BITS AND PIECES – MUNDANE TUESDAY:

Mundane Monday Challenge #72 : Learn Photography


It has been so ghastly hot outside, I haven’t been going out unless I have no choice. This means I’m finding pictures inside. Surprisingly, there have been quite a few indoor photo ops.

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I’m addicted to pictures of light filtering through things. Leaves, curtains, glass. This isn’t new. I’ve been following light as long as I’ve been taking pictures – 47 years this summer. I got my first “real” camera the summer of 1969, a few weeks after my son was born.

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Today, armed with more than enough cameras and lenses, I’m ready for anything. How come the wrong lens is always on the camera? Why is that?

Is this another Murphy’s Law?

WHEN NEWER ISN’T BETTER: PANASONIC LUMIX DMC-FZ200

I bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 12.1 MP Digital Camera with CMOS Sensor and 24x Optical Zoom from Adorama in September 2014. It cost me $457 two years ago and you can buy the same camera on Amazon today for $100 less. Since I bought this camera, it has been a constant companion. It isn’t my only camera, not by far, but it is my most versatile camera. If I’m unsure which camera or lens I may need — or I don’t want to haul a lot of equipment — this is the camera I choose.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200

I have a lot of equipment, both cameras and lenses — and I use them. But this particular camera remains a favorite. Simply put, it’s a keeper.

The Leica lens on this camera is spectacular. Not only does it go from moderately wide to amazingly long (in 35mm terms, 24mm to 600mm), but it delivers surprisingly good quality throughout its range.

It’s fast, too … f2.8 all the way, beginning to end. Amazing for a super-zoom. The camera focuses quickly, recycles fast. It has a good  built-in viewfinder and  flexible LCD screen. It has more controls and refinements than I will ever use. Some, I don’t even know what they do and probably will never bother to find out.

In the gallery of birds, most of these were taken from a considerable distance. The herons were on the other side of the river. The birds were a long way away and I was hanging out my bathroom window to take the pictures. Guess which camera I used? You betcha!

Does it give me the same quality as my best Olympus lenses? Not quite, but surprisingly close. In any case, I could never afford a telephoto lens of this quality for my Olympus rig. Not that Olympus makes a comparable lens.

If you need a super-zoom camera and you don’t have megabucks to spend, this is the camera to buy. There are newer models available — but none of the newer ones are better. Some have a longer zoom, but all the longer lenses are slower and not as sharp. This remains best-of-breed. I paid about $100 more for this camera in 2014 than it’s selling for now on Amazon. I have never felt I overpaid. I haven’t checked prices elsewhere, but it isn’t a the latest model, so you won’t find it everywhere.

If I have any criticism to make, it’s that the batteries don’t last as long as I would wish. If you use the zoom a lot, you need to have spare batteries. I have four and more wouldn’t be out of line.

It’s a great camera. If you are trying to decide between this and one of the newer Panasonic super-zoom models? Buy this one. It’s a better camera. It’s a bit big, a bit clunky, and wonderful.

I hope it lasts forever. So far, so good.

NOTE TO FRIENDS: We’re gone for the day. My cousins are in town, so we’ll be away until evening. Catch up with all of you tomorrow or late tonight! Have fun. We’re going to try, too.

BOSTON – TEA PARTY WHARF

As part of our mini-vacation, we decided to shoot some pictures before heading home to little old Uxbridge.

One of the rare times when I didn't have a camera with me. Two strikes agains me -- just a cell phone and shooting through glass at twilight. But the view from the 33rd floor at 60 State Street is breathtaking. Even using a cell phone.

One of the rare times when I didn’t have a camera with me. Using a cell phone shooting through glass at twilight. The view from the 33rd floor at 60 State Street is breathtaking. Even using a phone instead of a camera.

Boston has changed a lot since we lived there. We’ve been gone 16 years during which time nothing much happened in Uxbridge. A couple of restaurants closed. All but one reopened under new management. The Unitarian Church went out of business. CVS built a big store where the ice cream place used to be. The ice cream place moved to Whitinsville. Both local dry cleaners closed and Walmart built a super store in Whitinsville.

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During this same period, Boston finished the Big Dig. They built new roads, tunnels and bridges. Completely redesigned the waterfront, turning what had a been a dark, dirty dumpy area into an attractive, accessible tourist magnet. Lots of young people were there. Singing, dancing, drinking and hanging out which seems to be what young people do when they get together.

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The Beaver

There are easily a dozen new hotels, one of which we stayed in. Very modern. Comfortable. Accommodating. Friendly. From the outside, it looks like it’s built with Lego (it has to be one of the most unattractive pieces of architecture I’ve seen), but inside, it’s delightful. High ceilings. Bright and airy. Well-designed, spacious bathrooms and plenty of closet space. Good cable package and fast, free WiFi. Lots of cool high-tech stuff.

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And they take dogs. We were among the few people who didn’t have a well-groomed, properly trained canine companion. Our dogs are neither well-groomed nor properly trained. I shudder to imagine taking any of them to a hotel.

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We cabbed over to the wedding from the hotel. It is on the waterfront — as was the hotel — but it’s several miles north of the area in which we were staying. As we passed the edge of Charlestown Harbor, I saw a tall ship. I assumed it was the Constitution and suggested we go back the next day. Take some pictures.

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The Eleanor

When we lived in Boston, we used to hike to Charlestown from Beacon Hill or Charles River Park. We were younger. I could hike up the hill to our apartment at full speed with 20 lbs of groceries in each hand. These days, I’d have to stop along the way and take a nap. On the sidewalk. Or call for an ambulance.

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It turned out the ship was not the Constitution. It was The Beaver, a restored schooner that recreates one of the three Boston Tea Party (NO relation to right-wing “Tea Party”) ships. There are two ships, the second being the Eleanor. A third ship is being built. Originally, four ships sailed from England bearing tea. One sank. Three made it to Boston. Then, there was a tea party, a bit of shooting, a declaration, a revolution … and the rest, as they say, is history.

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You can have tea on one of the ships. There’s a cute little “museum” which is really a gift shop and not any kind of museum.

Hi from Sam Adams. He helped start a revolution and is mostly famous for making beer. Perhaps justifiably so.

Hi from Sam Adams. He helped start a revolution and is mostly famous for making beer. Perhaps justifiably so.

We took pictures. We stopped and had crab cakes for lunch. We came home. The dogs were very glad to see us. We were very glad to see them. But mostly, we were unbelievably glad to see our extremely comfortable bed. At our age? There really is no place like home.


Other than the pictures I took with our rarely used cell phone, all the other photos were taken with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ 200. It’s the camera I grab when I want to keep it simple.

CEE’S FUN FOTO CHALLENGE: ALL ABOUT CITIES (SKYLINES TO STREET PHOTOGRAPHY)

cee's fun foto chall

ALFRED EISENSTADT AND ME

I thought I might reblog this piece. Which is when I discovered that my reblog function is — AGAIN — not working. I will have to — AGAIN — get in touch with WordPress and have them fix it. Meanwhile, I’m happy to share these memories.


In the early 1990s, Garry did a feature about Alfred Eisenstadt and Lois Maillou Jones, both of whom lived on the Vineyard and had been given Presidential Medals of Honor for their work. We became friends with both artists. Eisenstadt was in his early 90s, Lois Maillou Jones in her mid 80s.

We own a signed print of this portrait of Robert Frost. It hangs downstairs in the den.

We own a signed print of this portrait of Robert Frost. It hangs downstairs in the den.

I had been an admirer of Eisenstadt’s work as long as I’d been taking pictures. I shot my first roll of film on Martha’s Vineyard in 1966. I had stayed at the Menemsha Inn where (serendipity!!) Eisenstadt lived from late spring till Labor Day. Books of Eisie’s work were all over the inn. In bookcases, on tables. Most of the books featured his landscapes of Martha’s Vineyard.

I was using my first camera, a Praktica with a great Zeiss 50mm lens. Great lens, but no electronic light meter. No electronic or automatic anything. It had a crank film advance.  A bare bones camera. I had brought half a dozen rolls of black and white film with me and I used them all.

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It was ideal for a beginner. I had to take a light reading with a handheld meter. I had to focus the lens, set the shutter speed and f-stop. Choose the film speed — though you only had to set film speed once when you loaded the camera.

It wasn’t a lot of settings to learn, but they were and are the essentials of photography. My 50 mm lens was a prime. No zoom. It was a good piece of glass and moderately fast at f2.8. No flash.

If I wanted a close up, I could move in. Wide shot? Run the other way. I learned photography in a way those who’ve only used digital cameras with zoom lenses can’t learn. Most of today’s photographers have never held a camera that doesn’t include auto-focus, much less taken a light reading.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it does.

The camera was a gift from a friend who had bought a new camera. Armed with the camera and determination, I followed Eisenstadt’s path. I discovered where he’d taken each picture, figured out how he’d gotten the perspective.

I duplicated his shots down to the clump of grass behind which he’d crouched to create a foreground.

Photo by Alfred Eisenstadt

My first roll of film was brilliant — except the photographs were copies of Alfred Eisenstadt’s. He taught me photography by giving me foot prints to follow. By the time I was done with those first rolls of film, I had learned the fundamentals. I’m still learning the rest and I’ll probably never be finished.

When I actually met Alfred Eisenstadt, it was the most exciting moment of my life.

As we got to know Eisie better, I asked him to autograph his books for me. He didn’t merely autograph them. He went through each book, picture by picture.

He was in his early 90s and had forgotten many things, but remembered every picture he’d taken, including the film and camera, lens, F-stop, and most important, what he was thinking as he shot. He could remember exactly what it was about the image that grabbed his attention.

For example, the picture of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square on VJ Day, he said he was walking around Times Square with his Nikon. When he spotted the dark of the sailor’s uniform against the white of the nurse’s dress, he knew it was what he wanted and shot. Light, contrast, composition.

We spent time with him every summer for 5 years until he passed. We were honored to be among those invited to the funeral.

Although we were sad Eisie was gone, we found things to laugh about. Knowing him was special and some memories are worth a chuckle. I don’t think Eisie would have minded.

TOO MANY BUTTONS

Some months ago, I bought a refurbished (read “used”) Olympus OM-D E-M5. I don’t think anyone ever really used it as a camera. Maybe it was a store demo or something like that, but it had all the plastic wrap still on it, so it was new. Except the there’s a newer version of it out, so probably this is one of the ways to offload leftovers of the previous model.

One of the things it didn’t come with is the User’s Guide. It came with no documentation at all, actually and an after-market battery charger.

I haven’t used the camera much. I haven’t been outside much or taken many pictures, so mostly, it’s has been waiting for spring when my interest in photography usually revives.

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This also means that I am not as comfortable using this camera as I am other cameras. In fact, because it came without documentation and it’s got a lot of dials and buttons, I’ve been shying away from it. But. You don’t learn to use a camera by not using the camera.

Today dawned beautiful. The sun was shining, the sky was bright blue and the air was sweet and warm. Garry said “Let’s go.” I grabbed my Olympus OM-D E-M5 and off we went to River Bend. We exited the car and we went our separate ways.

I had decided to begin using the f1.8 25mm “normal” lens. It’s very sharp and has a lens hood, good for shooting on such a bright day.

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I took a few more shots then decided to change to my 14-150 telephoto. Except something happened. After I changed lenses, I couldn’t see anything in the LCD screen. It was dark and for once, it wasn’t because I forgot to remove the lens cap.

I got my hyper-ventilation and panic reaction under control and looked through the viewfinder. I could see through it. See the menu settings too. Which meant my camera was working. This could mean only one thing: I had inadvertently, accidentally, unintentionally, and unknowingly pushed a button.

I had no idea what button I’d pushed. No idea where to look for it. Before I’d done whatever I’d done, the camera had been automatically switching between viewfinder and LCD screen. But I had done something.

Eventually, I found a tiny button near the collar of the lens. I pressed it. The picture returned to the LCD screen. All was right with the world. This is not the first time or the first camera on which a previously undetected button got pushed with disastrous results.

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There are too many buttons. On everything. Cameras. Televisions. Remote controls. Computers. Tablets.  Telephones. Convection ovens. Too many settings for software. Too much. Of everything.

I wanted to buy a rice cooker that cooks rice. I don’t need it to also bake cakes, steam fish, and do my laundry. Just cook rice. White rice. It cost me more to get a rice cooker that does this one thing well, than to buy something with 13 configurable programs to all kinds of stuff I will never want or need.

I understand to sell things, you have to improve them. After all, who would buy a new version of Photoshop if it’s exactly the same as the one you already own? So, for good or ill, you have to change stuff.

But I didn’t buy my Olympus OM-D for its bells, whistles, or little buttons. I bought it because it’s water-resistant, fast, has great resolution, a bigger sensor … and at long last, a built-in viewfinder, something for which Olympus users have been yearning since forever.

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All those extra bells, whistles, and buttons are not a sales plus for me. Do you even know what the menu options in your various system menus mean? What all those buttons do? Or even where to find them?  There are too many buttons. Too many options.

Maybe the next upgrade to our equipment will be … (wait for it) … simplicity. Now that’s an upgrade I would embrace.

A DIFFERENT EYE AT THE CANAL – GARRY ARMSTRONG

When two photographers shoot the same scene, it’s always interesting to see what they will shoot that is essentially the same … and what they will see as different.

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In this case, I was able to get pictures from places Marilyn couldn’t go … partly because I’m a bit more agile than she is, but also because she spent most of our shooting time trying to figure out why her camera wasn’t working. By the time she figured out what had gone wrong, it was time to go home. Better luck next time.

I keep it simple. I use the same lens and camera. I’m happy with my Pentax Q7. It’s light, comfortable in my hands. I know how it works. Results are predictable and usually exactly what I intended. Most of the time. Marilyn says I need to make sure I’m holding the camera straight, to take a look at the horizon and align with it. My bad.

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This was a couple of days ago. Late afternoon down at the Blackstone Canal.

PARTY PHOTOGRAPHY – NOTHING TO SHOOT?

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Parties are where they invite you to take pictures but don’t make it easy. Cluttered locations, poor light, too many folks in tight spaces. I hate battling crowds under any circumstances, but especially when I’m shooting.

So, there I am. At a party. I know one or two people (maybe), and I have to take some pictures. Who are these people? Unless it’s my party … and we don’t give parties anymore … I hope someone will come by to tell me who should be in the pictures.

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Looking around. People are talking in groups. Eating. A few laughing. Some loners. People talking in pairs, in groups.

M's 60th-058

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Mostly of the other cameras are big ones, Canon and Nikon. I’ve got the funny little camera, my Pentax Q S1 with its lenses, plus extra batteries and accessories. It weighs less than a standard point-and-shoot. They sneer, but I don’t care.

Kaitlin 15th birthday

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Parties are stressful. Garry can’t hear in crowds and I can’t remember names. You can tell me your name and within a breath, I’ll say, “I’m sorry, what’s your name again?” If it happens more than twice, I’m too embarrassed to ask again. I shoot and hope Garry can identify the people in the shot. Later.

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There’s always a picture somewhere. Somehow. You have to look for it, sometimes very hard, but it’s there. And it’s better than sitting in a corner demolishing the brownies.