Kona Airport Botanical Gardens, Old Kona Airport State Park (this one gets my vote!), Old Kona Airport Beach State Park and more.

In any case, this is the site of Kona's old airport, before the new Kona International Airport opened way back in 1970. The old airport's runway is now a long parking lot for beach goers and for joggers and walkers who wend their way through the lush gardens there. This isn't a private botanical garden, however it seems like there are many locals that have adopted a plot of garden to maintain and enjoy, so there was quite a variety of plants, including many cacti. There first shot even shows someone's preparation for Christmas!

Some might be surprised to see cacti on Hawaii, but there are 8 distinct climate zones on the Big Island, including fairly large semi-arid and arid desert areas on the northern west-coast, in Mauna Kea's and Mauna Loa's rain shadow.

My somewhat regular recent blogging was interrupted, firstly due to the trip, and secondly since I unfortunately came down with one of the worst flus I ever had, about four days into our Hawaii trip. I felt terrible for weeks and I've only recently recovered enough that I feel like myself again!

Link to: All the blog posts from my 2019 Hawaii Trip

Saturday, November 16, 2019

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Gallery: 2019 Grand Canyon Trip - Burr Trail

Although this gallery is called "Burr Trail", almost half the photos were taken further west, on the drive there from Bryce Canyon, many near Escalante, Utah. We did detour to visit Kodachrome Basin State Park, which has many spindly rock formations, with some being rather, ahem, phallic in nature. The park's name has an interesting history too. The Burr Trail is a wonderful back-road that gets you into Capitol Reef National Park, much further south that the main park road that most people drive through. A number of years back, this road was completely gravel and that added to the desolate feeling of the amazing scenery but alas, it is now paved right through the spectacular Long Canyon, the entrance to which you can see in photo 30 of the above linked gallery.

The canyon rocks are a rich red-orange colour, and there are many lush green trees, so the combination of red rocks, green trees and a deep blue sky, like it was on that day, is an incredible sight to behold. The colour contrasts really make for spectacular scenery! Near the eastern end of Long Canyon, where it opens up, the varied colours of the sandstone are even more amazing, and the eroded mounds you can see in the above photo are a landscape photographer's dream. I will admit to enhancing the colours on the above photo to make it seem a little more "Velvia-like" but the version that's in the gallery (photo 43), as well as the other shots in the gallery, are more realistic.

Still, incredibly vivid colours in the area when you see them in person, especially when the clarity is as good as it was that day. We had so much luck on the trip, often with the atmosphere scrubbed clean of dust and haze by recently passed storms, deep blue skies and fluffy white clouds, as well as some interesting stormy skies as well. This was another place my father had never seen and the weather couldn't have been better for it!

Link to: All the blog posts from my 2019 Grand Canyon Trip

Here are some more panoramas I shot that day and again, clicking a thumbnail will open the shot larger in a new window or tab. The first one was taken from a viewpoint east of Escalante...

The next one was from atop some rocks beside the parking lot at a viewpoint overlooking the Escalante River...

Lastly, here is a panoramic photo of the view at the exit of Long Canyon...

Monday, November 11, 2019

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Gallery: 2019 Grand Canyon Trip - Bryce Canyon

After the main event, the Grand Canyon visit, we started working our way north again. The next major stop was Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah. On the way, we drove past the spectacular Vermilion Cliffs in northern Arizona. Much of drive out of the Grand Canyon area was bad weather, with very poor visibility and blizzard-like conditions. However luckily things improved and I did get a decent view and took one panorama of the Vermilion Cliffs. Too bad the sun wasn't out more for a bit of extra contrast, but it was still worth a shot. Click on the following to open a larger version in a new window or tab...

At Bryce Canyon the next morning, we were dismayed to find the weather cold, overcast and foggy, with fresh slushy snow on the ground! Since our strict schedule only allowed for one day at Bryce, I feared that we might not get any decent views at all. I took the opportunity during the day to do a load of laundry, while my dad relaxed back at the hotel. However when I was done, the skies had started to open up and I rushed back to the hotel to fetch my dad. We drove out to Sunset Point and the views were spectacular! Once again the the clarity was superb and the evening light was amazing - what luck! However it didn't last for long...

All the evening images in the gallery were shot during a brief 21 minute window when the sun was out. I was frantically shooting and changing lenses to try and capture as much as I could. Also, rather that depend too much on wide-angle lenses, I decided to shoot more details this time around, using my XF 50mm f/2 and XF 90mm f/2 for many shots, two exceptionally sharp lenses. In fact, the one shot in the gallery from my 16mm lens was actually slightly mis-focused darn-it! I felt so pressed for time that I didn't review any images when I was there and didn't notice it unfortunately.

Link to: All the blog posts from my 2019 Grand Canyon Trip

Despite the brief period of good light, I did manage to squeeze in a few panoramas as well. This first one ended up being over 21,000 pixels in width for the original file, enough to easily make a 10 foot wide print. The second one, which I shot from a slightly different spot with a wider lens, showing more foreground canyon and sky, makes up for the ruined 16mm shot I'd say...

Saturday, November 9, 2019

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Gallery: 2019 Grand Canyon Trip - The Canyon!

This, finally, was the ultimate reason for our trip, the main event. My mom and dad had, on two separate trips, driven down to the Southwest and visited the Grand Canyon, and both times it was socked in with clouds so thick that you couldn't even see the canyon at all. So this was on my dad's bucket list, the wish to see the Grand Canyon in all its glory. The evening we arrived, it was overcast and raining, and the next morning didn't look all that promising either, but after we had breakfast it started to clear...

The passing storm had done a fantastic job of cleaning the air of dust and the views were the clearest I'd ever seen at the Grand Canyon myself. I had been there maybe three or four times previously, but the clarity this time was outstanding. To make things more interesting, a midday storm decided to scour the air even further and later that evening the views were, if anything, even better than in the morning. We had lucked out and had a day of gorgeous weather, absolutely fantastic for taking photos!

We were hoping to take in some more views again the next morning, but alas it was not to be: in fact, we had extremely poor visibility in blizzard like conditions on the drive east out of the park! The one day we were there, the weather was fantastic but the day prior and the day after, terrible weather with virtually no visibility into the canyon. Indeed, Lady Luck had smiled upon us that day for sure!

To get a good sense of just how vast the Grand Canyon really is, click on image #33 in the above linked gallery and then open the larger 3000 pixel wide version. Find the person standing near the edge of the cliff near the upper right of the shot...

Sadly, my mother passed away in 2008 and never did get to see the canyon like this in person. Neither did my dad's more recent companion Franziska unfortunately, who suddenly passed away in 2018. She too really wanted to see the Grand Canyon in person and the three of us had actually planned on doing this trip in 2017. Unlike my mother, Franziska had never been to the US Southwest at all. However that year, my dad had some serious health issues and couldn't really travel, nor could he get medical insurance for travel outside of Canada, so we had decided to postpone this trip until after our planned trip to Germany in 2018. Since Franziska sadly passed away early last year, my dad and I ended up traveling to Germany on our own as well.

Link to: All the blog posts from my 2019 Grand Canyon Trip

Below are a few stitched panoramic shots, a little too wide to look good in the main gallery, although not as wide as some I had posted previously. Since I couldn't decide on just one, the last three are similar versions of the same view, shot with different lenses at slightly different times. Click on the image to open a larger view in a new window or tab...

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

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First Test! Fujifilm X-Pro3

Gallery (30 images): First Test! Fujifilm X-Pro3

These are the first tests I shot with a preproduction X-Pro3 body that was loaned to me by Fujifilm. These may also be my last tests since for the moment, I have no intention of buying an X-Pro3 once it is released at the end of this month. Fujifilm intentionally made some design choices for the X-Pro3, with the hopes of attracting a new class of customer, and those choices mean it's a camera that is not very appealing to me. Time will tell if they made the right move. In the meantime, I am still extremely happy with my X-Pro2 body and more recently, with my X-H1 as well. The in-body image-stabilization, really superb EVF and general handling of the X-H1 I find to be very good, even though inherently, I prefer the control layout and handling of a rangefinder style body like the X-Pro2.

In the future, I may elaborate further on what it is I don't like about the X-Pro3, but suffice to say for now it is mainly the hidden-by-default flip down rear LCD, the reduction in the number of customizable buttons, and the significant reduction in the Hybrid-Viewfinder's OVF functionality in order to make room inside for a slightly improved EVF. There is a slight increase in magnification when compared to the X-Pro2, and a substantial improvement in contrast and smoothness, but I feel the EVF is still nowhere near as good as the one in the X-H1 or X-T3, and the improvements are not enough to compensate for the compromises made with the OVF in my opinion.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

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Gallery: 2019 Grand Canyon Trip - Painted Desert

On the the way from Los Alamos to our ultimate destination, the Grand Canyon, we had one more stop to make at the Petrified Forest National Park. We did the drive from the north part of the park to the south, and got lots of wonderful clouds floating over the amazing Painted Desert scenery there. The desert is so richly colourful, that on some shots you can actually see the closer clouds reflecting the deep red, giving them slightly pink undersides.

Unfortunately, once we got to the south end of the park, where all the amazingly colourful petrified logs were, the sky had become total overcast, story and windy and starting to rain. So, unfortunately, apart from a few quick iPhone snapshots I took, running up to a viewpoint quickly to check the weather on the horizon (it wasn't good), I did not get any shots there this time around. Note that the petrified log and fragments that you'll see in the above linked gallery are nowhere near as brilliantly colourful as the agatized logs in the south end of the park.

Link to: All the blog posts from my 2019 Grand Canyon Trip

The expansive landscape in the area just begged for panoramic shots, and I did numerous stitches that turned out to be rather wide, too wide for the regular gallery in my opinion, so you can view them below. Clicking on the image will open a much larger version in a new window or tab, 1200 pixels tall by however wide they end up being.

These panos were solely processed in Adobe Lightroom, apart from downsizing in Capture One, with the original raw files being run through Adobe's new "Enhanced Details" demosaic process first, before being stitched into a panorama. This seemed to yield slightly better images with less stitching artifacts, when compared to using Capture One Pro to generate TIFF files and then going back and stitching those in Lightroom. In case you were wondering (and you probably weren't!), the 'E' in the filenames designate that I used this new Adobe feature before stitching the panoramas...

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

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Gallery: X-H1 Night Walk & Fall Colours

Gallery (60 images): X-H1 Night Walk & Fall Colours

Interrupting my posting of Grand Canyon trip images, the above gallery contains two sets of images taken on different days. The first is a walk home from work, along False Creek and through the Olympic Village by Science World. I was shooting with my Fujifilm X-H1 and XF 23mm f/1.4 lens. All the shots were handheld, taking advantage of the X-H1's in-body sensor-shift image-stabilization (IBIS), which can be effective down to as long as a 1 second exposure with something like that 23mm lens. Mind you, reliable 1 second long handheld exposures are still not easy, even with the X-H1's IBIS, but I found a pretty decent hit rate for sharp 1/2 second exposures, and shorter of course. The freedom and speed of shooting that not needing a tripod brings is liberating!

Of course, being completely dark out, I still needed to use ISO 1600 since I also wanted a bit of depth-of-field, deciding to shoot most images at f/4. Had I used a tripod at ISO 200, of course the noise levels would have been less, and the dynamic range and overall image quality would have been better. However, I usually don't decide to walk to work with a tripod, unless I have preplanned a shoot and this was not planned. In short, X-H1 still made it possible to capture rather decent cityscape images in complete darkness, even without a tripod.

Lastly, note that all the images are geotagged, but the X-H1 shots were not tagged in post like I normally do. Instead, I utilized the X-H1's auto-reconnecting Bluetooth interface to my iPhone, and it pulled my location from the phone for each shot. Note that to conserve the battery, I was constantly switching the camera on and off, and at the time I wasn't even concerned with geotagging so didn't give the camera any extra time to connect. In the end, every single shot on that walk home had location data, which is rather convenient!

On my recent trip to Oregon and Idaho, I did use my Garmin Fenix 5 Plus watch to record tracklogs, and then used Lightroom to geotag the images from the X-H1, since I usually didn't have the phone with me. This was the first time I noticed how surprisingly quick and reliable the phone-connection geotagging seems to be was. Cool. That said, some of the X-H1 geotag positions in the above gallery are off by a little more so than I would normally expect, for example, my Garmin to be but I'm not sure if that was due to natural variation in GPS accuracy, or the fact that sometimes I took a shot only a few seconds after flipping the camera on. Maybe if I had waited a little longer after powering up the camera, or just left the camera on between shots, the geotags would have been more accurate?

The second set of images in the gallery was from my X100F, on the evening I walked to the advance polls for the upcoming Canadian federal election. At the last minute, I decided to grab my Fujifilm X100F on the way out the door and I'm glad I did. Many leaves were already changing colour and with the low evening light, the colours and contrast popped!

Clicking on either above image leads to the same gallery, with the first 35 shots being from the nighttime walk with the X-H1, and the last 25 shots the fall colours with the X100F. As mentioned, the X-H1 shots were auto-geotagged but the second set of images from the X100F were tagged manually in Lightroom like I always do. All the images were ultimately processed in Capture One Pro though, not Lightroom. For those X-H1 shots, Lightroom would have yielded cleaner images with less high ISO grain (noise), but at the expense of detail and sharpness in many of the darker areas of the images. Personally, I do prefer the slightly grainier but more detailed images...

Sunday, October 13, 2019

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Gallery: 2019 Grand Canyon Trip - Los Alamos

For the first part of the day, my dad wasn't feeling well after a night of sleeping poorly, and stayed in the hotel while I went out and wandered around Los Alamos for a few hours. I visited several buildings belonging to the Los Alamos History Museum, and took a number of shots around the scenic Ashley Pond Park, as well as other historic sites in the city.

Later in the day, my father mustered the energy to visit the very interesting Bradbury Science Museum with me. My Laowa 9mm lens came in handy to add some wide dramatic perspective to some of the museum's displays, even when the space was tight. Afterwards, I had been looking forward to driving to Bandelier National Monument, which features a large number of fascinating cliff dwellings and other ruins, but after the museum, my dad had enough for that day and just wanted to rest and relax in the evening.

Link to: All the blog posts from my 2019 Grand Canyon Trip

Saturday, October 12, 2019

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Gallery: 2019 Grand Canyon Trip - VLA & Bosque del Apache

After a day of travel with no photography, just driving across central Arizona and making time, we arrived at the Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope facility in New Mexico in the evening. The interesting thing about the VLA is that there are many radio dishes arrayed along three sets of twinned railway tracks that radiate outward in a "Y" shape. The dishes can be moved along these tracks and repositioned to either be close together near the centre, or much further apart across the entire valley, depending on the scientists' needs. The tracks are each about 21 kilometres in length, allowing for huge flexibility in positioning the individual dishes.

In the above photo, you can see one of the rail transport vehicles that helps move the dishes, with one showing in the assembly and maintenance building in the background. It might be a bit hard to tell the scale, but the individual radio dishes are actually quite large, being 25 meters in diameter and each weighing over 200 metric tons!

The following day, before making our way up to Los Alamos, we stopped by the Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Preserve and walked around a little, observing many different birds... and one turtle as well. During past visits, I saw many more turtles basking in the sun, but I only glimpsed a single one that day...

Link to: All the blog posts from my 2019 Grand Canyon Trip

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

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Gallery: 2019 Grand Canyon Trip - Death Valley

After spending some time in Rhyolite in the morning, as per the previous gallery, my dad and I made our way into Death Valley... the long way around via a scenic route: Titus Canyon. The road to Titus Canyon, which is strictly one way, branches off from the main highway just west of Rhyolite. After driving through a relatively flat area where there were lots of blooming wildflowers and some cacti, the road started winding around through some colourful scenery, and slowly the canyon got narrower and narrower. On previous trips through Titus Canyon, I never really documented the drive much, so this time I made sure to take lots of photos of my Outback in the canyon, so one can see how tight it really gets!

After exiting Titus Canyon and having an early dinner in Furnace Creek, we made our way south to Badwater, the lowest point in Death Valley, indeed the lowest in North America, at roughly 280 feet below sea-level. One shot in the linked gallery shows a sea-level sign way up the side of a mountain.

After Badwater, we made our way back north, towards our hotel in Beatty Nevada, but looped through the Artist's Palette drive, an area with vividly coloured sandstone and soil.

Link to: All the blog posts from my 2019 Grand Canyon Trip

Sunday, October 6, 2019

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Gallery: 2019 Grand Canyon Trip - Rhyolite, Nevada

The first thing my father and I did on the morning after arriving in the Death Valley area, was to visit Rhyolite, a crumbling ghost town in Nevada near the California border. Over the years that I've visited Rhyolite, I've seen a progression of newly collapsed walls and structures, with many once accessible buildings now fenced off due to safety concerns.

Thankfully, my father was very patient and gave me time to really photograph Rhyolite during this visit, and I took lots of detail shots, as well as expansive shots with my ultra-wide Laowa 9mm lens. Having such a wide lens was very helpful in fully capturing some of the buildings despite needing to be very close-up, with the camera right over the fence surrounding the building, in order to avoid having those same fences appear in the foreground of the photos. Other times, the 9mm simply added a sense of drama and perspective, as in the above photo.

Link to: All the blog posts from my 2019 Grand Canyon Trip

Saturday, October 5, 2019

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Gallery: 2019 Grand Canyon Trip - Days 1-3

Gallery (20 images): 2019 Grand Canyon Trip - Days 1-3

Back in late April, my father and I had left on a lengthy road-trip to the US Southwest in my new, 2019 Subaru Outback 3.6R. Our ultimate goal was to see the Grand Canyon, since he had been there with my mom many years ago, but the views had been nonexistent, with the canyon totally socked in with clouds. This time, we were hoping to find better weather there and the spectacular views the Grand Canyon is known for!

The above linked gallery has some shots from the first three days of travel south, on the way to our first major destination on the trip, Death Valley National Park in California.

During the 22 day, 9300 km road-trip, we wound our way through Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada. Here is a screenshot of our entire trip as recorded by my vehicle GPS...

Sunday, September 29, 2019

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Gallery: 2019 Oregon & Idaho Trip - Days 1 & 2

Gallery: 2019 Oregon & Idaho Trip - Days 1 & 2

In early September I was off for a 10 day road-trip with my friend Bill, camping, hiking and taking photos in Oregon and Idaho, with a brief jaunt into northern Utah to visit the Golden Spike National Historical Park. The above shot was taken in the morning, hiking along the John Day River after the first night of camping at Cottonwood Canyon State Park in north central Oregon.

I've recently switched from using Adobe Lightroom and/or PhotoNinja for processing my raw files, to Capture One Pro. The image quality one gets from Capture One Pro, especially with respect to detail and texture in deep shadows, is far superior to Adobe's processing, at least when it comes to working with X-Trans raw files from a Fujifilm body. Capture One's image quality is more or less on par with PhotoNinja these days, but the workflow is a lot smoother. I still used Lightroom to download, geotag and organize my initial shots while traveling, but switched to Capture One for the final processing once back at home.

Speaking of geotagging, what I do is take a shot of my Garmin Fenix 5 Plus GPS watch in the morning after getting a satellite lock, so that I can easily correct the capture time of all the shots in Lightroom as a group, to sync them with GPS time for the day of shooting. I record track-logs anywhere I shoot and then use Lightroom's excellent geotagging feature in the Map module to add location metadata to each shot for the day after importing the GPX files. It is quite a simple and seamless process generally speaking since I can handle all the images in one day as a group. That said, I sure would love it if my camera had a GPS built in regardless!

I also recently picked up a Fujifilm X-H1 and shot with it exclusively on this trip. The EVF is far superior to the one in my X-Pro2 and IBIS was also nice to have at times. While the X-H1's image quality is not really any better and it is a bit bulkier than my X-Pro2, the benefits of the improved EVF and in-body image-stabilization made it a compelling upgrade... well I suppose you would call it more of a "side-grade."

Originally, the plan was to scoot down to Moab and spend the trip there, but the weather was so nice in southeast Oregon and southern Idaho, that there didn't seem a compelling reason to do so much more driving...

Saturday, August 3, 2019

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Canon G5X Mark II Tested: False Creek

Gallery (65 images): Canon G5X Mark II and False Creek

Let me start out this blog posting by acknowledging how long it's been since I've posted anything! Basically, every time there was something I wanted to blog about, some new piece of equipment I tested, some new shots I wanted to share, something I probably could have thrown up fairly quickly if I'm being honest, I held back. I kept thinking that there were, for example, still galleries from my trip to Germany in 2018 I hadn't yet posted, then a trip to Ontario and Niagara Falls, a trip to Vancouver Island... well you probably get the picture. I kept holding off since I felt that I first needed to post older "more important" stuff (more time consuming to do though), before talking about or showing any new stuff (quicker and easier). Well, no more of that... if I can help it.

From now on, I will post short entries, smaller galleries etc., and not worry that more major stuff is still backlogged. I'll get to the older stuff eventually! This blog has been dead for 2/3 of a year because of that, and I will try to rectify this going forward. So, on to today's topic then!

My local Canon rep was kind enough to lend me a production G5X Mark II to test, as soon as he got his sample. For years now, I personally hadn't been all that impressed with most point & shoot (P&S) cameras on the market for a variety of reasons. Whether it was the handling and ergonomics, the lens quality, the overall quality with respect to the image sensor, the responsiveness of the user interface; there was always some aspect of most small cameras that turned me off. I have been spoiled by using some very high quality, high performance cameras and lenses these last few years, and my expectations were high... probably overly high when it comes to evaluating smaller, less expensive cameras, but there you go.