Pinnacles National Park Sunrise

Pinnacles National Park was “established” in 2013 as the United States’ 59th National Park, elevating it from a National Monument. It is known mostly for its interesting-looking eroded volcano remnants from an “extinct” volcano, some of which are pictured here. It’s also a release site for California Condors. You’re probably more likely to see a California Condor here than anywhere else in the wild (all I saw was stupid Turkey Vultures).

I visited for a day earlier this year, and by a day, I mean a few hours. We were in San Francisco for a wedding and while checking out things to do, I noticed that Pinnacles was only around a 2.5 hour drive away. The wedding was pretty wild (one of our friends works for Google, so it had one of those fancy Google buses and everything!), but I took it easy so I’d be ready to pounce early the next morning. I got up about 4 a.m., stocked up on free coffee in the hotel lobby, and then drove like a madman. As I drove like a bat outta hell through the middle of nowhere at dawn, it felt a bit like a scene out of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas–except the only drug in my system was a copious amount of caffeine.

When I finally arrived, I still had about 45 minutes until sunrise, nearly no gas, and little idea where to drive for the best view. After going left at a fork in the road and driving about 5 miles, I realized that my choice would take me to a lower elevation, whereas the right would’ve taken me to a higher elevation. D’oh. My gas situation being what it was and the nearest gas station 20 miles in the other direction, I didn’t have much of a choice but to try to hike to the higher elevation for the sunrise.

The 2.5 mile one-way hike took longer than I hoped, and my body gave a firm “no” when I tried to run up the mountains as the sun peaked over them. I managed to grab the sunrise from the trail here with the eroded volcano remnants all around me, but it wasn’t nearly as epic of a view as I would have had if I had taken the right at the fork in the road.

After hiking back down the mountain, I promptly left the park and drove the 2.5 hours back to our hotel (given my driving, I think it was more like 1.5 hours each way), as we had a day of activities planned. When I got back, just about everyone else was still in bed…

The Times They Are A-Changin?

Early this morning, Sony announced a full frame mirrorless interchangeable lens camera to be released on December 1, 2013. I had been following the leaks regarding this, and was up at 2 a.m. to promptly place a pre-order on Amazon. I’m still not sure whether I will go through with the order as the initial lens lineup is a little questionable, but I will have a mirrorless camera before the end of 2013.

Those of you who follow ISO 5571 might know that have not been an early adopter to jump aboard the mirrorless train. My mantra in the past has been that if it’s not small enough to fit in my pocket, smaller size doesn’t matter to me for my purposes. Unfortunately, I’m wrong a lot. This was one of those times.

Prior to last year, when we were mostly just traveling to Walt Disney World and Disneyland for a few days at a time with only a few other locations thrown in, this was true. However, in 2013, we’ve taken more Disney trips than we’ve taken Disney ones, and spent around twice as many days in “real world” locales. As much as I love my DSLR, when traveling in the real world, the smaller size does have its allure. I don’t mind carrying around 20+ pounds of gear in a theme park, because its a touristy place with restaurants and attractions that match. In the real world, I’ve found a huge backpack and camera draw more attention and aren’t quite as comfortable to carry. It has been a pain in busy cities and on crowded trains, at restaurants, and in exhibits and other attractions. (It’s also a pain when hiking through the National Parks, but I’m still willing to deal with that annoyance for now.) I realized this last year, but have kept using the DSLR because the quality justified it. The Sony NEX and Olympus systems, while having their upsides, still didn’t compete with a full frame DSLR in terms of quality. That has been my thinking and the conventional thinking among landscape photographers since the supposed mirrorless “revolution” began a couple of years ago.

Sony disrupted that conventional thinking today with the announcement of the Sony NEX a7 and NEX a7R today. While it understandably won’t have nearly the lens lineups of the established DSLR systems at launch, those who have had a chance to test the camera have suggested that it competes with full frame DSLRs in terms of quality. If you are even mildly interested in these cameras, you might want to pre-order now and think later (you’ll have at least until the end of November to cancel before being charged), as Amazon is already warning that their initial shipment won’t be enough to satisfy all pre-orders.

My only question…where are industry leaders Canon and Nikon? Thus far, they have been inconsequential players in the evolution of camera technology, with marginal DSLR market players like Sony and Olympus really turning heads with emerging tech. It seems to me that Kodak’s fall from glory would be a cautionary tale. I love my Nikon DSLRs and lenses, but I have no brand loyalty. I go where the quality is, and unless Canon and Nikon act quickly, they will be left behind while Sony and Olympus take the lead in the next generation of digital photography.

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Technical

Photographed with a Nikon D600 and the Rokinon 8mm fisheye lens. Shot back when I was using the DX fisheye lens with my FX Nikon D600. It worked well enough, especially given that I have enough MP to crop out the black areas. I now use the Zenitar 16mm f/2.8 full frame fisheye, and prefer that.

In post processing, I used Adobe Camera Raw to adjust the white balance, tint, color balance, and exposure and opened the image as a Smart Object into Photoshop CS6. The big adjustments here were to the individual color channels, because my raw file looked pretty green, whereas I remember the light being much warmer (it seems this green tint is pretty common for me…). I finished by doing a curves adjustment layer and then doing some healing where there were sun spots and stray lens flare.

Your Thoughts…

What do you think…worth driving 3-4 hours round trip to see the sunrise at a National Park? Have you visited Pinnacles National Park (or Monument)? Please share any thoughts you may have in the comments!

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7 replies
  1. George
    George says:

    Amazing shot as always.
    I recently picked up the least of the mirrorless cameras (Nikon 1) since Best Buy was almost giving them away and was quite surprised. I’d never mistake an image from it as one that came from my D7000…but some of my friends have. It’s head and shoulders above the P7100 it replaced as my snapshot camera but it is the convenience that really elevates the thing and makes it a lot more likely to see more serious use. It’s just amazing to me that the whole system with a midrange zoom, fast prime and a wide angle fit in a bag that could easily be mistaken for a smallish lady’s purse.

    Reply
  2. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    Pretty picture and interesting mirrorless comment. (I haven’t followed new camera news. No need to make myself want more stuff.) When we first took the SLR plunge, the NEX cameras had just come out and I had the same thought – if it’s too big to fit in my pocket then I don’t care about size and I’d rather pay less for better picture quality.

    But if you are paying the same amount for the same picture quality, then smaller wins. And Sony seems to be putting in some nice, functional, bells and whistles like Wifi along with quality basics (shooting modes, intelligent autofocus). It will be interesting to see what lenses develop for these systems.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      I think quality was a concern initially, but with this generation, the concern is lenses, not quality. The Sony NEX system is seriously lacking in that regard. There’s a decent remedy in getting adapters to use lenses from other systems, but I want native lenses FOR the system.

      While it’s not ideal, I don’t mind having two separate systems for the next couple of years until the lens lineup can catch up to the bodies and I can (hopefully) ditch the DSLR completely. I have enough gear that I can sell right now that I’m not using to fund the initial mirrorless purchase, so I won’t really be out of pocket anything, just switching one backup camera for another one, basically.

      If I didn’t already have a pricey backup camera, it would be more difficult for me to justify purchasing.

      Reply
  3. Marc Schwartz
    Marc Schwartz says:

    Tom,

    Gorgeous picture as always.

    I wanted to comment on your notes on the new Sony FF cameras. I have been a Nikon guy all my life, going back to 1976 when I got an F2 as a high school graduation present. I have owned various Nikons (film and digital) since then over the years. Yes, I am old… 😉

    I got to the point however, where I was not utilizing my cameras as much as I would like, partly due to being lazy, mostly due to the bulk of the camera, lenses and misc accessories.

    I began to look at options for more compact systems in the past few years, first considering the Nikon 1 system, but rapidly set it aside. I think that Nikon did a half-a**ed job on the camera so as to not cannibalize their DSLR sales. I have not been a Canon guy, but would presume that they are in the same quandary. I think that both companies are going to have to change their strategies. You may have seen Trey Ratcliff’s recent editorial on the subject:

    http://www.stuckincustoms.com/2013/10/09/nikon-and-canon-failin/

    Earlier this year, after watching Sony’s NEX line for a while, I jumped on the mirrorless bandwagon and purchased an NEX-6, along with the 16-50 and 55-210 lenses. The NEX-6 struck a good balance for me between the features of the 5 and 7.

    We are also frequent visitors to Walt Disney World and I posted some pictures from our trip back in August on Flickr, using the 6, here:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/52511156@N02/sets/72157635337651240/

    The pictures were shot RAW and post-processed with Lightroom 5. Thanks to this camera, I am excited about photography again.

    I can see myself moving to the FF Sony’s at some point in the not too distant future, but not right away, given the expense.

    It is hard for me to look back over the years, given a perspective that I would never buy anything but Nikon, yet now own Sony. Strange how things change.

    BTW, Trey has a post today on the new Sony’s:

    http://www.stuckincustoms.com/2013/10/16/new-sony-a7r-full-frame-mirrorless-takes-computational-photography-to-a-new-level/

    It will be interesting to see how the market evolves, how Sony fills in the gaps in glass for the NEX line and how both Nikon and Canon react to the changing realities.

    Thanks for all of your work!

    Marc
    @WDWGolfer

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      I agree completely that Nikon and Canon have half-assed any attempts at deviating from their DSLRs, and I think your explanation is probably right. But that’s the future.

      As for Trey Ratcliff, I admire his work, his business acumen, and he generally seems like a cool guy, but I take articles like that on his site with a grain of salt. I think that many of his “position pieces” are written with the intent to get people talking, and balanced articles don’t get people talking. A lot of his arguments superficially make a lot of sense, but he often entirely ignores valid counterpoints or miscasts them. Overall, I think he is a bright guy and definitely one of the forward-thinkers of the photography world, though. Part of me hates to even lightly criticize him, as I think he receives an unfair amount of criticism already (I have read so many nasty things about him on photography forums that to me seem like nothing more than pure jealousy).

      If I don’t end up keeping my preorder for the NEX a7, the NEX 6 is probably what I will get as a stop gap. I really want a mirrorless system for a couple upcoming trips towards the end of this year, and it seems like that’s a smarter option than the NEX 7. You have some great shots with it there!

      Reply
      • Marc Schwartz
        Marc Schwartz says:

        Tom, first, thanks for your kinds comments on the pictures. Coming from you, they are much appreciated. I am still getting used to the camera and it’s idiosyncrasies, especially with the 16-50 lens. The lens profiles in LR 5 definitely help, but there is still more to get comfortable with.

        With respect to Trey, I agree, people seem to either like him or not. How much of that is his photography style, how much is other stuff is hard to know. I appreciate what he does with his craft and his willingness to push boundaries.

        That being said, there is a fundamental truth in his piece of Nikon and Canon. They are both losing market share on the low end to smart phones and mirrorless systems will chip away at prosumer cameras in the coming years. I don’t know how much both companies depend upon purely professional photographers and sales, or if they could continue as they currently exist on that business alone. While some pros are moving to mirrorless systems, I think it will be a few years yet, take a couple of generations of mirrorless systems, including FF and much greater breadth of lenses to get them to move en masse.

        If both Nikon and Canon don’t have yet unannounced, competitive mirrorless systems in their product development pipelines now, I suspect that they will be very different companies within about 5 to 10 years. Companies like Sony, Olympus and others will begin to eat their lunch as they are ahead of the game today. Nikon and Canon only need to look at Research in Motion to see what can happen to a once dominant company that failed to react to marketplace realities and there are many other similar examples over the past few decades in the tech market.

        Time will tell, of course.

        Regards,

        Marc

        Reply

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