I Really Do Not Hate Dogs.

 

Frank and his Dog (Panasonic LX 5)

This is an Op-Ed piece Published in the Wilkes Barre Times Leader on Sunday February 8th, 2015: I post it here in all of its unedited glory.

Though I live in suburbia, I don’t own a dog. Because of this, my canine-loving friends accuse me of hating dogs. That hurts me. I grew up with dogs and liked them. I have just never needed to own one as an adult. I consider myself to be kind of “dog agnostic” more than anything else. I have never been sure why.

I noticed online recently the headline: “Indiana man mauled to death by his pit bull”. Apparently he was at home alone with their 2 pit bulls when one of them, named somewhat ironically “Fat Boy”, attempted to make a meal of him. Allow me to quote the article:

“Rodriguez (the widow) said the family had never before had problems with the dog but in a police report the responding officer wrote that Cahill (the victim) had been told to euthanize the dog because it was violent and unpredictable.

But Rodriguez told WGNtv.com that was not true. (No, I think that was about right)

“They were playful dogs,” she said. “One slept with the girls and the other slept with me and my husband.

“I don’t want people to think bad of pit bulls. It was a freak accident. He loved the dogs.”

So she doesn’t want anyone to think “bad” of pit bulls. Except that one just killed her husband… which is after all, pretty bad. Also, are the police suddenly given to randomly telling people to euthanize their dogs, or perhaps was “Fat Boy” just a touch “edgy”?

Why are people so blind about their pets?

And then I realized something profound. I don’t hate dogs. It’s the owners that drive me nuts.

I often hike and photograph the various state parks in the region. In Pennsylvania state parks, there is a rule that dogs are supposed to be on a lead and under control of the owners. Often they are; many people use retractable leashes that give the dog some freedom, but can be reined in when necessary. I appreciate this greatly. I will often stop and talk to such owners and pet the dog. I’d want to hike with my dog (If I didn’t apparently hate dogs).

The Sign ( Sony RX100 Mark III)

But a significant number of people ignore this rule. They will let their dogs loose, to range far ahead, where they encounter me. Very occasionally the dog approaching is obviously friendly, and I will pet them until their owners arrive.

More commonly however they approach me warily, barking and with teeth bared, growling. This is a distinctly unpleasant experience. Sadly, the dog is merely acting instinctively; it is the idiot owners that provoke these episodes.

When the owners show up, they inevitably say:” Oh he’s fine, he’s friendly”. “Friendly” my *ss. The dog likely thinks it’s defending its owner. I get that. It just doesn’t even slightly improve the experience.

Worse yet, I have also been charged by multiple large canines over the years, including a pair of nasty looking Staffordshires that frankly, scared the crap out of me. This particular incident, and others, helped me to formulate the rule that: the more aggressive the dog, the more rude/defiant the owner when, once my heart rate drops below 150, I remind them of the park rules.

Occasionally these encounters escalate further, resulting in a nip or even a bite which inevitably provokes the second inane owner comment: “Oh, I’ve never seen him do that before!” usually delivered with a measure of faux concern. Do they think I’m an idiot? Maybe you haven’t seen your precious pooch do that in the last 10 minutes, but I’m betting he’s he tasted human flesh before.

Now if not terrorizing your fellow citizens is insufficient reason for dog owners to follow the rules, let me put this in terms even the selfish can understand. Using a leash protects your dog and ultimately you, from harm.

First, in Penn’s Woods, there are many things likely to be highly detrimental to your canine friends. There are bigger dogs, also unleashed, and similarly ill-tempered. There are big male bears, and sows with cubs. There are coyotes, often in groups that love to dine on house pets. There are skunks and porcupines. There might even be a mountain lion or two. So when you let your pooch run ahead on the trail, who knows what lurks?

Also there are humans, in fact, humans with weapons. In wilderness areas I talk to a fair number of people carrying holstered pistols, in part because of the very problem we’re discussing. Then there’s a grouchy, allegedly dog-hating photographer/writer who carries a three pound pointy-tipped 6 foot steel monopod.

And has a pit bull attorney.

I have a suggestion for those of you who have had the same experiences as I have. If you’re parked at a trail head where there are other cars, check for signs of dog ownership. Look for dog hair on the seat, a cage in the back, an “I heart my Rottweiler” bumper sticker. Then use your phone to snap a picture of the license plate. This makes it easy later, should there be a problem, to send it, certainly to the park office, and maybe your legal team. If you encounter the car owner with the dog leashed… thank them.

You know, writing this, I realize that I actually like dogs. I just wish their owners would be more responsible.

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A Pennsylvania Photographer in London

Great English Ales (Fujifilm X100s, TCL X100)

I’m leaving because the weather is too good. I hate London when it’s not raining.

-Groucho Marx

 

I have needed a break in my routine. This winter in Pennsylvania, until recently, has been all about bare trees, and overcast skies. Up to mid-January, there had been no skiable snow; one can only hike the same brown landscapes so many times before becoming bored, if not a bit depressed.

My usual remedy for this is my annual January sojourn to the Adirondacks. Here the inevitable snow and the coniferous forests, greatly improve my outlook. I am all about familiar places. The village of Lake Placid is a second home to me. A week spent there exploring new trails, with old friends, is very relaxing.

Every so often however, you need to leave your comfort zone. So over Christmas, when my younger brother Matt announced that he was leaving on one of his regular trips to London on my week off, I came to the realization that the Adirondacks would have to wait.

My brother Matt is an IT professional, who years ago visited London, and was immediately smitten. He has subsequently visited as often as possible. I’d like to think it was the remarkable history and culture of this very old and lovely city that have beguiled him. I’d like to think that. But it’s as likely his friends, the pubs,  … and the English beers.

Window in the Priory, Westminster Abbey(Fujifilm X 100s,TCL 100)

In recent years Matt has created a website called appropriately enough: The London Travel Planner. For a very modest fee (which you will likely save in wasted travel funds), he offers very specific guidance particularly for Americans naïve to the city, on travelling into and around London; where to stay, where to eat (and of course drink), and on the scenic walks that work best. The site and his services are getting rather popular.

So it was on a cold misty Sunday morning in mid January, that I emerged at 07:30 GMT somewhat bleary-eyed, from Paddington Station onto Praed Street. I’d gotten a little sleep on the flight from Philadelphia, but not much.

Paddington Station (Fujifilm X 100s)

I knew what I had to do: stay up for the rest of the day, then collapse in a heap that night in the hopes that my somewhat inflexible circadian rhythms would reset to the Greenwich time zone. Meeting up with my brother who was already in town, we proceeded on a walk that covered much of the Paddington area, Hyde Park, and frankly some other areas that I don’t really remember.

The Little Girl and the Swan (Sony RX 100 Mark III)

We visited one of the neighborhood pubs (The Sussex Arms) in early afternoon, and I had my first English pint of the trip. More were to follow.

The Lovely Joanna (Sony RX 100 Mark III)

No I generally do not like large cities. Having lived in them from time to time, I prefer small towns and the country. It is undeniable however, that for the photographer,  large cities and in particular, old capitals like London,  present an incredibly target-rich environment.

Death takes a Holiday (Fujifilm X100s, TCL X100)

Now my brother turned out, over the course of the week, to be an exhaustive guide. He obviously loves the city, and is fascinated by its rich past. The programmed tours he offers to his clients really do let you see the sights very efficiently, albeit with a lot of walking (but great exercise). By the end of the day, my feet were sore, and I was ready for a pint.

“Chimping” on the Westminster Bridge (Fujifilm X100s)

The problem I have with iconic cities, is trying to find new ways of looking at scenery that has been captured by millions of other photographers, some of whom are natives, and then published in multiple ways. Standing in a line to shoot a landmark, doesn’t really feel like art.

Matt did get mildly annoyed with me when I showed no photographic interest in the typical London shots, such as Big Ben from the Westminster Bridge, Big Ben from across the river, Big Ben behind a London phone box, or even the big Ferris wheel thingee.

Matt made me take this (Fujifilm X100s, TCL X100)

It’s not that those images aren’t attractive. I was just looking for a more personal take on the town. I shot some of the scenes in case he needed them for his site.

Trafalger Square, January Afternoon (Fujifilm X 100s)

 

As for equipment, I ended up taking two cameras: the Fuji X100s with the TCL x100, and the Sony RX100 Mark III. I considered taking my XE 1 with the 14mm, and the 57mm as a third body, but decided against it. By far, the majority of imaging was done using the Fuji with the teleconverter, which at 50mm equivelence was a very natural field of view for the urban environment. I actually preferred the handling of the X100s with the teleconverter attached, which gave me a more convenient place for my left hand.

Souvenirs (Fujifilm X100s)

My only issue with this combination was the autofocus performance. I was careful to change the camera setting each time I mounted or dismounted the converter. Despite this, I am firmly convinced that the converter lens significantly decreases focus sensitivity for the X100s, particularly in low light, to a degree that is a problem. This alone would be a reason to switch to the XE1 or 2 or the X Pro 1, with the 23mm and 35mm lenses for the same field of view choices, but better autofocus. How about a firmware fix Fuji?

Horse Guards (Fujifilm X100s, TCL X100)

The Sony worked very nicely, it was convenient to slip into a pocket in the evening, or to use during the day for it zoom reach and /or increased depth of field (because of its smaller sensor). In good light the image are wonderful. Indoors it struggled a bit compared to the X100s. Still however, a very usable, companion, if especially when formal shooting is done.

London from the Tower Bridge (Sony RX 100 Mark III)

There are a couple of images that I like. This one was taken as I descended into a “Tube” station on Whitehall. On the other side of the railing several kids caught my eye, one sporting a Union Jack  cap. With Westminster Abbey in the background, I paused and took several shots.

Boy at Westminster ( Fujifilm X100s, TCL X100)

A particularly fascinating place was the “Tower of London”. If the original “White Tower” built in 1071 isn’t old enough for you, then there are on the property, Roman ruins that date back another thousand years. We took the “Beefeaters” Tour, run by a witty and knowledgeable Sergeant-Major retired from the British Army. It was both fascinating, and horrifying, given the Tower’s brutal history.

The Sergeant- Major ( Fujifilm X100s, TCL X100)

The pubs in London are a unique experience, particularly for those used to taverns in the US. In summary: food is fair-to-poor, the beers are astounding, and the atmosphere in each is generally similar: warm and inviting. I lost count, but I’m sure we visited 15-20 establishments over the course of a week.

Londoners take their pubs seriously. Near Piccadilly, one rush hour, we met with Joanne, a pleasant woman who gives historic pub tours in London. For her, this was far from a casual interest. She was forced to apologize for leaving us early to take a “pub” licensure test qualifying her to work in what sounded like only a tiny portion of the city.  The time we spent with her was fascinating, and her depth of knowleddge impressive. I bet she passed.

Back Room at the Churchill Arms (Fujifilm X100s)

Among the most unusual Public Houses was the Churchill Arms in Kensington. This placed positively oozed character. The walls and ceilings were decorated with  70 years of artifacts from British life; there was a snug fire in the back room. There we met young Melissa, a 19-year-old college student from northern California. It is a tribute to her parents what a lovely, poised, and well-rounded daughter they seem to have raised.

Melissa and Charlie (Fujifilm X100s, TCLX100)

Among my brother’s friends was Charlie, a Paddington resident who has worked as an editor for various publications over the years. He was tolerant enough of two Americans that he would often accompany us on our nighttime “expeditions”. He has the well-educated Englishman’s grasp of their history, and was able often to add detail and context to sites we had toured earlier in the day. He is a boon companion indeed.

Afternoon in St James Park ( Fujifilm X100s, TCL X100)

After 6 days in town, I boarded a very pleasant British Airway flight and returned to Philadelphia and ultimately home. In the interim, several snowfalls have transformed our landscape from brown to white. So I am ready to hike and snowshoe along farm fields and forests, recharged by my week abroad, but with one problem:

The beer here just doesn’t taste the same anymore.

For more images of London: visit my Smugmug site.

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The Gear that I Use: The Sony RX 100 Mark III

Reeds and Cattails ( Sony RX 100 III)

Like a lot of people, I buy a lot of items that for one reason or another, I don’t get around to using very much. In the case of camera equipment, I find that a clue as to my enthusiasm for a camera becomes evident every time I download images from the memory card. The further back in time, the earliest images were taken,  the less I have used the camera.

Recently, I used my Sony Rx 100 to shoot some website photos. When I put the card into the reader, I discovered images from as far back as early last spring.

Now it seems to me that I am downloading and clearing cards from my Fuji bodies every couple of weeks. But the little Sony is really not getting very much use.

Certainly this is not because of its imager and lens. Though the optics are inferior to the Fuji XF primes I have been using, the Zeiss designed zoom lens is really quite nice, given the limitations of the small-sensored camera (but larger sensored than most comparable “pocket cameras”). The imaging chip despite the size disadvantage, still acquits, itself very well with DXO Mark scoring 66-67, comparable to several very nice 2008- 2009 digital SLRs in image quality. For instance the Nikon D300 SLR has an identical score, but much less resolution (DXO scores are independent of resolution) than the RX 100.

“So what’s the problem?” I ask myself. Then it hits me. No viewfinder.

 

As we have discussed before on these pages, camera stability is key to good imaging. Holding your camera, or worse yet your phone, out at arm’s length so to frame in the display, is a recipe for lots of motion artifact. If for some reason I am forced to work this way, I place the shutter on continuous release, hoping that at least one of the images will be clear.

Ice Fishing (Sony RX 100 III)

Well, the original RX 100 forced me to work this way and I don’t like that. So I tend not to use it.

Less than a year ago, the 3rd edition of the RX 100 came out: the “Mark III” edition. When I originally read about this device, I realized that someone at Sony must use a camera the way that I do. To me those changes from the earlier versions were quite compelling. First there was a new Zeiss lens which was wider with less “reach” (which all things being equal generally suggests better optics) than the previous glass. It had a field-of-view equivalence to 35mm of 24-70mm which is a classic mid-range landscape and event zoom. The lens was also faster with f stops between f1.8-2.8(f1.8-4.9 with the two earlier versions).

RX 100 Mark III

Then there was the viewfinder, which was built-in, popping up from non-shutter side of the camera. This was an electronic viewfinder identical to those found in larger Sony cameras.

I definitely wanted one.

In the Hemlock Grove (Sony RX 100 III)

Because I’m cheap, I balked at the opening price of US$800. But recently I’d begun to see “refurbs” and open-box offerings, and grabbed one at a good price.

Now the newer camera is a little larger than the first version. Part of this is the flip-out rear LCD not offered in the earlier camera. The lens barrel is wider. Overall in terms of “pocket ability” though: not much difference.

Somehow Sony managed to package a small pop up flash in that tiny body. It’s one that you can hold in a bounce flash position with your finger, which can be useful with a low white ceiling. The Mark II version had a hot shoe which is gone in the newer camera. It’s not an issue to me.

The new lens seems excellent: Sharp in the center and pretty good in the corners when stopped down. I for one don’t miss the extra telephoto.

There’s a 3 stop built-in neutral density filter, just like my Fuji X100s (don’t these camera names get confusing?) This should make it great for shooting moving water. There are metal tripods threads which is also helpful in that regard.

Stone wall on Nescopeck Creek (Sony RX 100 III)

The shutter, like those of its predecessors is very soft. Apparently the image stabilization has been improved. And now that I can hold the camera to my face and use the viewfinder, it is really easy to handhold, even at is lowish shutter speeds, and still get sharp results.

I made a couple of acquisitions to improve its usefulness. First I ordered the Sony adhesive rubber grip for it as I had done for my 1st version. This should really be standard equipment, as it provides a contoured non-slip surface for your right hand.

Come on Sony.

I have also ordered the Lensmate 52 mm filter adapter, so I can use polarizers in appropriate conditions. This consists of an adhesive-backed bayonet mount that goes on the front circle of the lens barrel. There is a clever gauge included for accurate placement. There is a threaded 52mm filter adapter that attaches to the mount, all of which is outside of the built in lens cover. It took 3 minutes to mount and seems pretty sturdy. Time will tell.

At the Marsh (Sony RX 100 III)

I’ve been shooting in a variety of situations. I tend to shoot in auto-iso with 3200 the max sensitivity allowed. In low light situations, the camera is pretty fair. Noise is pretty well controlled and at ISO 3200 the RAW files clean up fairly well in Photoshop. And with the viewfinder, IS, and shutter characteristics, there is low risk of operator-induced shake (just tell your subjects to stay still).

Dad and David (Sony RX 100 III ISO3200)

Out where the light is better, I remain very impressed with this series of cameras. At lower ISO’s the files are very nice, with low noise, nice color and good dynamic range. And the increased depth of field seen from small sensors definitely has its uses.

Let me put it this way: if I was hiking with only the RX100 mark III and I came upon a killer photographic opportunity, I would have much less regret over not having better equipment than with any compact camera I have ever owned. Don’t get me wrong, this is no full frame DSLR. But you can work around most of its limitations. That such a lens, viewfinder, and imager can fit in a pants pocket, is impressive indeed.

Cattails on the Old Pond (Sony RX 100 III)

I am, as I am sure you are, bored with the monotonous early winter Pennsylvania landscapes I have been encountering. So I am planning a trip to somewhere completely different. I like this camera so much that along with the X100s (with the tele adapter) this will be the only camera that I bring along.

I think I’ll have a ball.

We’ll talk more when I return.

 

 

 

 

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Christmas 2014

Holiday Hockey at Lake Placid (Nikon D 700, Tokina 28-80 ATX f2.8)

It’s Christmas Day!

The staff of Henrysmithscottage.com wishes all of you a happy, healthy, holiday season, specifically a Merry Christmas , a happy Hanukkah, and a blessed New Year.

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Am I worthy? Shooting with High Resolution Imagers

 

Christmas Shed (Nikon D800E, Nikkor 50mm f1.8G handheld)

Two years ago, Nikon pushed DSLR resolution to new heights, by eclipsing their pro-level D3x and its 24mp full frame imager, with a similar sized 36mp chip in a semi-pro body called the D800.

This body became widely recognized as the most capable digital 35mm format SLR in industry,  not only because of resolution, but  also class-leading sensor characteristics such as dynamic range.

Yet there’s always a fly in the ointment. Even with the D3x (which was itself a large leap forward in resolution), experienced photographers recognized that high resolution can expose the flaws in one’s technique and lens collection, much more so than lower megapixel devices. This  potentially steals away some of the sensors resolving power. Some pundits went as far as to suggest  that inexperienced photographers “need not apply”.

Two Horses Nikon D800E, Nikkor 50mm f1.8 G, tripod, hand release, 100% crop)

In a previous article, I discussed my recent acquisition of a D800E, the slightly higher resolution version of the D800. With the introduction of the Nikon D810, along with the Sony A7r, there are now multiple 36 mp platforms which are relatively affordable. Just how hard are they to shoot? How will they do when fitted with less than pro level glass? Am I better off with this camera, or the lighter, simpler 24mp D600?

I’ve been shooting my D800E for several weeks now. I have been deliberately shooting in different situations and styles in an effort to see just how challenging it will be to obtain most if not all of the resolution that this instrument has to offer. For this report, I will comment on my experiences using the D800E with varying levels of “shooting discipline” in terms of camera stabilization,, and shutter release.

Creekside Loop (Nikon D 800E, Nikkor 50mm f1.8G, Monopod)

For the uninitiated; obtaining the highest resolution/sharpest image from any camera, requires good shooting technique. I’ve discussed this elsewhere.

Most full frame DSLRs, when compared to mirrorless cameras, announce their shutter release with a big mechanical “clunk”. This is because not only does the big focal plane shutter move, but also the largish mirror needed to divert the image to the viewfinder between shots. This momentum needs to be damped so it will not  blur the image. Add in the movement induced by depressing the shutter, as well as involuntary tics during the shot and a lot can go wrong. When you have 36 megapixels of resolution, any little motion blur is evident on careful review of the image, and may well be visible on the large prints made possible by this sensor.

To see just how challenging things are, I have been shooting the D800E multiple ways: freehand, with a monopod, and clamped to a heavy duty Gitzo tripod, and with or without a remote release (it’s a wired release in the case of the D800E).

Airport in the Snow (Nikon D800E, Nikkor 50mm f1.8,Tripod, remote release)

Shooting the D800E has been an easy transition from my other Nikons. Though there have been subtle refinements, the camera body has much in common with both the prosumer bodies such as my D600, and the pro level D700 I sold several years ago.

I never thought twice about freehand shooting with the 12mp D700, but with the D600’s 24mp chip, I have tended to use it mainly on a tripod, with its convenient infra-red remote  to minimize camera movement. Thus, it didn’t get as much use as the lighter, 16mp Fujis, which I use to shoot more spontaneously.

Mylet Farm (Nikon D800E, Nikkor 50mm f1.8G,Tripod, remote release)

It’s easy to be fooled when reviewing images shot with this camera. Typical monitors do not have anywhere near the resolution of this imager which creates a 7,360 X 4,912 file. When the full image is viewed on the screen, the detail is underwhelming. In Adobe Bridge the previews often appeared smeared and unsharp. Only when zoom in to a point where the area viewed has roughly the same number of pixels as the monitor (the so called 100% view), do you appreciate the incredibly fine detail the camera can render.

Another issue is depth-of-field, which for wide apertures on larger imager cameras can be fairly shallow leaving much of the image out of focus. When evaluating an image, it is important to remember where you put the focus point, as details elsewhere may naturally look blurred, leading to you to believe that your shot discipline was at fault.

Here’s a good example, a landscape scene I almost deleted at first glance, because it looked blurred.

Down the Nescopeck in December(Nikon D800E, Nikkor 50mm f1.8G,Tripod, remote release)

100% this impression is revealed to be illusion as there is no evidence of the camera shake I assumed had occurred.

!00% Crop

I wanted a challenging subject. Here is a picture of one of my usual models, Greg (not pretty, works cheap), in  pub lighting, at high ISO, but still a slow shutter speed (1/20th second).

Greg at the Ice House(Nikon D800E, Nikkor 50mm f1.8G, hand held @1/20th sec)

On magnified review, there is really no blurring (but at 3200 ISO  definitely some noise) but it looks sharp and detailed as an 8″x 10″ print. At A3 size, it still looks  good but I would print it no larger.

100% crop

The Fuji X100 series with their very soft shutter, and better high ISO performance, for me still rule in this domain.

Still I think one could use this camera very much in the way I have used its lower megapixel Nikon brethren. Oh, you’ll see more of your mistakes, but the sheer resolution of the imager, makes possible very nice- looking fair -sized prints, even when there’s a bit of blur.  I certainly don’t think The D800/E is significantly ”fussier” than my D600.

Despite this, for me, this will be a landscape camera, used mainly with camera support. The small Fuji’s have more than enough imager for 99.9% of my usual work, and are much lighter, more discrete, and I think more fun to shoot. And without a mirror flying around within the body, they are much less like to suffer camera movement issues at low shutter speeds.

Hay Bales at Red Rock (Nikon D800E, Nikkor 85mm f1.8D,Tripod, remote release)

But for inclusive, immersive landscapes that demand to be printer large, the big Nikon imager will be just the right tool for the job.

And the 24 megapixel Nikon D600 will likely be listed on Ebay.

By the way…It’s in really good shape.

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