2/3rds the way home

I’ve been spending the day traveling from Kumamoto back to Orlando, via Tokia’s Haneda and Minneapolis. Right now I’m sitting in Minneapolis trying to fight off the chill brought on by the outside temperature of 5 degrees F. For a Florida resident (I’m not a real native, mind you) that’s just too cold. It never got that cold in Atlanta where I grew up, although it certainly tried from time to time. No, this is just too cold. And the travel back with this long layover (I’ve arrived from Tokyo 12:45pm local time) only adds to the long slow grind of getting home.

Thankfully there’s no more long business trips for 2016, just Christmas with the family. But next year promises to be just as grinding with trips up to Kansas during the winter, as well as next year’s business support trip north of Tokyo near Sendai.

I managed to catch a few multi-hour naps from while flying out of Tokyo. When I woke up, it was about an hour out of Minneapolis. Outside it looked cold and remote, covered in snow. Almost like an alien landscape.

Photos were taken with the iPhone 7 Plus, and post processed using VSCO’s various filters; Distortia Pack for the top, and B4 for the bottom. This post was written using WordPress’ latest iOS app on an iPad Pro 9.8″. Getting the photos to the point where they were visible to the WordPress app required a number of non-intuitive steps, but otherwise the WordPress app makes writing a quite post like this reasonable.


Another two-week-plus trip to Japan and YS-71 has come to an end. I leave in the morning on a 20-plus hour flight back to my home in Orlando. While here I’ve had to put up with sinus problems and blisters on my right foot the entire time. Couple that with the dark-to-dark work schedule for the every day I was here and I’ve had no time to do much more than eat, sleep, and work. No time at all for much of anything except for today, because the exercise ended yesterday. I had a Major with the JSDF come by for a few hours to visit. We did a little bit of sightseeing in the downtown area and we had lunch. I’d met him last year when I installed software for one of the Japanese Army’s training schools. We hit it off and he’s become a true “pen-pal.” I look forward to seeing him when I come to support these exercises.

One of the places we visited today was Jojuen Garden. I did take more than just the cat, but that cat came up to ask for rubs and say hello in his own cattish way. The day may have been cloudy, but the little guy brought a bit of personal sunshine into my life at that moment. Made me think of the Gingersnaps back home. Quite the handsome little guy if I do say so myself.

I haven’t written much because I’ve been busy, and I’m still in a state of shock over the election of Trump as president. I’m gathering my wits about me as it were, and coming up with a long-term plan to counteract what his election has wrought. I’ll have more to write about in the future, but for now, I need to finish packing and get ready for tomorrow’s flight home. I can’t wait to get home.

deep blacks: on the way to sapporo, december 2013

placing a private call

Andy, over at blog.atmtx.com, has redesigned his blog, and in the process gone down a different path with sharing his photography. One of his entries, “Deep Blacks: Checking Status“, reminded me of a similar set of photos I took in Japan while riding a train to Sapporo Japan in 2013. I’ve had my own work buried for so long that I actually appreciate it again. All of these were taken with the original Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the M.Zuiko 12-50mm zoom, a lens that the photographic paperback intellectuals tends to look down on for no good reason.

This photo fits in with Andy’s observation that the use of cell phones on trains is carefully controlled. This gaijin was standing in the section between cars in order to place his smart phone call so as not to disturb the other passengers, who were sitting quietly.

on the train to saporo with friends


I spent the first four days of August in Indiana near Edinburgh, just a little ways north of Columbus. It was a business trip. I flew into Indianapolis and then traveled by rental down to where I stayed at a local Comfort Inn. While I didn’t have much free time, I still managed to use the Olympus OM-D E-M10 and the M.Zuiko ED 14-150mm II. The only other item in that camera kit was a battery charger. That’s the lightest camera kit I’ve ever traveled with, and in spite of the maximum f/4 aperture at 14mm, the E-M10’s capable sensor allowed it to work just fine in the areas I found myself in.

On the Monday I arrived in Indianapolis, one of the first images I grabbed was of the 1950 Indianapolis 500 Cummins Diesel roadster, a.k.a “The Green Hornet.” I was walking from the arrival gate to the rental car area when I first saw it. I love that old style of race car and the beautiful green color with bright yellow lettering. As soon as I saw it I knew I had to have a photo of it. And there’s a little story behind the taking of this photo.

Because this was a short trip for me I only traveled with my backpack and one carry one piece of luggage. As I said I was exiting towards the car rental area when I passed this car juxtaposed against the jets at the gates behind it and I realized I had to grab a shot. So I dropped my backpack and travel bag on a bench right next to the nose of the car (carefully composed out of camera view) and came around the side facing the windows to grab the shot. Within five minutes a very officious little man came running up asking if that was my luggage, and I answered of course it was. He then ¬†announced in the ten minutes I’d been there that it’d been called in as suspicious to the police. Since I was the person who’d dropped it and it was no more than a few feet from me I found it hard to believe it would be considered abandoned. Either the reporting person was that stupid, or else they knew and decided just to be an asshole. I finished my photos, put my backpack back on and rolled my case away from the area and the noisy little guard. Such was the greeting I got in the city and state of the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Mike Pence.

It took until Wednesday before I’d figured out that there was civilization further south on I-65, about 15 minutes away from where I was staying. After Wednesday’s work shift I drove south to Columbus, Indiana, the birth place of Mike Pence. To be honest I didn’t know this until after I’d returned. Would I have driven down there if I had? Of course.

When I drove into Columbus it was fairly late and overcast. While walking around a shower kicked up, so before I could get soaked I headed back to the rental and drove back north to the hotel. I didn’t see much except around the Bartholomew Courthouse, the reason I stopped being the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans. I didn’t know what it was but I definitely had to stop and play tourist, so I did. It would appear that Columbus hosts a fair bit of public art, such as these two pieces next to the memorial, the front piece being “Emergence #11” by Eric Stephenson. I would have liked to have spent more time looking for more art, but circumstances wouldn’t allow it.

Perhaps I’ll get a chance to explore Columbus a bit more on some future trip, and Indiana in general. My explorations were certainly limited this trip to the short amount of time I had in Indiana. Assuming there is a next trip.

Camera Comments

Overall the E-M10 and 14-150mmm combination handled quite well. The lens is environmental proof, but the body isn’t. Nevertheless I didn’t have any issues in the shower that hit while in Columbus. My only issue with the lens is the noticeable barrel distortion at 14mm close focusing. You can see it in the detailed shot of the veteran’s memorial towards the edges. With in-camera distortion correction not quite correcting it, I’d hate to see the raw image without any correction. Otherwise the lens is quite capable, and as the only one I took, I felt well prepared for anything I might come across. With an equivalent zoom range of 28-300mm, the kit was quite compact and light weight and fit easily into a corner of my backpack, taking hardly any room at all.

a compact travel kit

As a traveling photographer I’ve always been torn deciding what kind, and how much, camera gear to take on a trip. On my travels to just about anywhere I wind up stuffing a ThinkTank Retrospective 7 with at least two, possibly three, OM-D bodies, a half dozen lenses (both zoom and prime), and all the necessary support gear, such as extra batteries and chargers. That bag gets stuffed full.

To get it onto the airliner, I usually stuff that into the bottom of a roll on overhead bag, which just happens to have a change of undies, my toothbrush, shaver, and other extra paraphernalia that I consider too valuable to put into my checked luggage. And just to make sure I’m ready for anything I keep a single body out with a lens attached, just in case. Never mind that my iPhone 6S+ has an excellent built-in camera of its on.

Since my last trip to Japan in December I’ve been in town, specifically because of my knee replacement. But sometime around June or July I’m probably tasked to head out on the road again. Now’s the time to start thinking about what camera to take, as well as my blogging tools in general. I know that my style of long-form blogging is supposedly obsolete, but I know it and I might as well stick with what I know. And the folks that do follow me seem to like what and how I write, so there’s that.

The lede photo shows what I’ve managed to shrink my kit down to;

  • My iPhone 6S+
  • My Microsoft foldable Bluetooth keyboard
  • My Olympus OM-D E-M10 camera with 14-42mm EZ pancake zoom and Panasonic 14mm pancake prime
  • An Apple SDHC/SDXC-to-Lightening adapter

That’s the core. Since I have the Olympus 17mm f/1.7, I could swap the 17mm for the 14mm. It’s a little faster in aperture (f/1.7 vs the 14mm f/2.5) and certainly faster to focus, but the lens is twice as tall as the 14mm. Missing from this collection but no less important is a battery charger for the camera as well as at least two spare batteries. Other missing, but no less important hardware, is the charger for the iPhone. The Bluetooth keyboard is also chargeable, but it can hold a charge for at least 90 days, so it can be charged before a trip and the charger left behind. You shouldn’t try to write blog posts with the built-in software keyboard on the iPhone; that’s just asking for a bag full of hurt.

Some will ask why take the SDHC/SDXC adapter instead of using the E-M10’s built-in WiFi and the Olympus Share app on iOS. As someone who’s used that combination on both an iPhone and my iPad Air 2, I can say with absolute conviction you want to use the hardware adapter. Why?

  1. Transfers using wired are much faster than wireless, and
  2. It requires you make the iPhone’s WiFi exclusively for the app and camera, thus bumping you off any other local WiFi network you might be using for general connectivity. That’s fine if you’re using your cellular provider for wireless connectivity, but bad news if you’re overseas and using WiFi to avoid cellular roaming charges.

Bottom line is buy and use the adapter. It works with any device that support the Lightening port. And if it breaks or you loose it, then you can use the app as your backup plan to move photos off the E-M10 and onto your iPhone.

One extra I strongly advise you purchase for the E-M10 is the ECG-1 camera grip. It will add an extra, and welcome additional grip to the camera. It comes in two pieces, so that when you need to get to the battery to recharge it or the SDHC /SDXC card to remove photos, there’s a simple spring-loaded clip that allows the outer portion to quickly swing away, exposing the door on the bottom of the camera where both the battery and flash card are located. It will also provide additional protection for the bottom of the camera. At $45-$50 it’s the best accessory I can recommend for the E-M10 outside of a lens.

Which brings us to lenses. I’ve settled on the 14-42 EZ pancake zoom because, when powered off, it collapses into a very compact form. I’ve also purchased the Olympus LC-37C  auto open/close lens cap. It’s around $20 to $30, and worth the price. It replaces the clip-on lens cap and won’t get lost on a trip. It’s closed when the lens and camera are off and stowed, and opens when the camera and lens are on.

The pancake zoom works great in normal light, but for those occasions when you’re in darker areas, the Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 is an excellent alternative. It can be carried in any pocket and easily switched with the pancake zoom. From personal experience the 14mm focuses quickly and silently.

Oh, I forgot. The E-M10 has a built-in flash, which can come in handy when light is really bad. But I seldom use any flash.

As for general processing, I use JPEG straight out of the E-M10. If I need to post-process I use Snapseed, although you can use Apple’s Photos app for just about anything you’d use Snapseed for. I just happen to prefer Snapseed. Even the E-M10 has built-in post processing capabilities and all sorts of crazy art filters.

And if the E-M10 is too much, or the batter on it dies? Then you can fall back on the excellent iPhone camera. If I had a hard choice to make about leaving part of this kit behind, the first thing I’d drop would be the E-M10 and its support gear. The Bluetooth keyboard would be the last thing.

I hope you find these recommendations useful. I’ve used everything mentioned here and find them all quite useful while traveling. Just remember that these recommendations are from my peculiar point of view, and Your Milage May Vary.