Checking Out The Sunflowers In My “Flyover State”

One of the nice things about having a Friday off is you get the opportunity to go to a place like Ginter Farms outside of Tonganoxie Kansas to test out some new camera gear.

One of the nice things about having a Friday off is you get the opportunity to go to a place like Grinter Farms outside of Tonganoxie Kansas to test out some new camera gear. 

As far as the eye can see. Well, almost.

Yesterday I took the Olympus Pen-F and the 14-42mm pancake Zoom to Ginter farms with my friend Tim to take some shots of the sunflowers that are open to the public. While the sunflowers were still spectacular, they weren’t nearly as tall as last year due to the weather this season. Late snow followed by an early heat spell and record-breaking rain almost did the crop in this year. 

Fortunately for us, we had 3 to 4-foot tall plants with plenty of blooms, And the crop was just as dense as always. It was the perfect backdrop to test the camera, the new lens, and a couple of trusted lenses I’ve been using for years. 

Each flower was covered with pollinators doing their thing. Shot with the 14-42 Pancake.

The verdict. The camera rocks, the lens is good but not great. I don’t mean the lens is bad, it’s just not as solid as my 12-40 Pro. It’s not as fast, or sharp which is expected since it costs about one-third of the pro lens. With that said though its diminutive size makes it perfect for travel which is why I picked it up in the first place. 

Shot with the 12-40 Pro.

As for the camera, I couldn’t be happier. This tiny body packs in powerhouse performance with the same sensor as the EM1 MKII and the same color engine as well. My only gripe is it’s not weather sealed. (neither is the 14-42mm lens so it really is a minor issue).

Shot with the 12-40 Pro wide open.

If you get a chance to go I highly recommend it. Ginter Farms is just one of the many reasons I tell people Kansas is not a flyover state. Like the Flint Hills, Tall Grass National Preserve, Monument Rocks, Little Jerusalem, Mushroom Rock State Park, Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, the Oxford Grist Mill, and so much more it’s a perfect drive-through state. I think the next photo adventure in this flyover state will be at Marais des Cygnes Wildlife Area in South East Kansas.

Monument Rocks from an earlier road trip.

The Anticipated Death of Illustration Never Happened.

When I first began my career the world of design, marketing, and advertising was 90 percent analog. There were phototypesetting tools available, but most of the work was very much old school. The copy was written up on typewriters, layouts were assembled via paste-up, color separation was done by hand and illustration was created with paint, pencils, ink, and other tangible items.

I remember having a discussion with a colleague in the early 1990’s where he proclaimed that the art of illustration was over. That digital had ushered in the end of an era and that Photoshop and Illustrator (maybe Freehand) were going to rule the world. Fast forward a couple of decades and take a look around. Just like the Kindle and iPad were going to kill off books, digital didn’t kill off traditional illustration methods.

There were extraordinary eras of illustration before mass media changed our viewing habits. Illustration was the most primary means of illuminating the word on paper. Today, when we get our words and images on screens as small as a watch face the role of illustration, might have shifted, but it is more free and varied than ever. Designers, artists, and illustrators are holding their own producing content for every kind of media.

Taschen recently released a new book “The Illustrator. 100 Best from around the World” showcasing 100 illustrators compiled by Steven Heller and Julius Weidemann over a ten-year period of time.

This 600-page book contains examples of work, bio’s of the artists that created them and truly shows sheer quality, diversity, intensity, comedy, and the vivacity of the work that is being produced. From veterans like Brad Holland, whose works for the New York Times’ op-ed section revolutionized illustrative content in the 1970s, to rising stars like Robin Eisenberg, with her pastel aliens cruising in spaceships on album covers, the 100 artists in this collection are just the tip of the iceberg, but they represent a compelling snapshot of the styles, techniques, and use of color by artists across the world.

What an inspiration.

I’m Taking a Pen to Spain and Not Writing a Thing with It

A PEN in the hand

In September of 2009, I had the privilege of traveling to South Africa for 14 days to document the making of a short film my friend Tim was working on. My role was to shoot the behind the scenes stills of the crew in action in and around the Motherwell Township near Port Elizabeth.

David making movies at Kwadick. Shot with my trusty Olympus EP-2 about a decade ago.

At the time I had the option of taking my Canon camera, but the idea of hauling a larger APSC camera and the lenses that went with it seemed like a pain in the ass. Actually more like a pain in the back. So I started looking for something smaller with enough features and image quality to take as a replacement. I ended up settling on the Olympus PEN E-P2, the second PEN camera Olympus produced for the new Micro 4/3 system they had jointly pioneered with Panasonic. In retrospect, I probably should have gone with the Panasonic GH1, but the little Pen did a fantastic job.

The E-P2 with the original 14-42mm kit lens

The kit that I took was small, light, and compact. It was great for not standing out and allowing me to disappear as much as possible into the background. (Not an easy feat for a 6-foot 4-inch 225-pound white guy in Motherwell Township)

Let’s fast forward 2 years to the point when my house was broken into. My Canon gear was stolen, but the thieves missed my Olympus PEN and the small arsenal of lenses I had acquired.

With the Canon gone, I decided to stick with Micro 4/3 systems and rather than replacing the Canon gear I picked up the newly released OMD EM-5 and made it my primary camera. I had never bought into the whole Full Frame or nothing attitude, or the idea that Micro 4/3 cameras didn’t take as good a photo, couldn’t produce a shallow depth of field shots, couldn’t produce decent bokeh or any of the other myths.

The EM5 with the outstanding 45mm portrait lens and no batter grip

Over the next few years, I replaced the EM5 with an EM1 adding the battery grip, additional lenses and accessories to build out a decent set of gear for my photo habits. I’m not a pro, I don’t shoot studio shots or weddings. Mostly I take landscape and nature shots around the state that I live in and on my annual trip to Colorado with friends. I also take the EM1 when I travel, but it feels large sometimes and it’s not something that I can stuff in a jacket pocket. That means having to bring my Ona Union Street messenger bag and frankly, I don’t want to carry that much stuff.

This got me to start looking at an additional camera I could use for a trip to France that we took back in April, and for an upcoming trip to Spain in November. Since I have several Olympus Zuiko lenses, I knew I was going to pick up a new Micro 4/3 body which narrowed my choices to just 2 brands – Pansonic, or Olympus. Both are solid choices, but my familiarity with the Olympus menu system and the in-body image stabilization had me leaning to Oly from the start.

The PEN F next to my EM1 with the battery grip attached

To get something that I would call a travel camera I started looking back at the PEN series. Olympus makes a number of Pen models but there was one that I have been smitten with since it came out in 2016. The Olympus PEN F. The camera is gorgeous, it has the same 20-megapixel sensor that the EM1 Mk II has, award-winning 5 axis image stabilization and so much more. It has one of my favorite features of any camera I have ever used – “Live Composite” mode. (I don’t get why no other camera maker hasn’t come up with something similar to this. Especially for mirrorless camera bodies.)

Having settled on a model I began looking for either an excellent+ used body or a reconditioned body from Olympus to keep the costs down. I was fortunate enough to find an Olympus Certified reconditioned body at a much-reduced price and went for it. I didn’t get it in time for France, but I will have it for Spain.

The PEN F sporting the 14-42 pancake zoom compared to the EM1 with the 12-40 Pro. I’d love to take the Pro lens with me, but I don’t want to haul that much glass or carry a camera bag.

I couldn’t be more pleased with this little guy. Diminutive in size but extremely capable and feature-packed. It has most of what the EM1 Mk II has in terms of features, and it has somethings I thought I would never use, but find myself playing with all the time. The Color Profile adjustment on the front Creative dial, the Monochrome setting on the same dial, and the Color Creator. All three of these give you the option to tweak and adjust color balance or create custom profiles that can be assigned to one of the 4 Custom Modes on the top dial of the camera. I have 3 of these set to a specific color or monochrome modes I can call up at any time.

Taken with the EM-1 and the 12-40mm Pro Lens

While it might sound like a gimic it’s not. These are not the same as the goofy “Art Filters” Olympus has on every camera they make. The Art Filters are like built-in retro modes for Instagrammy looks. The ones I mentioned earlier are true color or monochrome modes you build that allow for more creative approaches to the desired look you want. And while these modes shoot in JPEG, you can set the camera up to shoot JPEG + RAW allowing you to have an unaltered image you can edit in post at a later time.

Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park taken with my EM5 and the Zuiko 17mm f/1.8

If you want to know more about the PEN F there are a ton of reviews on this camera. Just Google it and you’ll find plenty to read or watch. The verdict for many is going to be the same, great looking but there are newer and better cameras on the market. This is true but for me, I’d rather have this little guy. Stunning to look at, solid features, excellent output. And it even feels nice in my big hands without needing a grip or a case (although I am considering the Gariz leather half case for it)

For the trip to Spain, I’m taking the PEN F, the Zuiko 14-42mm pancake zoom, my all manual Samyang 12mm, 3 batteries, and a single 128-gigabyte memory card. All of this can fit in jacket pockets making travel lighter and freeing me up from having to carry any kind of bag around if I choose.

The Look of Things to Come?

I spend a lot of time looking at other people design work. It’s the nature of my job and something that helps to keep me current with design trends that are emerging. Over the last few months, something I’ve noticed with more frequency is the emergence of minimalist 3D animation paired with pastels that leans almost to abstraction. I have a feeling this is going to become a hot look over the next 18 months and will run the risk like so many other trends of jumping the shark as it gets picked up by every agency and marketing firm in the world. It looks cool now, and I’m really liking it, but that feeling may change if it becomes oversaturated the way the sketchbook look, the retro 80’s look, the ugly design look, the you name it you’ve seen to much of it looks did.

The Sound of Yorkshire

Unless you are a sound designer you probably don’t pay that close attention to how sound can shape and influence the way animation is perceived. I know for a fact that I often get caught up in the visuals focusing on technique, color, visual layout and more.

The two and a half minute animation below is not only a feast for your eyes, but also for your ears. Created by Marcus Armitage “That Yorkshire Sound” is a perfect example of how audio can help to shape a piece.

Throughout the animated short Armitage gives us a series of hand-drawn quick cuts that visually weave the piece together. The glue, however, is the audio track that has been carefully crafted to match and enhance the visual experience for the viewer. After watching this, I put on my headphones, turned up the volume, and closed my eyes. Just listening to the audio track is a fantastic experience.

Do yourself a favor and take the next two minutes and thirty-one seconds to enjoy this, or five minutes and two seconds if you want to simply listen to it as well.

What’s the Big Buzz in Utrecht?

I love the way Holland thinks about urban planning and design, the environment, and applied engineering. Case in point the city of Utrecht – Hollands fourth-largest city – has transformed 300+ bus stops by applying green roofs to them.

The goal of the roofs is to help bolster growth in the dying bee populations and balance the environment in an urban setting. To do this they have fitted 316 bus stops with verdant green roofs LED lighting, and bamboo benches. The bus stops do more than simply provide a habitat for bees with ecofriendly building materials. The green roofs also store rainwater and capture fine dust generated from road traffic.

The green roofs are primarily composed of sedum plants, that require little maintenance. The plants will attract honeybees and bumblebees with their flowers when they bloom in the late spring through summer.

In addition to the bus stops Utrecht has pledged to have completely carbon-neutral transport by 2028 and they’ll introduce 55 electric buses into their fleet by the end of 2019. Utrecht is also investing heavily in the repair of cycling lanes (that run between parked cars and the sidewalk. Another brilliant idea.) and will conduct an innovative experiment in next year. They are installing solar panels along cycling paths throughout the city that will be used to harvest energy, with an aim to see if the results merit expansion of the program. In addition, they are hoping the citizens of Utrecht will get involved in making changes. they’re providing funding for those who wish to transform their roofs into green roofs—giving even more options for the bees in the city of Utrecht.

What Ya Got Cooking? Things are Heating Up on the Patio.

One of the disadvantages of living in some of the houses I have owned in the last 25 years is that they weren’t suited to owning a grill.

Union Hill had potential. I could have kept a grill in the garage, but the garage was off the basement and the idea of trucking up and down 18 steps to flip burgers had me worn out just thinking about it. Union Hill had an OK sized wooden deck, but how many fires started in Union Hill thanks to an unattended grill on a deck? I know of at least 3.

The house on Lloyd had no patio, and the deck was simply to narrow. If I wanted a grill it meant keeping it in the detached garage and hauling it out every time I wanted to use it. No thanks.

The loft had a small balcony but the idea of having a grill seemed rather bad. The balcony was small, and it was a multi-unit building. I didn’t want to be responsible for a possible fire.

Finally, after having the patio rebuilt at our current and permanent residence we got a grill. After spending most of the winter and spring trying to decide on a grill or a griddle and then trying to find something that wasn’t like every other product on the market we narrowed it down. The criteria were pretty simple. It had to look good, use propane, get hot enough to bake a pizza and be small enough to store in the garage in winter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Since it’s just my wife and I weren’t looking for anything that you could cook a whole turkey in, or with enough surface area to cook 24 hamburgers at once. We looked at everything from the Blackstone griddles to the Green Egg and finally settled in on the Fuego Element F21C-H. I have had the grill for a little over a month now and couldn’t be happier. It looks amazing cooks just as good and heats to over 600 degrees in less than 10 minutes – making the perfect cracker crust pizza.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There is a ton of reviews on all versions of this grill on the internet so I’m not going to go into great detail about how to use it and comparisons with other products. Instead, I am going to talk about 2 things, assembly, packaging and design.

Design

First off I have to say that when the grill is assembled it looks like a statement piece rather than a cooking appliance. Designed by Robert Brunner, the former chief of design at Apple the Fuego Element F21C is a decidedly minimal piece of equipment and maintains quite the futuristic aesthetic. It looks like a tall metallic mushroom with a sort of 1980’s retro vibe to parts of it. I think it is the perforated metal sides that have me thinking that and I’m not sure why. Either way, the grill is quite a stunning piece of industrial design, and quite functional too.

The grill sits atop a four-wheeled base for improved portability and has a long, narrow column that stores the propane tank. All in all, the F21C only measures 21 inches wide by 32 inches tall, which means it’ll fit in on even more minute patio or balcony setups. The hinged lid is offset at 45 degrees so when you open it you are not putting your arm directly over the heat source (something that I really appreciated last week when the temps were hovering in the upper 90’s) The main door on the column has a spring release clasp that opens up to reveal the propane tank inside.

The diffuser tray which sits below the grate is designed to channel drippings away from the burner elements which is a plus. It is designed to help prevent the openings in the burners from getting clogged requiring additional cleaning. Grease and drippings are collected in a small tray that sits below the burner and can be removed simply by pulling the tray out from the front of the grill.

There are stainless steel handles that have dual functionality. They can be used to move the grill and they function as the support base and storage space for the optional side table.

My only real design grip is this. I use the optional table on the left side of the grill. It’s the side away from the lid. I did this because the ambient heat coming off the lid when it’s open is right above where the table sits on the right. The table is well designed and attaches to the grill by hooking under the arms of the handle and using a small support rod. When not in use it slips in between the handle and hangs next to the grill. If the table is stowed, you can’t open the door to access the propane tank. It gets me every single time. All in all, this is a pretty small complaint.

The cooking surface is 346 square inches which are plenty. According to Fuego, you can cook 18 to 20 burgers on this at one time. And the 15-pound porcelain-enamel cast iron grate provides a massive heat sink producing amazing sear marks.

Packaging

The Fuego grill came in a standard cardboard box. About 2 inches from the bottom was a dotted line with “cut here” icons indicating what to do. I used a standard box knife, cut all the way around and simply lifted the top 7/8 of the box off and set it aside. Inside there was a truck-load of Styrofoam. A ton of it. I’m still getting rid of it because I couldn’t get it all out on trash and recycling day and still have room for my regular trash and recycling. I wish they would figure out a way to completely do away with the foam, and replace it with something that is more environmentally friendly.

Everything was neatly packaged and laid out in a way that made sense as I took the parts out of the box. I was able to place everything in a logical order and get ready to assemble the grill in less than five minutes. And this brings me to the assembly portion of this post.

Assembly

I love it when an industrial design or engineer figure out how to create something that goes together quickly and is rock solid when assembled. Fuego nails this. The grill requires just 14 screws to go together and I had my grill built and ready to cook less than 30 minutes. I didn’t time how long it took to put it together but I do know cleaning up the packaging took longer.

All you need to put this together is a Phillips head screwdriver. You can do it with that but if you have a cordless drill with a Phillips head driver attachment I suggest using it. I put the grill together by myself, some of you might want a second set of hands but you don’t need it. The instructions are straight forward and easy to follow. There are a handful of YouTube videos that show people unboxing and assembling the grill if you have any doubts about the simplicity of it.

Accessories.

Get the cover if you are storing the grill outside. It’s not expensive and it does help protect it from the elements. With that said I’ll be storing the grill in my garage over the winter.

I recommend the table attachment. At least one of them. It really does come in handy when you are cooking. I’m not sure you need both of them, but I am toying with the idea of getting a second one.

Skip the Pizza Stone kit. The kit costs 40 bucks. It would have cost me 38 to ship it back to Fuego. The stone is the same kind you can pick up at Target for about $20.00. The pizza cutter was a joke. It was the cheapest one I think I have ever seen. It felt like a toy. As for the pizza Peel, the quality was slightly better than the cutter but not much. I ended up getting a non-folding one that isn’t as easy to store but doesn’t feel like it’s going to collapse under the weight of a medium-sized pie either.

Get the griddle. It’s made from the same material as the grate and it converts the grill into a flat-top in seconds. (Suggestion for Fuego. Make a split version. Half griddle half great. Especially for the 24C big brother version of this grill)

I’m out. I have skirt steak I need to get ready for tonight’s dinner.