Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Catching Up

As you may remember, I finally decided to pull the trigger on a new digital camera, and sold my old Canon digital rebel to my sister and fellow blogger. The main things that I wanted to get in a new camera were smaller size so I wouldn't leave it at home so much, a nice prime lens with fast aperture for low light shooting, and perhaps a video mode. The Olympus Pen came out right around this time, and while it was small, it was noted to have slow autofocus, and worse, the Olympus 17mm lens it was available with was an average performer, with f/2.8 maximum aperture. Their new E-P2 is a nicer camera, with a good electronic viewfinder but a much higher price.

I chose to go with the Panasonic GF-1, one of the new "EVIL" cameras (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens). I had to wait a couple months after ordering, because Panasonic didn't have enough GF1 20mm kits on hand for the initial rush - a poor supply chain is something Panasonic is known for. The 20mm is a 40mm equivalent, making it a wide-ish normal lens. It reminds me a bit of the Konica pancake 40mm of old, which was also an excellent performer. This lens has a 1.7 maximum aperture, which makes for great out-of-focus background effects, along with good low-light performance.

I took the camera along on a road trip recently, and I am so far quite impressed with it. The build quality seems superior to my Canon dSLR, and each little component gives a satisfying feel in the hand. As with all digital cameras, I wish there were fewer buttons and more dials and switches, but I've found the menus so far to be logically laid out and easy to navigate. The performance is also quite good, with fast autofocus, a beautiful and large live-view LCD, and accurate color rendition and metering.

St. Louis sunrise

The small size did cause me grief once, when I was crawling around in one of the 50-foot high tunnels at St. Louis's City Museum. I watched as my wife climbed through first, and her cell phone jumped out of her pocket, landing far below. Not thinking, I shoved the new camera in my jacket pocket and followed her. I was horrified to hear a distinct clink as I traversed the tube, and looked down to see the GF-1 sandwiched between two metal bars just wide enough for it to drop through if it shifted at all. After my heart began beating again, I picked up the camera and climbed down as quickly as possible. So if you have a small camera like this, be careful putting it in your pocket, as it may not stay there!

Next on my agenda are to procure a few adapters so I can use my older lenses with the camera. For now, here are some photos from my first set of shots, to give you an idea for the camera's performance.


Baby Shower


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mountain Biking in November!

Going out to the local singletrack in November is just a little crazy most years, in that it's freezing, often snowy, and most moderately sane people have given up mountain biking for the year by then. This weekend, with its 70 degree sunny forecast, made the urge to get at least one last ride in irresistable for myself and some friends.

We headed out to Anderson Park, a nearby short ~5 mile loop of singletrack. It was my first time there; I had thought the closest trail was the longer Burchfield Park trail, so being told there was a closer location was great news. The trail was a good mix of fast and technical - one section had nice burmed curves and fast downhills, one loop a short twisty mix, and the last a longer, up-and-down trail over roots and logs. It was shorter than Burchfield, slower in many sections, and the hills were a tad smaller, but it's a great change of pace.

I brought along the Bridgestone XO-1 instead of my mountain bike to see if it could handle harder offroad adventuring, and it actually performed admirably. I was most concerned about the thin 1.5" tires, road geometry, relatively high 38x24 low end, and moustache handlebars getting in the way, but I shouldn't have worried. The lightweight Bridgestone made it simple to hop over logs and rubble, the handlebars gave me tons of positions for my hands so they didn't get tired, and it was no problem at all accelerating up hill and down dale.

Not that it was perfect. The lower bottom bracket made it difficult getting over the more difficult stunts. The slick tires slipped when I needed traction uphill in the mud, and the narrow tires got sidetracked by roots in the trail at times. Most of this could be fixed by a knobbier set of tires, and altering my riding style a bit. I'm not 100% convinced on losing my mountain bike entirely, especially on the rougher trails like Poto, but riding the XO is a new interesting way to ride these backwoods loops, making me ride a bit more technically instead of going roughshod over each rock and stump.

Also, thanks to Melissa (above) for taking photos. I really need to get a digicam for events like this.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Polaroid Week!

From today until Friday it's Polaroid Week over at Flickr. Shoot 'em if ya got 'em!

An indelible mark

I got 'em, so I'm shootin' em. This is Scott Woods over on Lansing's east side.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween everyone!

Hope you get more treats than tricks. As for us, we're going on a rumpus tonight!

Wild Things

Monday, October 19, 2009

"XO" stands for hugs and kisses.

I should know better - not long ago I thought to myself that I wouldn't want or need to buy another bike for a while. I was happy with the bikes I had, I decided, and short of spending $1500+ on a new bike I didn't think there was anything out there I wanted. Famous last words, of course.

Sure enough, a bike I had always drooled over, the Bridgestone XO-1, popped into my life. Someone was selling the frame and fork for an affordable amount, and I decided that opportunities like this are rare enough and plunked down the cash. I spent a while sourcing some decent but inexpensive components, and now have the bike I never really thought I'd have the chance to own.

Please stay on trail

Other websites do a good job explaining what the XO-1 is all about, and why it has such a cult status today, but it's important to remember that this is a bike that was not at all popular in its day, and, in my opinion, likely contributed to Bridgestone pulling out of the US bicycle market.

In the late eighties and early nineties, Bridgestone USA was run by the eccentric Grant Petersen, who made it clear that his focus was on "everyday" riding. In this market where the newest and shiniest sold best, Petersen's Bridgestones, with their lugged steel frames, friction shifting, cotton handlebar tape, rigid forks, and fat squishy tires, seemed out of place.

Suntour Barcons

There were a few fanatical owners of the Bridgestone RB and MB series, who called themselves BOBs, or members of the Bridgestone Owner's Bunch. There was a BOB list, a newsletter that came out that had wonderful articles on setting up bikes, camping, and all sorts of "Bobbish" things. The bikes actually lent themselves well to a wide series of tasks, in that you could ride a rough road on even their raciest bike, and ride a road-oriented tour on their mountain bikes. In the end there just weren't enough BOBs to stay in business.

The XO-1 is perhaps the best and brightest symbol of this. Instead of the popular "hybrid" bicycles of the day, Petersen designed the XO series around a lightweight Ishiwata steel-tubed road frame with fast but comfortable geometry, gave it clearance for wide 26" tires, and designed a new do-everything handlebar, the Moustache, to go with it. Reviewers of the day blasted the bike to pieces, saying it was unfit for anything, from roads to trails, and the handlebars were the worst of all worlds, poor ergonomics and ugly to boot. They sold poorly for two years, and when Bridgestone pulled out of the US market in 1994, its dealers were left with many 1993 XO-1s to get rid of, many times for fire sale prices. As Petersen himself was heard to say about the demise of Bridgestone, "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down."

Moustache Bars

With all this going against it, it's hard to see why the XO-1 is so popular after the fact. It may be that the market has come around to seeing things the Petersen way, and it may be that the roughly 2000 XO-1s produced in 1992 and 1993 are rare enough to warrant cult status. In any case, the bike is odd, versatile, and fun to ride, which makes it right up my alley. I have the 1992 version, which has caliper instead of cantilever brakes, and is pearlescent white instead of the 1993 pumpkin orange color. I plan on using it for cyclocross, trails, and commuting - all of which it looks like it will do well at.

If you're interested in more of the history of Bridgestone USA, Sheldon Brown put together a great page with lots of reading material, including copies of the old BOB Gazettes, which contain incredible reading material about all things to do with the "retro-grouch" lifestyle. And take heart for Grant Petersen, as he began his own bicycle company, Rivendell, and it is still going strong, producing durable, classy, and versatile steel bikes in the vein of the best Bridgestone models.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Walk through the Woods

Scott Woods, to be exact, in Lansing. These were taken a couple weeks ago with my Mamiya Super 23, a giant camera that takes great photos but is a bit slow to work with. No matter, it's worth it. I may go back out to this spot today and see how the leaves have changed the view.



All the Leaves

The Red Stain

Monday, October 12, 2009

Call me Mr. Big Shot

I've gone on before about the camera I'd like to buy for my next digital camera, and it looks as though I'm going to have to commit to a new one pretty soon. My sister has gotten a bit of the photography bug recently, and she wanted to buy a dSLR, so I sold her my Canon outfit. It has been a great camera for me, and the shots I've gotten have been perfectly fine for what I wanted, but it was a large setup. Too large for riding around with - if I packed it in my Velo Orange saddlebag, it took up all the space inside.

So I sold it to her, but the camera(s) I'm interested in are not actually available as of yet, so if I want to do any fall color photography, it will have to be on film. It's probably a good thing actually - even just yesterday I decided to break out the Mamiya Super 23 again and shoot some 6x9 rollfilm. The Fuji slidefilm I have in there should do just fine for the fall colors, and I always choose my shots better when they each cost about $2. My wife is convinced I like this camera just because of the reaction it gets out of people when I bring it with me, and I'm certain that's part of the attraction. It's hard not to notice someone with such a strange and gigantic camera.

The downside to liking large cameras

The other cameras I love to use in fall are pctured above - the Polaroid 110A I have converted to packfilm, and my SX70. I still have a few shots of SX70 film left, and what better time of year to use them, really. Finally I'll probably be shooting with my Stereo Realist quite a bit. I've been slow to embrace the 3d photos, but now that I've gotten the hang of the camera, it has begun to grow on me. It's fun to bring a stereo viewer to family meetings and camera club meetings, and show slides I've taken with it. There's certainly a wow factor to it. Just wish I could share the photos easier online.

Afternoon Dog Walker

So for at least the foreseeable future, I'll be lugging around even bigger cameras than I'm used to. It will be a nice change of pace, I think.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Tweed Ride Grand Rapids

I believe this was Michigan's first Tweed ride, at least in the last 90 years or so. As we rolled into Grand Rapids the picture was bleak, with periods of downpour and rain showers. Nonetheless, we mounted our bikes and rode over to the Winchester to meet whoever was brave enough to show up. The rain began to lessen as we neared the pub, giving us a bit of hope.

It turned out that a couple of guys from the British Bicycles of Chicago (BBC) came out to support the ride. The rain had scared off some of the less committed, but we still had a solid 10 well-dressed riders. The Winchester provided the warmth we needed for the ride, and the Sun came out to provide a beautiful backdrop at last.

We set off on a light cruise around downtown Grand Rapids, and I was struck by just how nice the city is. It's small, but the buildings are an interesting mix of old and new, the streets are in decent shape, there is bike parking, and the current Artprize contest has brought a lot of interesting art to the downtown area. Just riding around the city was a great way to spend the afternoon.

As expected, our group drew a lot of attention from curious onlookers. Many people stopped us to ask if we were part of Artprize, or what we were riding for. One of them lectured us about how none of us were wearing helmets, telling a story about how she had once hurt herself pretty badly while wearing a helmet. We smiled, nodded, and continued on our way.

Eventually we ended up at the Ritz Koney Island, a bar/ Coney combo. Amanda, the organizer, tried to prepare us by saying how it was a bit of a dump, and kind of dull. Turns out it's a great spacious pub with a good jukebox that just happens to serve delicious hot dogs and brats. She really undersold it. After copious libations we packed it in, and headed home. Despite the small turnout we had a great time, and can't wait to do it again.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tweed Up Grand Rapids!

Hear ye, Hear ye! An olde fashioned bike ride will take place this Saturday, October 3, in Grand Rapids. This will be a good tyme for dapper chaps and lasses to dress up in their finest and enjoy the companionship of other like-minded riders on a leisurely jaunt around town.

The ride will begin at The Winchester on Wealthy at 4pm and continue to its logical conclusion at around 6ish The Hopcat, a fine pub with many a draught and plenty of food.

Dress in your Sunday best. If you're strapped for ideas, simply google "Tweed Ride," and you'll find some fantastic inspiration. Herringbone, bow ties, and vintage bicycles are encouraged. I'll certainly be there.

Feel free to invite everyone you know!

You don't have to dress quite as fancy as all that, but don't you dare show up in lycra!

SF Tweed Ride photos, byy3rdua

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The New Crop of Compact Serious Cameras

As I mentioned in a previous post, high-quality compact cameras are hard to come by in today's digital camera market. In the SLR arena, the trend has been bigger sensors, bigger (and more!) grips, and bigger bodies. There is no doubt in my mind that at the top of the SLR market, and even the bottom, in quality and versatility today's cameras are superior to those made 20 years ago. A more recent trend, unsurprisingly began by Olympus, is the creating of a new market of compact SLRs. I am anxious to purchase a compact SLR to replace my digital Rebel, and the market is finally near the point where I feel comfortable jumping to a new system.

The modern SLR takes great photos, takes up lotsa space. by fotographix.ca.

This all began when Olympus released their E-410 compact SLR. They began by designing a small, lightweight body around their proprietary smaller sensor, and eliminating the body grip. The image quality and handling was the same as their larger cameras. A good starting point, but the unveiling of a new system, micro-4/3, soon took these innovations to a new level.

The new µ4/3 system is designed around a non-SLR base, with electronic viewfinder instead of a mirror box, interchangable lenses, and near-compact size. The Panasonic G1 was the first camera for this system, and it boasted a small body, albeit styled in the conventional SLR manner. This didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, with all the extra space the viewfinder and grip took up. The Olympus EP-1 was next, launching with the new tiny 17mm lens available, a small external flash, and no viewfinder, a much smaller footprint. Panasonic added HD video with its GH-1, and recently announced its own compact GF-1, which has a tiny integrated flash, an optional electronic viewfinder, and a 20mm pancake lens. The current lens offerings cover 35mm equivalents of 14 to 400 mm in this format, and there are official adapters for 4/3 lenses, Olympus OM system lenses, and the classic Leica lenses.

Panasonic GF-1, image by micamica

Perhaps the most exciting development around the new µ4/3 system is the availability of a myriad of lens adapters to allow the use of old manual-focus lenses with the camera. Because of the camera's mount design, many systems of lenses, including old cinematic lenses, can be used with the new µ4/3 in manual focus mode. It appears that manual focusing by the camera's rear screen is quite possible, and the camera can meter the old lenses in stop-down mode as well. This gives a useful depth of field preview, and because of the way these cameras work the viewfinder does not dim while the lens stops down. That in and of itself is incredible and could make shooting in such a way much simpler than in the past.

Olympus E-P1, with Voigtlander 12mm lens. Photo by euyoung

I'm currently torn between the Panasonic GF-1 and Olympus E-P1. The Panasonic has an optional electronic viewfinder, on-body flash, better screen resolution, and doubly fast autofocus. The olympus is cheaper, sleeker, and has Image stabilization for reducing camera shake. If I had to choose now, I'd probably go with the Panasonic because its autofocus speed is so much faster, and the flash. But something tells me that Olympus will up the game before the Panasonic hits the streets.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fuji MTB

A while back I had a little indecision between two bikes, an old funky Mongoose ATB and a newer boring Fuji MTB. I ended up keeping the Fuji as a trail bike because it fit me so much better, and really didn't need any work. I rode it stock once, and it performed quite well for a heavy lower-end mountain bike. I was able to climb well enough, it felt stable, and the brakes worked. Once I had made the decision to keep it, I went about trying to solve the boring factor.

First, I changed out the black stem and riser bars to these old-school bullmoose type bars that were OE on the Mongoose. They're actually the wrong diameter stem, so I had to shim them in the Fuji with aluminum stock (Sprite can). They're nice and wide, and ugly in a good way. The Mongoose also donated its old beartrap-style pedals. The grips got changed to these gray and black salsas, and I swapped the saddle to a Brooks professional I had been given by a friend. I wasn't sure how the Brooks would feel offroad, but I actually like it quite a bit.


The Fuji graphics were very "90s," in that they had that tealish blue color, cartoony font, and a silly name to boot, "Sunfire." The Sunfire was a terrible car, and in no way do I want to be associated with it, if even in passing. So out came the heat gun, and off came the decals. It looks pretty clean now, with its Silver-and-Black scheme. I tried to swap the nasty black crankset for a nice Takagi triple I had on the Mongoose ATB, but it turned out the Fuji's bottom bracket doesn't provide enough clearance. I may do the swap eventually, but we'll see.


If I had my druthers and money to burn, I'd probably powdercoat this bike a light pink, and get all-silver components. I dunno why, but a light pink MTB seems to me like the perfect dichotomy. Maybe I'll compromise and spring for these when the time comes to switch out the tires.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Wanted: High-quality Digital Compact

I've talked before about my disappointment with digital camera manufacturers in regards to camera design. In the past manufacturers, notably Olympus, came out with high-quality cameras and lenses in small packages. Cameras like the Olympus Pen half-frame series, the compact but professional-quality Olympus OM system of SLRs, and the ultra-compact 35mm rangefinder Olympus XA series were pocketable, with high-quality fast lenses that performed as well as anything on the market, then or today. I myself have an Olympus OM-1, and an XA as well, and find them wonderful cameras to use, but of course the pain and increasing expense of getting 35mm film processed and printed is quite the limiting factor.


I have used many compact digital cameras, and I can say the handling, image quality, and versatility of any compact digital currently on the market is well below the standard set decades ago by cameras like the Olympus XA. The XA is silent, a quick shooter, with a high-quality 35mm f/2.8 6-element glass lens. Its integrated clamshell design allows for pocketed carrying, its rangefinder focusing is accurate and fast, and the hair-trigger shutter release allows for shake-free exposures. It has a minimum of controls that allow for quick but accurate exposures every single time.

Olympus XA

By contrast, my wife's Canon digital Elph has a tiny, near-useless viewfinder, but even that is absent on many compacts. Instead you have to use the battery-draining LCD to compose, which is only partially useful in bright light situations. There is of course the well-known compact camera autofocus shutter lag, which can cause many users to miss "the moment." The lens has the bonus of having a small zoom range, but the quality of the lens, and the resulting photo quality, is inferior to the aged XA. Worst of all in my opinion is the way designers have added so many features as to make these cameras so user-unfriendly. 10+ "scene" modes, button- and menu-based controls that are not intuitive, white balance controls that neither produce pleasing results nor are simple to set, all of these factors contribute to make a camera that is the opposite of what a "Point and Shoot" camera ought to be.

New toy

The marketplace is wide open at the moment for a pocketable high-end camera with good picture quality and a simplified interface. Leica seems to have gone after this market with their new X1, but the cost is too high for average users to even think about, at $2000. Other cameras in the marketplace that are closer to the XA standard include Ricoh's GR-D series and Sigma's DP-1 and 2, all of which have their positives and negatives that dpreview does a good job covering.

As it is, I still wait for a camera that combines a good sensor, intuitive controls, and a superior fixed lens. Give me a camera that has manual aperture-priority mode only, a 35mm equivalent lens at f/2.8, an optical viewfinder and preferably a rangefinder, and make it small enough to fit in a pocket. Make it quiet, quick, and black.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Post 100: Why I ride and take photos...

Milestone post #100, this calls for a look at why I ride and take photographs.

Why I ride
- It's a heckuva lot of fun
- Exercise that is fun, which is hard to come by.
- It gets me outside, even in terrible weather.
- It's a cheap way to commute
- And an easy way to make friends
- I'm a gearhead, and bikes are great in that they're cheap and fun to wrench on.

Why I shoot
- It's something I've always felt I'm good at
- The satisfaction of nailing a shot
- Photography connects me to a community of other artists
- That gearhead side of me always finds joy in making use of antiquated oddball cameras.
- The great surprise on others' faces when I show up with the big cameras.

One of the things that has annoyed me so far about this blog is how the blogger interface is so photo-unfriendly. The "large" photo size is much too small for appreciation, and photos are shared unprotected in even original sizes. That's ok in some cases, but I'd like to safeguard some of my better photos if possible. I've redone the layout a bit and now the photos will point to their flickr urls if clicked, and they should be a bit larger too, which should make it more photo-friendly. Some of my recent favorites for your enjoyment:

The Old Toad

Ross's old red sweater

Chucks and Colors

Twilight Gradient, Silhouetted Tree, and Moon

Maeby and Penny

Up North, Sunrise

Sunrise over Long Lake
Long Lake, in Alpena Michigan. I can't ever seem to sleep in when I'm up there, and maybe this is why.

Sunrise over Long Lake

Sunrise over Long Lake

Party Fish

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mixte Fendered

I finally got around to ordering some needed parts for the mixte - fenders and pedals. The pedals are some Wellgo aluminum BMX style, not exactly classic looking but they work well, and were inexpensive. The fenders came from Velo Orange, who have been having a fender sale making aluminum fenders extremely affordable. I opted for their fluted 48mm fenders to cover the Raleigh Mixte's 27" wheels and tires.

They come undrilled, and so take quite a bit of work to fit. I had to fiddle with them, crimping them at the chainstay and fork crown since they were a tad too wide for this frame. The frame also lacks mounting holes at the stays, so I used P-clamps to mount the rear fender. Before mounting the fender I gave them a quick polish with Mother's aluminum polish. They aren't to the mirror finish that you see sometimes, but they're just right for this frame as is. I didn't do too bad with fenderline and mounting for a first timer, if I do say so myself.

The chrome is quite pitted at the fork ends, bars, stem, and crank, so that may be my next project here. Any suggestions? I'd also like to find a classic-style front and rear light sometime.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hiatus done

I've been out of time a little bit lately, having finished up the semester and now having a few weeks of vacation to recollect myself. I've thinned the herd of bikes lately, eliminating the Bridgestone XO I had been using for commuter duty and Holly's old Gitane, which had been my winter commuter.

My personal stable is now down to 3 complete bikes. The Fuji roadie has become a singlespeed/fixed summer ride, and the Fuji mountain bike is my offroad choice and winter commuter. The Motobecane has sprouted a 14-speed drivetrain, fenders, and nice new sidepull brakes to become my commuter. I may add racks and such as I go, but I'm playing it by ear for now.

Holly's stable is 3 as well, including a Raleigh mixte that I've since put some beautiful aluminum Velo Orange fenders on, and it makes a great bike. Her commuter is still the 650B Trek 560, which has been a helluva ride so far, but it'll need some fenders coming up, which will probably end up being some cheapie plastic planet bike fenders for durability's sake. FInally she has her Raleigh mountain bike, which is again her offroad ride and her winter commuter.

As for photos, I've been using 35mm film again, but that probably won't last. Need to get the Mamiya medium format up and swinging again. I'm also waiting to see if prices will drop on the new Olympus EP-1 digital so I can replace my Canon DSLR. Oh, and I saw my first Rivendell in the flesh recently. Guy was nice enough to talk to me about it. It looked like a great bike, and his bag setup was very conducive to grocery shopping. I was almost ashamed to be packing up my Honda at the time.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

PHOTO Cyclist?

Natural Landscaping
Originally uploaded by Apocaplops
I'm starting to not deserve my name, with how little I've been posting photos lately. Now that I have the bikes pretty much where I want them (famous last words), I'll be going back to photo cycling more often.

I've mentioned before that one difficult part of being a photo cyclist is that bringing a camera onboard is not necessarily an easy task. I'm thinking of building some kind of rack so I can carry my larger cameras along, which are really my favorite cameras to use if I have the choice. But your everyday camera really is best left to digital nowadays, much as I hate to admit it. I have an Olympus OM1 that makes a great saddlebag camera, but the seasons seem to change before I ever get the 35mm rolls developed.

I already have a wonderful digital camera, the Canon XT, with a great lens and flash setup, but it's really much too big to carry everywhere. That's why I'm pretty excited to try out the new Olympus Pen digital camera. It's got great image quality, a reputation for great lenses, the ability to use old lenses via adapters, and best of all, it's TINY. It might be the new official camera of photo cyclists everywhere.

It's really just like Olympus to find a great compact-camera niche like this. They did so first with their Pen series of half-frame cameras, then the OM system with great quality in a small package, and now I think they've finally found a way to be "Olympus" again, now in a digital market.