Amboy Crater National Natural Landmark is out on Route 66 in the Mojave Desert, just up the road from the famous Roy's sign. You can hike to the top of the 250' cinder cone, but we just ate sandwiches in the parking lot instead because it was 93º outside. Take a look around from the vista point in the Amboy Crater 360 Sunset and Moonrise Panorama.
There are currently eight panoramas in the 360 night tour of Paul's Junkyard. This amazing Mojave Desert location has an active metal scrapping business, and also doubles as a storage yard for movie cars, old trucks, buses, farm equipment, and other wonderfully photogenic detritus.
These panoramas were shot during the October 2014 full moon using a Canon EOS 6D with an 8-15mm fisheye lens at 12mm. Most exposures were between 75-90 seconds at f/8, ISO 800. The images were processed in Lightroom, stitched in PTGui and Photoshop, and are displayed using krpano. Enjoy!
Last week I took a quick trip to L.A. to drive some twisty roads, tour an automotive manufacturing plant, visit a friend, and see a photography show. Buckle up, press play on the soundtrack, and let's go for a ride...
I exited Highway 5 at Lost Hills, and got on California State Route 33 to drive through the oil fields.
I got stopped for a while by road construction, and ate some pizza in the car. It was 99º outside. I tried to visit the West Kern Oil Museum, but it's not open on Wednesdays. Then I drove over 33 to Ojai. What a road!
Hitting the canyons on a weekday was a lot of fun. Empty winding roads and great views. Then I cruised down Highway 1 into Los Angeles.
We got to see the new Edelbrock supercharger for the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ/Toyota GT86, and then we took over the parking lot for a photo shoot with our cars.
Here's how the LED-lit cutaway supercharger demo unit looks from the inside:
360 from inside the @EdelbrockUSA supercharger for the FR-S BRZ GT-86 #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
The next morning I visited the Getty Center. I arrived about 20 minutes before the museum opened, and walked through Robert Irwin's amazing garden before it got crowded. If you haven't read Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, I can't recommend it enough. It's a truly mind expanding book for any artist.
The exhibit Light Paper Process: Reinventing Photography
was really good. No photos were allowed, but there is a book. The prints by John Chiara and Chris McCaw were particularly great. McCaw's book Sunburn is essential for anyone interested in long exposure photography.
The weather and crowds started heating up, so it was time to say goodbye to L.A., and head back to the Bay Area.
Technical note: All of the photos except the 360 were shot with a Fuji X100s that I recently purchased used. I'm really impressed with the design, handling, and image quality of this camera. The optical viewfinder is fantastic. Brings me back to the days when I was shooting with a Leica M6. And being able to choose Provia or Velvia profiles during RAW development in Lightroom is fantastic. So far the X100s seems like the perfect travel camera.
I've loved driving ever since I was tall enough to do some hot laps at Disneyland's Autopia. I grew up in Los Angeles where driving makes you a person. A person who can go places and do things. Driving unlocks a world of possibilities. I got my learner's permit when I was 15, and my license on my 16th birthday.
Over the last 30 years, I've owned a series of practical, reliable cars that were suited to my current commuting and lifestyle needs. Point A to Point B. High performance cars were for people with a lot of money. Old cars were for people who could wrench and had extra space. I've always had sensible, boring cars.
Since 2005, I've photographed extensively in desert junkyards. I spent a lot of time looking at cars. I developed a new level of appreciation for automotive design and aesthetics. I started reading car sites like Jalopnik, Bring a Trailer, and Hemmings. I watched Top Gear. I started to become a bit of a car guy.
Fasten your seatbelts, and read on for my complete automotive history. It starts with a Pinto:
Car #1: 1972 Ford Pinto Wagon (1985)
86 hp, RWD, 4-speed manual, 2282 lbs., 0-60 mph in 11.9 seconds
My mom taught me to drive in the family station wagon, a brown 1972 Pinto Squire with fake wood side panels. This was the family beater car that primarily got used for trips to the beach. The four speed manual was easy to drive. I rubbed gallons of Armor All into those wood panels. The Pinto was slow, reliable, and had plenty of room for our Boogie Boards.
Car #2: 1982 Datsun/Nissan Maxima Sedan (1986-1991)
118 hp, RWD, 3-speed AT, 2793 lbs., 0-60mph in 13.1 seconds, 21/28 mpg
By the time I got my license, the Pinto was gone, my Mom got a new car, and I got to drive her 1982 Maxima. This was right around the time that Datsun was transitioning to the Nissan name. My friends and I referred to this car as "the gray, box-like vehicle". I drove this car for 5 years and it was very reliable. The most notable feature was the voice warning system that uttered classics like "the door...is a jar".
Car #3: 1976 Volvo 245 DL Wagon (1992-1993)
Specs from the sedan version: 89 hp, RWD, 3-speed AT, 3924 lbs., 0-60mph in 14.6 seconds
During my college years in Santa Cruz, I sold the Maxima to save money and rode my mountain bike everywhere (a 1987 Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo). I started playing upright bass around this time, and needed a car to get to gigs. I bought a beat up Volvo wagon for $450. The struts for the rear lift gate were broken, so I carried a big stick in the back to prop it open. At almost 4000 lbs. and 89 hp, the Volvo was extremely slow, but very reliable.
Car #4: 1986 Toyota Corolla LE Sedan (1993)
74 hp, FWD, 4-speed AT, 24/32 mpg
Around the time I finished college, my grandmother stopped driving and I got her Corolla. I took the back seats apart so I could fit my upright bass inside. I really wanted a truck, so I sold the Corolla after a few months.
Car #5: 1987 Toyota Truck (1993-1998)
103 hp, RWD, 5-speed manual, 21/26 mpg
I bought a used, standard, bare-bones, regular cab 1987 Toyota truck with a camper shell in 1993, and racked up about 100K miles in 5 years. This truck had the venerable 22R engine and a crappy Earl Scheib paint job. I built a wood platform for the back that hid my musical equipment. I also used the platform for camping by putting a futon on top. The bench seat was uncomfortable for long trips, and the mileage wasn't very good. The truck was slow but very reliable. Who knows, it may still be going strong.
Car #6: 1997 Honda Civic HX Coupe (1998-2000)
115 hp, FWD, 5-speed manual, 2324 lbs., 36/44 mpg
Eventually I was commuting and wanted something that got better mileage, and had bucket seats. The Civic was the first car that I ever bought new. The HX was the fuel efficient variant that got great mileage, but had no guts. The HX got 38 mpg in mixed driving conditions, which was pretty amazing.
Car #7: 2000 Subaru Outback Wagon (2000-2008)
165 hp, AWD, 4-speed automatic, 21/28 mpg
I was doing more road trips and bike racing, and wanted a vehicle that could do light offroad driving and haul more stuff. The Outback was another practical choice. Despite the cult-like following, I didn't find it to be a very good car. Poor mileage, slow acceleration, ponderous handling, emissions and suspension problems, and a leaking head gasket at 65K did not add up to a great ownership experience. Despite the flaws, I drove this thing for 8 years and it never left me stranded.
Car #8: 2006 Honda Element EX-P (2009-2012)
156 hp, AWD, 4-speed automatic, 19/24 mpg
Not willing to dump a couple more grand into repairs on the Outback, I bought a used Element. Yes, I drove a toaster. It held a lot of stuff. You could stuff bikes in the back without taking off the wheels. The seats folded down into something that resembled a bed. It was funny to watch rear seat passengers try to strangle front seat passengers with the seatbelts when exiting the vehicle. There was also a ridiculous manually operated sunroof over the back seat and cargo area. Despite flipping the bird to aerodynamics, being the king of body roll, and having questionable aesthetics, this was a practical, reliable vehicle. I even took it off-roading in the Mojave Preserve. But yeah, the driving dynamics left a lot to be desired.
Car #9: 2012 Mazda 3 iTouring Hatchback (2012-2015)
155 hp, FWD, 6-speed automatic, 28/39 mpg
I started commuting 30 miles each way to work, and part of the drive was on twisty roads. The Element really sucked for this task. I was getting 19-20mpg and gas prices were going through the roof. The Mazda 3 was a reliable, practical replacement that got 35-40 mpg. The 3 had about the same horsepower as my previous 2 cars, but weighed under 3000 lbs. It wasn't fast, but it did OK. For an economy car, the chassis was reasonably lively. The smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission was light years ahead of my previous Honda and Subaru 4-speeds.
The road noise was pretty bad at freeway speeds, the build quality was so-so, and the stereo sucked. The design of the interior was silly, with so many buttons that I felt like a fighter pilot. But the car got great mileage and there were glimmers of fun handling on the twisty roads.
Car #10: 2013 Scion FR-S 10 Series (2015-present)
200 hp, RWD, 6-speed AT, 25/34 mpg
Back in 2012, I saw a photo of a 1971 Datsun 240Z next to a new car called the Scion FR-S. The FR-S looked like a cross between a 240Z, 80's Celica GT, and an Italian exotic. I was smitten. And when I saw that pricing started at $25K, I was interested. Very interested.
Growing up, my dad had a series of Z cars, and the FR-S looked like a modern equivalent. A simple, stylish, lightweight RWD sports car with great handling. And it was still somewhat practical. But mostly it looked fun.
Over the next 3 years I followed the reviews, videos, and development of aftermarket parts. I told myself once they hit 20 grand that I'd buy one. Last year I rented a Subaru BRZ for a weekend through RelayRides. The BRZ and FR-S have the same Subaru boxer engine, and are essentially the same car except for some interior options, suspension setup, and minor exterior details. Anyways, a weekend in this car sealed the deal. I started searching AutoTrader for an FR-S.
A couple of months ago I traded in the Mazda 3 for a used special edition FR-S with 8K miles. The car is really fun to drive, but still gets 30 mpg. Like many 2+2 sports cars, the back seat isn't really usable. Other than that, the FR-S is amazing. I dream about twisty roads.
I've added a few custom parts including an arm rest, shift knob, and a hidden hitch for a bike rack. I dumped the intake sound tube and installed a Perrin catback exhaust, and now it sounds like a proper sports car. The special edition FR-S has the upgraded features of the BRZ including a nicer stereo, climate control, push button start, and HID headlights.
Most importantly, every time I get into my car, even if it's just for a quick errand, I'm smiling. Life is too short to drive boring cars. I made this mistake for decades, but now I know - if you love driving, drive something you love.
A couple of years ago, the Society Obsessed with Photography Backpack Perfection (SOWPBP) took a look at the specs of 16 different camera backpacks. As a result of this investigation, I purchased an f-stop Loka, and have been really happy with this bag. f-stop is replacing the Loka this month with the 40L Ajna ($318 with a large ICU).
I’ve had a long-term relationship with the nice folks at Think Tank Photo, and reviewed their original Rotation 360 bag for The Online Photographer back in 2007. I’ve used a few of their other bags over the years, including the Retrospective 7 and Streetwalker Hard Drive. I also loaded beer into an Airport Airstream and then gave it away.
MindShift Gear is the sister company to Think Tank Photo. MindShift now has 5 photo backpacks in their lineup with a rotating waist belt design. I was intrigued by the new MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon 34L [Amazon | B&H] ($259) that is about the same size as my Loka. The MindShift marketing folks kindly sent me a bag for review. I packed up the Rotation 180 Horizon, and compared it side-by-side with the Loka.
photo Backpack Design
The key design features of the Loka (now Ajna) is f-stop's ICU system. The bags open from the side that rests against your back to reveal your choice of padded camera insert. This allows you to customize the ratio of photo & non-photo gear. The inserts are expensive, but the system provides excellent flexibility. Some photographers buy an additional insert for packing flexibility and gear storage.
The MindShift Gear Horizon 180º Horizon's piece de resistance is the quick access to your gear from the rotating waist belt. This design has made a quantum leap since I first tested the original Think Tank Rotation 360. The waist belt is held in place by a super trick magnetic latch. Push down and then rotate the waist belt around to access your gear. When you're done shooting, the latch makes it super easy to lock the belt.
The waist belt of the Rotation 180 Horizon is great if you need to switch lenses without putting down your bag. The rotation feature would also come in handy if you need to grab a flash or other accessories quickly. My EOS 6D just fit in the waist belt with the 24-70mm f/2.8L lens mounted. When packing the Horizon, I preferred to use the waist belt for carrying extra lenses and accessories. A body with a lens already mounted doesn't use the waist pack space efficiently. If you're using a smaller mirrorless setup, the waist pack will likely work really well.
The Loka has smoother zippers, but this may be because my bag is so broken in. Both bags have nice zipper pulls. The contrasting green color of the Horizon's pulls makes them easy to see. The Loka's top pocket opens more fully, and includes two small organizer pockets. I store business cards, change, phone charging cable, pens, and a small iphone mic in the top of my Loka. Things would be less organized in the Rotation 180 Horizon. Both bags have an integrated key holder.
Inside the Top Section
The amount of space left on the inside top of the Loka will depend on which Internal Camera Unit (ICU) you choose to hold your photo gear. I have a Large Pro ICU in my Loka, and this leaves room for some food, 2 extra layers, a hat and gloves.
The Horizon has more room. However, to carry as much camera gear as the Loka, I would need to use the extra camera insert (sold separately) in the Horizon. With the insert in place, the amount of camera gear I can carry is about equal to the Loka, but with a bit less room for food and layers. The MindShift insert will fit a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and is nicely built. The $44.99 price tag is very reasonable, especially compared to f-stop's expensive ICUs.
Both bags have mesh pockets in the top section. The Loka’s black mesh pocket is about the size of my hand, and located on the underside of the bag's lid. The Horizon’s mesh pocket is a full size green vertical pouch.
One downside of the Loka's design is that items can slip down between the ICU and outside of the bag. But maybe that extra energy bar will come in handy on another trip?
Outside Pockets and Straps
Both bags have a pair of compression straps near the top of the bag to make sure smaller loads are secure. The Loka adds a second set of compression straps at the bottom to hold small side mounted tripods or light stands. These straps can also help your water bottles stay in place.
The Loka has a single seam sealed vertically zipped outer pocket that’s just big enough for a very light rain shell or outer layer. The Horizon has a horizontal pocket near the top with slightly more width and depth. A small tripod securing strap tucks away neatly at the outside top.
The Loka has two sturdy, adjustable horizontal straps across the outside of the bag that fasten with a buckle. If you’re not using these straps to carry a tripod, they work really well for securing a jacket or extra layer. The Horizon doesn’t have straps on the outside, but there are daisy chain attachment points along the outer section of the bag. Both bags have accommodations for carrying an ice axe if you're trying to take photos of the abominable snowman.
Shoulder Straps and Sternum Strap
The Loka’s shoulder straps are sleek and comfortable, with just enough foam padding. The sternum strap adjusts nicely for my 6’1” height, and includes an integrated emergency whistle. The Rotation 180 Horizon’s shoulder straps have a more pronounced s-curve shape. The Horizon has slightly more strap padding than the Loka, but it’s less dense. The straps are comfortable, but I didn’t like wearing them without fastening the sternum strap. The sternum strap adjustability on the Horizon works well.
The Loka has plastic d-rings on the lower portion of the shoulder straps, but the Horizon does not. However, the Horizon does include a fabric attachment points further up the strap.
The Loka's back panel has slightly thicker molded foam at the top and bottom to provide extra comfort and breathability. The Rotation 180 Horizon has a much more ergonomic back panel, with excellent padding on the lumbar area, and two air channels between the middle and top foam sections. The slightly less dense foam of the Horizon is well suited to providing a balance of comfort and airflow.
Again the Loka's approach is to use thin, highly compressed padding on the waist belt, and the results are very comfortable. The Rotation 180 Horizon has slightly thicker but less dense padding. The Loka’s center buckle is solid and easy to use. The Horizon’s buckle is slightly smaller and less sturdy. Both bags tighten by pulling inward on the waist belt straps, which is a great design for dialing in the optimum fit. And even at 6'1" the waist belt sits properly around my hips on both bags.
The Loka has Molle attachment points on both sides of the waist belt for accessory cases. The Rotation 180 Horizon has a single strap attachment point on the side of the waist belt, but I’m not sure that I’d want to use it for an accessory case, as this may impede rotation.
Most importantly, when comparing the bags, I noticed that the Loka’s waist belt wraps a bit further around my hips towards the front of my body, providing greater support.
BAG RIGIDITY AND LOAD TRANSFER
The Loka includes a lightweight aluminum internal frame that provides good rigidity and load transfer when the bag is full of heavy camera gear. The MindShift Gear Horizon does not have an internal frame, but the stiff plastic inserts provide a surprising amount of rigidity for their weight. I thought the Loka would be superior here, but the Horizon performs well.
The Loka routes hydration to the right, and includes a 3” mesh guide on the right shoulder strap for the hose. The Horizon routes to the left, and has a ¾” elastic band. The Loka is designed to store the bladder on the inside center of the bag, which seems a bit too close to my gear. You can get a hydration sleeve [f-stop | Amazon] to store your bladder in if you’re worried about drips, and at $12 it’s cheap insurance. The Rotation 180 Horizon stores the bladder in a separate zippered compartment on the left of the bag. This provides easier access, and less chance of leaking on your gear, although you give up a water bottle pocket on that side.
Speaking of water bottles, the Loka has an expandable mesh pocket on each side that can carry a large water bottle. The bottles can be secured with the lower compression straps. The Horizon has a non-expanding pocket on the left that is deep enough to not worry about a bottle falling out. This made me wish the Loka’s pockets were a little bit deeper. I tested both with a 27 oz kleankanteen. F-stop put bigger side pockets on the new version of this bag, the Ajna.
CARRYING A TRIPOD
The Loka can carry a small lightweight tripod in a mesh side pocket, secured at the top with a compression strap. A slightly bigger tripod could be carried by putting two of the legs through the horizontal straps on the back of the bag. This works OK for anything up to a Gitzo 2 series, but is not ideal. There is not a traditional tripod cup on either the Loka or Ajna. This is a major design oversight, as there’s not a good way to carry a full size tripod.
The Rotation 180 Horizon has a nicely designed tripod cup that tucks away neatly when not in use. The Rotation 180 Horizon will work with larger tripods. There are 2 small straps on the outside of the bag to secure the tripod, and the straps tuck away when not in use. A really nice design.
Carrying a Laptop
Neither of these bags has a dedicated laptop compartment, but I have carried a 13” MacBook Pro in both. A computer fits between the ICU and back panel of the Loka. You'll probably want to use a sleeve, or consider the Large L/T ICU that has a padded laptop compartment. My computer fits just fine in the top section of the Horizon. Even with the additional camera insert in place, there’s just enough room for a 13" Mac in the green mesh pouch. An iPad Mini fit inside the Horizon's waist pack, too.
The Loka has loops that will take additional gatekeeper straps [f-stop | Amazon]. These allow you to mount a sleeping bag to the top for a quick overnight photo blitzkrieg. The Rotation 180 Horizon has additional daisy chain attachment points on the back. If you need more capacity than what will fit in the Horizon, consider the larger, more expensive, and versatile MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Pro [Amazon | B&H]
Both of these bags are light, really well made, and comfortable to carry. The choice boils down to how the design philosophy fits your photography style.
If you travel to a location, put down your bag, and shoot for a while, the f-stop Loka (now Ajna) is more versatile at balancing photo and non-photo gear. I also found the shoulder and waist straps slightly more comfortable. The Loka's downsides are the price, product availability, and tripod carrying capacity.
If quick access to your gear is a priority, or you shoot in wet/muddy conditions where you don't want to put your bag down, the MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon 34L [Amazon | B&H] should be at the top of your list. The waist belt with magnetic quick release buckle is a really great design.
Boron Air Force Station was built in 1952 as part of the Air Defense Command radar network. The base was decommissioned in 1975, and turned into a Federal prison from 1979-2000. The radome is still used by the FAA.
Boron AFS is located on Highway 395 just north of Kramer Junction in the Mojave Desert. I've visited the abandoned base a few times over the years in the daylight. There were cameras and warning signs, and once I was politely asked to leave by security only 10 minutes after arriving.
Last year I heard the security was more lax, and returned with a couple of friends during the full moon. I spent two long nights shooting 360 panoramas of the base, and the clouds were amazing.
After the trip, I stitched about half of the panoramas, and then put the project on the back burner. Over the last month I finally had the time to finish the 25 panorama night tour of Boron AFS.
Creating the tour involved countless hours of stitching sand and rocks, healing tripod shadows, puppet warping contrails, and tweaking xml. Good times!
After opening the Boron tour, hold down your left mouse button to look around. Click on the arrows to move to other nearby panos. You can also navigate via: