Case of the Blues for My Fuji X100T

Green with envy? Insecure? Feeling down? Maybe that's how my X100T has felt since his supposed successor, the X100F, was introduced. Well, just to reassure him he's still a very capable little camera, I took him to the Minnesota State Fair fairgrounds today to cure his case of the blues. Mission accomplished.

Urban Abstraction with Fuji X100T

I had to interrupt my weekend chores today to take advantage of the incredibly warm weather here in Saint Paul. It's February, it's winter, and it's like 60 degrees!

I was in the mood for abstraction. Subconsciously, I was inspired by a documentary I recently watched on Christoph Niemann, the talented illustrator who's done numerous New Yorker magazine covers. Most of the shots I took are looking upward. The sky creates a simple, minimalist background and the X100T, of course, is the perfect minimalist camera.

Free Free Free ... LinkedIn Headshot!

It's the giving time of year.

Are you looking for work? Are you a new college grad? Is your current LinkedIn photo cropped from a family group portrait taken at last summer's reunion?

If you live in the Twin Cities and would like a refreshed headshot for free, give me a shout and we'll get it set up post haste! Send me an email at jim@strongfoto.com to get the ball rolling. I shoot directly from camera to my PC so you'll be able to view and pick out the best shots before you leave. Don't be shy ... you'll have fun and I know you'll be happy with your new profile photo. 

I finally just refreshed my own LinkedIn profile photo yesterday after years of displaying a black and white version that suggested I still had a little hair. Time for a change! 

Yours truly shot on 11/20/16 during timeouts of disastrous Packer game. Photo credit to my son, Sam.

See below for more examples.

Remote Control Street Photography with the Fuji X100T

I've owned my Fuji X100T for a little over a year now and absolutely love it for its portability, stealthiness and image quality straight out of camera. But it wasn't until tonight while walking about Minneapolis' annual Art-A-Whirl festival did I think of using the remote shooting feature available via Fujifilm's Camera Remote app. My use of this app in the past has been limited only to using wi-fi to transfer images from my camera to my iPhone. I have to say, though, the remote shooting feature is really cool. For my use, I simply had my X100T sling-strapped around my neck and hanging chest high just in front of my right arm pit. I then rotated my body while watching the live view, adjusting aperture and exposure compensation with the app. The shutter release button is big and red, easy to find and press for the shot. Not that I really needed any more reasons to love my X100T, but I found one nonetheless. Highly recommended.

Dog lovers

Synchronized Steps

Ubiquitous stretch pants and sling purse, with dandy

Rusty, lonely lovers' lock

This is where the sausage is made

Nordeast institution, now closed

From old comes new

Richard Petty, is that you?

Fading evidence of Nye's signage

Stay away, very far away from the Nice Cream

Rare daytime owl sighting

Girls advertising nearby food stand

After the crash

Hotpants Mpls?

Headin' home

Headshot Backdrop Support for $13

I really went all out. I had to do something big. The metal stands and pole that I had been using to hold my 53-inch seamless white had to go. I needed the floor space in my garage to make room for our recently-acquired ping pong table.

My idea of big? 13 bucks at Menards, a regional home improvement store where they advertise you'll "save big money". And save I did -- those thirteen greenbacks funded some gourmet black licorice, cause Menards has food too!

What did my DIY kit include? Well, since you asked, let me list the items here:

  1. PVC tubing. 1" diameter and 5 feet in length
  2. 2 PVC T-s, 1" diameter
  3. 2 36-inch bungee cords
  4. PVC cement - never used
  5. Australian gourmet black licorice

The friction fit of the PVC tubing and tees was firm enough that I decided to abandon the idea of using PVC cement. As it turns out, this was a smart decision. I can easily remove the T-s to slip my roll of seamless over the tubing. My roll of seamless, unlike many found online, has no cardboard core.

So there you have it. Satisfy your backdrop support needs and sweet tooth at the same time for less than a takeout pizza.

My DIY ceiling-mount backdrop support shopping cart. Less than $13!

My finished work after about 10 minutes effort! The hooks shown were found in a drawer in my garage.

Winter Fog

Drove from Saint Paul to La Crosse this morning. Temps were hovering just around freezing, conducive to winter fog. Made for beautiful landscapes ... and dangerous driving conditions ... at the same time.

In Search of Snowplows

Click image for full size

Fuji X100T Captures Faces of Italy

First, let me admit the obvious -- the photos posted here aren’t flawless. I made plenty of mistakes using my new Fuji X100T on our family’s recent trip to Italy. In looking at some out-of-camera jpegs on a larger screen, it became clear that I hadn’t mastered focusing technique. For example, too often I used servo-mode autofocus with too-shallow depth of field (e.g., aperture priority f4.0). Since returning home, I’ve read about zone focusing and other ways I could have achieved superior results. However, I’m not hung up on these technical errors. Instead, I’m absolutely thrilled with the instant memories these images have created for me and the possibilities of the Fuji X100T as a street photographer’s dream!

Italy is a feast for the eyes. Around every corner lies a spread of visual delights. Ancient ruins, medieval fortresses, marble statues, Venetian canals and rolling Tuscan hills greet you in gasp-after-gasp splendor. But it is the people of Italy who truly bring this country to life!

The richness and depth of their culture is reflected in the expressive eyes of everyday Italians. To capture their visages, I had my X100T on a Peak Design Clutch wrist strap 90% of the time, making the camera instantly accessible. In some cases, I did request my subject’s permission for a photo. In most instances, however, I shot in more stealth fashion, holding the camera in my right palm at waist-level, with my thumb on the release and the lens aimed 90 degrees to the left. The compactness of the X100T made this ergonomically feasible -- something I could never do with my Nikon D600. I had the X100T set on silent mode so there was no audible click upon shutter release, an invaluable feature in street photography!

My favorite photo of the entire trip, excluding those that feature my family, is the one I’ve dubbed “Monterosso Matriarch”.  I had observed this lovely older woman in the fishing village of Monterosso Al Mare in the morning carrying groceries up steep stairs to her home. I spotted her again later that evening, seated on a bench and still wearing the same recognizable cotton house dress. She stared ahead with a piercing gaze, seeming a bit lonely. Her weathered skin, walking cane and visible veins suggested a long tenure here – and thousands of accumulated stories. I have since regretted not engaging her in conversation and can only hope to amend this mistake in the not-too-distant future with a return visit.

Enjoy. 

Monterosso Matriarch

Rain in Rome

Dogue de Bordeaux and owner at Milano Centrale train terminal

Siena shopkeeper

I left my heart in La Spezia

Cinque Terre tuber

Monterosso mommas

Pisa Polizei

Monterosso Beachcombers

Roman runners

Dino e Toni, Rome

Sleepy in Siena

Thirsty in Rome

Siena Cigarette

Pisa enforcement

Florence directions

Vatican uscita

Siena Day Trip and More Florence

On Monday, the family split along gender lines, with the boys taking a day trip to Siena and the girls staying in Florence to shop. We slept in a bit and had breakfast at Hotel Roma, then Sam and I walked to the train station to buy tickets to Siena. We took a stubby regional train that had only four cars and moved as fast as the steam engine from Petticoat Junction, stopping in about six towns along the way. The slow speed wasn't necessarily a problem, as it allowed for good views of the Tuscan hillside.

Upon arriving in Siena around 12:30, Sam and I took a series of escalators from the train terminal up the steep hill, arriving at a shopping mall. Sam was hungry, so he had a quick slice of wood-fired pizza in the fast food court. The closest thing resembling American pepperoni pizza here is one with some type of salami. He can't wait to get back home to get some authentic Jack's frozen. We then walked a bit, first through the gates of the medieval wall and then directly to the town's main square, or campo. Rick Steves says this is the best piazza in Italy. It slopes gently from back to front in amphitheater-like fashion, with the tower and city hall acting as impressive backdrops for what would be center stage.

Our mantra for the day was to relax. We didn't want to get caught up in any line-waiting, so we decided to skip the bell tower climb and opted instead to find a seat in the shade on the campo. We did some people and dog-watching, spotting a cute little pup near us napping at his owner's feet. One of the running family jokes on this trip is that we comment how every dog we see looks like our dog Wally. In that regard, Wally has been likened to pomeranians, german shepherds and pit bulls. In this case, though, the furry little beast actually did look a lot like ours and had us beginning to think more of home. After resting on the campo, we walked to Siena's famous cathedral. Now with the benefit of hindsight, I commented to Sam how I wished we had gone to the cathedral first to visit its interior and climb its facciatone to get panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. By this time, though, the lines were long and we were getting antsy to get back to Florence. We took a few photos and then started heading back downhill toward the train station -- or so we thought. Instead, we ended up at the city's main parking area, needing to return back up the hill, surviving out-of-order escalators to do so and then retraced our steps back to the train terminal. Our late afternoon train put us back in Florence around 6PM.

Back at Hotel Roma, Sam and I rested while waiting for Kristin and Sydney to return from their day on the town. They arrived about 45 minutes later, having done more window-shopping than actual shopping. Monday night was the only night of this trip that Kristin and I took the opportunity to dine sans kids. Syd and Sam were comfortable with the idea of staying in for the night, chowing down paninis in our hotel room and watching the Italian version of MTV, which actually shows music videos ... unlike its American counterpart.  Kristin and I ate at Toro Alla Brace.

Tuesday was our last day in Florence. We didn't have a set itinerary, so purposely let the day develop based on our moods and energy levels. After hotel breakfast, we walked the short distance to Mercato Centrale, Florence's large indoor/outdoor market where leather goods can be found outside and a variety of food items and sundries inside. I'm not a huge leather guy, nor do I resemble Tom Cruise, but that didn't stop one of the hawkers from telling me how good I'd look in one of the Mission Impossible jackets. On the second level, they have several casual restaurants in a large open and airy space. Here, we sampled granite, which is a slushy-like shaved iced from Sicily in fruity flavors. Tangerine was the best. Heading back south, I spotted an OVS department store. We had to check it out and see how this Italian-based chain compares to Macy's. With the assistance of a store clerk, Kristin had some fun using Google glass here, where discounts were calculated by simply looking at items' bar codes. A jacket and scarf and only 47 Euros later, we were out of there.

After a short stop back at the hotel, we decided to take in one last museum, the Bargello, primarily to see a little more Michelangelo. On our way there, we grabbed sandwiches on the street and ate them on the shady steps of a church. The Bargello wasn't crowded whatsoever and offered up close views of Donatello's David and side-by-side comparisons of Gibherti's and Brunelleschi's bronze sculpture submissions in the contest for Santa Maria del Fiore's baptistery doors.

We returned to Hotel Roma mid-afternoon for a short siesta. I realize it sounds like we rested a lot on this trip, but trust me, all the walking we were doing was taking a toll on our legs and feet. Nonetheless, I wasn't going to let a little plantar fasciitis prevent me from achieving the next goal -- climbing the steps of Giotto's bell tower. While the kids continued to lounge at the hotel, Kristin and I headed back to the duomo area and paid our 10 Euros for the opportunity to scale 414 stairs. True to the guide books, the stairwell space is a little claustrophobic the higher you go, but once at the top you have a bird's eye view of Brunelleschi's dome right next door and the rest of Florence. Hey, you could see our hotel from here! Back at ground level, we came upon the ironic scene of Hare Krishnas dancing in the street near the Roman Catholic landmark. Kristin was taken aback by the direct request for a donation by one of their "monks" without the courtesy to first make even a mild attempt at conversion.

Back at the hotel, we showered and then dined at Ristorante Lorenzo del Medici, a place that had recent favorable reviews on Trip Advisor. The food was ok, not great, but the staff was very friendly, which counts for a lot. For the most part, hotel and restaurant staffers have been quite nice in Italy. But oftentimes, we've found the cashiers of the small stores to be somewhat unfriendly -- perhaps it's just us. And don't ask them to make change from a larger denomination bill! We finished our day with a stroll back to the hotel, stopping for Sam's gelato and Sydney's keepsake Italian perfume on the way. We listened to live music in Piazza della Repubblica and watched kids ride the merry-go-round there. All of us really enjoyed Florence and its slower pace relative to Rome.

Lazy dog. Wally look-alike.

Frutta Fresca in Siena

Cathedral in Siena

Sam on campo in Siena

Small shop in Siena

Florence Mercato Centrale leather belts

Brunelleschi's dome

Sam and Kristin goofing around

Syd and Sam out and about in Florence

Merry-go-round at Piazza Repubblica

Leaning Toward Pisa and Florence

Yesterday (Saturday) we left Monterosso and headed to Florence, with a 3-hour stop in Pisa on the way. Now being veterans of the rails we felt confident in booking trains for each leg of the journey on the spot -- three in all. And this time, we boarded the correct ones!

We considered skipping Pisa, but decided at the last minute to stop there to see the legendary landmark. The train enroute to Pisa from La Spezia was a little sketchy with some weird characters aboard -- we were relieved to get off. We did pass through Carrara, the home of the famous white marble used by all the renowned sculptors of this area. At first glance, the hills/mountains there looked snow-capped, but then I realized these were the marble mines.

The best way I can describe Pisa is that it struck me as the Wisconsin Dells of Italy. That's not a perfect analogy, but close enough. The train station was dirty, but ... and this is a really big deal -- it had a McDonalds!  And we had to pee, so it seemed a perfect time to satisfy our cravings for American fast food and use the toilet, using our receipt to gain access. This would be the first of two hamburgers for Sam this day.

After filling up on french fries, we checked our backpacks at a baggage drop and started the mile walk toward the Leaning Tower. We didn't need a map, because all you have to do is follow the other tourists! Lining the streets all along the way are shops and street vendors, selling every imaginable variation of kitschy crap. By now, I have come to terms and am at peace without owning a selfie stick or an LED-transmitting flying object or a Bart Simpson leaning tower t-shirt.

Sam was the first to spot the tower, yelling "there it is"! I was in awe -- and shock. I saw the tower leaning but also saw a large crane next to it, appearing to be part of some massive enginerring effort to re-set the tower back to a vertical position. Our disappointment was abated when we quickly realized this was a forced perspective optical illusion, one of many to follow. Once we arrived at the tower, Sam and I did our photo-op work while Kristin and Sydney hung out in the shade, away from the mob of people. We took our shots and got the hell out of dodge. Off to Florence!

On the way to Florence it was clear we were in Tuscany, with its characteristic rolling hills and villages coming into view. We arrived at Santa Maria Novella terminal in under an hour and walked the short few blocks to our hotel, Hotel Roma, located directly on Piazza Santa Maria Novella. We essentially dropped our bags in the room, freshened up a bit and then immediately began our trek to Piazelle Michelangelo, the outdoor plaza which sits high above Florence on the south side of the River Arno. It was a relatively long walk and required climbing hundreds of steps to reach the peak, but the views there are spectacular. And there was a market in operation at the top, with vendors selling all types of food and drink. I've become addicted to all-things pistachio while here, so had dessert before dinner, enjoying a pistachio pastry. Kristin and Sydney had a pizza-type empanada (fusion food). And this is where Sam had his second hamburger, which required a comical 20-minute wait to receive. The particular vendor was using an electric grill with power equivalent to an Easy-Bake oven. Sam and I laughed to ourselves, knowing that a Weber Smoky Joe could perform this job in five minutes. And the dollop of ketchup he put on the burger was barely visible. I didn't have the heart to tell the guy that my kid is one of those that puts ketchup on his ketchup. And to top it off, his hamburger wasn't fully cooked so he ended up tossing it. Oh well, when in Florence!. After viewing the beautiful sunset, we headed back down the hill and returned to Hotel Roma. The kids vegged in the room while Kristin and I spent a few minutes out on the piazza listening to some guy on a violin with pre-recorded accompaniment. Then it was lights out.

Today, Sunday was another full day. We had 8:30 reservations at the Uffizi art gallery, so grabbed breakfast on the walk from our hotel. The early reservations and timed entrances there ensure the crowds are controlled, which made for a great experience. We had downloaded Rick Steves' audio guides and used those instead of paying for gallery versions. Saw lots of Rafael, Titian, Botticelli, Da Vinci, et al.

After the Uffizi, we returned to our hotel for a short break, then headed the other direction (north) for a 1PM reservation at the Accademie, home of Michelangelo's famous statue of David. Even with pre-booked reservations, we waited in line for about 30 minutes but had a nice chat with a trio of retirees from Georgia, exchanging stories of our travels. It beat the alternative of the other line, where non-reserved visitors waited for hours. 

We expected to be underwhelmed by the David, but it turned out to be just the opposite. Our jaws dropped when we turned the corner into the first long room and the 14-foot masterpiece came into view. We darted to the statue and got an up close and personal view of David in all his glory. Circling the base, we were able to inspect this stunning work from all angles. It's one of those sights you don't want to leave, realizing you may never again see it in your lifetime. We looked at the other unfinished works by Michelangelo, then headed out to the streets.

One of the lessons we've learned late on this trip is not to wait until we are tired and hungry to begin to hunt for food. Too many times we've walked past crowded restaurants at night, looking like vultures to those seated, I'm sure. So today, we had dinner at 4 PM and enjoyed the best meal of our trip at Casa del Vin Santo. The bistecca fiorentine here was very good.

We closed the day out with a sunset stroll around the duomo at Santa Maria del Fiore, walking under Brunelleschi's famous dome and more gelato, of course. Then a lazy lounge on the piazza back at the hotel and it was day finito.

Tony Bennett sighting on the train to Pisa

Syd and me riding the rails

Hints of home

Gotta have this

Gotta have this

The Leaning Tower "re-verticalization project" 

Sam and the obligatory photo-op

This guy striking a ritualistic pose

Hotel Roma on the right. Santa Maria Novella on left

The hamburglar at Piazelle Michelangelo 

Sunset at Piazelle Michelangelo

Cappuccino run near the Uffizi

Ponte Vecchio bridge from Uffizi second floor

Michelangelo's David

Bistecca Fiorentine

Walking the streets of Florence

On Piazza Santa Maria Novella, right outside our hotel's front door

Italy's Riviera - the Cinque Terre

Yesterday, we traveled from Venice to Monterosso, from Italy's eastern coast to the west coast on the Ligurian Sea. Including a brief train switch in Milan, the entire trip took a little over six hours. This allowed us to catch up on some rest and have a friendly chat with a mother and daughter from Sydney, Australia. Did you know the Aussies refer to what we call Sprite as "lemonade"?

We are staying at a great little place in Monterosso called Il Timone. It's been the cleanest and brightest room(s) yet. The owner, Francesco, is a young hard-working entrepreneur with great customer service skills. 

Monterosso Al Mare is the northernmost of the five villages that constitute the Cinque Terre, or "five lands".  The walk from the train station here to our room was a bit of a hike and I felt the effects of that last night with a raging headache from carrying Sydney's slightly overloaded backpack.

We spent day one here getting acquainted with this fishing village and enjoying a snacky-type dinner overlooking the water. Of course, we left room for gelato at Eden's, Monterosso's best according to our new friend Francesco. And this small town is safe enough to leave two teenagers back at the room so mom and dad could enjoy an adult beverage at Enotica de Eliseo, a very good spot from which to people-watch.

On Friday, I got up a little earlier than the rest of the family and went exploring Monterosso on my own for a couple hours. First stop was the town's church near the main piazza, San Giovani Battista. The black and white striped columns and exterior drew my attention. I then blindly followed an alley and found myself ascending higher and higher through the town and then quickly into an area of lemon trees and then a vineyard. The views were becoming increasingly better with each asthma-inducing step. Taking a hairpin left turn, I continued the climb to the town's cemetery, where the dead are entombed in above-ground vaults. Just beyond the cemetery was the Church of San Francesco - Capuchin Friars Monastery. Another church! Everywhere you turn in Italy, you are blessed with the surprise of a new one. And each church offers something unique and interesting.

Arriving back at Il Timone, I found the troops showered and ready to roll. After a quick breakfast of pastries and coffee, we headed back to the train station and bought hop-on-hop-off tickets to visit the other four villages of the Cinque Terre. And that's what we did. We spent time in each in order of north to south: Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomagiorre. Ultimately, it was a little grueling to do these in rapid succession, but it gave us a chance to quickly compare each to one another. We barely skirted a major fine when we accidentally took the wrong train from Corniglia to Manarola. The ticket-taker stared at us and for some reason granted us clemency. We were grateful to jump off at Manarola with no hit to the money belt.

We collectively agreed that Manarola was our favorite of the remaining four towns (excluding Monterosso), offering the greatest diversity of views and activities. We bought some focaccia here for a quick snack, watched brave/crazy divers leap from steep and high rocks into the water and reciprocated photo-taking with a nice gentleman from Beijing.

After Riomaggiore, it was time to take the direct train back to Monterosso and hit the beach.  Forgetting my Speedo in Minnesota, I opted to stay fully clothed and take photos instead. It was relaxing and cool seaside. The beach here is not fine grain sand. It's a mixture of pebbles and rocks. The kids had fun in and/or near the water while Kristin read one of her Kindle mysteries.

We ended the day with dinner at San Martino and more gelato, followed by some live jazz in the town piazza. 

One of the charms of this place is how even amongst all the tourists, you can spot the local residents and observe some of their traditions. The older women walking arm-in-arm during evening stroll or socializing on benches and the local teens preening and acting no different than what we see back home -- a little crazy in a good way.

The Cinque Terre is like Venice in that I could use one more day here to begin to feel like we are doing it justice as visitors.

At Milan Central train terminal

I asked this woman if I could take a photo and she was proud to show off her pooch

On the rails to Monterosso

Did some much-needed laundry upon arrival

Lovers' locks high above the Ligurian Sea

View from our balcony

Exploring Monterosso

Triple threat beverages

Church of San Giovani Battista

Monterosso Al Mare

Monterosso cemetery

Cemetery photo 2

Local women talk Friday morning

Sam meets Francesco's dog Billia

Manarola

Family photo (missing: Jenny Craig) 

Beach time

Beach pebbles of Monterosso

Monterosso resident

Kid running with innertube

Couldn't resist. One more of the local ladies

Getting Lost in Venice

 

We in fact followed travel guru Rick Steves' advice and got lost in Venice -- twice -- on our second and last day here. And I can see where this amazing place would be worth a 3-day stay.

We enjoyed breakfast at our hotel in a dining room overlooking the Grand Canal, then scurried off to the Doges' Palace for the "Secret Itineraries" tour. We saw the prison cell from which Casanova escaped and the torture rope used to get criminals to talk. We also saw medieval graffiti etched into the walls, although the spray-painted "eat me" observed in a public area was clearly of more recent vintage.

After the Doges' Palace tour, we had a quick sandwich at Birreria Forst, a cheap and good place near St Mark's cathedral. After refueling, we took a vaporetto the long way up the Grand Canal and across the lagoon to the island of Guidecca. It's far less crowded on this island and it was very peaceful just walking up and down the main footpath along the lagoon. And you have very good views of Venice from here. Stopping at a local grocery, we bought some health food in the form of Ringos cookies and Coke Light. I confirmed that Barilla brand pasta is sold here also, not just at Lunds.

Hopping on the Number 2 vaporetto at Guidecca, we jumped off at the very next stop at San Giorgo Maggiore, to have a quick view of the church and then a 5-euro lift ride to the top of the bell tower. From here, you really have a great perspective across the lagoon to the city of Venice. 

Next it was time for two art museums, in rapid succession. First, we took in the Gallerie dell'Accademia and then Kristin, Sydney and Sam went to the Peggy Guggenheim collection next door to satisfy an urge for something more contemporary, while dad (that's me) rested his weary legs in the courtyard. 

Normally, now would have been a natural time for siesta, but we pushed on to a return visit to St Mary of the Friars so that this time Sam could see in person his favorite painting, Titian's Assumption, which hangs behind the primary altar. 

By now, we had been going non-stop for about 12 hours and decided to have dessert first before dinner. The kids had gelato and then we dined on the Grand Canal. I don't remember the restaurant's name, which also reflects the forgettable food, but we came for the view, not the spaghetti al mushi.

We finally succumbed to our swollen cankles and trekked back to the hotel, which is when we got really lost and gasped a collective sigh of relief when we came upon a familiar vaporetto stop. Venice made me feel like a winning contestant from the old TV game show Money Maze. We had found our formaggio.

 

From our hotel's dock

From our hotel's dock

Sardines at Rialto Mercato

Sardines at Rialto Mercato

Sam at the Doge's Palace

Sam at the Doge's Palace

Lunch at Birreria Forst. If it's good enough for gondoliers ... 

Lunch at Birreria Forst. If it's good enough for gondoliers ... 

Tourist reading on vaporetto

Tourist reading on vaporetto

Masks of Venice

Masks of Venice

Tourist shot of the Rialto Bridge

Tourist shot of the Rialto Bridge

View of Venice from Guidecca

View of Venice from Guidecca

Panorama from San Giorgo Maggioro bell tower

Panorama from San Giorgo Maggioro bell tower

Syd inside San Giorgio Maggioro

Syd inside San Giorgio Maggioro

My art lovers

My art lovers

What is the meaning? 

What is the meaning? 

Tin and me on the Accademie Bridge

Tin and me on the Accademie Bridge

Kristin on bridge

Kristin on bridge

Grand Canal

Grand Canal

Familia

Familia

Wally, is that you? 

Wally, is that you? 

This is a wide street in Venice

This is a wide street in Venice

Another canal

Another canal

From Rome to Venice

After a four-night stay, we left Rome's Hotel Alexandra this morning and took a short taxi ride to Tiburtina terminal to catch an 8:45 morning train to Venice. A nice couple from Miami gave us some helpful rail tips, including the need to validate our tickets.

We slept a little bit on the train and saw some of the Tuscan countryside enroute to Venice. I had a strange hankering for a sandwich when we made a scheduled stop in Bologna. A short while later, we were in Venice at Santa Lucia terminal, where we transitioned from train travel to boat -- A vaporetto (water bus) that had us on the Grand Canal in no time. I recognized our hotel by sight from the boat, based on photos I had seen on Travel Advisor.

After check-in, we hopped back on the vaporetto and went to St Mark's Square. The sun gave way to storm clouds and we endured a torrential downpour under the awning of St Mark's Cathedral, until a guard shooed us away for being in an apparently non-public area. Oops. It worked out anyway as our time had arrived for our pre-scheduled visit of the cathedral. It was much darker inside than any of us had imagined, but still interesting. Afterwards, we returned to the hotel so the kids could enjoy a short siesta while Kristin and I explored Venice's back alleys, stumbling upon the impressive St Mary of the Friars church and an aperol spritz at a cozy little bar.

We ate pizza at a spot close to our hotel and I frantically learned the Italian word for sausage on my iPhone app so Sam could have a little taste of home. He already has learned that pepperoni pizza doesn't really exist here.

After dinner it was off to St Mark's square again for a stroll in the cool night area with flashes of lightning in the distance. We walked by the Doge's palace, which we will be seeing tomorrow and enjoyed some live and very good music on the square for our nightcap. Back to hotel late evening for much-needed sleep.

 

Waiting for our train at Tiburtina

Waiting for our train at Tiburtina

On the way to Venice! 

On the way to Venice! 

Yes, that's a family reflective selfie. No stick required. 

Yes, that's a family reflective selfie. No stick required. 

Hard to take a bad photo in Venice

Hard to take a bad photo in Venice

Bell tower of St Mark's

Bell tower of St Mark's

On the square

On the square

Our afternoon spritz

Our afternoon spritz

Typical mini canal scene

Typical mini canal scene

Dusk

Dusk

On the Grand Canal

On the Grand Canal

Music on the square

Music on the square

(Window) Shopping, St Peters Basilica and a Great Dinner

Our last full day in Rome was great. Monday the kids slept in until 10 AM while Kristin and I enjoyed breakfast in Hotel Alexandra's dining room. We leisurely made our way back to the Spanish Steps and then Via Del Corso to the Piazza del Popolo. The day was overcast with on and off light drizzle which made for very comfortable conditions. How is that people with money can make a sweatshirt and torn jeans look trendy while my Banana Republic jeans and polo shirt suggest I just rolled out of a double-wide trailer? I need to get a pair of shoes while here, though. The styles are just so more cool than what I can find at Schuler Shoes in Highland Park.

After some filling street fare pizza, we made our way back to Vatican City and endured the long, but fast-moving line to St Peters Basilica. The stories I had read about the no-shorts rule were quickly falsified as I witnessed several people in cut-offs, and one Black Sabbath t-shirt wearer, enter without conditions. The Basilica was truly breathtaking. It tends to be too much for the senses when you're surrounded by so much humanity, though. We were too late for the dome climb and will try to check that off our last in 8 days when returning to Rome.

We fittingly finished off the day with dinner at Dino E Tony's Hostaria, north of Vatican City. This was easily the best and most memorable dining experience in Rome. The hosts were enthusiastically welcoming and fun, giving Sam and Sydney a playfully hard time. We sat next to a young couple from Belgium who had Italian roots.

Unfortunately, we missed the last metro subway train of the day heading east, so had to resort to our normal way of travel back to the hotel ... by foot.

Off to Venice by train tomorrow. 

Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps

Syd poses

Syd poses

My ray of light inside St Peter's Basilica

My ray of light inside St Peter's Basilica

More light  

More light  

Double-chin selfie plus Sam. Taken without aid of selfi-stick.

Double-chin selfie plus Sam. Taken without aid of selfi-stick.

"Dollar" tree equivalent in honor of my brother Tom

"Dollar" tree equivalent in honor of my brother Tom

La familia as seen by our new Belgian friends

La familia as seen by our new Belgian friends

Almost back to hotel

Almost back to hotel

Saturday and Sunday: The Pope, Italian Boy and Girl Scouts and 31,500 Steps. Borghese and Colosseum

Saturday: We saw Pope Francis today, albeit on a large viewing screen, in St Peter's square. He was speaking to thousands of Italian boy and girls scouts. These cute little kids in their blue uniforms and knee-high socks were enthusiastic. And loud 😳! Our tour of the Vatican Museum ended with the Sistine Chapel. Surreal to just stand there in the middle, crane your neck to the ceiling and stare. Breaking the silence was the continual shushing by the Swiss guard security.

Strolled through Piazza Navona on the way to the Vatican and walked across the Tiber. Tomorrow, Sydney will wear socks. The blisters on her feet attest to the record-breaking steps on my Fitbit equating to 14 miles. 

Sunday: Another day that included lots of walking, first to the Borghese Gallery and then to the Colosseum and the Forum. The Borghese was fantastic and we bought a personal guided tour on the spot ... Easily worth 6.50 Euro per person. Guided tour at the Colosseum was a long 3 hours but endlessly fascinating. We were hungry as gladiators after that. Later dinner (that included an Elena Moeller sighting) after walking down the Spanish Steps and then Kristin and I snuck around the corner from the hotel for a spritz and limoncello. Time for sleep.

Walking to the Vatican

Walking to the Vatican

I could see this working on 494

I could see this working on 494

The Ugly American tourist

The Ugly American tourist

A Raphael

A Raphael

Sydney contemplating in St Peters square. 

Sydney contemplating in St Peters square. 

Fancy police uniform

Fancy police uniform

Bernini's David at the Borghese Gallery

Bernini's David at the Borghese Gallery

The fam high on the top deck of the Flavia

The fam high on the top deck of the Flavia

After dinner drinks at Piazza Bernini

After dinner drinks at Piazza Bernini

We made it to Rome

We missed our connecting flight from Paris to Rome due to a delay getting off the ground in MSP. But we finally arrived in Rome and hit the ground running, checking out the under-repair Trevi Fountain and then the incredible Pantheon. 

 

Enroute to Paris

Enroute to Paris

The obligatory arrival shot

The obligatory arrival shot

At the Pantheon

At the Pantheon

First cacio e pepe

First cacio e pepe

Gelato of course

Gelato of course

Crashing at the Hotel Alexandra

Crashing at the Hotel Alexandra

My First Week with the Fuji X100T

I have a touch of what some photographers call GAS, or Gear Acquisition Syndrome. It was just last fall that I persuaded my wife how important a Nikon 70-200mm VRII lens was to me and how it would propel my hobby headshot "business". This completed my personal holy trinity of Nikon lenses, which also included the 16-35mm VR for "real estate" photography and the kit 24-85mm VR. But to be honest, my day job in finance doesn't leave a whole lot of time, or perhaps energy, as to allow the natural inspiration and inclination to lug my D600 and lenses around on a frequent basis.

Over the winter, I continued to look more at photos and gear online than I did actually creating my own images. In early spring, though, something significant happened. Our family of four, which includes two teenagers, booked a trip to Italy for this coming June. Instant inspiration!

There's nothing quite like booking a European vacation to start the juices flowing with mental imagery of what to see, what to eat, how to pack, etc.  And what a great opportunity to further satisfy my Gear Acquisition Syndrome. There was no way I'm lugging a full-frame DSLR around Italy, so certainly I was going to need a new camera for this trip! For you see, I've read all the blogs and articles over the years by the likes of David Hobby, Zack Arias, et al and had secretly desired a more minimalist and less weighty camera setup. I lusted for the Fuji X100S, but was able to keep my credit card in my wallet and my wife's ire at bay for a couple years. But this trip changed everything and created the perfect opening to pursue the new object of my desire ... Fuji's X100T!

The moment of purchase came on a night a couple weeks ago when I was stranded at the office working on a project. As a treat to myself, I hit the buy button on B&H's website just before I left for home. The X100T arrived at my door last Tuesday and I took it out and immediately began to shoot. And I've continued to shoot for an entire week now.

I don't have the patience or knowledge to provide a deep technical review, but I can provide some sample images and my first thoughts. The fact that I'm blogging at all about this camera should give you some foreshadowing of my overall impressions.

After one week, here's what I think about Fuji's X100T:

  1. I want to take it everywhere! All the blogs you've read are true. You'll want to take this camera everywhere you go. And you aren't going to feel conspicuous.
  2. It makes me less shy as a photographer -- something I wasn't necessarily expecting to feel, but a welcome surprise. For whatever reason, I've always been a little self-conscious when using a big camera with a big lens. I'm a hobbyist, for god's sake. Sometimes a DSLR feels a little too pretentious. The X100T is small and stealth.
  3. The camera will make you take more photos. I haven't counted my exposures, but I can guarantee I've taken more shots in 6 days with the Fuji X100T than i have in the past 6 months with my Nikon D600.
  4. The camera will make you walk more and thus, lose weight. The Fuji X100T is a catalyst to get you off your butt and walking. I've averaged over 15,000 steps the last 3 days with it hanging by a sling strap over my shoulder. And I don't have any neck or shoulder pain!
  5. X100T's wi-fi, coupled with the Fuji's iPhone remote camera app, make it super simple to transfer images to your phone for sharing and  social media.
  6. The f2 lens has incredible bokeh.
  7. Multiple viewfinder options allow for a variety of ways to interface and compose shots.
  8. It will inspire you to use your DSLR more. Okay, this one is a little bit of a future prediction, but I can see where using this camera more will re-ignite some creative juices and cause me to reach for my D600 when I need a little more reach than the 35mm-equivalent focal length lens on the X100T will give me.

I'm continuing to learn about the X100T's options so I'm ready to hit the ground running when we land in Rome!

Now for some sample images. All Fuji X100T images below are jpeg taken straight from camera. Most are utilizing the Classic Chrome film simulation.

My new Fuji X100T, Photo taken with iPhone 6Plus, Camera+ app.

Wally posing at Hidden Falls park on the Mississippi River. Fort Snelling buildings in background.

After practice. One of the ball fields in the neighborhood. Highland Park, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Used the macro option at F2 on these spring flowers. Beautiful bokeh.

Base of Highland Park's old water tower.

Trying out the panorama option 120 degrees. 180 degree option is also available.

St Kate's University, Saint Paul, Minnesota. My neighborhood.

Power lines containing a small moon. Hidden Falls Park.

Shot last Tuesday night, the same day the camera arrived from B&H. Got to 18,000 steps on my Fitbit thanks to the X100T's secret powers.

Some surprise street photography on my daughter at a local gift shop. I can normally make her smile!

Some surprise street photography on my daughter at a local gift shop. I can normally make her smile!