The Death of Kaizen? A Change in Fujifilm’s Update Strategy.

 

Greenhouse Plants and Vases (Fujifilm X100s)

It’s hard to remember now, but was actually back in September of 2010, that Fujifilm, abandoned the hybrid Fujifilm imager/Nikon body template that it had been following since the early 2000’s, and introduced a new and intriguing digital camera that hearkened back to rangefinder cameras of the past.  This camera, known as the X 100, was introduced as a premium product for the discerning photographer.

It was a beautiful camera, and its design evoked an emotional response from older photographers, who could recall an earlier age when camera settings were set by turning dials, and aperture rings.   It featured, a fast , sharp fixed focus lens, and an excellent imager.   It had the effect of reducing photography,which had been increasingly complicated by burgeoning technology, back to its essence.

But it was a deeply flawed product at its introduction. It was slow to start-up, and slow to autofocus (if it did at all). There were serious handling problems. Manual focusing of the camera was difficult at best. I bought one of these with the original firmware; it was very frustrating.  I remember watching a podcast where Scott Kelby and his cohorts at The Grid spent half of the broadcast mocking the new “wunder camera” for its failings.

Happily when I bought mine there was already a firmware upgrade  available that mitigated many of its worst characteristics. Subsequent upgrades have transformed that camera into a truly useful tool, and established the Fujifilm philosophy of “kaizen”, or “continuous improvement”, which up to now Fujifilm has applied to the rest of its “X” camera line. In the case of that original X100, a rather sweeping upgrade was offered, even after its successor the X100s (which I currently use) was introduced.

This has, I think, has fostered fierce owner loyalty among the admittedly small (by market share), but enthusiastic group of Fuji shooters. It has undoubtedly contributed to the numbers of photographers that have abandoned their Nikon/Canon DSLRs to shoot with Fuji products confident that the gear will, when possible, be upgraded to a higher specification.

Recently in an interview conducted by The Imaging Resource, Makoto Oishi, a Fujifilm Marketing representative, announced that there would be no further firmware upgrades for the X100s, which has recently been superseded by the “t” model. The X100t has some improvements which may be software based such as autofocus improvements, and face detection. There are  also some definite hardware upgrades, including a USB charging function, split image viewfinder, and WiFi. All of this was compelling enough to me as an X100s owner that I  ordered one.

Now as regular readers know, I am not one to upgrade lightly. Some of the desirable features of the newer camera were clearly impossible to apply to the older models, so I, like many others, pulled the trigger. However, one suspects some improvements , perhaps the new autofocus algorithms, and the “classic chrome” film simulation, might have been included in an upgrade for the “s” model without tarnishing the desirability of its follow on model (they share the same processor). This kind of support for older models was SOP with Fuji up to now.

There certainly may be reasons why Fujifilm is changing its practices.  They are after all small-volume producer of camera gear, good as it is. Given the  burgeoning number of models in the “X” line , it may no longer be fiscally feasible to maintain this practice. Also  it is true, as time has gone on, that newer cameras are introduced now in a much more mature state, and no longer really beg for upgrades. (Patrick, at Fujirumors, has a nice essay on this).

Still, from a marketing standpoint, I think that Mr. Oishi’s statement was an “unforced error”. I also think it is one from which they can easily recover. All they would need to do is to issue an upgrade to the X 100s as suggested two paragraphs above, and then say no more.  Clearly this is technically feasible. As many people have reported, well-known Fuji shooter, and applied light master David Hobby, has used a X100s courtesy of Fuji, with the “Classic Chrome” film simulation  enabled.

Companies cannot make a living giving things away for free. To those of us who have invested in the Fujifilm system, it is in our best interest that the company’s  consumer photographic division remains viable.

On the other hand, if Fujifilm largely abandons the “kaizen” philosophy, it will be abandoning an attribute that made it distinct from its more mainstream competition. That I think, would be a mistake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Full Moon Madness

 

Bonfire at Cascade(Fujifilm XE-2, XF 23mm f1.4)

I love traditions. Sadly, I’m old enough to have seen many that I once enjoyed come and go. It often seems that few survive more than 10-15 years until people either “outgrow” them, the government outlaws them, or sensibilities change, leaving them behind. Sometimes their passing makes sense, and I have little regret. There are however, those wonderful traditions, that once lost, are greatly missed.

Happily, some traditions still survive. Just outside of Lake Placid New York,  Art Jubin and his family run The Cascade Cross Country Ski Center, where my family and I are frequent visitors.

Cascade is one of my favorite destinations in the “high peaks” area of the Adirondacks. The resort consists of a large central lodge, with, a number of cozy hostel-type bunk rooms in the basement, and on the first floor, a full service Nordic ski shop and service facility. My old friend Terry Watson is the cross-country ski instructor.

The Fireplace at Cascade(Fujifilm XE-2, XF 23mm f1.4)

There is a large  casual high-ceilinged bar and restaurant facility, with a huge stone fireplace, that can be a great comfort after a long ski on a cold afternoon. Most days in the winter they offer a nice lunch menu, very appropriate to the winter season. The dining room faces huge glass windows, with an absolutely breathtaking view of Algonquin, second tallest of the Adirondack’s high peaks. Though Cascade certainly serves many visitors to the region, it is also definitely a gathering spot for a certain local crowd.

I came to know Cascade in the late 1990s when I first visited one December afternoon for “apres’ ski” in the company of the irrepressible Dick Hall, well-known in the winter sports industry as one of the pioneers of “Telemark” skiing. I was immediately taken with the place.  To this day, it remains a hang-out for somewhat eccentric Nordic skiing aficionados (sorta like me), as well as characters from the nearby Olympic cross-country, ski jumping and bobsled facilities. To visit there, particularly  on a Thursday or Friday afternoon is to enjoy the company of some very unique and fun people.

Carrie at the Bar (Fujifilm XE-2, XF 23mm f1.4)

The facility sits on  some of the most beautiful property in the region. Though it is closed in the summer,  it is generally open between late November and late March. There are many kilometers of well-groomed cross-country ski trails that access a wide variety of natural habitats, and spectacular vistas. Over the years, many times images from Cascade have been featured in articles on the site. It’s relatively easy to get nice images there.

Our winter trips to Lake Placid stereotypically occur in mid-January and early March. Every so often, if we get lucky, our travels there coincide with their signature event known as Full Moon Madness. This event, much-anticipated in the region, occurs 3 times during the winter, each time on the Saturday closest to the full moon.

At the Door (Fujifilm XE-2, XF 23mm f1.4)

Art’s daughter Jennifer tells me that the family has run this event continuously since the early 1980’s. It is a well-regarded and very popular local tradition. On “Full Moon” night, cars not only fill the large parking lot, but extend a mile or so down Route 73 in both directions. For a modest sum, it’s a lot of entertainment.

Getting Ready (Fujifilm XE-2, XF 23mm f1.4)

On that evening, the trails are illuminated with Coleman lanterns set up to guide skiers and snowshoers to several large bonfires built on the trail system. There a visitor will find draft beer, and hot dogs to be cooked over the open flames. It is not necessarily elegant, but it sure is festive and convivial.

Cooking (Fujifilm XE-2, XF 23mmf1.4)

Cross-country skiing in the dark can be a challenge . Mix in a little beer or wine and it becomes even more so. A head lamp is very helpful particularly if it is cloudy. Novice skiers should think about snowshoeing to the bonfires, so to avoid being tangled up in the balsams, or mired awkwardly in the trailside snowpack.

Getting Started (Fujifilm XE-2, XF 23mm f1.4)

Round about 9:00, live music begins in the bar/restaurant and the crowd there slowly swells, as the trails begin to empty out. Some diehards stay out in the woods all night.

Living in the Adirondacks for the winter requires a hardy spirit which is evident as the dance floor fills with my fellow aging hipsters. The “enthusiasm” continues to the wee hours, when one generally observes a line of cabs queuing to pick up somewhat “tired” partygoers.

The Dancing Begins (Fujifilm XE-2, XF 23mm f1.4)

Important safety tip: If you visit Cascade on the post-full moon Sunday, do not in any way irritate the otherwise pleasant staff. Not only is Full Moon is exhausting to set up and run, but cleanup extends into the pre-dawn hours. Regulars tend to tread lightly the day afterwards for fear of verbal abuse, if not bodily injury.

Though Art Jubin Sr. remains in overall command, it is a relief to me to see the next generation of the Jubin family, particularly Art Jr. and now his younger sister Jennifer, embrace this unique institution and  this wonderful winter event. I would hope to ski and visit there for many years to come.

This is one tradition that I would sorely miss should it be lost.

 

As usual, images in this article can be viewed ful size at henrysmithscottage@.smugmug.com in the gallery: Winter 2014-15

 

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Some Thoughts on my new XE-2 vs. the XE-1

 

The “Campaign” Trail (Fujifilm XE2, XF 18-55mm f2.8)

Earlier this winter, while trying to organize my photographic camera gear, I noticed a lot of equipment that had seen little  use(my RX 100) or had been funtionally replaced (my D 600).   As is my practice, I posted them on eBay; happily they sold fairly quickly and for reasonable money. This always makes me feel fiscally responsible (which is probably delusional), and more importantly, makes my wife happy. It also makes her more sanguine when days or weeks later, the UPS driver pulls up and hands her a new, camera-sized box, addressed to me.

By far the most heavily used equipment in my collection is of course my Fujifilm gear.  The newest camera in the system that I owned until recently is an X100s, which I have no desire to trade. The two latest Fuji bodies (the XE-2 and the XT-1) have newer processors, supposedly improved auto focus capabilities, and WiFi , which enables a variety of interesting functions. It occurred to me  that I out to try one of these.

 image by Fujifilm

XT1 (image by Fujifilm)

The most celebrated of the new bodies is the XT-1. The huge view finder and weather sealing make this a compelling choice for many people. Body-only, they are available for about $1100 now, and I considered buying one. However, what first attracted me to the Fujifilm “X” series was the rangefinder-like, compact form of these cameras. Because of this, they tend to be less intimidating to my subjects, especially while street, shooting. The XT-1 is not particularly large, but it looks like an SLR, which to me would not be nearly so stealthy.

Although the weather-sealed body of the XT-1 would seem to be an advantage for someone who works mainly out-of-doors, I rarely find photography opportunities when it is raining hard enough that I am reluctant to use my camera equipment. I  have used (with appropriate precautions) my current Fuji film equipment in light-to-moderate rain  or snow without any issues.  I always have my Nikon gear for use in truly adverse conditions.

XE2 (Image by Fujifilm)

XE2 (Image by Fujifilm)

 

Given all of this, as always, I elected to cheap out, and obtain a XE-2. This was available new for about $700, a significant savings over the XT-1. Thus I benefit from almost all of the newest Fuji capabilities (and the exact same sensor) in what for me is a better form factor.

This is obviously not a new model and has been reviewed multiple times in multiple publications.  I will not at this late date, add another. I offer this article as a comparison of the XE-2 to my two current interchangeable lens Fuji’s the X Pro 1, and  and the X E-1.

For this purchase I selected a black version, so, that in my camera bag I might easily tell it apart from the Almost identical  XE-1, which I have in silver. On arrival, it immediately struck just how plebian the packaging was, compared to elegant boxes that enclosed the original X100, and X Pro 1.

The XE-2’s construction is almost identical in quality to its predecessor. These cameras are perhaps slightly less robust than the upper models in the premium “X” line, but are still nicely built.

There has been some revision of the buttons on the body of the XE-2 compared to the XE-1. The “Q” button has been moved from its place handy to your right thumb, to a position just above the posterior view screen. Some people may think this is more ergonomic, but I was used to the previous set up, and this is more of an annoyance than anything else.

Twilight in February (Fujifilm XE2 , XF 35mm f1.4)

Eight of the various buttons can now have their function specified from the camera menus. This can be handy, but it can difficult to remeber which button now has which function (not much room for labels). I continue to believe that the urge to change control positions on newer devices, needs to be tempered by respect for the users familiarity with the previous control layout. This is something that Fuji tends to screw up (the variable location of the focus point selector on different Fuji cameras comes to mind).

There is a slightly larger rear viewscreen,  with more pixels.  More importantly, the view finder  with the latest software update, has almost imperceptible lag, similar to the XT-1. This is important to me, as I really rely on the electronic view  even on the Fuji models that have an electronic/optical hybrid viewfinder.

There are definitely some other significant improvements. First, the auto focus seems significantly upgraded. Fujifilm claimed that the XE-2 had the world’s fastest autofocus, when the camera was introduced. I’m not sure this was, or is, true but it is certainly quicker than previous Fuji’s. Comparison to earlier bodies also makes it clear that one can definitely acquire focus in situations where previous cameras would struggle. This to me is a real reason to upgrade.

Related to the autofocus is the availability of face detection. This has proved to be a very useful feature to the point where it has me considering an upgrade of my X100s to the “T” model which also has this feature. It can be set up to toggle on and off with a “function” button. It will quicly find focus and set exposure for multiple faces in a scene. unfortunately, it defaults to a fixed central focus point in the absence of a face(rather than a movable focus box) and thus needs to be turned on and off as conditions change. Could this be a future firmware fix?

Scott and Ashley (Fujifilm XE2, XF 23mm f1.4)

I was very interested in the utility and usability of the Wi-Fi feature. The Sony RX 100 mark III was the first camera. I have owned with this feature, but it has proved difficult to link that camera with, for instance, my Samsung phone. In the case of the XE-2, I downloaded the Fujifilm app and was easily able to link to my phone. The remote control feature seems fairly well-designed, allowing control of focus point, aperture, exposure compensation, and a variety of other camera controls. I’m not sure what I will use it for, but it works well.

The camera has essentially the same sensor as my X 100s and the newer Fuji’s. So, image quality is essentially unchanged from any of the previous “X” bodies. Fine, I am satisfied with that. It does apparently output 14 bit rather than 12 bit RAW files which is a theoretical advantage for post processing.

Back of Fountain Lake (Fujifilm XE2, XF 18-55mm f2.8)

So, I have a new camera body. I may sell the XE-1 or use it alongside the newer camera. Given my love of the Fujifilm prime lenses, it’s always nice to have a variety of bodies available so that you can travel about with multiple focal lengths mounted and ready.

I am however, waiting for the flagship X Pro 2, which is rumored to finally have a higher-resolution sensor, and a smaller body than its predecessor. I would assume it will have weather sealing, Wi Fi,  and some of the other positive features of the XT-1/ XE-2. Depending on the quality improvements in the sensor, it will likely be a tempting upgrade.

It just never ends, does it?

 

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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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