Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sony's 50mm Wonder

I won't be the first person to comment negatively on Sony's latest lens, the Carl Zeiss T* 1.4/50mm for the α DSLT series. A lens that costs $1,500 US. I won't be the first to question why I should buy a heavily plasticized 50mm lens for that much, especially from Sony. I will try to be a bit more reserved, more "fair and balanced" in my criticisms.

Carl Zeiss didn't build the lens itself. It's a "Carl Zeiss Optics and Planar Design," meaning that it was built by Sony or a Sony partner ODM. Looking at the Big Two (Canon and Nikon) for comparison, I find the most expensive Nikon 50mm is the NIKKOR 50mm f/1.2 AIS manual focus lens for a measly $650, while Canon wants to sell you an EF 50mm f/1.2L USM autofocus lens for $1,500 US. Of course the Canon supporters will tell you their $1,500 50mm is worth every penny. Every. Penny. So maybe Sony is jealous of Canon.

This isn't the first Sony/Carl Zeiss expensive lens. The last time I clutched my wallet in fear was when Sony introduced the 1.8/25mm E-mount lens for the rather thrifty sum of $1,100 US. No, I didn't get one of those. I'm more than satisfied with my pedestrian 2.8/19mm and 2.8/30mm Sigma lenses.

And folks who live in µ4:3rds houses shouldn't throw stones. There's been more than a few $1,000+ lenses released, from Panasonic and Voigtländer, both zooms and primes. While I certainly won't be ponying up to purchase such a lens, someone somewhere will, and they'll produce absolutely brilliant images with that lens, images that couldn't be produced with any other lens. Or at least that's what all the web-based stories and reviews will declare.

I guess if I were going to drop $1,500 on a lens, it would be nice not to see the plastic mold marks on the lens. I can get mold marks with cheap Olympus and Panasonic µ4:3rds lenses. At least with Canon you get an extra 1/2 stop speed, and it looks like it might actually be worth $1,500.

Now that Canon 1.2/50mm certainly looks like a Manly Lens. And I don't even like Canon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Collection

The Collection
This will be short and sweet. What you're looking at is my collection of mirrorless cameras. All of them. Each one has a unique lens on them. And I have other lenses still in the bag. One of them, probably my favorite, is the Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm tucked right behind the Sony NEX-5N.

I like these cameras for a number of reasons.
  1. Light-weight. Even with a small prime mounted on the body (or a slightly larger zoom), the mirrorless cameras are the smallest and lightest capable interchangeable lens cameras I've ever owned. I can wear one around my neck all day long, and I've even forgotten they're hanging around my neck for the most part.
  2. Affordable. With the notable exception of the E-P2 (which I purchased as a kit with the M.Zuiko 14-42mm and VF-2 electronic finder), all of these cameras have been purchased for 'mere' hundreds of dollars. The E-PL1, the least expensive of the lot, dropped down at one point to $150 for the body. The E-PL2 dropped down to $200. Prices have drifted back up on both recently, and we are talking about cameras that've been discontinued, but still. Inexpensive yet quite functional. Even if the sensor is a 'mere' 12MP 4:3rds size.
  3. Unobtrusive. Just like they're so light weight you can forget you're even carrying one, the camera is small enough to blend into the environment. That is, unless you're behavior is obtrusive and gives you away. But the camera certainly won't, unlike the larger DSLR cameras like my E-1 or E-3, which will almost always garner looks my way.
  4. Fun to use. Heavy use of automation (and depending upon it) combined with low cost and light weight make today's mirrorless cameras fun to use. It may gall some to think they're reduced to what they consider the equivalent to point and shoot, but perhaps if we all spent more time on the scene before us and less on the camera we're trying to use we'd produce more art. Unless you do something really strange, you're guaranteed technically correct (exposed, focused) photos. Whether they're artistic masterpieces or not will be open to broad interpretation. But if art is what you're after, then the camera can get our of your way ("transparency", I've heard it called) to your art. And I've certainly seen plenty of excellent art from others using these class of cameras.
These little cameras return to the spirit of Oskar Barnack's original Leica cameras of nearly a century ago. Not the bloated hyper-expensive things you can buy today. I have all of these because I could actually afford to purchase them all, especially on discount. They represent excellent value, far more so that any multi-thousand-dollar camera from Canon, Nikon, and especially today's Leica.

Light-weight. Affordable. Unobtrusive. Fun to use.

Super-high ISO? Ultra-fast and ultra-expensive lenses? Obscure features? Anything beyond the four reasons I outlined above becomes almost irrelevant and begins reducing photography to a grinding job instead of a joy.

One other comment.

I've grown tired reading endless complaints about the so-called lack of controls on these cameras. Direct controls for aperture, shutter speed, ISO (including compensation), etc, etc, etc. We had those controls on film cameras because we had no choice. We set our film's ASA on one dial, then selected an aperture and shutter speed via other controls based on the measured light level and the film's ASA to make a decent exposure we could work with in the dark room. While I certainly enjoy such controls when they're there (see Olympus E-M5), I no longer need those types of controls festooned to the camera exterior. Mirrorless cameras have stripped away everything superfluous, down to a minimalist essence for creating photographs. Small, extremely compact, with large enough sensors. Something that doesn't stick out like a sore thumb the way the much larger, heavier, and expensive DSLRs do today.

I'm truly done with the DSLR. There are very many who still feel there is a place for the DSLR, especially in their work, and I certainly respect that. This is all about me. I still keep an E-1 because I love the way it was made, and as a reminder of what I've moved beyond. Whenever I get the urge to buy a big DSLR I go and hold the E-1 for a while. That seems to be more than enough to satisfy the urge. I've put my money where my mouth is by buying into the modern mirrorless revolution. I hope it continues on. I know I'll continue to buy and use them for as along as I can.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Working With the Sigmas

Greek Church Detail

It's fun working with something brand new. In this case it's fun photographing with the 19mm and 30mm Sigmas. New equipment opens up new opportunities for creative expression, or at least that's the official line.

Everything you expect a new lens to produce has been preconditioned by all the other lenses you've ever used. And no matter how much you promise yourself you'll never be surprised with your next purchase, every new lens will surprise you. Such is the case with the Sigmas.

They surprise me because of the kinds of interesting and quality images I'm pulling from them with the NEX-5N, different from the lenses I get from all my Pens and µ4:3rds lenses. Not better, different. I had no idea what I'd get from these two on the 5N. So far I've used the Sony 18-55mm kit zoom primarily, with a smattering of the OM 28mm and 50mm using a Fotodiox adapter. The same thing is happening to a lesser extent with the µ4:3rds Olympus E-M5, but that's with a new body and existing lenses. It's not quite the same.

The more I use these Sigma lenses with the 5N, the more interesting they become. You may not like the photographs I produce with them, but I certainly do. They're different in a good way, and I like different. This does not mean I'm abandoning µ4:3rds. But I'll never be totally depend on it again the way I totally depended on regular 4:3rds. Or Olympus. I'll never depend on any one manufacturer again unless I absolutely have to.

Up Against the Sky
In the Garden
Lake Eola 1

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sometimes Beauty Is In Your Own Backyard

Bougainvillea
Orchid Tree

Technical

I'm learning how to better use the Sigma 19mm and 30mm E-mount lenses with the Sony NEX-5N. Both of these were taken with the 30mm in the late afternoon sun. The 30mm was stopped down to f/5.6. In spite of the aperture the backgrounds are still quite pleasantly out-of-focus. I guess if I'd wanted to I could have opened up the lens to its maximum of f/2.8 and made the backgrounds even more blurred. Maybe. I could have stopped down to f.8. Next time I'll try that.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Nature Isn't Natural Any More

Sandhill Cranes and Plastic Baggie

I was out with my camera and the 40-150mm R II mounted, and came across these three sandhill cranes rummaging in the shallows for something to eat. Temperatures have been in the upper 70s to  low 80s since the last week of January, and it's the dry season here in Florida, so that water level has dropped several feet in the artificial overflow flood pond that's next to my office building. The plastic baggie behind the cranes was one of several that were on the shore, along with other trash. This was taken at lunch after hearing and reading a trio of uplifting stores.
  1. NPR has a story about how the Marine Stewardship Council, or MSC, had essentially greenwashed the fact that Canada's long-line swordfish boats pull tens of thousands of blue sharks up out of the water along with the swordfish. The Canadian fishers let them go, the only problem being that 35% of the sharks caught eventually die right on the hook or days after release. The findings suggested that Canadian swordfish boats accidentally kill almost two sharks for every swordfish they catch. Scientists and environmentalists were dumbfounded in early 2012 when the MSC system decided that Canada's swordfish industry can use the label "Certified Sustainable Seafood." "That is absolutely the kind of fishery that should not be certified," says Leape of Pew Environment Group. "That fishery is outrageous."
  2. Meanwhile, back in the lower 48, according to Wired, the "Pentagon Downgrades Specs for Its Premier Stealth Jet — Again." The F-35, like the F-22 Raptor before it, is turning into the most expensive flying machine, and the most expensive weapons system this country has every produced. Critical dates have slide continuously to the right and the price has continually escalated, while features have been downgraded or dropped. This little gem leaped out at me from the article: "Despite the F-35 growing heavier, slower and more sluggish by the Pentagon’s own admission, Lockheed insists its product is still the second most maneuverable warplane in existence. Company test pilot Billy Flynn told Flight‘s Dave Majumdar that the JSF accelerates better and flies at higher angles than every other fighter except the Lockheed-made F-22."
  3. And speaking of the F-22, the $376million/copy stealth fighter, the one that tends to kill its pilots, wired writes on the same day that the "Pentagon Watchdog Slams Air Force for Blaming Stealth Jet Failure on Pilot." The Air Force has been trying to pin the blame of Capt. Jeffrey Haney's F-22 crash on Capt. Jeffrey Haney, especially when the evidence seems to point to the contrary. Or at least that's what the Defense Department Inspector General believes after reviewing the Air Force's Accident Investigation Board (AIB) report as well as the evidence from the crash and rejecting the conclusion of the AIB. The best quote from the article: "The Pentagon inspector general’s report is a powerful blow in Haney’s defense against an Air Force eager to protect the tattered fragments of the F-22′s once-stellar reputation."
All of this with the F-22 and F-35 in an environment of apocalyptic sequestration.

So. In a land of urban sprawl, it's real hard to make the beautiful photo's with all of our trash everywhere. I think I'm going to document all the trashy beauty I live in, more than ever before.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Building a tracked square-bot

Originally published October 22, 2006

As mentioned previously I found a lot of the Vex hardware on sale during the summer. One of the supplemental kits I picked up was for tracks. The track kit comes with bogies, drive wheels, linked treads, and hardware (screws and lock nuts) to build two sets of treads. The following photo shows a completed square bot frame with the treads on the sides in place of wheels.




The directions are fine for placing the drive wheels and bogies, but the method for firmly attaching the drive wheels to the bulkhead and to the drive motors is only lightly covered. If you follow the directions the driver wheels (the sprocketed wheels at both ends of the tread) won't stay on. Instead you have to come up with better assemblies at both ends.

The following image shows how I used three collars to hold space a drive motor as well as keep the drive shaft in place. Two of the three collars had their tightening screws removed; they weren't needed. Those collars are used to space the motor away from the side rail, and two of the longest 6/32 screws are used to assemble the motors through the collars onto the rail. The third collar keeps its screw, and is used to hold the drive shaft in place once the shaft is pushed into the motor's clutch.



The front idler has a similar construction, with a plastic bushing used to help hold the axle in place without wobbling. What's not shown is that on the other side of the metal bulkhead, both wheels have four washers and a short plastic spacer (the 0.182 incher) between the sprocketed wheel and the bulkhead; the washers are against the metal, and the spacer is against the wheel.




To keep the sprocketed wheel firmly in place, collars were added to all the outside of all four sprocketed wheels.



Setting up the transmitter for tracked control

Unlike the wheeled square bot, the motors are directly connected to the treads. In order to use the transmitter controller with the treaded square bot the way you use it with the wheeled square bot, you need to configure the transmitter. I configured mine by selecting configuration (see page F-2) #2, and then reversed the direction of motors (channels) 2 and 3 (see page F-5 for details). I now have two configurations; 1 for wheeled and 2 for tracked. I select the configuration and then just use the sticks.

Back in the lab

Originally published October 22, 2006

After watching the prices of Vex equipment drop to half price or less all during the summer months ($149 for the Vex Robotics Design System, for example), I picked up enough hardware to build 3 1/2 independent square bots. What was missing for a complete forth is another Vex controller and radio receiver. I'll have to go back to the Vex site and probably pay full price for the components, unless I break down and buy a forth Robotics Design System.

But I did have three controllers, so I finally found the courage to take the cover off of one and see what's inside.



The controller has a pair of 18F8250 micro-controllers. Considering what's on the board and what it does, I find it quite clean in its layout and design (at least in my humble opinion). Plenty of nifty things to hack!

Me and my Legway

Originally published April 18 2006

(This was originally published here in January 2006) Two years ago Steve Hassenplug created a two-wheeled self-balancing robot using the Lego Mindstorms Robotics Invention System 2 and a pair of special sensors manufactured by HiTechnic. It was the same Lego Mindstorms that I had purchased that previous Christmas. Unfortunately when I finally found out about Steve's work it was nearly a year later, and a key component of his Legway, the HiTechnic EPOD Sensor, was no longer being made. Jump forward to November 2005, and I find out that HiTechnic is again building and selling the sensors, so I immediately ordered two for myself.

While waiting for the sensors to arrive, I started to look at the other bits needed to build the Legway. Two years is an eternity in computing. Key software and support systems had evolved since the original Legway was produced. Elements of the Legway that had changed and needed to be updated were:
  • I used the Linux environment on my Gateway to build and use the BrickOS software. When I attempted to put the software environment together I noticed the original tool chain used gcc 2.95. When I went looking for more up-to-date tools, I only found them for Linux. I followed Matthias Ehmann's directions for installing and building the BrickOS build environment under Linux. Let me emphasize that you use exactly what is called for in the directions. I tried gcc 3.4.5 with matching binutils. Using gcc 4.0.2 to build the gcc 3.4.5-based cross-compiler generated an ICE under 4.0.2. Gcc 3.4.3 successful builds as a cross-compiler under gcc 4.0.2.
  • The Lego Mindstorms I/R tower. The tower originally connected to a personal computer via to a nine-pin RS232 serial port. The system I used to program my RCX 1.0 brick was a Gateway notebook that did not have any serial ports. Instead, the Gateway has four USB 2.0 ports (eight connected to the dock), so I used a Dynex USB-to-RS232 adapter to communicate with the tower. This worked out very well under Linux, as the device showed up as /dev/ttyUSB0.
  • The original legway.c program from Steve's site was written for an earlier version of BrickOS. One change in particular has to be made to the code for it to compile and work properly with the current BrickOS: replace sys_time with long sys_time = get_system_up_time();
Everything was built and operated under Linux. Once I downloaded the firmware and then the compiled legway.c program, it 'stood up' and ran like a champ.


Legway lying on its side exposing the HiTechnic sensors. You can see them above each wheel.



Legway up and dancing around the desktop. The sensors are the gray blocks at the bottom with the wires coming out of their tops.



The RS232 tower connected to the Dynex USB adapter. I picked mine up at a local Best Buy.

Minor mechanical tweaks to the Vex squarebot

Originally published April 18, 2006

Section 2 of the Vex Inventor's Guide shows how to build a sample motorized chassis they call squarebot. There's some additional mechanical tweaks that need to be made to squarebot in order to make him a little more rugged. First of all, you should add a collar to the outside of each of the four wheels. This keeps them from coming off while the squarebot is rolling around for extended periods. See the two photos below. The first is an overall view and the one beneath is a closeup of two of the wheels with the collars.


Next, you need to add spacers to the inside of the chassis subassembly holding the gears, between the outside of each gear and the outer chassis rail. It is annoying to be driving along and then have squarebot stop because the gears have slipped along the axles and no longer engage. The following picture shows the added plastic spacers, looking up from the bottom of the squarebot. They are the black shiny pieces between the green gears and the upper-most chassis rail.


I got these spacers as part of a Vex spare parts kit at a local Radio Shack after they cut the price for the spares kit in half. Why the spacers weren't a part of the $300 Vex Robotics Design Kit is beyond me, but they sure came in handy with the squarebot. Now everything runs fine for as long as I need.

Welcome

Originally published Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Welcome. This is a spin-off from my other blog, blogbeebe. The idea came from my wife and kids, who suggested I create additional online diaries to better categorize my interests. This blog covers my interests in hobbyist robotics; the kind that mere mortals can afford. I have been a tinkerer in robotics since the early 80's. It was an offshoot in my interest in microprocessors and microcontrollers, such as the 6502 and 8048.

In this day and time I have the Lego Mindstorm's Robotic Invention Kit (and several add-ons of parts), several Vex Robotics kits, and all the odds and ends I've collected over the years. I've been investing in Vex since November of 2005 when I paid $300 for my first kit. I've been buying more this April because Radio Shack, the seller of Vex locally, have cut the price for just about everything in half. So now I've got sensors and rechargeable batteries and spare gears and wheels and tracks...

Another toy I have is a Gumstix and supporting boards. I purchased it about the same time I purchased my first Vex. I had the idea I'd use the Gumstix to drive controller on the Vex, but I've since discovered the Vex is a bit complicated by the fact that the protocol used to communicate with the Vex controller is undocumented. I put everything aside for a while, waiting for time to get back to it and dig out the details. Turns out that there's a new site name JVEX-robotics. It's purpose is to integrate a Java-based controller with the Vex system. I've just now started to dig into their system.

Finally, I'm waiting for Lego to release its latest robotics kit, Nxt. They started taking pre-orders April 1st, but I've held back because of the price of $250/kit. I'll probably place an order the first of May when my finances are clearer.

Texas Instruments Stellaris LaunchPad - LXAF120H (UPDATED)

Stellaris LaunchPad

You're looking at my latest digital gizmo, an ARM-based Stellaris LaunchPad development board. At the heart of the board is an LX ARM Cortex-M4 32-bit CPU running at a modest (by today's standards) 80MHz. It comes along with 256K of FLASH and 32KB of SRAM. It won't run Linux or Android or any other major operating system, but for writing executives, interrupt handlers and I/O manipulators in C or assembler down at the bare silicon, it has more than enough raw computational power.

I started my professional life nearly 40 years ago by building embedded systems with the 8-bit MOS Technologies 6502 and Zilog Z80. In both those instances the embedded systems had a lot less RAM and EPROM and I was very glad to have them running at a then-blistering 1 to 4MHz.

The  also comes along with a lot of hardware-based timers and very flexible I/O pins. It is, for an old hacker like me, something of a dream come true.

And I got it all for free from an old friend who had in turn gotten it for free from Texas Instruments.

This is a re-re-kickoff of my robotics side of my life. I am moving all the original postings from beebot and putting them here, then decommissioning that web site. I have enough going on writing for this site and Matthew Robertson's review site. Trying to write for three is at least one too many.

So be prepared. The next five posts are being copied over. They were original written around 2006. From this point forward I'll be writing about my embedded adventures (including hobby robotics) on this blog.

Update 11 February

Jim Smith is my friend and fellow computer engineer that I've known since I first met in in 1986. It was Jim who gave me the Stellaris. He sent me an email to today that cleared up a few points.
  • The boards were not free from TI. They had a pre-release order special at half price and with shipping, two were ordered. The regular price of the Stellaris is $12.99 ea, so they were practically free. Jim gave me one of the two he'd ordered for that special price.
  • The ARM is being used to replace an 80c196-based 16-bit embedded system with a fixed 64K of RAM and EPROM. The 12-MHz 80c196 executes about 1.5 million instructions/sec. The 80MHz chip has roughly one MIP/MHz, or 80 MIPs by comparison. The LXAF120H also has built-in serial and digital I/O, replacing even more older hardware in the form of individual chips.
So, even if the Stellaris isn't completely free, it's pretty dog-gone cheap.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Hilariously Stupid Spam from the FBI [sic]

It's been a while since I've got any spam email is crazy and stupid as this one. This particular missive landed (correctly) in my gmail spam folder just the other day. I am quoting it as-is.
Federal bureau of investigation
Field Intelligence Unit
J. Edgar Hoover building
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC.

I am special agent John Edward from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Field Intelligence Unit, we have just intercepted and confiscated two (2) trunk boxes at John F Kennedy airport in New York, and are on the verge of moving it to our bureau headquarter.

We crosschecked the content of the boxes and found it to contains millions of dallars and also backup documents which bears your name as the receiver of the money contained in the boxes, investigations carried out on the diplomat which accompanied the boxes into the united states has it that he was to deliver this funds to your residence as payment which was due you from unpaid contract, inheritance, lotto, loan, etc.

We cross-checked all legal documentations in the boxes, and were about to release the consignment to the diplomat, when we found out that the boxes is lacking two very important documentation which as a result, the boxes has been confiscated and kept in our security vault.

According to section 229 subsection 31 of the 1991 constitution, your consignment lacks proof of OWNERSHIP CERTIFICATE AND LEGAL DELIVERY PERMIT CLEARANCE CERTIFICATE from the joint team of the Federal Bureau Of Investigation and homeland security and therefore you must contact us for direction on how to procure the two certificates, so that you can be relieved of the charges of evading tax which is a punishable offense under section 12 subsection 441 of constitution on tax evasion.

You are therefore required to get back to me on this email {fbifbi920@yahoo.com} within 72hours, so that i will guide you on how to get the needed documents. Failure to comply with our directive may lead you into problem; you may be arrested, interrogated and prosecuted in the court of law for money laundering.

We may also get the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on money laundering involved if you do not follow our instructions. You are also advised not to get in contact with any bank in Africa, Europe or any other institution, as your funds is here now in the United States of America and can be delivered to any country of your choice once you secure those required documents.

Yours in service
Agent John Edward
Regional director
Federal Bureau of Investigation
E-mail:fbifbi920@yahoo.com
Priceless. Absolutely. Priceless.

They say these emails go out because some of them, a very few of them, are successful at hooking hapless marks. I can't believe anybody would read something like this and actually fall for it. Of all the outrageous claims and misspellings that pepper this email, the one that really had me rolling on the floor was the reference to the 1991 constitution. I guess if you live in a third world country you might be used to a constitution that young, of having it re-written every time a revolution topples an existing government. Fortunately for the U.S. that doesn't happen here (although it does get a bit crazy around here every four years or so). As a public service announcement to the folks who dream these scams up, here's a small fact for future versions of your scam email: the U.S. Constitution was ratified 21 June 1788. You can real all about it here on Wikipedia.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

High Contrast

Downtown Sunday

There are times when you're walking about and photographing the world when you make a photograph that doesn't fully "expose" itself to you until you're well and truly home and looking at your images. No amount of pre-visualization or chimping will show you what you have until you start to work with in in post. Even then it's a bit of a hit-or-miss experimentation. This is one of those photos that ended up showing its "true" value in post.

The post work on this one came in two steps. The first step was to punch it up a bit in Lightroom 4.3 with Preset: Direct positive, and then dragging the highlights slider to -100%. Then I ran it through Silver Efex Pro 2, selecting #17, Full Spectrum. That dropped all the blue to black, especially the cloudless sky. It may not appeal to you, but I love it. And now that I've discovered this bit of post-processing hackery, I think I'll work even harder to duplicate it in the future. This is the time of year to go looking for clear deep blue Florida skies, especially in the mornings.

I like the effect as well as the composition, and frankly, that's all that matters.

Technical

Olympus E-PL1 with Panasonic Lumix 14mm lens.

Struggling Still

Westoaks Mall Ocoee
Mid-day Saturday at West Oaks Mall. Nice, clean interior. Few shoppers.
On Saturday my wife and I went to see "Wreck-It Ralph" (along with the Academy Award nominated "paperman" animated short) at a theater in West Oaks Mall near Ocoee. I've written about this mall before (search if you're interested), with all the stores that are out of business on the periphery (Toys 'R' Us, Chevy's, Borders, etc) as well as inside the mall. The mall still has a clean, classic look, but it's not hard to see the closed up sections that used to be stores.

Westoaks Mall Ocoee
Westoaks Mall Ocoee
Westoaks Mall Ocoee

West Oaks Mall was the mall we took our girls to when they were growing up. First, to Toys 'R' Us for their toys, then Borders when they were growing readers, and lots and lots of movies and meals inside the mall itself. Once there was a Discovery store and a Disney store, and stores with video games and young girl fashions. All that's gone, with only three of four anchor stores left (Penney's, Sears, and Dillards). Two of those three, Sears and Penney's, are corporate ghosts of what they used to be. The last time I was in the mall was back in November 2012 trying to and return something to Sears; it was depressing.

The recent economic collapse started the decline of this mall around 2007, and the long-term shift of money away from the area continues to hamstring business in the mall. For example, just west on West Colonial is a Super Walmart, and further south and west is a completely new mall called Winter Garden Village (just off 429 and Winter Garden Vineland), where the well-to-do now drive to to do their shopping.

I don't know if we'll ever go back after Saturday. Our kids are now in their mid-20s and living elsewhere, and everything we ever found attractive and appealing in that mall is either gone or a shadow of its former self. I'd certainly go there and do business to help, but there's no longer any real reason for us to do business there.

Technical

Taken with my favorite sneak-and-peek camera, the Olympus E-PL1 with Panasonic 14mm lens. It's small enough to slip into a jacket pocket, and when out it's discrete and silent in operation. I've long since learned to spot and avoid the rent-a-cop that patrols the interior; when I use the camera there's not enough folks around to know, and those that are around don't seem to care. It helps that I don't make myself obvious and obnoxious when I use the camera.

Snoopy

Metlife Blimp Jan 2013

Snoopy came back to Orlando in late January and was still hanging out near the 408 on Friday 1 February when I drove past him on the way home. Snoopy's Metlife blimp is something of a regular visitor to these parts, showing up around January every year. On that way home I pulled off to try my hand at some late evening photography with the E-M5. The sun had already pretty well set. The blimp's internal light was already on (you can begin to see it shining through the lower gasbag skin).

Metlife Blimp Jan 2013

Because the sun was well below the horizon I didn't have a lot of time to take very many photos, but I didn't let that bother me so much because of the fast lenses I was using combined with the E-M5 (and to a lesser extent the other Pens I had with me). The E-M5 and the fast primes have given back to me what I used to take for granted in the ancient days of film; low-light photography with little concern. Perhaps this is what the Canons and Nikons with their expensive full-frame cameras and equally expensive zooms were already giving, but then, they were at a price I couldn't afford at that time. I now find great comfort with the E-M5 and a raft of primes that include the Panasonic 14mm, 20mm, and 25mm and the Olympus 17mm and superb 45mm.

Metlife Blimp Jan 2013
Metlife Blimp Jan 2013

On the way out it had grown very dark and the blimp, lit from within like some giant magic lantern, hung suspended above the field tied to its mooring mask.

Technical

All photos taken with the Olympus E-M5 body. Top to photos taken with the Panasonic Leica 25mm 1:1.4 while the lower photos were taken with the M.Zuiko 45mm 1:1.8.