Wordless Wednesday – “Little Ferdinand”

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Memorial Day Weekend Recap

We visited our two beautiful canyon state parks in one day!

First, my heart is breaking for my fellow Texans downstate today.  Devastating floods have hit many areas, and there is so much hurt right now.  Of course, the much-needed rain will be very welcome once this crisis is over, but many are paying a heavy price for it right now.  The dam on the lake at Bastrop State Park failed, and the lake water has now mostly run out.  This is the same state park that was hit by a devastating wild-fire a few years ago, too.  Scenic little Wimberly in the hill country, which is a huge tourist town, saw a flood of epic proportions over the weekend, with the Blanco River rising 30 feet overnight.  Many cities and state parks have been impacted or shut down.  To have such a devastating situation hit on a holiday weekend just made it all the more challenging for those trying to keep people safe through it all.  I honestly don’t know right now how many people are missing or have lost their lives.  Please pray for those impacted by floods in Texas today. 

Texas Flooding Photos – The Boston Globe

Our decision to forego a long weekend camping trip due to the weather was a good one.  Storms hit our general area, but nothing like the unbelievable storms that hit downstate.  Hubby and I made a long Sunday drive instead, visiting both Caprock Canyons State Park and award-winning Palo Duro Canyon State Park in one day by car with the dogs and a picnic lunch on a beautiful little outing while the weather was nice, and I will share some pictures of our “grand canyons” adventure soon.  Visiting both of the canyon state parks in the Panhandle in one day is always a great scenic drive and a fairly easy one for us.  After all the recent rains, it was beautiful in a way we’ve not seen until now.  We did not start visiting the state parks regularly until 2011 when we bought our RV, the first year of the drought, and it is only getting better and better as more rain falls and renews our land at last.  I also took some great photos of the baby bison at Caprock Canyons.  (I am loving the new camera and lenses!)

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Later on, I will also share a few suggestions for anyone that is interested in visiting the canyon parks, as we learned some new information on this little outing that opens up new options, especially for anyone that would like to see Palo Duro Canyon but not take their RV down that fairly scary mile-long 10% grade road (with no shoulder and lots of people on bicycles at times) into and out of the park.  We were quite surprised to see a number of improvements in the park, which will make visiting an even better, and more reliable, experience in the canyon.  If we are “experts” on any state parks, it would be these two.  We have been visiting Palo Duro Canyon for five decades and have watched its popularity absolutely skyrocket with visitors from all over the world.  However, we actually prefer taking our RV to Caprock Canyons most of the time.  More to come on these wonderful parks!

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Wide-angle view of a portion of the 10% road into Palo Duro Canyon State Park, as shot from a pull-out on the road.

On Monday, we just relaxed at home and enjoyed a nice dinner at home with our son.  I definitely missed Mom joining us for this little family time, but we had a wonderful time together.  Hubby finally showed our son his pictures from his most recent trips to China and Europe, and we had a tasty dinner of spicy sausage and cabbage, which is quite possibly their favorite dish ever.  Son requested it, and Hubby prepared it.  My kind of meal!

I have so much to write about from our “grand canyons” adventure and also our week-long trip to Maui.  Unfortunately, I also have quite a bit to do right now at home, but I will eventually catch up on writing and sharing pictures here.  I’ve also committed to editing pictures for a friend and her hubby, who just returned from Kauai for their 40th wedding anniversary.  It is my little anniversary gift to them.

We don’t have any more vacations firmly planned at this time, but we will likely make a trip north somewhere over 4th of July week/weekend.  Hubby will be on the road for business more than usual over the next couple of months, and I hope to finally make some real progress on catching up on chores at home, in addition to writing and sharing photos of our most recent trips.  I have some great photos to share!

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Upgraded Camera Equipment

My new Canon T5i and new image stabilized lenses

One reason I’ve put down my photography over the past few months, in addition to dealing with the general upheaval in our lives, was my frustration in not being able to shoot “up close and personal” in a reliable manner.  As we all discover our own photographic styles, I’ve known this one has been missing for me.  I’ve worked around it at times with my cheaper zoom lens and tripod, but shooting with a tripod typically doesn’t fit our lifestyle when traveling.  When you know you really can’t capture many of the shots you want, it’s hard to even pick up the camera, or at least that’s how I’ve felt.

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The frustration of poor equipment. Another great shot missed due to blur while on vacation.

I’ve opted to share a fairly lengthy post today about my equipment upgrades for anyone that might be considering such an upgrade themselves, especially hobby photographers like me.  Writing about some of the finer details has also helped me to come to know my new equipment in more detail, a good learning tool.  While I opted for the Canon T5i, it is worth noting that the new T6s and T6i are now out and worthy of consideration.  My decision between the T6s and the T5i was primarily “bang for the buck.”  I also was not interested in switching brands from my previous camera.  I considered finally upgrading to a professional model camera and would be willing to spend the money for one right now.  However, the sheer size of carrying a larger camera would be problematic for me on many occasions, especially while traveling by airplane.  Again, as only a hobby photographer, it is hard to justify making that move right now.

I went to our specialty camera store and shared my desire to upgrade my telephoto lens and possibly make some other upgrades, and we looked at several options, including a fabulous Canon lens, the EF 70-300 f/4-5.6 IS USM.  However, at a price of $650, it would be the only real upgrade I could do at this time.  As we continued to look at other lenses, the salesman made a suggestion that I look at purchasing a camera package that would upgrade my camera, my kit lens and also get me a good telephoto lens for just slightly more money than the other telephoto lens by itself.  He brought up the fact that I probably struggled in low-light situations with my present equipment, which was absolutely correct.  Canon has a $300 rebate on this particular camera package, and the store could file the rebate for me, saving me that money upfront and leaving the price to me at only $799 plus tax.  I suspect this deal is to help Canon move their existing stock of T5i cameras to now focus on the newer T6 models.  He also explained that the higher ISO capability, paired with the better performing IS lenses, would result in significant improvement in lower light situations, something that was most definitely an issue for me with my XTi with the highest ISO of 1600 and no image stabilization available.  I would also gain a good quality telephoto lens in the package, even though it is not the original lens I looked at.  This slightly smaller lens will significantly improve my telephoto capability and will take less room to pack in a suitcase when traveling by plane.  I can’t use a lens on vacation if I don’t have room to carry it.  My wide-angle lens already takes a lot of room, too.

I left the store and looked at a few more options elsewhere that were no better than this one, so I returned and purchased the camera package.  It is a pleasure to trade with this locally owned store for my equipment purchases because they typically are no more expensive and offer more personal service, which is always important to a hobby photographer like me.  I can always use help and good advice when it is offered, and I will have the opportunity to take a free two-day class with them at some point, as they offer them every other month for people who purchase cameras in their store.

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My new Canon 700D (X5i) with the 50-250mm f/4-5.6 IS-STM lens attached.

The package included a Canon 700D (T5i) and two IS-STM lenses.  This offer was pretty much the same no matter where I looked, either in stores or online.  Not only did I get a good telephoto lens, I also got a greatly upgraded camera and an IS-STM kit lens, too.  I already own a Tokina AT-X Pro SD 12-24mm wide-angle lens, which cost about $800 when Hubby bought it for me a few years ago, so wide-angle shots have been no problem with that great lens.  My weakest link has always been my ability to shoot decent telephoto shots and decent low-light shots, and after several years of frustration, I am quite happy to have upgraded capability in these areas.

Digital Photography Review of Canon 700D (T5i) and STM Lenses

The kit lens is a EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM, and the telephoto lens is a EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM.  STM stands for “(Smooth Transitions for Motion) Stepping Motor design for quieter Autofocus, with improvements in Aperture Design, Lens Coatings, Minimum Focus Distance, Build Quality and more,” according to a recent news release about another STM lens release this month.  I am definitely no expert on these particular details, but the STM lenses seem to be good options, even though using Live View can apparently inhibit their performance somewhat.  The detailed review above tells about both the camera and the lenses in this package, and it is a multi-page review.  Just look toward the bottom and navigate through the pages.

Canon also has information on their STM lenses.

Here are the top features of the 700D (X5i) camera for me.

– Shoots 18mp photos as compared to 10mp with my previous camera.  While that size is truly getting on up there, it will provide better results when needing to crop an image.  I can always downsize photos when needed, too.  FYI – the new T6 models are now up to 24mp.

– Shoots 1080p video.  I do not anticipate using this feature often, but I have come to appreciate the value of shooting an occasional video when in a situation that cannot be fully experienced with only a photograph.  A sunset experience in Old Lahaina Town in Maui recently is a great example.  While the photo is lovely, the little video I took of the waves crashing and a fiddle player nearby “playing the sunset away” just preserved the experience beautifully.  Videos will be more for personal enjoyment and memories, and the fact that the camera has a built-in stereo microphone is especially nice.

– Maximum ISO of 12800, and 25600 expanded, which is going to be a nice feature when attempting shots in lower light, for sure, especially when combined with the IS lens capability.  This is a huge upgrade over my previous equipment.

– Ability to select different aspect ratios (3:2, 4:3, 16:9 or 1:1).  There are times that will come in handy, even though with 18mp, there is plenty of room to crop, too.

– Uses SD cards instead of compact flash cards.  I purchased a San Disk 32G Extreme Pro SD Card for only $35 that will hold over 1000 raw images or over 3500 highest-quality JPEG images.

– HDR (High Dynamic Range) capability by setting to HDR mode via “SCN” on the dial, then selecting the HDR option as a default.  The camera physically shoots three rapid photos, then merges them into one.  I know the limitations of shooting in HDR, especially the possibility of ghosting, but there are times it can be a great tool.  I use it often on my phone with pretty amazing results at times.  We’ll see how well it works on the T5i.  Unlike my phone’s HDR mode, I can hear and feel the camera snapping the three photos.

– The dial also rotates 360 degrees with no hard stop now.  It’s just the little things like this that are nice to have for a change.

– Rear LCD display screen can be rotated inside when not in use and can also rotate out and at different angles when being used.  I like that the screen can fold inside to keep it from getting scratched, and the ability to position the display in other spots may help with glare a bit.  It can also help when holding the camera higher or lower, especially if shooting in Live View.

– The LCD screen can optionally be enabled as a touchscreen in the menu settings.  A button on the back of the camera must first be pressed to enable the use as a touchscreen or the equivalent function in the lower corner must be touched, minimizing the risk of inadvertently pressing a function on the touchscreen and changing a setting unknowingly.  This seems much more user-friendly than navigating through the buttons, and I’m already putting this feature to good use.

– Textured finish on the camera body is a really nice change from my XTi with a smooth finish.  I am surprised how much difference this makes when holding the camera, too.

– Live View falls in the “I may or may not like and/or use this feature” category.  It’s too early to tell, but in this mode, a “curtain” falls over the viewfinder and the camera can be used in a manner more similar to a smart phone –  touch focus, etc.  I think I will likely stay with my traditional viewfinder, as it seems to be a more stable shooting mode.  I can envision times, however, when this might be a good feature to use, probably in video mode and when using the Creative Filters that are now available, since Live View is the only way to see them in-camera.  Again, it just won’t be a feature that I use all that often, I think.

– The IS-STM lenses use a slightly different size lens hood, which is a better petal style lens hood.  My previous lens hood for my smaller lenses was a non-petal style that only helped on a few occasions.  The petal style is similar to the hood that I use on my wide-angle lens.  I purchased this lens hood separately for $29, along with two good Hoya UV filters for the new lenses.

I shared my first photos from the new camera on my previous Wordless Wednesday post.  I did no editing other than to crop them just a bit, and I am thrilled at the results of these handheld shots.

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 The only thing I’ve discovered that is problematic for now is that my Photoshop Elements 9 will not work with the raw files from this camera.  It does not have an available plug-in for the newer raw files.  Apparently the only option is to upgrade to Elements 13 that has the plug-in for the files from this camera.  I’m going to look at all available options for editing software, but I suspect I will just go ahead and upgrade to Elements 13 for now.  I own Lightroom 1 but seldom use it these days.  I’ve used Photoshop Elements since it first came out, though, and I love some features in it, too.  More than anything, I just want to edit photos less and spend more time with the camera shooting, hopefully improving my skills in this area.

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Welcome to Seattle, Ya’ll!

Enjoying the unseasonal cloudy and cool weather and an update on the wonderful rains!

We enjoyed a glorious, relaxing and fun week in Maui.  But more on that later when I get the pictures done.

 You may recall that it started raining in Texas well before we left on our trip and a series of thunderstorms *quickly* filled up the reservoir that supplies some of our water.  It hasn’t stopped raining since then except for a few periods lasting no more than about three days at a time.  While we were in Maui, I kept getting severe weather alerts on my phone for our home area, and several friends shared about the downpours we were receiving.

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As I’m typing this post this morning after my first cup of coffee, it is 47 degrees with 90% humidity, and the high today will struggle to reach 60.  Normally, the average high for late May should be around 85 degrees, but it’s not uncommon for the temperature to go well above that, too.  So, I decided to check the average weather in the Pacific Northwest this time of year, and it seems we are right on track with Seattle’s weather in May!

So, if I never visit Seattle, at least I now what it feels like to be there in May.  And it is “loverly!” 

With more severe storms in our forecast for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, we have decided to scrap some tentative plans to go out in the RV for a little getaway, hopefully with our son coming along.  I’m not into camping during super-cell storms at all, and we are having an epic load of them these days.  Some friends of ours went to Copper Breaks State Park two weekends ago with their trailer in tow, and not long after they arrived that evening and set up, they found themselves running to the bathroom/shower building nearby to dodge an oncoming tornado.  Apparently, it absolutely rained buckets of water during that storm, along with some small hail.  We were flying out to Hawaii that day and receiving regular text updates about what “dogs” we were while they were trying to not die at Copper Breaks!  It is funny now…  😉  Glad they, along with their trailer and truck, are fine most of all.

You have to be tough to camp in Texas in May and June at times, and there are lots of tough people out there.  I’m just not sure I’m one of them, but kudos to them for being brave souls!

More lakes are rising dramatically, and it’s an amazing thing to witness.  “All droughts end with a flood” seems completely spot-on at this time.  Just check out a few of the lakes that have seen a dramatic increase over the past few days and weeks, especially the first one.

Lake Alan Henry

Lake Arrowhead

Lake Brownwood

It’s amazing what the rain has done for the spirits of the people in our area.  It’s like hope has finally returned and the doom and gloom of the drought may actually be behind us, at least for a while.  And right along with the lifting of spirits with the return of rain, it seems my own spirit is finally on the rise after several long, depressing months following my mother’s death.  I swear she is up there levying God to make some good things happen for me and for this area that was her home for 93 years because everything just seems to be making a 180 degree turn right now in so many ways.  It would be so like her to do that.  Always thinking of others.

I enjoyed several hours alone at a lovely spa in Hawaii while Hubby played golf, and it was a great time of reflection and peace for me.  God felt so very close as I had the unique opportunity to spend time with him in this gorgeous place.  The various health treatments must have helped the blood start flowing to my brain again, literally, and I have felt so much better physically since that day, and walking quite a bit while we were gone certainly helped, too.  The quiet time with God helped me to realize that it’s time to start moving on while remembering Mom and our good times together.  I had one teary time as I sat alone amid the beauty, but I have not cried a single tear since then.

There is too much of life left to live, and it’s time to quit wasting it on being sad.  I’m not sure what all that will mean for me going forward, but I’m ready to see what life has to bring my way.

One thing that became clear was that it is time to pursue my photography hobby once again.  I’ve put it away for too long, and the passion that God has given me for photography is going to waste in some way.  This happened *before* I even mentioned this small revelation to my Hubby.  When he told me on my birthday, the day we flew home from Hawaii, that he wanted to upgrade my camera equipment when we got home, it confirmed my earlier revelation.  God works in mysterious and glorious ways, and the blessings are flowing all around right now, for sure.  The new camera and lenses are already in hand, and I’m looking forward to new photographic experiences with them and hopefully improving my skills significantly.

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The drought is finally over.  Spring has returned in so many ways, and my heart is grateful for the sustaining power that saw me through it all once again. ❤

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Wordless Wednesday – New Camera and Lenses

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