Yosemite National Park – Paradise in California

Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View

We love holidaying in North America and over the past 10 years have seen as much as we possibly can with our three children in tow.  From  bustling cities such as New York and San Francisco to National Parks such as The Grand Canyon and Shenandoah we have tried to experience all that represents American cityscapes and landscapes.

There is one state though that we consistently gravitate back to: California. And there is one place in California that draws us back every single time and that is Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite was designated a World Heritage site back in 1984 and was one of the very first National Parks in the USA. It covers over 760,000 acres straddling the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The 3.7 millions visitors per year tend to keep to a 7 square miles of Yosemite Valley.

The park is a reasonable 4 hour drive from San Francisco and it is more than worth the effort to get there. Even on paper the valley is impressive:

  • It was one of the first National Parks in the USA
  • Yosemite falls is the highest waterfall in the US with a drop of 2,425ft
  • The park has three groves of ancient Giant Sequoia, the largest trees on the planet: Mariposa Grove, Tuolumne Grove and Merced Grove. Photographs of these trees cannot do them justice. They are truly awe inspiring in the “bark”.
  • El Capitan is the largest single monolith of granite in the world
  • The park is home to one of the biggest bears in the world: the Grizzly.  It is essential that you read and heed the notices and warnings about these animals and be “bear aware”
  • Ansel Adams, arguably one of the world’s best landscape photographers did some of his best work in the valley and it is not hard to see why he was consistently drawn back

In the heart of the valley sits Yosemite Village. This is a great place to stop and has a decent cafe and store. The store is particularly useful if you are lodging or camping in the park itself. It has a good selection of food and drink along with souvenirs, t-shirts and books. There are other interesting things to see and do in the Village including a visitor centre,an art centre and bookshops.

Map of the valley

Most people’s first view of the valley is at Tunnel View where you are presented with an incredible view that will have you instantly reaching for your camera. With El Capitan to your left, Yosemite falls to your right and half dome in the distance it is time to reflect for a minute on what has got to be the perfect picture postcard landscape. In the summer it can get very crowded but there is a decent sized car park. In all the times that we have been we have never failed to find a space.

From here the road winds down into the valley and before long you are in the one way system that loops through the valley and towards the village.

In addition to Yosemite Valley itself there are many distractions including the groves of Giant Sequoia, Glacier Point (with not to be missed views of Half Dome), Taft Point, Toulemne Meadows, the list goes on with dozens of trails to take you off the beaten track.

El Capitan in all it’s glory

Once on the road on the way into the valley itself there are are lay-bys and car parks next to trails, stunning meadows, glimpses of mountains and sheer granite rock faces. Essentially, everywhere that you turn takes your breath away.  It is a area of visual riches that we never, ever tire of.

We have been in Spring when there is still snow on the ground and parts of the park closed; Summer when the weather is beautifully hot and clear; and Autumn where the colours of the trees adds a special dimension.

If you are a photographer, hiker or climber you are in seventh heaven here with so much to photograph and climb that you are spoilt for choice. For photographers my advice would be to take plenty of memory cards with you – you will need them. Also if you venture into the the Ansel Adams Gallery (highly recommended) you may get an inferiority complex so please be warned!!

There is plenty of accommodation around and in the park from campgrounds to plush hotels. Be warned though that in peak season it gets booked up pretty quickly. Also accommodation outside the park is generally cheaper too although you will have a reasonable drive to get to the park.

We have always stayed in a small town called Oakhurst. It is south of the park and around a 45 minutes drive to the entrance. It has some great restaurants with Crab Cakes and Sweetwater Steakhouse being particular favorites – no prizes for guessing what they specialise in! Hotels and Motels are reasonably priced too. We have stayed in both the The Best Western Yosemite Gateway Inn and the Comfort Inn. They were both clean and comfortable although the Best Western doesn’t include a breakfast in the price.

So all in all it is a piece of paradise in California – a State that seems to have more that its fair share of stunning places to visit.

All photographs taken with a Canon 5D MkII and 24-105L lens.


Leica X1 vs Fuji X100 – The Imaging Wars

There has been a huge amount of talk about the Fuji X100 on the internet and a quick search on Google throws up dozens and dozens of reviews. Unsurprisingly, the X100’s closest competitor the Leica X1, is often used as a direct comparator.

The basic question I wanted to ask about these two cameras is purely in terms of image quality which captures the best image. From what I have seen so far the Fuji beats, no thrashes, the X1 in everything from styling to build to features. But as with the 5D and M9 comparison is the X100 a super computer with a decent lens compared to the X1’s Leica lens and simple approach.

I have both of these cameras here at home. I need to chose between them. One has to be sold. In an ideal world I would keep both. But I don’t live in an ideal world.

So my review will focus totally on the quality of the image from the two cameras. Tons of web space has been devoted to the specifications of each and they can be distilled down to:

Fuji X100 – tons of features with a questionable user interface

Leica X1 – simple feature set with straightforward user interface

So over the next few days I will be taking as many images as I can with the two cameras to see which one I will go for.

I will even conduct some blind tests – similar to Steve Huff on his site – to see whether you can tell the difference between the two cameras.

To whet your appetites here is a selection of a daft photographs. I won’t say which is which just the aperture and shutter speed each was taken at. Do you know which is the X100 and which is the X1? These images, as a taster, are jpegs and are at the camera’s standard settings. I have made no other adjustments. I was merely interested at this stage what a a standard image straight out of the camera would look like.

1. f2.8 1/40 

2. f 2.8 1/30

3. f4 1/40

4. f4 1/40

Which do you prefer?

Leica M9 Review – The Conclusion

The Stunning M9 and 50mm Summicron

Before I got the Leica I had a one question that I was hoping the M9 would be able to answer: was it possible to get a camera system that was portable, flexible and would provide the kind of image quality that I had enjoyed with the Canon 5D and Zeiss combination?

The bottom line is that, with the M9, the answer is an emphatic yes. It has it’s flaws and in terms of flexibility and features it cannot match up to most point and shoot cameras never mind high-end DSLR’s. But also by giving you less it gives so much more.

More than any camera since I owned an M6 many years ago, the M9 has reconnected me with photography again. It makes you stop and think about framing, composition, light, exposure, focus, depth of field. Yes with any camera you have to think about these things but with the M9 it is no point and shoot. Something that a lot of DSLR’s seemed to have turned into with their different modes and automatic settings. I often see lot’s of people wandering around with an expensive Nikons or Canons weighed around their necks and wonder if they have ever been out of auto mode before and really used their camera properly.

The M9 has also made me stop examining the LCD so much and reviewing what I have just taken. I now get the shot and invariably move on looking for the next thing to photograph. All the things I used to do before cameras turned into computers. The simplicity of it all is empowering.

Simple to use freeing you to take photographs

Don’t get me wrong in the right situations the 5D has it’s place. It’s low light capabilities are superb for example and you can capture truly stunning images especially with the Zeiss Lenses. If you shoot a lot in low, low light and live view or video is your thing then the M9 is clearly not for you.

But I think that the 5D as with most modern DSLR’s make the process of taking photographs just that: a process. As I have said before it is highly sophisticated computer that is easy to get lost in when taking photographs. There are so many variables that it is easy to get confused with which is the right one for you and the image you want to create.

On the other hand I pick up the M9 switch it on, check the battery and away I go.I don’t have to wade through page after page of settings to ensure that I haven’t left it on a setting I didn’t want to. There are no custom functions to review which always left me confused.

To me the M9 hands back the photographic control back to the photographer and produces images of stunning detail, colour and balance.

As I stated previously I usually do most of my photography when I travel which is invariably with the wife and three children. Lugging the 5D around was becoming a burden to the point where I contemplated on many occasions not actually taking the 5D it and the assorted lenses away with me.

Now I have a 2 lens system (M9 with 35mm Summarit and 50mm Summicron) that fits very easily into a small Domke F-803 bag. There is so much room left over that that I can also get my X1 or X100 in there plus chargers, cards cables AND my iPad and it is all still significantly smaller and lighter than the Billingham filled with Canon gear.
I know that I am not compromising in quality and whilst the Zeiss lenses are hard to beat I just love the way the Leica lenses render an image with such depth and colour.



A Picture Taken Recently when at Windermere

A screenshot from my Mac showing 100% of part of the Windermere photograph – click for full size

I have read about a lot of people moving from Nikon and Canon DSLR’s to the M9 and at first thought that they must be deranged. Deranged or not I can happily say that I am joining them in that journey and loving every minute of it.

Linn Davaar – My Thoughts

Screenshot of Davaar on my Macbook Pro

Sounds like a character from Star Trek but it is in fact the latest version of Kinsky Desktop control point on my Mac. I finally got round to downloading it and have been listening to lots of different types of music since.

So what are the differences? Well operationally none as far as I can see. It certainly looks prettier than the last Cara version but in terms of ergonomics it would appear to be very similar.

As far as sound quality is concerned there are some subtle differences. To me the soundstage appears a little more holographic with instruments placed wider and deeper. Also music is presented cleaner and more, I am sorry, accurately without losing the organic qualities of Cara.

As I say though differences are subtle and nothing earth shattering. Just a small evolutionary step from Cara that seems to me well worth downloading. At least it is free and would appear to be reversible if one doesn’t take to it.

I would be really interested in the the thoughts of those that have “upgraded”.

Incidentally the Will Young album is the wife’s. Some other dodgy ones in there but that one is definitely not mine.

Leica M9 Review – Sample Images

Here are a few photographs taken with the M9 and Summarit 35mm 2.5. I had only had it for a week or two and not used it extensively outdoors because of the bad weather. This was the first sunny day that I was able to get outside and start shooting.

I love the balance of this image and those Leica colours

The M9 captures colours so well that I have not had to do any post processing to get what I want

The M9 captures the detail in the trees incredibly well

There is an arty feel to this image that I don’t think I could capture with my 5D

One last one. Again colour, sharpness and detail are all there

Okay not the greatest gallery in the world but for some of the first images taken with the M9 I was pretty satisfied with the results. Would the quality of these images convince me that the M9 would fulfil my requirements in a flexible compact camera system?

Full and final part of the review to follow…….

Jon Allen – Sweet Defeat

This is a quick blog post. I have recently discovered this guys music and I have to say he is superb. Heard him singing live on Radio 2 a week or so ago and I was impressed enough to go out and buy his latest album the next day.

Great voice, reminiscent of an early Rod Stewart before he took a wrong turn, with wonderful music and lyrics to match. I have been playing Sweet Defeat on repeat for almost a week and not tired of it once.

His first album is supposed to to be just as good and my order went into Amazon today. I suggest that if you like well written, superbly sung folk/folk rock type music then you should seek this guy out too.

I cannot imagine you would be disappointed.