My Gear – Chapter 19a
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40 (revisited)

During the seven happy months I’ve now spent with this camera, I have more than once thought I ought to offer up a little praise for it. At the end of this rerun of the original article, I do just that.


DMC-ZS40

I 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.


I’ve rarely been as happy with a purchase as I am with this one. It’s viewfinder isn’t as quick as that of a DSLR and neither is the shutter response. It’s lens isn’t as sharp nor its battery life nearly as long. But all of those things are pretty darned good and it fits comfortably in a shirt or jeans pocket. It is, for me, a near perfect second camera. Even when it is turned off, I can grab it and snap a picture in less than two seconds. Of course, my Nikon D5100 can beat that but, depending on focusing time, it might not. If I want to use the screen on the back of the D5100 for framing, shutter response will definitely suffer and picture quality might. The reason that quality might suffer is that using the screen forces a fully automatic mode that includes average focus and a photo that is probably less crisp than what could be achieved otherwise. The ZS40 does not force any particular mode so aperture preferred, shutter preferred, and all the other modes are available along with the full range of focusing methods. Of course the reason there is no response penalty for selecting the rear screen viewfinder on the Panasonic is that it and the eye level viewer are electronic and the lag over an optical viewfinder is there for both.

At the end of the initial post, I disrespected a couple of features that I’ve since come to appreciate. Although I don’t doubt that enabling GPS adds to battery drain, it does not seen to hurt all that much. During the first few days of my most recent trip, an improperly set clock prevented me geotagging photos from the Nikon. I eventually got it sorted and tagged all of those photos but having some of the Panasonic photos geotagged sure helped. One reason only some of the shots were tagged is that, although I could and did “grab and snap in less than two seconds” it can take considerable time for the GPS to get a fix. This was typically just several seconds but on occasion ran into minutes. The second feature I dissed is the built-in Wi-Fi. I actually used this, as I suggested I might, to read the SD card from the Nikon and copy pictures to my phone for posting to social media.

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.

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

Road Trip Essentials Redux
A My Gear Extra

This post first appeared on June 8, 2014. It was done at the request/suggestion of a company called RelayRides. The company has changed its name to Turo and recently contacted me to request an update in the 2014 post. I made the name and URL changes then decided to reuse the post as well. Turo is a peer-to-peer car rental company. I still have not used the service so can no more rate or endorse it now than I could in 2014. What I can say is that the company seemed to honestly appreciate a mention in that original post and, unlike some other outfits, have not pounded me with additional requests since then. The current request is not only reasonable but helpful. I appreciate being given an opportunity to fix things. I will also compliment them on some very good timing.

I had already decided to queue up a “Trip Peek” for this week’s post but after rereading the original “…Essentials” post decided to reuse it instead. I like the post and everything is basically the same now as it was then. So, with only minor corrections, here it is again.


rtecolI recently received a request/suggestion for a post on “must have” road trip items. I initially blew it off but returned to it a week or so later. Since I am about to actually head out on a road trip, I need to stockpile some “dateless” (“timeless” almost, but not quite, fits) articles for posting while I travel. You know, the “Trip Peek” or “My Wheels” sort of things that have no connection to what I’m actually doing but can be posted at anytime to meet the blog’s every Sunday schedule. In the middle of generating a couple of “Trip Peeks”, I remembered the email and realized that the suggested “Road Trip Essentials” was as good a topic as any. Of course, it would take more time than a “Trip Peek” but it could be sort of a consolidated “My Gear” and it might be fun. If it also made somebody (the requester) happy, even better.

The request came from RelayRides (now Turo), a peer-to-peer car rental outfit. I’d never heard of them and naming them is not meant to endorse them but I could see that continued references to “the requester” were going to get old. Though the services offered are different, the contact from RelayRides (Turo) reminded me of a recent conversation with some friends about Uber, a person-to-person taxi service. After using Uber on several occasions in a couple of different cities, they were singing its praises. These person-to-person/peer-to-peer businesses are certainly worth keeping an eye on. The RelayRides (Turo) call was for blog posts that could tie into an upcoming “Road Trip Essentials” campaign. There is absolutely nothing in it for me except the possibility of an extra visitor or two but neither are there any restrictions or guidelines. The friendly and conversational request used playlists, caffeine, and frozen grapes as possible essentials so my list may be a little more serious than what they’re thinking. I believe everyone knows, however, that, while I take my road trips seriously, they are rarely serious trips. There was no actual suggestion that I include a collage but the word was used twice and I figured making a small one might be fun. It was.

The camera needs little explanation. If I’m on a full tilt road trip, I need pictures for the daily updates and there are other trips taken with the clear intent of using all or part of the outing in a blog entry. In addition to pictures that, if they’re not too crappy, might appear in a journal or blog entry, I use a camera to take notes. Snapping a photo of a sign or menu is a lot easier and less error prone than trying to write down what I think I might want to know later. Even when there is no advance thought of documenting any part of a trip, l want a camera near by in case some Martians land along the road or Bruce Springsteen’s car breaks down and he needs a ride.

I imagine that almost everyone now considers a GPS unit at least useful on a trip. It can keep you from reaching Tijuana instead of Vancouver and can be a great help in finding gas, food, or lodging. I do use mine to find motels and restaurants and such but I also use it in a manner that makes it truly essential. Many of my trips are on historic (i.e., imaginary) highways. They probably don’t appear on any current map or atlas and there are few, if any, signs to follow. Even if there were, I typically travel alone with no one to constantly read maps or watch for signs. What I do is plot the exact route I want to follow and load it into the GPS unit which then verbally directs me along my chosen path. Yes, it does require a fair amount of advance work and a more capable than average GPS unit.

Even with every turn programmed into the GPS, I pack guide books and maps. The GPS can fail, the situation on the ground might not match the plotted course, or my intentions might simply change. Plus, guidebooks like those in the picture provide valuable information when putting together a journal or blog entry.

The last item pictured, the cell phone, is the electronic Swiss army knife of our age. It is almost essential to everybody everyday just to talk, text, search, and email. In my case, in the context of road trips, it is also essential as a backup camera and as a voice recorder. Not too long ago, I would have included a small voice recorder in my essentials but the phone now serves to make quick notes especially while driving. I still carry a digital recorder for use when appropriate but it no longer rides on the seat beside me.

rtecabOf course, all of those accessories have their own accessories. For many years, I only bought gear that used AA batteries on the theory that I could always buy power at the corner drug store if required. I believe that happened once. I carried around a bag of nicads and the chargers to fill them in either car or motel. I eventually had to abandon that position but I still cling to the ability to recharge everything whether stopped or on the go. I now carry spare proprietary batteries and AC/DC chargers for two different cameras and a cell phone. I do not carry a spare for the GPS since I seldom operate it on battery power.

I’ll also almost always have my laptop along and some music/podcasts, and maybe, depending on departure time and length of trip, a thermos of coffee and a cooler. The cooler will have water or Gatorade and possibly a beer or two. There will probably be some carrots, or apple slices, or grapes in there, too. Next time, the grapes might even be frozen.

Road Trip Essentials
A My Gear Extra

rtecolI recently received a request/suggestion for a post on “must have” road trip items. I initially blew it off but returned to it a week or so later. Since I am about to actually head out on a road trip, I need to stockpile some “dateless” (“timeless” almost, but not quite, fits) articles for posting while I travel. You know, the “Trip Peek” or “My Wheels” sort of things that have no connection to what I’m actually doing but can be posted at anytime to meet the blog’s every Sunday schedule. In the middle of generating a couple of “Trip Peeks”, I remembered the email and realized that the suggested “Road Trip Essentials” was as good a topic as any. Of course, it would take more time than a “Trip Peek” but it could be sort of a consolidated “My Gear” and it might be fun. If it also made somebody (the requester) happy, even better.

The request came from RelayRides (now Turo), a peer-to-peer car rental outfit. I’d never heard of them and naming them is not meant to endorse them but I could see that continued references to “the requester” were going to get old. Though the services offered are different, the contact from RelayRides (now Turo) reminded me of a recent conversation with some friends about Uber, a person-to-person taxi service. After using Uber on several occasions in a couple of different cities, they were singing its praises. These person-to-person/peer-to-peer businesses are certainly worth keeping an eye on. The RelayRides (now Turo) call was for blog posts that could tie into an upcoming “Road Trip Essentials” campaign. There is absolutely nothing in it for me except the possibility of an extra visitor or two but neither are there any restrictions or guidelines. The friendly and conversational request used playlists, caffeine, and frozen grapes as possible essentials so my list may be a little more serious than what they’re thinking. I believe everyone knows, however, that, while I take my road trips seriously, they are rarely serious trips. There was no actual suggestion that I include a collage but the word was used twice and I figured making a small one might be fun. It was.

The camera needs little explanation. If I’m on a full tilt road trip, I need pictures for the daily updates and there are other trips taken with the clear intent of using all or part of the outing in a blog entry. In addition to pictures that, if they’re not too crappy, might appear in a journal or blog entry, I use a camera to take notes. Snapping a photo of a sign or menu is a lot easier and less error prone than trying to write down what I think I might want to know later. Even when there is no advance thought of documenting any part of a trip, l want a camera near by in case some Martians land along the road or Bruce Springsteen’s car breaks down and he needs a ride.

I imagine that almost everyone now considers a GPS unit at least useful on a trip. It can keep you from reaching Tijuana instead of Vancouver and can be a great help in finding gas, food, or lodging. I do use mine to find motels and restaurants and such but I also use it in a manner that makes it truly essential. Many of my trips are on historic (i.e., imaginary) highways. They probably don’t appear on any current map or atlas and there are few, if any, signs to follow. Even if there were, I typically travel alone with no one to constantly read maps or watch for signs. What I do is plot the exact route I want to follow and load it into the GPS unit which then verbally directs me along my chosen path. Yes, it does require a fair amount of advance work and a more capable than average GPS unit.

Even with every turn programmed into the GPS, I pack guide books and maps. The GPS can fail, the situation on the ground might not match the plotted course, or my intentions might simply change. Plus, guidebooks like those in the picture provide valuable information when putting together a journal or blog entry.

The last item pictured, the cell phone, is the electronic Swiss army knife of our age. It is almost essential to everybody everyday just to talk, text, search, and email. In my case, in the context of road trips, it is also essential as a backup camera and as a voice recorder. Not too long ago, I would have included a small voice recorder in my essentials but the phone now serves to make quick notes especially while driving. I still carry a digital recorder for use when appropriate but it no longer rides on the seat beside me.

rtecabOf course, all of those accessories have their own accessories. For many years, I only bought gear that used AA batteries on the theory that I could always buy power at the corner drug store if required. I believe that happened once. I carried around a bag of nicads and the chargers to fill them in either car or motel. I eventually had to abandon that position but I still cling to the ability to recharge everything whether stopped or on the go. I now carry spare proprietary batteries and AC/DC chargers for two different cameras and a cell phone. I do not carry a spare for the GPS since I seldom operate it on battery power.

I’ll also almost always have my laptop along and some music/podcasts, and maybe, depending on departure time and length of trip, a thermos of coffee and a cooler. The cooler will have water or Gatorade and possibly a beer or two. There will probably be some carrots, or apple slices, or grapes in there, too. Next time, the grapes might even be frozen.

ADDENDUM 24-Nov-2015: This post has been edited to reflect a name change from RelayRides to Turo.

Ye Olde Flex-Master
A My Gear Extra

Flex-Master cameraI am not someone who delights in using old film cameras. I can appreciate that others do and I can appreciate the phenomenal engineering and manufacturing accomplishments embodied in high-end film cameras. But I like the convenience and economy of digital photography far too much to spend my own time and money on anything else — with one exception.

That exception is the camera at right. It’s certainly old and it uses film but it is about as far from high-end as you can get. The exact same camera was sold under a variety of names with prices around three or four dollars. An uncle won this one by investing a quarter in a punch-board in 1940. I never knew him. He went off to war and never came home. My Mom, his sister, ended up with the camera. I remember it being our family camera in the early 1950s.

Flex-Master cameraFlex-Master cameraThere’s not much to it. It’s called a pseudo-TLR. TLR stands for twin lens reflex which means one lens for the photo and an identical twin for the viewfinder. I’m not sure that what feeds the viewfinder on this camera can properly be called a lens at all. It does somehow produce a dim right-side-up but reversed left-to-right image on an upward facing screen. There’s no focus or aperture control and not exactly any shutter speed control. There is a shutter release and a little lever that selects “INST.” or “TIME”. The length of an “instant” isn’t specified but I’m guessing it’s somewhere between 1/50 and 1/100 second. As you’d expect, “TIME” holds the shutter open as long as the the release is held down. The back is held in place by a thumbscrew. Remove it to thread the paper backed film onto the relocated empty spool from the previous roll then close it up tight. Turn the knob on the side to move a frame number into first one then the other red window.

Picture from Flex-Master cameraPicture from Flex-Master cameraI believe both of these pictures were taken with the Flex-Master. The first one is known to be from the winter of 1950. The other is probably from the next spring. It’s one I frequently use as an “on the road” Facebook profile picture.

I said I appreciate folks who work with film cameras and I know some, too. One in particular, Jim Grey, lives close enough that I’ve passed a few junk classic cameras his way. Jim not only gets a lot of pleasure from his cameras, he gets some very nice pictures from them, too. I recently asked Jim about the Flex-Master and he told me where I could buy film for the camera and also where to get it developed. There aren’t many choices. It’s tough enough finding processing for film from a still-in-production Canon or Nikon let alone something out of a seventy-three year old punch-board prize. Nor is it cheap. With postage, two rolls of 127 black & white film came within pennies of twenty-eight dollars. Processing, with postage but without prints (you get jpgs), is $16.50 a roll.

Picture from Flex-Master cameraPicture from Flex-Master cameraOne of the first places I tried the camera was in front of the 1886 Hayesville Opera House after Cece Otto’s American Songline concert. I managed to totally botch two of the three pictures I took of Cece by doing double exposures (Now, there’s something you don’t hear of much in the digital world, Chauncey.) and the one that did kind of turn out has a building that looks like a reflection in a fun-house mirror. I’m guessing that the film wasn’t held flat but I don’t know why. The picture of the Roebling Bridge with Cincinnati in the background doesn’t seen so distorted so maybe the film got pulled tighter later in the roll… or something. Both pictures have a pair of vertical scratches that I think line up with rails molded into the camera back which I’m guessing are there to press the film flat. Matching scratches can be seen in some of the pictures taken with the camera in the ’50s. Just remember that “far from high-end” statement near the beginning  of this article. 

If the first roll had been a complete disaster, I’d have given the other one to a friendly Hoosier camera collector and saved my self $16.50 in processing. Since the disaster was less than complete, I’m going to take the “seventy-three year old punch-board prize” along on my upcoming ride in a fifty year old car on a one hundred year old highway and see what develops.


Picture from Flex-Master cameraDoyle Bankson, that camera winning uncle, is buried at Colleville-sur-Mer in France. His parents (my grandparents) placed his name between theirs on this tombstone in Ohio. Part of me felt really silly using the camera he won as a teenager to take a picture of a stone more than four-thousand miles from his grave. Part of me didn’t.


http://www.dennygibson.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/doyle.jpgThis article is being posted on Father’s Day. That’s somewhat, but not entirely, a coincidence. Dad took quite a few pictures with the Flex-Master. He was in some, too. Here’s a picture of Dad, my sister, and me that was taken with a twelve year old punch-board prize.

My Gear – Chapter 16
Nikon D5100

Nikon D5100I didn’t need this camera. My three year old D40 was working just fine and was all the camera I really needed. But, while facts and logic may have slowed me down, they didn’t stop me. Although I can’t entirely deny the attraction of more pixels, that was not the the primary or even secondary reason I wanted this camera. The main attraction was the supposed superiority of the D5100’s CMOS sensor over the D40’s CCD. Secondly, I desired vibration reduction (VR) lenses. Yes, I could have simply bought VR lenses without the camera but I had convinced myself that putting money into lenses then attaching them to the lowly D40 was not wise. As I said, facts and logic only slow me down.

So, when finances allowed, in September of 2011, I spent right at a grand on the D5100 and a pair of lenses. One lens was simply the VR equivalent of the 18-55 mm D40 kit lens. The other was a 55-300 mm zoom that gave me some more range (300 mm vs. 200 mm) over the lens it replaced in addition to VR.

In many respects, the D5100 is just a slightly better and slightly bigger D40. It is still near the bottom of Nikon’s DLSR offerings. The higher resolution is nice and I believe that the VR lenses have helped from time to time but I’ve no hard evidence to support that. The CMOS sensor does deal with low light better than the CCD but I can’t shake the feeling that the D40 produced some brighter images in the “middle light” of an overcast day. That could certainly be an illusion and I’m really quite pleased with the D5100’s overall performance.

Not everything about the camera is just a step up in specifications over the D40. There are three obvious additions and all are related. First, the D5100 does 1080p video. Then, since you really can’t have the viewfinder mirror flapping around while recording video, a “live view” has been added which locks the mirror in the up position and puts a through-the-lens view on the rear mounted 3″ LCD screen. Both video and stills can be recorded in this mode. I’ve experimented a little with video and do use live mode occasionally for one handed shots. It’s also handy when I ask someone to take my picture who is baffled by an eye level viewfinder. Lastly, to make live view even better, the screen is fully articulated so you can record in assorted odd positions.

One subtle difference from the D40 that I’m starting to appreciate is the ability to record JPEG and RAW files simultaneously. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I just use the JPEGs as I always have but once in awhile I’ll salvage a picture with a little HDR processing using the RAW file.

My Gear – Chapter 15 — Garmin nüvi® 2460LMT

My Gear – Chapter 13
Nikon D40

Nikon D40The two Panasonics were very capable cameras. They and cameras like them were sometimes referred to as “super zooms” and sometimes as “bridge” cameras. That second name comes from the view that they “bridge the gap” between simple point-and-shoot cameras and more versatile SLRs with interchangeable lenses and such.  I guess that’s a pretty good view because that’s exactly what the FZ8 did for me. It led me straight down the road and right across the bridge to SLR land.

I had been in SLR land before. Back in the ’70s and ’80s I owned a couple of Olympus OM-1s. The second one had sat idle for awhile when it, like the first one, was stolen. I didn’t replace it. I remained camera-less for several years then decided that I needed to take some pictures while traveling in Florida. That’s when I bought the little Nikon zoom film camera that I mentioned using for “real” pictures along side my first digital.

Previous My Gear installments have told the tale of my climb (or descent) from the barely usable 0.35MP Agfa to the very usable 5.0 then 7.2MP Panasonics. Using the Panasonics reminded me a little of those OM-1 days and I started thinking about digital SLRs. One friend had recently bought a Nikon D50, another a Nikon D40x, and both had brought out a little camera envy in me. The D40 was Nikon’s entry level SLR. It came out near the beginning of 2007 and something called the D40x arrived just a few months later. I believe I even considered these cameras when I bought the FZ8 Panasonic in July of of that year but the price difference was still a bit much for me.

The D40x was a premium 10MP version of the 6MP D40 whose introduction pushed down on the price of the D40 and my visions of detachable lenses were further fueled by some of the deals being offered. Although I figured it was still a year or two in the future, I decided that my next camera would likely be an SLR. That’s about when I dropped the FZ8.

It’s for certain that I didn’t drop it on purpose but there could be some doubt about the purity of the thoughts that followed. It didn’t immediately occur to me that the damage might be covered  by warranty. Then, once it did, I had to get authorization and send the camera off to possibly be repaired. I am, of course, scanning camera ads the whole time. I had a road trip approaching and I convinced myself that I absolutely had to have a good camera for it and that the Panasonic would probably not be returned in time. I was wrong about the Panasonic. It arrived in good working order the day before I left on the trip. But I was right on the other thing. I am totally convinced that I needed the Nikon D40 that I purchased.

For $791.40, I got the D40 body, 18-55mm & 55-200mm zoom lenses, and a small flash. The Nikon was bigger and heavier than the Panasonic but not horribly so. Though I was at the very bottom of Nikon’s tall line of SLRs, I was once again in SLR land.

The little flash, a Nikon Speedlight SB-400, was also at the bottom of the Nikon line. It wasn’t as powerful as its pricier siblings but it was a bit more powerful than the D40’s popup flash (GN 21 vs. 17), sat a little further above the lens, and offered bounce capabilities. It was also small enough to fit in a pocket or into a belt bag along with an extra lens.

Today’s Digital SLR land is quite a bit different from the film SLR land I remember. In the 1980s, automatic exposure was kind of costly and not always satisfactory. Auto focus was an exotic blip on the leading edge of photography. Today these features and a lot more automatic wizardry are present in virtually every camera and cell phone made. The vast majority of situations are handled quite well by a modern camera running on full auto pilot and that includes SLRs. The manual controls are nice when you need them. You don’t need them much.

My Gear – Chapter 12 — Lumix DMC-FZ8

 

My Gear – Chapter 12
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8

Panasonic DMC-FZ8In the year and a half between my buying the DMC-FZ5 and banging it against the ground in Missouri, Panasonic had been improving the line and dropping the price. In June of 2007, I was able to buy the latest model, the FZ8, for $340 or roughly fifty dollars less than I’d paid for the FZ5. Resolution was up from 5.0 MP to 7.2 MP and manual focus was added. Overall, the changes were more evolutionary than revolutionary, the size was up just a smidgen, and the weight was still under eleven ounces. I had an even more capable camera and I didn’t have to be completely retrained.

The FZ8 has something called “extended optical zoom” that moves the upper end from 12X to 18X when a smaller picture size is used. I’ve always shot at the highest resolution so have never used this extended mode. Maybe I should try it. That’s a whopping 648mm (35mm equivalent) at maximum zoom.

I use past tense to talk about acquiring the FZ8 but present tense to talk about using it. This five year old camera still sees a lot of action although its service hasn’t been entirely uninterrupted. About six months into its life, it got dropped onto the concrete floor of the garage. The distance was only a few inches but the concrete didn’t give at all. The result was an FZ8 whose functionality matched my FZ5. The lens was jammed and powering on the camera was futile. There was one big difference between the two, however. The FZ8 was still in warranty.

I believe I had to pay for shipping to the repair center and there was no guarantee that repair would be covered or even possible. The camera was gone for several weeks and. for a variety of marginally valid reasons, I bought a replacement while it was in the shop. But it did come back with a note about something with a big name being replaced and it has worked flawlessly ever since.

The premature “replacement” was an SLR which will appear in the next My Gear installment. It was a relatively small SLR but it was still considerably heavier and bulkier than the Panasonic. The FZ8 is small and light enough to use easily with one hand and its image stabilization may even help a little with those one-handed driving-down-the-road shots. That is also one of the few situations where being able to switch from the viewfinder to the 2.5 inch LCD is useful. Like the FZ5, the FZ8 fits into a belt bag and it often goes with me, quite unobtrusively, into restaurants and such. Many of the food filled plates that appear in the trip journals were captured with the Panasonic. A few were even captured on the built in memory. It’s only about 27 MB but that’s enough to record a few pictures and save me a walk to the car when I’ve forgotten to check that a memory card is in place.

My Gear – Chapter 11 — Garmin Quest

 

My Gear – Chapter 9
Nikon Coolpix 3200

Nikon Coolpix 3200Unlike most of my camera purchases, the Panasonic DMC-FZ5 was not a replacement but an addition. The Canon A75 was still functioning and I intended it to be my “pocket camera”. That didn’t last long. After the cap popped off of the shutter button, taking a picture required pushing something into the small hole that had been below the cap. Although the camera otherwise functioned quite well, digging up and inserting a paper clip for every picture was a serious impediment to spontaneity. In March of 2006, I gave the A75 away and, still believing I needed a true pocket camera, bought a slightly used Nikon Coolpix 3200 for $70. The model had been on the market for a couple of years with an initial list price around $300. It runs on good old AA batteries, uses SD memory, and even has some built-in memory to store several images if necessary. It has 3.2 megapixel resolution and a a 3X zoom. Particularly endearing to me is the fact that it has something becoming quite rare in small digital cameras: a viewfinder.

I still have the 3200 and it still works. I still carry it in my computer bag but it has been a long time since I slipped it into a pocket. One reason is that the FZ5 and its immediate successor fit comfortably in a belt bag that I wear a lot. A second is that cell phone cameras have long been capable of meeting my “I’d rather have a crappy picture than no picture” requirements. I have a vague recollection of actually using a cell phone photo in a trip report but I can’t remember what it was so maybe I really didn’t.

I have used quite a few pictures from the 3200. In the days before I realized how easy it was to carry the FZ5 in the belt bag, the 3200 was in my pocket a lot and got used a little. Then, on a trip in Missouri, it got a field promotion to Number One Image Recording Device.

It was the third day of a four day outing on Boone’s Lick Road. The FZ5 came with a fairly nice neck strap but that seemed unnecessarily awkward to me so I fitted the lightweight Panasonic with a wrist strap. The strap was around my right wrist and the camera in my hand as I headed down the path to the spring at Boone’s Lick. The path was basically dirt and gravel but there were a few wood fronted steps at the steeper parts. It had been raining, the wood was wet, and I slipped on one of the steps. No prizes will be awarded for guessing which hand I used to catch myself or what I banged against the ground. The lens had been extended and that’s the way it has stayed to this very day. Cycling power on the camera triggers a soft whir as it attempts to retract the lens but it soon gives up and shuts down.

The little 3200 answered the call and performed admirably through the remainder of the trip. Among the images it captured are the only pictures I have of the Missouri Madonna of the Trail Monument in Lexington.

My Gear – Chapter 8 — Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5


Flippdaddy's MugI acquired some new gear today by joining the Mug Club at the Flipdaddy’s down the street; The one with 36 taps. There’s no price break but member’s mugs are several ounces larger than the standard glasses which means I can now get drunker and fatter at no extra cost.