Travel

When nature won’t, Pluto will

Southern Indiana used to be known for its mineral springs. They were incredibly popular in the early-to-mid 20th century. Rail lines brought thousands of people to the adjacent towns of French Lick and West Baden and their springs — these little towns were enormous tourist destinations in those days. They are again, thanks to the casino in French Lick.

Casinos weren’t legal in Indiana until the last 20 years or so. But illegal casinos existed in French Lick anyway in the middle years of the 20th century, and they brought plenty of people to this otherwise small town in Orange County.

But the Pluto spring also brought people to French Lick. Its waters famously contained sulfates of magnesium and sodium, both strong laxatives. Pluto water was bottled and sold nationwide.

Pluto water also contained lithium, which became a controlled substance in 1971. That ended sales of the the Pluto laxative. But by this time the Pluto corporation had learned a lot about bottling liquids, and deftly moved its business into bottling and packaging. The company still exists today, packaging cleaning solutions.

The Pluto spring still exists in French Lick. Margaret and I visited not long ago and made some photos. The place smelled strongly of sulfur.

When nature won't, Pluto will!
When nature won't, Pluto will!
When nature won't, Pluto will!
When nature won't, Pluto will!
Pluto

The Pluto spring is on the property of the French Lick Resort, which is on State Road 56 in Orange County, Indiana.

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Photographs

A Shaker Heights sunset

My wife and I visited her sister and brother-in-law recently. They live in a condo in Shaker Heights, Ohio, which is a near suburb of Cleveland. In 1911 and 1912, the area now known as Shaker Heights became a city of its own, on the eastern end of Cleveland.

Their condo is in a multi-story building in the heart of Shaker Heights. They have access to the roof, which gives a commanding view of the city, including Cleveland proper. I brought my Nikon Df along with a 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-G Nikkor lens, and made the best images I could manage. Here are a whole bunch of them.

From a Shaker Heights rooftop
From a Shaker Heights rooftop
From a Shaker Heights rooftop
Shaker Heights sunset
Shaker Heights sunset
Shaker Heights sunset
Cleveland skyline from Shaker Heights

The Cleveland Guardians, f.k.a. the Cleveland Indians, played ball that night and shot fireworks after. One little fireworks burst is visible in the image above.

This photo session made me wish for a deeper zoom. This led me to buy the 28-200mm zoom lens that I wrote about yesterday!

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Photography

A 28-200mm zoom lens for my Nikon Df

Even though my Nikon Df came with a lovely special-edition 50mm f/1.8 lens, I usually use my 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6 AF-D Nikkor lens because it’s so darned versatile. Sometimes I want a deeper zoom, so I mount my 70-300mm f/4-5.6 AF-G Nikkor. But when I’m on a road trip or traveling, I prefer to bring just one lens. Could I find a zoom lens that does it all?

I found a few options, a few from Nikon and a few from Tamron and other manufacturers. The lens that appealed to me most was the 28-200mm f/3.5-54.6 AF-G Nikkor. It is relatively inexpensive used but offers a pretty good zoom range and promises good image quality.

I bought mine used from UsedPhotoPro. It’s sort of a funny story — I was searching eBay for one, and saw one at a price I was willing to pay. The listing showed a good-condition lens, but noted that there was a ding in the front element.

Then I noticed that the eBay seller was Roberts Camera, which is UsedPhotoPro’s alter ego. I happened to be in my Downtown office just a mile or so away from Roberts, so I walked over there and asked to see it. The mark on the front element is barely perceptible, so I bought it. Because I saved them eBay fees and shipping costs, they gave me a discount! Woot!

This lens is surprisingly compact. I own manual-focus 35-70mm zooms that are longer than this. It’s also light, but that’s because it’s made with a lot of plastic. Even the mount is plastic, a sure sign that Nikon built this lens for consumer use.

Any zoom lens is a bundle of compromises that lead to limitations. If you want the sharpest images with the least distortion and the fewest aberrations, bring a bag full of primes. The limitations in my 28-80 zoom are fairly minor and easy to live with. Would that be true with this 28-200?

One critical compromise with zoom lenses is distortion. Reviews say that this lens suffers from it horribly. Fortunately, my Df corrects it well enough in camera. I can use this lens on my Nikon N90s 35mm SLR, but it can’t correct for distortion at all and would leave me with a lot of post-processing to get usable images.

There’s only one way to find out if I can live with this lens’s limitations: take it on an outing. We had plans with friends to spend a weekend in southern Indiana, which was a perfect proving ground. We stayed in French Lick, a resort town. Here are a smattering of images I made with this lens. First, a few images where I zoomed to the max.

West Baden Springs Hotel

These images are fine at snapshot sizes. But when you look at max-zoom images at full resolution, you see softness and shake. This lens doesn’t have image stabilization, so you’ll get best results when you brace yourself or use a tripod.

St. Meinrad Archabbey

Also, the Df defaults to choosing apertures and shutter speeds that lead to shallower depth of field for good separation of subject from background. Frequently when I’m shooting a landscape or other scene where I want everything to be in focus, the Df focuses on something in the foreground, as in the image above. At full size, you can see that the background details are slightly out of focus. Either I need to find a setting that gives me narrower apertures in program mode, or shoot in aperture-priority mode so I can select the aperture.

Untitled

You can see this best in this image of my wife. She was a good distance away from me, so I zoomed to 200mm. The Df focused on her and set aperture and shutter speed so that everything behind her was out of focus, which was appropriate in this case. But even at snapshot size you can see that she’s not perfectly crisp in the image.

When nature won't, Pluto will!

Sharpness improves and shake reduces as you zoom out. In the image above, the lens was at 45mm. It’s still not perfectly sharp at full size, but it’s not that different from the results I get from my 28-80mm zoom, a lens I know well.

West Baden Springs Hotel

The wider the angle, the better the sharpness. I made the image above at minimum zoom, 28mm.

West Baden Springs Hotel

I made the image above at 85mm and it turned out okay. The first rocking chair, especially the rocker at the bottom, is a little out of focus. But otherwise there’s pretty good sharpness here.

St. Meinrad Archabbey

Finally, even at full zoom as above, this lens yields lovely bokeh.

I’ve focused on sharpness and shake here because I’m not fully satisfied with what I see. However, the lens is light and easy to handle and renders the light beautifully. It focuses fast enough for me, but some reviews pan it for focusing too slowly. If you’re shooting auto racing I can see how that would be a problem.

I need to keep using the Df with this lens to refine my technique with it, to remove my own foibles as much as possible from the results I get. As I said earlier, I also need to set the Df for greater depth of field in the documentary work I like to do. But my suspicion is that after I do all of that, I’m still going to get softness from this lens, especially at deep zoom levels. Given that the vast majority of ways I display my work yields sizes where this softness doesn’t matter, I may choose to live with it. But when I know I need deep crops or large display sizes, I’ll probably be better off with one of my primes.

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Apples

Apples at the Farmer’s Market
Nikon Df, 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-D Nikkor
2022

I’ve been out of town most of this week, traveling on business, with no computer. I decided to take the pressure off myself and skip this week’s Recommended Reading.

I’ve been in sunny San Diego, where it’s surprisingly 10 degrees cooler than central Indiana. I needed a light jacket for the evenings! My company had its first ever conference for people in the industry we serve. We make a software platform that helps medical device companies cut through FDA red tape to bring products to market. I am Director of Software Engineering there, and we engineers don’t get out much. But I thought it would be valuable for me to get to know people in the medical device industry and come to understand the work they do and the pressures that go with it. It’ll help me make better decisions as I lead our engineers.

I’m writing this in advance of the trip, so I don’t know yet if I’ve met that objective! I also plan to bring one of my compact SLRs along with some Kodak Ektar loaded. As I sit here it’s down to my Pentax ME SE with its delightful 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens, or my Olympus OM-2n with its compact 40mm f/2 Zuiko Auto-S lens.

This is the first business trip I’ve made since long before the pandemic, as I don’t usually enjoy business trips. I’m such a homebody. Also, I’ve not enjoyed flying since Sept. 11, 2001, when the TSA instituted security theater at airports and airlines started packing people into planes shoulder to shoulder.

Margaret and I have been going to the Zionsville Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning since it opened this season. We always bring our cameras along. On a recent Saturday I chose my Nikon Df with my cheap and cheerful 28-80mm zoom lens. There wasn’t much produce available yet, as it’s still early in the growing season. But these apples were for sale.

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Photographs

single frame: Apples at the Farmer’s Market

Sorry – no Recommended Reading this week. Click through to find out why.

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Photography

The Nikon Df in downtown South Bend

I’m continuing to inventory Michigan Road Historic Byway signs all along the route, looking for missing ones so they can be replaced. A recent day off work saw me inventorying signs between Indianapolis and South Bend. I brought my Nikon Df along, with the cheap and cheerful 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 AF Nikkor lens attached. I shot the Df on a photowalk in downtown South Bend.

Here’s the Morris Performing Arts Center, originally known as the Palace Theater. The light was odd this late-winter afternoon — thinly overcast and moderately bright. I wasn’t wowed with how the Df handled this light. I punched all of these images up in Photoshop, including adding about a half stop of exposure to each.

The Palace Theater

The Palace opened in 1922, and so the Morris is celebrating the venue’s 100th anniversary this year. I shoot straight JPEG in the Df. It has a RAW mode, but I haven’t tried it yet.

The Palace Theater

Here’s a detail shot of the Palace’s terra cotta. We’re fortunate to still have the Palace. Another theater, the Granada, used to stand across the street but met the wrecking ball about 50 years ago. It was equally grand.

The Palace Theater

The Palace could easily have met the State’s fate, too. It’s down Michigan Street a couple of blocks. It’s vacant and has received minimal maintenance over the years. The state of its wonderful sign breaks my heart. I saw my first movie in the State, a reissue of Disney’s Bambi. I remember well when this sign used to light up at night, and it is a glorious sight.

State Theater

I stepped way back and made a photo of the whole building from the front. I had to tilt the camera up to fit it all in. Photoshop’s perspective correction tool set it right. The 28-80 lens was a kit lens on countless late-film-era Nikon SLRs, but it’s a solid performer and lets me pull large buildings like this into the frame.

State Theater

The State may be closed, but one business continues to operate out of one of its storefronts. I slung the Df over my shoulder for this walk. You notice this camera when you carry it — it’s larger than, and almost as heavy as, a Nikon F2.

Idle Hours Bookshop

I walked a little bit down Colfax Avenue to pass by The Griffon, a longtime bookstore for nerds and gamers. (I’m definitely a nerd, so I can say that.) I used to go in here sometimes when I lived in South Bend in the early 1980s. I’m thrilled to see it still operating, and I’m even more thrilled to see its facade in such great condition.

The Griffon

I walked a bit down Main Street, which isn’t actually South Bend’s main street (Michigan Street is). This is Fiddler’s Hearth, a longtime Irish pub.

Fiddler's Hearth

I needed to use perspective correction in Photoshop to set the St. Joseph County Courthouse square. I think it’s a little overcorrected. At least I could get the whole building in the frame at 28mm.

St. Joseph County Courthouse

I stepped down Jefferson Boulevard to recreate a photo I made in 1985. Let’s just say my photo skills weren’t that sharp then.

Former WSBT building

Here’s my original photo, from 1985, shot on film of course because we didn’t have digital yet.

One last photo. Michigan Road signs only recently went up in South Bend, along with Lincoln Highway signs. The Michigan Road and the Lincoln Highway share the route west from downtown South Bend for about 18 miles.

Michigan Road and Lincoln Highway

I am pleased to own my Nikon Df, but I don’t use it nearly as much as I thought I would. One reason is its large size. I hesitate before taking it along for the ride. This was my first ever road trip with the Df! It performed adequately as a road-trip companion. But frankly, my Canon PowerShot S95 is an easier companion because it fits in the palm of my hand.

Naturally, the Df’s full-frame sensor is going to beat the S95’s 1/1.7-inch sensor every day of the week. The Df also benefits from about seven years of digital imaging advances over the S95. The Df is hardly the latest and greatest, however — even though I bought mine new last year, the camera was introduced in 2013. Its 16.2-megapixel sensor attests to it being from that era of DSLR.

Even after a year, I’m still getting to know my Nikon Df. I’m not unhappy with it, but I’m not fully in love like I thought I would be. Because it was so touted, and so bloody expensive, perhaps my expectations of it have been too high. I am in love with my Canon S95, but I believe my expectations of it have always been in line with its reality.

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Bourbon Bottle Light

Bourbon bottle light
Nikon Df, 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor
2021

This photograph was a runner up for my 10 Favorite Photos post this year. I like the muted colors and the quality of the blurred background.

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Photographs

single frame: Bourbon bottle light

A bourbon bottle as a light. I just like this photograph is all.

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