photography

Abandoned Irish Hills

Abandoned Irish Hills: Go Karts

Used to be that the Irish Hills, a section of US-12 between Detroit and Chicago, was quite the tourist attraction.

As a kid, my family often went to Stagecoach Stop and Prehistoric Forest, and played putt-putt and drove go karts at the little amusement parks. Even back then there was a level of hokeyness – but it didn’t matter. Those places were tons of fun.

Abandoned Irish Hills: Arcade

But now, it’s all shutting down. There are a few attractions that are still humming along. The majority, though, lie in disrepair (or worse).

In high school, my dad and step mom were married at Stagecoach Stop’s little chapel, and their reception was held in the old timey tavern.

Abandoned Irish Hills: Lonestar

Stagecoach was a bustling place back in the day. You could watch a gun fight in the town square, grab some ice cream, pet a goat in the petting zoo, and even stay overnight in the motel. There was a working lumber mill, and horse rides, and a drive-through haunted Halloween tour.

Now those places are overgrown and fading away.

Driving down US-12 now, and passing through the Irish Hills, it feels like a ghost town. It’s almost like a run-down part of town, with all the windows broken out and no one left to protect it. Eventually, I’m sure, these roadside attractions will be mowed down completely.

Abandoned Irish Hills: Bridge Over Track

Maybe the dinosaurs at Prehistoric Forest will survive. But more and more each year that place gets eaten by vegetation.

So last fall I took a drive out there, seemingly back in time, to capture some of those attractions I remembered from childhood. Before they disappeared.

Abandoned Irish Hills: Stagecoach Courtyard

At Stagecoach, I ran into a couple that was hosting a garage sale of sorts on the property. Most of the area was closed off, but I asked if I could walk around to grab some photos, and they said “yes.”

Abandoned Irish Hills: Fun Center

The Irish Hills Fun Center, a general amusement park with putt-putt and go karts, was completely abandoned. The kart track was still in decent shape, but the rest of the property was fading fast.

Prehistoric Forest, the true goal of my trip last fall, has been known as a target for vandalism. With motion sensors and cameras guarding the place, it was risky to try to grab photos of the place. When I drove past, there was a utility truck and a man taking measurements, so I played it safe and drove on.

Word is that the place has been sold. Who knows what will happen to it.

Abandoned Irish Hills: Twin Towers

It was weird to see a place that was so bustling turn into such a dead spot. I may take another drive out there this fall to see what’s changed – if anything.

(See the rest of the set on Flickr)


About every year, I need a mountain fix. To fly away from our flat-ish peninsula state and land somewhere above sea level.

Luckily, I’ve kept to that pretty consistently. I’ve used mountain states to escape, to reflect – and to drive.

Rocky Mountain National Park 565

The driving is therapeutic, too. I take in the countryside by mostly driving through it – with little stops along the way to get out and explore.

Rocky Mountain National Park 550

It’s not my style to stay in any one place for very long while traveling. I hit the highlights and move on to the next thing in fairly rapid succession.

Hiking Colorado: Dense Pathway

But it’s important to absorb the highlights. Especially with mountain scenery. Soak it all up.

Michigan is a fantastic state. I love living here and traveling here. Seeing the lakes and the woods and the wilderness. Michigan, though, doesn’t have mountains.

Rocky Mountain National Park 552

Colorado has mountains. Virtually a whole state full of them.

And every once in a while, I get the itch to see them.

(Photos edited with VSCO Film 04.)


Follow-Up on VSCO vs. Film Manufacturers

Fuji responded to my call for film makers (like themselves and Kodak) to run, not walk, into the digital film emulation and mobile photography business.

They’re right – and I said as much: Fuji is jumping into digital photography with both feet, and they should be commended. They’re making great stuff.

But in film emulation? Mobile apps? Not so much.

And Kodak? For crying out loud, they’re not even in the photography business any more.

So my point still stands: who better to do film emulations than the original film manufacturers?

And now with Totally Rad jumping into the game, the original film stock companies are getting further and further behind in the mobile/software arena.

Again, for Fuji, that’s fine. They’re doing a great business with the X-series of cameras.

For everyone else? Lots of luck.

UPDATE 9-13-13: Kodak responded on Twitter as well, suggesting that they’re still in the film business. However, my digging online found that while film stocks may have the Kodak name, they may not come from the original source. So what: film is film and it has Kodak on the box. For most people, that’s all that matters.

But again – whoever makes the film should be making the digital equivalent.

Also, kudos to Fuji for having some fun in this conversation.


Camera Review: Canon EOS M

Canon EOS M: Body

After toying around with the mirrorless camera world, I got to appreciate the conveniences – what I call the throw-it-in-the-car effect. Mirrorless cameras like the Fuji X100 are light, small, and not prone to bang into things with a lens sticking out of the front.

That’s why, when Canon had a fire sale, I jumped on the Canon EOS M mirrorless camera with the stock EF-M 22mm lens.

Canon EOS M: EF-M 22mm

Just $300 for a small, portable camera with a prime pancake lens and a Rebel T4i-caliber sensor. Touchscreen controls. Firmware update that speeds up the autofocus.

The only bummer? The white one was discontinued. Otherwise I would’ve (and believe me, I tried) purchased that one in a heartbeat.

As it was, with just the black model, I did think about the purchase for a few days. Did I need this camera? Would I put it to good use? Was the quality enough that I wouldn’t be frustrated with it?

No, yes, and maybe.

Canon EOS M

Camera Design

After the Canon EOS M arrived, it was pretty fun to unbox it. There’s lots of stuff that Canon packs in that box – and the minority of the material was the actual camera.

The camera itself is a solidly-built little instrument. It feels dense, but not heavy, so that it feels like a good, quality hunk of camera.

Canon EOS M: EF-M 22mm

The 22mm lens is light and well-built as well, although I’m not a fan of the sound it makes as you screw it into the camera. It feels like it’s rubbing or scratching agains something it shouldn’t be.

Canon EOS M: Screen

The back screen is large and bright enough to be seen in most situations, although with screens of this type, it does get tough to see what you’re shooting in bright sunlight (more on this later).

Canon includes a thin camera strap with little metal hooks that slide into the rivets on the camera – a nice system. Putting the EOS M around my neck helped me appreciate how small and light it is.

8/1/13 - Driveway Grass

Image Quality

Touring around with the Fuji X100, and my Canon T1i, I had weak expectations for the image quality on the EOS M.

Happily, this camera beat those low expectations handily.

Jackson County Fair 2013

Bright scenes, dark scenes, color and contrast – they’re all great, and I was shooting mainly JPGs. I found the image files flexible enough to grab the details I needed in Lightroom.

The 22mm focal length is a bit wider than I like, but it does make the M flexible for most situations: landscapes, architecture, street-type scenes, macro, even portraits. Pairing the EOS M with a quality 35mm or 40mm prime lens would be perfect for the way I shoot.

So the quality of images isn’t where this camera gets annoying. Not at all.

8/20/13 - Foggy Sunrise

Camera Positives

Since participating in On Taking Pictures’s daily photo challenge, I’ve almost exclusively used the Canon EOS M.

I felt it was a good exercise to get used to the camera, and to learn its ins and outs.

Given that, this thing was perfect as an everyday carry-around camera. I could swing it over my shoulder heading out the door, throw it in the front seat, and carry it with me wherever I went. When I did go out and shoot, it was light and small enough to not get in the way.

The pancake lens simplifies things, too. Just one focal length, with a wide enough aperture to do what I like to do. All I have to think about is taking the lens cap off.

8/18/13 - Locally Grown

It’s not quite iPhone camera simple, or point-and-shoot simple, but it’s more simple than choosing a lens, lugging the DSLR around, etc. My DSLR is a pro tool that gets me exactly what I see in my head. The EOS M is what I carry around with day to day that’s convenient enough to be useful.

That’s been the breakthrough for me with this camera, and the Fuji X100 before this. The portability, the convenience, and the image quality make these mirrorless cameras the equivalent of the iPad: in between the iPhone’s race car and the Mac’s utility truck lies just the right touch of Good Enough.

And, it’s fun. It’s a lot of fun to carry this thing around and just have it there, being simple, and grabbing nice images.

Cruise Night: No Parking

Camera Quirks

I’ll say that my number one issue with this camera is the random exposures it takes because of the touch shutter. In the bottom left of the screen is a Touch Shutter Enable/Disable button – but seemingly at random, it switches modes. It could be because of an accidental touch, but I get enough random exposures from the camera bumping into me that it gets annoying. Quickly.

If I could turn off that entire area of the touchscreen, I would.

Also, the 22mm lens will sometimes search endlessly for focus, especially for macro-type shots. I find that switching the camera off and on again helps, but sometimes it doesn’t and I need to take the lens off the camera.

Finally, the touch-screen buttons seem randomly and frustratingly placed. I have to stop and think about where I need to put my finger to change the white balance, say, whereas with DSLR canons my fingers can go automatically to some dial or button for instant access.

Nothing Stops Detroit: Down

More On the Touchscreen

Yes, the touchscreen is hard to see in bright sunlight (especially if you wear sunglasses). And yes, that touch-to-take-a-phone feature is a downer for me.

Overall, the touchscreen is just a big ball of frustration. Touching to focus, so easy on an iPhone, is cumbersome on this thing. I find the focus point randomly moves around because of accidental touches, and changing settings like aperture and ISO are clunky.

And trying to focus on something below or above you, with the screen barely in view? I agree with others: make it a swivel display and you could solve a few of these problems.

Hitting the “Info” button, I’ve learned, helps to help with some of those accidental touches, since the “buttons” on the screen disappear. And pressing the delete button on the scroll wheel helps place the focus point back at center.

But trying to do all this while holding and the camera and pressing the shutter button – maybe it’s just going to take some getting use to. I find I often take too many accidental exposures fumbling with the settings and getting the camera ready to shoot.

Jackson Cruise Night 508

Final Thoughts

The Canon EOS M was the first step for Canon in the mirrorless world, and with a few needed firmware updates, they’ve made their initial product a decent one – especially at $300.

I can see going fully mirrorless someday, should these cameras become as practical and fast to use as a DSLR (and if they stick around). Until then, these cameras are a lot of fun to use – and I think that counts for a lot, especially for a hobbyist like me.

Canon EOS M: Sensor

Adding a nice portrait-length prime lens to the EF-M lineup would be killer, especially fast lenses in the f/2 range like the stock 22mm.

Rumors are that a new EOS M model is headed our way, so we’ll see what Canon does. I’m happy that I pulled the trigger on this first model, no matter what comes.

It’s added a new dimension to my hobby that’s been a lot of fun to explore.

View more Canon EOS M photos at my Flickr album.


8/25/13 – Allis-Chalmers

8/25/13 - Allis-Chalmers

I knew my dad went “country” when he bought an old John Deere farm tractor and drove it in the Memorial Day parade (and when he started listening to country music, and when he bought two cows for slaughter).

My grandpa had an agricultural museum in his barn filled with mysterious tools and gadgets from his Depression-era farming life. He’d always ask, “Do you know what this used to do?” Of course I didn’t.

So my rural roots don’t run deep, per se, but they’re there. I do like to keep my garden, and I do think old guys in suspenders and unironic trucker hats performing in a tractor pull is pretty fun.

Today ends the month-long On Taking Pictures photography challenge. One month of images, one per day, every day of the month.


8/24/13 – Action Super Heroes

8/24/13 - Action Super Heroes

Saturday was the last big sale day for my favorite local comic shop. Leonard, the owner, is retiring as of Labor Day.

The good news, however, is that he may have found a buyer for the place. They have to get things worked out with the bank, but otherwise it’s a go.

That’s my friend Jon Hart in the background, there, digging through the alternative titles. I’m mainly a Spidey and X-Men guy, myself.