Available Now! – Lubitel’s First Year

7 December 2021

After a year and a half of living with a Lubitel as a part of my photography habit, I have finally completed and released into the wild a compilation of the first year-ish of images from it. Lubitel’s First Year is available directly from Blurb as a print-on-demand item. The book is shipped as a 7”x 7” hardback consisting of 147 pages of images and text on premium matte photographic print paper. You can see a preview and purchase a copy of the book here. You can also link to the book through "Printed Collections" at the left of this page.

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Gössen Pilot II, Lubitel 166B and the book they made together

As I wrote in the book, I never set out to actually build a project around the camera, but a year’s worth of adventures with the Lubitel culminated in about 15 rolls of developed film. This particular book is more “warts and all” than most of my photographic publications; I have included images which I consider to be very rough around the edges as well as ones that I managed to get right in most respects (in my opinion). The subject matter is diverse. I have photographed all kinds of subjects with the Lubitel. What is going to be noticeably absent are pictures of people. My wife was really the only model I spent any time with during the months of lockdown (for obvious reasons) and she won’t sign a model release (just kidding – mostly).

What a Lubitel and some HP5 can lead to

Moving on from that, I will wish everyone a merry Christmas and safe year’s end. I hope that each of you is healthy for the holidays and that you have joy for the season that extends through the year ahead.

Photography Calling – There’s a world outside my window

6 November 2021

Just by absolute chance, I ran across an interview with Canadian “street photographer" George Webber which was conducted by the Glenbow Museum of Art and History in Calgary, Alberta. The interview, which was conducted by wire during 2020, revolved around an exhibition of Vivian Maier photographs at the Glenbow and the many facets of the work on display as well as of the person behind the work.

In the interview, George spoke about what drives some people to photograph the world around them. He has his own reasons, Vivian obviously had hers. I have previously thought of my own urge to photograph the world around me as some sort of ‘calling’, but I don’t necessarily feel that others would find that sort of a title for what I do anything but snobbish self-importance. I’m not saving lives with a camera, for God’s sake, I’m just burning up electrons (or film) and my time, right?

I may have been a bit harsh on myself. Webber described Vivian Maier’s compulsions as a sort of calling. In her lifetime, she largely kept her photographs to herself. Shortly before she died in 2009, it was discovered that something like 30% of her hundreds of thousands of exposures had never been developed, let alone shown to anyone.

Webber’s hypothesis was that Maier used her photographic process as a sort of release from the daily grind of being a professional nanny. That analysis has resonated with me because I often find myself uplifted by the very thought of getting away from my responsibilities and into my not-so-secret, alternative world of capturing images. (In my head I have a sort of Calvin & Hobbes daydream sequence going right now, in fact.)

Related, but going in a slightly different direction, I have just finished a project involving a significant portion of my film photography during the 2020-2021 phase of the Covid-19 pandemic. I did not set out to make a physical book when I purchased an old TLR camera and started taking pictures with it. Instead, I wanted to get out and explore areas where it was safe from contaminating others/being contaminated and to relieve my mind of the stress associated with lockdowns, uncertainty, and countless numbers of fatalities.

Approximately 15 rolls of 120 film and a few hundred hours later, I had the makings for a book. The idea for the book formed itself around the old camera in some ways, but the images that are included in the book are from the world outside my window (mostly) and they chronicle the time smack in the middle of what (we hope) was the worst period of the pandemic without any direct references to the pandemic. That book will be for sale shortly on my website and I will likely give it a shameless plug in this space next month. (It’s sure to be a great stocking-stuffer for those who are photographically-inclined! Hint, hint.)

Back to the interview with George… Photography is many things to many people. To me it is a piece of life itself. Subconsciously, when I bought my first SLR in 1990, I think there was already an understanding of that in a nascent form and I now realize just how important it has been to keeping me on the tracks when things have been total shit in my life. As an example, I spent a part of every day for a month capturing images of all kinds of subjects during the time after my father’s death in 2014. I only now realize it was therapeutic – a tool for helping me get through the grief of losing yet another member of my family and a way to set my sails for moving on.

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This is why I don't show every image to others!

With that, I will close for the time being. As we rapidly approach the end of 2021, I wish everyone who has taken the time to read this blog a sincere thank you. I know the readership here is small (understandably - there is so much more to the world than the ramblings of a guy living in western Ireland, I know), so I have been surprised and uplifted by the feedback I have recently received on this space and the rest of my website. Cheers!

Empty Calories – Looking back at one year on Flickr

18 September 2021

I’m supposed to be writing a scientific manuscript right now, but I’m actually flipping through countless images on Flickr, instead.

I reluctantly joined Flickr in August of last year for a couple of reasons. The first was so I could find and follow interesting work and the second was a desire to show some of my images to a greater expanse of viewers than I normally do and to see what these viewers think about them.

Flickr has a lot of extremely interesting images produced by talented individuals using a variety of imaging tools and techniques.

It’s also chock-full of utterly useless crap and downright offensive ‘art’ that really doesn’t fit with the former. I would like to qualify that I have a wide acceptance of art and imagery that is not prudish or easily transgressed, so when something hits me as ‘offensive’, it’s usually pretty gross (yes, that’s the right term) and well beyond the realm of fetish or the exploration of taboo. I digress, yes, but only slightly.

Anyway, I am struck by the amazing work people from every nook and cranny of the globe have chosen to share with anyone who cares to have a look. The work on Flickr can be inspiring – not necessarily the most polished and heavily-edited stuff I might add. I am most notably inspired by those who have done impressive things with the simplest cameras and editing methods. Pinhole images, images captured with 100-year-old 8x10s, wet-plate captures, heliographs, abstracts, portraits of people and animals, and breathtaking landscapes - those all rock.

What about my own work on Flickr? How has that been received?

Well, it’s complicated, I suppose. First, I get very little in the way of real feedback, but I do get some useful feedback on a regular basis from a very small cohort of “followers”. We’re talking like 10 people at most. I have managed to get three images selected (by the mysterious, voodoo-like algorithms of Flickr’s computers – or so they say) for their daily “Explore” collection during the last twelve months and notably all of these in the last three months. Apparently only 1 out of 17000 images uploaded per day gets qualified for Explore and a smaller number actually gets posted in the group. Images being tagged as favorites and numbers of views vary wildly, but what is most distressing as that it’s been a full twelve months and I have only amassed 65 followers – some of which have come and gone already. I in turn am following 67 Flickr members, but only about 1/3 of those contributors actually put new photos up on a regular basis. I am right at 140k views across all of my images at this moment.

Explored on 17th Sept 2021 - 5000 views and 180 Faves - Ok, so what?

Having one of my images added to Flickr Explore is a lot like downing a double espresso with three lumps of sugar and shot of whiskey on the side; it’s sweet and exciting for all of five minutes. I never gain any followers from Explore exposure (no pun intended) and nobody seems to look at any of my other images as a result of seeing my image on Explore even though I might get 5000 views and 150 “Faves” on a single image in the collection over 24 hours. It’s really hollow in many ways, but given the massive volume of images on Flickr, maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.

I’ll add that I uploaded my first image to Flickr over three months after originally joining. I intend to keep adding images at a rate of about one per day until the end of this year. I’m then going to re-evaluate how I feel about the whole thing before going further. I still have about 600 images-worth of free space on my free account, so I could go for another whole year of one-per-day uploads.

But, ultimately, I keep asking myself what the point is. I need to determine if it does me or any of my followers (small as the group might be) any good for me to continue. Right now, it’s not looking good for my future on Flickr.

***UPDATE December 2021 - as of now my Flickr followers have expanded to 82 and I have had two more images featured in Explore. I have had a few Flickr members say they have read this blog and have offered me not only feedback on what I have posted on Flickr but also on this website. I am grateful for the kind words of the many who have offered them.***

Mirror Mirror – Revisiting the Pentax K-x DSLR in 2021

7 August 2021

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Full Frontal -now over a decade old; the K-x

Way back in the spring of 2009, I first got the itch to upgrade from my Canon S3is bridge camera. Five years and three digital cameras prior to the S3is, I was still using a Minolta X-700 film SLR and by the time I got to the S3is, I thought the need for an interchangeable lens camera of any kind in my life had passed. I had seen the future and the future was the all-in-one, EVF camera.

Then physics walked in the door, removed one glove, and slapped me silly with it.

Diminutive sensor size was the number one issue that plagued the all-in-one cameras of the day and still plagues most of them today. I needed more sensor real estate to do things like slim-up the depth of field and capture subjects in really low light. There was (still is) no true work-around for physics. Only with intense computational trickery – that’s now the boon of phone cameras – can one begin to sidestep the laws of physics and those computational approaches really hadn’t been developed well enough at the time to be taken seriously.

In 2009, Olympus was kicking a lot of butts with their original E-Volt 4/3 sensor cameras and it had just released the E-620, a consumer-grade camera with a massive amount going for it including in-body stabilization and live view capability. But, on the horizon, there were rumors that Pentax was going to put out a successor to their entry-level KM which would have a new APS-C sensor capable of working well into single digit lux scale – a sensor so useable in low light that it would best Pentax’s own flagship K-7 by a 2+ stop margin in terms of signal to noise – along with live view and in-body stabilization.

It was a tough decision for me, but by September of 2009, Pentax had secured a sale. I ordered the K-x and a Tamron 18-200 lens to begin to get to know it in time for my December trip to Egypt. The three main factors in this decision were 1) price:performance ratio, 2) low light capability, and 3) the universality of the K-mount.

In most respects, right out of the box and with a consumer-grade superzoom lens, the K-x did exactly what I needed a camera to do 80+% of the time. I kept on using that single DSLR until I bought subsequent K-30 and K-5 bodies. The lens choice – both AF and manual – available in K-mount was truly amazing and that also kept me using the K-x for many years. My K-x now has around 30K cycles on the shutter.

Down The Tubes – from the K-x with a DA-50 50mm f/1.8 lens on it

By today’s standards, the K-x’s 12 MP sensor seems well out of place in the MP arms race. However, engineers still recognize the advantages of keeping the pixel count low for low-light applications (just think of the Sony A7S III – it is also a 12 MP camera, albeit with a bigger sensor). Today, I am still really impressed by the K-x’s output – even with JPEGs. In fact, I would say it produces the best JPEGs of the Pentax bodies I own. I have tried to replicate the output by changing settings on my other bodies, but only the K-5 comes close. Unfortunately, the downside of the K-x’s processing approach is its tendency to completely blow out highlights. In high contrast lighting situations, I tend to leave the K-x set to -1/3 EV most of the time just to compensate for that tendency.

When I pick up the K-x today, I am struck by the apparent tininess of the optical viewfinder, the plasticky feel of the body, and the incredible amount of noise and vibration made by the autofocus motor, mirror, shutter and aperture control working together. The K-x has a penta-mirror instead of a penta-prism and it’s not a particularly good setup, either. If I compare the experience of using the K-x’s viewfinder to even my el-cheapo Sony α3000’s EVF, it’s really no contest; I definitely prefer the small EVF over the small optical viewfinder. Plus the Sony has the advantage of providing much, much more info in the viewfinder window as well as the WYSIWYG display that is nearly real time. Live view performance with K-x is painful. While it was cutting-edge for a consumer DSLR of the day, it’s awful by any standard now.

Heads – also from the K-x with the DA-50

Recently, I took the K-x out for a week-long run with only the Pentax DA-50 50mm f/1.8 lens. I ended up using it mostly in monochrome mode. I still really like the images I can get out of it, but I don’t like the experience of using the camera anymore. In digital camera terms, if feels a bit like an elderly cousin to the mirrorless designs I regularly use now.

Tried and True – A long term evaluation of my Sony NEX-6

11 July 2021

It started innocently enough, my indoctrination to interchangeable lens, mirrorless technologies. On an afternoon in 2016, I played with a used Panasonic GX1 in a pawn shop. That ten minutes changed my opinion of a whole genre of photographic tools forever.

A couple of months later, I ran across a near-mint Sony NEX-6 with low mileage for €200. I’m rarely so impulsive, but the combination of the APS-C sensor, the good-quality electronic viewfinder and the capability to easily adapt my Minolta lenses (as well as my Pentax K and M42 collection) made the impulse buy justifiable. Now, five years later, I’m looking at this little camera with a clear understanding of what it enabled. The little NEX-6 has become my favorite camera for day-to-day use and for most travel scenarios.

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The Sony NEX-6 wearing the often-despised 28-70 OSS 'kit lens' for FE

I would like to note that I use the NEX-6 most often with one of the most hated Sony FE lenses, the 28-70 f/3.5-5.6 OSS ‘kit lens’ (for a 42-105 mm field of view equivalent in 135 format) and I like it enough to keep doing it without too much hesitation. This combination makes a completely unobtrusive companion with my everyday life in a way that most of my other cameras cannot. This camera and lens combination is the most likely to be casually taken with me on my bike, on rambles around town or my neighborhood, or on road trips with a couple of other lenses – most notably an E-mount Samyang 12mm f/2.0 (equivalent to 18mm in full-frame terms) and an ancient Hoya 135mm f/2.8 in K-mount (a pocket-sized 200 mm f/2.8 equivalent). If I had to choose a “desert island” camera kit out of what I currently own, the NEX-6 with this trio of lenses would probably be it.

Back streets of Ancona, Italy, with the NEX-6 and a kit lens

We can all agree or disagree about the 16 MP sensor quality in today’s double-stacked, ultra-high resolution, low-noise sensor terms, but the little Exmor’s overall quality is extremely good in the vast majority of situations I use it in and I don’t find it’s decade-old vintage to be any sort of a problem. If this same sensor was treated to newer processing algorithms (and one might say it partially is when RAW files are being processed with the most recent software – but that’s a bit of a stretch), the noise and dynamic range shortcomings would likely melt away. This sensor is of the same era as those 16 MP Sony units in my Pentax K-30 and K-5, but for most purposes I prefer the output I get from the NEX-6. 16 MP is, at least for me, plenty of pixels for the vast majority of what I am using these images for.

Brakey Bits - via the NEX-6 with the Hoya 135mm f/2.8

Now with nearly 30k on the shutter, the NEX-6’s controls are starting to act up once in a while and the multi-coating is just about gone from the tilty LCD, so it’s beginning to show some signs of age. But, it’s not down-for-the-count just yet. I envision that I will eventually buy one of the better Sony α6XXX bodies to replace the NEX-6 when I happen to find a bargain. But, until I do, the little NEX-6 and I will continue to have fun together. After owning about a dozen digital cameras of all sorts, the fact that this little, inexpensive, and decidedly outdated consumer camera can still take the title of my personal favorite is nothing short of remarkable.

Flying High(line) – my first year with the Montague

30 May 2021

To me, a bicycle is at once a recreational item, a fitness item and a photography tool. That last suggestion my raise eyebrows, but I’ll explain more in a moment.

Following the untimely demise of my K2 Attack due to the effects of persistent moisture and lime exposure here on the Soggy Island, I decided what I really needed was a bike that could 1) be stored indoors without getting in the way too much, 2) be transported more easily in a small vehicle or on a bus if necessary, and 3) eliminate the extra weight and complexity of rear suspension (I simply don’t need it here on this island). Added to that, it had to be very durable and to actually accommodate a person of my frame (6’2” and 200 lbs) without too much ‘clown-bike’ factor.

Folding bikes were a logical focus because they can satisfy 1, 2 and 3 above, but often they have small wheels and short wheelbases – not good for tall, heavy riders and also not good for much more than flat pavement. I looked at offerings from folding bike manufacturers Tern, Dahon and Montague.

Montague Bikes is a US company known for its Paratrooper series of folding all-terrain bikes. The original Paratrooper had 26” wheels, traditional 3x8 gearing, mechanical disc brakes, a low-end front shock and some pretty low-end components on a folding aluminum frame. After about a decade of production, Montague upgraded the range with a new clamping mechanism for the frame and with some additional models, including the Paratrooper Pro – moving up to a 3x9 drivetrain and with some improved components. Montague most recently added a ‘luxury’ version called the Paratrooper Elite and also a slightly lower-spec version called the Paratrooper Highline which sits second from the top of the range.

After much consideration and a couple false starts, I ended up with a large-frame, 2020 Paratrooper Highline sourced from Winstanley’s Bikes in the UK. The Highline has 27.5” wheels, hydraulic Tektro discs, a 2x10 Shimano SLX + Suntour XCM drivetrain, Rockshox XC-30 fork with a lockout and some slightly upgraded components over the Paratrooper Pro. Plus it has a very nice blue-gray finish unique to the model that almost makes it look as though the frame is anodized (but it’s actually painted). It’s understated and much more tasteful than the garish black, white and red of the $3k Paratrooper Elite, in my opinion.

The Montague Highline - Arizona Edition

After a year of riding the Highline, I have a lot to say about it. I’ll start with what I really like about it. First and foremost, it’s a full-size mountain bike that folds up fairly small and it is completely capable of actually being ridden hard like a ‘regular’ mountain bike, even over some of the roughest technical terrain. Most of the time, I cannot tell that this bike has a folding frame when I’m on it. Montague has done a very good job of ensuring that the bike is rigid. When folded, I can actually fit this bike behind the back seat of my compact car, and if I remove the saddle, it fits in that space so completely that one cannot see the bike inside the car at all. That’s a great bonus for taking the bike on more distant excursions and for simply leaving the bike in the car for the unexpected riding opportunity without it being a target for theft. The Kenda tires included on the bike are amongst the best I’ve ever had and simply stick to the ground at all times. The drivetrain is better than adequate and the brakes are very good. The saddle is quite good for a factory unit and is pretty comfortable even on a 20+ mile ride.

What don’t I like? First, the geometry is decidedly old-school. The top-tube (mono-tube, actually) is short and the head tube is angled in such a way that a tall rider like myself cannot use a handlebar stem with less fork overhang because it would shorten the reach too much. Also, the original handlebar that came with the bike was laughably narrow at only 560 mm (and for no good reason!) – I replaced that with a 700 mm unit on day one (and probably should have gone a bit wider, in fact). The factory grips and pedals were practically junk – both were replaced with much better versions immediately. Another major gripe is that either the seatpost was too narrow for the frame or the seat tube diameter too wide for the seatpost. Either way, I had to use a shim to get the seatpost to stop creeping or twisting on me. Finally, there is some weirdness with the quick-release clamp on the frame. At some point, the bolt that holds the ‘crown’ of the rear triangle onto the frame worked its way loose. I only noticed it after I experienced a bit of noise out of the joint. Even though the clamp itself was tight, there was play in the whole rear triangle. I ended up having to re-tighten and ‘tune’ the clamp to get it to hold the rear triangle securely. The challenge with that is that one cannot simply tighten the bolt completely because there has to be some play to allow the clamp to move slightly during unlocking and locking. In my opinion, a bike that costs what this one did should not have issues like these right out of the box.

Arrived by Highline, Pano-ed with Sony - Furbo Strand, Co. Galway

I said that a bike is a photography tool. What I meant is that a bike allows cross-country and cross-town transit that’s faster than on foot, but slower than in a car. I can travel just fast enough to cover ground on a bike while still getting the opportunity to observe what’s around me. And, in many cases, I can stop on a whim, pull my camera from my backpack and get to work. It’s freedom on two wheels (and that was especially true during the months of lockdown we experienced throughout this pandemic).

Yeah, I was on my bike when I spotted this, too.

I would recommend the Montague Highline with the caveats that it’s not going to be winner without some modifications on behalf of the owner. If you consider this bike at all, you’ll need to budget at least another $150-200 to add better bars, grips, and pedals and probably another $50 or so for a seatpost if you don’t want to go the route I did with an aluminum shim. It’s a good bike, but not a great one – except for its ability to fold up. That’s a party trick that is impossible to match by any other full-size mountain bike.

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! – More adventures in econo-camera land

9 May 2021

I make no secret about it; I’m absolutely not a camera snob. I will give any piece of photographic equipment the time of day as long as it has the ability to do what I want when I need it to.

In late 2017, I bought a used Sony α3000 (aka, ILCE-3000) simply because it was attached to a lens I wanted to use on my go-everywhere NEX-6 (which, by the way, is my favorite camera). I never really intended to use that bottom-of-the-line body at all, but I have since found it to be both incredibly capable and fun to use. I wrote about my experiences with it here a few years ago. It is true that the α3000 is a textbook example of compromise for profit, but it has many of the same internal imaging components as the more highly-regarded α5000 which doesn’t have the EVF or the comfy ergonomics of the α3000.

Very recently, I sold a couple of my older, Pentax-mount lenses to make way for newer, more capable glass with Sony E fittings. One of those older lenses was a 1980s version of the Tokina RMC 400 f/5.6 that I had owned for about a decade. I used that lens on a variety of cameras, but it had so many severe limitations that I never liked using it even when I got what I wanted out of it. On my Pentax K-5 and K-30 bodies, I could use that lens along with the in-body stabilization to get good images in decent light at f/8 and smaller, but it was a lot of work to focus because the lack of focus peaking (except in live view).

Sony’s own FE 100-400 tele-zoom had been on my radar as a telephoto option since it was released, but the €2500 price tag made it seem well outside of a justifiable expense in my case. Even a well-used copy of that lens fetches nearly €2k. When Sigma finally got around to offering their optically-stabilized 100-400 mm DG DN OS lens in Sony E mount, at a price that was €1500 less than the native Sony equivalent, it definitely caught my attention.

Lens-based optical stabilization is usually much better than body-based stabilization for long telephotos. Plus the ability for the Sigma to be used at its widest aperture (something my old Tokina simply could not do) makes it a much faster lens in practice than it at first seems with a maximum aperture of f/6.3 at 400 mm. I can use the Sigma effectively at f/6.3; I could not use the Tokina at aperture settings wider than f/8.

I don’t own any Sony FE ‘R’ bodies, so I am currently restricted to 24 MP in the FE format and ~10 MP in the crop mode with the A7. Thus, it makes sense for me to use one of my higher-MP APS-C bodies for the purpose of maximizing telephoto reach.

The α3000 wearing Sigma's 100-400 DG DN OS f/5-6.3 lens

When I got the Sigma, I decided to try it out on the α3000 because of its 20 MP sensor and also its rather comfortable grip. I wasn’t expecting much because the body is now pretty long in the tooth (released in 2013) and at the very bottom of the stack in terms of performance in many respects (it was that way even when it was first released). The sensor, however, gives me approximately the same pixel density of a 42 MP body in crop mode, so that’s the carrot worth chasing in this scenario.

Well hello Mrs. Blackbird - the Sigma 100-400 @ 400 and f/7.1

I’m happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised when using the new Sigma telephoto zoom on the old α3000. Within reason, the combination works remarkably well. If I use the autofocus limiter on the lens appropriately, focus acquisition is pretty good initially, but very good in situations where only minor refocus is necessary. I have used the Sigma/Sony combination in all modes and even in rather lousy lighting with better-than-acceptable results.

Where the α3000 falls down very hard is with the frame rate and the write-to-card rate, especially with JPEG+RAW capture. There is practically no buffer inside the α3000. If I want to use multi-frame capture and at a fast enough rate to actually be useful, I need to switch to JPEG only which is certainly not great for PP purposes.

Female stonechat on a wire - Sigma at 400 mm and f/6.3

That said, I have been very happy with the output from the α3000's sensor when the Sigma 100-400 is on board. Birding is now possible thanks to the 600mm equivalent reach and I still have the option of cropping a good bit if necessary since I have 20 MP to start with. The in-lens stabilization is nothing short of amazing. With stationary subjects and a bit of breath control, I have captured repeatable, crystal-clear images at 400 mm and 1/30 second with the α3000/Sigma DN combo hand-held. That to me is absolutely astounding.

Whimbrel working the inter-tidal zone - Sigma @ 400 and f/6.3

Someday I will probably bite the bullet and buy a much more advanced Sony body for this specific purpose, but until I do, I will continue to have some fun with my econo-telephoto setup. I will encourage the curious out there to do the same if so inclined.

Longing for AZ and the Four Corners Region – There is no place like it

28 March 2021

Last June, I started to write the entry below with a focus on Cameron Trading Post in Northern Arizona. Then I stopped, suddenly.

It was an overwhelming feeling of homesickness that washed over me as I contemplated that it might be as much as two to three years before I would be able to return to my home again. Thankfully, we have some light at the end of the tunnel with the potential of vaccine technology to at least help us begin to return to a life more normal than it is now.

Thus, I’m sharing the unfinished piece below. I have added a bit of analysis of my feelings at the end.

I thought about adding another equipment post this month. However, as the photography world’s obsession with the latest-and-greatest “kit” has risen to the point of neurotic behavior, I’m going to refrain, especially in this travel-less time we’re currently living in.

During a brief trip to my home state in November [November 2019, that is], my wife and I took a friend, who’s originally from France and who is now resident of Ireland, on a road trip to see a handful of the bright spots in Arizona’s extensive repertoire of beautiful places. No such trip for the completely-uninitiated AZ visitor would be complete without a chance to stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon.

With only enough time for a short visit, logistics can be a challenge. Grand Canyon Village is roughly 60 miles from just about anywhere (except Tusayan, which is not my cup of tea when it comes to places to stay in Northern Arizona).

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The Grand Canyon - As if it needed an introduction!

In my opinion, the best way to go about maximizing time at the Canyon is by staying close by the night before and, ideally, after a visit. Thus, my wife and I chose to take our traveling companion from Phoenix to Williams on the first day of our excursion, spend the night there, and then drive to the South Rim early in the morning to maximize the amount of daylight available for exploring the length of South Rim Drive.

When the sun finally disappeared beyond the view of Desert View’s expanse, we concluded our Grand Canyon adventure by driving to Cameron Trading Post (CTP) which stands roughly at the junction of highways AZ 64 and AZ 89.

CTP is superbly located 27 miles outside of Grand Canyon NP’s east entrance. As such, it’s only a half hour drive from Desert View to the trading post after sundown. I first visited CTP in the 1970s as a boy with my parents and grandparents on trips across northern Arizona. I don’t believe we ever stayed there when I was a kid, however.

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The Little Colorado River Canyon at night as seen from Cameron Trading Post

Today, CTP has a good number of rooms and a great restaurant that welcome visitors traveling along 89A between Flagstaff and Page. I’m not usually excited about motels and road-side cafes, but those at CTP have my highest recommendation. The rooms are modern, clean and comfortable. No, they are not what you will find at some of the chain hotels, but they are in line with the décor of the region and, in a way, are a lot more timeless. The beds are great, the bathrooms are better than average, and there’s enough room to stretch out without tripping over luggage. The restaurant offers great breakfasts and dinners aren’t bad, either.

Perhaps the biggest bonus is CTP’s proximity to the Little Colorado River and its beautiful canyon. After breakfast, we piled into the truck and headed out to the Little Colorado River Gorge to see the canyon in the morning light.

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Morning on the road near the Little Colorado River Gorge

That’s all I wrote last year before I stopped. In the 9.5 months that have passed, my feelings about Arizona and the Four Corners region have only intensified. What is it about my home state and those of the Four Corners region that is so incredibly special?

First, and probably foremost, it’s the large amount of public and publicly-accessible lands each of these states has to offer. Living in Ireland, I am stifled (that is truly the term) by the fact that nearly all of the land is privately owned. It’s extremely difficult to be out in any sort of natural area without trespassing on someone’s private land.

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Tonto National Forest - Part of Arizona's wealth of public land

Second, it’s the absence of persistent rain and the ability to effectively plan time outside largely free of foul weather. Ireland’s weather is so changeable that I really don’t know why anyone bothers to try to plan anything out of doors beyond two days. I have only attempted one backpacking trip in Ireland and it was ruined by (heavy) rain and (gale-force) wind that had not been predicted.

Finally, it’s the pure scale of the Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico which have to be experienced to be appreciated. Ireland is just over 1/4 the size of Arizona. The combined Four Corners states therefore represent a land area about 12-14 times the size of Ireland. The immense scale of the American West represents massive possibility on so many fronts, not the least of which is getting away from civilization with relative ease.

When the pandemic subsides, I’m destined to return. If not permanently, then for as long a segment of time as I can manage. I’ve been away far too long.

Waxing Photographic – Keeping it all on the tracks during lockdown

14 March 2021

So far, 2021 is turning out to be a bit too déjà vu for my liking. It was on the Leap Day of 2020 that I first suspected we were in real trouble and it turned out to be less than two weeks before I was sent away from my office, laptop in hand, and told to hold tight at home until further notice. I have not set foot in that office for 367 days and counting

In many ways, it seems a bit silly to write about photography as something important just as Italy gets ready to shut down the entire country ahead of Easter and as I sit here stuck in my 5km maximum roaming range for the fourth time in twelve months. However, photography continues to help me keep it all on the rails when all else has failed. It used to be music, but a number of factors have contributed to that being largely eliminated from my life.

In terms of out-and-out activity, I’m about as active in my photographic pursuits as I have ever been. I’m also working with the most diverse array of tools and toys at this moment that I ever have, even if the subjects available for photography are less diverse at this moment than they have ever been.

Calling to my inner Nick Carver – Getting local with my mobile phone’s camera

Film photography has been bigger in my life over the past 12 months than it has been in the past 20 years. I’m using both 135 and 120 film now, and it’s been greatly assisted by a will to experiment with bits of equipment and techniques that I’ve learned about on the ‘net during lockdown.

Tip of the glassberg – I’m just getting to know the Agfa Record I

As with all learning and experimentation, accidents will happen. I’ve botched a few things here and there while trying out new (old) cameras, emulsions, and post-capture techniques. There have been some happy accidents in the form of slightly messed-up processing, post-processing and poor camera operation (double exposures are frequent with my 120 cameras) and they have led to some great discussions with people even if I think the images themselves aren’t great.

Accidents will happen – Negative duplication gone FUBAR

Revisiting some of my older images has been beneficial, too. I’ve spent some time looking through images and re-working those I never really cared for either by alternatively cropping and processing to make them more faithful to the original intention or to fully transform them into a totally new vision. Many of those have made it to my Flickr account for sharing and a couple have gone to my website without shame.

Recharge necessary – An image from 2015 given an alternative treatment

To conclude, I'm very glad that I have photography in my life right now. It's made it much easier for me to stay at least somewhat positive over the past year and that's no small feat.

The next entry in this blog will be something about my home state of Arizona, so stay tuned. Until then, please stay safe.

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto – An upside-down world

7 February 2021

I’ve put off uploading the first of my blog entries this year for so long largely for one reason; it’s been hard to write anything positive when so much across the planet is so out-of-whack. True, I’m lucky that my immediate situation is mostly stable and that I and most people around me remain healthy, but the rest is just so hard to believe. It’s now been 11 months since I last set foot in my physical workplace and it’s been 14 months since I boarded an aircraft. That’s the longest stretch between fights (by far) I’ve observed during the past 16 years of my life, by the way.

Where’s my photography in all of this? The drive to actually get out and do something constructive continues to be hampered by the weather on the Soggy Island and the 5km restriction still in place for travel within Ireland. Most days, I feel that if I have to look at another stitch of the 5 km radius around where I live I’ll simply scream. I do realize that’s not fair to the many people who are in much more confined situations that I am, though. At least I have Galway Bay to the south and 5km of bogland to the north and west. The east isn’t so good - it’s the ‘burbs of Galway city and I don’t venture that way unless I have to.

One recent development (no pun intended) is that I acquired a 6x9 folding camera last month. It’s a near-mint Agfa Record I without any of the bells and whistles. The particular camera I purchased has the ‘base’ triplet lens and the bottom-of-the-line Pronto shutter.

I’m only one roll of film into our nascent relationship, but the experience has already shown me a few things. 1) I’m glad I didn’t plop down a lot of cash for all of the parts required to build a (Dora) Goodman Zone camera (yet), 2) zone focusing is a bitch, and 3) eight images per roll really is drastically more limiting than the 12 one gets with a 6x6. On the up-side, 1) I really like the camera’s feel and operation, 2) 6x9 suits my style of photography a bit better than 6x6, and 3) high-quality, mega-negatives are what I needed to keep me excited about film. On a tripod, and with a cable release, I find the old Agfa absolutely lovely to use (except for the focusing part). Handheld, not so much. More on that beast as we move forward this year.

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1953 Agfa Record I with the Agnar 105mm, f/4.5 lens and 4-speed Pronto shutter

Too much isolation and a desire to remain ‘inspired’ led me to actually start a Flickr account and upload to it. I’m trying to use it differently than my website. Here (the website), I want to keep images that I feel are my best. On Flickr, I want to experiment a bit and see what the world gives me for feedback. I am uploading a mix of old and new images as well as a load of things that I have not ever shown to anyone. So far, it’s been fun. In about a month of uploading, I’ve gained some followers, begun to follow a bunch of people’s work, and have found some thought-provoking images and words along the way. Good stuff, mostly, but, like so many other things on the ‘net, it’s a time suck if I’m not careful.

We’ll see what the balance of 2021 brings. I’m not overly optimistic, but I haven’t lost hope.

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