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A week of good posts
Collected for you to read
May you be enriched

Because so many own such capable cameras but lack actual talent, says AEG, much of modern photography is like the junk art of a Starving Artists’ sale. Read Happy Little Photographs

Me on the Lincoln Highway near Ligonier, IN

Me on the Lincoln Highway near Ligonier, IN
Nikon D50, 28-300 mm f/3.5-6.3 Tamron, 2014

Stephen Dowling updates his list of good places for film photographers to share their work. Read Photo sharing for film photographers

A British physician who writes as Dr. Alfred Prunesquallor and currently practices in Africa tells a charming story of a walk through a village in central Kenya. Read Sunday walk in Embu (part 2)

M. B. Henry tells the fascinating story of the mission at Tumacacori, near Phoenix, Arizona. Today, the mission is just a ruin. Read Tumacacori Historic Site – A Step Back in Time

This week’s camera reviews and experience reports:

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Stories Told

Remembering my patriotism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Arlington National Cemetery

My dad was in the Navy, as was his dad before him. At enlistment age I was college bound, but Dad asked if I’d at least consider Navy ROTC. I said no.

That had to be hard for my Dad to hear. In his family, men served their country, period. Looking back, I’m surprised now that he didn’t insist.

I was excited about building a future in software engineering. I didn’t want military service to stand in my way.

Also, I was afraid I couldn’t cut it. I was not sure I had, and I felt sure I could not build, the physical toughness to serve. I have always been far more of my mind than my body. I remain unathletic, even clumsy.

I have also always had a hard time blindly following orders. In my younger years I needed to internalize the logic behind an order to execute it wholeheartedly. Even today, unless I am all-in on something I struggle to do it well.

I was sure these barriers would lead to military misery for me. Middle-aged hindsight tells me that ROTC could have helped me overcome these physical and intellectual challenges. If nothing else, it certainly would have paid for engineering school.

Yet refusing to serve my country led me to question my own patriotism. Did I love my country? To what lengths would I go to support it in a time of need? Could I fight and die if necessary?

I had a long conversation with my uncle Jack about it. He was always easy to talk to at a time when Dad often wasn’t. I could fight and die, I allowed, in a war where our very nation was threatened. I could not fight and die in the only kind of war fought during my lifetime, which I judged to be about policing foreign interests. Jack listened carefully and affirmed my concern. He then reminded me that whether I had already enlisted or if I were drafted, Uncle Sam would not care about my feelings if he needed me to fight. He also said that if I skipped to Canada as some had in that last conflict, that I would be turning my back on my country and I should never return. I left that discussion grateful to have been fully heard. But I had no better answer than before.

When the first Gulf War began I was out of college and working in software engineering. My anxiety spiked — I was draftable and this conflict looked serious.

By then I’d grown up enough, and Dad had mellowed enough, that we could talk about the most serious matters. So I called him. I could hear it in his voice: he, too, was deeply worried that his sons might be called up. He wouldn’t fully admit it, but I caught a whiff in his words that he wasn’t sure he liked his sons being drafted to a conflict that wasn’t clearly about protecting our nation. His patriotism remained firm, however. He gently reminded me that when your country calls, you simply go. On that call I reconciled it in my mind and, finally, agreed with him. It gave me a sort of peace.

But then no civilians were called. Since then, no other conflicts grew serious enough that the draft was a possibility. And now I’m well past the age when my country would require me to fight.

Lately I’ve become deeply interested in 20th-century history, and as our family trip to Washington approached I had coincidentally been watching a Ken Burns documentary about World War II. It told the war’s story through the memories of several soldiers and some of their family members. I came away from it feeling hell yes, that was a war worth fighting and  a cause worth dying for. And so, so many men died.

Those thoughts and feelings still filled my mind when Margaret said she wanted to go across the river to the National Cemetery. Exiting the subway we realized we had to rush to make the next changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We hurried up that hill, arriving seconds after the ceremony began. And what a ceremony, filled with every ounce of somber precision a soldier can muster.

Until then I had thought high military ceremony to be cartoonishly ridiculous. But as I watched the changing of the guard I realized how much training and practice are needed to achieve that polish and perfection. And I saw how it was this very effort that made the ceremony an appropriate honor. That unknown soldier had given his all, and so we offer our utmost in tribute. A long-lasting tribute, as a guard has been posted continuously since 1937.

It brought fully back to me what I had been taught from the time I was a boy: the good life we enjoyed in the United States existed not just through our natural resources, hard work, and ingenuity, but also because many people stepped up to protect it when it was threatened. It was good to be reminded, and to remember those that died in that protective service.

One more changing of the guard remained that day, and we lingered to see it begin. I had moved into a position directly across from the tomb, where I saw how all of America stretched out before it.

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Riding the carousel dragon

Riding the carousel dragon
Canon PowerShot S95
2018

Since 1967, a carousel has entertained children (and, I suspect, many adults) outside the Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

This carousel is the second on this site, having arrived in 1981. It has quite a history. It was built in 1947 for a Maryland amusement park — a segregated park, no African-Americans allowed. The park was desegregated in 1963 on the same day as the march on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke.

This dragon was added to the carousel in 1996. This kid was thoroughly enjoying his ride on it!

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Photography

single frame: Riding the carousel dragon

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Photography, Road Trips

Walking the beach in Ocean City

It was my first visit to the Atlantic Ocean.

On the beach in Ocean City, MD

It’s a long trip to visit any ocean from my Indiana home, but the Atlantic is far closer than the Pacific. And since we were most of the way to the Atlantic already on our Washington, DC, visit, we decided to spend one day at the beach.

Who knew Maryland is so wide: it took 2½ hours to drive to the beach at Ocean City! Fortunately it was an entirely pleasant drive, US 50 almost all the way.

On the beach in Ocean City, MD

The day was chilly and the wind barreled in off the ocean. Consequently, few people visited the beach with us. That was just fine with us.

On the beach in Ocean City, MD

The winds were strongest on the pier, from which I took this photo. It chilled the bones in a hurry. I didn’t stay up there for long, as I was wearing only a windbreaker over my pullover!

On the beach in Ocean City, MD

In Ocean City, to get to the beach, you have to cross the boardwalk.

On the beach in Ocean City, MD

End to end, it’s top-notch tourist-trap kitsch.

On the beach in Ocean City, MD

But since the season hadn’t begun, most of the stores and attractions were closed.

On the beach in Ocean City, MD

You could hardly get a bite to eat on the boardwalk this early-April day.

On the beach in Ocean City, MD

The boardwalk wasn’t devoid of people. These youngsters were having fun. The kid out front was pushing the cart backwards down the boardwalk.

On the beach in Ocean City, MD

We left the beach and boardwalk in search of lunch. After we ate we drove down the coast a bit to see a natural beach where we encountered some wild ponies. I’ll write more about that visit in a future post.

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Exploring the Boone County Courthouse

Exploring the Boone County Courthouse
Nikon N90s, 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 (at EI 200)

Early Ford Explorers are mighty rare now thanks to Cash for Clunkers almost a decade ago. And this is a very early one, wearing its first “face” (headlights and grille). It’s from the early 1990s. It’s hard to believe that’s 25 or more years ago now.

Margaret and I had just taken a photo walk in Lebanon, the seat of justice in Boone County, Indiana, and had stopped on the square for a pint of stout at the local brewery. We sat in the window and had a good view of the courthouse.

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Film Photography, Preservation

single frame: Exploring the Boone County Courthouse

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Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Nikon N90s

Church door

Sometimes a person needs to just get out and shoot for the joy and fun of it. At such times, a great choice is an auto-everything SLR and a zoom lens. You’ll be ready for pretty much anything you encounter. Especially when the body you choose is as robust and capable as the Nikon N90s.

Nikon N90s

I’ve had great luck with this camera every time I’ve shot it, no matter the film or lens I chose. Here I used the well-regarded 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor on Arista Premium 400.

Anthem

And here I used the 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor that came in the kit with the Nikon N65 I used to own, on very expired and poorly stored Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400.

High West

Ken Rockwell calls this plastic-bodied zoom lens one of Nikon’s 10 best lenses ever. I marvel at that a little bit, as Nikon had to have made ten superior F-mount primes. But this lens turns out to be a good performer, sharp edge to edge anywhere in the zoom range.

Lebanon front door

It does have some barrel distortion at 28mm. The shot below shows it a little. That’s its major flaw. But I’m not much of a 28mm guy anyway. 35mm is as wide as I normally go, and the distortion is largely tamed when you zoom in that far.

Union Station

The lens also had some difficulty focusing close. I tried to capture some magnolia blossoms but the lens would only hunt. It also tended to wash out the image a little if the sun wasn’t directly behind me, as this shot of the Slippery Noodle bar shows. I’ve meant to go to the Slippery Noodle ever since I moved to central Indiana in 1994. They say they’re Indiana’s oldest bar, operating since 1850.

The Slippery Noodle

But this should be a referendum on the N90s and not on that lens. So let’s get to it: this camera is large and fairly heavy. Also, its controls don’t follow the modern “mode dial” SLR idiom. But I didn’t experience its weight as a problem. And those controls, specifically a bunch of buttons and one unlabeled dial, are not hard to discover and learn.

Lucas Oil behind the old houses

For example, I was pretty quickly able to figure out how to manually set ISO. The camera accurately read the DX coding on the Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 I had loaded, but I wanted to shoot it at EI 200. A few button presses and I was set. But on this cloudy-day photowalk Downtown along South Meridian Street I might have been better served leaving the film at 400. Meridian Street is the city’s main north-south drag, but some street reconfiguration in this area isolated a couple blocks and the lovely old homes on them.

South Meridian St.

The N90s gives you a lot of controls to keep track of. Apparently I set the camera to center-weighted metering the last time I used it, and forgot to reset it to matrix metering for this roll of film. I think that might have contributed to the problems in this shot of St. Elmo’s, a steakhouse operating since 1902. Pro tip: before shooting an N90s, press in the two green-dot buttons atop the camera for a few seconds to reset the camera’s settings.

St. Elmo's

But for this full-sun shot, everything worked perfectly. The Union 525 was originally a high school but is now a space where startup tech companies can begin to build their businesses. There’s quite a tech startup scene here in Indianapolis.

Union 525

The callery pear were in bloom this day. They smell like rotting shrimp.

Rolls-Royce

I’ve shot this camera often. See everything I’ve photographed with this camera in my Nikon N90s gallery.

A couple years ago I chose this N90s as my Nikon auto-everything body over the entry-level N60 and N65 I used to own. Those more basic bodies certainly demand far less of me than the N90s and could certainly have taken every photo you see in this post. But among these cameras the N90s was the only one built to last.

As I’ve been thinning this herd I’ve already decided that my main SLRs will be metal, (mostly) mechanical, and manual focus. I’ll never leave my first love, Pentax. And I have some truly great Nikon gear that will always have a home here. I might keep a Minolta and a Canon body in case I come upon an interesting lens for those mounts.

But I like the N90s. It’s a smashing companion to my 50/1.8 AF Nikkor and my wife’s 35/2 AF Nikkor lenses. With this zoom lens attached it’s a fine, but heavy, photo-walk kit. If in a few years I find I just don’t use it much, I reserve the right to change my mind — but for now…

Verdict: Keep

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