John Muir Trail


Aras overlooking Garnet Lake.


John Muir Trail


Ice & Fire: a wee wander on the John Muir Trail in two acts



I don’t recall the impetus for wanting to backpack the John Muir Trail (JMT). I’m guessing that it had to do with my love of the outdoors, going on an occasional backpacking trip, and naming my first son Muir. I do recall that my interest started to climb a couple of years ago as I realized that my younger son, Aras, might favorably mature by taking such a trip, as well as realizing that I wasn’t getting any younger.


Shortly after I started to ponder such a trip and the various logistics, I realized that my nephew, Vladas, might enjoy the trip. I mentioned this idea to my sister-in-law while we were traveling in Alaska and she thought that it was a good idea to consider. Shortly thereafter, Vladas was on board.


A few weeks later in September 2016, I mentioned to that first son, Muir, that I was looking to take Aras and Vladas on the JMT in the summer of 2017. Ten minutes later, Muir surprised me and said that he wanted to go, along with his (then) girlfriend. So, the logistics quickly magnified!


The fall and winter of 2016/2017 were spent studying and planning. Permits for five were obtained from Yosemite National Park in January, 2017 for a southbound adventure. The winter of 2016/2017 was one of the snowiest on record in the Sierra Nevada mountains and I was always monitoring the Sierra snowpack. We made a “go” decision in late spring 2017, knowing that snow would be an issue. The combination of everyone’s schedules allowed us a window from late June to the end of July. The permit that we received in the lottery was for a 25 June 2017 start, which seemed early given the historic Sierra snows (200% of average). But, we were unable to obtain a permit in the lottery for any later.


There was a lot of food dehydrating and vacuum sealing occurring during Spring 2017, as well as picking up additional gear from REI and eBay. The overwhelming snowfall the winter before meant that our hoped for first resupply at Tuolumne Meadows wouldn’t be available; we needed to make it to Reds Meadow to resupply. Buckets of food were shipped in June 2017.





We all flew to Fresno and the next day missed our bus to Yosemite Valley. Quick-thinking Muir found us an Uber to the Valley that was cheaper (I don’t know how the Uber driver made any substantial money). We picked up our permits and heard the warnings about bears and snow. Our last night in civilization was at Happy Isles campground.

Starting, 25 June 2017. L-R: Aras, Tim , Britney is just standing in, Vladas & Muir.


On 25 June 2017 we made our start on the trail. After a few pictures, we were slogging the long, steep grade up Nevada Falls. We had to pack food for more than a week on the trail before our first resupply as well as gear that we’d need in the snow. All of this considerations lead to some heavy backpacks. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that my pack was in the range of 55-60 pounds and Vladas’ pack was likely heavier (but, he’s a much bigger and younger than me). Muir, Aras and the former girlfriend were likely carrying forty pounds or so. The first day to Little Yosemite Valley and beyond to Clouds Rest Junction were extremely difficult, especially for our first day at altitude. When we sighted a bear at Clouds Rest Junction, that was a good sign to enjoy our first stop. (Note: The geolocations I link here roughly came from my GPS.)


The second day, Aras, Vladas and the former girlfriend backtracked and summited Half Dome. This lead to a noon start on the trail. We first ran into snow when we reached an altitude of about 8500’, which was about ten miles into the trip. At that point the snow was instantly about four feet deep, when we could see bare soil/rock. From that point on, the trip was difficult. We were all tired from slipping and sliding, route finding (couldn’t see the trail under the snow) and navigating around tree wells (snow melted around trees to create “holes”). Our goal had been to make it to Sunrise to camp, but we ended up a mile or so short when we stopped about 8:00 pm. It was a rough night as we didn’t eat well and there wasn’t much water where we camped on a bald knoll.

Snow covered Long Meadow, 27 June 2017.

We slept in the third morning which caused another late start (~10:00 am) and spent most of the day slipping on the snow and route finding. There was beautiful scenery but the hiking was brutal. Vladas postholed deep late in the afternoon and it took twenty minutes to extricate him. The goal was to make it to Tuolumne Meadows, but we were well short when we decided to stop near Cathedral Lakes.

Camp near Cathedral Lakes

We had a good discussion that evening and realized that we were in over our heads given the conditions. Our trail pace was much slower than we’d hoped and we’d likely run out of food before we made it to Reds Meadow (if we made it, since we still had a few thousand feet more to climb over some passes). While we were likely hiking at a rate of about ten miles/day, our trail mileage was maybe half that with all of the walking around the tree wells. And, we still weren’t hiking over the higher passes where the snow would be even worse. We decided to bail out at Tuolumne Meadows and figure out next steps from there.


The end of that trip was bittersweet. We “failed” on the trip that we had hoped to make and for which we’d planned so hard. But, we were safe and humbled. We spent a couple of weeks bumming around the Sierras and San Francisco as our “backup” plan.





Not completing a goal like this – especially one where you’ve invested so much time and effort in planning and training – sticks in your craw. In the early fall of 2017, I told my wife that I’d like to try the JMT again and she was agreeable. When I told Aras that I wanted to make a second attempt, his response was on the order of “UGH!” But, we planned the trip, carefully, for the two of us during the winter of 2017/2018, starting from Tuolumne Meadows (where we’d ended). Again because of schedules, we had a similar window for going on the JMT. Unfortunately, we were not able to win a permit in the lottery to backpack the traditional JMT over Donohue Pass. But, we scored a permit to leave Yosemite over Parker/Koip Pass. The other good news is that the Sierra snowpack during the winter of 2017/2018 was about 20% of normal!


We took a bit more time to acclimate this time around by spending a couple of nights in Mammoth. We also significantly reduced our pack weights. I’m guessing that Aras started at less than 25 lbs and I was just under 30 lbs (better planning and paring, and less snow gear). We also started a few days later than the year before – 29 June.


We enjoyed one last civilized snack at Tuolumne Meadows and hitched our way to a late morning start at the Parker/Mono Pass Trailhead. The trail to Parker Pass was smooth and gently sloped. But, I thought that I’d lose Aras as we climbed the side of Parker Peak to get to Koip Pass – the altitude and effort got to him that first day (but, never again!). When we topped out on Koip Pass and could see Alger Lakes, we were pretty excited! We set up camp near Alger Lakes in the waning light, later than we wanted, but very satisfied with our first day’s effort.


Aras crossing Minaret Creek.

The second day started with frost and quickly warmed. The hike to the JMT from Alger Lakes was longer than I calculated, which was not encouraging. We made it to Thousand Island Lake for a late lunch and over to very crowded Garnet Lake for the night. (Day3) Our first resupply was at Reds Meadow the next day, but it was a slightly smoky hike there. The food at Reds was quite welcome as well as the shower.


It was on the second day that Aras and I had our favorite discovery of the whole trip – Rona & Jason, Oscar and Ron. I’m an introvert, so thinking of interacting with other people is not something that was on my radar when I was planning our JMT trips. We met many nice, wonderful, interesting people on the trip who made it fun. But, meeting Rona, Oscar and Ron on the trail late on the second day was the best thing that happened to us for many reasons. It turns out that Rona is originally a Midwesterner and went to college right here at the University of Wisconsin – Madison! And, her son, Oscar, is the same age as Aras, and they became fast friends on the trail. “Ron” is a very sweet Korean woman who surprised me with her strength and stamina. But, for most of the rest of the trip, we camped and ate together, cajoled each other and enjoyed each other’s company. Rona traded out with her husband, Jason, about half way through the trek, and I certainly appreciated Jason’s company, especially when I needed a break from Aras. 


(Day4)  The smoke from the Lions Fire near Reds Meadow the next morning still obscured our views but didn’t affect our breathing. We made it to Purple Lake for the night. I had hoped that we might make it Lake Virginia, as I’d heard it was beautiful, but a late start from Reds nixed that goal, and the smoke from the Lions Fire made for a hazy view at Lake Virginia as we found out the next day.  (Day5) Tully Hole was as mosquito infested as reported. The trail over Silver Pass was spectacular – one of my favorites! The ferry to Vermilion Valley Resort was waiting to leave when Rona & I arrived at Lake Thomas Edison. Vermilion Valley Resort was a wonderful stop. We enjoyed the food and especially enjoyed the company. Sitting around the bonfire there and listening to Pacific Crest Trail hikers tell their stories was wonderful.


The view along the John Muir Trail from Silver Pass, overlooking Chief Lake (left) and Warrior Lake (right), John Muir Wilderness, Sierra National Forest, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, USA.



The view along the John Muir Trail – Marie Lake from Selden Pass; John Muir Wilderness, Sierra National Forest, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, USA.



Taking a break in Mono Creek.


Along the JMT.



Aras approaching Selden Pass, with Marie Lake in the background.

(Day 6) Leaving VVR on the Fourth of July was tough – a bit of civility and comfort is difficult to let go. But, we slogged on in a bit of heat and made it to the west side of Bear Creek. (Day7) Marie Lake and the north side of Selden Pass were as spectacular as Silver Pass. When Aras & Oscar reached Sallie Keyes Lake, they decided it was a good time to jump in! At Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) we had to hustle to resupply (our last!) our bear canisters before MTR closed for the evening. Rona headed home the next morning and Jason started with fresh legs and a heavy load.  Video: Aras jumping into Sallie Keyes Lake


(Day8) After some searching we found John Muir Rock the next day. Our first night with Jason was at beautiful, but mosquito-filled, McClure Meadows, and supper on a boulder in the middle of Evolution Creek. (Day9) Next up was a beautiful hike around Evolution Lakes and then into the rocky alpine zones above before topping out on Muir Pass and its stone hut, before camping along the Middle Fork of the Kings River. (Day10) The following day had an easy morning but a warm afternoon climbing up Palisade Valley. At lunch, I slipped into Paradise Creek and dropped my water bottle and our primary water filter into the raging stream. I quickly decided that it was best to let them go and not chase them; fortune had it that an eddy brought them back to me! Oscar lead us up the Golden Staircase to the most beautiful campsite of our trip with a view over the valley.



Sunrise view over Palisade Creek Valley with the Devil’s Crags in the background.


Sunrise view at an unnamed lake (just downstream from Lake Marjorie).


Aras crossing Evolution Lake Inlet.

Aras & Tim take a break at Muir Hut.

(Day11)  The next morning was tough for me with the long slow climb to Mather Pass. The afternoon was mostly downhill with a last climb to another beautiful campsite at an unnamed lake just below Lake Marjorie. Near the Bench Lake Range Station, we started to hear that there was a forest fire near our planned exit at Whitney Portal that might cause us to change our plans. That evening we lost our knife between the boulders in the lake while trying to wash it – whoops! (Day12) It was an overcast morning climbing Pinchot Pass and beyond that gave way to nice camping weather at Arrowhead Lake. (Day13) Our brief time in the vicinity of Rae Lakes was overcast and the steep climb over Glen Pass may have been the most difficult for me. That night was spent at one of our higher campsites in the upper reaches of the Bubbs Creek Valley. (Day14) The next morning was a long, slow slog (for me) to get over Forrester Pass. The weather descending Forrester was overcast and cool and I worried about lightning as well as the mild rain. But, the cooler day was a blessing as I was able to hike more easily. We made it to Crabtree Meadows after a sixteen-mile day – our longest day of the trip! This is also where we collected our wag bags!!


As our trip was winding down we were talking of when and how to summit Mt. Whitney. We’d been worried about the possible difficulties of exiting at Whitney Portal because of the nearby fire and maybe needing to hike further south to Cottonwood. Fortunately, Whitney Portal opened a day or two before we arrived. We thought about camping high on Mount Muir at the Trail Crest site, but we would need to take lots of water with us. But, the benefit would have been arising early for a pre-dawn hike to enjoy sunrise on Mt. Whitney.


Aras’ “rain coat” wasn’t as helpful as he thought, so he used the tent groundcloth. 🙂 Photo courtesy of Jason.

Jason & me on Forrester Pass. Photo courtesy of Jason.

(Day15) In the end, we decided to get an earlier than usual start and hope to summit Mt. Whitney by noon or so, which we did (actually, a bit after noon). There was no real view on Mt. Whitney as it was socked in by the clouds, but we certainly enjoyed our accomplishment. I cried a bit when I was up there, happy and proud of our accomplishment, especially over two seasons. After a long, slippery and tough-on-the-knees downhill hike, we made it Whitney Portal about 5:00 pm. Of course, Aras and Oscar were waiting on me – Slow Poke – as usual. I was too tired to really eat much of anything and about as sore as I’d ever been. Our last day was about 4000 feet up, 7000 feet down and 19 miles. That night, we enjoyed our first real immersion into civilization in more than two weeks at a hotel in Lone Pine, along with a nice, hot shower!



Ron, Oscar, Jason, Aras & Tim on Mt. Whitney! Photo courtesy of Jason.


On top of Mt. Whitney! Goal attained!


In Act II we hiked about 200 miles over the fifteen days. This was one of the most meaningful and difficult accomplishments of my life, at least over a couple of weeks. I’d do it again, but I’d take my wife with me. As I write this now, five months later, I’ve regained most of the weight that I lost and I reminisce many times every day about this grand adventure – the ups and downs, and the wonderful people, especially Aras!



Closing thoughts:


I wish that I’d lost some weight prior to the trip. I was in generally good shape except I was carrying a few more pounds than I wish. The heat on the trail wasn’t that great, but the exertion and intense sun left me drenched in sweat. As often as I could I was wetting my shirt and hat to help me cool. I was the slowest person in our group which lead Aras to give me the trail nickname of Slow Poke.


I’m glad we pared our packweight between the two trips. It would have been a slower, more difficult trip carrying ten to twenty more pounds in Act II.


I’m glad that we went earlier in the season as the trail was relatively clean. I’ve heard stories about folks who went later in the season and found more human trail scat than they appreciated.


I heard about Rock Tape a couple of weeks before we left for Act II and it was wonderful! I highly recommend it for managing blisters and raw spots on feet and fingers.


I hope that you enjoy your own backpacking trips, whether on the JMT or elsewhere. These kind of trips are wonderful for cleansing the soul and humbling us in these modern times.


“The mountains are calling and I must go.”  ~~ John Muir


Lastly, here’s slidewho of about 300 photographs from along the trail – enjoy! You’ll likely enjoy it more if you view full screen.







Posted in backpacking, bucket list, California, John Muir Trail, Sierra Nevada Mountains Tagged , , , , , , , , |


[landscapephotograph description=”Sunset, Torres del Paine over Rio Serrano” photoname=”Torres del Paine” photo=”” photourl=””][/landscapephotograph]


There are a few scenic locales on our travel bucket list, but we crossed one off a few months ago – Patagonia. If you enjoy travel to beautiful mountains, then the mountains of Patagonia have probably caught your eye somewhere in magazines or the internet. We visited Peru and Machu Picchu three years ago and Patagonia was one of the next areas we wanted to visit after that. And, travel to South America has been growing on us, too, as it’s such a vast and beautiful continent. We don’t really speak Spanish, but we’ve not really had difficulties getting around with our little bit of Spanglish and we’ve always been able to laugh at ourselves when we have mangled conversations with the wonderful people we meet along the way.

Patagonia is a region of South America. Specifically, it’s the southern part of South America. It’s so easy to get there, too – not. Figure that you’ll need to take an overnight flight from somewhere in the US (presuming that you’re one of my Americano readers) to Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina. From those cities, you can then jump in to Patagonia in quite a few different ways.  In our case, we flew into Santiago and from there way south to Punta Arenas, Chile. We were extremely fortunate that on our flight to Punta Arenas the sky was mostly clear and we enjoyed some spectacular views of the southern Andes!
**As an important aside, Chile has received many blessings (and some curses) from the estate of Doug and Kris Tompkins. I’ll not go into detail here, but hope that you’ll explore what the Tompkins have done to protect Chile’s landscapes and increase Chilean tourism.**
We required about twenty four hours to get from home to Punta Arenas. We did sleep decently on the overnight flight, but we were still discombobulated from the travel (at least I was, which is typical for me.) Our first night was in a small B&B in the heart of the city and we enjoyed an evening walk to a nearby restaurant. In Punta Arenas, we were a few degrees further south compared to where we lived in Invercargill, NZ. The next stop south of Punta Arenas or Invercargill is basically Antarctica.

We rented a car in Punta Arenas from one of the only available places – EMSA Car Rental, which is affiliated with Avis. It is readily possible to create a trip to Patagonia by using the wonderful public bus transportation system, but we wanted the flexibility that a car offered (and, that flexibility cost us extra). On our first full day, we drove from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales, making it there for lunch. It was a pleasant, modest drive, similar to driving in the western U.S. – lots of open space.
Puerto Natales is a tourist town that you can get to by car, bus, plane or boat. It serves as the jumping off spot for the tourist buses to Torres del Paine National Park (TdP). With the flexibility of our rental car, we could readily drive to TdP in a couple of hours and get to our (relatively expensive) lodging. There’s no gas, though, in or near to TdP, so plan accordingly. If you take a bus, then it also takes a couple of hours to get to the park, and then return to Puerto Natales in the evening to more affordable accommodations or you can camp or glamp at TdP. You’re either paying time or money, whichever you have more of. Our drive to TdP took longer than expected because we stopped many, many times to enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Most of the roads to TdP, as well as all of the roads in the park, are gravel, so the driving is a bit slower because of those conditions. You’re definitely driving down the interstate anywhere in Patagonia.
I wanted to backpack and camp the famous “W” circuit in TdP, but I was outvoted by my girlfriend (she frequently has greater voting rights than me – go figure). We spent a couple of nights at the Hotel las Torres Patagonia – good food, decent room, great views. There are only a handful of lodging choices in and near the park, as well as a few campgrounds and glamping areas. On our first full day in TdP, we drove back through the park and enjoyed a couple of easy hikes, a lot of great mountain views, and watched the guanacos.

For those who might want to backpack the W circuit, it sounds wonderful and relatively pleasant and easy. The difficulty is that the “refugios” (sort of like campgrounds but with more amenities than backpackers usually get) don’t coordinate their reservations (yet?), so you have to contact each of the several refugios separately and hope that you can coordinate your itinerary.

Sunrise view of the Bases del Torres at Torres del Paine National Park, Chile.

The primary reason for going to TdP was to hike to the spectacular Bases del  Torres mirador (viewpoint). You may not know the name, but you’ll likely recognize it. We also wanted to enjoy sunrise at the mirador. We went to bed early, tried to quickly fall asleep and then the alarm rang at 1:30 a.m. We were up and out of the hotel by 2:00 a.m. – and there were other people leaving at the same time. We also were fortunate that there was a full moon that helped a bit to light the way, but our headlamps did most of the illuminating. It’s “only” about a five mile/eight km hike to the Base of the Towers, but it’s mostly uphill, and the last kilometer or so is at about a 45 degree angle. When we got to the last steep portion of the trail, the girlfriend left me behind (I’m older, slower and carrying photo gear) so that she could make it up before ~6:00 am sunrise (so, yeah, it was about a four hour hike – in the dark). She got there with several minutes to spare and I made it with just enough time to set up my camera – whew! And, it was spectacular (and cold). We also got to enjoy the moment with twenty to thirty younger people, some who had come from the beginning of the track and many who had slept at Refugio Chileno (sort of a campground with extras) that’s at about the half way point. It was still spring time in Patagonia and there was still some ice on the tarn beneath the towers. We stayed for about 45 minutes and headed out. One of the great things about hiking in the dark is that on the return trip nearly everything seemed new to us. Check out time at the hotel was 11:00 am; we got back at 10:30, showered and finished packing just in a nick of time.
Next stop was a hotel on the southern side of the park that we had sorta passed on our way in – the Hotel Rio Serrano. Again, the hotel was pleasant but, for some reason, on our second morning there, there was no water. A “luxury” hotel, but no water. We enjoyed a relatively quiet couple of nights at the Rio Serrano, recovering from the Tower hike. Our main expedition from here was a boat tour of Lago Grey and Glacier Grey, which was about an hour drive from the hotel.
From the Hotel Rio Serrano we drove to – Puerto Natales for gas! Then we were back on the road, returning to the vicinity of TdP to cross the border into Argentina at Cerro Castillo, Chile. It’s a remote border crossing with few services (we heard that we “might” be able to buy black market gas there, but it wasn’t worth the risk). We also were fortunate that we got to the immigration and customs officers just before a bus load of touristas arrived (there’s another advantage of having a car – not waiting in line with a bus load of touristas). A few kilometers later, we entered Argentina and the differences were stark. Fewer services, poorer roads, and a smaller, simpler customs and immigration station. We then cut cross country on Argentina Route 40 which was very rough. We saw one or two cars in the hour we were on this road, but saw hundreds of guanacos and sheep, and even a few rheas. It was then another long, quiet remote drive to El Calafate.

El Calafate, Argentina is another town that is overrun with touristas (i.e., us) – but, they’re mostly well behaved and there for one reason – the Perito Merino Glacier, a part of Los Glaciares National Park. The Glacier is about an hour west of El Calafate and is truly remarkable. This visit was about the closest that we’ve ever been to a glacier. The Argentinian parks service has created an extensive system of boardwalks and grated walks so that you can view and enjoy the Perito Merino Glacier from a variety of angles and viewpoints. One of the interesting parts of the trip is watching all of the visitors – including us – waiting for the glacier to calve and hopefully snap a photo of the process.
After gassing up in El Calafate, we drove around Lago Argentino to El Chalten, the tourist mecca for Mt. FitzRoy (a.k.a, El Chalten, “the smoking mountain”), which is a different area of Los Glaciares National Park. The town of El Chalten is relatively new and serves as a tourist basecamp for exploring the area. We stayed another twenty minutes “up river” in a glamping ecodome lodge named Patagonia Ecodomes.  We’ve never done that before!

Midday view of El Chalten/Mount Fitz Roy, Los Glaciares National Park, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina

The next day, we were up at a reasonable hour, enjoyed breakfast and then hiked to El Chalten. It was another 16-18 km hike and well worth it. The hike was modest and only became difficult at the last half kilometer or so when it was necessary to climb 400 meters – that only takes about an hour. Once we got on top of the terminal moraine that we climbed, we enjoyed superlative views of El Chalten, its surrounding peaks and the ice-covered tarn below. And, it was extremely windy!

After seeing El Chalten in full daylight and hiking to the Bases del la Torres for sunrise, I can’t really tell you which I enjoyed more. Both types of lighting had their own appeal.

The following day we had one of our easiest hikes from the village to Laguna Torre. That being said, it was also the day with the poorest weather for our trip. We had decent weather on the hike up and down, but the clouds socked in the mountains and the wind was again ripping off of the mountains, over Laguna Torre and right into our faces. We were fortunate that we were able to find a large rock and sit in the leeward side so that we could sort of enjoy our lunch.

View of Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) at Reserva Cabo Virgenes (Pinguinos), near Rio Gallegos, Santa Cruz Region, Argentina

After El Chalten, we spent a night at an estancia (ranch) on the shores of Lago Argentino and then, on sort of a whim, modified our trip and drove to the Atlantic coast town of Rio Gallegos. The draw here is that a mere 120 kilometers further south, over some very rough roads, you’ll find a Magellanic penguin rookery. After enjoying all of the beautiful landscapes that we could take in, it was very pleasant (except for the long, tire eating drive) diversion to enjoy wildlife in abundance.
There are many more details that could be shared about this trip, but I’ll leave it at that. Patagonia, and especially the mountain areas, are truly spectacular. We enjoyed a relatively quiet trip with only modest numbers of tourists, some good food, laughs at our Spanish, and some beautiful, long drives that might be similar to visiting the open spaces of the Western US or Canadian Rockies. I also want to write that we definitely want to return to Patagonia someday (retirement trip?) and especially to enjoy more of Chile.


This is a relatively large gallery of nearly 600 images (Adobe Flash Player required), so don’t feel like you have to stick around for the whole presentation! You may view the whole gallery at your leisure at   Patagonia Gallery

Posted in Argentina, Chile, Mount FitzRoy, panorama, Panoramic Photography, Patagonia, Perito Merino Glacier, Puerto Natales, South America, Torres del Paine

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.


Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , |

Light L16 Camera – Take Two








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.



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.



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.



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.



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


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.)


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.


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.**


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.)


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

8×10 photograph


2400×3000 (at 300 pixels/inch)









Pentax K-1

PEF (proprietary)





Pentax 645Z

PEF or DNG (digital negative)





Light L16

LRI + LRIS (proprietary)



up to 10432×7824?


up to 81.6


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:


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. Get more updates from


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

[landscapephotograph description=”Aerial view of Denali” photoname=”” photo=”” photourl=””][/landscapephotograph]

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

[landscapephotograph description=”Cave Point” photoname=”Cave Point” photo=”” photourl=””][/landscapephotograph]

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.

I have so many pictures I got a few ones as gifts where I got the portrait from photo to a oil painting, an amazing gift for anyone, totally recommended !

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.


N914VX, signing off!

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

Lake O’Hara

[landscapephotograph description=”Beautiful Lake O’Hara” photo=”” photourl=””][/landscapephotograph]



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

[landscapephotograph description=”Sunrise, Lane Cove, Isle Royale” photo=”” photourl=””][/landscapephotograph]


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!


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 , , , , , , , |