~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

July 4th

July 4th has come and almost gone without much fanfare in my little world. I cleaned the bike about noon today before it got too hot and I lost what little shadow there is in the driveway in front of my house. Two rides worth of accumulated bugs were as much as I could stand.

I believe that a clean motorcycle is a happy motorcycle and happy motorcycles won't let you down. They also retain their resale value better and when you change bikes as often as I do that's an important consideration. But in the end, I just hate to be seen on a dirty motorcycle; to me it says something negative about me if my bike is unkempt, like I somehow don't respect the machine or myself. I'm always astounded when I see a beautiful bike that's been let go, allowed to become filthy and begin it's sorrowful journey to being a rat bike and then a junkyard discard. Motorcycles are unique and special machines and deserve to be maintained and kept up.

Late in the afternoon it was about 104 degrees outside which isn't terribly warm for this time of the year so I decided to hop on the bike and begin a new accumulation of bugs. The dry air blasting over your body as you motor down the road has the interesting effect of sucking the moister off of you without actually cooling you very much. When a trickle of sweat works it's way out from under the helmet and actually makes a cool spot on your neck for few seconds it is a real treat. Dehydration will sneak up on the unwary so if you ever find yourself touring through Arizona in the summer make sure you drink plenty of water even if you don't feel thirsty. By the time you feel thirsty it will be too late. Heat prostration is a killer. I always toss three or four bottles of water in the saddlebags and whenever I stop I pop open the bags and take a long drink. It doesn't matter that the water has warmed up to 80 degrees or so, it's wet and that's the important part.

Most of my stopping on these late Sunday outings is to take pictures. I love to take pictures, so much so that I went slightly off the deep end last week and bought a new digital camera to replace my Nikon Coolpix 4500. Being single and having my tax refund burning a whole in my jeans, it seemed like the thing to do although it was a close call between a new camera and something new for the bike like a Corbin seat. The stock seat on the 1600 Kawasaki is ok for about 200 - 250 miles and then begins to bite. The Nikon 4500 was doing a nice job for me, better than the Kaw's stock seat, but I wanted better resolution in my pictures and the ability to change lenses more than I wanted a comfy seat for my bum.

After pondering cameras, reading endless reviews, talking to my baby brother who shoots a Nikon D100, I found myself trying to decide between the Nikon 8700 and the new Nikon D70. The 8700 had convenience and familiarity on it's side. It is the current generation of the Coolpix series that I've been shooting for about 6 years now and the only negative I could see was the inability to use different lenses. The D70 is a full sized SLR type camera and uses Nikon's standard lenses and I had some interesting ones left over at work from the days when we only shot film (Nikon F3 for you photo guys out there). The D70 would in theory give me complete control over the photographic process, something the 4500 didn't always do.

Generally I'm better off not thinking about things like this too much as I tend to over analyze and somehow lead myself down the wrong path. I've done it buying bikes and confusing what I wanted out of a camera was a piece of cake compared to that. Spontaneity seems to serve me much better than logic so using my best logic I ordered the D70, a couple of lenses, and Nikon's new SB-600 flash. It's been downhill ever since.

One of the things I came to love about the Coolpix series was the live view LCD display. I could hold the camera at odd angles and positions, compose the shot, make changes to the camera settings, and usually see before I shot what I was going to get. When shooting motorcycle pictures lower is usually better. Most bike pics suffer from being shot too high off the ground and diminishings the prensence of the motorcycle. With the Coolpix swivel and live LCD getting down and dirty was easy. It also allows you to get candid pictures candid of people since they don't realize they are being photographed and don't tense up or scowl.

Somehow in all my reading of tests and such I missed the fact that the SLR style cameras don't have a live view LCD display on them, only a post-shot display. To shoot a picture I'd be back to looking through the viewfinder as with my Nikon F3, selecting my settings, and hoping that things came out right. Right from the get go the D70 made me feel like a blind man groping for my images. I had not realized how much I'd come to depend on composing from the live LCD screen. Shooting, adjusting, shooting, adjusting, seemed like the long way to get to an image I liked.

Yes, I know, I should understand photography well enough to get the settings right to begin with but I'm not Ansel Adams. I shot film for years, took photography classes, and have a pretty decent understanding of the photographic process but "knowing" in your head what the image will look like is still an educated guess at best. Being able to compose a picture with a live screen was like being able to think out loud. The image could be composed on a truly visual basis instead of a mental one and after all, photography is a visual medium.

So I've been struggling with the D70, trying to get it to see what I see, trying to get it to not make oddball choices for the flash or force the autofocus into someplace I didn't want. The camera is wonderfully customizable but right now I feel like a guy would who's riding his first motocross: Forget about winning, just try and finish without injuring yourself.

On my ride today I shot about 150 photos which is about 125 more than I'd normally shoot. It's not that there was that much to see, I just had to shoot and adjust and shoot and adjust to try and get something acceptable. In the end I never really got a single photo that captured what my eye saw. I know the camera can do it, I'm just at a loss to tell it what it needs to know. I'll get there but I'm not enjoying the learning process.

There are some that are ok pictures from today (I'll include one here) but nothing that really turns me on. I find myself hating the fact that I can't shoot the camera from the waist anymore but have to kneel down or sit on the ground to get an angle I want. I'm getting old and I prefer not to get down on the ground as it's too difficult to get up again. I like to point, compose, adjust, shoot, and be on my way. The D70 is cramping my style and I'm not happy about it. I like living and working at about the 26" seat height of the motorcycle.

As for the image quality of the D70, it is better than the 4500 which is a 4 megapixel camera while the D70 is 6.2. The lens quality is certainly better in Nikon's discreet lenses versus the built-in ones on the Coolpix series. But is the image quality $1,000 better than the 8700 or even the 4500? Nope. It's better for sure, but not $1,000 better. That's a painful point at the moment.

Maybe in different light instead of the late afternoon stuff I like to shoot, the D70 would do better, I'll have to give it a try. But for now, when I shoot late afternoon it's going to be tough to make myself keep struggling to learn with the D70 when I could just toss the 4500 in the saddlebag and get what I want with a minimum of fuss. I like a minimum of fuss in my motorcycles, cameras, and people.

It occurs to me at the moment that I've also made a significant change in my camera world and most people hate change. Ironic, isn't it, that something like a camera can flummox me while I happily change motorcycles (which are hugely important to me) more often than some people change their underwear?

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"When my mood gets too hot and I find myself wandering beyond control I pull out my motor-bike and hurl it top-speed through these unfit roads for hour after hour." - T.E. Lawrence

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