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DAY FOUR: Edinburgh

Posted on Monday, March 24th, 2014

Dave!When I learned that there was a new Hard Rock in Glasgow, my idea was to fly into Edinburgh (my favorite city on earth) and hop over and back for a quick visit. But when it came time to book my tickets, I realized that this was a risky prospect. Odds are I'd arrive in Edinburgh and never leave. So I decided to fly into Glasgow after all.

But there was no way I was going to pass on the opportunity to spend my birthday in the one place I love more than any other. No way at all. And so I took a 50-minute train ride across Scotland just because I can. But, before I go... an egg and fire-roasted tomato sandwich from Pret-A-Manger (my favorite breakfast on earth)...

Breakfast at Pret

Because the weather was so amazing,* I decided to do something I've always wanted to do when visiting Edinburgh: climb the extinct volcano there (named "Arthur's Seat") so I could look out over the city...

The Climb Up Arthur's Seat

Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat

The panorama view is pretty incredible (click to embiggen)...

Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat

I had photographed the city to death on my last trip here back in 2009, but I just can't help myself when it comes to the majestic old buildings, so I ended up taking a boat-load of new photos...

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland

Since I've been to Edinburgh many times, I'm always looking for something new to see and do. This trip, that ended up being a visit to Camera Obscura. It's a kind of museum filled with optical oddities and illusions...

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

Which is all well and good, but the main attraction for me was the rooftop view...

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

And, yes, as the name implies, there is indeed a camera obscura at Camera Obscura. It's an old-school attraction that was probably a lot more impressive back in the day... but it was still interesting since I had never seen one before (you can read all about the device at Wikipedia). Basically, a lens on the roof of the building captures light and beams it down onto a big white table in a darkened room. Everybody stands around this circular "screen" as the operator pans around the city while pointing out things of interest.

Not wanting to ride the train back to Glasgow during rush hour, I said goodbye to my beloved Edinburgh after all too short a visit...

Edinburgh Castle from the Train

Once back in Glasgow, I rushed out to the famous Kelvingrove Museum so I could take a look before it closed. Part art gallery and part natural history exhibit, it was well worth the effort...

Kelvingrove Museum Glasgow, Scotland

Kelvingrove Museum Glasgow, Scotland

Kelvingrove Museum Glasgow, Scotland

Kelvingrove Museum Glasgow, Scotland

Across the parking lot (and a creek) is the University of Glasgow. I wandered up to take a look before heading back downtown for dinner...

University of Glasgow, Scotland

University of Glasgow, Scotland

After a quick dinner (and a nap) I headed to George Square to try and get some photos without tons of people around. The beautiful Apple Store was on the way...

George Square in Glasgow, Scotland

Apple Store in Glasgow, Scotland

And that was that for my short visit to Scotland. I leave tomorrow morning on a very early flight, so off to bed I go.

   

*Dear Apple... while I love Siri, and use this miraculous feature often on my iPhone, there are times I have to wonder just how idiotic technology can be. I am in SCOTLAND. My iPhone is LOCATION AWARE. I am asking what the weather is like IN EDINBURGH. But I am given locations in the USA? Oh well... I'll just clarify that I mean the Edinburgh IN SCOTLAND then...

Stupid Siri

Nope. No matter how I pronounce it, Edinburgh is not in Scotland. Holy crap does this make Siri look like a fucking moron.

   

DAY EIGHT: Lisse and Amsterdam

Posted on Friday, March 28th, 2014

Dave!"We have arrived!" announced the hotel shuttle driver to myself and another passenger as we pulled into the Nice Airport around 4:30am. And so I climb out and ask the driver to open the back of the van so I can get my bag. He says "This stop is not for you," and so I start to climb back on the van... only to have the driver slam the gas pedal to the floor as I am half-way in. The van lurches forward, causing the sliding door to smash into my side and send me flying 20 feet. My head crashes into the pavement and, as I lay there bleeding and trying to breathe, the driver stands over me and says "I said this stop was not for you!" — which is why I was climbing back on the van, of course, but let's not apply logic to the situation. You would think that A) The driver would make sure everybody is actually ON the van before hitting the gas, and B) He would start out slowly just in case the first passenger was still standing near... or the second passenger was in the process of boarding... or a pedestrian is crossing the street... or whatever. But, alas, no.

Blood pouring down my face and hunched over in pain, I somehow make my way inside the airport (at the next stop, natch) so I can try to clean myself up in a bathroom. Much to my horror, my glasses are destroyed, so I have to fish for contact lenses in my suitcase. But I can only put a lens in one eye because blood is pouring over the other one. A package of antibiotic wipes and 20 minutes of direct pressure later, my second lens is in and it's time to head to the gate for my flight.

The wonderful KLM cabin crew gave me ice for my head on the flight back to Amsterdam. This made the swelling die down a bit, and also caused the pain to subside. As for my chest where I was hit? The pain became searing, so when I got off the plane I started pressing around and... SNAP... I think I had a fractured rib, because now that it's been set back in place I feel totally fine... just a little sore now.

In other news... I have never felt so fucking macho in all my life as to snap my own fractured rib back in place! I'd go to the doctor, but all they would do is wrap me up and give me pain meds, so I'm just going to put on a tight T-shirt and self-medicate. Same difference! A-fucking-right... this is one macho bitch right up in here.*

Anyway...

My plans to visit some work colleagues in Amsterdam had to be abandoned so I could recuperate back at Casa de DutchBitch for five hours until she got off work. At which time we decided to visit "Europe's Garden"... the Keukenhof. I was there back in 2012 and loved it, so I was looking forward to another visit on this beautiful day, even if I was loaded with pain-killers...

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

After a wonderful afternoon looking at flowers, it was time for dinner at one of my favorite places on earth, Restaurant De Kas. It's a beautiful eatery outside of Amsterdam that resides in a greenhouse where they grow their own food. It's pretty special.

Restaurant De Kas

But it's at night that this place becomes really special...

Restaurant De Kas

The menu is a surprise, built around what came from the garden that day, and they accommodated my vegetarian diet beautifully...

Restaurant De Kas

Restaurant De Kas

Restaurant De Kas

An absolutely wonderful evening. After an absolutely wonderful day. After a terrible morning.

And now? Having experienced first hand what it's like to get run into by a car, I'm going to take some heavy drugs and go to bed. So good night to you! And (hopefully) a good night to myself.

   

*Unless, of course, it wasn't a fractured rib at all... in which case I have no idea what snapped inside there. Maybe I'm the moron who just cracked his own rib? I dunno. Playing doctor is a lot harder than it looks on television. Still, I'm feeling 1000% better than I was, so you can't argue with the results.

   

Aperture

Posted on Friday, June 27th, 2014

Dave!So Apple has stopped development on Aperture, their professional-grade photography organizer and editor.

As somebody who has invested an incredible amount of time and money in Aperture, I am understandably pissed off. But not the least bit surprised.

This is par for the course with Apple and their professional software. They build something incredible, eventually lose interest, then either dump it... or downgrade it to the point that so-called "professionals" are left behind. I've been through the whole thing before with Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro.

You'd think I'd have learned my lesson by now, but nope!

I've stuck by Aperture despite the fact that Apple hasn't released a significant update in four years. I've stuck by Aperture despite the fact that Adobe's competitor, Lightroom, has been getting continuous upgrades and improvements all that time. I've stuck by Aperture despite the fact that Apple has such a profoundly shitty track record with the "Pro" apps.

No, I have no idea why.

I also have no idea what, exactly, Apple is thinking by discontinuing their Pro photography app (Aperture) and their Consumer photography app (iPhoto) in favor of something new (Photos). I'm guessing their new baby is going to land somewhere in-between, in which case it's going to be too much bloat for the consumer and too little capability for professionals.

So what's the play here?

What's Apple up to?

Where's the hook?

Well... the hook is that Photos will be iCloud-based and able in integrate with Photos running on iPhones and iPads. All your photos are syncing all the time. As are your edits. If that weren't enough, apparently Photos will be smart enough to catalog proxies based on your device's capacity. The bulk of the data is kept on iCloud... including RAW originals... and the pricing looks excellent.

That's quite a hook.

Assuming it works. And when it comes to iCloud, you can never really tell.

The full feature list of Photos isn't going to be known for a while yet. Will it be "professional" enough to be a worthy successor to Aperture? Who the hell knows?

So, in the meanwhile, I'll just carry on being pissed at Apple.

I'm starting to get used to it.

   

Combustible

Posted on Friday, July 11th, 2014

Dave!And so... it's fire season again.

Some places have hurricanes. Others have floods.. tornados... earthquakes... name a disaster. Everybody has something. We have wildfires. They got scary close to where I live back in 2004. This time it's a slightly less worrisome 15 miles away near Entiat.

Local photographer Frank Cone has some amazing shots in his Flickr Photostream of the flames...

Frank Cone Fire Photo
Entiat Wildfire Image by Frank Cone ©2014

Frank Cone Fire Photo
Entiat Wildfire Image by Frank Cone ©2014

I feel terrible for all the animals that will die... and those who survive only to be homeless and hungry.

Thanks to the firefighters who, as always, put their lives and safety on the line doing a dangerous job to protect people and property in harm's way.

   

Ashes

Posted on Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Dave!When you step outside into the 106° F (41° C) blast furnace that is my home, the heat is the least of your worries. The air is filled with smoke and ash from the wildfires in the area, which makes breathing a bit of a chore.

The skies sure are pretty though.

Beneath the smoke that's rolling across the horizon, there's a golden glow that kisses the landscape until the sun goes down...

Wildfires

Wildfires

Wildfires

Wildfires

Wildfires

Too hot to sleep.

Too smokey to sleep.

Too sweaty to sleep.

Too tired to sleep.

I could really use some sleep.

   

Bullet Sunday 391

Posted on Sunday, July 27th, 2014

Dave!It's lobstah time... because a Very Special Bullet Sunday from Maine starts... now...

   
• Jet. You might find it interesting to know that Portland, Maine doesn't have an airport... they have a jetport! So I guess if you have an old-style prop plane, you're just going to have to land somewhere else. Only jets get the privilege of landing in Portland!

   
• Waterfront. Unlike so many fishing waterfronts that have been reimagined as tourist attractions or shopping destinations... Portland's waterfront is still in use by the fishing industry. This affords some excellent photographic opportunities which, alas, were lost on my because I didn't pack my camera. iPhone to the rescue!

Waterfront in Portland, Maine

Waterfront in Portland, Maine

Waterfront in Portland, Maine

Waterfront in Portland, Maine

Waterfront in Portland, Maine

It's a cool place to explore... assuming the smell of rotting fish doesn't offend you.

   
• Flatbread. For dinner I decided to stop at Flatbread Company, which was recommended by my hotel. This ended up being a fantastic choice, as I loved absolutely everything about the place. Exceptional service. Amazing food featuring local organic ingredients. And a very good beer selection...

Flatbread Company in Portland, Maine

Flatbread Company in Portland, Maine

I had a flatbread with zucchini, summer squash, maple glaze, and a bunch of other stuff I don't remember. Dessert was a Maine blueberry crisp with vanilla ice cream and maple-sweetened cream.

Flatbread Company in Portland, Maine

Flatbread Company in Portland, Maine

Flatbread Company in Portland, Maine

If you're ever in Portland, Flatbread Company gets my highest recommendation.

   
• Cobble. Old Downtown Portland is a really nice place. Some of the streets are still in cobblestones, and there's a wide variety of shops and eateries to visit...

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

If you're an ice cream lover, Portland has you covered. There are a lot of shops here selling it (I only ate at two of them, swear)....

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Turns out "The Other Portland" (if you're a west-coaster) is worth a trip. Can't believe I haven't been here sooner.

   
• BatMaine? Gotta love any city that's selling a decal like this one...

Batman Symbol with MAINE inside!

   
• Lucy. I am a huge fan of filmmaker Luc Besson. I am a huge fan of Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman. So a movie combining all three of those things should be amazing, right? Enter Lucy...

After some ridiculous circumstances involving a new synthetic drug end up giving Scarlett super-human abilities, she decides to make the best of the situation by passing her massive knowledge about life, the universe, and everything on to all mankind. An evil drug lord is having none of it, however, and decides to pursue her so he can have the drug for himself. Along the way there are some terrific action sequences... mostly involving Scarlett being awesome with her newfound abilities. It's all a bit cheesy, sure, but it's fun. And then things start to fall apart in the third act. Badly. Instead of escalating the cool super-human action to a grand finale, the film takes a massive detour into some kind of metaphysical artistic statement that is really unsatisfying and senseless. Lucy was ultimately disappointed to me because the ending sabotaged the whole movie.

So... it turns out that all the best stuff from Lucy is in the trailer. The movie might still be worth a rental, but I don't know I'd recommending paying the money to see it in a theater.

   
And... bullets begone! Seeyou next Sunday.

   

Maine

Posted on Monday, July 28th, 2014

Dave!I've been to Maine before. But not really. I crossed the border back in 2005 just so I could say that I've been here, but a quick hop to Kittery doesn't really qualify me to say that "I've seen Maine." So when my travel plans went as scheduled and I ended up with a free day, I figured I might as well jot out to the coast to see a few lighthouses and stuff.

Except I awoke to find that all of Maine was pouring rain and fog. I scoured the internet for lighthouse webcams, but all of them pretty much looked like this...

Hard Rock Cafe Pigeon Forge

The radar weather map looked a bit cleaner up north, so I started combing every webcam I could find up the Maine coast to see if there was anywhere with decent weather. After a long time of having no luck, I happened across a camera for "Pemaquid Point Light" (they don't call them "lighthouses" here). It was rainy, but not overly foggy. It was an hour-and-a-half drive through a torrential downpour, but oh well. Off I went.

The entire trip was pouring rain... right up until I got to the road that led down to the lighthouse...

But then... a miracle. As I was turning into the park, the rain just stopped. Still a bit overcast, but kinda clear. No need to wear a garbage bag after all!

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Behind the lighthouse is a cool rock formation that funnels out to the ocean...

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

What's cool about this particular lighthouse is that you can climb up in it...

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Inside the lightkeeper's house is a small museum...

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

By the time I was ready to leave, blue skies were starting to appear...

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

After asking for some advice as to another lighthouse I might try, I was told that a lot of people seem to head off to Marshall Point Light from here, so off I went. Surprise surprise, it started to rain again...

Rainy Maine Road Drive

It took a lot longer than I thought (Pemaquid Point and Marshall Point look so close on the map!), but it was a nice drive. Lucky me... the rain started to let up just as I pulled into the parking lot. Again...

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

Wanting to buy a post card, I stepped into the gift shop for a minute. When I went back outside, the blue skies had followed me!

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

The rocks here are really cool to look at...

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

Overall, a very nice lighthouse with some beautiful scenery surrounding...

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine
Click the panorama to enbiggen.

While in the gift shop, I saw a map that showed another lighthouse that's publicly accessible not too far away. So off I went to Owl's Head Lighthouse... this drive in much nicer weather...

Owl's Head Lighthouse, Maine

Owl's Head Lighthouse, Maine

Owl's Head Lighthouse, Maine

Owl's Head Lighthouse, Maine

Poor Spot!

Owl's Head Lighthouse, Maine

And thus ended my exploration of Maine's coastal roads and lighthouses.

Interesting to note that the geography here makes everything much farther away than you'd think. Pemaquid Point and Marshall Point are not very far away from each other as the crow flies (about 13 miles). But to navigate there in a car is just over 50 miles and a 1 hour, 15 minute drive...

Google Map
Map courtesy of... who else... Google Maps!

Dinner was back in Portland at Flatbread Company, because I just couldn't help myself. The blueberry desserts are just too incredible. This time? Blueberry-Topped Poundcake...

Blueberry Poundcake

Hopefully tomorrow I'll get the chance to explore a bit more... but it's a work day, so fingers crossed.

   

Popham

Posted on Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Dave!I had a scary amount of work piled up today, so exploring Maine wasn't really in the cards.

I did take a quick run out to Popham Beach State Park after lunch to clear my head, however. I had wanted to visit yesterday, but the unrelenting rain made that a dreary proposition.

Luckily today was a different story...

Popham Beach State Park Maine

The southern section of the beach is a beachcomber's delight...

Popham Beach State Park Maine

Popham Beach State Park Maine
Click image to embiggen.

One of the cool things about Popham Beach is that there are islands off the coast which you can walk to during low tide...

Popham Beach State Park Maine

Popham Beach State Park Maine

Popham Beach State Park Maine

And now it's time to gear up for a 30-hour work day.

   

Light

Posted on Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Dave!And... time to head home.

But not before I see one last lighthouse... and perhaps the most famous in Maine due to its proximity to Portland... Portland Head Light State Park.

All things considered, it's a nice lighthouse. Albeit a little more crowded than the others I visited this trip...

Portland Head Light State Park

Portland Head Light State Park

Portland Head Light State Park

I was once again astounded at the photo quality I was getting from my iPhone... and it's a 5, not even the 5S. The detail it manages to pull out of a scene is nothing short of amazing considering it's coming out of a frickin' phone...

Portland Head Light State Park

Portland Head Light State Park

Inside there's a small museum ($2 entry) that has an interesting look at the history of the lighthouse. And how it works...

Portland Head Light State Park

Portland Head Light State Park

Time for a mad dash to the airport jetport so I can make my flight. While waiting for my plane to board, I noticed there were displays of Maine's famous products on display... some of which I never associated with the state. Well, except "Tom's of Maine" which I kinda had figured out...

Tom's of Maine Product Display

And away I go...

   

Baggage

Posted on Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Dave!I loathe shopping.

I've never enjoyed it. If given the choice between going to the mall or getting water-boarded, I'd probably take the water-boarding. Especially during the holidays (at least the first time... as I've read that being water-boarded is seriously no fun at all). Now-a-days I rarely go to a mall or physical store to shop, I buy everything on the internet. And while I still loathe shopping, at least with online shopping I don't have to put pants on.

But that's not the only difference.

The biggest difference to me is that online shopping comes with customer reviews. When shopping at Amazon (my online store of choice) I have immediate access to the opinions of other people who have purchased the item I'm looking at. This can be a big plus. Except sometimes the reviews are paid or planted to make a product sound better than it is, in which case it's a huge detriment. They can also be sabotaged by people with nothing better to do than trash perfectly good products for petty reasons. But, overall, I trust reviews to even out and paint an accurate picture of what you'll be getting.

And, for the most part, this trust is not misplaced.

But what happens when it does?

I really like my current camera bag, a Tamrac Velocity 7x, but it's now too small to hold all my equipment and it screams "I'M A CAMERA BAG!!!" which probably acts like a beacon to thieves looking for an easy score. So I decided to buy something new. Which isn't an easy feat because no photographer I know has found the perfect bag. But this doesn't stop them from battling to the death in promoting the bag they prefer while brutally cutting up bags they don't. As you can imagine, this makes researching which bag to buy incredibly difficult. But I put in the time anyway and eventually landed on one which looked perfect for me.

Enter "The Brixton" by Ona Bags...

The Brixton Camera Bag by Ona
Photo from Ona Bags featuring photographer Colin Hughes

First of all, it's one of the best-looking camera bags I've ever seen. It looks like a high-end messenger bag and doesn't say "I'm a camera bag" at all. Sure, for the sake of the cows that died to make it, I wish it didn't have leather accents, but at least those poor animals can rest in peace knowing that their hide was used to make something so beautiful.

But, when it comes to baggage, I'll take functionality over beauty any day, so how well does it work as a camera bag?

Well, according to all the reviews I read, it was the most amazing thing since sliced bread. Honestly, I had a hard time finding anything bad that was said about it. Photographers loved the thing. So I did my best to ignore the TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-NINE DOLLAR PRICE TAG, and placed my order with B&H Photo.

I was so thrilled to have finally found the most perfect camera bag ever made that I was walking on air for days.

And then it arrived.

Yes, it is indeed beautiful... but holy shit is it a cluster-fuck of disasters...

  • The wax coating on the canvas scratches very easily. Just removing my bag from the box resulted in some hefty crease marks on every surface. This isn't necessarily a deal-breaker for me... I'm sure eventually it will have an old weathered look I'll like... but, seriously, why couldn't they just use a standard spray coating? The thing looks beat to shit and I've had it for two days. Two days of doing practically nothing! Heaven only know what it will look like after two weeks of travel!
  • The Brixton has an unremovable strap(!) with very little padding on a shoulder piece that slides all over. It doesn't even have a rubberized coating to keep it from sliding on YOU. This is pathetic and unforgivable for a bag that costs TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-NINE DOLLARS!
  • The handle on top is off-center and off-balance, making it uncomfortable and pretty useless. Why they couldn't have gone dual-handle to make it carry well is a mystery.
  • There is a pocket in the back that's kept closed by magnets, which is nifty. What's not so nifty is that it has no cover-flap and doesn't seal tight, which means water and dust are just going to pour into the thing when you're trekking into nature's wild abandon. The smart thing to do would be to seal it shut with silicone... but... well, it's a pocket. I do love my pockets. There are also two wide-open, unprotected pockets on each side. =sigh=
  • There are two pockets in the front right under the bag's cover flap. They are roomy and deep, which is great... BUT THAT'S ALL THE INTERNAL POCKETS YOU GET?!? Absolutely no provision whatsoever for organizing all the tiny crap that photographers seem to accumulate. This is a horrible problem. My Tamrac spoiled the crap out of me with all the useful little places to organize things. This is awful. I mean, holy crap... NOT EVEN A PENCIL POCKET?!?
  • There is a divider inside so that you can slide in a small (13-inch or less) laptop. This is a welcome addition, but it's attached FLAT with velcro so it's more of a slot than a pocket. That's great for a very thin computer (like the MacBook Air) but just plain wacky for anything else because it distorts the back wall of the main compartment. Why not at least attempt to add some depth there... especially if the whole thing is removable if the customer doesn't want it taking up space! And would it kill Ona to put a piece of rigid plastic at the back of the bag to keep your computer from bending in half as it bends around your body?
  • The internal dividers are way too short. Sure you can stick them higher in the bag, but then small lenses and other items aren't contained as they should be.
  • The brass latches Ona uses to keep the bag closed are kind of a hassle. They slide latched so easily sometimes, but require multiple tries to latch other times. I don't know why... maybe it's because you have to have them lined up perfectly straight? Regardless, anything this finicky has NO place on a camera bag, and they really should have used an alternative.
  • The adjustable buckles on the closure straps are UP-SIDE DOWN and probably the stupidest fucking design flaw I've seen on any piece of luggage. Ever.

That last bullet requires some explanation...

The Brixton Camera Bag Buckle FAIL!!!

As you can see, instead of pointing down, the buckle prong faces upwards. This means the damn thing is pointing out ALL THE TIME! The first time I noticed this, it was because I squeezed by a $1000 wood filing cabinet only to see that The Brixton left an ugly gash in the finish. The next time I noticed it, I dropped my arm to my side where the bag was resting and got punctured (no blood, but it left a mark and hurt like a m#th@f#c%er).

This is a huge, major, massive design flaw.

BUT IT WAS NOT MENTIONED ONCE IN ANY REVIEW I READ! NOT ONCE! What the fuck?!?

Did I perhaps get a defective product or something? I jumped to Ona's own website to see if I could find out. Sure enough, right there in their own marketing photos, the little buckle prong is sticking out all over the place!

The Brixton Camera Bag Buckle FAIL!!!
Photo from Ona Bags

Did nobody at any point during product testing notice this problem? Nobody?! I'm the only one who has been poked and left gashes in furniture? Seriously?!

I just don't get it.

There's a lot of things to like about this bag, but it's so deeply flawed that I just can't comprehend the universal praise it's getting. In order to make it work for me, I'm going to have to...

  • Use some shrink-tubing over the buckles so they're not poking people and fucking up the furniture. This will also (hopefully) dampen the "CLACK! CLACK! CLACK!" you hear when you're walking along with the bag unlatched.
  • Use some kind of small plastic box with dividers for all the small stuff so there's a way to keep it organized and not just sitting in the bottom of a deep pocket in a lump.
  • Pull the velcro dividers out of my other camera bags so I have useable-height dividers in the Ona bag.
  • Wrap anything kept in exterior pockets in plastic bags to keep them clean and dry.
  • Cut off the shoulder strap and replace it with something that's worth a shit.
  • Consider adding a rigid piece of plastic with a felt cover to the back of the bag to better protect my MacBook Air from bending.

My regret is not that I have to modify this bag so that I can use it effectively. That's bound to happen with something as varied and subjective as photography gear. It's that I paid TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-NINE DOLLARS for something that didn't have a lot of thought put into it. Or maybe it did, and the designers made bad choices. I dunno. It's just maddening that no reviewer mentioned any of the shortcomings that come with owning Ona's "The Brixton."

Oh well. Eventually, with modification, it should be a good bag for me. I sure like the way it looks. And it could have been worse.

I could have paid $430 for the all-leather version.

I hate shopping.

   

Akihabara

Posted on Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Dave!To mourn the passage of Apple's Aperture photography cataloging and editing software, there was a discussion thread where people are posting the first photo they ever imported into the program.

Aperture was released in 2005, but the first photos I imported were those I took after having gone 100% digital in 2000. Up until that point, I always took a film camera with me on my travels because I wanted to make sure I had a reliable fallback in case the digital photos turned out horrible (which they often did back then).

But then the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-D700 camera was released. Suddenly I had an unbelievable 2.8 megapixel sensor that could produce dazzling 2048 × 1360 pixel images. Sure that's less than half of what you can get out of a good DSLR today and the quality wasn't that great... but, for the time, it was pretty remarkable. Suddenly I didn't feel the need to drag my film camera around with me. On a trip to Asia I took in October 2000, I was digital only.

And here's the first photo from that batch to be imported into Aperture...

Tom Bailey on Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show

That's a picture of Akihabara Denki Gai ("Akihabara Electric Town") in Tokyo, Japan.

Today I shoot in RAW format and take three bracketed exposures for every image. That eats up a hefty chunk of memory but, with 32GB and 64GB SD cards so common (and getting cheaper every day), it's not a big deal. Back in 2000, however, I was constantly switching between Medium Quality (1600 × 1200 or 1.9 MP) and High Quality (2048 × 1360 or 2.8 MP) to save precious space on my 8MB Sony Memory Stick. The above image was shot as 1600 × 1200. Looking back, that was a bad choice because all the straight lines in the image are pixelating quite badly at such low resolution. I should have taken a second to analyze the scene and then selected High Quality mode. But, who knows what I was thinking when I shot it? Maybe I thought that a random street scene wasn't important enough to merit the extra space.

As for Aperture?

Now that it's been discontinued, I've resigned myself to the fact that my last import into the program will be my upcoming trip to Salt Lake City. After that I'll be switching to Adobe Lightroom.

If I'm feeling nostalgic, maybe I'll be sure that the first image I import into Lightroom will be the same first image I imported into Aperture.

   

Sony FE 70-200

Posted on Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Dave!I've never been much of a "telephoto guy." My favorite photography has always been landscapes and architecture, and these subjects have dominated my photos since Day One. With this in mind, I only rarely invest in telephoto lenses... often preferring to sink my money into the best wide-angle glass I can afford. Any lenses I've ever bought with any reach to them have been the cheapest of the cheap. While I may need a long lens one day... I know full-well that it will probably sit in my camera bag unused. They always do.

But with Sony's newer full-frame sensor mirrorless cameras reawakening my love of photography, I've found myself wanting to explore telephoto shooting for some reason. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to get a seriously expensive lens (for me anyway) in the hopes that I'll actually want to use it.

Enter the $1,500 Sony FE 70-200mm...

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Mountains Closeup
You know it's serious when it's painted white to dissipate the heat it generates with such big glass!

   
Now, let me preface the rest of this entry by saying "I know."

I absolutely know that 200mm seems like a pathetic amount of zoom in an age when even cheap hand-helds are sporting 60× lenses that blow in to a remarkable 1200mm. I mean, shit, 200mm can barely be considered "telephoto" any more, right?

Except...

These handhelds get their astounding reach because they have tiny sensors. A telephoto lens doesn't have to be very big at all to fill them up. Couple that with the slow, cheap optics these cameras use to get to 1200mm, and the quality of photos you're going to see may be decent enough for a hobbyist... but I wanted something more.

And with a full-size sensor, "more" and "quality" translates into a big, big lens. If you've ever watched a pro sports game, you occasionally see the photo-journalists covering the event as they stand behind these massive $10,000+ lenses that are so big and heavy that a tripod is required. And just look at what my little Sony NEX-6 looks like with the 70-200mm zoom...

Sony FE 70-200 on a Sony NEX-6 Body

Can you imagine what a quality 400mm or 600mm lens would be like... assuming Sony ever bothered to build one for these cameras?

Anyway...

Over the past couple days I've been goofing around with my new FE 70-200mm and have been loving every minute of it. Yes, the 200mm seems a little short on my Sony A7-S with its full-frame sensor... but on my NEX-6 with its smaller sensor I get 105-300mm, which is actually a pretty good range for a telephoto lens. Even at the low-end...

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Motel Sign

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Forest Light

But it's the high-end that really matters, right? Zooming in to the full 200mm (which is 300mm on my NEX-6) can get me fairly close. Close enough that a good-quality crop is available for 8×10" prints...

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Mountains Closeup

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Mountains Closeup

And you might need to crop in some cases because the corners can get a little soft at 200mm. Not so much that you're going to balk... or possibly even notice (this lens has amazing-quality optics, after all)... but it's worth noting.

As expected, the FE 70-200mm comes with Optical SteadyShot (image stabilization) built-in. Hand-held shooting would be really tough if it didn't. Overall, I'm happy with the quality of the OSS in this lens, and most of my shots were rock-steady despite my not being a very steady shooter.

Auto-focusing is generally fast and accurate, but can be frustrating at times. In some cases when I was getting close, the lens was simply incapable of pulling focus, even though what I was aiming at had no obstructions to confuse the contrast sensor... and I was outside the minimum the focusing distance of the lens (1m). I honestly don't know what that's all about, but it's something I'll be keeping an eye on.

The aperture runs f/4.0-22, which is fairly respectable. Though I admit I would've be happier with a maximum of f/2.8, which seems to be standard for this zoom range in other brands. I can't complain too much though... overall I find it plenty bright enough for daylight shoots.

And you can still get a nicely narrow depth of field, if you're into that kind of thing...

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Mountains Closeup

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Mountains Closeup

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Mountains Closeup

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Mountains Closeup

These were all hand-held with no shake and very good sharpness. Which is pretty darn cool, if you ask me.

You have to be careful though. In full-auto, my NEX-6 made some poor choices that resulted in occasional depth-of-field wackiness...

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Mountains Closeup

Which sometimes ended up being a good thing...

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Mountains Closeup

Something I was not expecting was the bokeh you get with this lens. It's round! And really beautiful. The specs say that Sony used a 9-blade rounded aperture, which looks more natural to my eye than the typical polygonal patterns I'm used to seeing.

The size/weight of this lens is either really good or really bad, depending on your perspective. At 29.63 ounces (1.85 pounds) it's pretty light when compared to other zooms. But on a small mirrorless camera like my NEX-6, it feels absurdly heavy and positively massive (see photo above).

Other than that, there's not much to tell. I've noticed no chromatic aberration at all. Naturally, it comes with a lens hood and tripod collar. The build quality is very nice, and the lens is sealed to help keep out dust and moisture. Filter size is 72mm, which doesn't seem very common, but I don't have an inventory of anything that large, so it's not a big deal to me. There are four focus-hold buttons around the lens which is always good. You can limit the focal range to increase auto-focus speed at a touch of a switch. Lastly, there's a "panning mode" switch that adjusts the image stabilization to accommodate horizontal movement/tracking (a nice feature, but I honestly couldn't tell the difference when I tried it?).

Given the whopping $1500 price tag, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. How could it be worth that kind of money? But now that I have the Sony FE 70-200mm in my camera bag, I'm not underwhelmed at all. This is a quality lens that shoots beautiful images and provides good value for the money on both Sony's full-size and cropped-sensor cameras. It's also the only choice you have without going with an adapter, as native FE lenses are pretty rare at the moment.

Now I just need to get out there and take some pictures with it.

   

Day Four: Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Posted on Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Dave!My vacation was booked through a wonderful company called Ultimate Africa Safaris, an agency specializing in Africa travel. After examining a bunch of different options they came up with that fit my budget, I ended up booking with Wilderness Safaris. They operate a number of camps in Africa, and can provide door-to-door service via Wilderness Air, their internal airline.

After landing at Harare, I was met by the pilot and transferred to a 4-seater Cessna for the flight to Ruckomechi, my first camp stop at Mana Pools in northern Zimbabwe...

Flight from Harare to Mana Pools

There's not a lot to look at after you pass the outskirts of the city...

Flight from Harare to Mana Pools

After a noisy 1-hour 40-minute flight, we landed near Mana Pools for the drive to Ruckomechi Camp...

Drive to Mana Pools and Ruckomechi Camp

My adventure began before I even got to camp, as I saw impala, warthogs, and zebra along the way...

Mana Pools Zebra

Wilderness Safari camps are divided into Premiere, Classic, and Adventure categories. Ruckomechi is considered a "Classic Camp," which is surprisingly luxurious for not being one of the top-shelf properties. My tent was more like a nice hotel room than any tent I've ever stayed in...

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

Ooh! A visitor wanders by...

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

If you're traveling with somebody, prepare to get to know them a lot better. The shower and toilet are wide open into the main room with not so much as a curtain to separate them...

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

The staff wastes no time in getting you started on your safari adventure. After a welcome drink and a run-through of the camp features and rules, A guide whisked me out to the grasslands to look for game as the sun started to set...

Mana Pools Game Drive

Minutes later I saw my first lion...

Mana Pools Game Drive

And then another...

Mana Pools Game Drive

The animals are fairly close to your jeep, but it helps to have a long lens so you can zoom in on the action. This young male is just starting to have his mane grow in...

Mana Pools Game Drive

Across the Zambezi River is Zambia, which apparently sets half the country on fire every year before the wet season to clear out dead brush. This really sucks ass, because all that smoke drifts into Zimbabwe and fills the sky with smoke. On the up-side, this makes for beautiful sunsets...

Zimbabwe Sunset

On evening game drives, your guide will set up a "sundowner" where you get assorted drinks and snacks. Tonight was home-made potato chips with honey-pepper dip (amazing) and cheese & olive spears...

Zimbabwe Sunset

Ruckomechi is known as "the elephants' favourite camp" because they hang around the place all the time. A big reason for that is the albida trees that drop tasty seed pods that elephants just love...

Zimbabwe Sunset

After the sun went down, it was time to return to camp for dinner...

Zimbabwe Sunset

Which is an impressive affair. Dinner tonight was served buffet-style with fantastic vegetarian options since there were a couple of us staying at Ruckomechi...

Ruckomechi Dining Room

Shortly after dinner was concluding, word came that the lions had made a kill just minutes away. Everybody poured into jeeps to go take a look. At night the guides use red spotlights to find animals because it doesn't hurt their eyes...

Ruckomechi Dining Room

Sure enough, the lions had gotten a zebra. Unfortunately I only had my pocket camera with me, so I didn't get very good shots of the carnage that ensued...

Ruckomechi Dining Room

Delicious zebra rump roast!

And, just like that, my first day of safari was over.

   

Day Five: Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Posted on Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Dave!Attempting to sleep while baboons, hippos, and all manner of other creatures are screeching, howling, grunting, chirping, and making a racket is no easy trick. I certainly hope I get used to it over the next week, because this is going to be a really interesting vacation if I'm sleep-impaired the whole time. I'd use earplugs, but I'm worried about missing the 5:30am wake-up for breakfast and our morning game drive.

One thing adding to the pain of my inability to sleep is having to get up for a bathroom break in the middle of the night. For reasons completely unknown, the tents at Ruckomechi have stone imbedded in the floor and, while they look pretty, they hurt like hell to walk on with bare feet. I stubbed my toe on one last night and it is still throbbing...

Ruckomechi Floor Rocks

WTF?!?

Ruckomechi has a nice bar area where you can help yourself to drinks or sit and relax any time you want to escape from your room for a bit...

Ruckomechi Lounge

The tents don't have electricity outlets, but there's a power generator you can tap into in the dining room if you need to charge camera batteries and such...

Ruckomechi Recharging

After a nice continental breakfast, it was time to hit the grasslands for a game drive.

I considered myself lucky to have seen two lions on my first day, as there were people ahead of me that stayed for four nights and never saw one. Today I was even luckier, getting to see a lioness and her three young ones enjoying the sunrise right off the bat...

Ruckomechi Floor Rocks

Ruckomechi Floor Rocks

Ruckomechi Floor Rocks

After watching the lions wander around a bit, we came across a flock of helmeted guineafowl, well-known in Zimbabwe for their spotted bodies and bright blue heads...

Helmeted Guineafowl

Followed by a baboon on a termite mound...

Baboon in Zimbabwe

And... inexplicably... yet another lion sighting. This time a beautiful young male with his mane growing in pretty good...

Lion in Zimbabwe

It's rare to see hippos out of the water during daylight hours, but we managed to catch one as it made its way from a marshy refuge to the Zambezi River...

Hippo in Zimbabwe

A member of the antelope family, impalas have a rigid social structure where all the boys of the heard battle it out to determine who gets to be the dominate male each season. The winner gets to breed with the females and has the important job of managing the herd. The male is the one with horns...

Impala in Zimbabwe

Impala in Zimbabwe

The losing males form their own herd where they will practice fighting and growing stronger so they can (hopefully) be victorious the next season.

CRAAAAAANE!!!

Spooky Crane

As if I wasn't already lucky enough, we happened across a pack of wild dogs. Our guide said a group of people were in a while ago specifically to see them, but never did after a week of searching. They had just made a kill, so all thirty-two of them were sleeping in a big pile...

Wild Dogs!

Every once in a while a pup would stand up and look around, so we sat around waiting. All of them have interesting calico-type coats that must do a good job of camouflaging them in the bush...

Wild Dogs!

Wild Dogs!

The Mana Pools are home to all kinds of wildlife, and it's all fairly close to camp...

Antelope!

After four hours of wandering around the concession, it was time to head back to camp. When we got there, I was ready to go back to my tent and take a nap, but an elephant was on the path...

Elephant of Ruckomechi

I tried to go around, but another elephant was lounging by my tent...

After five minutes or so, he moved on... but not before staring me down first.

Elephant of Ruckomechi

One of the features of Ruckomechi is an outdoor bath. I haven't taken a bath in over ten years, but it was an opportunity too good to pass up...

Ruckomechi Outdoor Bath

Ruckomechi Outdoor Bath

Our evening game drive began where the lions made their kill last night. They left a heck of a mess...

Zebra Kill

A few of the lions were still in the neighborhood, which meant the vultures and hyenas were kept away...

Lions

As we drove around looking for a place to have our sundown snack, we saw some really cool birds goofing around. So many of the birds here are colorful, but these were on another level...

Ruckomechi Outdoor Bath

Eventually we found a spot next to a troop of baboons...

Baboons

Africa Sunset

Africa Sundowner Snack

The drive back to camp was fairly uneventful, but it was hard to complain given all the cool stuff I got to see today.

One more day left in Ruckomechi...

   

Day Six: Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Posted on Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Dave!Last night was much quieter so I actually managed to get some sleep, which was nice.

On this morning's game drive, our guide decided to head out to a giant tree that has a massive hole in it. I fully admit that this didn't seem like much of a destination-worthy sight, but if there's one thing I've been learning over the years, it's to trust the local guides.

And so off we went to see a hole.

But before we could get there...

We spotted some elephants destroying a tree. Usually, for a tree this size, they'll just strip the bark off the thing... but this time they decided to knock it over for some reason. Our guide said that this is unusual but, now that it's down, the elephants will keep eating it until there is nothing left...

Elephants Destroy a Tree!

And I believed it. The elephants just kept ripping off these huge strips of tree with their trunks and chowing down...

Elephants Destroy a Tree!

Maybe they knocked it down so the baby in their group could have some. He was munching away just like the adults...

Elephants Destroy a Tree!

After watching the tree carnage for a while, we headed to the tree with the hole in it... but ended up driving right on by because our guide got a call that three male lions were in the area! A quick five minutes later and one of the others in the jeep spotted them trying to escape from the sun under a bush...

Lions in the Shade

Lions in the Shade

Lions in the Shade

Lions in the Shade

Lions in the Shade

Even doing nothing, these are beautiful, beautiful animals. And how insane is it that I've been lucky enough to see them three days in a row when there are people who come and see none at all?

After staring at lions for a while, our guide decided to head back to the tree with the hole in it.

Until one of the other jeeps that showed up just as we were leaving reported that an elephant had showed up and was CHASING THE LIONS OUT OF THEIR BUSH! Insane! We pull up just in time to see the last lion get chased off...

Elephant Chasing Lions!

Then the elephant was all like "Yeah, I just made three lions my bitch! as he turned towards the jeep and gave us a sideways glance before trumpeting and wandering off... assumably to take on a heard of rhinos or something...

Elephant Chasing Lions!

Anyway... we finally made it to that tree with the hole in it...

Lions in the Shade

Kind of anti-climactic after the stuff we had just witnessed, but okay.

Then we drove around a corner and saw... CROCODILES!

Crocodiles of Zimbabwe

Crocodiles of Zimbabwe

This guy decided to be all fancy and make himself a jacket with water hyacinths...

Crocodiles of Zimbabwe

He seems happy about it too!

With all the cool animals around, it's easy to overlook the amazing birds hanging around Mana Pools but, luckily, we have a great guide to point them out...

Bird in Zimbabwe

Warthogs are everywhere, though they tend to be a bit shy so I haven't gotten many photos. This guy decided to strike a pose for me before running off, which was nice...

Bird in Zimbabwe

When they run, warthogs stick their tails straight up in the air. It looks pretty funny, so I'm definitely going to try and get a picture of that.

Today I learned that the beautiful red and blue birds we keep seeing are called "Carmine Bee-Eaters." Apparently they only show up in this area once a year to mate, so I consider myself lucky to have seen so many of them...

Carmine Bee-Eater in Zimbabwe

Carmine Bee-Eater in Zimbabwe

And now, for no reason at all, a baboon running with impalas while eating leaves...

A Baboon Running with Impalas While Eating Leaves

And here's the male of the group, who decided to stop and stare us down as we drove by. Isn't he beautiful?

Impala Alpha Male

AFRICAN WATER BUCK!

Impala Alpha Male

Not cool that they've evolved to have a target painted on their butt. Not cool at all.

And... we're done.

Since it's too early to take a shower when I get up at 5:00am, I've gotten in the habit of taking one when I get back to camp after the morning game drive. Today I decided to try my outdoor shower, which is attached to each tent in the camp. Not that I'm any kind of exhibitionist, but it seemed like it might be a unique experience.

So there I was, towel and shampoo in-hand, walking around the corner of my tent when... BLAM! There's an elephant in my shower.

After nearly dropping a load in my pants, I backed away slowly so I could get my camera. Who would believe it otherwise?

There's an Elephant in my Shower

After he cleared out, I was able to take a shower. If you ever have a chance to experience an outdoor shower, I highly recommend it. Not just because your dick gets to air-dry in the wind, but because of the feeling you get of becoming one with nature. Or something like that.

After a nice nap, I headed back to the dining room for lunch and the evening game drive.

You would think that the constant presence of elephants in the camp would be something you get used to... but I assure you that you do not. Especially when the babies are around, as they are one of the most adorable things you'll ever see. This little guy was walking on the path back to camp, so I patiently waited for him to wander off...

There's an Elephant in my Shower

After he left, I came across another baby almost immediately. And even though I kept my distance, momma showed up to let me know that her baby was hands-off. They are very protective that way...

There's an Elephant in my Shower

Tonight I decided to take my game drive via boat, which is a nice option to shake things up a bit.

My adventure started before I even climbed onboard, because there were some zebra, warthogs, and baboons hanging around the dock...

River Cruise Wildlife

As we headed out onto the Zambezi River, we noticed crimson bee-eaters everywhere...

Carmine Bee-Eaters

Turns out that they nest in tiny caves they carve out of the river banks...

Carmine Bee-Eaters Nesting

Carmine Bee-Eaters Nesting

HIPPO ENCOUNTER!

Hippos in the Zambezi

Hippos in the Zambezi

Hippos in the Zambezi

The river cruise was nice, as it allowed you to see animals in a different context. Elephants, for example, aren't scrubbing around the ground looking for seed pods... they're ripping up grass in big clumps to eat. What's fascinating about this is that they wash the dirt off the grass before eating it by dunking it in the water several times before slapping it on the ground to dry it off...

Elephants in the Zambezi

There were two elephants teaching a baby how to wash grass. The poor little guy was having a tough time of it, as most of the grass got washed away because he wasn't that skilled at gripping stuff yet. Still adorable...

Elephants in the Zambezi

The sunset was, as expected, glorious...

Zambezi Sunset

Not a bad way to spend my last night in Ruckomechi!

   

Day Seven: Hwange, Zimbabwe

Posted on Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Dave!And so the time I had been dreading since the minute I stepped foot in Ruckomechi has come... it's time to leave. All morning I've been fretting over needing just one more day here to make sure I've gotten the most from my visit to Mana Pools National Park.

Just one. More. Day... that's all I need.

Which is pure fantasy, of course. If I had stayed four nights I would have wanted a fifth. If I had stayed five nights I would have wanted a sixth. The truth is that my visit would always be too short, because the magic here is something you just can't get enough of.

I debated over going on a morning game drive, but ultimately decided against it. Being able to sleep for another hour... being able to pack without being in a rush... and having time to look around the campsite a bit... it was all too compelling.

Besides, I could have a game drive without leaving my tent because I had an elephant out my front window...

Elephants at my Tent!

And my back window...

Elephants at my Tent!

And my side window...

Elephants at my Tent!

And even more elephants on the path to the dining room for breakfast...

Elephants at my Tent!

I had already tried the "Bath with a View" yesterday... Ruckomechi also has a "Loo with a View"...

Loo with a View!

When I went back to my tent to pack, a troop of baboons were wandering around my porch... including a mother and baby, which is always an entertaining sight...

Baboons!

How the babies have the strength to hold on like that all day long I don't know. But they somehow manage, even with their mother is in a full run.

After saying goodbye to the amazing Ruckomechi staff, I was off to the airstrip for a flight to the next camp. This time I got to be the co-pilot, which was pretty awesome...

Flight Cockpit

We didn't have enough fuel for the entire flight, so we ended up stopping in Kariba. I always try to take photos of airports I visit, but the pilot warned me not to take a picture of the control tower, as they get pretty upset when people do that. So I zoomed in on the passenger terminal sign in the hopes I wouldn't get shot or or have my camera confiscated or whatever. Kariba's airport, while small, is actually kind of nice. They planted a flower garden out front to look at and the staff was friendly, so I had no complaints...

Kariba Airport

The city of Kariba sits on the shore of beautiful Lake Kariba and is very near Kariba Dam, which is said to be in danger of collapsing...

Kariba

I noticed that some of the small islands in the lake were inhabited, which makes me wonder what would happen to them if the dam breaks and the lake drains...

Spurwing Island

I'm guessing this really cool splotchy island would no longer be an island. At the very least, the size of their beach would increase dramatically.

UPDATE: Now that I'm back, I used Google Maps to find out this is called "Spurwing Island," and looks to be home to a very nice resort property.

The final hop of my flight wasn't very exciting... but there was an occasional watering hole to break the monotony. Like this one, where a heard of elephants was just leaving. You can spot a jeep on the opposite side of the hole, so there must be civilization around here somewhere...

Zimbabwe Watering Hole

After landing at the Linkwasha airstrip in Hwange National Park, it was time to take the hour drive to Davison's Camp (named for the first park warden at Hwange, Ted Davison). At first the drive looked like it was going to be pretty boring...

Hwange Grasslands

But looks can be deceiving. Within five minutes, our guide spotter some really pretty antelope...

Hwange Antelope

Then zebra just minutes after that...

Hwange Zebra

Turns out there were all kinds of animals to look at on the drive, and it ended up being anything but boring.

One of the species we spotted was lions, which means I have been lucky enough to see them every day I've been in Zimbabwe. That's pretty amazing...

Hwange Lion

And then there was this guy, who was rolling around in the grass like a kitten...

Hwange Lion

As I mentioned when arriving at Ruckomechi, Wilderness Safari camps are divided into Premiere, Classic, and Adventure categories. Ruckomechi was a "Classic" property... whereas Davison's Camp is a notch lower, and considered to be an "Adventure" property. I had prepared myself for a drastic step down in quality, so you can imagine my surprise when I was shown to my "tent"...

Hwange Lion

Hwange Lion

Absolutely amazing.

What's nice is that the toilet/shower area offers a bit more privacy than the wide-open spaces in the tent I had at Ruckomechi...

Hwange Lion

As if that weren't enough... NO PAINFUL ROCKS IMBEDDED ON THE FLOOR! and... ZOMG... ELECTRICAL OUTLETS IN THE ROOMS! No more running to the dining room to charge my camera batteries!

It took me all of ten seconds to fall in love with my new home.

Since I arrived late in the day, everybody else at the camp was out on a safari game drive. This meant I got to explore the site a bit and visit with the wonderful staff at the camp. As dinner time approached, we could see the jeeps returning to Davison's, their night-red spotlights ablaze in the distance. But they all stopped short of arriving back at camp because a pride of lions showed up just a short distance away. You could kinda see the animals with your naked eye from where I was standing, but my zoom lens wasn't bright enough to photograph them...

Hwange Lion

The lion-sighting pushed dinner way, way back and I was exhausted, so I grabbed a snack and returned to my tent.

My 5:30am game-drive wake-up will be here all too soon.

   

Day Eight: Hwange, Zimbabwe

Posted on Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Dave!The biggest difference between the Ruckomechi camp I was at previously and the Davison's camp I'm at now is the size. The concession granted by Hwange National Park here is massive. And it kind of has to be, because the animals are much more spread out. At Ruckomechi, you were just five minutes away from all kinds of animals, and would routinely see bunches of animals quite near to each other. At Davison's, you can dive for 30 minutes or more and not see a thing.

But when you do...

Ooh. I'm getting ahead of myself here.

After breakfast a group of us headed out into the grasslands to see what we could see. At the far end of the concession, there's a grassy plain where herds of animals are usually hanging out, so off we went.

Along the way I saw my first jackal, which is an animal I love...

Hwange Black-Backed Jackal

This black-backed jackal, which, according to Wikipedia is "the most lightly built jackal and is considered to be the oldest living member of the genus Canis. It is the most aggressive of the jackals, being known to attack animal prey many times its own weight, and it has more quarrelsome intrapack relationships." Jackals are fascinating creatures in that they form monogamous pairs. The male and female will mark out a territory where they'll live, hunt, and raise pups together. Once the pups are old enough, they'll head out to find their mates and establish their own territory.

Thirty minutes after our jackal sighting, we arrived at the plains... which were pretty much empty. There were small herds of animals way, way off in the distance that I could kinda spot at maximum zoom, but that was it...

Hwange Plains

A bit disappointing, so we turned into the forrest where we had a little better luck...

Hwange Animals

Hwange Animals

And then... just as I was accepting that we wouldn't be seeing any lions today, vultures were spotted circling low nearby. As we headed in their direction, we started noticing that all the trees were filled with vultures. Dozens and dozens of them...

Hwange Vultures

Hwange Vultures

And then, sure enough, a downed water buffalo was spotted. The vultures were already there in full force, which meant the predator(s) which killed it were long gone...

Hwange Vultures on a Water Buffalo

After a bit of searching, bingo, three lions were found nearby, chillin in the shade after their lunch...

Hwange Lions

When I zoomed in, I noticed their faces were stained pink and flies were piled on... apparently attracted to the blood...

Hwange Lions

Hwange Lions

After that bit of excitement, it was time to head back to camp for lunch and an afternoon siesta. Not far from the lions was a lone buffalo, probably looking for his missing friend...

Hwange Giraffe

I also got to see my first giraffes since arriving in Africa...

Hwange Giraffe

Hwange Giraffe

As they age, giraffes lose their color. Our guide mentioned that this giraffe must be getting quite old because its sides are nearly white...

Hwange Giraffe

And then it was time for my favorite shot I got of the day...

Hwange Giraffe

Isn't she amazing?

Back through the plains...

Hwange Plains

Testing the limits of my telephoto lens with this beautiful green bird here. I was running out of space on my memory card, and ended up shooting the last twenty shots of the drive in JPEG. This would have been a much cleaner image when cropped at 100% if I had gone RAW, but oh well...

Hwange Bird

After a nice long shower followed by a restless nap amidst the screeching baboons outside my door, it was time for the evening game drive...

Room with a View

Like Ruckomechi, Davison's also features a "Loo with a View" that I had to check out...

Loo with a View

Loo with a View

There were some guests that didn't get to see the lions, so I was asked if I minded heading back to the spot we found them this morning. Naturally, I didn't mind at all, so off we went.

The lions had moved, but were still in the vicinity of their kill...

Hwange Lions

Game was a lot more scarce this time around, but we did get to see more jackals, zebras, giraffes, and some warthogs.

Our sundowner snack was at a watering hole our guide liked, providing one of the most amazing sunsets I've seen yet...

Hwange Sunset

That's right out of my Sony A7s when set to "sunset" scene mode! Beautiful, isn't it?

Once the sun had disappeared, it was time to head back to camp. just like the previous night's drive, we ran across some lions... this time with cubs!

Hwange Lions at Night

Hwange Lions at Night

Hwange Lions at Night

Hwange Lions at Night

Hwange Lions at Night

Not a bad way to end the day.

Not bad at all.

   

Day Nine: Hwange, Zimbabwe (Part One)

Posted on Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Dave!Last night's happy encounter with lion cubs had me really, really, wanting to see them in daylight. I was prepared to do some heavy begging for our guide to track them down, but it wasn't necessary. He was on the case, heading out towards their last known location. Which happened to be the railroad tracks.

This being my last day of safari, I was hoping that my record of seeing lions every day would not be broken. Yes, I know that some people make it to Africa and see no lions in the wild at all... so this sounds a bit greedy... but I just don't care. Getting to see lion cubs in the wild is something worth being greedy for.

So there we were, bombing along a road so bumpy that I thought my teeth would fall out... when our guide slams on the brakes, skidding to a stop. Everybody in the jeep was trying to figure out if there was a warthog in the road or something, but that wasn't it at all...

Hwange Lion Tracks

Lion tracks!

And we were off.

It didn't take long.

The lions like high ground so they can better spot their prey. Since the railroad tracks are built up above the grasslands, they like to hang out there a lot...

Hwange Lioness

The lioness was very clever, walking from railroad tie to railroad tie (or railroad sleeper to railroad sleeper, for those of you outside the US) so she wasn't having to walk on crushed rocks...

Hwange Lioness

Once this lion had wandered off the tracks to investigate a tiny antelope (morning snack?), another lioness took her place. This one with a notched ear... and a drooling problem...

Hwange Lioness

She kept looking behind her, which was curious. But then a third lioness joined them and decided to lay down on the tracks to rest...

Hwange Lioness

Hwange Lioness

Hwange Lioness

Our guide explained that the lioness with a notch in her ear must have eaten something the disagreed with her, because she climbed down off the tracks and started eating grass...

Hwange Lioness

Hwange Lioness

Three lions first thing in the morning? Pretty sweet!

But no cubs.

Until...

Hwange Lion Cubs

Hwange Lion Cubs

Hwange Lion Cubs

Four. Four cubs!

It was a good time for everyone laying on those warm metal tracks until...

Hwange Lion Cubs

TRAAAAIIIINNNNN!

Must be time for a bath from mom...

Hwange Lion Cub Bath

Hwange Lion Cub Bath

Once the train rumbled onto the scene, everybody headed out into the grasslands, disappearing like baseball players into the cornfield in Field of Dreams...

Hwange Lions

Hwange Lions

Hwange Lions

Yeah. I could pretty much go home now. This was everything I was here to see.

When the most amazing thing you've seen in Africa just happened, it's kind of hard to get your mind out of it. I hate to admit it, but all I was hearing was blah blah blah... monkey in a tree...

Hwange Monkey

Blah blah blah... kori bustard, Zimbabwe's largest flying bird...

Hwange Kori Bustard

Blah blah blah... zebras with little birds on them...

Hwange Zebras

Hwange Zebras

Blah blah blah... antelope...

Hwange Antelope

Blah blah blah... weird birds...

Hwange Birds

Blah blah blah... cute baby elephant playing in the mud...

Hwange Baby Elephant

Blah blah blah... pregnant elephant leaving a watering hole...

Hwange Pregnant Elephant

Blah blah blah... sleepy owl in a tree...

Hwange Sleepy Owl

Blah blah... blah blah... blah blah.

And I really feel terrible about being so blasé about these wonderful things... but lions with cubs were still stuck in my head...

Hwange Sleepy Owl

As I sit here pouring over all my photos, I can't imagine a better morning in Africa.

Well, it would have been nice to see a cheetah attacking a rhino or something... but this was pretty amazing.

I'll be back tonight with Part 2.

   

Day Nine: Hwange, Zimbabwe (Part Two)

Posted on Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Dave!Short of an alien invasion, it would have been tough to top this morning's game drive.

So our guide didn't even try.

Instead he decided some rest and relaxation was in order, so he drove us out to a viewing platform where we could watch elephants come down to a watering hole for an evening drink...

Hwange Elephant Watering Hole

Hwange Elephant Watering Hole

Hwange Elephant Watering Hole

After that we drove to a nice spot for our sundowner snack to watch yet another glorious Africa sunset...

Hwange Sunset Zimbabwe

Once it got dark, the moon appeared. It looks kinda like an alien planet hanging overhead...

Hwange Sunset Zimbabwe

A leisurely drive back to camp for dinner, and it would seem my day was over.

But not quite.

If you've been keeping up with my trip, a couple nights ago I posted a crappy, blurry photo of some guests out on a night safari looking at lions...

Hwange Lion

It was remarkably unremarkable... except for one thing.

Do you see the stars in the sky?

My new Sony A7s full-frame, high-ISO sensor camera did a really good job of picking them up... even in a blur. I chalked it up to the lack of light pollution out in the grasslands of Zimbabwe.

So... I wonder what would happen if I pointed my camera upwards?

A little experimentation and... holy crap...

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

That's really encouraging. I wonder what happens if I tweak the settings on my camera to try and get a better read of the Milky Way?

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Well, damn. Guess I'm interested in astral photography now! That is some seriously cool stuff right there!

It was tough to tear myself away from my camera long enough for dinner but, as usual, the camp chef made it all worthwhile. I am really, really going to miss this place...

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Good night from my last night on safari.

   

Day Ten: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Posted on Friday, September 26th, 2014

Dave!My flight out of Hwange didn't leave a lot of safari time this morning, so last night I asked our guide if I could skip it and just take "the long way" to the airport in the morning. He was fine with that... probably because it meant he got to sleep in a bit late as well... so my day was set.

When it was time to leave, the entire staff was there to see me off. Just like Ruckomechi before them, everybody at Davison's was amazing throughout my entire stay. I can't possibly say enough great things about the people at Wilderness Safaris, and give them my highest possible recommendation.

Anyway...

when driving "the long way" to the airport for my flight, we happened upon something I hadn't seen yet in Africa... ostriches!

Hwange Ostriches

Just as the pair went tearing off into the grasslands, the radio came to life. I couldn't understand a word because the person was speaking Shona or some other language I couldn't recognize, but it was clear that something important was happening.

Turns out it was lions. They were at the camp watering hole.

Knowing how much I love these animals, the guide floored it back to camp. I was more than a little excited at seeing lions again, as that would mean I had lucked out in seeing them every day I was on safari. Alas, they were no longer at the watering hole, so off we went to track them down.

Fifteen minutes later and... heeeeeere's Simba! Apparently looking for his mom...

Hwange Lion Cub

Hwange Lion Cub

And here she comes...

Hwange Lionness

The cub was nice enough to look back one last time as we drove off to the airport. Goodbye there, little fella...

Hwange Lion Cub Goodbye

Hwange Lion Cub Goodbye

Hwange Lion Cub Goodbye

And I finally got that running warthog photo I've been trying for...

Hwange Warthog

And a last look at a jackal...

Hwange Warthog

Then the time had finally come... we arrived at Linkwasha Airstrip and it was time to go...

Hwange Warthog

Hwange Warthog

I got to play co-pilot again, which is fun... despite all the bodily injury or death...

Hwange Warthog

Next stop? Victoria Falls. And their nice, big landing strip...

Hwange Warthog

Hwange Warthog

I ended up staying at the Victoria Falls Hotel, which is the hotel to stay at in the area. It has a long, illustrious history and has been host to a slew of famous people... from kings and queens to movie stars and socialites. As you would expect, it's quite the nice place to stay...

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Though I usually loathe to eat at hotel properties... the price is always high and the quality mostly sucks... I was too hungry to venture out into town. So I ate at the Victoria Falls Hotel "Stanley's Terrace" restaurant, which ended up being very, very nice. The tomato gnocchi with asparagus and parmesan shavings I had was delicious...

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

The grounds are meticulously cared for. And not only does the hotel have an exclusive path to Victoria Falls, it also has a view of the canyon bridge at the end of the falls...

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

The only fault I have with the hotel so far is that some of the decor is a bit gruesome. I know game hunting is a part of the history here, but it's still sad to see these beautiful animals slaughtered for the sake of wall ornaments...

Victoria Falls Hotel

The rest of the decor, however, is amazing. There are old posters, photos, and memorabilia from throughout the hotel's history... all of it fascinating...

Victoria Falls Hotel

The evening was capped by a Zambezi River cocktail cruise.

Anybody who knows me knows that this is definitely not my thing. But it was something to do, so sign me up.

I have to admit, it was actually quite nice. It also topped-out at two hours, so it was just the right length of time...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

As you pull into dock, the entire crew comes out and sings to you. It's pretty wonderful...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

Not a bad way to end the evening, really. If you ever find yourself in Victoria Falls and want to take a river cruise, I'm happy to recommend Nash and his crew of the Zambezi Explorer Cruise Company...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

And that was that. Back to the Victoria Falls Hotel...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

Where I noticed a wonderful mural in the lobby entrance...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

It commemorates the old BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) route that flew from Southampton, UK to Johannesburg, South Africa via Augusta, Sicily; Alexandria, Egypt; Khartoum, Sudan; Port Bell, Uganda; and (of course) Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. It was a mail/passenger route that began in 1948. The plaque below the mural says the flight was serviced nearby, permitting an overnight stay at this hotel for passengers. The stop was affectionately known as "Jungle Junction" (which now happens to be the name of one of the restaurants at the hotel).

And... that's a wrap. For tonight anyways.

All that's left for me here is a visit to the actual Victoria Falls...

   

Day Eleven: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Posted on Saturday, September 27th, 2014

Dave!I woke up confused this morning because everything was silent... no hippos grunting or baboons screeching. That should have made me happy, but I felt quite sad about it. My vacation is pretty much over now, and this is my last day. Guess I should probably try to make the most of it.

I was not going to go all the way to Zimbabwe without visiting Mosi-oa-Tunya, better known as "Victoria Falls." As the largest waterfall in the world, you pretty much have to, right?

From Wikipedia...

While it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls is classified as the largest, based on its width of 1,708 metres (5,604 ft) and height of 108 metres (354 ft), resulting in the world's largest sheet of falling water. Victoria Falls is roughly twice the height of North America's Niagara Falls and well over twice the width of its Horseshoe Falls. In height and width Victoria Falls is rivaled only by Argentina and Brazil's Iguazu Falls.

Of course, all those facts and figures only apply to Victoria Falls in the wet season when the falls are at their peak volume, whereas I'm visiting during the dry season when the falls are at their weakest. At first I was worried that it wouldn't be worth the trip because the water would be dried up to a trickle, but I was assured this is actually the best time to see the falls... if you're here in the wet season, you can barely see them because everything is shrouded in mist.

So off I went on my guided tour.

Which starts off with a statue of David Livingstone (I presume!)... who discovered the falls. And by "discovered" I mean "was the first European to see them"...

Victoria Falls Livingstone Statue

Just like America being "discovered" by Columbus and Angkor being "discovered" by Mouhot, it doesn't count as a discovery unless you're the one writing the history books, I suppose.

Turns out the falls are so huge that you can't actually see the whole thing on the ground. Instead you have to view it in sections.

First up... the Devil's Cataract...

Victoria Falls

This section of the falls is active all year and is the most impressive spot during the dry season. If you walk around the end of the chasm, there's a lookout where you can see the Main Falls starting off in the distance...

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Looking back at the Devil's Cataract, I spotted my first rainbow of the day...

Victoria Falls

Next up... the Main Falls, which are also active all year. If it were the wet season, you wouldn't be able to see any rock at all, just gushing water and mist...

Victoria Falls

Continuing on along Main Falls...

Victoria Falls

And here's where things get interesting. If you look at the top of the falls in the middle of the photo above, you'll see people standing on a rock outlook. They are there to take a dip in The Devil's Pool, which is a spot at the top of the falls where the rock formation creates a naturally-occurring dead spot in the current. When I tried to photograph these insane people, all I could see was mist... but after a few minutes in Photoshop...

Victoria Falls

Though it's actually more impressive if you pull back a bit...

Victoria Falls

WTF?!? There have been people who have gone over the falls and died attempting this, so... yikes.

Anyway...

Here is my attempt to capture as big a chunk of the Main Falls as possible...

Victoria Falls

And that's about it for the falls, as everything else is pretty much dried up this time of year. Here's Horseshoe Falls...

Victoria Falls

Just a "trickle" (comparatively speaking) at the end...

Victoria Falls

Rainbow Falls is also mostly dried up, but still pretty...

Victoria Falls

Once you get to the end of the falls, you can walk around a corner and get a terrific view of the Victoria Falls Bridge which links Zimbabwe and Zambia. It looks like it's in the middle of being painted just now...

Victoria Falls

Despite my best efforts, I wasn't very happy with my photos of the falls. Even with Photoshop magic, the mist was always messing with the images by making them look faded and blurry. And this is the dry season! I can only guess how impossible they must be to photograph in the wet season!

That's when my guide said that the only way to truly photograph the falls was from the air. And, lucky me, she just happened to know where I could book a helicopter ride and reservations were made.

While I waited for my arial view of the falls, I walked downtown and had some lunch...

Pizza Inn at Victoria Falls

After that? Helicopter time!

Helicopter Tour at Victoria Falls

SHOTGUN!

Helicopter Tour at Victoria Falls

At $140 it was definitely more than I wanted to pay, but I have to say it was totally worth it...

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

So... bucket list item accomplished? Not quite.

After visiting the falls, you have to go for high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel...

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls Hotel High Tea

Victoria Falls Hotel High Tea

The price is $30 for up to four people, and the scones are among the best I have ever had... subtlely sweet and with just the right amount of crumble...

Victoria Falls Hotel High Tea

Except... ultimately I was disappointed with my experience. The service, which was so amazing yesterday at lunch, was severely lacking. The tea was dumped off at the table with absolutely no explanation or even so much as a hint as to what you're being served. At most places I've gone for high tea, they will happily tell you what you're drinking (usually it's a custom, exclusive tea blend from some exotic location or something).. and they'll also let you know how much longer you should wait for the tea to steep so you can enjoy it at its best. Today? Nothing. And then I had to wait for my sandwiches and sweets, which took FOREVER to arrive (maybe they bake them to order?) and my table was never checked on even once while I waited for my waiter to bring them. This was inexplicable because there were maybe four other tables occupied in the entire restaurant, and I think my waiter was only responsible for two of them. And speaking of my waiter, after he dumped off the food service, that's the last I ever saw of him... at least voluntarily. After waiting way, way too long for somebody to refill my water glass, I finally got up and went to the bar to see if they could help me. The hostess chased me down to find out why I was at the bar and, once I told her, asked me to please take a seat and she would have my waiter bring me more water. Which he did... five minutes later. Same thing for trying to pay the check. I finally begged the hostess to chase down my waiter again so I could pay and leave. I swear... no exaggeration... it took yet another ten minutes for him to show up. I have no frickin' clue what in the hell my waiter was doing today, but it sure wasn't waiting on my table. Sorry... but for THIRTY FRICKIN' DOLLARS FOR TEA at a FIVE STAR PROPERTY with the reputation of the VICTORIA FALLS HOTEL I expected better.

If the service was worth a shit, I'd say high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel is a must-experience event when you're in town. As it is? Well, despite the terrific tea and a delicious snack tray I liked very much... you've been warned. Bring your patience.

After tea I was considering heading back to the falls for a dusk viewing. But the entrance fee I paid this morning is one-time only, and going back would mean another $30 admission fee so I skipped it. Instead I wandered through the hotel looking at the vast amount of history displayed on the walls, then went back to my room to pack.

And now I'm trying to deal with the trauma in knowing that my vacation is over...

Victoria Falls Hotel High Tea

So far as vacations go, however, this was a great one.

   

Bullet Sunday 400

Posted on Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Dave!Everything's coming up picture perfect... because a very special Bullet Sunday on Tuesday FOUR HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY "WHAT'S IN YOUR CAMERA BAG" EDITION starts... now...

   
• Sony NEX-6 Camera. This is my main shooter, which I reviewed here back in May, 2013. Because it's a mirrorless camera, it is small, light, and perfect for travel... yet maintains the photo quality of a bigger, heavier DSLR. The one big caveat is that it doesn't have a full-frame sensor, so there's a crop factor for any full-frame lenses you attach. This actually ended up being a benefit on my recent trip to Africa, because my 70-200mm FE lens becomes a 105-300mm lens, making it much easier to zoom in on animals in the bush...

Hwange Lion Cub Goodbye

There's not much I don't like about the NEX-6... except the start-up time, which is kinda slow and did cost me a shot or two. Otherwise? A wonderful camera that is capable of delivering great photos. Will probably trade it in for a full-frame sensor camera before my next big trip (hopefully the successor to the Sony A7r.

16.1MP • ISO 100-25600 • $748 (discontinuted) • ★★★★☆

   
• Sony A7s Camera. I bought the latest Sony mirrorless camera specifically for night-shooting on my Africa trip. I knew there would be game drives in the evening, and wanted every possible advantage in getting clean shots. The A7s is made for this kind of shooting with its high ISO full-frame sensor, and gave me images I would have had a very hard time getting with any other camera. This post-sunset shot, for example, was taken in near-darkness. It was so dark that I could barely see, and didn't know what I had captured until after I looked at the camera's display...

Night Shooting with the A7s

Yes, things get a bit grainy when shooting at those monster ISO levels, but at least you get a shot...

Night Shooting with the A7s

For red-light safari drives in total darkness the A7s really shines, giving me shots that my NEX-6 couldn't hope to touch...

Night Shooting with the A7s

The A7s loves low light and, quite by accident one night, I discovered what this would mean if I shot the night sky...

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

The ability to shoot in near-blackout conditions comes at a price, however. The sensor resolution is a meager 12.2 megapixels. This will turn off a lot of photographers who equate megapixels with photo quality, as a 4240 x 2832 image seems weak compared to the 7360 x 4912 you'll get out of other cameras in this price range. But all the pixels in the world can't save a shot if your camera records a big black blob, so it was a trade-off I was happy to make. And after looking at the amazing photos I managed to get, I have zero regrets. The A7s has terrific video capabilities, but I'm not a video shooter, so I'm taking Sony's word for it.

12.2MP • ISO 100-102400 • $2,499 • ★★★★★

   
• Sony DSC-HX50V. As a backup-backup (hey, how many times will I get to go on safari in Africa?) I needed a camera with some reach to it, and started shopping for ultra-zooms. The field has gotten really competitive, and finding the right camera was tough. Ultimately size was the deciding factor for me, and Sony's pocketable HX50V fit the bill perfectly. Sure, I would sacrifice some zoom (it's 30x when others in this arena are at 50x), and not being able to shoot RAW was disappointing, but it's a camera I could slip in my pocket and have with me at all times that I'd barely notice.

Sony DSC-HX50V

Turns out the image quality is quite nice (for JPEG) so long as you don't zoom too much, and the HX50V is a capable little shooter that I was happy to have on me for those times my camera bag was back at my tent. But ultimately I regretted my purchase for one big reason... no eyepiece viewfinder. The only way to compose a shot was to use the display on the back, which is completely obliterated in bright light! Under the African sun this camera was rendered totally useless. I couldn't see a damn thing to compose a shot, and was shooting blind any time I was out of the shade (even when setting the screen to max brightness). If you buy this camera, I hope you'll only be shooting indoors or in overcast conditions, because that's all its good for. Still, it DOES have a GPS... which is more than I can say for the much more expensive Sony's listed above. I took an occasional shot with this camera just so I could use the GPS info to geotag my other photos, and it worked pretty great for that... meriting an extra star.

20.4MP • 30x • ISO 80-3200 • f/3.5(W)-f/6.3(T) • $325 • ★★☆☆☆

   
• Sony FE 70-200 f/4 OSS E-Mount Lens. Go with a cheap zoom lens to get the reach you need... or go with a quality zoom lens and crop the reach you want? It's a question that every photographer has to grapple with at some time in their lives. In the past I've just gone for the cheapest zooms I could find because I don't use them very often. But for my Africa trip, I decided to invest heavily in a good zoom because the quality of the image was what's important to me... even if I wasn't as close as I'd like to be. And since Sony only makes one E-mount zoom with any reach to it, the FE 70-200mm, my decision was made for me. I reviewed the lens back in August, and have only one thing to add to this remarkable addition to my camera arsenal... WHY IN THE HELL DOESN'T SONY HAVE A SWITCH-LOCK ON THE IMAGE STABILIZATION SWITCH?!? Every time I slid this lens into my camera bag, image stabilization would slide off. So the next time I'd go to shoot a lion (or whatever) I'd end up with blurry camera shaken images until I'd remember to turn it back on. This is categorically stupid. At no time... none did I ever want the "Optical Steady Shot" turned off, yet there was no way to lock it in the "on" position. Very, vey frustrating. But, once I remembered to switch OSS on, I was getting some fantastic shots from this lens...

Zimbabwe Crimson Bee-Eater

Zimbabwe Game Drive

Sure it's big and at almost 2 pounds it's a bit heavy too... but you can't argue with the results. Crisp images, beautiful bokeh, fast auto-focus... I was very, very happy to have this full-frame wonder with me on safari, and was much relieved that I spent the money to have a quality telephoto in my camera bag. 90% of my photos were shot with it. Minus a star for the lack of an image stabilization switch lock... and for not having a bit better aperture (it's locked at a consistent f/4 though, which is nice)... but if you're an E-mount shooter, this is the zoom to get.

70-200mm (full-frame), 105-300mm (cropped) • f/4 • $1,499 • ★★★★☆

   
• Sony FE 35mm F/2.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* E-Mount Lens. I skipped the kit lens for my A7s full-frame sensor camera because I wanted some glass that would really let it shine. Unfortunately, my choices were limited, because Sony doesn't have many options when it comes to FE prime lenses. Ideally, I wanted a 35mm with image stabilization and a maximum aperture of f/1.4... but it doesn't exist. A 35mm with NO image stabilization and a pokey f/2.8 aperture is as close as I can get. And, to make matters worse, Sony is charging a whopping $800 for it. In all honesty, I don't think the Zeiss name justifies such a heinous price tag, but what choice do I have? None at all. Yet despite the absurd cost, this lens has a lot going for it. It's small and light. It focuses blazingly fast. It's super-sharp. Color is very good. And I got some really nice shots with it...

Zimbabwe Sunset

Victoria Falls Hotel Scone

Night sky images were mind-bogglingly great...

Zimbabwe Night Sky

The slow aperture was never a problem on my NEX-6 in the sunlight nor on my A7s with its amazing low-light capabilities, but I still find it disappointing... f/2.8 on a 35mm? Who does that any more? This, along with the crazy-stupid price tag drops two stars from my rating, even though the FE 35mm is a darn fine lens once all is said and done. And yet... I keep coming back to the cost. EIGHT HUNDRED DOLLARS?!? For THESE specs? Holy crap I hope Sony gets their heads out of their asses and starts producing affordable FE lenses soon.

35mm (full-frame), 50mm (cropped) • f/2.8 • $799 • ★★★☆☆

   
• Sony 10-18mm f/4 OSS E-Mount Lens. I shoot a lot of wide angle, so this lens was purchased alongside my NEX-6 on day one. I absolutely love it. Small and light for a wide angle. Really sharp. Great color. Quick to focus. Image stabilized. And all at a reasonable cost! As if that weren't enough... even though it was designed for the cropped sensor on Sony's NEX cameras, it works amazingly well on my full-frame A7s if you limit the focal range! Amazing! This lens fulfills the promise of mirrorless cameras, and proves Sony doesn't need Zeiss (or Zeiss' absurd price tag) to give their customers a great lens. And though I didn't get much use out of it in Africa, it's the one lens that's always in my camera bag...

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Zimbabwe Grasslands

If you've got an E-mount camera, this is the lens to own. Fantastic for landscapes, yes... but I use it all the time for just about everything (the wide angle distortion is very easy to correct in Photoshop). Thank you, Sony.

10-18mm (cropped) • f/4-f/22 • $849 • ★★★★★

   
• Apple 11-inch MacBook Air. I'm using an iPad more and more for things like email and web browsing, but when it comes to photography, there's simply no substitute for Photoshop on a Mac. My MacBook Pro excels at running Photoshop, but is way too big and heavy to tuck in a camera bag. Fortunately, Apple has a diminutive solution that tucks easily in my bag, and it runs Photoshop just fine thanks to the 8GB memory option...

MacBook Air 11

Until Microsoft manages to come up with a "Surface" tablet/PC hybrid that's worth a crap... or Apple comes up with a MacBook Air that has a retina display touchscreen I can give five stars... this will certainly do.

1.7GHz i7 • 8GB RAM • 256GB SSD • $1,250 • ★★★★☆

   
• Transcend Information USB 3.0 Card Reader. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough room in the MacBook Air 11-inch model to fit a card reader, so you need to buy an external one. This Transcend model takes advantage of the USB 3 speed of my MacBook and accepts SDHC, SDXC, microSD, microSDHC, and microSDXC cards. Cheap, compact, and does the job. If they could remove the micro card compatibility (that I'll never use) to shrink it even further, I'd give it five stars.

$7 • ★★★★☆

   
• B+W Kaesemann XS-Pro Circular Polarizer. I have UV haze filters on all my lenses to protect the optics, but I stopped using "creative" filters ages ago. Between in-camera functions and Photoshop, I just don't need them. But every once in a while, it's handy to have a circular polarizer in your bag. B+W makes my favorite filters... pricey, but high-quality, so all I had to decide was whether or not I would go with the Kaesemann variant or not. Ultimately I went with Kaesemann, despite the added cost, because they don't "gray things up" like a traditional polarizer can. The only time I ended up using the thing in Africa was when I was shooting through a helicopter window...

Victoria Falls

It helped take the glare of the sun off the water, which was nice, but the shake of the copter coupled with the lack of image stabilization on my lens kinda sabotaged my efforts to get great shots. Oh well.

Kaesemann XS-Pro, MRC Nano Filter • $89 • ★★★★★

   
• VisibleDust Hurricane Blower. Dust and moisture are the enemy of photographers who rely on clean, dry optics to get the best image quality. Having a blower on-hand is essential, and I was using it several times a day while in Africa. At home I have a Giottos Rocket Blaster, but I wanted something a bit smaller to take with me, so the VisibleDust Hurricane got the job. Works great.

$14 • ★★★★★

   
• LensPen Lens Cleaner. The only lens cleaner I use. Has a good quality brush on one end and a concave lens swab coated with a carbon compound (from the lid) on the other. Works perfectly every time.

$10 • ★★★★★

   
• SanDisk 32GB Extreme Plus UHS-1 SDHC Class 10 Memory Cards. It took me a while to settle on a memory card manufacturer I like best, but once I got my hands on the SanDisk Extreme Plus line my camera storage of choice was found. They're tough, reliable, and blazingly fast... yet don't break the bank. Which is good, because I've stopped re-using memory cards. They're small size makes them all too easy to slip into a safe deposit box, thus providing the perfect backup of your precious memories. Sure you can save money by going with a cheaper card, but is it worth taking the chance something will go wrong and you'll lose all your photos? Not to me. There's higher-capacity versions of the Extreme Plus, but 32GB stores more photos than I can manage as it is, so I don't want to go bigger.

$38 • ★★★★★

   
• Oben TT-100 Table-Top Tripod. This tiny tripod slips easily into my camera bag, but still manages to secure my camera perfectly. Unlike some smaller tripods, the Oben has a ball head which made it really handy to get the perfect angle for a shot. A great product... I just wish it was a bit easier to tighten and manipulate.

$35 • ★★★★☆

   
Add some extra camera batteries, a couple of battery chargers, a ballpoint pen, a Sharpie marker, and some unscented wipes to keep everything clean, and I'm done!

As for what camera bag I use? That's another story...

   

Bullet Sunday 401

Posted on Sunday, October 5th, 2014

Dave!Put down that pumpkin spice latte... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Fall? Somehow Autumn got here and I missed it. Time to get the blankets out of storage, I suppose.

   
• Astrophotography. After my happy accident in discovering astrophotography in Africa, I spent my evening Googling about it. Turns out there's an entire site devoted to the hobby called Lonely Speck. Very cool. Ironically, there's a review of my new Sony A7s camera there... for astrophotography...

Lonely Spec Image
Image by Ian Norman of Lonely Speck

Now I wished I lived in an area where there's no light pollution so I can shoot the stars.

   
• Tasty! And now... BIG CATS EATING MARMITE!

Borders on cruelty to animals, I say.

   
• Kick Drum Heart. It's not the chase that I love....

...It's me following you.

   
• Gum! Ooh! Please! Please! Please! Let this be happening.

Laura Palmer Dead. Wrapped in plastic.

SHE'S DEAD! WRAPPED IN PLASTIC! Again?

   
• Fall Season. And so here's my assessment of the new Fall shows so far...

  • A to Z. Not my thing, but cute. I could use a little more "cute" in my life, so I'm going to keep watching until I can't take it any more. Probably three episodes.
  • Bad Judge. Bad. Every joke is so forced and horrifically telegraphed as to make me feel insulted as a viewer. Kate Walsh is not unlike-ably like-able... she's unlike-ably unlike-able. How in the hell did this pilot go to series?
  • Black-ish. Funnier than I expected. A terrific cast with stories that actually have something to say about race. What's not to like?
  • Forever. Boring. I liked it better when it was called New Amsterdam.
  • Gotham. I'm obligated to watch because I'm a huge Batman fan. Surprisingly, I didn't hate it despite the complete re-write it does for the Bat-Universe origins.
  • How to Get Away With Murder. Viola Davis killing it. But with a show premise that seems destined to fade. Guess we shall see.
  • Madam Secretary. A show that feels like it's composed of all the mundane bits scraped off the floor of the writer's rooms for The West Wing and Scandal. Still... I do like Tea Leoni, and she's not terrible in this. Guess I'll give it a couple more episodes to see if that's enough.
  • Manhattan Love Story. Not my thing, but oddly appealing. Well, half of it is. What I don't understand is why the guy is written so cool, together, and funny... while the gal is written as a flighty, neurotic, gullible mess. Is that supposed to be funny? Who would want to date that?
  • Scorpion. How can a show about geniuses be so damn stupid? Nothing makes sense. Nothing is even remotely grounded in reality. Nothing is appealing enough to make you overlook just how outrageously asinine this show is.
  • Selfie. Lord save us. How did Amy Pond get HERE?
  • Transparent. Holy crap. Television doesn't get more original than this. Which explains why it's on Amazon Prime Streaming.

   
And... I'm spent. No more bullets for you.

   

Transfer

Posted on Friday, October 17th, 2014

Dave!After Apple discontinued their Aperture photo software, Adobe promised to deliver a plugin for their competing "Lightroom" product that would allow you to import your Aperture library into Lightroom.

Thanks, Adobe!

Yesterday the plugin was finally released.

Thanks, Adobe!

Today I spent just over five hours performing the import. Only to find that -zero- photos had actually been imported.

Thanks, Adobe!

   

Portlander

Posted on Saturday, December 6th, 2014

Dave!I left Auburn at noon and was back in Portland by 1:00... just in time for lunch.

But first I had to spend a half hour scraping snow and ice off my rental car. This included the tires, which had frozen to the ground...

Tires frozen in the snow.

The Ford Focus I rented is a pile of crap for many reasons. Primary of which is the horrendous gas mileage. Driving the 80 miles to Auburn and back killed... I shit you not... A HALF-TANK OF GAS! As if this wasn't bad enough, the car is just awful design-wise. Massive, glaring blind spots. A driver console that has no place to put your mobile phone. Uncomfortable seats. Utterly shitty "Sync by Microsoft" computer system that's as intuitive as a nuclear reactor to control. And then you get to the outside where you have this fucking huge gap between the hood and the windshield that is so cavernous and deep that it's extremely difficult to dig all the snow out of it. Even if you have a brush, there are ridges in there that makes it much more trouble than it's worth...

Shitty fucking Ford design.

No wonder everybody wants a foreign car... their designers actually think about shit like this.

But anyway...

For reasons completely unknown, Portland, Maine has some really excellent pizza restaurants. This is nice because it takes the edge off the misery you experience when visiting in the cold, snowy, wet, days of Winter. A place I had wanted to visit but never got around to last time I was here was OTTO Pizza...

OTTO Pizza Building.

OTTO Pizza Door.

They are kinda famous for their Butternut Squash, Ricotta & Cranberry pie...

OTTO Pizza Pizza.

Sounds weird, I know. But it is pretty wonderful. Creamy with subtle flavors that taste amazing together...

OTTO Pizza Slice.

It's important to eat it while it's hot though. As soon as it gets cold the texture gets kind of rubbery and weird.

OTTO's itself is a nice enough place. Kind of eclectic in a rustic way. Service is pretty good too. The only thing I hated is that somewhere in the restaurant there's a piano that kids are, apparently, welcome to bang all over. This makes an ungodly racket that completely ruins the experience of eating here. And I cannot fathom why in the hell they allow it. They must know that it's irritating as fuck to listen to that shit... so why put your customers through the agony? Stupid.

After some various errands, it was my plan to get some sleep.

Or not.

I made the foolish mistake of checking my email only to find a problem that required me to head back out into the cold, snowy, raining, wet misery I had just escaped from. At least I was smart enough to bring my camera along with me. I didn't have it on my previous trip, and really wanted to take a shot of the Harbor Fish Market (which proved impossible with my iPhone). It's a beautiful building with amazing lighting that has a steady flow of customers pulling up all day...

Portland's Harbor Fish Market.

Portland's Harbor Fish Market.

Portland's Harbor Fish Market.

From there I wandered around for a while to see if I could find anything else interesting to shoot...

Portland Lobster Co.

Portland Lock Fence

Portland Maine

Portland Maine

Portland Maine

Portland Maine

Portland Maine

I finished up my evening at my favorite restaurant in the city... Flatbread Company. I was still stuffed with OTTO pizza, so dinner was out of the question. But Flatbread Company makes some of the best desserts I've ever had, so I decided to try their Apple Crisp...

Portland Flatbread Company Apple Crisp

Not as jaw-dropping amazing as their wild blueberry desserts (which are out of season, darnit!), but still fantastic. Fortunately their chef is smart enough to know that RAISINS HAVE NO PLACE IN APPLE CRISP EVER!!! I frickin' hate it when somebody ruins a good apple crisp by dumping raisins in it. BLECH!

And now, at long last, that sleep I've been trying to chase down all day...

   

Cold

Posted on Sunday, December 7th, 2014

Dave!The Plan was to fly out today since my work ended yesterday so I could have more time on my upcoming Hard Rock adventure. But to follow The Plan would cost four times the money than a hotel stay, so I'm instead flying out tomorrow morning. Early.

The rest of this entry should be prefaced with the understanding that cold Maine is cold. Very cold. Biting cold. Cold with a side of cold and a scoop of cold on top.

It's really f'in cold.

And it's Sunday in the off-season, so there's not much to do in Portland, Maine. Thus my incentive to go outside is not very high. So I didn't until the hotel kicked me out at noon. At which time I checked into my airport hotel, returned my rental car, then took a taxi back into the city because pizza and apple crumble was calling at Flatbread Company...

Apple Crumble at Flatbread Co. Portland, Maine

To say I love this restaurant is a gross understatement. The location is great. The atmosphere is great. The service is great. The beer selection is great. The food? Beyond great. Especially the desserts, which are worth a trip to Portland all by themselves.

Did I mention it's cold?

Yet I went wandering downtown anyway like the fool I am. Despite wearing a T-shirt, thermal henley, hoodie sweatshirt, and a coat, I was still freezing. But I wanted to get a shot of the fence with locks on it in daylight, so off I went...

Love Locks Project

Love Locks Project

To profess their undying, never-ending love, a couple will write their names on a lock, attach it to the fence, then throw away the key. I have no idea if you come back with a bolt-cutter if things don't work out, but it's a nice idea.

I decided to explore somewhere new this time around, and left the Old Port area for downtown. That's when I saw... MAINE LOBSTERMAN!

Love Locks Project

Sculpted for the New York 1939 World's Fair, this piece has an interesting history (which you can read about here). At first I thought that the guy was giving first aid to a lobster with a hurt claw, but that's apparently not the case at all...

Love Locks Project

He's actually "pegging" the poor thing... which is to say he's shoving a wooden peg in the claw joint so it can't be opened (so he can't pinch anybody). This practice has mostly been abandoned, and now they just wrap a plastic band around the claw. Still a bit cruel, but I'm guessing it's not as painful to the lobster. At least until he gets boiled alive.

As I was walking, I saw a really cool painting on the side of a building that was meant to mimic a giant blueprint being laid over the structure...

Blueprint Building

Blueprint Building

Just across the street is a giant postcard painting that's also pretty cool...

Greetings from Portland!

Greetings from Portland!
Click the above photo to embiggen it...

If you look closely, the "lighthouse" is actually a spray-can...

Greetings from Portland!

At this point I was so cold that I could barely move, so I called a taxi while taking a few last photos as the sun set...

Love Locks Project

Portland Holiday Tree Lights

Portland Holiday Tree Lights

Portland Holiday Tree Lights

And that was that.

Back to my airport hotel room where I can (hopefully) get a few hours sleep before my early morning flight.

   

Bullet Sunday 413

Posted on Friday, December 26th, 2014

Dave!Yeah, yeah, it's Friday and I'm two days early... but I can't mess up my end-of-year lists, so... Bullet Sunday starts now...

   
• Box! Ooh... look... it's the day after Christmas!

DAVETOON: Bad Monkey with boxing gloves saying Happy Boxing Day

Assuming you celebrate that kind of thing.

   
• Monkeymedic! When a monkey was badly shocked by an electrical line, a monkey friend did their best to revive him...

Monkey buddies for life!

   
• Land! One of the gifts from Cards Against Humanity's Ten Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa ended up being one square foot of an island in Maine that they renamed Hawaii 2. My piece is here...

Looks like I'm going to have to see if there's a way to get there for my next trip to Maine!

   
• Cute! There's an article titled 25 of The Cutest Parenting Moments In The Animal Kingdom that's totally worth a look. Though I'd say a photo I took when I was at Mana Pools in Africa of two elephants teaching a baby elephant how to wash grass is just as cute as any of them...

Elephants in the Zambezi

And a photo I took of a mother lion giving her reluctant cub a bath when I was at Hwange National Park is equally sweet...

Hwange Lion Cub Bath

Doesn't get much more adorable than nature.

   
• Horrifying! And now for something that's the exact opposite of cute. I was playing Godus (quite a trick when the pile of crap crashes all the time) when a rival tribe, the Astari, started having a celebration. If the celebration makes their people happier than my people, some of my people will defect. I didn't want this to happen, so I used my god powers to call down a meteor strike. I was hoping if I busted some of their buildings they wouldn't be quite so happy. Unexpectedly, all hell broke loose. Before I knew it, all the buildings... and all the little people... were on fire...

Hwange Lion Cub Bath

The whole scene was just awful, and I felt terrible all day for the horrific destruction I unleashed. I was going to call down some rain to extinguish everything, but the population plummeted to zero and the entire tribe was gone. Guess this is what happens when people try to play god.

   
• Quest! I'm a bit obsessed with Questlove, best known as co-founder and lead drummer for The Roots (the house band on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon). He absolutely mesmerizes me with his musical talent... especially when he sits in on drums with a guest band at the last minute (always flawlessly). He can play drums on A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G. Despite being a fan, I never knew he had a memoir out until last week when I discovered... quite by accident... the book "Mo' Meta Blues." It is fantastic. The guy is even more brilliant than I imagined. Highly recommend checking it out...

The World According to Questlove

If you need convincing, here's a terrific excerpt over at Salon.

   
• ASSHOLERY! One of my favorite internet services is DropBox. It's a storage space in the cloud that allows me to share files and keep my work handy no matter where I am or which computer I'm using. I've been paying for DropBox space for years, and have come to rely on its ease and convenience. At least I did until the last update when the fucking assholes moved the buttons to open the DropBox folder and open the DropBox website... replacing them with a "Pro" button...

DropBox Assholery

And since I am so accustomed to where the buttons used to be, I'm forever accidentally clicking on that stupid-ass "Pro" button, opening up their idiotic "PAY US MORE FUCKING MONEY" website which I DON'T WANT. And I am absolutely livid. First DropBox trains everybody where to click to get what they need... then they trick you into clicking on an ad? terrific way to treat your customers.

UPDATE: I do have a "Pro" account that doesn't expire until April 2015 and has PLENTY of space available. So I have no idea why I am being told I have to go Pro Pro?

   
And... that's the last Bullet Sunday of 2014!

   

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