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Black Bears of Revillagigedo Island (Ketchikan Alaska) lede

In the fall of 2017, I got another opportunity to go back to Alaska on a cruise. Unlike the first trip, this one would be the very end of the season instead of the very beginning, and this means that I would have the opportunity to photograph bears.

For those sticking to cruises in the southeastern part of Alaska, there are two species of bears you’ll be able to see in the wild: black bears, and brown bears.

In this brief guide, I’m going to cover some broad points about black bears, photographing them, and some specific details that stemmed from my experience photographing them at the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary just outside of Ketchikan, Alaska.

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Camera Gear for an Alaskan Cruise lede

In looking back, when I went to Alaska on a cruise in 2015, I didn’t seem to write anything about the gear I took, why, and how things worked out. I did cover the topic in 2016 when I went on my road trip through the Southwest. That said, in 3 years now of traveling for photography, the only constant has been finding out I was doing something less than optimally.

In this article, I’m going to talk through my thoughts on what to take if you’re going on a regular Inside Passage cruise to Alaska as a photographer, and what my thought process was being the decisions. Obviously if you’re going on something like the Lindblad or National Geographic expeditions this isn’t going to apply.

If there’s one over reaching board point that needs to be made, its that there’s no right or wrong platform, brand, or type of camera for this kind of thing. While I’m talking about my experiences, and I shoot full frame Canon gear, you can easily translate the focal lengths I give for what provides the same coverage on your platform of choice.

This article is part one in a series of posts detailing my experiences and tips on shooting various subject matter on an Alaska Inside Passage Cruise. On this trip, I took different paths than on my first, the experiences and tips of which I detailed starting with Misty Fjords National Monument and Ketchikan.

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Hurricane Irma, Jose, & Maria: Here We Go Again lede

Update 2: Monday 2017-09-18

This is really not the year to be a Floridian, and an even worse year to live in the eastern Caribbean. First, we got smashed by hurricane Irma, which while I don’t want to downplay the impacts of that storm, certainly could have been a lot worse. If it hadn’t had been for the interactions with Cuba (which of course was bad for them) and the dry air that caused the back end of the storm to fall apart, it almost certainly would have been a lot worse.

Right on the coattails of Irma was Jose, which too rapidly intensified into a major hurricane, then just barely squeaked by the already decimated Leeward Islands that Irma just finished with. Thankfully, for everyone in the Bahama’s, and the Southeastern US coast, Jose turned out to sea and has largely not been a huge factor so far. And while Jose is forecast to make a close approach to New England, and potentially loop around in that area, it’s now moving over cooler waters that will seriously hamper it’s ability to continue to maintain its intensity.

The latest in the hurricane train headed westward is Maria. Maria has rapidly intensified from a disorganized low a category 1 storm with 85 MPH winds. Worse, the National Hurricane Center’s forecast right now calls for Maria to reach 140 MPH (category 4) status within 48 hours before making landfall in Puerto Rico.

As things currently stand though, the Leeward Islands, already hammered by Irma just 2 weeks ago, stand to be hammered again by Maria (though Maria is currently a much smaller storm so it’s impacts shouldn’t be as wide spread). The same goes for Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and potentially the Dominican Republic.

About the only good news right now for Florida and most of the Bahamas is that the computer models continue to suggest that Maria may turn north and out to see before making a major impact (at least for the western Bahamas and Florida). That said, reality doesn’t follow the computer models, they are merely guesses at what may happen.

If there is one positive point in the forecasting, it’s that the various computer models are fairly close, and that those paths have been reasonably stable. Of course, again, this doesn’t mean that they’re right, just that a lot of different approaches are arriving at similar results.

As with all hurricanes, my usual strategy is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Hopefully, the storm will behave in practice the way computer models are predicting and curve out to sea before it reaches the Bahamas let alone Florida. That said, on a personal level my family and I have been too tried from dealing with Irma, and too concerned about Jose and now Maria, to undo most of our preparations from Irma which means we’re about as prepared as we can be if Maria comes our way.

As for the reason I’ve been posting these updates; what might be the impact on the content and comment moderation here at Points in Focus? As things currently stand, it’s too early to tell. As with Irma, I’ll update this post again later in the week as Maria moves closer and the forecast becomes more reliable as it applies to South Florida.

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Thoughts on Nikon’s D850 ledeImage: Nikon USA Press Release

Nikon finally announced their latest high-end/pro-level DSLR, the D850. Honestly, there’s a lot to talk about with it both as an upgrade over the old D810, as part of Nikon’s current lineup of cameras, and with respect to Nikon’s future prospects in the industry.

Recent times have not been good to Nikon. Camera sales have been down and of the big the camera makers, Nikon is arguably the most vulnerable to declines in camera sales. Moreover, Sony has been aggressively trying to move into the market space, and most of their gains have been coming at Nikon’s expense.

Compounding matters, Nikon’s D800 series cameras can certainly be perceived as being extremely long in the tooth at this point.

Nikon’s first real attempt to get things moving again, so to speak, was the D5 and D500. Cameras that very much were both simultaneously impressive and disappointing.

In many ways, the D5, and to a very much lesser extent the D500, looked to me like a panicked response by terrified management that saw market share eroding and could only think of how to inflate numbers to make something that looked, in their eyes at least, competitive.

Fortunately for Nikon users, the initial flailing response that the D5 and D500 seemed to embody seems to have past. Nikon seems to have remembered what matters; not putting bigger and bigger numbers on a box to delude gullible photographers into buying the latest thing, but providing a solid tool that photographers can use to produce the images that want to make.

Looking at the announced specs, and some very preliminary performance estimates that have surfaced, the D850 looks to be exactly the camera Nikon needs right now. So lets dive in to looking at some of the announced specs, and what some preliminary testing implies.

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When push comes to shove, I have no idea what’s going on in the minds of the management in Canon’s imaging division. A New Zealand photographer, Rob Dickinson, got an early sample 6D mark II from Canon New Zealand, at least as I understand it, and he’s posed some early images from it. Images from which some people in various communities, most notably Fred Miranda[1], have started looking at them to determine the dynamic range of the camera.

On one hand, I do feel it’s important to point out that the images that all this discussion is based on are from a “pre release camera.”

That said, the 6D mark II is supposed to be released on the 27th of this month. That’s less than 3 weeks away. Right now, Canon is building up inventory to ship so that there are more than a camera to have on shelves on release day. The hardware is all final. There can’t and won’t be any tweaking to the sensor or any other hardware between now and the 27th.

In fact, the only thing that Canon could tweak is the firmware, and even that would almost certainly require a post launch user applied update.

In short, my expectation is that the retail cameras will reflect the performance that’s being seen in the sample images from this particularly pre-release sample.

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Bryce Canyon National Park: Southwest Adventure 2016 lede

In many ways, you could say that Bryce Canon National Park, is the sister park to Zion National park. More than anything, these two parks are tied together by geology. The rocks at the bottom of Bryce Canyon are from the same formation as the rocks at the top of Zion Canyon. This article details my brief experiences with photography in Bryce Canyon National Park.

Back in October of 2016, I went with my family on a week road trip through the American Southwest. This trip included stops at the Grand Canyon, the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Mesa Verde National Park, and Zion Nation park, among other places.

Even though this wasn’t a dedicated expedition purely for photography — not even for me — I couldn’t help but bring my cameras, and too much gear with it, to photograph this amazing places. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anywhere near enough time to fully explore, or become remotely familiar with these places. At the same time, having to think on your feet and work on the fly is something we always have to deal with.

As with the above linked articles, this “guide”, and I use that term loosely, is aimed at telling the story of my experience in Bryce Canyon National Park, and to provide some ideas on how to approach photographing it on a foreshortened timescale.

In terms of time constrains Bryce Canyon NP was second only to Mesa Verde in how little time I had to work. Part of that is that we were staying at the Zion Lodge in Zion NP, and drove over to Bryce as a day trip. However, unlike Mesa Verde, which is a mere 40 minute drive from Durango, Co., Bryce Canyon is close to a 2 hour drive from Zion NP.

The longer drive, a late start, and the desire to be back at the Zion Lodge in time for dinner — and before it started getting dark — curtailed just how much time we had to explore Bryce Canyon.

Due to our limited time in the park, we basically drove to the end of the one road in the park, to Rainbow Point, and started working back towards the visitor center stopping at each of the lookout points and pull offs.

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Thoughts on the Canon 6D mark II Announcement ledeImage: Canon USA

The last time I wrote about a new camera I wasn’t planning on getting was when Nikon announced the D5 and D500 back in Mach of 2016: more than a year ago now. Since then, mum’s been the word, mostly because I just don’t find cameras to be all that interesting to talk about anymore.

In fact, I generally find the commentary that comes with a new camera to be obnoxious to the extreme. Still photographers are shouted over by people whining about 4K video and frame rates in cameras that are still principally, if by ergonomics alone, still cameras. Moreover, there’s generally so much noise about stats, often being represented incompletely or inaccurately, as if the performance of the camera’s sensor was the primary thing that made a picture good.

Or maybe I’m just getting prematurely old about all of this.

One point that’s been repeatedly driven home to me over the last 3-4 years is that the sensor doesn’t matter nearly as much as the person behind the camera. A great sensor will never make a mediocre picture better, and a comparatively poor quality sensor will never made a emotionally resonant picture fail. The difference between the widest dynamic range in the best medium format camera and the poorest APS-C sensor pales in comparison to what the person using it puts it to.

Instead of caring so much about the sensor itself, I’m increasingly becoming convinced it’s the ancillary and supporting features that make the most difference. Things like GPS, autofocus, metering, frame rate, and most importantly the user interface—the things that make it easier to convert your vision into an image—that matter the most.

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Zion National Park: Southwest Adventure 2016 lede

Back in October of 2016, I went on a 2 week road trip with my family around some of the American Southwest. I’ve previously covered my experiences at The Grand Canyon, riding the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge railroad, and Mesa Verde National Park. This time I’m going to talk about Zion National Park, and a brief side trip over the Bryce National Park while I was there.

In some ways, I have a great reverence for the Grand Canyon. It’s a nearly impossible topic to discuss or convey in text, or images. It’s scale is so much beyond what most people will have any reasonable experience with that it’s extremely difficult to comprehend the scale of what you’re seeing.

Zion and Bryce are, both separately and together, completely different experiences. Neither are as big, or as deep, and yet in may ways their far more approachable and relag because of that. And at the same time, they pose a completely different experience with a completely different set of challenges; both for the hiker, and the photographer.

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In my previous article on the US full frame cameras market size, I mentioned that it might be interesting to see if the strong fall signal was a product of the US commercialization of Christmas and how strong of a market signal it was. Since I had some of the data already cooking, I went back to the CIPA shipment statistics to see what the other regions looked like.

The short of it, is that I’m also entirely certain that the big uptick in shipments in the Americas in October, was driven by the United States’ Christmas retail behavior. The same with the big down turn in shipments in December, January, and February; post holiday cool-off.

Interestingly, the “other” region had a similar signal, though I don’t know what countries “other” covers.

One final note, as alluded to in the title, these charts are based only on interchangeable lens camera (ILC) shipments, from the Japanese camera makers that report shipments to the CIPA. Fixed lens cameras, so point and shoots, are not included.

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Back in the beginning of April (2017) Sony USA put out a press release[1] announcing that for the months of January and February they had taken the number 2 spot for full frame camera sales in the US. Needless to say, the photography press (and photo blog-o-sphere) ran with this, with many seemingly citing it as evidence to support a narrative that Canon and Nikon are clueless and Sony isn’t.

On a related note, I also recently wrote about the lack of data and problems that causes when it comes to talking about camera gear, sales, and features. One of the biggest of those problems is that without clear data and context, it becomes hard if not impossible to identify outlying events, and, more broadly, outliers can be made to fit pretty much any narrative an author chooses.

This article is the result of well, lets be honest, Sony’s press release raised some questions for me and I started digging into whatever information I could find as best and accurately as I could; which raised even more. None of which I think I really answer completely, but then that really wasn’t the point of this kind of exercise for me anyway.

I don’t have any vested interest in any particularly result, though many certainly do. However, as I said in my previous post on bias, without any kind of data and contextualization it’s hard to make sound judgments. While I don’t have tons of hard data, I do want to look what data I can find, and other market factors that may have been at play.

Moreover, the media and blog-o-sphere’s response to this struck a cord me with me. Sites like DP Review (though I’m certainly not singling them out) have far more in the way of resources to talk about and add context to a press release this, at least compared to someone like me. I don’t have a budget for review gear, sophisticated test benches, and most certainly I don’t have the readership and pull to be able to go to a camera manufacture and ask for clarification on press releases that aren’t clear to me. But this kind of research doesn’t get done, because it’s not as shiny and profitable as posting a fluffed up article about the newest camera that’s been announced; so it doesn’t really get done.

So let met preface this article with this. There is a lot of speculation in this article. Most of this speculation is based on hard data, but not always the data I’d like it to be. I do talk about my assumptions and where I get things from. All told I’m probably going to raise more questions than I can answer, but ultimately this is intended to be food for thought, perspective if you will, not a rebuttal or refutation of something.

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