2017 Amgen Tour of California, Stage 5 – Mt Baldy

Note:  The photos in this blog post (and gallery) are all low-res images.  Do not use or copy any photos without my permission – please email me at dana@danarouleauphotography.com for any inquiries.  Click on any photo within the blog post to view in full screen mode – this works best on a computer and is not optimized for a smart phone.  The photos in the photo gallery below are within a “film strip” and cannot be enlarged.

Link to the photo gallery for Stage 5:  http://www.danarouleauphotography.com/home/?page_id=4100

Let’s rewind a bit – I moved to Santa Clarita, CA back in May of 2016; being a cyclist myself (the main reason I moved to CA actually), I quickly learned that a Tour of California stage finish was nearby, so I rode my bike over to Lyons Ave and watched Ben King defeat Evan Huffman at the line.  It was my first attendance at a pro race and the overall experience was pretty awesome to say the least.  When 2017 rolled around and the ATOC came back into town, of course I had to go again.  The Santa Clarita finish this year was close enough for me to walk to, but I didn’t lug my camera gear over; no real point for a sprint stage as I learned last year, unless you can get a head-on shot.  I never did post those photos except for one of Peter Sagan, which is part of my home page gallery.

Several days before the Stage 5 finish up at Mt Baldy, I made the executive decision to buy a VIP pass – being a freelance photographer, half of the challenge is often getting decent access/vantage point to capture events….and once in awhile this costs money.  As a L’Etape California finisher, which was the same route as Stage 5 so I am intimately aware of how brutal this stage really is and how insanely fast these guys are, I received a 10% discount.  Score.  At first I was going to ride my bike up, but I already did that and wanted to bring my camera gear with me – which is not happening on a bike up Mt. Baldy.  Then after doing some research and learning that parking would be a nightmare, I wasn’t in the mood to walk up Mt. Baldy with 20 pounds of gear on my back either.  The VIP experience was great – there were some hiccups on race day in regard to coordination of the shuttle pickup location, parking and where to get the VIP passes which made things a little confusing for the first half hour I was there, but once that was sorted out it was fine.  Also interesting to note – I think I saw at least as many cyclists, if not more, heading up to Mt Baldy to go watch Stage 5 than during the L’Etape California.  The cycling culture in southern California is huge.

 

Waiting to get in to the VIP area

The VIP area was to open at noon; I think we got in around 12:30 p.m. as it took a little extra time to set everything up, but everyone was in good spirits and nobody complained.  The sheer magnitude of the coordination/logistics of efforts, getting the different areas staged and built up and the number of volunteers was pretty crazy – everyone was working extremely hard to get things done, and the staff/volunteers were great to deal with.  Between volunteers, security, vendors, media, staff, etc…..we’re talking hundreds of people.

 

Still getting the finish area completed.

 

Selfie people.

 

Vendor area – I had to buy an ATOC jersey, especially since they’re made by Assos.  I got the “best young rider” jersey to 1) be ironic, and 2) because it looks pretty cool.

 

Still setting up – orange barriers aren’t up yet.

 

There’s a few ginormous TVs set up in the finish area so spectators can watch more than 6 seconds of the race.

 

The ram guy – he’s kind of infamous and a bunch of people got pics with him.

 

Finally inside the VIP area – they did a fantastic job with the overall setup/layout.  Oh and the weather was perfect, too.

 

People getting food/drinks (all included) – I was bummed that I missed the cookies though as I was stuck on the other side of the road taking photos.

 

My vantage point while eating lunch. Not too shabby. Taken with a Fuji X100-T.

 

Jens Voigt was signing autographs in the VIP area and talking to fans. Jens is still the man.

 

Some pre-race entertainment – these dudes were flying.

 

Not your average “porta potties” in the VIP area – there were also actual toilets too, but I didn’t take a pic.

 

Random cyclists riding up to watch the finish – orange barriers are up now.

 

One of the vendors handing out free stuff.

 

Here are some of my favorite photos of the race itself – for the photography nerds, all photos were taken with a Nikon D810 and a Nikon 200mm F2 VR2 lens at F2…..since F2 is such a narrow range of focus at 200mm and I was shooting on a D810 (not exactly a sports camera), it was a bit of a challenge to nail focus consistently, but it did a relatively good job.  I did get a bunch of riders kind of staring at me/the lens though, which I found funny – one of which I’ll include a series of photos further down below.  I also had my Nikon 24-70mm F2.8G, Nikon 14-24mm F2.8G and Fuji X100-T with me as well, but used the 200F2 for all of the rider photographs.

 

Talanksy and Majka rounding the last corner – totally not in focus which greatly annoyed me, but I still like this shot.

 

Luis Angel Mate from Cofidis.

 

Rob Britton from Rally Cycling.

 

Robert Gesink waving to fans while riding back down Baldy.

 

David Lopez from Team Sky.

 

Tiago Machado (I think) from Katusha

 

Pawel Poljanksi from Bora-Hansgrohe

 

Brendan Canty from Cannondale-Drapac

 

Peter Kennaugh from Team Sky.  One of my favorite photos from the day.

 

Peter Sagan from Bora-Hansgrohe.  Everyone knows who Peter is.

 

Here’s a string of photos – there were actually twice as many but I deleted them – with Bert-Jan Lindeman from Lotto-Jumbo just staring at me as he’s riding along….for like 50 yards.  I thought it was funny.  I had to add in some captions of what I imagined going through his head at the time:

 

“Oh, hey.”

 

“Is that a lens or a bazooka?”

 

“Ok, definitely not a bazooka – that lens is huge (insert off-color joke here).”

 

“I see your lens is still pointed at me.  I shall continue to stare at you.”

 

“Dude, seriously, are you still taking pics?”

 

“Wait, are you a famous photographer?”

 

“Hmmm, you don’t look like Graham Watson….”

 

“Crap, almost lost my balance, I almost forgot I was in a bike race up Mt Baldy.”

 

“Eh, you’re a nobody – I’ll get back to riding now.”

 

Ok, back to more “normal” photos and commentary….

 

This might be Daniil Fominykh from Astana – getting hard to keep track now.

 

Riding back down the mountain.

 

Jack Bauer from Quick Step giving a man-hug and talking to a buddy near me after finishing.

 

Not sure how these guys are smiling after riding that stage – then again they might be smiling that it’s almost over.

 

John Degenkolb, starting the descent down Baldy. With one hand. Yeah…..

 

Peter being….well, Peter. For the record, he’s riding his bike here in sneakers with his clipless pedals and a hat. I wonder if he went down the entire mountain like that.  #ballsofsteel

 

Like 15 minutes later, Jack Bauer is still hanging out.

 

Waiting for the race staff to let us back across the road so I can get back over to the VIP area (missed all the podiums and cookies as a result – oh well).  Taken with a Fuji x100-T.

 

Jens hanging out in the shuttle line and talking to people.  Taken with a Fuji X1oo-T.

 

That’s all, folks.  If you ever get the chance to see a race in person, I highly recommend it – there really is nothing else like it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Update

So it’s been awhile again since I have updated this site – after moving to Southern California back in late spring of 2016, photography has taken a bit of a back seat.  I also think I’m going to change how I upload photos and mainly focus on blog posts versus just creating the photo galleries.  I’ll still create galleries here and here, particularly when I take a lot of photos, but I can at least include some sort of backstory in with the blog posts.

In other news, I sold my Nikon 70-200mm F2.8 VR lens….which may seem crazy to many as that is often their “workhorse” lens, but it’s kind of soft on a D810, and plus I have a Nikon 200mm F2 VR2.  I’ve been getting that lens out a bit more this year in a feeble attempt to start justifying the cost, and it is still my favorite lens…..not my favorite to carry around (and accordingly, have just purchased a Think Tank Glass Limo backpack) and set up, but the speed, sharpness, contrast and detail I get with that thing is awesome.

Since moving to SoCal, I have also become acutely aware of the need for a Nikon 14-24mm F2.8, so I have just ordered one of those as well – I have missed wayyyyyy too many shots here by not being able to really capture what I want/see.  Not looking forward to the Lee adapter set I have to buy now for my neutral grads, but oh well.  Heading to Zion National Park in September, so this lens will most likely be my go-to lens for that trip.

Honestly, I seem to mostly shoot with my Fuji X-100T since coming to SoCal.  It is just far easier to carry around and I’ve either gotten too old, too impatient or too lazy to lug around all my DSLR crap – although most of it is across the country still in Maine.  If I had a spare $8,000 or so, I would buy a Fuji XT-2 and associated lenses in a heartbeat.  If Fuji made 20mm and 100mm (equivalent) teleconverters for the x100T, I’d probably hardly ever use my DSLR gear again, except for when I want to use my 200mm F2 or need a crazy amount of resolution.

Here’s some of my favorites with the X-100T over the past year (click photos to enlarge):

Somewhere along I-70 in Utah

 

Santa Monica, CA on the beach

 

Most expensive car in the world – Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, CA

 

Morro Bay, CA

 

Bodie, CA

 

Yosemite National Park, CA

 

Pier 39 in San Francisco, CA with Alcatraz in the distance.

 

San Francisco, CA

 

Looking down from Lombard Street, San Francisco, CA

 

Venice Beach, CA

 

Venice Beach, CA

 

Santa Monica, CA

 

Moorpark, CA

 

Ojai, CA

 

Somewhere north of Pine Mountain, CA

So yep, the Fuji X-100T is often my go-to camera when I need something easy and light to carry, and don’t want to be burdened with lugging around a DSLR and lenses.  It’s not the perfect camera, but it’s the perfect camera to always have with you.

I recently took a trip over to Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Sedona and San Francisco, which I will soon upload photos into albums for that as well as make another blog post.

Long Term Update – Fuji X100T vs a DSLR

For the 3 people who follow me, you might find this interesting…..and I apologize for not putting more work out this year, but I’ve been busy with non-photography stuff, plus most of my gear (all of my lighting and grip gear anyway) is in New England and I’m in California for awhile.

I had originally rented an X100S for a weekend back in 2014, and subsequently fell in love with it.  When the X100T came out, I of course had to get one.  I have had mine for about a year and a half now, and honestly, I hardly ever use my D810 these days.  I sold my Nikon 70-200mm F2.8 VR lens a couple weeks ago, and even used the Fuji for the product shots of the lens instead of my D810.  For some perspective, I have been in SoCal since mid May and have used my Nikon 200mm F2 VR2 lens exactly once so far.  Most people would give their left nut to own that lens, and mine just collects dust.  It’s not for a lack of liking the lens – it’s by far the best lens I’ve ever used and is my favorite.  So why does my DSLR gear sit in the closet?

Simple.  The X100T is FAR lighter, smaller and easier to carry.  It’s like carrying a compact camera that happens to have an amazing image sensor that isn’t the size of your pinky fingernail.  Is it quirky?  Sure.  Is it perfect?  Not by a long shot, but what is?  However, if I need/want a camera with me regardless of where I go, nowadays it is my go-to camera.

I don’t know what it is about these Fuji image sensors, but the range of tones, contrast, clarity and colors you get with them is nothing short of a religious experience.  Granted, the F2 23mm (35mm in “full frame” terms) lens plays a major role in this as well.  Canon sensors are ok, Nikon is better (especially the D810), and Fuji is just….yes, please.  I’m speaking in overall general terms, BTW….would I want to shoot a concert at ISO 10,000 with an X100T?  Nope.  My Nikon D3s combined with fast prime lenses reigned supreme in that arena.  I’m not sure if the Fuji auto focus would even be able to keep up photographing musicians flailing around in the dark, or a wedding reception late in the evening when most of the lights have been turned off.  That reminds me, someday I need to test out focus tracking on this thing.  I think I might’ve hated it before and eternally keep it in single shot mode as a result, but I can’t remember.

The X100T has been out long enough that I don’t need to go over the specs, functions and dimensions – but suffice it to say, it’s portable enough to where I’ve even brought this camera with me on bike rides.  I removed the lens hood, wrap it up in a plastic bag from a grocery store and then stuff it in my jersey pocket.  Done and done.  Sure, it takes twice as long to get out as a cell phone does, but comparing a cell phone camera to an X100T is akin to comparing a 1982 Chevy Chevette to a 2015 Porsche Cayman GT4.

What don’t I like about the camera?  A few things:

  • Don’t bother getting the Lee neutral grad filter kit for it as the filters seem to be next to useless.  I don’t know what it is, but it’s almost as if the camera adjusts for the darker parts of the neutral grad filter – and you can’t see the graduation at all in the EVF viewfinder, unlike with a DSLR.  So yeah, save your money on this.  I’ve used it a couple of times, but after it basically did nothing, it just sits in the bag.
  • I am not a fan of viewfinders that are smaller than that of a full-frame DSLR, electronic viewfinders, and dislike anything that does not show 100% of the coverage area – so naturally, I’m not very enthused about mirrorless cameras in this regard.
  • Battery life is horrible – plan on having at least one extra battery with you at all times.
  • I wish Fuji had a teleconverter wider than the 27mm (in full frame terms – I always think in full-frame terms) – if they could get one that is around 20mm or wider, I would be in heaven.  That being said, if they offered a teleconverter in the 85mm to 100mm range, same deal….it would be in my bag as soon as it hit the shelves.  I have the 50mm equivalent telecconverter and I use it rather often.  Having coverage of 20mm, 35mm, 50mm and 100mm would be fantastic for many situations.  Right now with 35mm and 50mm, it’s not bad, but here in SoCal you will often find that 35mm is nowhere near wide enough for a lot of landscape stuff, and that 50mm isn’t quite long enough or give enough compression.

I think that mostly covers what I don’t like – and for those things, that is where a DSLR shines.

Would I buy a Fuji XT-2 system?  Glad you asked.  If I had a spare $6,000+ to blow on yet another camera system (of course I have to buy good lenses to go along with it as well), I would do so with zero hesitation.  However, I cannot justify it at this time.  If someone wants to donate it though, I’d be more than happy and it would open up a whole realm of other possibilities for photographs here in SoCal.  Mainly because I would actually take it places, unlike my D810 at the moment which has turned into the proverbial red-headed stepchild for some reason.  I’m not sure why because I love my Nikon and my lenses…..but…..I just….don’t want to carry it around.  At all.  It could be apathy or just sheer laziness – or maybe because I reallllllly want a 14-24mm to shoot landscapes with.

As much as it really pains me to say this, Ken Rockwell was right – the X100T is the “best” camera, mostly because it is a camera that you can – and will – take everywhere with you, unlike a bulky DSLR.  Sure, I miss a bunch of shots in some cases that I could realistically only get with my DSLR gear, however, I also get a bunch of shots that I wouldn’t normally get because I do have the X100T with me.  You win some, you lose some.  Zooming with your feet is great and all, as Ken suggests…..and I am a HUGE proponent of prime lenses with DSLR’s….but sometimes I don’t have time to zoom 2 miles with my feet.

Another benefit (or sometimes a hindrance, depending upon your situation at the time) is that you don’t look like a “photographer” with the Fuji – you look like some unassuming tourist with a shitty camera to most people, while people with entry level DSLR’s and kit lenses look all professional to the non-photographers around them.  Now – I am NOT saying that those folks are somehow “lesser” photographers because of the gear they use……that was not my point at all…..my point is that perception often rules over all else.

Lastly, here are some of my favorite photos I have taken with the Fuji since I have owned it.  Click on any photo to enlarge it.  Some photos will be sized differently depending on what size I used for the export.  At some point, I’ll actually use this camera for what it excels at; street photography.  Oh, and the X100T lens at F8 (which seems to be my default aperture with this camera) is sharper than my Zero Tolerance 0303 with a fresh edge on it.  Enjoy.

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Levi’s 2016 Gran Fondo. Gran Route Review, Ride Report and Other Stuff.

Let me preface this by saying if you are fortunate enough to ride the Gran route, it doesn’t matter if you finish first or last…..if you crossed the finish line, it’s a hell of an accomplishment.

Second, I didn’t take any photos.  I know, I know…this is a photography site.  But, carrying my Fuji X-100T was the absolute last thing I wanted to do today….not to mention I was too focused on riding.  Plus, the 35mm focal length wouldn’t really do the sweeping shoreline (and mountain top) vistas any type of justice whatsoever.

What makes this ride so special?  I’ve had a few days to ponder this, so I thought I would add this part in as I feel it’s important to anyone considering doing it.  However, it is hard to understand exactly what it all means until you actually complete the ride.  It is the sum of all its’ parts that sets Levi’s ride apart….even from the moment you drive up to check in, it just has a different vibe to it.  Little details as to how the flow of the waiver area, check-in area, merchandise area and expo sections are set up…..and mechanical support folks a few steps away in case you need any last-minute maintenance done on your bike.  The rider guide that is sent out in the days prior is well-designed and has everything you need.  Then there is the massive number of riders that are participating – you get the feel that half the people you come across in town are there to ride, and the other half seem to know about the ride.  It’s kinda awesome.  When you line up on the starting line in a sea of cyclists and about $3 million dollars worth of bikes (highly conservative estimate), it is unlike any other organized ride or race I have done.  Once you get out on the road, there are riders as far as you can see in front of and behind you and people on the sides of the roads cheering you on.  This feels like the Tour de France of amateur events.  The aid stations are a cut above.  Riding up the climbs to King Ridge make you feel like you’re climbing in the Pyrenees.  Then there’s the camaraderie of thousands of cyclists suffering together – it’s hard to explain, but Levi’s ride just felt different….I’ve often found that century rides and Gran Fondos feel like some sort of unofficial bike race; maybe it was just me, but this did not seem like that.  It was more like an adventure versus trying to rip each others legs off – then again, I wasn’t riding with Laurens, Andrew, Ted, Levi and Jan either.  The Gran route will demoralize and pummel you at times, but in the days after, you will crave doing it again.  The post-ride celebration is huge.  It is all these things and more which is what makes this ride so special.  Anyone can get the route from Strava and go ride it whenever they want, but if you do that, you’ll be completely missing out.  Sure, the route itself is spectacular, but the people involved….both the riders and event staff/volunteers……really do make all the difference.

I went into Levi’s ride slightly under-trained…..or extremely well-rested, depending how you look at it.  I did the Mammoth Lakes Gran Fondo (Medio, 72 miles) a few weeks ago on Sept 10th and bonked pretty badly, combined with being severely dehydrated as well – it was a lose-lose situation.  Mammoth was so bad that I couldn’t even maintain 100 watts for the last 90 or so minutes, and started cramping on the final 3.6 mile climb up Rte. 203 to the finish.  My neck hurt, my upper back hurt, my shoulders hurt….it was a total death march at 8,000 feet of altitude.  The 101 degree index temps on the climb to the finish didn’t help matters either, nor did having to ride my 25lb gravel bike (with 28mm road tires at least) since I had broken a shifter on the Ridley in a 1 mph crash the day before leaving for Mammoth while trying to avoid running over a 4 year old.  Anyway, after Mammoth I took a rest week and didn’t log many miles…..then week after that, I had an ok week and did some climbing repeats at threshold power, but again didn’t ride too much….and then this past week I had been sick and fighting a chest cold to top things off, and did 2 relatively short sessions.  However, I was happy that I woke up this morning with the lungs clear and breathing normally (although my stomach wasn’t too happy), and the legs felt fresh.  Well, they did 12 hours ago.  Now, not so much.

I stayed at the Hilton on Round Barn Rd in Santa Rosa and rode to/from the event which tacked on some extra miles and some climbing…..since, naturally, it’s a 12% gradient to get back up to the hotel.  Ride totals for the day according to the Garmin – 110 miles and 9,800 feet of climbing.  As usual, Strava stats are slightly less because Strava kind of sucks.  From what I understand, Levi designed this route to mimic that of a climbing stage of the Tour de France…..and honestly, I have no idea how those guys are able to recover/eat/sleep and do these types of stages at race pace 3-4 days in a row.  Totally insane.  This is not an easy course, and in my nearly 30 years of riding a road bike, hands down the hardest course I’ve done to date.  I did a 105 miler back in CT before (in 2007 I think) with nearly 8,000 feet of climbing, and that seems like a walk in the park compared to Levi’s ride.

I left the hotel around 6:45 a.m. and it was chilly at 48 degrees.  The ride/soft pedal/coast to the event was uneventful – there were a bunch of folks at the Hilton going to the ride, and we started together but quickly split off.  I made an executive decision last week to cough up the $120 for a matching Capo vest to go with my LGF kit (bib shorts, jersey and socks), and I do not regret that purchase in the least.  It was cold standing around for over 45 minutes waiting for the start, but the emcee kept things fairly entertaining.  I saw a bunch of crazy people wearing only a jersey and shorts, and they didn’t appear to be very comfortable.  I ditched the vest just after the start of King Ridge, and then the arm warmers about halfway or so up King Ridge.  It might’ve been earlier than that….it’s all kind of a blur.  I just remember things like “holy crap that looks steep”, “wow that guy/girl looks like he’s/she’s hating life”, “huh, it’s still 15%”, “oh wait, now it’s 18%”, “hold your line”, “does this ever go below 11%?”, “oh nice, 8% feels flat”, “you’ve seriously gotta be kidding me”, “20%, really?”,  “when does this climb actually end?”, “oh good, we’re at the top….oh wait, no we aren’t”

Levi attracts a rather impressive list of cycling celebrities to include Laurens ten Dam, Ted King, Andrew Talansky, Alison Tetrick, Levi of course, and Jan Ullrich….and perhaps a few others, but I’m too tired to remember.  Unfortunately the emcee got the facts incorrect when he stated that Jan was the best cyclist of his generation – sorry, but that honor goes to Lance Armstrong.  Love him or hate him (and with his attitude in the past, it certainly was easy to hate him), he still won the Tour de France 7 times regardless of the witch hunt that “stripped” him of his titles.  If PED’s were the case and reason to strip him of his titles and continued shaming in the media, then there would be many, many, many decades of no winners of the Tour and pretty much every other race if they wanted to take that stance.  But, I digress.  You can feel free to disagree with me, but keep in mind that you’d be wrong.  I’ll get off my pedestal now.

I have never seen so many cyclists in one place in my life.  It was a most impressive feat of controlled chaos.  The logistics and planning that goes into this is unlike any other cycling event I have ever personally experienced, and I would be willing to bet it is largely unrivaled.  I would love to someday see (and photograph) how it all works behind the scenes, but between all of the volunteers, the venue and setup, route maintenance, the rest stops, the CHP doing a great job at controlling traffic, fire/EMT’s stationed along the route in some of the more sketchy parts, SRAM support (they were insanely busy) saving the day for many riders, coordinating vendors, all of the ride marshals continually checking on riders, etc……it is incredible to say the very least, and a ton of work.  Hats off to Levi and his crew for putting on arguably one of most epic cycling events in the world.

Some general observations:

  • I have never seen so many people with flat tires on a ride…..me included at the bottom of Hauser near the metal bridge.  Note to self – stop using latex tubes.  Nothing like trying to stop going down Hauser Bridge with your brakes fading and a flat front tire down a 13-15% grade.  Good times.  Didn’t crash though, which was a plus.
  • I only saw one crash (well, two if you call a “guy toppling over while standing still” a crash) – a guy a few bikes behind me touched wheels and went down.  People stopped and made sure he was ok.  There may have been other accidents, but I am not aware of them at this time.
  • I have never climbed so much in double digit gradients in my life.  It seemed like if the road went uphill, it would default to the 11-13% range.  Five minutes go by without a climb?  Never fear, there’s an 11% grade coming soon.  I think the max I saw was 20%, with quite a few sections of 14-15% and up to 18% in some of the middle parts of the ride.  Coleman seemed to stay mostly in the 11-15% range from what I remember, although I wasn’t looking at my computer all that much at that point, other than to check my wattage.  Why depress myself looking at the gradient?  Oddly enough though, I actually felt pretty good going up Coleman.  Go figure.
  • Between miles 35 and 65 is the hardest part of the ride.  Coleman Valley is steep, but King Ridge had steeper gradients and never seemed to end.  Some people appeared to be near death on Coleman Valley though….but only saw a small handful of them walking up it when I passed by….and since it comes near the end of the ride, it’s not that surprising.  I tried to keep it around tempo/threshold wattage (Zone 3/4), and other than my back being destroyed after tweaking it the other day (it wasn’t faring well on King Ridge either), the climb wasn’t too bad.  I think I was just so used to climbing 13% grades at that point that it didn’t seem to phase me too much.  I was getting destroyed by people in the middle part of the ride, but I somehow found my climbing legs and did fairly well (for me in my current shape and weight) up Coleman.  Oh how I long for the days of pre-2011 though – I was hit by a car on my bike in May 2011 and was off the bike for two years and gained a bunch of weight that’s been hell to get rid of ever since.  When I was 140 pounds, I could climb like a mountain goat.  It’s much harder when you’re 170 pounds…..but it’s far better than the 195-200 pounds I was at 10 months ago.  Perspective, I guess.
  • The descents on this ride are NO JOKE.  Heed ALL of the warning signs that are posted.  At the bottom of Hauser Bridge when I was waiting in line to have the SRAM guy pump up my tire, there were 4 guys there to get replacement carbon wheels after they destroyed theirs from braking.  Did I mention that the SRAM service guys were life savers for many folks?  I am currently running aluminum HED C2 wheels, and by the time I got to the metal bridge on Hauser, my Dura Ace brakes were fairly ineffective at anything resembling a rapid stop.  The last guy I saw get a replacement wheel before I left actually melted part of his carbon wheel.  The SRAM guy said he’s never seen a Zipp carbon wheel fail at LGF – so if you have anything other than Zipps, you might want to reconsider your purchase.
  • Don’t bother wearing sunglasses (or at least, dark sunglasses).  You spend a lot of time in and out of the shade (mostly in the shade in the wooded areas), and my sunglasses spent the entire time stuck in my helmet.  The roads are pretty rough with a lot of potholes, and you need all the vision you can get, especially if you’re riding in fast pace lines.  Bugs weren’t an issue in regard to getting in my eyes.
  • This was, without a doubt, the hardest ride I’ve done to date.  However, the flip side of that is the scenery we were lucky enough to experience was nothing short of spectacular and made it all worth it.  Photographs would not do it justice.  Once you see the shoreline coming down Meyers Grade, a very steep and twisty descent after the Ritchey Ranch rest stop (I was smart this time and stopped a couple of times to let my brakes and rims cool down before they faded again), it’s hard to pay attention to the road.  King Ridge, once you get up to the top, is amazing as well…….as it Coleman, etc.  Such a gorgeous area to ride.  But that view coming down into the coast in the mid afternoon…..there is nothing else quite like it, and I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the U.S.
  • Unless you’re a human walking stick, have an FTP of 350-400 watts, or like to unnecessarily grind away at 30 rpm and destroy your knees and thighs, use a compact crank (50/34) and at least an 11-32T cassette in the rear.  You’ll thank me later.  I swapped the 11-32T from my gravel bike onto my Ridley a couple days ago, and I would’ve been hating life even more if I had to use my 11-28T.  Those 4 teeth do make a difference….but, either way, a 16-18% grade still sucks.  However, it sucks a little bit less with a 32t cog.
  • I started to cramp up twice – the first time was around mile 49 or so….started feeling the twinge in my right thigh and figured my day was over at that point.  But, I eased up a bit and it was ok for awhile, while ingesting a bunch of fluids and food.  The second time was at the bottom of the backside of Coleman Valley near the last rest stop – both thighs started to cramp, so again I eased way up….and then it went away.  Have you ever tried pedaling with your legs as straight as you can get them while seated to avoid flexing them?  That was interesting.  Fortunately I was fairly well hydrated and took in a crapload of sodium today, as well as eating bananas at almost every rest stop.  By the time I got to the last rest stop, they were out of a lot of stuff so I just drank a Coke and headed out.  The legs seemed ok…..while riding, that is.  As I sit here writing this an hour after returning, they decided they don’t want to get out of bed for the rest of the evening.
  • The weather, while cool for the first 30 miles (got down to 43 degrees for several miles), was perfect for the rest of the ride….mostly in the mid to upper 60’s, which was a lifesaver on the climbs.  It was windy, but the winds were mostly favorable.  The bike got blown around a bit along the shore with a strong side wind which was a little unnerving in a few parts with some cars whizzing by in close proximity, due mainly in part to the overall width of the road in certain areas.  All in all, drivers were pretty good and most were patient with the riders, even if many riders didn’t seem to understand that you don’t ride side by side on busy and/or narrow roads that aren’t closed.
  • The rest stops are very well stocked and organized, and it goes without saying that the numerous volunteers were invaluable.  I had to pass up a sandwich at the lunch stop as my stomach wouldn’t have been happy; I opted for my standard fare of Clif Bars and bananas while on the bike.  I spent quite a bit of time at a couple of the stops…..a total opposite of Mammoth Lakes and Tour de Big Bear recently, where I barely stopped at all and was more focused on my overall time.  Survival was the name of the game today, not trying to get in the top 50 finishers.  It took several hours for my stomach to finally somewhat settle down – I recently switched to using Nuun instead of Gatorade for electrolyte replacement, and I’m not wholly convinced yet that my stomach likes it.  I may need to go back to Gatorade.  Nuun is like drinking mildly flavored Alka-Seltzer anyway….as in, not very enjoyable.  I do not recall what sports drink they were using at the rest stops, but my stomach seemed to like it….and my legs loved the sodium.
  • The porta potty line for the first Gran rest stop (Monte Rio) was crazy….like, almost a couple hundred feet long crazy.  Fortunately, the line moved relatively quickly for being that long, but I spent a lot of time at that rest stop as a result.  Considering I had to piss like a race horse, I kinda regretting not going in the woods earlier along the way.  Subsequently, the lines weren’t anywhere near as bad at later rest stops.  I think between waiting in line to pee at the first rest stop and waiting for the SRAM guy (there was a line), I wasted around a half hour off the bike.
  • I shaved my legs for the first time since 2011, just for this event.  I felt like a cyclist once again.  Well, that and I just learned last week that I can save up to 16 watts over my Chewbacca legs….and well, 16 free watts is 16 free watts.
  • What hurt the most when I got back to my hotel room?  My big toes.  Oddly enough, my fingers didn’t go numb once today…..and this year, I can’t seem to go more than an hour before my fingers start going numb….and yes, I regularly change hand positions on the bike.  I have no idea why I had no issue today, but I certainly wasn’t complaining.
  • The kit that Levi sells for his Gran Fondo is some of the most comfortable stuff I’ve ever worn – the Capo chamois was still comfortable after 8+ hours in the saddle, and the jersey fit me perfectly…..however, what may work for me may not necessarily work as well for you.  The windproof vest is great, and the socks are super comfortable.  If only the overall bib fit was as good as my Assos stuff, I would never buy anything but Capo.  I remember when I first got the kit in the mail a few months ago and felt the chamois; being an Assos snob, I thought to myself “what kinda cheap, thin junk is this?”.  Then I wore it.  I quickly changed my opinion on it.  I will probably buy another Gran Fondo jersey and pair of bib shorts soon before they are all gone.
  • It goes without saying that proper hydration and nutrition are crucial both on and off the bike, and you really need to stay on top of both on this ride.  If you’re dehydrated prior to the ride, you’re going to have a really, really bad day.  If you fall behind in your food and liquid intake out on the course, you’re going to be hosed.  Fortunately there are a lot of sag wagons, in which I saw numerous riders abandon throughout the day.
  • As I alluded to earlier, gearing is important.  I normally ride with an 11-28T cog, and found the 11-32T to be a Godsend.  Your mileage may vary, but I saw an awful lot of people grinding and weaving up the steeper grades.  If you decide to do this ride, err on the side of caution, and figure out what you can comfortably climb extended sections of 12-15% grades with in your training.  Do a lot of threshold hill repeats and 5 minute V02 Max interval sessions in your training a couple of months prior to the ride to train for all the climbing you’re going to be doing.
  • If you’re not comfortable riding in a group, get comfortable…..you’re going to be riding with 6,000 to 7,000 other people and the first 30 miles will be pretty packed with people.  The Gran Fondo is not the place to learn pack and paceline riding skills….or descending skills either for that matter.
  • It is really easy to start out going too hard in this event, as the first 30 or so miles are pretty flat (save for the 600 vertical foot bump around the 13 mile mark) and sucks you into dropping the hammer…..ride within yourself.  If you have a power meter, pace yourself.
  • Almost forgot – at the King Ridge rest stop, they actually have chairs set up for riders to sit and relax.  That little detail was extremely well-received by many, including me as I sat back and sucked down a can of Coke.

I could go on, but I figure if anyone actually reads this, they’re probably getting fairly bored by now.  I rode mostly in Zone 2 / Zone 3 (while spending a total of 40 minutes in Zone 4 and 15 minutes in Zone 5 – conversely, I only spent a little over 9 minutes in Zone 6) for the day, and coasted whenever possible……which as any cyclist knows that while you don’t coast in training (unless of course you’re recovering from intervals and are about to die), it’s perfectly acceptable during a race or an event.  No point in wasting energy when you can conserve it.

My unofficial elapsed time according to the event was 8 hours, 59 minutes and 48 seconds, but my Strava riding time (not including breaks) from walking up to the start line to arriving back at the hotel was 8 hours and 6 minutes…..and that also includes walking the bike around at rest stops as well, so my real riding/moving time was somewhere in the high 7 hour range.  My Cycling Analytics software pegs it at 7 hours 59 minutes, but I would surmise it’s a few minutes under that….not that it really matters.  However, with all rest stops and everything, the total elapsed time was around 9 1/2 hours (9 hours and 43 minutes total back to the hotel).  I made it to the finish line a few minutes inside of 5:30 p.m.

A day later, the back side of my right knee is killing me for some reason and I can barely walk.  Let the icing commence.

In a nutshell, if you’re a serious cyclist, there is no question nor debate that this is a bucket list ride.  The next rides on my calendar are the San Luis Obispo Gran Fondo (doing the 100 miler on Oct 30th), and the Solvang Century next March.  I have a strong feeling these events, as well as all the others I have done so far, will pale in comparison.  This is a ride that will forever be ingrained into your mind, and soul.

The Eastern Sierras

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve made any sort of updates to this site – I’ve been so busy with cycling here in SoCal and training for several events I signed up for that I’ve barely taken the camera out.  I signed up for the Mammoth Lakes Gran Fondo event on September 10th, 2016 and figured I’d make a vacation out of it (while acclimatizing to the altitude), so I stayed there a week and did some exploring, and took a few photos in the process.

Let me start off by saying that my photos in NO way do the Sierras any justice at all.  I’ve traveled all over the lower 48 states, and there is nothing comparable to that of the eastern Sierras, especially in the late afternoon sun.  Everything here was shot with my Fuji X-100T, occasionally using the tele-converter to turn the 35mm lens into a 50mm lens (in “full-frame” speak).  Side note:  some photographers will often say that limiting yourself to 1-2 lenses is a good idea….and if you’re out practicing, absolutely, to get used to a lens….but I missed SO many photos by not having my DSLR gear with me, it’s not funny.  I never really wanted/needed the Nikon 14-24mm ultrawide before, but if you’re heading out this way, it is an absolute must-have.  I will be renting one the next time I’m in the Sierras.  I like to think of this more as a scouting trip than anything.

Almost all photos were taken at ISO 200 and F8 with the Fuji.  THIS SITE IS NOT OPTIMIZED FOR MOBILE – please use a computer for viewing photos.

***** Click on the photos to enlarge them *****

 

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My MSR tent and campsite at the New Shady Rest campground in Mammoth Lakes.  Minus the fact there’s no showers (had to shower at the RV park across the street for $7.50) and some groups were fairly obnoxious at night, I really liked this place…..although my back didn’t.


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The MSR Gear Shed is a must-have if you have an MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent.  It’s a pricey combo, but well worth it.


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I think this was Lake Mary in the Mammoth Lakes area.


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Driving out to Yosemite on Rte. 120/Tioga Pass Rd.


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Tioga Pass Rd. – it is impossible to capture the overall scale of the Sierras with the Fuji.


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I still haven’t even gotten into Yosemite National Park yet, and the scenery is nothing short of unreal.


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Wanted to try it in B&W…..I think I liked it better in color.


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A view of Tioga Pass Rd cut into the side of a mountain in the distance.


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Finally inside Yosemite – “35mm” version and black and white….


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….and the “50mm” version in color.  Not sure which one I like better.  I like the perspective of the 50mm version better, but I also like B&W.


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Drove up the road a bit and took a perspective shot to give people an idea of how accessible some things are from the road.


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Just an artsy-fartsy black and white somewhere in Yosemite.


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Ok, so if you’re ever in Yosemite, you have to pack a picnic lunch and eat at this lake….I THINK it’s Tioga Lake, but I could’ve spent all afternoon just hanging out here on the rocks.  Oh and the water is crystal clear too.


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Had to try one in B&W also.


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The Hooptie, driving up to the sky on Tioga Pass Road in Yosemite.  BTW, the Thule cargo carrier has been invaluable for carrying stuff.  Pricey, but well worth it.


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Yosemite is my new favorite National Park – I think next year I am going to take a trip here for a week or so and do a lot more exploring, and with my “real” camera gear.  I just hate having to lug around my “real” camera gear.


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I love the Sierras; when I first visited CA in 2002, I was mesmerized by them – that hasn’t changed.


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A different location and B&W version.


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Heading out of Yosemite and back to Mammoth, still on Rte. 120/Tioga Pass.


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Had to get in one last overlook while driving down Tioga Pass.


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A day later, out for a bike ride on 395 North.  The scenery makes you forget how thin the air is at 8,000+ feet while riding.  Just kidding…..it still sucks for those of us from much lower elevations.  I wish the camera could actually convey the size and scale of this place.


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Heading out to June Lake on Rte. 158, northbound.  I think this was my favorite road to ride on in the 150 miles I covered in total while riding in the Mammoth area.


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Black and white version, shot at “50mm”….I like this one better, but the other one gives a nicer overall perspective of the general area.


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June Lake – the water seems to be crystal clear here as well, with a white sandy beach along the shore in parts.


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Horses on the side of the road – not sure what kind they were, but they looked kinda short and stubby with weird, almost pony-looking faces on some.


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These two spent a few minutes playing with each other.  A couple of them came over to me to check me out, but I couldn’t walk over to the fence with all the brush in the way.


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Grant Lake on Rte. 158 heading north – loved riding here.


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A perspective shot to show the proximity the road/scenery.


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So many gravel roads in the area to ride on.  Wish I had a gravel bike…..oh wait, I do.  Unfortunately, it was pulling road duties this week after breaking a Dura Ace shifter on the Ridley in a low-speed crash the day before heading up to Mammoth.


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Mono Lake – everyone posts up the same pics of Mono Lake, so I figured I’d do something a little different.  Plus I didn’t feel like walking very far.


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Some random abandoned houses in the late afternoon on the side of the road on 395 South somewhere between Rte. 120 and 158.


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On a bike ride, heading up past Mammoth Mountain ski area.  Soooo many mountain bikers here.


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“The Haanj” (Diamond Back Haanjo Trail), outfitted for road duties.  Nothing like riding a 28+ pound bike (as shown here) up a mountain.  Thank God for the 32T cog in the rear.  Taken at the Mammoth Mountain ski area parking lot.


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Minaret Vista off of Minaret Road – another place where the Fuji failed, but created a nice snapshot for the memory without having to resort to using a cell phone camera.


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Yep, rode the bike up to this.


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Doing some off-pavement duties near Mono Lake in the GTI, sort of by accident.  The road looked paved on the GPS.


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The GTI pretending to be a Jeep.  At least there was no traffic out here….although now it’s going to need to go to the car wash again.  Ugh.


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Back on the pavement, I think on Rte. 167.  Traffic was pretty light.


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Looking in the other direction toward Nevada.  Traffic was pretty light in this direction too……straight road is straight.


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Had to go to Bodie of course – such an amazing place, I need to go back and take a tour.


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A house in Bodie – only about 5% of the structures are still there…..I can only imagine what this place must’ve been like 90-100 years ago.


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Looking down one of the roads.


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One of the structures converted to house the park ranger.


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I believe this is the only church still standing in Bodie.


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And the inside of the church.


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Some random junk strewn about – you’ll see stuff like this all over the area with things just left out.


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Got boost?  Some pretty good sized turbos there.


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Abandoned vehicles.


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And another.


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Back side of the post office and the gym.


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Another perspective after I saw the wheelbarrow.


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The craftsmanship was a bit…..lacking.  I’m thinking the builders might’ve originally been from Maine.


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Front side of the post office and gym.  Looking inside was definitely a throwback to a time long before we were born.


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Random houses/structures.


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Houses up on the hillside…..not quite Beverly Hills-level luxury, but there was a nice view.


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Reflections of the hillside in the windows.  Oh, and the second floor seems to be sagging a bit.


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I would’ve loved to have been able to check out this place back in its’ heyday.


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“Little House on the Prairie”


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The leaning hotel of Bodie….at least I think it was a hotel, I don’t have my guidebook in front of me.


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Looking up one of the roads – I think they got electricity here in 1910, it was cool to check out (what’s left of) the wiring and electrical structures.


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More reflections, and a sign.


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Gas pumps at the gas station.


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I’m thinking they move this vehicle inside somewhere during the winter, since they can get up to 20 feet of snow here.


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The Shell gasoline sign, complete with shotgun pellets for good measure.


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Looking up at the Mill area – which is off limits due to unstable structures and accessible by guided tour only.


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Looking into the fire house – no wonder half the town burned down over the years.


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The fire house.


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Random house on the corner of Green Street and the road up the hill.


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Walking over toward the mill area – would’ve been cool to actually see it up close.


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Walked up the hill a bit to get some more pics.


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Poor people didn’t even have internet, cell phones or cable TV – I wonder how they ever survived.


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Looking down from up on the hill.


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It’s hard to imagine what this place would’ve looked like with 95% more buildings and 7,000+ people around.


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I kind of like this in a high contrast B&W – sort of has that Tech-Pan feel to it, except I toned down the highlights so it wasn’t all blown out.


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They had a garage for their buggy – they must’ve had some money.


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Desolate and isolated.


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The hydroelectric building.


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More desolation and isolation.


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My favorite photo of Bodie – conveys the old world, western feel of it.


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Having a hard time thinking up captions now.


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I think this is the mining office – the exterior trim was interesting.


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Looking inside the window of the mining office.


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I forget what buildings these were, but they were pretty sizable.


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More “junk” strewn about.


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The structures are in pretty rough shape.  My second favorite photo of Bodie.


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The saw mill – I guess they processed a lot of wood….and considering there’s zero trees around, all the wood was brought in, which is a pretty impressive feat back before cars were invented if you think about it.


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That’s a pretty big table saw.


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The front of the saw mill….I’m guessing that conveyor belt thing swung down and probably fed wood into the table saw.


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I think this was near “Chinatown”, or is Chinatown….I forget.


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I think this might’ve been near the whoring area in Bodie on Bonanza Street.


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Some old mining equipment – these would go down into the mine shafts with people, and/or haul up dirt/rocks/gold/etc.


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More heavy mining equipment.


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Mining stuff.


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Mining stuff.


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Heading back down the 3 mile dirt road from Bodie – pictures don’t do this place justice.  BTW, rent a truck if you go here….the washboard “road” is a bit on the rough side.


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An overlook on 395 South looking out over Mono Lake.  The 14-24mm on my Nikon D810 sure would’ve been handy for this.  BTW, that’s 395 in the bottom of the picture.


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Drove up to Lake Tahoe – David Coverdale (Whitesnake) was right, this place is beautiful.  Dog is looking at me with Frisbee in mouth.


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The lake seems a bit low.  At least the trees and stuff are green here….they must actually get rain and stuff, unlike where I currently live.


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Heading down Monitor Pass – yet another place that is impossible to fully capture on film or digital media.

Update

As some may know, I moved out to California for awhile….and while the scenery here is nothing short of amazing, I have been spending most of my free time on the ‘ol bicycle and hardly any time with the camera.  Most of my camera gear is in storage back in New England, including all of my lighting gear.  Once the temps cool down a bit in the fall (here in Santa Clarita, I routinely see temps in the 102 to 110 degree range while riding my bike), I’ll start exploring a bit more.  Anyway, I figured I’d post up some photos I’ve taken starting with driving across country and of SoCal.

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Above is Council Bluffs, Iowa (outside of Omaha, NE) just off the highway – my GTI with the cargo carrier at the bottom middle of the photo.  I spent a few weeks in Omaha back in 2008 – interesting place.  Taken with a Fuji X-100T.

 

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Driving through Nebraska above – the road was pretty flat and straight for quite awhile.  I found it somewhat fascinating that Iowa is like one giant crop farm, and Nebraska is one giant cow farm.  Fuji X-100T at 75 mph.

 

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Stopped in Highlands Ranch, CO for the night to visit my buddy Jules and his family….including Jasper.  I hadn’t seen Jasper in 3-4 years, but she seemed to remember me and was happy to see me when I walked through the door.  Fuji X-100T.

 

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The weather became significantly crappier just outside of Denver – this is a rest area off I-70 somewhat near Dillon.  It was my first time driving through real mountains in snow and ice (with all season tires and a loaded down car), and it was a real white knuckle adventure.  Makes New England in the winter seem pretty tame in comparison.  It was around 25 degrees here….I was in shorts, but it was rather comfortable actually.  Fuji X-100T.

 

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Dillon, CO….had to pee really bad, and fortunately there was one store/gas station open.  Seemed like a nice little town, but I’m sure it gets absolutely mobbed in the winter with skiers.  Fuji X-100T of course.

 

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Above, somewhere on I-70 in Utah.  I’ve been to most of the southern 48 states, and the scenery in Utah was nothing short of mind-boggling.  I think I drove most of the Utah stretch on I-70 with my mouth open and my head on a swivel.  I stopped at what felt like almost every rest area/scenic overlook.  These overlooks are sometimes literally right next to the highway.  Still using the Fuji X-100T – my favorite travel and carry-around camera.

 

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I think I was up the road a little further when I took this, but same general area.  No special filters or anything, it was nearly noontime when I took these series of photos.  Go figure.  I think I had on the teleconverter lens to turn it into a “50mm” for this photo.

 

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Same area as the previous photo, but without the teleconverter on the lens.  If Fuji made an equivalent 20mm lens for the X-100T, I would probably hardly ever use my D810 for traveling around.  Only major downside to mirrorless for landscape work I’ve found is they absolutely SUCK for using graduated ND filters….they are basically useless.

 

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Another rest stop photo in Utah – the tractor trailer gives some perspective.  Did I mention the scenery in Utah is unreal?  I love California and all for the scenery, but Utah is better, IMO….at least the hardscape is better.

 

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Another scenic rest stop.  Yep, I sure did stop a lot.  The sun was making it hard now to get non-washed out photos with crummy lighting, since the light was directly overhead.  I’ll let you know when I start using my Nikon.

 

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It’s like a mini Grand Canyon of sorts, except this is right next to the highway and about a minute walk from the car (if that) from what I remember.  If I wasn’t trying to get to Las Vegas before dark, I would’ve spent a lot more time at these places.

 

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Some random petrified tree off the highway in Utah, I-70.  I had another cool angle of this tree, but it wasn’t in focus, which bummed me out.  Ah well.  Still made decent time, even though I stopped like 10 times in Utah….the speed limit is 80 mph, but my main concern was the cargo carrier and all the weight I was carrying in regard to speed; otherwise I would’ve been going over 100 mph in parts.  In addition to awesome scenery, they have awesome roads for driving fast.

 

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The hooptie at the last Utah rest area I stopped at (where I took the tree photo).  The hooptie hates the fact that there is no 93 octane gas west of Illinois.

 

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Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in/near Malibu, early morning in May.  Yep, still using the Fuji.

 

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Somewhere in Malibu, an overlook on the PCH.

 

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Santa Monica Pier – all kinds of interesting folks here.  Lots of local entertainers selling their music; some were really good.  The pier wasn’t too crowed at this point as it was only 10 a.m.  Crap, I just looked at the EXIF data and realized I forgot to set my X-100T to P.S.T.

 

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Lots of people fishing off the pier – well, not in this particular photo, but they are all around the pier.  I wonder how radioactive fish tastes.

 

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I finally made it to the end of Route 66.  That only took about 25 years.

 

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Yep, total tourist trap.  Lots of people seem to like to get next to the sign and point to it for some reason.  I gave up trying to get a photo of just the sign with nobody next to it.

 

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Things you will never see on a beach elsewhere.  The overall vibe in Santa Monica is nothing like I have experienced anywhere else.  If I ever win Powerball (then again, that would require me to actually buy tickets), one of my residences would be a condo on the beach here.

 

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Don’t want to pay for a gym?  No problem.  Just go to the beach.

 

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The beach is rather sizable in parts – Santa Monica Pier in the background to give it some scale.

 

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Yep, if I won the lottery for a significant amount, I’d totally have a condo on the “boardwalk”….not too many boards here though, so it’s more of a cementwalk.

 

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A neat little nook of shops.  I didn’t actually go in any, but it looked cool.

 

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Ahhhh memories.  Back when I was 14 years old and into bodybuilding, I wanted to see what this place was all about.  Nearly 28 years later, I finally have.  It’s much smaller than I thought.

 

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Yep, the gym is pretty small….and sadly there were no ‘roid monsters working out, except for one guy who seemed to be more interested in taking photos with people than lifting.

 

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Things you won’t see in New England – a piano on a boardwalk for street performers.  I have no idea whose it was as there was nobody around – seems to be the case for a lot of the street vendors and performers in Venice Beach.  They seem to just leave their stuff there.

 

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Soooooo laid back.  I wish I was there now….although I guess I could be since I only live 33 miles from it, but crowds would be insane at 1 p.m. on a Saturday.

 

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The carousel on the Santa Monica Pier.

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The beach from the pier.

 

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Part of the impressive bike path network here in Santa Clarita.  I’ve spent many hours on them the last couple of months – there is nothing in New England set up like this.  As you can probably tell, it’s a bit on the dry side here.  I haven’t seen rain since I was in Nebraska.

 

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I drove up to Sequoia some time back in May – unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate.  FINALLY, a photo with my Nikon D810, although I have found that 24mm often is not wide enough for taking photos out west.  Guess it’s time to get a 14mm lens at some point.

 

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Driving along the Angeles Crest Highway in the Angeles National Forest.  This was, without a doubt, the most incredible road I have driven on.  Imagine 66 miles of twisty roads with zero traffic (I did it at 6:30 a.m. on a Tuesday).  The speed limit is 55 mph for much of it, and I found myself often well under the speed limit in the turns to avoid destroying my car and/or my tires……so, I had a blast, and finally for once didn’t have to worry about getting a ticket.  Score.  Nikon D810 with a neutral grad filter, Nikon 24mm F1.4G lens.

 

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Being a U2 fan, I had to go to Joshua Tree National Park.  Plus, I’ve been to a lot of National Parks and had to add this one to the list.  I have to say this was by far the most underwhelming of all the ones I have been to, with Acadia being a close second.  The trees were kinda cool, but you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.  Even the landscape was kinda boring, and I like deserts.  I dunno, it just didn’t really impress me.  Taken with the D810 and Nikon 200mm F2 VR2.

 

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The end of Stage 2 of the 2016 Tour of California in Santa Clarita – about 3 miles from where I live.  Windy as hell this particular day….it’s usually really windy here anyway, but I think they had 25-35 mph winds this day.  Ben King won the day.  Trying to get photos here was next to impossible as the woman next to me (who seemed fairly determined to crush my rear derailleur on my bike with her leg) kept getting in my way.  Nikon D810, Nikon 24-70mm F2.8G.

 

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Peter Sagan, 2016 Tour of California after Stage 2 was complete.  Nikon D810, Nikon 24-70mm F2.8G

 

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One of my bike ride routes in the mountains – Castaic, CA.  Don’t mind the power lines.  Nikon D810, Nikon 24-70mm F2.8G w/ a neutral grad.

 

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Somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4’s of the way up.  There’s a cyclist on the road below if you can find the speck.  Nikon D810, Nikon 24-70mm F2.8G w/ a neutral grad and tobacco filter.

 

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Looking out over the mountains from Ridge Route Rd in Castaic, nearing the top.  Nikon D810, Nikon 24-70mm F2.8G w/ a neutral grad.

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The road snaking along the mountains up top – the riding here is hands down significantly better than anywhere else I’ve ridden.  The northeast basically sucks in comparison, and I used to think that New Hampshire and Northeastern CT were really good.  Nikon D810, Nikon 24-70mm F2.8G w/ a neutral grad.

So in a nutshell, that’s what I’ve been up to the last couple of months.  Oh and I bought an XBox One and Forza 6 which helps keep me occupied during recovery from rides.  Hopefully in the coming months I will have more to share from a photographic standpoint.

Nikon 135mm F2.8 AI Lens Review

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So, I’m doing a review I never thought I’d do on a lens that I never knew existed until about a month ago.  These days, most of the “old school tech” has been long since forgotten about, in favor of the newest, most expensive (and plastic) thing to hit the shelves.  I’m guilty of this just like everyone else….but over time, I’ve pared down my gear to what I needed and what works for me as I learned what works and what doesn’t.  It’s been an expensive process.

I came across this lens recently by watching Ken, the “Angry Photographer” on YouTube.  I found his channel back when he first started making videos, and thought it to be rather abrasive and thus, stopped watching after half a video.  Back in August, some of his videos again popped up in my feed, so I clicked on one.  Then another.  Then another; so on and so forth.  Then I subscribed.  While his demeanor has softened quite a bit, the info he was stating seemed really solid, pragmatic – although I do have to disagree with him on the Nikon 50mm F1.8D lens – biggest piece of crap I have ever owned that produced horribly flat and soft images at all apertures.  But, I digress.

Ken touts the Nikon 135mm F2.8 AI or AI-s lens as the “must have” Nikon lens if you’re going to own anything.  Hm.  A quick search of eBay puts them in the low to mid $200 range for something in good condition with no fungus.  These lenses were made between 1976 and 2005.  I have the AI version of the lens, so I’m figuring mine is from somewhere between 1977 to 1981.  Pretty cool.  The lens weighs around 15 ounces, has 7 aperture blades with a range from F2.8 to F32, 5 lens elements in 4 groups, focuses down to 4.5 feet and has a built-in lens hood.  It accepts 52mm filters and is a very small lens, as evident below compared to my Nikon 50mm F1.8G (lens hood extended on the 135mm):

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So why buy this lens?  A few reasons.  Let’s discuss the good first.

  • Very compact and lightweight.
  • Small lens diameter (equals cheap filters).
  • Low cost.
  • Very sharp (even wide open) and contrasty images – even the edges are sharp.  This 1979 lens is FAR sharper at its’ widest aperture than my current production $2,000 Nikon 24mm F1.4G lens at its’ widest aperture.
  • All metal construction, built like a tank.
  • Smooth manual focus and a long throw – very accurate to focus.
  • Alleviates having to bring a 70-200 to a lot of situations (provided you don’t need autofocus) – 135mm is a decent trade-off.
  • Bokeh quality is amazing.
  • Low lens element count (5) – produces sharper and more contrasty images.  Poor analogy, but imagine looking through a window….and then throw another 18 panes of glass in front of that – that’s basically what it’s like with today’s expensive “pro” zoom lenses.  Sure, some are sharp, but generally produce flatter-looking low contrast images….one of the many reasons why I have primarily shot with prime lenses the last few years.
  • The focus ring actually stops at infinity (I miss this about the older lenses and I hate that most lenses these days don’t).

Now, for the “bad”….

  • Color fringing and weird colors with lens flare – I don’t have any examples as I deleted them, but some shots with lens flare had some interesting shades of blue, purple, etc.  I normally don’t shoot into the sun anyway, so usually not a problem for me.  This lens doesn’t have the fancy coatings that todays lenses have, so….
  • I sometimes find the light weight and small size somewhat of a challenge to handhold steadily at times….I usually prefer a bit more weight and a larger lens for steady shooting, but I hate carrying around a bunch of big, heavy camera gear.  Go figure.  However, on a tripod, all is well.
  • No 1/3 stop increments – that’s probably my only real gripe about this lens.
  • Ummm……hmmm….really grasping at straws here….I have to go buy a 52mm clear filter for it, as well as a 52mm adapter so I can use my 77mm ND kit and Polarizer.
  • I can’t think of anything else, really.

As you can tell in the photo above, next to the 50mm, the lens is very small.  Surprisingly small actually, when I first got it.  It can easily fit in a pocket of a jacket or your shorts.  It weighs next to nothing (compared to the big, heavy zooms), built like a tank with an all metal body and is insanely cheap – mine cost $230 shipped from Japan.  On a Nikon D810, I was half-expecting moderately ok sharpness….but when I took the test shot below wide open at F2.8, I was shocked:

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Nikon D810, ISO 200, F2.8, 1/400th

Not only are the flowers (and dust) along the lid rim tack sharp upon zooming in to 100% in Lightroom, the bokeh is superbly soft and not distracting, and that contrast….oh man.  It was this test shot where I thought that Ken was really onto something here.  Below is another test shot to check the bokeh and contrast:


 

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Nikon D810, ISO 200, F2.8, 1/800th – closest focusing distance

Not too shabby in the bokeh dept, as well as contrast and colors.  This is what I usually like…..contrasty, vibrant images.  1970’s technology at work.


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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F2.8, 1/200th – closest focusing distance

Another bokeh test shot……that’s a horse in the background about 35 feet away.  Nice and abstract, and high contrast with harsh morning light.  And now for the last highly unexciting bokeh test:


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Nikon D810, ISO 125, F2.8, 1/500th – closest focusing distance

More of the same…..great bokeh, and contrasty.  Not a bad way to spend $200 so far.


Now, let’s look at sharpness….and contrast, of course.  As much as I like looking at them to determine sharpness, I don’t have any test charts, so this is more of a real-world test.  The below series of photos were taken using a tripod and going through the entire aperture range, shot at ISO 64:

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And now for a high contrast, black and white to further aid in sharpness testing:

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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F4, 1/800th on a tripod


Not really sharpness testing, but here’s what sun stars look like stopped down to F11 – not bad at all…many people buy filters for this kind of effect:

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Ok, now onto the “real” photos…..and one of the main reasons I bought the lens – landscape photography.  As luck would have it, I found out (after the fact, naturally), that I had a huge piece of hair on my sensor for some of the photos – too large to use the spot removal tool in Lightroom, so I left it.

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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F16, 1/6th

Kind of a different take on a water shot….I saw the light, the angle of the water, the leaves and contrasting colors, and immediately set up my tripod as I had started to leave this part of the river.  Both the camera and the lens handled this extremely high contrast scene pretty well, although I had to knock down the highlights a bit in Lightroom.


 

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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F22, 1/4th

The lens and camera captured this perfectly – I will return in a few weeks when the leaves start to turn (and no hair on my sensor) to re-do this shot – I just hope I get the light in the same ballpark.  When I saw this photograph, I was sold on this lens.  It is staying in my camera bag.  Did I mention I love the color rendition and contrast of this lens?


 

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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F22, 1/3rd

Black and white version which I like a great deal, but I have to give the nod to the color photo above.


 

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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F22, 1/5th

The dynamic range of the D810 is remarkable, as well as the 135mm F2.8.  I love the 135mm focal length and started to adapt to it pretty quickly by this point.  Even at F22 and with diffraction, this photo is more than acceptably sharp.


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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F16, 1/6th

Going for the dark and moody look – the light went away for a bit here, so I carefully composed this.  I still cannot get over the results for a 1978 lens that cost $230 and fits in the palm of my hand.  I pined after the Nikon 135mm F2 DC lens for the longest time, but I’m not sure if I have an urge to get that any longer and saved $1,100 in the process.  Score.


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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F16, 1/4th

The light came back briefly – not much to say other than I love this lens.  Not liking the hair on the sensor though – kind of pissed me off actually.


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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F16, 1/6th

I wanted to capture some semi-vibrant color and see how the lens handled it, along with the contrast.  It handled it pretty well, I’d say.  Sharp, contrasty and vibrant.


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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F16, 1/3rd

Decided to process this as a high contrast black and white – again, I prefer the color version….which normally I prefer B&W.  At this point the light I had wanted was gone, so I packed it up and headed home.


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Nikon D810, ISO64 , F8, 1 second

Decided to trek over to Steep Falls and get some more testing in – one of the downsides of using a telephoto lens for landscapes is that at closer distances, it becomes basically impossible to get everything in focus….this would have been a much better photograph had the log on top been in focus (like in other photos I’ve taken of this scene in the past).  Nonetheless, the sharpness and contrast are still good.


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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F16, 1/6th and hand-holding a variable ND in front of the lens

Not too shabby – this lens has a great tonal/contrast range to it.


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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F16, 1/6th and hand-holding a variable ND in front of the lens

Here’s another shot to show the tones/contrast in the lighter colors.


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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F16, 1/4th and hand-holding a variable ND filter in front of the lens

Had to include a high contrast B&W – love the tones in this shot.


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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F16, 1/5th and hand-holding a variable ND filter in front of the lens

Once in awhile I get lucky and everything comes together in a photograph – this is one of those photographs.


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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F16, 1/6th and hand-holding a variable ND filter in front of the lens

A week and 5 inches of rain later – water levels were slightly elevated.


 

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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F8, 1/5th and hand-holding a variable ND filter in front of the lens

Love the composition, movement, lighting, contrast and colors in this.


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Nikon D810, ISO 400, F4, 1/200th

I’ve found that at longer distances, manual focus can be a bit more difficult with DSLR’s that don’t have focusing screens, so I try to rely on the focus confirmation dot……which is good and bad.  I’ve found that sometimes it’s not the most accurate, but then you also have to pull your eye away from the subject and look down at the dot.  If you’re on a tripod and your subject isn’t moving, this is a non-issue.  However, hand-holding a moving subject can be more of a challenge.  I never liked the focus confirmation beep on DSLR’s as it’s pretty stupid to use when using autofocus, but I could definitely see a use for it now with a manual focus lens.  Too bad it doesn’t work with manual focus lenses.


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Nikon D810, ISO 400, F4, 1/125th

Jack peeking over the hay bale with his face buried in it.  Out of focus parts are ok in this shot – on par with most 70-200’s at this focal length and distance to subject.  Good contrast.  I find (generally speaking) the bokeh quality with the D810 starts to look a bit busier/crappier (due to noise) when you shoot much over the base ISO (64).  I still wish I never sold my D3s.  Ugh.


 

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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F2.8 and 1/200th

And more photo updates – I don’t think I’ve updated a lens review quite as much as this one.  Harsh late afternoon sun, shooting at close range and wide open…with a moving object….made taking this photo a challenge, and several attempts to get tack sharp focus.  The upside with this lens is it makes me work for the photo.  The downside is that sometimes I miss shots since I can’t manually focus a lens as fast as say, my Nikon 200mm F2.  I still love this lens.


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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F4, 1/125th

Shooting (slightly) below the reciprocal and getting a tack sharp image – woohoo..  Not sure why I like this photo, other than the lighting, colors and contrast.  I have been getting very used to the 135mm focal length after using this lens exclusively the past month, and find I often prefer it for a wide variety of subjects.  I used to shoot with my 85mm lens quite a bit, but at times found it didn’t have quite enough compression (or reach) for my liking….this lens falls nicely in the middle of my 85mm and 200mm, and is FAR easier to carry around than those two lenses.


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Nikon D810, ISO 200, F4, 1/125th

This image is as sharp as a razor where it’s supposed to be (the eyes), and when I zoom into 100%, I’m blown away by the detail I can see in the cats eyes reflecting objects on the table he’s sitting on.  The bokeh and contrast doesn’t suck either.  Fortunately the cat was moving slower than the horses.


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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F16, 1/5th and no ND filter

Back to the waterfalls.  I don’t really need to say much more at this point, other than the lens has far exceeded my expectations on sharpness, color rendition, contrast and micro-contrast, and usability.


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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F16, 1/6th and no ND filter

This’ll be my last waterfall landscape shot for a bit, unless I get something really amazing – I think you get the point by now that this “old” lens performs incredibly well on the latest DSLR technology.


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Nikon D810, ISO 64, F8 1/250th

Finally got some portrait photos in – all in all, not bad.  Focusing wasn’t an issue, and the colors are decent and .  I think I prefer my 85mm F1.4 for color/warmth of the image, but I love the compression of the 135mm…..the 85mm doesn’t have enough, and the 200mm sometimes has too much.  Used 3 Einsteins for this shot, with a strong morning sun back-lighting the scene.


In conclusion, I understand what Ken meant when he recommended this lens.  It is a great piece of inexpensive glass and am ecstatic it found its way into my camera bags.  This lens makes you slow down and think through the shot….how to construct it, composition, light, angles, etc.  It’s hard to explain, but it makes you more aware of what you are doing and being more in tune with the overall process, versus just going out and banging through a bunch of shots, which becomes very easy to do these days.  Most people may balk at the fact it’s not autofocus….and it really comes down to the type of shooting that you’re doing.  For me, this lens is a great addition….I tend to use manual focus a lot, particularly with studio and landscape work…but if I was shooting fast moving subjects *all* of the time, then yeah, I’d just stick with my 200F2 for a medium length tele and call it a day.  Or perhaps, try out the 180mm F2.8.  Hm.

Maybe when I get some disposal cash.

2015 Lobsterman Triathlon, Freeport, Maine

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Click to enlarge – in the Pain Cave

It’s been awhile since I’ve photographed a sporting event such as this, even though I’m never the official photographer…..which is how I like it – much less pressure and free (for the most part) to get the shots I want.  From the photographic side of things, I shot the entire race on a Nikon D810 and the 200mm F2 VR2 lens on a monopod.  The lighting was extremely harsh in the morning as there was direct sun and no clouds, but for the most part things worked out…..I was limited in where I could shoot from as I had to walk, but found a decent vantage point a short ways up the road for the cycling and running portion.  Fortunately the race is in a gorgeous area, which makes things much easier.

Michael O’Neil, the Race Director, put on a really great event – well organized, well thought out and a very friendly and open atmosphere.  I’ve been to a few events….both photographing them and participating (bicycle races though – only one sprint tri)….and this was my favorite.  It almost makes me want to take up swimming and force myself to like running, even though my shins never agree with me :).

Here is a link to the low res photos:  http://www.danarouleauphotography.com/home/?page_id=3570

I apologize if the page loads slowly, but there’s a lot of photos.

If anyone has any questions, feel free to send me an email:  dana@danarouleauphotography.com

 

Fuji X-100T Review

The Overview:

Sorry, no obligatory gear photos (yet) – my studio equipment is stored away for now as I’m staying with the fam for a few months and have no room to set anything up.

I like to be about a year late with these reviews it seems.

The Fuji X-100 series cameras have been a game-changer in the world of photography for some, while others are somewhat indifferent toward it.  It is a camera that typically caters toward your advanced amateur and pro crowd – those who understand the camera and its limitations will understand what the camera is for, and what it can and cannot do.  Those who are disappointed with it because they think it should perform on par in all aspects of a DSLR simply do not understand what this camera is all about.  I came across a video on YouTube recently in which this guy goes on a 25 minute rant about the X-100 series and how Zack Arias is misleading everyone and how the camera doesn’t perform like a DSLR, etc……it was pretty pathetic to watch, but at the same time, it illustrates that what one person deems as the “greatest camera ever”, someone else may think of it as the “greatest piece of crap ever”.

I fall somewhere in the middle.

A camera is simply a tool to record images.  Based upon a particular need, one will choose a certain type of camera.  For me, that has been DSLR’s for the past 7 years….prior to that, I shot film.  Now, I love my Nikon gear…..I can’t imagine Nikon improving too much beyond what the D810 is capable of in regard to sharpness, dynamic range, color rendition, detail, etc.  At some point, unless technology dramatically changes somehow, they will reach a limit as to how far they can go with wringing performance out of the little 24x36mm sensor.  However, carry around a DSLR and a lens or three for several hours, and you start to hate the thing.  The last wedding I shot, I shot *mostly* with my D810 and Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art lens, with an SB-900 on top.  Nine hours later, my back was destroyed…..and the D810 and 35mm lens aren’t really that heavy, at least compared to my old D3s and using the 24-70mm with a flash.  I remember when I got to the hotel and brought my camera bags in, I could barely stand upright my back was so wasted.

A year ago, I rented a Fuji X-100S for a day trip up to Boston.  It had been a camera I paid a lot of attention to and studied up on, but the price was always the deal-breaker for me.  I finally relented and rented one, and loved it.  It wasn’t perfect…..what camera is…..but for its intended use, it was good.  I still didn’t like the price though, and never bought one.  Enter the X-100T.  Fuji addressed most of the issues I had with the X-100S with the X-100T, minus the fact that for some unknown reason, it’s still not weather sealed.

So what does the X-100T do well?  Moreover, what do I need one for?  Glad you asked.  I broke down and bought one after I determined that I wanted to save 3-4 pounds over my D810 and a couple of lenses for my cross-country bicycle trip.  I already knew the image sensor capabilities from when I had tested out the X-100S and wasn’t too worried about that.  I already knew that the AF system is good enough for what it is.  I know that I like a 35mm to 50mm focal length for a lot of my general shooting…..so really, it wasn’t a very difficult decision, just a monetary one.  The X-100T excels at delivering great image quality in a very small package.  The X-100T excels at “not looking like a photographer”.  The X-100T excels at weighing next to nothing and being able to carry it around all day without noticing.  The X-100T excels at being stealthy in regard to street photography.  The X-100T excels at getting one to slow down and concentrate more on the process of getting a good photo, versus popping off hundreds of photos and hoping at least a couple of them are decent.  Even the noise performance is decent for an APS-C sized sensor – I still prefer 24x36mm sensors though….and if I could afford to go larger, I’d go larger.  If you use the electronic shutter, the camera is dead silent when you take a photo…..compare it to a DSLR sometime.

What does the X-100T not do well?  A myriad of things…..if you’re into shooting wildlife, next.  If you’re a wedding photographer, it’s not exactly the most ideal set up (although you could probably do it, but only in relatively well-lit venues where people don’t move too fast….and forget receptions when they turn the lights way down).  If you’re shooting sports, nope.  If you shoot music venues under really poor lighting with fast-moving musicians, sorry.  If you shoot landscapes and need lens choices outside of 35mm and the two teleconverter sizes, you’ll want to look elsewhere.

Ok, so it’s not the greatest camera ever made, much to the chagrin of those out there who love it to death……and don’t get me wrong, I love the camera as well – I wouldn’t have spent $1,300 on one if I didn’t.  It’s just not a do-everything camera…..BUT, what it does do, it does very well.  The other added benefit of this camera is for using studio lighting in situations where I need a high shutter sync speed to kill ambient light, faster than the 1/250th that is the max of my D810.  While I tend to prefer at least an 85mm  focal length for portraits and such, I can very easily slap on the 1.4x teleconverter on the X-100T to turn it into a 50mm lens and use that.

The film simulation modes are pretty awesome……Fuji Velvia was my favorite transparency film back in the day, and Fuji knows color.  It is no different in the digital realm for them as well.  I can’t really explain it, but the tones I get out of the X-series just looks/feels a little different to me versus my DSLR’s….and I like it.  However, I still prefer shooting in RAW.  I know, I know….it’s sacrilegious to the Fuji shooters out there, but I like the control that I have with RAW, and find myself fiddling around too much with JPEG settings when shooting in JPEG……which is fine if you have all the time in the world to get the shot, but not if you’re in a hurry.  I’d rather concentrate on shooting versus concentrating on making sure my JPEG settings are correct.

The EVF is greatly improved over the X-100S from what I remember of it, as well as the LCD screen on the back of the camera.  I remember looking at the LCD on the X-100S (after being used to the D3s and D800E for quite some time), and was like “they seriously put this thing on a $1,300 camera?”  The menus are fairly simple and intuitive to use, and most things are quickly accessed with the Q button, which you can customize as well.  You can also assign up to 7 function buttons, but I prefer to use the directional pad for focus points, so I only have 3 buttons assigned.  The built-in ND filter is a handy feature, but don’t expect it to act like a Tiffen 2 to 8 stop ND filter or anything.  The ergonomics (read: button layout) is also vastly improved over the X-100S.  The instruction manual it comes with is extremely basic, and chances are you’ll need to do a web search if you need to figure out how do/figure something out.

When I first got the X-100T, I had forgotten how small these cameras are….and that’s one reason why they are so great – it’s an easy camera to carry and have with you.  It’s the size of my HTC One (although obviously much thicker), and weighs a pound….with an F2 lens, 16MP sensor and no AA filter, and operates silently and discreetly.  Need a camera to carry around Disney World?  Need a camera to keep in the car / motorcycle / etc. with you?  Need a camera to throw in the backpack to go hiking with?  Need a camera to walk around a big city for 10 hours?  This it where the X-100T shines.

However, this camera does not in any way “replace” a DSLR for my particular photographic needs – nor could I picture any other mirrorless camera doing so at this point in time.  The DSLR is, in fact, not dead as some have declared…..and if you spend any amount of time with one of these cameras compared to a DSLR, you’ll soon note the differences.  The X100T is capable of producing some stunning images, but the image quality (and overall speed) still does not compare to my D810 with either the Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art, Nikon 85mm F1.4G or Nikon 200mm F2 VR2 lenses on it – it cannot keep up with the D810 in regard to dynamic range, detail and cropability.  Guess what?  The X-100T was not designed to do everything.  Just because Zack Arias made the shock statement that this is the greatest camera ever made and it happens to suit his shooting style/needs and got rid of his own DSLR gear, does not mean that’s the case for someone else.  For all the Chuck Jines types on the internet getting completely bent out of shape thinking that Zack lied to them…..get a grip and learn to think and make informed and intelligent choices for yourself based upon YOUR needs, not what someone tells you that you think you need.

Oh and battery life still sucks, but that’s been a given with these cameras.

 

Sample Images:

Everyone talks about how great a camera this is for street photography…..and it is….but since everyone and their brother does reviews specifically geared toward that, I figured I’d do some boring horse / landscape / waterfall / general stuff.  I had the following gear with me:  Fuji X100T (duh), Fuji 1.4x teleconverter lens (50mm equivalent), Fuji lens hood, Fuji 49mm filter, Lee Seven 5 graduated ND filter kit w/49mm adapter, Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 20 bag.  I had a tripod with me for the waterfall and macro stuff.

Let’s talk about the Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 20 for a sec (I’ll do a full review on it later) – I love small camera bags, and this bag is perfect for a Fuji X series camera with 2-3 lenses/teleconverters).  I remember reading a review where someone complained about the “useless” magnetic flap over the zippered section on this bag…..apparently this person didn’t realize that the zipper holds your gear in securely while storing/traveling, and then when you’re shooting, you can unzip the main compartment and use the magnetic flap to cover your gear and quickly access it.  Seemed pretty intuitive to me.  Anyway, if you need to carry battery chargers/cables and all your mirrorless stuff while shooting (I don’t), you may want to go to the next size up.  I also carry a Go Pro Hero 4 Black in the bag as well, and still have room for the Fuji wide teleconverter once I get that thing.  The bag is easy to work out of, and everything is so light (and small) you don’t even notice you’re carrying it….compared to a DSLR setup.

Onto the photos…

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I had to try out the JPEG abilities…..and they are good…..but not really for how I like to shoot.  The only tweaking I did with these was Clarity and Sharpening in Lightroom.  ISO 400, F3.2 and 1/220th, underexposed by 2 stops.


 

 

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ISO 200, F3.6, 1/110th.  Pretty sharp, decent color rendition and contrast.


 

 

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ISO 2000, F2.2, 1/40th.  Higher ISO performance is about what I would expect for an APS-C sensor.


 

 

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ISO 4000, F2.2, 1/40th of a second.  Not too bad, but starting to fall apart a little bit in the darker shadows.  There’s a ton of dust kicking around, so it may look a little grainier than it actually is.


 

 

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ISO 200, F5.6, 1/350th.  Good color, razor sharp.  Slight crop on this image.


 

 

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ISO 200, F5.6, 1/40th and 2 stops of underexposure.  Heading up to Crystal Cascade on Mt. Washington, NH.


 

 

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ISO 200, F10, 1/3rd and used the built-in ND filter.  I’ve taken very similar pictures with my old Nikon D3s and can’t tell the difference between the two.  Good color rendition, contrast and sharpness.  SO much easier carrying this setup than a DSLR for basically the same result…..although it’s obviously much easier to use a wide array of focal lengths with a DSLR.  I had a Benro Travel Angel tripod for the waterfall pics.


 

 

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ISO 200, F10, 1/3rd and internal ND filter.  I am pretty happy with these results.  I removed the stick from the water before taking the pic this time.


 

 

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ISO 200, F10, 1/7th, 1.4x teleconverter (50mm equiv focal length) and internal ND filter.  I am very pleased with the fact that the teleconverter loses no light or sharpness.  At some point I’ll get the wide one.


 

 

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ISO 200, F10, 1/7th, 1.4x teleconverter, 2/3’s of a stop underexposed and internal ND filter.  Nice and contrasty.


 

 

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ISO 200, F10, 1/5th, 1.4x teleconverter and internal ND filter.  Yep, water spilling over rocks.  Yay.


 

 

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ISO 200, F11, 1/7th, 1.4x teleconverter and internal ND filter.  I love the colors and light….probably my favorite photo so far with the X-100T.


 

 

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ISO 200, F11, 1/6th, 1.4x teleconverter and internal ND filter.  Black and white version of the above – this is a separate photo and not just re-processed as black and white.  I like the color one better.


 

 

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ISO 200, F5.6, 1/105th.  This is a crappy photo, but I took this to see how the X-100T would handle a decent disparity between dark and light areas.  It did pretty good (after some editing), but don’t expect it to have the dynamic range of say, a Nikon D810.


 

 

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ISO 200, F5.6, 1/200th.  Another crappy photo, but taken to show distortion AFTER the automatic lens correction tool in Lightroom was used.  Not too shabby at all, considering I was angling the camera down.


 

 

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ISO 200, F8 and 1/60th.  Continuing with the crappy photo theme, but testing out the Lee Seven 5 graduated ND filter kit for the X-100T.  Using the EVF (Electronic Viewfinder), it was very difficult (read: next to impossible) to tell exactly where the filter was….I basically had to guess and couldn’t be very precise with it.  DSLR’s are FAR superior to use in this regard….I’m hoping it’s a bit easier to use on say, sunsets.  Yet another reason why I won’t sell my DSLR gear in favor of mirrorless.  If mirrorless was better, then I would….but it simply isn’t.


 

 

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ISO 200, F2.2 and 1/240th, macro mode.  I was testing out macro mode, but didn’t have much time as a thunderstorm was rolling in.  Macro mode seems to be a bit gimmicky…..sure, you can get in really close, but it’s not the clearest/sharpest image in the world…..I took several photos, and it seems to have a haze around the in-focus areas.  I’ll have to test it in the F4 range and see if there’s a difference (this isn’t the sharpest lens in the world wide open, or almost wide open).  Nice bokeh though.


 

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ISO 200, F2 and 1/30th, shot in manual and EVF (to control the light on the face).  Sure, the background looks like a nuclear explosion went off, but high contrast was the goal with this shot when I walked past the bedroom and  saw the cat sitting there with the strong backlighting.  I could’ve grabbed my D810, but grabbed the Fuji instead.  This would’ve been a shot that might not have happened had I used the D810 with my 35mm F1.4 Sigma Art lens on it, as the cat might not have hung around as I stuck the lens in its’ face.  The X-100T handled the high contrast scene pretty well – very minimal editing was done on this photo.

 

So that’s pretty much it for now.  As I take more photos, I will update this post.  All things considered, I have been very satisfied with this camera and accessories.

 

Cooks Cafe – 8/22/2015

Links to photographs from Saturday’s show at Cooks Cafe in Naugatuck, CT:

Scowl – http://www.danarouleauphotography.com/home/?page_id=3499

Gangrene – http://www.danarouleauphotography.com/home/?page_id=3503

The Maddening Process – http://www.danarouleauphotography.com/home/?page_id=3506

Revenge Against God – http://www.danarouleauphotography.com/home/?page_id=3509

Violence Prevails – http://www.danarouleauphotography.com/home/?page_id=3512