Saturday, January 23, 2016

2016 National Park Fee Free Days

Celebrate the Centennial in 2016 of over 400 National Parks by visiting them.  You can visit for free on the following dates!
For your Free Entry into National Parks this year, note the following dates on your calendar:

April 16 through 24 - National Park Week

August 25 through 28 - National Park Birthday Weekend

September 24 - National Public Lands Day

November 11 - Veterans Day

Get outside and enjoy your National Parks!

Friday, January 15, 2016

A New Camera

Over the holidays I purchased a Fuji FinePix XP80 digital camera.  It is in a class of "action" cameras that appeals to me. First, it is waterproof to 50 feet, shockproof from 5.8 feet, freeze-proof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit and dust-proof. I feel that I need all these "proofs" for a backpacking/outdoor-use camera that I don't have to also carry other gear to protect. My plan is to wear it around my neck, carry it in my shirt pocket or in a pack strap bag where I can get to it quickly. If it rains, no problem!
Second, with other mostly small and automatic cameras, I have missed SO many photos of wildlife and action because the camera takes too long to power up, move the lens into place, focus and take the picture. By then the animals or moments were gone. Not so with this camera, as it is ready to shoot in about 1 second.
In addition to stills, it also shoots HD movies tagged as .MOV files. The microphone is built-in with no input jacks, so I will use an audio recorder to capture close-mic sound and a tripod or other camera mount to keep the videos smooth. It came packaged in a bundle with a neoprene case, a floating strap, a hand strap and a 16GB SDHC data card. It has a bright yellow body. XP80's are also available in blue, black and purple.
The Fuji XP80 takes 16.4 Megapixel photos using a 1/2.3 inch CMOS sensor, has a 5X Optical zoom, includes a built-in flash and uses a 2.7" LCD screen on the back for viewing. The auto-focus function also has a tracking feature, there is an optical image stabilization and the ISO goes up to 6400. The aperture runs from F3.9 to F8 with TTL metering. Shutter speeds are from 4 seconds to 1/2000 of a second. Internal memory is 96 MB plus whatever size memory card you are using.  It has a ton of in-camera filters and multiple automatic camera modes which I am still running through.  It does high speed continuous shooting and programmable time lapse photography (for those tracking cloud shots). Extra Apps can handle remote camera controls and the camera has built-in Wi-Fi for transferring images.

The 5X optical zoom lens helps with composing the majority of the shots I plan to shoot. It is equivalent to a 28mm to 140mm zoom on a 35mm camera, which covers the wide angle to medium telephoto range. With wildlife, the shots of animals won't always be close-up, but the landscapes and portraits will be very nice.
The camera fits nicely in your hand and is very lightweight at 6.3 ounces on my scale including battery and memory card. It charges quickly through the USB connector and will recharge with my portable solar/battery supply when on the trail. My current iPhone 5 takes 8 megapixel photos and has no optical zoom. Though I will still use the iPhone as a camera occasionally, my plan is to add larger memory cards and perhaps more batteries to the Fuji XP80, so I can shoot for longer durations.
In my use it will mostly stay in the AUTO mode for quick-shoot photos. Landscape mode takes great outdoor landscape photos, the Snow exposure seems to work fine on snowy shots and the Macro setting boosts colors a little bit on close-ups. The Sunset and Portrait modes look nice too. For those times when I need to manually adjust the exposure, I can switch to Program AE mode and trim the amount of light coming into the camera using buttons on the back of the body. For its small size, the XP80 offers me a lot of features to get good photos.

As for battery life, the paperwork says it will shoot about 210 photos in AUTO mode on one battery charge. That would easily cover a weekend or two backpacking trip for me. I haven't taken that many photos yet, and have fussed much with the settings, have shot short videos and have still not run the battery down from its first charge. Time will tell. I checked and found 2 batteries and a charger online for about $20.
I personally don't use effects much, as I prefer to get a good photo first. The XP80 comes with several effects, including a nice tool to stitch together panorama photos from several shots taken across an arc. The sketch effect can be dramatic as well as the toy, miniature and forced-color effects. The Fish Eye effect mimics the ultra-wide angle view effect of an 18mm lens.
There is an HDMI output for the TV set as well as a micro USB for charging and transferring photos, both of which are concealed inside the waterproof housing that holds the battery and memory card. It is sealed with a simple locking mechanism, where a button has to be held down to twist the knob to open it.
My photography background is in 35mm and 2 1/4 inch film. I had a small darkroom rig and have processed and printed my own b&w film since I was in the Boy Scouts. I eventually ended up with professional camera bodies and had a wide range of pro fixed and zoom lenses after college. I shot for college newspapers, created slide shows and volunteered with amateur astronomers to get star pictures. I also have 16mm film motion picture experience and have worked as a professional video photographer for many years.

Nowadays, my vision isn't good enough to squint through the lens without wearing my glasses. I have learned to use the on-camera viewfinder screens like the old fashioned ground glass screens on my 2 1/4 inch cameras to compose my shots. Though I prefer to "twiddle" with manual controls, an automatic camera is best for me now to bring home good photos.
Hopefully, this Fuji FinePix XP80 camera will provide me with the tools to get better quality photographic results for this blog and other projects while not weighing me down with extra waterproofing and shock protection cases. You will soon see photos here taken with it.
For the record, I purchased this camera with my own funds and have not received anything from anyone to review it.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Feathered Warmth

32 Degree Down Vest
My 32 Degrees brand Down Vest has been an excellent purchase from Costco for around $20. While not a name brand, it wears well and keeps me warm, either by itself over a long sleeve tee shirt and when used under a raincoat/windbreaker. Being 650 fill down, it is very soft and comfortable with a slick nylon shell. For the price, it is hard to be beat.
It has zippered pockets, covers my neck with a stand-up collar, has a mini-bungee waist band with cord lock, zips up and has inside pockets behind the outside pockets. And it is very light, weighing only 7.5 ounces on my scale and comes with a ditty bag to store it in (included in weight).
My cell phone fits perfectly inside the zippered hand warmer pocket and I still have room to warm up my hand against my body with the down over the outside.
I have been wearing this vest, both inside and out since October and I am very pleased with how it fits and wears. It is very comfortable. On a recent snowy hike, I wore it with long underwear, a nylon fishing shirt and cargo pants and was quite warm.
I have owned down vests before, giving my last one to my mother years ago to keep her warm during the Kentucky winters. After the new Down Tek waterproof treated down vests pass some time of getting dunked, I'll try one of them. In the meantime, I'm warm and comfortable with my inexpensive down vest.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Once Upon A Chariot Book Review

The book Once Upon A Chariot is about Norma Jean Belloff who established the USAWomen's Record for Cross Country Bicycling in 1948. Written by her daughter, Iris Paris, and published in 2008, the book chronicles Norma's 2 self-supported cross country bicycle routes in the post war era.
There is no lycra here; just a Pendleton jacket, Keds tennis shoes, jeans and flannel shirts. No helmet, no gloves, no ultralight composite frames, no clipless pedals, just a 19 year old woman travelling alone a couple years after World War II had ended, on a fat tire single speed bicycle weighing 65 pounds with gear.
Norma's route east was just along local roads through the south to avoid winter weather. This was years before heavy national traffic, Interstate highways and the multiple 4-lane roads of our time were built.

Norma Jean Belloff on the return trip
The gear was simple; sleeping bag, green canvas tarp, change of clothes and a towel, toothbrush, tool bag, flashlight, canteen, and her new bible. The bicycle was named Chariot 1. It was lost in the Colorado River (you will have to read the book). Chariots II & III carried her the rest of the trip and she returned home in San Diego riding her fourth bicycle, a black Schwinn racing bike with canvas rear panniers, fenders and a flashlight that she set the cross country record on.
Norma's trip was the definition of "unsupported". She stopped along the way, staying with strangers and worked for her food, lodging or cash.  Except for accepting some cash mailed from home, she paid her own way across America.
Norma also fought some mental demons along the way, her own fears came to light many times and the interesting parts of the story is how she dealt with them and her relationships with her parents and family. She did trust her instinct and got herself out of trouble. Reading her bible daily offered help, created new questions, and guided her in a good direction.
Norma's first goal was to bicycle to her grandmothers home in Baltimore, MD. She made it by Christmas 1947 and enjoyed her stay there. She continued bicycling on to New York and finally to her birthplace near New London, CT, before touring Washington DC.

1947-1948 bicycle route
The return trip had her leaving New York and following state highways to reach Route 66, then following that back to LA/San Diego. She averaged 70 miles per day while wearing a white oilcloth sign across her back that said "New York to San Diego", spent a week recuperating from leg cramps in Arizona and still set a record. Starting on June 23rd, she made it home in 53 days.

Winning third place at Women's National Bicycle Races
Norma finally met President Truman in California, placed third in her only race at the Women's National Bicycle Races in Wisconsin, attended College, married and raised a family.
The author really didn't know about her mom's accomplishments until 1989, when she received 5 trunks from her deceased Grandmother, which contained her mom's trophy and documents about the 1947-48 bicycle trip. Using her mom's journals, maps and notes, she recreated the route and wrote the story.
I found another story written by the author entitled "What ever happened to Norma Jean Belloff?" I included the link for your understanding of the whole story.