Trip Peek #35
Trip #61
Sweetheart Cruise ’08

pv44This picture is from my 2008 Sweetheart Cruise trip. This was my first time joining the annual (weather and other stuff permitting) cruise organized by a small group of Missouri road fans. The name comes from its proximity to Valentines Day and the fact that it usually includes sweethearts Kent and Mary Sue Sanderson. This particular cruise ran north along the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Hannibal then crossed over and returned through Illinois at some distance from the river. There were lots of bald eagles and pelicans to be seen on the way to Hannibal with the area around Lock 25 near Winfield, MO, where the picture was taken, being one of the hot spots. The second day featured some Sanderson childhood memories including a look (from the outside) at the Lustron house that Mary Sue remembered her father assembling after it arrived on a truck. Weather was fine for the two days of the actual cruise but I did encounter snow on the way home which prompted me to move from two-lane to expressway much sooner than planned.

Two aspects of this trip, one good and one bad, were photo related. On the good side was the move to posting 800 x 600 pixel photos after more than eight years of sticking with 640 x 480. On the bad side was the failure of a memory card containing lots of snowy National Road pictures on the third day. I’m sure they would have looked marvelous in the new larger format.


Trip Pic Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the trip journal it is from.

My Gear – Chapter 19
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40

DMC-ZS40I knew within a week of purchasing the Panasonic DMC-FZ70 that I’d made a mistake. When the camera was not quite six days old I set out on a short road trip and used it for several of the pictures posted in that trip’s journal (It’s a Wanderful Life). It performed flawlessly and recorded some fine photos. My mistake was not in buying a bad camera but in buying the wrong camera. The FZ70’s quality seemed good and it was certainly quite capable. There was simply no slot for it in my personal arsenal.

It’s nearly as big as my Nikon D5100 and, while it is good, it’s not as good. Anytime camera size was not an issue, the Nikon would win. The only place where the Nikon did not fit and the Panasonic did was in a fanny pack and even there it was bulky and awkward to extract. Technically usable as my “concert cam”, it wasn’t nearly as convenient or discreet as the FZ8 had been.

As my buyer’s remorse grew, the Consumer Electronics Show opened in Las Vegas and with it came some new camera announcements. A pair from Panasonic caught my eye. The 20.1 MP Lumix DMC-ZS100 would list for $700 and the 18.1 MP Lumix DMC-ZS60 would list for $448. Of course pixel count wasn’t the only difference but either seemed more than capable of satisfying my desires and both were priced well above my target zone. Neither was actually available with the January 5 announcement but they were available for advance ordering on Amazon. I placed no order but did put the ZS60 on my wish list in case some money fell into my lap.

The most important thing those camera announcements did for me was make me aware of predecessors. The ZS60 was a direct replacement for the almost identically sized ZS40. There were several improvement, of course. Some were definitely desirable but none were necessary. Prices began to slowly drop on the discontinued camera and I pulled the trigger at $212 or 47% of the original $450 MSRP.

I could have had the more desirable all black model for about $40 more but could barely justify the $212. Aside from aesthetics, which can go either way, pros prefer black cameras for the same reasons snipers don’t care much for shiny gun barrels. Although the model I purchased is called silver, it is predominately black and the parts that aren’t are mostly more gray than silver. There are indeed a few bits that could create a glint but that’s hardly an issue when the area around you is likely to be filled with glowing smartphone screens.

DMC-ZS40aThis is the right camera. It’s about three times as thick as my Samsung Galaxy S4 and actually smaller in the other dimensions. Equally important to me is the eye-level viewfinder. It is electronic, of course, which means its on the course side and a little sluggish but not terribly so. In terms of speed, it’s probably a little slower than the FZ70 but significantly faster than the FZ8 and FZ5 I used for years. Yes, I would like the better low light performance of the ZS50 or ZS100 but the difference in prices makes this the right camera for me for now.

DMC-ZS40bWhen I purchased that Lumix DMC-FZ5 in 2005 it was a real change for me. To that point I had refused to own a camera, or much of anything else, that used proprietary batteries. I had also stuck with products from “camera companies”. During the previous forty-plus years of semi-serious picture taking I’d owned Olympus, Nikon, and Canon cameras. Even my 100% price driven first digital was from a company, Agfa, known for film and cameras. My concerns were considerably lessened by the Leica lens on the FZ5. As I said in the FZ5’s My Gear post, digital cameras are “made of electronics and optics” and those are fields where Panasonic and Leica excel. The FZ8 also had a Leica lens but not so the FZ70. I can’t prove that my perception of the Lumix Vario lens on the FZ70 being slightly inferior as anything more than my own prejudice but the ZS40 makes the question meaningless. My latest purchase has a Leica 30X (24-720mm) lens that somehow fits itself inside that 1.34 inch body when power is off.

Another thing that changed with the the FZ5 purchase was form factor. The Canon compacts that preceded it had been small flattish cubes when power was off and the modest zooms parked. The FZ5’s shape was more like a SLR with the long-throw lens protruding from the body even when fully retracted. With the ZS40 I’m back to a small cube that slips easily into pockets.

There are a couple of features on the Lumix DMC-ZS40 that I wasn’t looking for and would not pay extra for. One is a built in GPS receiver that supports in-camera geotagging. For some time, I’ve been geotagging my photos after-the-fact via software and the tracks recorded by a Garmin GPS. The only negative I see with the in-camera unit is reduced battery life. For that reason, I’ll likely have it turned off most of the time but I can certainly see using it for some away-from-the-car geotagging. Wi-Fi is also built in which allows using online services to store photos or post them directly to social media. I have doubts that I’ll ever use it that way but it’s possible. It also allows me to transfer pictures between the camera and my phone or laptop and that does seem like something I might have a use for someday. The camera can be used as something of a wireless SD card reader meaning I could use it to get photos from my DSLR to my smartphone. It’s not something I’ve been itching to do but having the capability does make me go hmmm.

Movie Review
National Parks Adventure
MacGillivray Freeman

npa_01 On Thursday I made a nighttime visit to the Cincinnati Museum Center. It wasn’t the first but they’re not at all common. Most of my visits take place in the light of day. A new IMAX film had premiered at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, on Wednesday. On Friday it would open in about forty theaters across the USA. A handful of theaters were permitted to hold screenings on the day in between. Cincinnati’s Robert D. Lindner Family Omnimax Theater was among them and, by accident or an act of kindness, I was invited to be among those attending.

Immediately after seeing National Parks Adventure I sent a Tweet calling it spectacular. “Spectacular” is a word that fits virtually all Omnimax presentations. The screens that wrap around the viewers are huge. Quite often so are the subjects. Mountains, canyons, oceans, and starry skies are popular and fitting. National Parks Adventure is certainly spectacular in the immense-scale grandiose sort of way naturally associated with the word. There are plenty of mountains and canyons but early in the film I was struck with not just the size of the images but of their beauty and technical quality as well. I believe it was a shot of mountains reflected in a lake that first triggered the thought that many of the images I was seeing did not require a five story dome to be spectacular. Printed on flat and comparatively tiny pieces of paper, scenes from the movie could yield a very impressive coffee table book. Even six inch postcards made of images from the film would probably be stunning. I can’t quantify the difference or even prove it exists but I thought the images in National Parks Adventure had sharper focus, more vivid colors, and better composition than those of any of the many Omnimax features I’ve seen.

Stunning visuals are the reason that Omnimax theaters exist but a little story telling never hurts. National Parks Adventure tells a couple that help put things in perspective. Some historical perspective comes from the inclusion of old photos and some well done recreations. Without getting in very deep, the movie offers glimpses into some of the threats to our nation’s natural treasures and into the role of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt in protecting them.

Size perspective is provided by following three friends as they visit several national parks. The trio is not plucked randomly from tourists at a park entrance. Renowned climber Conrad Anker leads the group which includes step-son Max Lowe and family friend Rachel Pohl. Max is a photographer and Rachel is an artist. Both are experienced climbers. As you might expect, the group climbs just about everything from seemingly bare rock faces to vertical sheets of ice. They also go biking, hiking, skiing, and probably do some other things I’ve forgotten. This is, I assume, the “adventure” of the title and it is all captured beautifully by an IMAX camera that is often high above the adventurers.

I could ramble on and on but I’m even less qualified to review movies (This is my first attempt.) than to review books and CDs. Using the universally accepted “a picture is worth a thousand words” exchange rate and assuming 24 frames per second, the movie’s trailer provides the equivalent of 171,360,000 words.

npa_02Cincinnati Museum Center is a founding member of the seven theater Giant Dome Theater Consortium which was a major supporter of the film’s production. Not only did that allow them to be one of the theaters hosting advance screenings, it undoubtedly played a role in having one of the film’s stars, Rachel Pohl, in town during the opening week. Following Thursday’s screening, she was introduced by the museum’s Vice President of Featured Experiences and Customer Services,  Dave Duszynski, and happily — nay, joyfully — answered a number of questions from the audience.

npa_05npa_04npa_03On Friday morning Rachel rappelled down the front of Union Terminal, a.k.a. Cincinnati Museum Center, to draw local attention to the film. It’s pretty obvious that the happy adventurer seen in the film is not an act. Her artistic side gets all the attention at RachelPohlArt.com. On Saturday, Rachel put her recently obtained fine arts degree to use working with even younger artists at the Children’s Museum inside the Cincinnati Museum Center. Sorry I missed it.

omnifilmThe Lindner Family Theater will be temporarily closing this summer as part of a $212 million Museum Center renovation. Older films will be shown as part of the classics series but this is the last new film to be presented before the closing. It is anticipated that when the theater reopens after a couple of years, it will be with a new state of the art digital system. That means that National Parks Adventure is probably the last new film to be shown here ever.

My Gear – Chapter 18
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ70

DMC-FZ70My gear had been stable for quite some time. The most recent newcomer was a Garmin zūmo 220 in January of 2012 and the newest camera a Nikon D5100 acquired the preceding September. The way the image capturing devices in the lineup were used had developed into something a little different than what I originally anticipated but it was all good. The D5100 is small for a DSLR but it’s still pretty big. When I’m carrying it my primary intent is, more likely than not, to take pictures. On the other end of things, my mobile phone is almost always with me and can be used when I’m not planning to take pictures but an opportunity — or need — appears. In between was a Lumix DMC-FZ8 originally purchased, back in July of 2007, to be my main camera. It went into service as the “big” camera in partnership with something more pocket-able. But the FZ8 fit into a belt bag and, while too big for a jeans pocket, into jacket pockets rather easily. After a DLSR started filling the big camera “I’m definitely taking pictures” role, I came to think of the FZ8 as a smallish camera that was easy to have with me when I thought I might want to take a picture. It became the workhorse camera for concerts and presentations where I wanted to grab some decent photos but did not want to be obtrusive.

It was a comfortable situation but it couldn’t last forever. In September the FZ8 died and I immediately became painfully aware of just how much I’d come to depend on it. On one hand, improvements in technology made smartphone photos equal in quality — in certain situations — to those of the Panasonic camera. In fact, although the spec is often misleading, my Samsung Galaxy 4 has nearly twice the pixels of the FZ8, 13 MP to 7.2 MP. But in terms of usability there is no comparison. There are few things more obtrusive or less stable than a smartphone held out far enough to compose a photo on its brightly glowing screen and very little as frustrating as trying to do it in bright sunlight. I even dug out the old Nikon Coolpix 3200 just to have a small camera with an eye-level viewfinder but that was far from satisfactory. I can hardly blame the decade old Nikon, though. I had become accustomed to higher quality images and, more importantly, less shutter lag. The 3200 was usable as a stopgap but it was a rather poor one.

There was no great urgency but I did start looking about the Internet once in a while for a replacement for the dead FZ8. The problem was that low priced cameras with eye-level viewfinders were pretty much a thing of the past. Offering only LCD screens for framing photos make them closer to a smartphone than to my idea of a camera. The latest in the line of FZ8 successors was the DMC-FZ70 which originally listed for $399.99. While that was very much in line with what I had paid for my FZ8 and the FZ5 it replaced, I had bought those as primary cameras and I wasn’t comfortable paying that much now for what would, from the very beginning, be an auxiliary to a Nikon DSLR.

The camera is no longer available from Panasonic and I’ve found postings about it being discontinued dating back to July of last year. Apparently there were bunches of these in the pipeline because even today I can find plenty of them for sale on line. Prices range up to $325 despite the last price on Panasonic’s website being $299.99. Panasonic may have lowered the price around the end of November because that’s when I noticed prices from some sources starting to dip below $300. On a day in mid-December it occurred to me that some brick & mortar stores might have the camera available to look over. I quickly learned that Best Buy carried the camera but was obviously closing it out. The store nearest to me had none left but the next nearest did. The closeout price was a wallet tugging $150.

At $400 the camera specs are impressive. At $150 they are almost unbelievable. Topping the spec sheet are the 16.1 megapixel sensor and the industry leading 60x (20-1200mm) zoom lens. Other impressive numbers are the 100 to 3200 ISO range (1600-6400 High Sens mode) and 4 to 1/2000 second shutter speed. Unfortunately those aren’t the camera’s only big numbers. Its 1.34 lb weight is about twice that of the FZ8. Its 5.12 x 3.82 x 4.65 inch dimensions are 15% to nearly 50% larger than the FZ8. I feared that size would be a problem and holding the camera in my hand in the store did nothing to alleviate that fear. The bargain basement price did.

Of course what the bargain basement price really did was cloud a problem not eliminate it. The FZ70 did fit into my belt bag but getting it in and out was nowhere near as easy as popping the FZ8 in and out and getting it into any of the jacket pockets that had held the FZ8 was simply impossible. For many people, the Panasonic DMC-FZ70 would be the ideal camera. Sadly, I’m not one of them. As I write this, it remains in my possession but its spot in the rotation has already been taken by another Panasonic camera. I’d love to make someone a very good deal on a very good camera and may soon actively pursue doing that on eBay.

My Gear — Chapter 17 — Garmin zūmo 220

Ohio Predictions

ghd2016_01If I’d had any confidence that I would actually attend a Groundhog Day event this year, I might have posted a canned article last week and saved the Happy Imbolc piece for today to be fleshed out with the latest news. But the truth is that I wasn’t sure I would make it to Buckeye Chuck‘s dawn pronouncement until just minutes before I was on the way. I was noncommittal when I went to bed on Monday. If I woke up in time and in the mood to go, I would, but I set no alarm clock and told myself that sleeping through the whole thing would be just fine. I awoke at 4:04, four minutes past what I had decided was the ideal departure time. There was slack in that ideal time but I waffled for a few minutes before finally deciding to go. I hit the shower and then the road and reached Marion, Ohio, right about 7:00. The photo of Buckeye Chuck in his cage was taken at 7:03.

ghd2016_02The gathering in Marion isn’t nearly as large as the one in Punxsutawney but it is respectable. Radio station WMRN has been offering localized groundhog predictions since the late 1970s when Charlie Evers started sharing those provided by groundhogs in the neighboring woods with listeners. That led to a naming contest that produced the name Buckeye Chuck and Evers was instrumental in getting the Ohio legislature to proclaim Buckeye Chuck the state’s official groundhog in 1979. The original Buckeye Chuck was present today, patiently posing for photos. Evers has moved on but is still a force in the area with a show on radio station WWGH.

ghd2016_04ghd2016_03A WMRN Groundhog Day tradition is providing free ground hog, in the form of Spam sandwiches, to everyone present. That’s Buckeye Chuck’s current partner and translator, Scott Shawver taking the first bite of his. I had my own which I consumed with less ceremony but possibly more enthusiasm.

ghd2016_05ghd2016_06Broadcasting from the stage near Buckeye Chuck went live at 7:15, just a few minutes before Shawver bit into that sandwich. Sunrise was at 7:41. The time in between was filled with the reading of a couple of proclamations, including one from Marion Mayor Scott Schertzer and assorted banter from Shawver and co-host Paul James. When they began wondering about who had come the farthest, I thought I might be in the running but the first question, “Anyone from out of state?”, turned up a couple from New Jersey. They visit a different groundhog each year. Last year it was General Beauregard Lee near Atlanta, Georgia, and they have been to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania “many times”. Clouds continued moving steadily on and by the time the sun popped over the horizon the sky was pretty much clear. Buckeye Chuck saw his shadow, an indicator that six more weeks of winter should be expected, instantly.

ghd2016_07The mildly disappointed crowd dispersed rather quickly although some took advantage of the daylight to get a better view or a better picture of Buckeye Chuck while Shawver and James wrapped up the program. I dawdled a bit before walking to the car. Deciding to drive to Marion was as far as my morning planning had progressed. Just before climbing into the car, I asked the only person standing nearby if he knew of a good place for breakfast. “No,” he said with a laugh, “I’m from Cleveland.”

ghd2016_08Scanning signs and storefronts as I drove back through Marion,I spotted a likely looking place near the center of town. I took the photo as I left. The street in front of Baires Restaurant was completely empty when I arrived. A guy at the counter and another in a booth were drinking coffee and chatting with each other when I entered. Service was somewhat slow but the lone woman on the business side of the counter seemed pretty busy in the cooking area so I didn’t think too much of it. The first person to enter after me was a fellow on a walker. As he worked his way into the seat next to me and against the wall, I asked, thinking it might be easier, if he would rather sit where I was. “This one’s got my name on it,” he laughed and he meant it. He pointed to a small brass plate on the back of the swivel stool marking it as his regular seat. The cook/waitress immediately appeared with his grapefruit which I had noticed her preparing earlier. My food arrived as I chatted with my new neighbor and learned that the restaurant normally opened at 8:30. It was not yet a quarter past when I entered and what I took to be slow service was more than I had a right to expect. Now that the place was officially open, a number of people entered with new folks greeted, usually by name, by those already there. As I paid my bill, I joked with the person I now realized was cook/waitress/owner about me busting in early and she grinned. “Oh, you’re alright.” In case there is any question, I had sausage & eggs.

ghd2016_10ghd2016_09One of the reasons I had been so nonchalant about possibly sleeping through Buckeye Chuck’s emergence was that I had a Plan B. The day’s big event at Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, where I’d watched a groundhog named Rosie make her prediction in 2013, was aimed toward a much younger crowd and was scheduled for a comfortable 10:00 AM. I hadn’t even thought about it after starting toward Marion but I got curious as I was about to select “Home” on the GPS, and tapped Boonshoft instead. When I did, I realized that, without the breakfast stop, I probably could have worked in both Chuck and Rosie. Since it made the time to home only slightly longer, I proceeded to the museum. The last load of attending school children were about to climb aboard their bus when I arrived. Rosie’s appearance had taken place more than forty minutes earlier but I coud see the official result. She agreed with Chuck.

Not many did. Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring as did all the other U.S. groundhogs on my short list consisting of Staten Island’s Charles G. Hogg, Illinois’ Woodstock Willie, and Georgia’s General Beauregard Lee. The only groundhog of note that I found agreeing with Chuck and Rosie lives in Canada but not all Canadians are of the same mind, either. In Ontario, Wiarton Willie sided with the Ohio rodents in predicting more winter while Shubenacadie Sam claims an early spring is on the way in Nova Scotia.


imbolc2016As stated in last week’s post, I had no plans to be awake at 4:30 AM Thursday. That was when Imbolc, the midpoint between Winter Solstice and Vernal Equinox, occurred this year. Neither did I have plans to assure that I was asleep at that time but that seemed the most likely and it is indeed what transpired. I didn’t miss it by too much, though. The picture at left was taken at 5:22, a mere fifty-two minutes past Imbolc. Admitedly I can’t prove it but I strongly suspect that the view from my bed was pretty much the same at the magic moment as it was less than an hour later.