Saturday, August 25, 2012

He's Gone

Photo credit: Buzz Aldrin/Apollo 11/NASA
The first human being to walk on another celestial body passed away today. Neil Armstrong, 82, commander Apollo 11 and the first man to set foot on the Moon on 21 July 1969[1], died from "complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures."
Photo credit: NASA
Neil Armstrong, along with all the other astronauts in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, was a hero to me. While other kids my age were following baseball, football, and basketball personalities, I was following every astronaut, every space flight, manned and unmanned. I was even following the X-15 flights (as much as was publicaly available at the time). I thought the X-15 was the coolest thing with wings that flew, the start of a real spaceship, the kind of craft that didn't come hurtling back like an uncontrolled ballistic cannonball. Neil Armstrong was an X-15 pilot and the only X-15 pilot to transition to the astronaut program. He would later fly on Gemini 8, where docking with another spacecraft (an unmanned Agena upper stage) was practiced for the first time. Then he would fly as commander on Apollo 11, and into history along with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
Lecture at the Air and Space Museum, Sunday 19 July 2009. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
In an age devoted to the Cult of Celebrity, where people can be famous for doing absolutely nothing, Neil Armstrong was the absolute antithesis. He sought no recognition for all he'd done and helped to do. In the end we rewarded all his hard work and sacrifices, along with all the others in the original astronaut corps, by letting their accomplishments fade away. Although Armstrong was to later write that he felt the civilian rocket companies such as SpaceX could not carry forward with space flight the way that NASA did when he was an astronaut, the truth is that these young Turks are the best hope we have of going back into space and building on what he and everyone else started in the 1960s.

He isn't the first of the astronauts to pass, and he certainly won't be the last, but his passing is a critical event to me. I will miss him greatly.

[1] That's the date, 15 years later, that my wife and I married. I didn't plan it that way, but circumstances "conspired" to put our wedding on that date. I learned that weddings aren't planned so much as they're set into motion and then guided to a conclusion.


Buzz Aldrin’s Official Statement on the Passing of Neil Armstrong -

Neil Armstrong, first man to step on the moon, dies at 82 -

Farewell Neil Armstrong, the Ultimate Test Pilot -

Quotes reacting to the death of Neil Armstrong -

Neil Armstrong, a hero who shunned fame -

In Just 'One Small Step' Armstrong Became An Icon -

Neil A. Armstrong...Photographer -

Farewell, Mr. Armstrong -

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Yes, I Know

Yamaha Motorcycle
Yamaha Motorcycle
So sue me. I saw the red Yamaha motorcycle sitting in the lot next to where I went for supper this evening, and stopped long enough to play with the location of the focusing square and using the 25mm wide open at f/1.4. The combination of overcast clouds, late evening light and the showers that just finished added to the draw of the motorcycle. I had about 30 seconds to grab something before heading out. That and the fact I was afraid the owner might come out of the bar it was parked in front of and ask me what I was doing.

I absolutely love the Olympus E-PL2 and Panasonic Leica Summilux 25mm combination.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Example Narrow DoF 1I'm going to pull off for a while, probably for the rest of August. I've already written 240 posts so far this year, counting this post. I need the chance to recharge and reorganize a bit. Perhaps by the first of September I'll be more motivated enough to write something worth reading. I may even change to writing weekly instead of daily, or more than daily.

The word 'blog' is a portmanteau of the term 'web log', which is itself a corruption of the idea of the hand written diary, kept back in the day when people knew how to write and keep a written diary. In spite of the subject matter, this is a personal diary, although not nearly as personal as it could be; no mention of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, for example. I still do, on occasion, keep personal information in written form in a diary.

The written diary doesn't have the rich multimedia capabilities that a blog can have, even one composed of text and still images. The blog is far more approachable, far easier to correct than the written version. At least for me. I guess that's just another way of saying how lazy I've gotten, that I prefer typing into a text box on a blog site rather than more thoughtful writing by hand in a bound diary or log. Writing in a blog is too unrestrained, too easy to make public. Similar to what digital photography has become.

Monday, August 20, 2012

My Photographic Future, The Final Part

I've added a photo of the E-5 as a visual aid, not because I'm going to run right out and purchase a pair. I pretty much expressed  my modest opinion about the E-5 back on September 2010 (The Future and Olympus), when the E-5 was released during Photokina 2010. I also expressed my modest opinion about the E-P3 back on July 2011 (The Olympus E-P3 — Too little, too late). I spilled a fair amount of bile in both of those posts, and I still feel justified in having written what I wrote.

And then I came out all hot and bothered about the OM-D E-M5 in February (I'm A Believer – Again) where I expressed something close to ardour for the camera without even holding the camera, let alone used it. That ardour has since faded, and with the theft of my Olympus 4:3rds cameras, the desire to own the camera has gone into neutral.

It's not as if I don't have any cameras at the moment. I own three jewel-like µ4:3rds bodies; an E-P2, an E-PL1 and an E-PL2. Along with the bodies I own a small but quite nice collection of native µ4:3rds lenses, the majority of them primes. I enjoy what I have. The idea of sinking a small fortune back into "big" Olympus, or any brand for that matter, isn't something I want to rush back into. Right before I lost the big cameras I wrote a post about what I was looking for in my next camera, titled, appropriately enough, "What I Want In My Next Camera." For me it all boils down fundamentally to handling and image quality. The image quality issues are pretty much solved now by my current cameras, and certainly by the E-M5 and all the other major camera manufacturers. Handling to me essentially means two things; the ability to easily and quickly manipulate the camera's controls and to easily achieve focus. Everyone obsesses about how big a body is, but when it comes down to it if the controls are easily reachable and manipulative then the size takes care of itself; it is as big as it needs to be. Again, I've pretty much got that right now with the three µ4:3rds bodies and associated lenses. You've seen my latest work scattered through my latest posts. I'll let my work speak for itself. Some other issues I've been obsessing over, such as environmental sealing, I may not obsess over quite so much going forward. They're important, but they're an expensive proposition to fulfill, which leads back to a heavy investment.

I'm still going to wait for Photokina 2012, as well as all the pre-announcements that'll slowly unfold between now and the start of Photokina. And then I'll consider all that's finally been released for public consumption. But I'm no longer on pins and needles waiting for these reveals.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Decade Long Religious Con Job

Majesty Building
I rarely write inflammatory (what some might call trolling) titles to a post, but this building you see before you deserves it. I've been seeing this building next to I-4 just east of Altamonte/436 and Crane's Roost for nearly 12 years, and never knew who owned it. Today on a trip up to Lake Mary with my wife I saw it yet again. That's when I told her I wanted to stop by on the way back and poke around the property, and photograph any parts of it if I could.

What I discovered was this still unfinished eighteen story (I counted) white elephant, overgrown with weeds and yet still under slow-motion construction. It looks impressive with its exterior glass curtain walls, but that impression is quickly lost when you see the unfinished lower stories and look inside to the unfinished interior spaces.

A quick check via Google leads to an article written in 2010 by the Orlando Sentinel about the Majesty Tower. Based on what I read in the article it's owned by SuperChannel 55 WACX, a feel-good religious organization providing Christian inspirational content in exchange for donations. The project was started in February 2001 with $13 million hard money in the bank and another $38 million in pledges. The project was started with the $13 million but slowly ground to a near halt when the pledges didn't come through. I have no idea why they dried up, but the article goes on to note that SuperChannel 55 President Claud Bowers has been paid very well (up to 2010), and managed to invest $338,000 in a Longwood residence, a $311,000 Montverde house, a $450,000 Lake County condominium, and through an LLC, a golf course lot in Minneola worth $273,800. In short, he's "invested" nearly $1.4 million up until 2007 that he owns. Not bad for doing God's work. This is a far cry from what Christ commanded of his disciples in Matthew 10 when he sent them out to do His work. Starting at verse 9, He said:
Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts — no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.
I wouldn't ask that today's ministers live as Christ originally commanded them, especially in a land as rich as ours. But it's one thing to live comfortably, another to live as outlandishly as Claud Bowers. It's no wonder pledges dried up; people are not fools. And I know for a fact that many ministers do live as close to Christ's original command as they can. My wife's father was a Methodist minister in Harrisburg Pennsylvania who lived essentially paycheck to paycheck, but with a joyful attitude. I never met him for he passed away long before I started to date my future wife, but I would have been proud to know him just like I'm proud of my wife.
Majesty Building
Majesty Building
Majesty Building
Majesty Building
The Orlando Sentinel article, written in 2010, said that Bowers expects the tower to be ready for tenants by October 2012. It won't be. The area around the building is heavily weeded, and as you can see from the photographs the interior of the building is still a hollow shell. I don't know what it will take for both SuperChannel 55 and the city of Altamonte to get sick of this "pay as you go" construction project and demand it either be finished in a timely fashion or else sold to someone who will finish it.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

It's a Twofer Weekend, And Other Odds and Ends

My 2012 Prius
Toyta 2012 Prius 3 (what I got to be practical)
So I went back to Courtesy Toyota today and traded in my 2009 red Prius with 76,000 miles for the gleaming pearl white machine you see in the top photo, another 2012 Prius 3. Why?
  1. Because the 2009 Prius had 76,000+ miles on it. I've used it as my commuter-mobile since I purchased it, commuting back and forth between my home near Universal Studios and where I work near the University of Central Florida. I've also used it for those quick trips up to Tallahassee and Florida State University, as well as other spots around central and northern Florida up and down I-75. There's also an 80,000 mile maximum limit where you can trade in your existing Prius and get the best trade-in value. I got a little more than half the value of the 2012 which made it possible to get the 2012 without a down payment.
  2. A lot has advanced in the last three to four years between the 2009 Prius and the 2012 Prius. While the 2009 is a great car, the 2012 is that much better. After driving my wife's black 2012 Prius we picked up last weekend, I came to fully appreciate just how much better the 2012 is. To call the 2012 awesome isn't hyperbole.
  3. I really liked the way we were treated at Courtesy last weekend when we bought the black 2012 Prius 3 for my wife. We worked with Bob Lavin again and everything went smoothly like it had the weekend before. We also worked again with Jessica Carrasco to set up our financing. Both Bob and Jessica were a real joy to work with.
  4. I have heard from a few folks outside of Toyota that the price of the Prius is going up rather stiffly for the 2013 model year. This may be rumor, or mis-communication, but I believe them as they've given good advice in the past that's turned out to be very helpful. One of my sources likes to bid at car auctions for certain late model cars, detail them and fix them up, and then resell them for a pretty good profit. He seems to be in tune with the auto business from his side of things. Our purchases got his hearty stamp of approval.
  5. The 2009 Prius proved the worth of the Prius model and the Toyota brand. While everybody else seemed to be loosing their minds of the Toyota pedal problem (which I believe to this day was extremely overblown) the 2009 ran like the well-tuned machine it is. It proved it's engineering worth to me. I never had one day of problems with the car. I was consistent with maintenance, taking it in ever time the maintenance light went off, even if I didn't want to from time to time. That attention to maintenance combined with world-class engineering and manufacturing produced a car that consistently gave me 50 or more MPG, week in and week out. The only time it wasn't that efficient was under unusual circumstances, such as the late June trip up and back from Tallahassee through tropical storm Debbie. So it only gets between 41MPG and 45MPG while driving through tropical storms. I can live with that. Really.
Based on my personal experiences over the last three years, I will never buy another brand other than Toyota, and another model other than the Prius. It is, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way. The only action I might perform with the Prius is to investigate converting the gasoline engine to compressed natural gas. I'm a strong believer in energy independence. Right now our best, least polluting energy source is natural gas. I'm well aware of the issues with fracking, especially up north in Pennsylvania and west in Texas. But there has been such a supply of natural gas that its price has dropped below $4 per thousand cubic feet. And it looks to be dropping even further. There's plenty being pumped up and it's all from the U.S. I'd much rather burn natural gas than petroleum (or especially "clean" [sic] coal, but that's another issue). Combining Toyota hybrid technology with compressed natural gas would create an incredibly efficient car that would be fueled by American natural gas, not foreign oil.
What I Really Wanted - Scion FR-S
Toyota Scion FR-S (what I really wanted in my heart of hearts)
While I was there waiting for all the paperwork to get set up for my Prius trade, I was smitten by the Toyota Scion FR-S. And it was the same price as the Prius. They had three that I saw, this one outside and two in the showroom. When I saw it it triggered the same brain cells that the Datsun 240Z used to trigger. It had want all over it, that triggered the deep animal part of my brain. I don't know if that's what the designers intended, but it looks like what the 21st century version of the 240Z should have evolved to instead of the bloated monster the Nissan 370Z is today.

I think it even has a few Austin Martin V8 Vantage S Coupe design cues mixed in as well. Oh well, I tend to have a champagne taste on a beer budget when it comes to exotic cars, which is one more reason I'll probably buy Prius' in the future.

My Photographic Future, Part 3.5 - Report From The Field on Sony

A year ago I wrote about avoiding the Sony α77, and I gave a reason why: the apparent fragility of the pellicle mirror. To whit it would appear that any dirt that attaches to the mirror and cannot be easily removed by simple blowing or other cleaning means requires a trip to the factory for cleaning or possible replacement. This was brought up by Imaging Resources, and bears repeating again:
From what we can tell, there is no strategy for keeping dust off the translucent mirror, except to blow the surface gently with air; it cannot be cleaned, and should never be touched. A fingerprint would require replacement at a service center.
Fast forward to Kirk Tuck, who has transitioned to using the Sony α77 for the main body of his work. In today's post on his blog where he documents using the Sony's for food photography, he had this to say:
I am happy with the Sony a77 with one exception: While the sensor cleaning works perfectly (vibrates at shut down) nothing is ever cleaning off the fixed mirror. When I shot at f11 I found two big dust spots and was unable to dislodge them from the mirror with puffs of air. I'm taking Sony at their word that we shouldn't use anything to physically touch the mirror surface. But it will bite if I [can't] figure out a way to clean dust spots off, short of sending the bodies back to Sony for periodic cleaning.

The Nex 7 is superior in this regard.
I would also like to point out that Kirk left a comment on my year-ago post about not worrying so much about the pellicle mirror:
I owned a Canon RT with the pellicle mirror and one of the selling points was the extremely short shutter lag. Something like 22 ms. I owned the camera for years and at first I was worried about dust on the mirror but it's far enough away from the imaging plane that it was never in focus. A little compressed air was enough for any small trash on the front. Also consider that they may have an IR or other filter in front of the mirror like Kodak did with their 660 and 760 cameras which would block intrusion of dust and allow user cleaning of the outside surface. Win, win, win. I don't think Sony would let this one off the leash without having dealt with a very obvious possible source of customer dissatisfaction. We'll see.
This is an example of why it is so important to pay attention to bloggers like Kirk. He buys non-trivial equipment and uses it substantially in the course of his work. This makes it statistically significant that he will find a problem before just about anyone else, and if he does, Kirk will certainly write about it. I've not known Kirk to ever hold back writing about camera gear issues.

Why do I care? Because I live in a rather messy environment, central Florida, and the periodic summer monsoon season. I've written repeatedly about how my cameras would be covered in condensation just walking from an indoor air conditioned environment into the very muggy out of doors. I don't change lenses in such an environment, and it's one reason I have two bodies with lenses firmly attached. In spite of these careful precautions I've still had to clean my sensors on occasion, but at least I could clean them. But I'm not so sure I want a camera that I can't easily service in the field. Logistics is as important an element to consider in any camera as any other feature, perhaps even more so. If it requires lots of trips to the depot to keep a camera working, that's a hidden expense I don't want to incur. Sending a camera in for periodic (yearly) maintenance is normal, or sending it in for a major problem such as physical damage. But getting junk on my mirror? No thanks.

Update 19 August

From a follow-on post from Kirk Tuck:
I grabbed a can of compressed air and a Sensor Brush (and followed the instructions sent by a reader of the blog). I blew the brush with the compressed air to remove dust on both sides. Apparently this also imparts a positive charge to the bristles that helps lift dust off. I did a wipe from top to bottom on one side (left/right, not back/front), flipped the brush over and then did the same to the adjacent half of the mirror.

Being fearful of destroying my mirror I shot test frames and blew them up on the monitor. Dust is gone and no ill effects followed on.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It's a Wonderful Life

Sky Bat
The title comes rather round-a-bout from a Warehouse 13 episode that was a riff off of the Frank Capra movie. That's enough of a clue to figure out the episode. I wasn't watching so much as listening, as I'd seen the episode already. My wife was watching the episode after we'd gotten back from supper out. It was fajita Wednesday at Don Pablo's. It's one of the few low calorie, healthy meals you can eat out.

Summer monsoon season here in central Florida means afternoon showers and spectacular sunsets. We didn't get rain on our neighborhood today but we certainly got our share of spectacular sunset. I'd been entranced by the skies both headed to supper and headed home from supper. Right before the sunlight darkens completely there are a few moments where the clouds are lit with spectacular color against purpling skies. Right when I drove up into our driveway was when that moment occurred. I stepped out with my camera and caught these two views looking up towards the west.
Ruby and Max Repose
Before we went out, I came home early enough to sit in my favorite recliner and rested for a while. The Labs will use any excuse to rest as well, as you can see from Ruby and Max in our little TV room who are resting in air conditioned comfort on the cool tile floor. Summer monsoon season in Florida means activity early in the morning when it's cool, or much later after the sun has gone down and either a storm has passed or the temperature has dropped a bit. But during the heat of the day, from noon until early afternoon, the heat and humidity build to the point where activity diminishes. Us humans can wear hats to keep the sun and heat off and hydrate on a regular basis, but Labs (and dogs in general), not so much.
Precinct 128
Yesterday was Primary Tuesday. When I went to vote around 9am (rather late in the morning), I was the only voter at our polling (128) that includes Bay Hill (home to the Bay Hill Classic) and half of Sand Lake Hills where I live. This is what depressed me more than anything else. I certainly have issues with the Republican party, most especially the Tea Party, but it pales in comparison with the absolute disgust I hold towards those who will not vote, regardless of their political affiliation, who will not execute their civic duty to at least participate in our democracy and exercise their right to vote. A right that has been paid for by the blood of patriots. From what I've read less than one in five bothered to vote. I guess the four in five that didn't vote are saving up their energy for the November election.

I'm blessed to live in a nation that gives me the right to vote, that gives me a safe society free from the kind of bloody strife I read about all too often over half of the world, and gives me the luxury of time and plenty of food to eat in which two thirds go to sleep hungry. And to do something as simple as look up and appreciate the profound beauty of a sunset.


I used the E-PL1 in all these photos. The sunset photos and the Don Pablo's photo were taken with the Panasonic 20mm. The Labs were taken with the M.Zuiko 17mm. I've taken to using the 17mm at f/4, adjusting shutter and ISO to keep it there. The polling place was taken with the Panasonic 14mm.

The sunset photos were pretty much stock out of the camera. Everything else had only slight adjustments (highlights primarily to get back some detail). The E-PL1 is the Merry Poppins of µ4:3rds; practically perfect in every way.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The more I know about people, the better I like my dogs.

It's been Primary Tuesday all day today. I'll vent my spleen about that in another post, but right now I want to give thanks for having my Labs to come home to at the end of the day. It's not like I don't love my wife, I do; it's that the Labs (and all make of dogs, I'm sure) give us their unconditional love, day in and day out. There is no quid pro quo with a dog. They're a vital part of the healing oasis I come home to every day.

When they played as buddies four years ago, like big Max did with little Ruby, they both played as pups. "Dragon fights" is what the girls called them. Teeth bared, chuffing and huffing and soft mouthing each other. They circle and pounce, and Max was always the one on the ground, being careful not to step to hard on little Ruby. They'd make you laugh so had at times it was difficult to photograph them.
Roughing it up

Roughing it up
Roughing it up
Roughing it up
These were taken four years ago when Ruby was still a pup. Max was really beginning to like playing with Ruby because Ruby was big enough for Max to really roughhouse with. This sequence was taken very late one evening (look at the long shadows).

I tried to find the author of the title of this post. The web says it's by Mark Twain, but there's a lot attributed to Mark Twain that he never really said or wrote.

These were taken when Ruby was three months old, back in November 2008, with my E-300 and 14-45mm kit zoom. They were JPEGs taken straight from the camera and resized with Olympus Master. This was back when I never photographed anything in Raw, preferring to produce and post process large fine JPEG images. They're not perfect by any stretch; just for starters they don't make full and effective use of the frame, they're none too sharp, and there's too much contrast. But they're full of wriggling Lab in puppy mode, and I love that. Four years on and they're more mature now. They still chase one another around the yard, but they don't wrestle like this anymore and I miss it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Freshfields Farm

Artichokes (the "normal" type of produce I'm used to)
Tucked into the corner of Delaney Avenue and Compton Street, just a block south of the intersection of E. Michigan and Delaney sits the store where all good tree-hugging Prius drivers drive to to purchase their locally grown produce and meats; Freshfields Farm. We've been shopping at Freshfields for the last few years, picking up ordinary produce such as locally produced organic fruits and vegetables, cage-free eggs, chicken, and fish. We stay away from red meats.

Recently some of the produce grown outside of Florida has attracted my attention. It's interesting that these all appear to be produce from Honduras, Costa Rica, and Mexico. Even the bok choy, which I know as Chinese cabbage. Anyway, the point being all my culinary and cooking experience is actually pretty limited. I've grown curious about these particular vegetables and have been looking up their history and recipes on how to prepare and eat them.

I've spent my entire life eating Southern cuisine, which includes black-eye peas, greens, beans (green, lima, and others), okra (fried only, not boiled), various corns on the cob, spinach, you name it. My wife and I have both been turning back the meat consumption, having given up red meat and cutting back as much as reasonable on the other sources of animal protean. These "out-of-state" vegetables look very interesting and sound tasty if properly prepared. Emphasis on properly prepared, which I have no experience doing. But hey, that's what makes life interesting, the experimentation. I just hope I don't make us both sick in the process.
Costa Rica Malanga Lila
Costa Rica Milanga Lila
Honduras Baby Bok-Choy
Honduras Baby Bok Choy
Mexican Tomatillos
Mexican Tomotillos
Cost Rica Chayote Squash
Cost Rica Chayote Squash


You know the drill: Olympus E-PL2 with Leica 25mm. Taken with the Leica wide open. I think I could sell every other µ4:3rds lens and body and just keep these two, and I'd be absolutely happy. The theft of the regular 4:3rds has changed my attitude about bringing my bag of gear along. When I leave the house now, I take one body, one lens, and a spare battery. I really love the way they both work together, and I have really fallen hard for the Panasonic Leica 1:1.4/25mm, especially wide open at f/1.4. I swear the 25mm has special magic mixed in the glass somehow.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Great Car Hunt is Finished - 2012 Prius 3

2012 Prius 3
The soon-to-be-ours 2013 Prius 3
Since early February my wife and I have been car shopping, looking ot replace the 2002 Kia Sedona EX she purchased late 2001. We've been to nearly all the representative local car dealerships and looked at the cars we'd narrowed down from our research on the web. After what many might consider too much for too long we suddenly decided on the Prius. What pushed us to buy the Prius was the 2013 Hyundai Elentra GT we looked at last Thursday.

We were close to Holler Hyundai in Winter Park that Thursday evening, so we drove over to look at the Elantra GT. We'd read a lot about the GT, much of it very good. What we saw Thursday made us even more predisposed towards the GT, so we made an appointment to go back over Saturday for a test drive. We drove it, liked it, and then put together a single-page straw man payment plan. With that payment plan in our hip pocket we drove over to Courtesy Toyota to look at the 2012 Prius 3.

Earlier in the week my wife sent out a number of emails to various local dealerships looking for the best value they had for the 2012 Prius. She decided that color was no longer an issue; all she wanted was the best possible price for a Prius 3. She got a number of responses, the best being from Courtesy Toyota. After our visit to Holler Hyundai we drove over and talked to the salesman who'd sent us the quote.

After a quick introduction we got down to business. The Toyota salesman had the Prius prepped and pulled around for a test drive. Then she and the salesman test drove the 2012 while I stayed behind. I already know how the Prius handles as both a drive and a passenger, and this Prius was for my wife. There was no reason for me to tag along. This was all about my wife.

Once we got back we got a second set of quotes. My wife has had considerable back reconstructive surgery due to arthritic damage. Saturday turned out to be a bad flare day for her and she was in considerable pain. So I drove her home to give her time to take some pain meds and to recharge a bit. It was during that period that we came to the decision to buy the Prius.
2012 Prius 3 Interior
The sophisticated cockpit of the 2013 Prius
What my wife didn't realize at the time but came to appreciate later was that she was driving during a less-than-ideal period where she was very sensitive to how both cars drive down the road. The Elantra GT with its suspension transmitted the road into the vehicle, causing fatigue and pain. When we left Holler my wife was felling pretty bad. What she discovered while driving the Prius was that it was a lot easier on her, especially when she was feeling as bad as she was at the time. That single event more than anything else tipped our decision towards the Prius. And I'm not so sure it would have been different if the test drives had been reversed. It was tough on my wife, but it's good she wasn't feeling at her best, otherwise we might have purchased the Hyundai; it was that close.
Lucky Ladybugs
My wife's old 1970 lady bug floor mats
After 24 hours we feel we made the right overall choice. There were a lot of points where the Elantra matched the Prius, and a few where it overmatched the Prius. But the three that my wife considered the most important, driving, cargo capacity and gas mileage, the Prius was better to much better than the Elantra. Especially considering how the Prius drove the day she was hurting.

The Prius is in our driveway now, and my wife has made it her own. Those lady bug floor mats were the first accessories my wife purchased for her first car in 1970, a car her dad purchased for her. She only bought two because that's all she could afford. Those floor mats have been all over the country and in every vehicle that's been hers ever since. They're something of a good luck charm. They're in the back because Toyota has this stricture about nothing but their designated floor mats in the front. Whatever, they're in her vehicle just like they've been in every other vehicle.
2013 Hyundai Elantra GT
2013 Hyundai Elantra GT with all packages
The reason we almost bought the Elantra GT, why we kept coming back to it, was the "fluidic" styling used on the Elantra GT. Both of use felt the styling of the Hyundai was superior to the Prius. Of all the brands and models out there, on styling alone I prefer Hyundai.
2013 Elantra GT boot with wheelchair
Fitting my wife's wheelchair into the back of the Elantra
I spoke about cargo capacity. One item my wife needs to carry with her is her wheelchair. She doesn't need to use it always, but she does need it on those occasions when she has her arthritic and pain flares. On those days she needs to get to her chair as easily as possible. Because of the way the rear trunk space was organized I had to remove the two large wheels and then carefully lay the rest of the chair on top. In the 2012 Prius the rear trunk area is wider and deeper into the vehicle, allowing her to just put the chair in without taking it apart, and thus easily remove it.
2013 Elantra GT Backup Camera with Overlays
2013 Elantra's rear backup camera with distance overlays
One feature that both cars have is a backup camera. The Hyundai backup camera is much superior to the Prius because of the overlay limits projected on the rear image. In the example above the green boundary shows where the car is headed as it backs up. The yellow boundary is a cautionary boundary, while the red boundary is an indicator your probably too close. What was also nice is how the lines curve along with the curvature of the rear camera's wide angle lens. The Prius, by contrast, is a simple image. If there is a similar feature on the Prius I have yet to find it or enable it. I wish I could hack the firmware in the Prius because the first thing I'd do is add a similar overlay system to the Prius' rear camera system.

Sales Staff Acknowledgement

I want to acknowledge the professional sales staff of both Holler Hyundai and Courtesy Toyota. Both individuals were eager to help and treated us with dignity and respect. The sales consultant who helped us at Holler is
Micheal Friedman
Sales and Leasing Consultant
Holler Hyundai
1150 N. Orlando Ave,
Winter Park Florida 32789
The sales consultant who helped us at Courtesy Toyota and eventually sold us the Prius is
Bob Lavin
Internet Sales Manager
Courtesy Toyota
225 N. Semoran Boulevard
Winter Park Florida 32792
Both gentleman are as excellent as are the vehicles they sell. We picked the Prius because it best fit our unique needs, not because we felt it was necessarily "superior". I consider Hyundai and Toyota the two best car makers in the world. It was really tough to pick one over the other, but we did, and we deeply appreciate both salesmen allowing us to really make sure of our decision.

Unlike other dealerships, neither salesman put any kind of pressure on us to make a decision right then and there. Both worked very hard to help us. To show how good a class act Mr. Friedman is, when I called to tell him of our decision to buy the Prius he was very gracious and thanked me for allowing him to help us. He later sent an email to my wife congratulating her. I feel if it had gone the other way Bob Lavin would have been just as gracious.

This is the kind of class-act salesmanship that is so lacking at many dealerships, including other Toyota dealerships. I still have my 2009 Prius and I take it to Toyota of Orlando for service, where I purchased it. Service is great there and so we thought about talking to the sales staff at Toyota of Orlando when we started this process. But every time we asked any questions or sought to just look at the car, we were essentially harassed by followup phone calls, asking when we were going to come back in to purchase the car. Courtesy won our business away from Toyota of Orlando because of the excellent way Bob Lavin treated us.

My Photographic Future, Part 3 - Nikon Futures

Hypothetical Nikon D600
In part 1 of this series Wolfgang Lonien asked if perhaps the mythical Nikon D600 might be the camera I would eventually get. The Nikon D600 looks to be another one of those worst kept secrets, what with all the leaks and alleged photos of the beast all over the Internets. The photo at the top of this post may, or may not, be a photo of the D600. Wolfgang's question started me googling for the D600, which also swept up leaks and speculation about the D400. The D400 is allegedly the replacement for the Nikon D300/D300s APS-C DX pro-class camera. The D300 series has a weather sealed all-magnesium body with grips and similar goodies like the higher end FX series of cameras have. So while I was looking at the rumors, I built myself a little table (below) to kind of rank up a few of the body features of these unreleased and heavily rumored Nikon cameras.

Mythical Nikon D400 and D600 Comparison
Price$1,800$1,500 or $2,400[1]
Sensor size23.2 x 15.4mm24 x 36mm
Sensor resolution24.2MP24.7MP
Sensor makerAptina[3]Aptina[3]
Dust reductionYesYes
Native ISO range100-6400100-6400
Weather sealedYesYes
Body buildMagnesiumUnknown
Shutter range1/8000 to 30sec1/8000 to 30sec
Shutter durability200,000 cycles100,000 cycles
Viewfinder typeOVF PentaprismOVF Pentaprism
Viewfinder coverage100%100% or 97%[1]
Viewfinder magnification0.94x0.72x
Built-in flashYesYes
VideoFull 1080p HD @30 fps maxFull 1080p HD @30 fps max
Live viewYesYes
Rear screen3.2 inch diag 921K PX3.2 inch diag 921K PX
BatteryEN-EL-15 Li-IonEN-EL-15 Li-Ion
The chart is by no means complete, but it touches all the features I care about. I have no idea if the features are correct; we are after all talking about rumored, not officially released cameras. Except for the sensor sizes the cameras look to be pretty much identical. In fact, if I didn't know any better I'd say they are the same camera, with wishful thinkers changing or adding features to support their particular FX/DX fantasy.

What really stands out is the pricing. I have heard that Nikon will release the D600 at around $1,500/€1,500, except for Ken Rockwell[1], who's write up says it will come in at $2,400 (see footnotes below for links). I don't know about you, but calling a $2,400 camera an entry level camera, which is what everybody is calling the D600, boggles my mind. Even calling a $1,500 camera an entry level camera boggles my mind, but not as much. Entry level is usually inexpensive. And inexpensive to me means, oh, around $300, which includes a body and a lens. That's what entry level used to really mean back in the days of film, when you could get a real 35mm entry level camera from Canon, Konica, Mamiya, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, and Pentax. I know, I bought a number of those cameras and used to sell them too when I worked at J.C. Penney, back when J.C. Penney sold cameras in their camera department (1970s). I don't care how much inflation has hit us, calling a $1,500 (and up) camera "entry level" is utter bollocks.

The other interesting issue concerning pricing is the price of the D400. If the D600 is really $2,400, then the D400 pricing of $1,800 makes sense. If the D600 is instead $1,500, then the D400 pricing makes no sense at all. I would have though the D600 might come in at $2,200, or (before I heard of the D400), $1,800. If the D600 comes in at $2,200 then it replaces the D700, which is what it's currently selling for. Now let's price the D400 at $1,500. That's a $700 gap between those two cameras, and a $500 gap between the D400 and D7000. Now Nikon has well-specified cameras at conventional price points all the way from the D3200 up to the D4.

If, and of course this is a big if, there is a D400 at $1,500 or even $1,800, this will pretty much hammer the Olympus E-5 into the ground, driving the stake of irrelevance deeply and lethally into regular 4:3rds barely beating heart.

Another feature the two cameras seem to share is the the sensor manufacturer. Nikon has been a heavy Sony user, at least for its high-end cameras, but it turned to Aptina Imaging for the Nikon 1 series. It's not doing this for pricing (the Nikon 1 was originally released at a ridiculously high price), but because that sensor has PDAF elements directly on the sensor surface. That means that those cameras can have full autofocus with the mirror up in video mode. I have yet to hear if the Nikon D800 and D4 can do this, but for the money Nikon asks for those cameras you'd think so.

I'm interested, but certainly not waiting with baited breath for either of these cameras to appear. You need lenses to go with those bodies, and I'd have to really sit and think about what two lenses Nikon sells that are equivalent to the Olympus 12-60mm and 50-200mm 4:3rds lenses. That means something weather sealed and cost effective. If these cameras are coming they they'll be officially announced at least by Photokina. I won't loose any sleep waiting.



Saturday, August 11, 2012

My Photographic Future, Part 2

Sony α900
Part 1 elicited some interesting responses, both in the comments section as well as via email.I'll address the email response first. The email made three interesting points about Sony:
  • Sony hasn't shown the camera multi-generational commitment to photography that other companies have.
  • Letting their α700, which was a capable camera, and their α850 and α900, which were excellent, be discontinued without any clear replacement at the time is worrisome. It feels like Olympus all over again, only more so.
  • Sony has a lack of mid-range lenses. They have enough low-end zooms, and their "G" and Zeiss high-end lenses are as good or better than anything made by the other 1.5x and 1x camera companies. If Sony makes exactly the combination you want, buy it because it's great – and quite possibly the best available from anyone. But don't hope that Sony'll eventually make its current system into the "right" system someday.
I could offer the Sony α77 as a partial defense for the α700, but that doesn't answer the accusations about lack of support for the discontinued α850 and α900. There's a rumor about the α99 coming Real Soon Now (read Photokina) as a replacement for the α900. Sony may have let the α700/α850/α900 models slip into the void, but Sony has something they've continued to develop against, and that's the Sony Alpha lens mount, which is the old Konica/Minolta, and earlier Minolta lens mount. Olympus has no such long-lived mount. Only Canon and Nikon have made such a commitment to their mounts, with Nikon's F mount going back to 1959. Only Leica has a mount with as long a life. Sony may let bodies come and go, but the Alpha mount soldiers on tying decades of lens technology to bodies.

I could further add that Sony has been developing the Sony Translucent Mirror Technology (SLT) for use in its DSLR camera line, but that brings up a final point in the anonymous email:
  • I know a number of photographers who use Sony cameras, but they've never replaced their old Sony with a new Sony.
Unlike Kirk I have heard a number of photographers who own and use older Sony complain of the EVF on the current crop of Sony SLT cameras. I've read that they won't trade away their α850 and α900 for any current SLT camera, and are turning a baleful stare in the direction of the α99, if as rumored the α99 is the SLT replacement for the α900. Many photographers want the OVF that the older Sony DSLRs provide, especially the α900. The anonymous email helps confirm that for every photographer who embraces the SLT and EVF, there are one or more that do not want it.

My take on EVFs is complicated. I much prefer the Olympus VF-2 over the 4:3rd camera series E-3x0/4x0/5x0/6x0 dark and narrow pentamirror those cameras used. However my E-1 and E-3 used bigger, brighter pentaprisms. And nothing quite matches the optical viewfinder on the OM-4 I have. That tends to lead me to prefer pentaprisms. This isn't the place to compare pros and cons of the OVF vs the EVF. It's a comment on the problems of acceptance certain key features of the Sony SLT cameras face, which will effect their overall success in the marketplace and longevity.

Going back to Sony's high end lenses, I've looked at both the 70-200mm f/2.8 and 70-400mm f/4-5.6 'G' lenses. Both price in at a cool $2,000/lens. Compare those prices to the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 Zuiko Digital high-grade lens which costs a more moderate $1,200. I can believe that the optical performance of the Sony lenses would exceed that of the Olympus lens, but the Olympus lens is environmentally sealed whereas the Sony's are not. Trying to find sealed versions of Sony lenses to match what Olympus has to offer in 4:3rds is nigh impossible. And spending that much money on a lens that requires a special baggy to keep out the water when it rains is a bit silly. And yes, here in Florida I have gotten caught out with my Olympus 4:3rds cameras in monsoon weather and not worried about the equipment.

Rumor has it that Sony will release a new 70-200mm f/2.8 lens at Photokina. I'm curious to see if it will be environmentally sealed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

My Photographic Future, Part 1

It's been a week and a day since my Olympus E-1 and E-3 were stolen. My insurance company agreed to replace my equipment with cash. That means that the E-1 was essentially made whole with an E-5, as was the E-3. The Zuiko Digital 12-60mm and 50-200mm zooms are still being sold, and they were valued at what it would take to purchase them from a seller. I'm putting the money in the bank and waiting for Photokina to come and go so I can see what the future holds, at least as far as camera manufacturers go.

Why not replace my older Olympus 4:3rds equipment with contemporary Olympus equipment? Because since 2009 Olympus has been spending all its time and energy on µ4:3rds development, letting 4:3rds development languish. While Olympus was spinning out all those Pen iterations all the 4:3rds bodies were discontinued; in 2010 Olympus kept the line barely alive with the release of the E-5, which essentially consisted of a tweaked Pen sensor in a tweaked E-3 body. Not quite what I was expecting, and not quite what a lot of others were expecting. I invested in µ4:3rds gear because it was relatively inexpensive compared to the major investment of the 4:3rds equipment. I even tried to use the Olympus adapter to use the 4:3rds lenses on the µ4:3rds bodies. But that proved to be a waste of time. In the end I used the 4:3rds camera equipment only rarely, depending primarily on the µ4:3rds cameras and primes lenses I'd been collecting since the purchase of my E-P2 two years ago. While I still feel anger over the theft, the flip side is I have been given a golden opportunity to start all over again. That's why I chose money over hardware.

Last year I wrote several posts on the α77, one of which was self-congratulatory on how I'd managed to avoid buying the camera. I said that in part because I didn't have the funds to purchase it, but more significantly, I didn't want to risk investing in another expensive system that might well wind up as yet another expensive white elephant sitting on the shelf. I've had my concerns about Sony the company, and the SLT series of cameras where still rather new and radical. Twelve months later, the SLT series, especially the α77, are more established, and it looks like the Sony camera division is making money (although Sony overall is still losing gobs of money).

I've had a lot of time to re-think a lot of positions with regards to camera equipment, re-considering the α77 and the whole alpha camera line. I'm no where ready to pull the trigger and re-invest the insurance money in Sony or any other camera brand. It sits in the bank until at least Photokina 2012 ends, and then I'll begin to consider what to do next.

Before I spend one penny I also need to consider a more fundamental question: what do I really want to do with my photography? What are my requirements as they say in engineering? The camera is an answer to a question I can no longer clearly articulate, and until I do know what I want to do, I run the risk of locking the money up again into an equipment dead end.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Seventh Car Shopping Week - Hyundai Elantra GT 2013

Elantra GT
We're (meaning my wife) still looking for our next car. I think she's decided that she's going to have to go up in price in order to find a car with the right mix of room, features, reliability, and creature comforts. So the price bracket we'd originally set has closed in to around $25,000. That's where current Priuses start and then head up past $30,000. Which is rather remarkable, and rather sad. Even the Fiat 500C she so loves rapidly settles around the mid $20,000s when she starts to add various packages.

In the case of the Hyundai Elantra GT, in order to get the backup camera, you have to pick the Style package and then the Navigation package, where the backup camera is "located". Based on all I've read so far, mileage is supposedly 32MPG city and 39MPG highway. Since this is meant to be a replacement for the 10-year-old Kia Sedona van, with city mileage of 17MPG and highway around 22MPG when it was new, this is a major upgrade.

The Kia was purchased as a mom-mobile, a family mover for two adults, two kids, a mother-in-law, two dogs, and anything else (that usually went on top in a luggage carrier for long trips). We took vacations and transported our girls to college in it, and while my mother-in-law was still alive, transported her to doctors. It has served yeoman's duty, but after 10 years and over 105,000 miles, it's time to trade it in. And since a lot has changed since the Kia was purchased, mom want's something smaller and considerably more efficient, especially in fuel economy.
Elantra GT Interior Driver's Side
While the price for this variant is $25,000 out the door, it's the prices for the Prius that take your breath away. Toyota has certainly grown bolder since 2009 when I purchased my Prius with regards to pricing. We got one offer that was $24,000, but without the backup camera. To equip a Prius like the Elantra GT and you'll spend a good $4,000 more, pushing the price to an eye-watering $30,000. While that price is still cheaper than, say, the Chevy Volt at around $45,000, it's still at a price I refuse to pay. I'll keep my current Prius, and probably use it to buy a new one (trade-in resale is currently $17,000 for my 2009), I won't go broke trying to buy a second, even using the Kia as a trade-in.
Elantra GT
We're supposed to head back over to Holler Hyundai this weekend to give this car a drive. We've reached a point in our budget process where we can make a decent down payment, and we have a very low-interest loan lined up. We just need to take a deep breath and see if we're really ready to pull the trigger, and if the Elantra GT is the bullet.


I decided to go simple today. So I ran a lot of photos through the E-PL2 and the M.Zuiko 14-42mm II R. I don't care about corner sharpness (or the lack thereof) or bokeh or deep depth of field. I just liked being able to zoom the range I care about, 28mm to 84mm equivalent. With a body and lens like those two, photography becomes very uncomplicated and very enjoyable, which is the whole point of all of this. Or at least it should be.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Mortality - Lake Hill Cemetery

Lake Hill Cemetery
I started documenting Orlando cemeteries again by stopping off at Lake Hill Cemetery. It's a rather large rambling place located at 5950 Old Winter Garden Road in Orlo Vista, on the south side of Old Winter Garden Road between South Kirkman and South Powers Drive.

I stopped off to investigate this place well over a year ago. At that time it was in terrible shape; the sign over the gate had fallen down into a pile of rusted metal, and the rest of the cemetery was so overgrown that I only saw a few gravestones sticking above brush that choked the area. I left wondering what would happen to the area. Today I checked back in and it appears that a group has pulled together and is working to clean the place up. While I was there I saw someone on a lawn tractor cutting the grass on one side. The rest of the cemetery was mowed and in much better shape. I was able to see quite a few gravesites.

There's very little online or in print about this cemetery. Walking around I found a few graves that date back to the late 19th century; one R. N. Barker was apparently buried there in 1893. What I'm looking for are gravesites that date back to the official naming of Orlando back in 1857. There may be one or more in this cemetery, and there is one more cemetery further west on Old Winter Garden Road near Winter Garden.
George P. Write
R. N. Barker
Freddie Ancel Paul
I was taken with this particular gravestone marking the resting place of a five year old boy. He died the year I was born.

Searching the web has turned up a Lake Hill Cemetery Improvement Association. I intend to politely inquire if there is any written history of this particular cemetery, including the recent history as to why it had fallen into disarray.

The day was heavily overcast and rain was falling across sections of the city. When I stopped here it was dark and getting darker as a squall was getting ready to drop heavy rain on the area. I let the light help shape the photography. I took these and processed these as dark not because I was trying to create something creepy or scary, but because it was forlorn and lonely. We or our survivors put up headstones and other markers in an attempt to leave our final mark on the world of the living, but nature continues to slowly erode this small, and in the end, pitiful efforts at immortality.

Monday, August 06, 2012

In Defense of Kirk Tuck

I know what you're thinking. Why is this idiot in Orlando talking about an Austenite he's never met in person? Because I like the guy and I like what he writes and the way he rights. Because it looks like some self-righteous forum assholes have taken Kirk to task over his shift from µ4:3rds to a Sony Nex system (Nex7 to be precise), a move that streamlines his camera system usage to all Sony. This seems to have outraged all the pro-µ4:3rds/anti-Nex partisans in much the same way it seemed to enrage equivalent pro-Canon partisans who railed against him when he shifted from heavy Canon kit (5DMk2, 7D, 60D) to the Sony α77.

If nothing else I always keep up with Kirk's transitions, in part because I find them fascinating, in part because he can do what I can't, and that's afford to try something new on a fairly regular basis. Kirk can do this because (1) he's an honest-to-god working pro with decades of experience and (2) he's developed a decades-long solid business relationship with one of the last few honest-to-god decent camera stores left in this country, Precision Camera and Video. Precision doesn't cut him any special deals, but what they do do is allow him to sell back his gear and use that to help finance the next phase of brand/model ownership when the mood and business needs strike. I think its a great opportunity to watch over his shoulder as he does this because I certainly can't do that, and I'm always curious about camera equipment.

I follow Kirk, and Matthew Robertson, for essentially the same reason; they have a passion for the art and technique of photography, and they have over the years moved through an interesting and eclectic collection of cameras of all brands and types. I may not always agree with their conclusions or their opinions, but hey, they're the ones with the gear, not me. If I do find something I feel is amiss, I keep my tongue in check because (1) I've been politely invited to look vicariously over their shoulder via their blogging and (2) I'm the rank amateur and they're the pros. If you're a guest in a person's home, even virtually, you don't repay their gracious hospitality by making an ass of yourself.

I'm glad Kirk moved to the Sony Alpha bodies and the Nex series. I've been seriously considering Sony since my Olympus DSLRs were stolen, and my interest has been piqued by the fact that John Isaac, a former Olympus Visionary, has himself shifted to the Sony α77 and G series lenses. No, I'm not going to follow John Isaac just because that's what he bought any more than I'd buy because of what Kirk did. But their actions have motivated me to look at what Sony has to offer and compare what Sony has with what I had, and what I want to do with those cameras. Will I purchase Sony next? I don't know. But I have at least two good reliable sources I can turn to on the web to help me reach a decision, and for that I'm most grateful. I don't believe we have the kind of camera store in Orlando that Kirk has in Austin, so I'm forced to depend on such trusted resources on the web as Kirk and Matt.

I asked once upon a time, tongue in check, why Kirk wasn't smiling. After reading his last post it's a wonder he can smile at all...

Update 7 August

I forgot to mention that Matthew Robertson was once a strong Olympus user as well. Go back and look at his review site for Olympus and you'll see where he had an E-1 and several E-3s, as well as some of the SHG lenses in his arsenal. And then one day he decided to shift from Olympus to a Nikon D700, and then recently to a Nikon D800. And there are all the other interesting cameras he owns and uses on occasion. And yet, in spite of all that, we're pretty good (virtual) friends.

Nature's Rich Colors

Dark Day
What you see are two nature photographs I've taken roughly nine months and to versions of Lightroom apart. The upper photo was taken today with an E-PL2 and the Leica 25mm lens, and post processed in Lightroom 4.1. The lower photo was taken with an E-1 and the Zuiko Digital 50mm Macro back in early November 2011, and post processed in Lightroom 3.5.

The general composition is pretty much the same, portrait photos of plant growth growing from bottom to top and sorta following the rule of thirds. Both photos also have strong reds and violets in them (the lower photo far more than the upper), which is the color I much prefer over so-called Olympus blues. Call these Olympus reds and magentas if you will.

Maybe it's my bad eyesight, but when I place the two photos side-by-side as prints and view them at a normal distance (not with me so close I leave nose-grease on the surface) that I find them, for all practical purposes, technically indistinguishable. I can't honestly tell you that the E-PL2's 12MP sensor is superior to the older Kodak 5MP sensor in the E-1, nor can I tell you that Lightroom 4.1 is superior to Lightroom 3.5. And I certainly can't tell what lens was used with either, not by looking, only by knowing through the EXIF data what was used with each photo.
Royal Purple and Red
What I'm trying to say is that with certain subjects and the right light and given the same attention to detail, that the output of the E-1 with the 50mm is indistinguishable from the E-PL1 with the Leica 25mm. I wonder, if I were to purchase a Sony α65 or α77, and put an excellent prime lens on the front, and learn how to really use the Sony, if I could see a difference, a real difference, between the output from the 24MP sensor of that camera and the output from the E-PL2 and E-1. An expensive experiment, but a fascinating one to contemplate.

If you're wondering why I titled the upper photo "Dark Day", that's because we've been getting a lot of heavy rain since last Thursday.
Approaching Storm
I took this right before I left the office for the day. The photo is actually a bit lighter than the effect I experienced. It was pretty dark over in that direction.