L16 Camera – Take Two, too

I was continuing to work/play with my Light L16 camera after my most recent post of a few days ago. I’m still curious about it and how to make it work better for my needs. And then, I made a little discovery that had me feeling that I could be in trouble. I don’t leave the WiFi turned on on the L16 because I suspect that it’s an additional source of battery drain. I treat many of my digital devices like this when battery drain is a concern. Since I didn’t have the WiFi automatically enabled, I also wasn’t automatically checking for software upgrades for the L16 camera. Uh oh!  When I turned the WiFi on the L16 and checked to see if there was an upgrade available, there was. So, I upgraded the software shortly after I published my last post and then had to wait until I could get out and test the images again.

 

As with my previous post, I’ve created a folder from which you may download the “raw” L16 files for your editing pleasure.  This time, I’ve put the folder onto my Photoshelter account because I’m running out of space in my Dropbox account. The link to my Photoshelter account is embedded here. Remember that each of these files is about 170 megabytes, so you likely don’t want to download the whole gallery. The download password for the gallery is L16. Lastly, my Photoshelter account doesn’t accept Light’s proprietary file format, so I’ve had to change the suffix from .lri to .raw to get the system to accept the files. Thus, you’ll need to change the suffix back to .lri after you’ve downloaded the files if you wish to view and edit those image files with Lumen.

 

I went on another walk today, similar to the one I did a few days ago – to the park and wetland. The bad news is that the temperature has dropped about 30 degrees F since my last walk. I’m not going to go into a whole lot of detail about my walk or shooting. I’m just going to quickly post some images, along with their details. Hopefully, if you read my previous post, this scene looks familiar. Also, as in my previous post, you should be able to “click” on the images and they’ll open in a separate tab.

 

focal length = 35 mm; shutter speed = 1/2000″

 

Next, here’s some detail on the stalks on the left, similar to last time:

 

In some ways, it appears that there’s a bit better detail in the background portions of the image, but there’s still a lot of fuzziness in the area around the stalk. And, for whatever reason, the stalk is more fuzzy in this shot. These issues may be for just this photograph, but I don’t know. The aperture is at f/15.2 and the camera automatically chose its focus point.

 

Here’s a version of the whole image where the edges have been detected in the file:

 

It appears possible to pick out the fuzziness around the stalks on the left side of the image. Following is the same scene, but at 28 mm:

 

 

Stalk detail:

 

Same basic issues as above – decent background detail, fuzziness around the stalk. Following is the same scene at 70mm:

 

 


Good background detail, fuzzy stalk detail and around the stalk. Again, I don’t know why the stalk is not in focus – did I miss the focus point? – the areas right around the stalk should be in focus like the rest of the background when I’m shooting at f/15, I would expect.

 

A generally busy scene from the woods at 70mm focal length followed by a cropped portion to show the details:

Again, the details are fuzzy at 100% crop.

 

Next image, at 28mm, followed by a bit of detail at 100% crop:

 

 

In the detail, the left side of the image has fairly decent detail and sharpness, but the middle and right side are fuzzy. That’s just not acceptable.

 

Lastly, I shot this scene, into the sun. In the last post, the L16 did a good job when I took a relatively close shot of the cattails. This time was different, though, and I don’t know why.

You can’t really see it on this page, but if you “click” on the image and view it in another tab, it’s out of focus. The autofocus blew it. This shot was taken at f/15 and 1/5400 sec. That’s an unbelievably fast shutter, but may also be why the image is so poorly focused. I just happened to take this shot a second time; I believe that, knowing that I was shooting into the sun, I adjusted the EV to +1 to compensate for the scene brightness:

This shot is also out of focus, but not quite so bad (shutter = 1/2200″). The magenta fringing from the chromatic aberration is also fairly pronounced in this image.

 

So, I’m just not going to beat this dead horse any longer today. Even with the software update to the L16 camera, I still don’t see that the the L16 is ready for prime time. Again, I want it to improve and to become one of my go-to cameras, but it’s not there yet. I hope that the system is markedly improved by the time I take my backpacking trip in the summer of 2018.

 

Another person recently wrote an L16 review on Petapixel and he was honest and blunt.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

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Light L16 Camera – Take Two

 

 

DEAD BATTERY

APERTURE DIFFERENCES

LUMEN SOFTWARE UPDATE

CONCLUSIONS

 

First, I want to sincerely thank everyone who checked out my L16 review from several weeks ago, and for all of the nice comments that I’ve received in return from you all. It’s rewarding to know that folks are reading, that I’m contributing to your perceptions of the L16 and that I’m also contributing to the improvement of the L16.

 

I’ve been away this past month on a shooting trip and chose to not take my L16 with me. It’s still too raw and there was a limited amount of time, space and energy on this shooting trip.

 

DEAD BATTERY

A few days ago, I got the L16 out and wanted to take it for a walk in my neighborhood to check some things out. Actually, I got the camera out and attempted to turn it on – and the battery was flat-out dead. That was a disappointment that the battery would drain away while the camera sat unused for five weeks. I’m fairly certain that the battery was fully charged when I set it aside. I also discovered when I got home from my walk and was processing photo files that when the L16 battery died, the time/date info reset itself, likely to the original manufacture date. Again, not cool.

 

APERTURE DIFFERENCES

When I was away on my trip and using my Pentax SLRs, I realized that I may have been unfairly comparing the L16 to them. I typically set my aperture on my SLRs to the mid-point of the range for maximum sharpness. Most photographers are aware that at a wide-open aperture you’ll realize a shallow depth of field and a fair portion of the photograph out of focus, which is great if that’s the effect you’re going for. At the other end, you get maximum depth of field when you close down the aperture as much as possible, which can be great when you have a subject that’s relatively close to the camera and you also want the background to be in focus. But, the consequence of using a small aperture is that you’re more likely to find chromatic aberrations in your photograph, particularly on the fringes of your photograph. The best setting, in my opinion, is to shoot at the aperture’s mid-point so that I get decent depth of field, sharpness/detail over the whole of the image, minimize any out of focus areas and minimize/eliminate lens chromatic aberrations. If my lens has a minimum aperture of f/32, then I’ll shoot in aperture priority mode at f/16. Similarly, several of my lenses have a minimum aperture of f/22, so I’ll shoot at f/11.

 

When I processed the L16 files in my earlier review, I set the Lumen (beta) software for minimum aperture, which is f/15.2. I realized that this might be an unfair comparison between my Pentax SLRs and the Light L16, so I took some new photographs with the L16 and processed them at minimum aperture and at the mid-point. The early version of the Lumen software (v. 1.2.4) uses a slider to adjust the aperture, so it’s not possible to actually know the final, numerical aperture of the processed photo until you check the EXIF data in Lightroom or Photoshop. Below are the results of this test.

 

First, here’s the “test” photograph – my driveway at a bit of a low angle:

 

Next, here’s a detailed section of the same photograph when the file was processed at minimum aperture (f/15 in the EXIF data):

 

detail at f/15

 

And second, here’s the driveway photo processed at about the midpoint of the aperture (f/9 in the EXIF data):

detail at f/9

 

I *hope* that you can make out the slightly better resolution of the file processed at f/15 when compared to the file processed at f/9.  You should be able to “click” on the above images and view them at full resolution in a new windowso that might be helpful. The bottom line for me and my style of shooting – maximum sharpness – is to process L16 files at the smallest aperture.

 

Later on my walk with the L16, I photographed a nearby park and stormwater retention pond – nothing exciting, but similar to my normal subject matter. My results were similar as to what I experienced before. I won’t go into a whole lot of detail, but refer you to my previous review. Images generally look good at first blush, but then when reviewing images at 100% enlargement in Photoshop, issues are revealed. In the first review there’s an example of the airplane on the apron that shows the individual L16 images that were combined to create the full-sized image. I did the same kind of analysis with several of the images from this walk and the same issues are apparent, particularly on the edge of the images and where there’s overlapping detail. I’m not including those “inverted edge” images in this review.

 

Based on some of the comments I received, I’ve placed the photo files from my walk into a Dropbox folder and am sharing it with you, if you wish. Just “click” on the Dropbox link here. I’ve uploaded seven photos, representing ~1.2 gigabytes, so you’re on your own. These LRI image files run about 170 megabytes a piece. I believe that you may also download the latest version of the Lumen software to process these images via this link:  Lumen download.

 

I won’t go into a lot more detail on these issues, other than to just reinforce them. The basic issue when you closely examine an L16 image file is that the camera has difficulty capturing detail in busy areas of a photograph. Here are a couple of examples.

 

First, here’s a photograph that I took along the bike path in the park:

 

Next, here’s a detailed portion of the image – a portion of the woods in the middle upper portion of the above photograph at 100% enlargement:

 

The lack of detail not as obvious in this photograph as I’ve seen a few others because the whole portion of this image is busy/complex.

 

Here’s a second image where the issue is more obvious; first the full-sized image and then the 100% cropped portion of a piece of a plant from the left side.

wetland – full image

 

 

 

detail, 100% crop

That portion of the plant that is in the sky is nice and clear.  But, the same plant, when it’s surrounded by the woods and cattails in the background, is blurry. It seems to me that when there’s a clear difference between the various elements of the L16 image file that the Lumen software has no problem figuring out which of the several image files to use. But, when there are complexities in the image, those overlapping image files confuse Lumen. Again, this is with the first version of the Lumen software.

 

A second example that better demonstrates the possibilities of the L16 camera – first the full-sized image followed by the 100% enlarged cropped version.

Full-sized image, shot at 75mm.

 

Detailed portion of the above at 100% enlargement, cropped:

Detail, 100% enlargement, cropped.

This enlarged and cropped portion is from the central part of the file where there isn’t really any overlap between the various portions of the full-sized image and it’s a pretty clean shot. So, in my mind, the individual cameras in the L16 computational photography setup are pretty decent; the problem is when the (old) Lumen software overlapped the various portions of the individual files to create the final file and it can’t quite figure out which portion of which image to use when there’s complexity of detail. I hope that you’ll also notice that there’s a bit of chromatic aberration on the bright, reflective cattail leaves on the right center of the image. The chromatic aberration is a lens issue and not the software.

 

LUMEN SOFTWARE UPDATE

The L16 photos processed in the first post about the camera and (so far) in this post were created using Lumen version 1.2.4. When the Lumen software is opened there’s an automatic check for updated software and you’re given the option to download it and use it, if you wish. I’ve been avoiding any updates so that I could complete this post (and, because I was on travel). When I chose to update the software through Lumen, I received an error message – FAILED TO EXTRACT UPDATE. Bummer. Fortunately, Light sent me a link to the new software in an email in mid-November. Per the Lumen instructions, I deleted the Lumen application file (and not any other supporting files) and then opened and installed the downloaded update (Mac version 2.0.58). Based on the release notes, I’m not anticipating any improvements with the issues that I’ve been experiencing, but we’ll see.

 

I like the interface on the updated software. I’m now able to clearly choose my aperture on the slider. There also are a nice range of image editing features that you find on basic image editing software – exposure, color temperature & tint, saturation & vibrance, contrast and sharpening. The EXIF information also clearly appears above the editing controls, rather than having to fish for it with a command. Most of these editing tools are what I already use in Lightroom and Photoshop, but it is nice to have them if you don’t have access to those (or similar) photo editing tools. The only other tool that quickly comes to mind that I’d like to see is image cropping and rotation.

 

Processing images files with the Lumen software still creates very large files. Most of the files that I created in both versions of Lumen, with maximum resolution (focal length at about 35mm or 70mm), were at 512 megabytes

 

I then processed and exported the same images that I’ve already used in this post. First, here are the two detail images from my driveway at f/8 and f/15.2:

Driveway detail, f/15.2, processed in latest version of Lumen.

Driveway detail, f/8, processed in latest version of Lumen.

 

To my (old) eyes, the file processed at f/15.2 still looks better so no apparent change in the software in this regard, but then, I wasn’t really anticipating/hoping for any change.

 

The next “test” is the woods detail from the bike path photograph. First, the detailed portion of the image processed in the earlier version of Lumen, followed by the same image processed in the updated Lumen software:

 

Woods detail processed in latest version of Lumen.

 

I didn’t quite crop the same portion of the woods in the second processing (nor is the color the same – I didn’t edit the color in the second processing, just the first), but the basic images look pretty similar to my eye. I didn’t feel that the first processing of this image showed much of what I was hoping and the second processing doesn’t seem to improve (or not improve) on it. Again, this test is a wash.

 

Next is a comparison of the dried plant detail on the left side of the wetlands where the stalk was sitting over the woods and above the horizon. If you’ll recall, the first processing had decent detail where the image wasn’t complex (above the horizon), but muddy details when the scene was complex (stalk over the woods). Again, the two detailed portions of the image appear below, with the first processing followed by the image processed with the latest update of Lumen:

 

Stalk detail processed in latest version of Lumen.

 

Again, the cropping is slightly different and the colors are different since I didn’t edit the colors in the second processed image, but the detail appears to me to be the same in the two versions: decent detail when the image isn’t complex, muddy detail when the image is complex. Again, no change with the updated Lumen software.

 

Lastly, I looked at the wetland image where the dried cattails dominated the scene and there also was no obvious change (to me) in the details of that image. Still good detail since that portion of the image was captured by an individual L16 camera, and the chromatic aberration was still present.

 

CONCLUSIONS

The purpose of this second review was to consider the possible differences in processing images at the aperture midpoint, as well as to quickly evaluate the updated Lumen software.

 

Regarding processing at different aperture settings, the L16 camera and Lumen software appear to provide the sharpest detail when the image file is processed at the smallest aperture. This result isn’t any surprise to me, but it is good for my knowledge and how I would likely use the the L16 and process its image files.

 

I also took some new photographs with the L16 and processed these image files in the first version of the Lumen software that I downloaded (v. 1.2.4) and also processed these images in the latest version of the Lumen software (v. 2.0.58). The updated Lumen interface offers more editing features and is an improvement, but there’s no obvious difference in how Lumen’s algorithms combine the individual images to create the final image – those images still possess poor detail in complex areas of the image.

 

The Light L16 and its accompanying software, Lumen, are still a work in progress. There has been no improvement in image quality over the past couple of months. A couple of  the major reasons that the L16 piqued my interest is that I was hoping for a lighter, smaller camera that was capable of great photographs. These “lighter & smaller” features were important to me in a couple of settings – aerial photography and backpacking. A smaller, lighter camera would be obviously easier to handle while flying, and a smaller, lighter camera would reduce my load while backpacking. But, the L16 is still not in a place where I would use it for aerial photography. I’m (again) planning an extended backpacking trip for next summer and would not take the L16 because of the image quality. I really want to take a camera with me that will create magazine-quality images (that’s my work!) and the L16 isn’t there yet. My smaller Pentax SLR (K-1) and 24-70 zoom lens are more than twice as heavy as the L16 but I’m confident in its abilities to capture great images.

 

As improvements in the L16 camera and its Lumen software come about, I’ll try to keep you up to date with my experiences. And, if you have any L16 experiences to share – especially if you feel or know that I’m not handling the camera in a way that could improve on my results – please feel free to let me know. Again, I want the L16 to work and be a functional part of my camera equipment.

 

 

Posted in Light L16 Camera, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , |

Light L16 Camera Hands-on Review – a different kind of camera!

 

 

Light’s L16 Digital Computational Camera

 

SYNOPSIS
INTRODUCTION
UNPACKING
L16 PHOTOGRAPHS
L16 PHOTOGRAPHIC DETAIL
L16 DIGITAL IMAGE FILES
CONCLUSIONS

 

So, I haven’t written anything new here for about a year, mostly because I’ve been enjoying life in a variety of ways.

 

But, I have a new camera and I’d like to share it with you. Not only is a new camera for me, this whole camera concept is quite new.

 

SYNOPSIS

The L16 is a small, easy-to-handle camera with lots of potential. It produces very large images that are of good to great quality. However, in situations where there is a great deal of detail, it appears that the L16’s algorithm for creating a single image is not able to manage all of that detail and those detailed elements are soft and fuzzy. It’s a great camera for spontaneous shots. Due to the technology of the camera, the shutter speeds are relatively high which reduces the likelihood of needing a tripod in many normal situations. However, the raw image files that the L16 are extremely large and must be converted to DNG and/or JPEGs by Light’s proprietary software, Lumen (beta). Only one file can be converted at a time with Lumen; there is no batch editing. The converted DNG files also are extremely large and the JPEG files appear to be manageable. The L16 is a work in progress and likely has a great future.

 

INTRODUCTION

First, the camera and some of it’s details. This camera is the Light L16 and I’ve included a hyperlink to its website. This camera is quite different from any camera that I’ve ever used before and I want to try to explain why (I’ll leave the how it’s different to Light).  My first camera, more than fifty years ago, was an Eastman Kodak Baby Brownie Special and a simple affair: a light-proof box; a simple, “single-speed” shutter (~1/40″); and a fixed f/11 diaphragm (the hole that lets in the light). Back in the day, it cost about $1.25. My second camera, in the mid 1970s, was a Kodak Instamatic Pocket 30. In the mid-1980s, my parents gave me the camera that “called” me to be a photographer – a Canon Sureshot 35mm. I pushed that camera to its limits! My next camera, in the mid-1980s, was my first single-lens reflex (SLR), a Nikon FE-2 (for now, I’ll stop with the hyperlinks because you get the idea of how things have progressed). In the early 2000s, I bought my first Pentax medium format cameras and a Fuji 617 panoramic camera, followed by my Pentax digital “35mm” and medium format cameras. For this presentation, I’ll assume that you understand the basics of these various cameras. All of my current work is shot on my Pentax digital cameras, and frequently involves using a tripod for stability because these are big cameras and they easily shake, especially when I’m shooting at slow shutter speeds for detailed landscape photographs.

 

There also is another camera in my quiver – my cellphone camera. You have one, too. These cameras are pretty basic, popular, ubiquitous and effective. I don’t miss using film, waiting days for the prints to come back. I enjoy the spontaneity that my cellphone camera allows for taking fun, family photographs and videos. But, my cellphone camera’s quality isn’t nearly as good as my big digital SLR cameras. I capture memories with my phone camera, but not images that are suitable (e.g., high enough quality) for work.

 

The Light L16 is sort of like an SLR camera and a cellphone camera combined. Actually, it’s more appropriate to think of it as sixteen cellphone cameras that have been combined into a housing that’s larger than a cellphone, but smaller (and more manageable) than a standard SLR camera. The beauty of this camera is that it uses combinations of these sixteen different cameras to take digital images that are then combined by the camera’s “brain.” As Light calls it, this is the first “computational” camera.  It’s a pretty amazing concept and very difficult to pull off. I won’t go into all of the technical details; I’ll gladly allow the folks at Light to give you those details, because they’ll do it so much better and I’d just be repeating their words.

 

I first heard about the L16 two years ago and immediately jumped at the opportunity to be an “early adopter” of their new camera concept.  I didn’t understand it very well, but the concept certainly intrigued me. At that time (October, 2015), I believe that Light was projecting that the camera would be available Fall, 2016. And, as is the case with new technologies and startups, that goal kept creeping. I was hoping to have this camera this past spring so that I could take it on a trip this summer (and, save myself several pounds of camera gear weight), but that wasn’t to be.

 

UNPACKING

My camera arrived a few days ago and I’ve been putting it through some simple, basic tests for my needs. My camera came in a very sturdy box and contained the camera, soft case, wrist strap, charging block and USB-C cord. The operating instructions are found on the Light website. Additionally, you have to download Light’s Lumen (beta) software to “develop” your digital photographs. The L16 was already 50% charged so I could start taking photographs immediately. The L16 seems to be a significant, final hardware configuration, but frequently receives software updates, and updating the software is something that you should do when you first start the camera.

Unpacking 1

 

Unpacking 2

 

Unpacking 3

 

Unpacking 4

 

Unpacking 5

 

Unpacking 6

 

Unlike most guys, I had already read the detailed operating directions on the Light website. Light helped to manage my anticipation by sending me frequent emails once my package was sent out, including links to the operating instructions. They know that I’ve been chomping at the bit for over a year!!  So, I pressed the power button and – voila!

 

Hello, nice to finally meet you!

 

Next, the “fine print,” since this is piece of digital technology.

 

 

 

The L16 next finds your wifi network and walks you through connecting, setting up date and time, security (if you wish), followed by checking for any software update. Pretty standard stuff.

 

Software update

 

After the software update, you’re pretty much ready to start shooting. And, like any piece of digital equipment, you’re not really going to make a critical mistake, so you can shoot and erase. But, photos will wait, as I’ll just show you a few details.  When you view the front of the camera (check the Unpacking 4 photo above), it’s pretty wild to see these sixteen different digital cameras/lenses on the front, along with a few other round features about which you can read on the Light website. The rear of the camera is pretty basic and non-descript (when it’s off), except for the nice detail of adding a couple of thumb indentations (underside left and upper backside right to help you better grip the camera. The Light website displays images of the camera in operation, with the various screens on the back. The screen is nice and bright, and haptic (“feeling”) and auditory feedback is provided for various functions so that you know when something is happening with the camera.

thumb indent

 

When you charge your L16, there’s a blue, pulsing light around the shutter button that lets you know that you truly are charging your camera.

 

 

charging light around shutter button

 

That’s all that I’m going to write about my initial experiences with the camera in terms of unpacking and starting it. Again, lots of details can be found on the Light website.

 

I’m more interested in how well the camera functions, so let’s dig in!

 

L16 PHOTOGRAPHS

In Spring, 2017, Light made available some example images taken by the L16. They are pretty basic images and they looked fine. When I reviewed the technical details of the images (the exif data), I was not impressed, as the images were smaller than I was expecting (on the order of 16 megapixels).  My Pentax K-1 has a 36 megapixel sensor, and my Pentax 645Z is 52 megapixels. I had not seen sufficient technical details on the L16 and had been assuming that the image files would represent larger image sizes – larger than 16 megapixels. So, I was entering this evaluation with that weighing on me.

 

Going back to the computational photography technical details (which I hope that you’ve read on the Light site by now), the L16 creates its digital photographs by combining several smaller, overlapping 13 megapixel images into a single large, final image. The L16 also uses three major lens focal lengths (35 mm equivalent) to create its images – 28 mm, 70mm and 150mm – on the front of the unit.  When you zoom in on an image from your cellphone camera, you are actually just enlarging a basic image and cropping out the edges to create the impression that you are optically zooming in on a subject.  But, a major difference between your cellphone camera with its single fixed lens and sensor is that Light is combining multiple images from the sensors behind the 28mm, 70mm and 150mm lenses, and these individual lenses/sensors do employ optical zoom. In Light’s computational, digital photography, this is referred to as “variable resolution.”  Don’t ask me – I don’t fully understand how they do it. Light claims that the L16 has a 5x optical zoom, but I’m not clear how it works since this is such a new and different camera technology.

 

Light does an excellent job of illustrating the effective megapixels of zooming in this graphic:

L16 Variable Resolution (copied from the Light website)

 

When I first saw this graph a few days before my L16 arrived I began to think that I had mislead myself when I viewed the example images last spring. And, that’s a very good thing that I’ll later explain!

 

I took my L16 out for its first shots later on the day of its arrival. I took a few “grab” shots, just for grins, to get used to it, as well as some comparative images between the L16 and my Pentax K-1 and 645Z cameras. Shooting with the L16 is fairly intuitive, as you can likely gather from the Light website instructions on their Support pages. Again, I won’t go into all of those details.

 

One point to note is that while my Pentax cameras practically instantly turn on (a second or less), the L16 requires thirty seconds or so to “boot up.” If you’re using the L16 consistently, it would be best to turn it on and then put it to sleep when you’re not using it. I’d only turn it off toward the end of the day or a photoshoot so that it’s more readily available.

 

So, here’s one of my first photographs taken with the L16, followed by a detailed piece of the photograph:

 

An office interior.

 

The full-size digital photograph is an ASTOUNDING 10432×7824 pixels – 81 megapixels! – which is more than 50% larger than the images that my medium format digital camera creates. The other thing that I want to point out about this photograph that there is NO WAY I could take an image like this with either of my Pentax digital cameras (or any other quality digital camera). Decent digital cameras would not allow me to take a nice, crisp hand-held interior photograph at ISO100, f/15 and 1/60″ – NO WAY! To take a photograph like this with my Pentax cameras, I’d need a tripod to stabilize that camera and the shutter speed would be quite a bit lower.  Following is the same image, but with basic post-processing:

 

An office interior, with basic post-processing.

 

Here’s a second shot, zoomed in a bit, and still handheld:

 

87mm lens

 

And, here’s the same image, but zoomed in (100%) to give you a sense of the quality of the detail:

 

Office image at 100% englargement

 

The same comments hold true about this second office photograph: if this was any other decent digital camera, I’d have to use a tripod and a significantly slower shutter speed.

 

Next, here’s another image without editing. It’s not a great photograph, but I’ll use it to demonstrate something about the L16.

Airplane – no editing

 

I cannot remember the last time I shot a photograph at f/15, ISO100 with a shutter speed of 1/1600 second.

 

The same photograph, with basic editing:

Airplane – with basic post-processing.

 

And, here’s an image where I zoom in to show the image detail:

 

Airplane detail, 300%.

 

I’ll now use this photograph to demonstrate some of what the L16 does to create its photographs. The following two photographs, while “small,” have been taken from 300% enlargements of the above airplane photograph.

 

Airfield detail, 300%

Airplane shadow, 300%

You may not be able to see it in the airfield photograph, but there’s a bit a soft halo around the marker lights, which wouldn’t be there if I’d taken this photograph with my Pentax cameras. Similarly, you should be able to see what’s happening with the wing shadow on the concrete – the shadow is relatively crisp, but then becomes soft as you move away from the shadow. The L16 camera is combining several different images to create a single larger image from various lenses and sensors. I don’t know exactly which sensor/lens combination is being used in these sections of the photograph, but I’m guessing that the main subject of the airplane image – the airplane – is being captured by a single 70mm lens, and then being combined with images taken from around the airplane by 28mm lenses. Again, it’s just a guess based on what Light describes on its website, but I’ll show you why in the next section.

 

One thing that I have noticed while using the L16 is that it exhibits what we would have called “shutter lag” a decade or so ago. The L16 seems to “hunt” for its focus point and holds off on actuating the shutter until the focus locks. So, it does take a moment of hesitation before it finds the focus. It does seem that when I used the shutter button on the top of the camera that this was an issue, but if I used the shutter button on the back screen that the shutter fired immediately – I’m assuming that the camera was focused and haven’t found any photographs yet where the L16 did not focus before the shutter actuated when I used the back screen shutter button.

 

Another major issue from my perspective, being primarily a landscape photographer, is whether I could use a polarizing filter on the L16. My beliefs over the past several months were that the answer was no, since there’s no “filter ring” and any filter would somehow have to cover several different lenses and hopefully produce the same effect on each lens and sensor. I inquired with Light support and they confirmed my beliefs. But, me being me, I still had to try and I’m glad that I did.

 

I mounted my L16 onto my tripod for this little test. With the camera on the tripod, I could use one hand to manipulate a polarizing filter and the other hand to press the shutter button. When I placed the filter over the front of the L16, I received a “lens blocked” warning, which is a pretty slick inclusion with the camera! It’s typically meant for extraneous fingers, though. But, I was able to move the polarizing filter (this one was an 82mm polarizer, which not every photographer will have handy) and when I moved the filter slightly away from the front of the L16, I was able to get a photograph using the polarizer.

Lens Blocked Warning

 

L16 photograph using an 82mm polarizing filter.

 

If you’ll compare this image above with the images below from my backyard, you’ll be able to notice the polarizing effect on the vegetation. I didn’t try the polarizer any more, but I want to try it on a blue sky situation to see if there are effects that might show up between the different lenses/sensors on the relatively uniform sky. (I’d do it now, but it’s an overcast day.)

 

 

L16 PHOTOGRAPHIC DETAIL

 

Here’s that airplane image, but I’ve inverted the tones, converted to black and white, and then applied a filter that highlights little differences between pixels. In this image, you can see the different lens/sensors that have been used to create the final image. And, to help you see it better, I’ve tried to highlight those boundaries in a second version of the image.

 

Inverted negative.

Inverted negative, highlighting some of the individual images.

 

The strength of the L16 is that it can take some really large, impressive images in conditions that might normally require a tripod. The weakness is that detail is reduced the further that you “move” from the center of the image. This may or may not be important to you, but it’s important to me. I’ve been shooting with my film and digital cameras for a long time and I’m nearly always shooting for edge-to-edge sharpness. I want it and my clients want it. In the case of the L16, something has to give so that these other benefits (small size of camera, large image sizes) can be obtained. If I’m photographing something where the edge-to-edge detail is important – which I usually am – then I don’t know that the L16 would be my first camera choice.  Finally, if I don’t really care about quality at all and am taking “grab” shots to capture memories, then using my cellphone camera is what I’ll do.

 

When I’m evaluating any tool, one of the aspects of that tool that I consider is what I call “utility” – how can I use that tool in as many ways as possible, and in what situations? I know the “utility” of my Pentax cameras. They produce awesome images. But, the smaller Pentax is lighter and produces good images, so I’ll use that camera when the image size is less important to me and when carrying a big camera is not appealing. Alternatively, I’ll use my medium format Pentax camera when I want my best image quality and I’m able to manage the weight of that camera. In both cases, I’m also usually considering which tripod to carry with me to stabilize my camera. As I wrote earlier, I had hoped to receive the L16 this past spring. If that had been the case, I would have carried it with me on my backpacking trip this past summer, and saved myself three or four pounds of weight in my pack. I would have had a good/great image quality on my backpacking trip, with a low camera weight (utility).

 

Next, here are some images that I took in my backyard with my two Pentax cameras and the L16. In this “test,” I mounted all three cameras onto a tripod so that I kept the cameras stable, which was necessary with the two Pentax cameras. With these test photographs, I’m trying to come close to using the same lens focal length so that I’m comparing apples to apples.

L16

Pentax K1

Pentax 645Z

Pentax K1, 300% enlargement

Pentax 645Z, 300% enlargement

L16, 300% enlargement

 

I encourage you to develop your own opinions of the image quality of these three different cameras. But, here’s are my opinions. First, the image sizes are not exactly the same – testing cameras is not my forte. But, as expected, I feel that the Pentax 645Z is better than the Pentax K1.  The image quality of the L16 seems to be pretty close to that of the Pentax 645Z. I think that the L16 is a bit softer and maybe has some other minor lens quality issues (maybe some fringing?), but it’s pretty close, especially when you consider the difference in the cost and size of the two different cameras.

 

On a second foray with which I evaluated the L16 (to a couple of local state park areas), I took nearly a hundred photographs with the L16. Those photographs can be viewed in the gallery link that I’ve provided below for your consideration. I wish to highlight one of those photographs, though, which appears below. This photograph looks pretty good on first blush, but when you enlarge the photo to get a sense of the detail, there are some significant issues. First, there’s a halo of softness around the person walking down the path.

 

 

Full image, reduced to 20%

Detail on the walking man, 100% enlargement:

100% enlargement

 

Grass detail, 100% enlargement:

100% enlargement

It appears that in a situation where there’s a great deal of little detail, such as with these thousands of grass stalks, the L16 does not do a good job of figuring how to maintain that detail, and you also can better see halo around the man in these two enlargements. It’s obvious in this image above, as well as the image of the airport concrete. I frequently combine images for panoramas and am on the look out for softness in the details where individual images overlap, so this is an issue for my work. When I find images that don’t overlap well then those panoramas don’t get submitted to stock agencies. I also photographed this setting with my Pentax 645Z and the stalks of grass were much more clear in detail. I’m presuming that with the L16 camera system there are multiple perspectives on the grass and that when those perspectives are combined details are blurred, especially where there’s a quite a bit of detail.

 

So far, I’ve tried to present my take and opinions on various, mostly subjective issues between my Pentax cameras and the L16. The central image quality of the L16 seems to be very high, but the image quality as you move away from the center declines. I won’t include more photos, but when I compared the edges of the backyard scene between the L16 and Pentax 645Z, I was pleasantly surprised with the comparable quality between the two when enlarged to 200%. In terms of the ratio of image quality-to-camera size/weight, the L16 is a winner! My main question at this time is whether an image that I capture with my L16 would be satisfactory for the stock agencies with whom I work, which is TBD.  **UPDATE: I have checked in with one of the stock agencies with whom I work and they are not accepting images taken with a Light L16 at this time.**

 

L16 DIGITAL IMAGE FILES

 

Now, here come the significant objective issues. Again, I’ve been shooting film and digital for years, and over the past five years and more have developed a pretty consistent digital workflow with my Pentax cameras. This workflow basically consists of: 1) shooting the photograph; 2) importing to my computer; 3) importing to Adobe Lightroom for various minor edits; 4) if necessary, editing in Adobe Photoshop; and, 5) exporting the file for final purposes (in my case, mostly for submitting to stock agencies). For most photographers, this is a pretty standard workflow. Here’s the rub regarding the L16 for any photographer, amateur or professional and I’ll put into these a chart so that it’s a bit more clear.  The rub is the image file size. (I’ve also included an 8×10 photograph as an example of pixel dimensions and megapixels for comparison.)

 

 

Camera

File Type Pixel Dimensions Megapixels File size (megabytes) Megapixels/Megabyte

8×10 photograph

 

2400×3000 (at 300 pixels/inch)

7.2

 

iPhone

Jpeg

4032×3024

12.2

1.5

8

Pentax K-1

PEF (proprietary)

7360×4912

36

60

0.62

Pentax 645Z

PEF or DNG (digital negative)

8256×6192

51

95

0.54

Light L16

LRI + LRIS (proprietary)

Variable;

~8700×6500;

up to 10432×7824?

~56.5;

up to 81.6

223

0.25 – 0.36

 

So, the raw files coming out of the L16 are about 223 MB – that’s quite a large file, especially for a camera that is not aimed at a professional photographer. Again, that’s the raw file. Light uses its proprietary “Lumen” (beta) software to convert the LRI+LRIS files into either a single JPEG and/or DNG file. I’ve exported several of my evaluation images, but for this example I’ve chosen a single image that I hope is representative. In this example, the combined file size for the LRI+LRIS files is 240 megabytes. When the file is converted, the DNG file is 163 MB and the JPEG is 12 MB. I also looked for other Light images that I had converted and there were many that were on the order of 500 MBs while there were other DNG files as small as 18 MBs – I don’t get the variability and I haven’t checked to determine if there’s consistent quality. In one folder of 94 photo files that came from the L16, the DNG files averaged 370 MB, while in a different folder of the L16 raw files, the LRI+LRIS files averaged 233 MB. My computer requires 20 to 30 seconds to convert each LRI+LRIS raw file to a DNG file – my preferred file type for editing a photograph, so there’s an additional time and work element in my work flow. The Lumen (beta) software does not (yet) permit for batch file handling, so I’ve had to individually convert the hundred or so evaluation images that I’ve taken. It’s not pleasant for me to imagine using the L16 and Lumen software in their current iteration where the L16 was my primary camera and taking hundreds of images for a project (like a backpacking trip).

 

I typically work with DNG or Photoshop files (PSD) that are in the range of 50 MB up to a gigabyte, especially when I’m working on multiple layers in a image file or am combining image files to create panoramic photos, which is common. In some cases, my panoramic image files can be as large as four gigabytes and require special handling methods. But, consistently attempting to work on a 500 MB DNG file would be very taxing on my computer resources, even though I feel like I have a relatively powerful computer intended for photo editing (2013 Mac Pro, 3.5 GHz 6-core Intel Xeon E5, 32 GB ram).

 

The bottom line here is that I sincerely feel that Light has to (and, the folks at Light are probably very aware of this issue and is working on it) markedly reduce the file sizes, improve the file efficiency (megapixels/megabyte) and improve the ability of the Lumen software to allow batch file handling, among other things.

 

One last little issue regarding the L16 image files. I don’t know why this occurs, but when I was preparing some of the above images, I first converted them using Lumen and then opened the files in Lightroom and then edited the files in Photoshop. One of the items that I was reviewing in the L16 images was the shutter speed, since it’s so much higher than a traditional camera. When I checked the file information in Lumen, I would see one shutter speed, but when I looked at the shutter speed in Lightroom, it frequently had a different value.

 

So that you might consider the image quality of the L16, I’ve created a gallery where you may download images and look at them for yourself. You may find that gallery at:

EXAMPLE L16 PHOTOGRAPHS

 

Feel free to download the image files and look them over for your own purposes. I’d suggest that you review the images at 100% enlargement and you should be able to note that the central 90% or so of the image is sharp, while the edges are less sharp.

 

CONCLUSIONS

The L16 is a remarkable camera technology. It’s a small, easy to handle camera that produces some amazingly high quality images. The L16 is definitely a work in progress and it’s very interesting. I feel that the folks at Light have developed a really well-thought piece of photography hardware. There are several features that are potentially available in the L16 that aren’t currently being utilized – video (4K!) and accessories. The image quality of the L16 is somewhere between good and great – I can’t quite put my finger on it because the L16 creates photographs differently from any camera with which I’ve worked before. The L16 captures some great detail in images, but is soft around the edges. In situations where there is a great deal of detail, the images are soft in those detail areas.

 

The weakness of the L16 is the extremely large file sizes and the ability of Light’s Lumen (beta) software to convert these files to usable DNG and JPEG files. The software is limited, slow and doesn’t (yet?) allow for batch file handling. I don’t know that most consumers are going to enjoy working with these extremely large files. If I continue to use the L16, I’d likely have to change my workflow from using DNG or PSD files to using JPEG files (which is not really a quality change, in my view). And, those large files are going to chew up a great deal of media storage, much more than most consumers are used to using for their photographs.

 

I really like the possibilities of the L16. I like working with a smaller camera that produces large, detailed images. I like being spontaneous with the L16 camera, which I don’t do with my larger cameras that I frequently have to mount on a tripod to get the landscape shots that I typically pursue for my work. I like that the technology allows me to take photographs with a much faster shutter speed than I’m used to using; the “sunny 16” rule definitely does not apply to the L16.

 

Lastly, I’m a photographer who has a lot of different technical skills. Marketing is definitely not my strength. But, I have to ask myself, at this point, what is the market towards which the L16 is focused? (pun intended)  The image quality is much higher than most consumers want. The image quality, at least for me, is something that I, as a professional photographer, am still trying to determine if it’s sufficient. I only know as I continue to work with my stock agencies and see how they evaluate photographs from the L16. And, the computer resources necessary to work with the L16 images seem to be more than what I “think” (I have no data, just a gut feeling) most consumers have in their home computers.

 

That’s my review. I recognize that it’s sort of a mixed review and that’s OK. The L16 is a work in progress. Frankly, I want to see it get better because I like the idea. I own one! So, I definitely want it to improve and I know that it will. Where it will be in a year or two remains to be seen, but I’m really looking forward to the L16 in my future.

 

Posted in Light L16 Camera Tagged , , , , |

Aerial Wisconsin Autumn

One of the things to which I’ve been looking forward this autumn is a view from above of southern Wisconsin and especially the Baraboo Hills. I absolutely love getting out in the fall to walk through the colorful prairies and forests around here and take in the many beautiful sights. There are so many quiet and entreating locations in the Baraboo Hills – Parfrey’s Glen; Devil’s Lake State Park; Gibraltar Rock; Honey Creek State Natural Area; Baxter Hollow; and a whole host of others.

Rather than write a whole lot on the subject, I’ll just let the photographs do the talking.  This collection was taken earlier this week, close to the peak of our fall colors. I was able to fly over Epic Systems and Madison for a few minutes before heading to the Baraboo Hills and back.

Enjoy the show! Remember, you may “click” on the slideshow to view it full screen.

N914VX, signing off!

 

 

 

Posted in Aerial Photography, Baraboo Hills, Flying, Wisconsin

Denali Aerial

Description: Aerial view of Denali

Photographer: Tim Mulholland

Please click on the photo to see more!

The person responsible for updating my blog site is hopelessly deficient. Yes, he’s quite busy taking beautiful photographs, but he’s also busy with other things, too, like running a household and family…

However, he has, of late, been busy as of late editing photographs of the family trip to Alaska this past July. This is a long and slow process – a couple of thousand photographs to go through, choose, edit, edit again, keyword and finally upload. But, the Alaska gallery is beginning!

I won’t go into a whole lot of detail about these photographs, other than the following. On our third day in Alaska, the weather was spectacular, so we opted to take a sightseeing flight from Talkeetna to Denali (formerly known as Mt. McKinley), which is about sixty miles away. Talkeetna is the nearest small airport to Denali (I think) and home to several different flightseeing tour companies. The flight from Talkeetna to Denali only takes about thirty minutes, and we spent about an hour flying around Denali and landing on the Ruth Glacier for maybe thirty minutes. We left at a decent time (8:00 am?) and were back in Talkeetna in time for an early lunch. But, we were breathless from the beauty! This was one of the best things that we did during our couple of weeks in Alaska. I’m glad that I wasn’t flying so that I could enjoy the spectacular views.

This is a large gallery, but well worth it, particularly if you’ve been to Alaska or thinking about going. There are several photographs that appear a couple of times in the gallery, once as color images and another time as black & white images (and, my preference for these duplicates in the B&W version). So, enjoy!! And, remember to view the slideshow at the full screen setting!

 

Posted in alaska, denali, Denali National Park, Mt. McKinley Tagged , , , , , |

Door County Flight

Cave Point

Description: Cave Point

Photographer: Tim Mulholland

Please click on the photo to see more!

 

 

I don’t intend to write a lot in this piece, as a picture is worth a thousand words.  As I’ve been “spreading my wings” these past few weeks, I’ve been taking longer and longer flights – weather permitting. One of the places over to which I’ve wanted to fly is Door County, Wisconsin. Door County is a very scenic place from the ground, but it’s even more spectacular from the air.

Without further adieu, here’s a link to the photo slide show that I’ve created, followed by a video tour. During the video capture, my GoPro decided to turn itself off while I was approaching one of my favorite locations in Door County – Cave Point County Park – so there’s a “hole” in the video that I really wanted to create. And, the battery in the GoPro was exhausted just after leaving the “tip” of Door County. Also, in various portions of the video, I’ve “sped up” the video to move through it all faster – and so the flight looks a bit rougher than in reality.

Enjoy!

N914VX, signing off!

 

 

Posted in Door County, Flying Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Lake O’Hara

Description: Beautiful Lake O'Hara

Photographer: Tim Mulholland

Please click on the photo to see more!

 

 

This past July, we were able to spend a wonderful couple of weeks wandering around the Canadian Rockies in Banff, Yoho and Jasper National Parks. This trip had been on our “to do” list for some time and we finally made it happen. It took about four days to drive there and it was well worth it!

 

While performing our research on places to visit, particularly places with great hikes and photographic possibilities, one of the places about which we learned was Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park. The Canadian Rockies remind me somewhat of the American Rockies, but there are differences. The mountains aren’t quite as tall, but they seem more stark and impressive. Since the latitude is further north, this area is a bit cooler and wetter, and these slight differences in climate make for a wonderful improvement in your experience. While we were frequently warm from our hiking, we never really felt hot and drained like we can expect in the American Rockies. At night, the temps were cool and the humidity was higher than if we were further south.  But, I’ve digressed.

 

Lake O’Hara reminds me of just a few places that I’ve experienced while traipsing around the world. It’s indescribably beautiful *and* the powers that be limit access to it, very similar to how access is limited for visits to The Wave or The Milford Track. Parks Canada allows about fifty people a day to visit Lake O’Hara (but, don’t quote me on that figure). You can obtain a day hiking permit, a permit to camp in the single, modest campground, or you might stay at the Lake O’Hara Lodge (only ~$300 per person per night). We were able to score a camping spot for a couple of nights, which required me to be on the phone to the Parks Canada reservations system exactly three months before we wanted to be there to try to claim a spot. To enter the area of Lake O’Hara it is necessary to ride a school bus from the parking lot just off of Canadian Highway 1 a few kilometers east of the town of Field, British Columbia. The bus slowly drives you eleven kilometers up the one-lane gravel road to the campground. Once there, y0u’re welcomed by the ranger and given a brief introduction to camping at Lake O’Hara and then turned loose to find your tenting spot. There are no significant amenities at the Lake O’Hara campground – a pleasant composting toilet, water from a solar pump, bear lockers, and picnic tables. The only amenity of note are the totally awesome views!

 

There are numerous hiking trails in the area for a variety of skill levels.  A basic starter hike around Lake O’Hara is about an hour or two and it’s relatively flat, and this is the hike that we did on our first afternoon. The weather was a bit iffy for us over our two nights at Lake O’Hara, but never really terrible. Okay, it did rain a fair amount on our first evening and that made making supper a bit of a challenge, but there are small shelters there that you get to share with all of your newly made friends. Unfortunately, since there had been so many wildfires in the Canadian Rockies and the firefighting resources were stretched thin, we weren’t allowed to have open fires at Lake O’Hara, not even in the wood stoves in these cooking shelters.

 

Winter in July...

Winter in July…

During our single, full day at Lake O’Hara we took off on one of the more popular routes for the day and it was very easy to see why. We started our hike around Lake O’Hara as we had done the day before, but then started hiking uphill for a few kilometers. By late morning, we were sitting in a beautiful glacial bowl overlooking spectacular Lake Oesa. It was a wonderful backdrop for a well-earned lunch. The day that we were there was overcast, but still very pleasant and beautiful. We next took a slightly wrong route to hike the Yukness Ledges over to Opabin Lake. If you have the opportunity to take this route, make certain to look back to Lake Oesa after you’ve left as the view is even more stunning! From Opabin Lake, the hike back to camp was another hour or so, downhill, and we were entertained by a few hoary marmots along the way. This was one of our best hiking days ever. We were tired by the time that we got back to camp and enjoyed a nice warm supper, followed by the coldest night of our whole trip – the next morning, it snowed on us (OK, it wasn’t that much snow, but it was still snow in July).

 

Lake O’Hara is one of the few places in the world to which I’d like to return – not because I dislike everywhere else, but because there’s so much of the world to see. But, there are some things that I’d do differently. Since we “assumed” that we were headed to some type of a backcountry campground on this bus, which was true, we carried most all of our gear in backpacks – a reasonable decision when we were planning. However, since we didn’t really backpack in to the site, we would have been smarter to carry our gear in duffel bags or something similar, just as we saw the more experienced Lake O’Hara campers do. And, I’d likely desire to bring something more to drink than water.

 

Enjoy the slideshow!

 

 

Signing off (to plan my next awesome adventure!)…

 

 

Posted in Canada, Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Isle Royale

Description: Sunrise, Lane Cove, Isle Royale

Photographer: Tim Mulholland

Please click on the photo to see more!

 

A few years ago, back when I was in gradual school, there was an article in National Geographic magazine (April, 1985) about a place called Isle Royale. I had never heard of it before then, but was quite taken by the story and photographs. My friend Kent and I even talked about heading up there to go backpacking, but it never came to fruition before we graduated. Every once in awhile over the years, I’d look at a map of the Great Lakes and see Isle Royale there, think about it again and tell myself that I’ve got to get there someday.

Over the winter when I found that I’d have several days available in late May (Ačiū, mano meile!) with the opportunity for some travel and adventure I obviously started to think about heading to the southwestern deserts. Since we were planning on going to Utah in April, it just didn’t seem quite right to head back there again so soon (that’s an almost unbelievable thought for me). Somewhere out of the dark recesses of my brain crawled the memory of Isle Royal National Park and it stuck! Oh yeah!

ISRO Map

Map of Lake Superior with Isle Royale circled (click to view a larger image)

Most people to whom I mention Isle Royale National Park have never heard of it and that’s not surprising. Isle Royale is one of the least visited national parks in the United States even though it’s not too far from many populations centers in the Midwest. The problem is that it’s an island in northern Lake Superior and your only options for getting there are your own boat, ferry service from Houghton or Copper Harbor, Michigan or Grand Portage, Minnesota, or a seaplane flight out of Houghton. The National Park Service estimates that were ~15,000 people who visited Isle Royale in 2014; there have been a little over a million visitors to Isle Royale since it was established in 1940. Just for a little contrast, Yellowstone National Park had about 3.5 million visitors in 2014, or about 9500 visitors/day, Grand Canyon hosted 4.7 million visitors last year (12,880 visitors/day), Yosemite enjoyed about 3.9 million visitors, and Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska welcomed just 12,700 visitors last year. Isle Royale National Park is most famous for secluded backpacking over its forty mile length, many harbors and coves for boaters, and for the dynamic population of moose and wolves on the island. Unfortunately, it’s now estimated that there are only three wolves left on Isle Royale due to a lack of genetic diversity from inbreeding, and this loss of wolves is creating a quandary for the National Park Service and others who are fretting over whether they should intervene and introduce more wolves. (I’m in the camp of let it be; wolves will eventually repopulate the island again, and this likely isn’t the first time over the past few millennia that the wolf population has crashed due to inbreeding.)

I started preparing for my solo backpacking trip in late winter by carrying a fifty pound load through the neighborhood. The first few times were tortuous, but I slowly grew stronger, a bit faster and more comfortable with the whole idea. While I’ve been on a few backpacking trips before, these trips were always with friends with whom I could share the load of food, tent, stove and so on, but that wasn’t the case this time.  I also wanted to carry my camera gear, so my load added up quickly.

Over Memorial Day weekend I was off, driving north to Houghton and its airport for my relatively quick flight to the Rock Harbor Visitor Center on the eastern end of Isle Royale. I arrived there late on Friday afternoon, had a quick orientation with the ranger, and was then off to Three Mile Campground. There, I thought that I’d be relatively alone until Amy (from Madison!) showed up with her bum knee that she had injured a day before. (Yes, Amy made it safely home and the big, bad wolves didn’t catch her.) The second day, it was a couple of hour “jaunt” to Daisy Farm Campground and a relatively warm and pleasant afternoon and evening. It seems that Amy had it a bit rougher at Daisy Farm a few days before because it snowed on her. Daisy Farm-0447On my third day, I humped it over the ridge to the other side of the island at Lane Cove when it was quite warm; the bad news is that my water filter broke when I needed it and I stumbled into Lane Cove quite parched. I spent a couple of hours boiling water after that. The last day of hiking saw some cold and rain, and I made it back to Rock Harbor, where I spent most of the afternoon in my sleeping bag, keeping warm and reading a book. All in all, it wasn’t that adventurous of a trip, but it was so nice to get away to the seclusion of Isle Royale – us introverts are into that kind of thing. From the time that I left Rock Harbor until I returned, about three days, I ran into maybe sixteen people. And, I can’t wait to do something like this again – but where?

Finally, here’s my requisite gallery – enjoy!

 

 

Another happy camper, signing off…

 

Posted in Isle Royale, Lake Superior Tagged , , , , , , , |

Slot Canyons

Zebra Slot

Description: Zebra Slot Canyon - beautiful!!!

Photographer: Tim Mulholland

Please click on the photo to see more!

 

 

This post will be much shorter than my last few. Or, it may be longer – a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Slot canyons are incredibly beautiful natural sandstone carvings. As the name implies, these are “canyons,” and they’re typically found in desert regions where there’s lots of sandstone and an occasional thunderstorm.  Over millions of years, the abrasive nature of flowing water, sand and rocks carves narrow canyons through the sandstone. A slot canyon is usually deeper than it is wide and some can be EXTREMELY narrow. Since these slot canyons are typically in desert environments they also are frequently dry and it is relatively easy to visit these vertical, inside-out sculpture gardens. Danger does exist in slot canyons. Since desert soils don’t absorb much rainwater, if there’s a rainstorm in the vicinity (or, even miles upstream in the water basin), the runoff can rip and roar through a slot canyon and pound everything in it to pemmican. When walking over sandstone, it would sometimes be possible to walk over a slot canyon and not really notice it other than you’re walking over a dark crack, although most slot canyons are at least a few feet wide at their tops.

One of the most famous slot canyons in the world is Petra, Jordan. It’s on my bucket list to visit someday. Closer to my home, there’s a slot canyon, or something close to it in the form of Pewits Nest near Baraboo, Wisconsin.

But, some of the most beautiful slot canyons are found in Arizona and Utah. I’ve been fortunate to visit several of these slot canyons and I’m always in awe and inspired by them. Each slot canyon has it’s own character, even though one slot canyon can be just a few hundred meters from another slot canyon.

One of the most accessible and visited slot canyons is Antelope Canyon just east of Page, Arizona. If you visit, there are two major choices (or, simply choose both): Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. You can hire a Navajo guide to take you to and through the canyon of your choice, or you might be able to wander freely if you visit Lower Antelope Canyon. One of the good things about the Antelope Canyon system is that it’s very well protected and monitored for precipitation in the area. About twenty years ago, a group of tourists was exploring Lower Antelope Canyon and were caught in a flash flood, never to be seen again. Since that time, the Navajo Nation has instituted better security and limited site access to reduce the likelihood of these accidents. The first gallery below is from my most recent visit to Lower Antelope Canyon in June, 2012. Antelope Canyon is very beautiful and you won’t be disappointed with a visit there. My kids still talk about it! The colors and smooth carvings are entrancing, and it’s relatively easy to move about.

South of Escalante, Utah, in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, there are several accessible slot canyons, but it takes a little doing to get to them. They’re many miles in the wilderness, on rough gravel roads, and then there’s a mile or two or three hike to get to these slot canyons. But, the hikes are worth it (particularly if you take the shorter routes…).  We visited Spooky and Peek-a-boo Slot Canyons in one day, which are located in Upper Coyote Gulch. Spooky was VERY narrow – I barely could squeeze through in several sections and there were many visitors on the day we were there, creating traffic jams in the slot. I don’t have any good photographs from it because of how narrow and crowded it was. Nearby is a totally different looking slot canyon – Peek-a-boo. It is slightly wider and has a few arches overhead that give it quite a different feel.

A day later, we were back in the National Monument and visited Tunnel Slot Canyon and Zebra Slot Canyon; they are found to the side of Harris Wash. (If you want to find these slot canyons for yourself, just google them or check out the photographs on Google Earth; or, just write to me!). Parking for the hike to these two slots is just off of Hole in the Rock Road; however, if you’ve mismanaged your research, you also can drive to a different location in Harris Wash and then make a MUCH longer hike to them (not recommended, particularly if your family is along). Tunnel Slot is a relatively short slot canyon, narrow and dark. It’s so narrow at the top that not a whole lot of light gets down into it. Much of the light comes from the ends, which makes for some difficult photography.

About a mile northwest of Tunnel Slot is Zebra Slot. This is a narrow slot canyon and very different from Tunnel Slot – it’s open and well lit. The sidewalls show beautifully variegated sandstone layers with moqui marble inclusions. Similar to the Antelope Canyon system, it is just enthralling to be there and to think about the geology and how long it has taken to carve this fantastic place.

From here on, I’ll just let the photographs speak for themselves – enjoy.

 

 

 

I’m signing off…
 

 

Posted in Arizona, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, slot canyon, Utah Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

The Wave

The Wave

Description: Panoramic view of The Wave in all its glory!

Photographer: Tim Mulholland

Please click on the photo to see more!

 

 

I’ve always been interested in science and the natural world, as well as reading. One day, likely in the mid-1970s, I opened a book and found a photograph of this amazing geological formation somewhere in the American southwest. I was mesmerized by this photograph. At that time, there wasn’t a lot of information on the location of this sandstone formation or how to get there – life before the internet. But, that image was burned into my memory.
 

 
At some later point in my life, as well as with the growth of the internet, my consciousness came back to this sandstone beauty. I found that it was called “The Wave,” and that it was somewhere in the middle of nowhere in northern Arizona. The more that I searched about The Wave, learned about it and viewed more photographs of it, it became sort of an obsession, which is typical of a nature and landscape photographer. We all have these lists of places that we must visit and photograph. The internet and various travel guides have increased awareness of The Wave to the point that obtaining a permit is even more difficult than it was ten years ago (and, yes, I’m contributing to that difficulty by writing this piece).
 

 
And, dreams do turn into realities. The dream of visiting and the result of all of this research is eventually getting to see The Wave and a host of other beautiful, natural locations. I’ve been fortunate to be able to visit “The Wave” on three different occasions.
 

 
The Wave is a natural formation of folded sandstone that used to be wind-blown sand dunes. The sand eventually was cemented into place and natural geological forces folded and eroded the sandstone into the beautiful shapes that we see today. The Wave is also a relatively small geological feature situated in an area called North Coyote Buttes that offers a great many opportunities for hiking, photography and amazement.
 

 
In a break with my usual style, I’m placing two slideshows here for your enjoyment. If you’re inclined to learn more about how to obtain a permit to visit The Wave, then by all means, keep reading! The first slideshow is from my 2013 visit, while the second slideshow is our most recent 2015 visit.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting to The Wave is not difficult, but it’s definitely not easy. The most difficult and frustrating part of seeing The Wave is getting a permit from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Wave is found in an area called the Paria Canyon/Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area of southern Utah and northern Arizona. The Wave is also extremely fragile, as you might guess, so the BLM limits the number of daily visitors to reduce the wear and tear on this spectacular site, as well as to provide visitors an outstanding wilderness experience. While many folks like to visit large crowded cities on their vacations, it’s also nice to have remote, quiet and intimate wilderness opportunities for the rest of us.
 

 
Let’s get back to that difficult part of getting a permit. The BLM allows up to twenty people per day to visit North Coyote Buttes and The Wave. There are two ways to obtain these highly prized and difficult to procure permits. The “easier” way is to apply to the BLM’s online lottery. This way is easier because you can do it from home in front of your computer. You apply for your permits about five months in advance of when you hope to visit The Wave. For example, if you want to visit in April, then you apply during the previous December. The BLM holds a lottery on the first day of the fourth month before you’d like to visit; in my example, the lottery would be held on January 1st and you’ll be notified by email whether you received a permit or not. Through the online lottery, BLM distributes ten of the twenty permits it offers. The advantage of this system to you is that you’ll know in advance whether you’ve been extremely lucky to obtain a permit. The bad news is that for these ten daily permits, there are typically 200 or more requests for those few permits, which means that your chances of getting one of those permits is about 1% or less – yeah, not great odds. You’re permitted to request up to three different days in your lottery entry, so that might seem to increase your odds, but then, everyone gets to pick three days. I’ve also heard of some “tricks” to increase your chances of winning a permit, but the odds are still stacked against you. I’ve only known one or two people who have earned a permit through the online lottery; I’ve applied to the online lottery four or five times and never earned a permit in this way.
 

 
The other way to obtain a permit is to enter the “in-person” lottery that is now held at the BLM’s Interagency Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah. To be clear, the BLM distributes the remaining ten permits through this process and these permits are good for the following day (i.e., tomorrow, not the day of the lottery). The first time that I attempted to visit The Wave, this lottery was held at a different location (the BLM’s Paria Contact Station). My wife and I entered the lottery and didn’t receive permits, but the BLM staff kindly told us that there were still permits available to visit a similarly beautiful area known as South Coyote Buttes, so we went there. (Permits for South Coyote Buttes are now becoming increasingly difficult to obtain through the same two lotteries; the information that I’m providing for North Coyote Buttes/The Wave lotteries also apply to the South Coyote Buttes permit lotteries.) When we applied at the in-person lottery, there were maybe fifteen to twenty total people requesting permits. The second time that I planned a Utah/Arizona trip with the hope of visiting The Wave (June, 2010), I applied online for a permit (no luck) and then entered the in-person lottery. Again, there were fifteen to twenty applicants and I scored! The weather was extremely pleasant and this was truly a happy moment in my life.
 

 
On my attempt to visit The Wave in November, 2013, I applied online (again, no luck), and then entered the in-person lottery in Kanab. I again drew a permit in the lottery, but this time there must have been thirty or forty applicants, so I felt very lucky. I also savored the experience even more because I did more research about the area and found some other gems in the vicinity of The Wave, like Top Rock Arch.
 

 
My latest visit to The Wave was also the luckiest. Again, no luck with the online lottery, but that wasn’t surprising. We visited southern Utah during Spring Break, 2015. Unfortunately for us, Utah’s schools were also on spring break at the same time. Places that I had visited in the past where I was all alone were “swarming” with people (OK, in my case, swarming means that there were twenty to thirty people). We entered the in-person lottery at Kanab on two successive days, because that’s all the time that we had for visiting the area. The first day the BLM’s “lottery room” was full and overflowing. We heard that there had been requests for ~170 permits a day or two before, and the first day that we applied, there were about sixty requests applications requesting about 150 permits (you’re permitted to request up to four permits on a single lottery application, I believe). Yes, the odds were terrible and we weren’t too disappointed when we didn’t get a permit. But, it was exciting to see a mother and daughter squeal with delight when they earned their first permits after learning that this was about their tenth application to the in-person lottery! When you participate in the in-person lottery you really have to set your goals low (as in, I’ll not receive a permit) and also enjoy the good luck of others when they receive their permits.
 

 
We applied again on the following day. Our odds were slightly better, as there were “only” about forty applications for about 130 permit requests. What was interesting about this trip to the lottery is that the BLM does seem to be very strict about it’s policy of allowing one application per group of applicants. It wasn’t apparent on our first visit to the lottery, but on our second attempt the woman running the lottery was clearly reviewing the applications and she disqualified two groups of applicants who had two applications each. That meant that our odds increased – if only slightly. And, after watching one permit be awarded, then two more permits, and then two more permits, we knew that our likelihood of getting our four permits with our draw was pretty low – but we did! ELATION!
 

 
So, here’s one “trick” that I can offer for improving your odds at The Wave lottery – apply for yourself only, whether in-person or online. Plan on a solo visit. It might seem a little odd, but there are quite a few applications who are requesting multiple permits. Once the first five, six, seven permits have been awarded, then the multi-permit applications are less likely to take their permit(s) if they are lucky in the lottery. Why? Because the participants with a multi-permit application want to go as a group so that all or none can enjoy the experience. Yes, those multi-permit, in-person applications might choose to take the remaining permits and figure out how to distribute them amongst themselves, but more often it seems that they decline to take their permits – all or none. So, after those first few in-person permits have been awarded, your chances for an individual request increase because the multi-permit applicants will decline their opportunity. I know, it ‘s not a lot of solace, but it’s some. And, the same logic applies to the online lottery – if there are only three permits remaining, then an application for four permits can’t win.
 

 
After you’ve finally won the lottery celebrate and then continue your planning and preparation. And, here’s a bit of help to get you prepared before you get there. This site has quite a bit of good information on The Wave and the general area of the Colorado Plateau = TheWave.Info
 

 
With the popularity of The Wave increasing, the number of unprepared visitors is also increasing. The Wave is a wilderness area. It’s about an hour drive from either Kanab, Utah or Page, Arizona. There are basically no services nearby, once you leave these main towns. The road to The Wave, House Rock Valley Road, is rough, rutted, and rocky, and passable by most vehicles when it’s dry. If it’s wet, the clay can become quite slippery. During our last visit at the lottery, we heard one group’s amazement that you couldn’t drive right up to The Wave! No, this is a desert wilderness and you’ll need to hike and be prepared for many eventualities. In the summer of 2013, an older couple hiked to The Wave and didn’t return – it was very hot, they likely didn’t have enough water, became disoriented and died. On our way out from our visit, a family of five was walking in to visit The Wave. They had heard about while vacationing in Kanab, didn’t realize that you needed permits (or, face a $500 citation if you’re caught without one), didn’t have maps and didn’t have nearly enough water for all of them – including their three year old twins. The route to The Wave is not marked – again, it’s wilderness. Be prepared. Bring a GPS or map and compass and know how to use them. I’m not providing directions here because the BLM will give them to you or there are much better resources on the internet.
 

 
But, once you get there, you’ll be amazed with what you see. My favorite part of my most recent visit was watching my family’s reaction when they entered the main amphitheater – priceless. And, on this trip, I found Melody Arch, which was spectacular, The Alcove and the Second Wave – there’s always something to discover in this area.
 

 
I hope that you enjoy your trip when you can finally get a permit!!! Please let me know when you get to visit!!!
 

 
OK, I’m signing off…
 

 

Posted in Arizona, desert, North Coyote Buttes, panorama, The Wave, Vermillion Cliffs Tagged , , , , , , |