Trapped inside by weather!

I was reading a forum recently where a person was asking about living full time in a Class B RV, and she wondered what was the hardest part. Another person suggested renting one and spending 5 days shut inside to simulate being stuck in an RV for a rainy spell. I get the point he was trying to make, but being stuck inside the RV because of weather isn’t an issue with a little forethought.

There are so many things we do on a daily basis that take us out of the RV and indoors elsewhere. Grocery shopping, restaurants, taking in a movie, visiting a library, local attractions, visiting relatives or friends, or just every day errands such as laundry, the hardware store, moving to your next destination, or just topping off all the tanks. Its a long list if we step back and think about it.

They key to weathering the storm (pun intended) is just a little up-front planning. It makes no sense to grocery shop and do laundry on a sunny Thursday, then sit inside Friday and Saturday during a rainstorm. Push off any indoor activities you can for Friday and Saturday, and go enjoy that gorgeous Thursday outside!

If I had to choose, I’d much rather drive in rain to the next destination, than waste a nice afternoon moving.

The longest trip I’ve done was a few two and three month trips full-timing in the Roadtrek, and many shorter ones of several weeks. I guess that would make me a part-time full-timer! There were plenty of rain days to deal with, even some snow. But I never felt stuck inside as I used the bad weather days to get out and do something.

I also saved work and personal projects that can be done inside the RV, and have a list of other activities to pass time when I am in the RV. Juggling when to do these is the key to not feeling stuck inside.

The end result is that I was never inside the RV for any significant amount of time. There was always something planned that would get me out, and usually things I wouldn’t want to waste a nice sunny day on anyway, thus killing two birds with one stone in the process.

Blue Moon and sunny days go together!

With a little planning, a 5 day rain storm can be full of activities that keep you out of the van every day. But do keep some time to do nothing but relax, read a book or watch a good movie with your favorite warm drink in the warmth of your cozy Roadtrek. That’s a very pleasant activity as well, and good enough to kill most of a rainy day.


Roadtrek gets a new alternator

I started up the van and heard a squealing. It sounded like the belt slipping, so I thought I would let it idle for a bit to see if it would clear up. I gave it a little throttle, not much, but just enough to change the RPMs to see if it got better or worse. I noticed the volt meter was not reading any voltage about the same time I noticed a bit of smoke from under the hood. Just and as my hand was en-route to the ignition key to shut it off, “Bam”. A loud noise followed by what sounded like chunks of dirt being thrown around the engine compartment. 

I assumed the belt broke, or worse, something else came apart. When I opened the hood it was obvious that I was right. The belt was shredded and small parts of it were thrown about. I started rotating the various pulleys, wheels, and parts to see if everything else was ok. When I went to turn the alternator, which I suspect was the problem based on the voltage reading, it was locked up tight. The pulley wheel also had burnt bits of serpentine belt in the grooves. No question what needed to be done.

Minimal tools needed. Old alternator out and belt replaced.

One of the reasons I purchased a 2000 year van was the ability to do some service work myself. The newer Sprinter based vans don’t lend themselves to DIY repairs, and dealerships that will work on the Class Bs are far and few between. I didn’t want simple repairs to end up with a costly towing bill, on top of high dealership repair costs. A 2000 Dodge or Chevy van based class B can be worked on by any competent repair shop, and those seem to be on every street corner.

An alternator is trivial. I went inside and ordered a new alternator and serpentine belt, then to the garage to assemble the tools I’ll need. I then cleaned all the other pulleys removing the burned belt rubber from the groves. That was probably the longest of the task. The alternator and belt arrived the next day (thank you Amazon) and I had it swapped out in about an hour.

New alternator snuggly in place. I need to clean off all the pulleys since the old alternator seized and burned the belt pretty badly.

Since the serpentine belt runs just about everything off the motor, I figured having a spare is prudent. It’s so easy to replace and anyone can do it with one socket wrench and 5 minutes, it would be nuts not to have one. So I took the spare, added the belt routing diagram to the package, and put on in the Roadtreks tool box.

I ordered a spare belt and put the diagram with it for reference, and leave them both in the Roadtrek.

I now feel confident that should I break a belt out in the desert on my trip out west, I can easily replace it without needing a tow and repair shop. I have several key spare components that I keep in the tool box just in case.

Roadtrek Adaptability

One of the things I appreciate most about the Roadtrek, especially the floor plans prior to 2004, is the flexibility they provide. The rear area can be configured as a dinette, bench seat and twin bed, two twin beds, a queen sleeping east/west, a king sleeping north south, or a U shape lounge. If you are more creative, and have basic woodworking skills, you can do much more.


Bed setup in the rear as a double, perfect for two people under 6′ tall. Setting up as a double rather than a queen allows for additional storage under the pantry (passenger side) and clothing cabinet (drivers side).


The double as seen from the rear, showing the additional storage available under the pantry. This opens up two 19″x22″x24″ areas for storage. This side allows for 4 baskets, each 11″X11″x10″, and two smaller tray baskets on top.


At the foot of the bed under the other storage area we store a Dometic CFX28 DC powered refrigerator. This augments the built in 3 way fridge and adds a higher level of temperature control the 3 way fridge can’t handle. Additionally, it adds about 45% more cold storage, or can act as a freezer. Much more versatile.

If the bed were setup as a king size, both of the storage areas would be lost to the bed area, and in my opinion wasted space. Even with two of us on long trips, the east/west double bed is more than adequate, even when I sprawl out which I am prone to do. It measures 72″ x 64″.


The bed setup opens up more storage under the bed. I typically keep folding chairs, water jugs, and other larger items here.

Keeping a permanent bed setup also opens up a very usable storage capacity under the bed. This would be lost if switching from a dinette to a bed each evening, as it would need to be clear for daytime use.


On bug free days, its nice to open the back doors when curled up reading or using the laptop.

Having configured the front seating area with a very versatile table configuration, we have a dinette in the front so having one in the rear is redundant. The view is also better in the front than the rear, so we never used the rear very often. With that said, it’s very easy to convert it to any configuration before a trip if we find one configuration may be preferable to another for any given trip.


The bed area also makes a great lounge area for watching a movie and reading. View is from the back of the van with the doors open and looking inside.

I added a small shelf at the foot of the bed (above) for misc small items to see how I like it. Easily removable in order to stick with the easy configurable theme. I’ll make a better looking one now that I know I like it and use it all the time. TV and DVD player in the upper right, and a couple wire bins on the upper left for books, remotes, cell phone, etc.


View of the kitchen, stove, sink, 3way fridge and microwave.


Slide out counter sections increase the counter area when cooking, and tuck away when not needed.

There are two slide away counter areas to increase the counter for cooking. The one on the lower right is also the silverware drawer. When you open the drawer you are presented with the silverware. But if you reach under the counter and pull, the extended counter slides out. It is also removable for cleaning.

The counter extension shown on the upper left of the image slides under the pantry, as well as also has a slide out platform to allow easier access to your food storage (see image below). I am using a USPS box temporarily at the moment to see if I like the sizing and/or want to make any changes. Once I determine the optimal dimensions, I’ll make a more appropriate version.



Adequate counter space for a micro apartment on wheels.

I’m currently making a shelf area behind the spice rack on the window sill for small odds and ends. I found some stick on window treatment that simulates a stained glass look.  I didn’t like the curtains that were there, but still wanted privacy. The stick on treatment served well for privacy, but also lets in light and totally eliminates the need for the curtain. The window treatment can be replaced at any time as it sticks without any kind of glue, and is easy removable without any residue. One of the better modifications I’ve done, and was cheap, fast, easy, and adds a more custom look inside and out.


Rear view camera, ham radio, and temperature monitor.

The temperature monitor has wireless remote sensors that can be placed just about anywhere. I have one in the freezer, refrigerator, one I move around when I need to measure temps elsewhere. The last temp displayed is the inside temperature. The refrigerator is off when I took this image, hence the 64F and 67F readings.

One thing I really appreciate with the new Dometic portable 12V refrigerator/freezer is how fast it comes up to temperature. The original 3way would take 8-10 hours to reach 32F on 120V AC, 24hrs on LP gas, and almost never on 12V DC (12V is worthless on the 3way). The Dometic CFX28 portable refrigerator was 32F within 45 minutes after plugging it in. Very fast to get to temp, holds the temperature accurately, and is very efficient and reasonable for running off the house batteries. I’ll post more on the Dometic CFX28 in the future after I’ve used it over several trips and have more experience with it.


Owing a full size van, and having mini-vans in the past, I couldn’t resist this sticker! 🙂


The TV is on a swivel mount allowing it to be used from the front or rear of the van.


This image shows the rear area setup as a dinette with rear table and easily configured into twin beds by storing the table. This was an early image, much has been changed since this was taken.

Speaking earlier about the front table configuration, the following images illustrate how it’s setup. The table itself is on a bracket that allows it to swivel from side to side, and there are two mounts for the table allowing you to move the table as needed, further enhancing its versatility.


Table slid over to allow use as a cocktail table for three.


Table further slide over for use as cooking space in the kitchen.


Another view of the table used for cooking in the kitchen.


Table with all ‘wings’ out, and the second table behind the drivers seat deployed. This allows for maximum table space for two, although the drivers seat would be inaccessible.


With table removed and stored behind the drivers seat, the three seats in the front make for a comfortable conversation area for three.


Rear seating area setup as a U shaped lounge for relaxing.

More Pen-F and Theme Parks

Having spent a full day with the Pen-F at Magic Kingdom and Epcot, I’m getting more dialed in with the cameras handling, how much I can push it, and how to customize it for how I work. The Pen-F is extremely customizable and able to adapt to how you want it configured. Spending time with it, and custom fitting the buttons and dials to how you want to use it is well worth the time and effort.


The first ride I went on I arrived. Always good as a morning wake up to get the blood pumping.


Reasonable sharpness for kit lens (14-42mm f3.5-5.6 EZ)

I’m not into scary rides, but I don’t miss the opportunity to take a fall in the Tower of Terror. It’s the right amount of scary and adrenaline to get the morning in full swing. Plus, I love what the interior designer did with the decor.


Someone needs a cleaning service

The above was a very high contrast scene with the direct sunlight coming in from through the doorway, and the darker area in the foreground. With some post processing of the highlights and shadows a compromise worked. The m4/3 format isn’t the greatest in very high contrast scenes, but it does good. A medium format digital camera would handle this much better, but at an additional $20K minimum in cost. Full sensor camera fall somewhere between them, but closer to m43 than medium format.


I’ve had days at work feeling like I was running through fire, but they really are, 4 times a day! Lumix G Vario PZ 45-175, f5.5 ISO200

Since micro 4/3rd cameras share the same lens mount across multiple manufacturers, you can use say a Panasonic lens on your Olympus body, or the reverse. I did just that for the above image, using a Lumix 45-175 telephoto (35mm equiv 90mm-350mm) on the Pen-F. I bought the Panasonic as it had some features I preferred when shooting video with the Pen-F, and it had a good reputation for optical quality. I’ve been happy with it so far.


1/8th of a second, ISO 3200, f5.5. Some motion blur in hands as he was in motion.

Again, testing the ability to hand hold a camera in darker environments, the above shot was done at 1/8th of a second hand held. The stabilization really makes a difference, and Olympus set the market with its 5 axis body stabilization. It works remarkably well, shaving about 2 stops off the ISO setting since you can use  a slower shutter speed instead. ISO 3200 is about the top end I would shoot with the Pen-F for web/screen use, and 800 or 1600 depending on size for print use.


The light is starting to fade, and this is when theme parks come alive for me photographically. If the designers did their work, there is plenty of interesting lighting, highlights, and facades to photograph.


The best time is after the lights turn on, and the sun has just dropped below the horizon. This leaves texture and color in the sky as a backdrop to the foreground. The light is also better balanced, there is still detail in the shadows, and you aren’t fighting with highlights that are too bright against a pitch black sky. Magic hour.


Hollywood Studios was littered with these 1950’s style billboards.

The above image is just about at the end of ‘magic hour’, which strangely enough lasts about 2-3 hours. The sky is getting pretty dark, but stays a dark blue for quite some time before going black. Cloud detail is lost, but the blue background is still pleasing.


Olympus 45mm 1.8, ISO2000 at f2.8, pushed slightly in post processing and heavily cropped.

One of my favorite lenses is the Olympus 45mm f1.8. Perfect for portraits, very sharp, nice bokeh, and very compact and lightweight. I spent some time testing this lens, but my go to walk around lens is the very compact 14-42 EZ. It’s almost the perfect range, a 35mm equivalent of 28mm-84mm.

Looking at focal length metadata in Lightroom, I find about 80% of my personal photographs are shot in the 24-70mm range. About 95% are shot in the 20mm to 105mm range, so ideally a good walk around lens for me would be a 20mm-105mm. Unfortunately, one doesn’t exist, and the super zoom lenses that do cover those focal lengths generally start to suffer optically and aren’t as sharp as the 14-42. And they are much larger, heavier, and longer. So I’ll live with the 14-42 for to its compact size, near perfect focal length, and decent overall quality.


I know somebody that takes this much luggage on a trip!

The above is a real good example of a well balanced sky and foreground. The lighting on the billboard and building facade balances almost perfectly with the background sky and clouds. The subtle light in this image also goes well with the pastel and faded colors.


Neon is always an interesting element to include in a photograph.

The above image is another reason I really like the Olympus in-body stabilization. This was also hand held at dusk, but it captured the scene beautifully and with sharp results. As an everyday camera, it makes capturing scenes like this easy and effortlessly.


The sky in the shot above drew my attention, and I walked around a little bit looking for something of interest for the foreground. Florida never disappoints with interesting skies due to the weather changes. I would have preferred to see the lights turned on for the sign and lower part of the building on the left. They came on shortly after this image was taken.

A few last parting shots as I left the park. I turned around to see if there was anything interesting to photograph at the entrance, and shot these two images below. Again the lighting really adds so much interest to these images, and without it I wouldn’t have bothered.



Pen-F at Magic Kingdom and Epcot

People watching and photography are always fun at crowded venues, such as theme parks. A perfect environment to put the newly acquired Olympus PEN-F through its paces. With its image stabilization and better high ISO performance over the E-M5 I was using, it should be great in low light. I was always happy with the E-M5, so the improvements are just icing on the cake. And I love the Pen-F form factor and handling.

I’ll present some of the images I’ve capture here, and talk about photography with the Olympus Pen-F.


Cinderellas Castle, always photogenic

True to Disneys character, the castle is well lighted and overall highly photographic. It was much darker than it appears, and I shot it handheld. I wanted to push the Pen-F to see how much I can get away with shooting handheld, even at night. So all the night images here, and in all the theme parks, were handheld.

The castle was shot at ISO3200, and pushed further in post processing. For it’s intended purpose of being displayed on the web as personal photography and not published, it works very well. I didn’t remove the gain and noise only because I find the gain less of an issue than the sharpness lose with noise removal.


Space Mountain. A unique building and can be seen easily in the distance as you reach the park.

This is an unprocessed image straight out of the camera. I always loved Olympus in-camera processing for its colors and pleasing exposures.


Monorail at Epcot. The Festival of Flowers was in progress throughout the month.

I actually waited about 10 minutes for the monorail to come into view. I just felt it was needed to complete this scene. Again, as captured in camera with no post processing.


I found this survey marker while roaming around Epcot.

While waiting for the monorail in the preceding image, I noticed this survey marker. I processed it for black and white, and then added a duotone feel to it. I love the gritty feel the pavement took, and the overall warm tones on the highlights.


I always say I’m going to make time to eat here one visit, but never seem to.

If you have ever been to this restaurant, you know how dark it is. Also shot handheld at high ISO, but it works well. For nearly all the photography I did at the theme parks, it was hand held, even in the low light environments. I use camera holding techniques I’ve found worked over the years to stabilize the camera as best as I can, and let the stabilizer do its thing. Between those two, I can shoot in low light as low as 1/4 of a second and get sharp usable results without a tripod. With that said, when shooting that slow it makes sense to shoot a couple frames, as some might have slight blur while others will be sharp.


Days of the Dead. A Mexican tradition to honor their past family members.


These Days of the Dead figures were for sale in the Mexico pavilion.


My daughter and son like dragons, so I grabbed this image for them.

I shot the above dragon on the Panasonic 20mm 1.7 lens at ISO 800. A beautifully small, compact, sharp, and nice rendering lens. One of my favorites for low light and interior shooting. The depth of field is very shallow and pleasing. The Days of the Dead images were also shot with this lens. The 20mm f1.7 is my favorite lens for low light photography indoors at family gatherings, parties, etc.


An typical altar honoring their family members.

The image above was shot through glass. The boy on the left is a figure as part of the display. Another low light situation that the Pen-F and 20mm f1.7 handled well.


Entrance to the American Adventure. A nice opening ceremony.

I shot some video with the Pen-F in this attraction while they were singing. The stabilization allowed me to move during the filming while still keeping a steady frame and reducing camera shake. While the Pen-F did very well with video, a dedicated video camera will always do a better job. But for quick video clips, it does very well.


Part of the opening scenes in the American Adventure show.

I needed to do quite a bit of post processing on this scene in the American Adventure due to the extreme contrast range. The highlights were overexposed on the subjects, or the background was far too dark. I exposed for the highlights and brought up the shadows in post.


Animatronics mixed with projection set and stage motion made for a very entertaining and historically informative presentation.

This scene was better balanced and didn’t require much in the way of post processing. But there was a large difference between the project and the subjects. The Pen-F handled this scene well.


A scene dropped from the ceiling with a projection background that matched the motion. Animatronic figures told the story back in the ‘early years’.

I love the look and feel of this scene, the warm tones contrasting with the cold, the overall lighting. The background fading off into the distance. Photography wise, everything was pretty well balanced easy for the Pen-F to handle.


Animatronics as used in a classic and long running Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

The above image in the Pirates of the Caribbean was really pushing the Pen-F and kit lens to its limits. It was shot at ISO6400, f3.5, 1/50th, while in motion on a floating boat during the ride. It shows the content well, but is on the edge of usable, even for personal use. There was probably too much motion during this image for the stabilization to cope with between me moving, the boats motion, and the scene itself.


I was elated to see how well my Olympus Pen-F held up in dark scenes and high ISO settings.

Surprisingly, this image fared much better under worse conditions. Also shot at ISO6400 with the kit lens, it was at f3.5 and 1/10 of a second, also handheld on a moving boat ride. The stabilization worked and the image is sharp and well exposed. Perhaps if I shot off a few extra frames of the Pirates of the Caribbean scene I would have had one that was much sharper. A good reason to fire off several frames in these conditions and keep the best.


The Mad Tea Party ride was a perfect time to use slow shutter and add some motion for effect.

In the above image, I panned on the subject while using a slow shutter speed. Shutter speed was around 1/3 to 1/2 of a second insuring lots of blur on the fast moving tea cups. The goal is to pan with the subject you want in focus to minimize the blur, leaving the rest of the image to blur due to motion.

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Shoot several at different shutter speeds and panning motions for various effects.


Hand held, the Pen-F stabilization and high ISO worked well capturing this image.


Space Mountain building illuminated after dark.


Dancing and music in Tomorrow Land.


Another classic Disney ride, The Carousel of Progress.

The Carousel of Progress is one of my favorite go to spots when it’s very warm and muggy. Its air conditioned, comfortable seating, and lasts just over 20 minutes. Rarely a long line, so its great to get out of the heat for a while. And its entertaining.

The scenes are also very stable with regard to motion, so its easy to get a nice image even though its low light. The image stabilization also helps lower the ISO needed as well. I shot the above at 1/40th of a second, f4.0 at ISO3200.


A fitting ending image taken as I left the park for Fort Wilderness.

Another slow shutter speed, high ISO image, handheld, with the excellent stabilization of the Pen-F. 1/50th, f4, ISO 3200 and handheld.

I found that most of the park at night required 1/5th to 1/50th at ISO 1600 to ISO3200, with some darker areas requiring a slower shutter speed and ISO6400. Well lighted areas were much better at ISO1600 and 1/50th or higher.

For personal use, I found going hand held with the stabilization and ISO performance of the Pen-F to be a perfect way to travel light. With the use of a small table tripod, and stabilizing the camera against a stable object, there is no real need to carry a tripod around. Although for the absolute best image quality, nothing will beat a tripod and using a low ISO when possible.

Olympus E-M5 to Pen-F Upgrade

A side goal of this Florida trip to avoid New Englands winter weather, was also to test out my newly acquired Olympus Pen-F. Having two months to explore the Florida area with a new camera assures that when I return I will know this camera very well indeed. I’ll take a slight detour here on the blog for a few posts on using the Pen-F in a variety of environments. I’ll try it mix it with my travels as well to keep non-photographers interested.


Olympus Pen-F

When you shoot images and video for clients day in and day out, it seems more like work every time you pickup a camera. They say the cobblers kids have no shoes, and I see where that comes from. They are heavy, large, and lugging one around when you really just want to relax on a trip or vacation isn’t my idea of fun or convenient.

When Olympus announced the E-P series of Micro 4/3rds cameras, I was interested. It was small, took interchangeable lenses, and had decent quality. But they weren’t anywhere near the quality of my professional gear. Good enough for web and small print, but low light capabilities were lacking. But it served me well as an everyday camera for personal use.


My trusty E-M5. With the grip removed and a smaller lens, it’s very compact.

Long story short, I went through several versions of the E-P series, and finally settled on a Olympus E-M5 upgrade for a trip to China. I was leaving on an assignment in China, and was going to be spending a week on personal travel once completed. I knew I didn’t want to carry around my professional gear, and was looking for something lighter.



China. Olympus E-M5.

Walking about 10 miles a day sightseeing and taking photographs with the E-M5 convinced me I made the right choice. I usually kept the E-M5 in my hand and on a wrist strap, and the 20mm in my pocket for low light situations. 2 SD cards and a spare battery were barely felt on my person. I felt as though I was just walking with a water bottle in my hand, and a second wallet in my pocket. This was so freeing from otherwise carrying a heavy shoulder bag with a heavy DSLR and large lens around my neck.

I was so convinced this was a perfect travel setup that I picked up a longer fast prime to further augment the kit, and the needed filters and accessories to fit. This all fit in a very small shoulder bag that was roughly 1/5 the weight of my full size DSLR kit with similar focal lengths and accessories.


Barcelona Spain. Olympus E-M5.


Stockholm, Sweden. Olympus E-M5.

In fact on the very next trips to Barcelona, Stockholm, and London, I only took the Olympus E-M5 kit for my personal photography. I was thrilled with the handling and capabilities of the system, the image quality, and the small compact and light weight of the kit easily overshadowed any drawbacks.


Beijing China. Olympus E-M5.

Fast forward to a couple months ago. The Olympus Pen-F micro 4/3 body. And updated sensor over the E-M5, smaller more compact body, and some very useful new features and upgrades. It doesn’t hurt that it resembles a classic rangefinder which I find pleasing.

My E-M5 was well loved, well used, and served me well. But the Pen-F was calling to me. And a two month trip to Florida is a good place to put it though it paces. I’ll post more on the Pen-F in the following blog entries.



Theme Park Alley

I love theme parks, but not so much for the rides, shows, and attractions. More so for the themes they create and general people watching. I love the facades, their attention to details, lighting, and efforts at making it believable. It is an escape from reality even though in the back of your mind you know just outside those walls the real world is waiting. Not that the real world is bad, but it’s just more of the same.


I feel her pain!

The bad part of the parks are the crowds, waiting in line, overpriced and mediocre food. But we tolerate it to give our minds that quick vacation from reality. It’s not a relaxing day on a sunny white sand beach in the tropics. Thats a whole different diversion, one I also love. But if you don’t plan and schedule your day at a theme park to hit as many rides as possible and see everything, it can be relaxing and fun. Especially if you are solo and have no plan of attack. Just wander, people watch, active photography, and jump into lines when they are short.


I seriously could have used someone to wheel me around by the third day.

With my newly acquired Olympus Pen-F, and a need to get familiar with it and see what it can do, I decided theme parks are as good as anywhere else to run it through its paces. I’ll post a few entries focused mostly on photography, which is one of the key reasons I decided to be dumped into the theme park madness. No tips or hints getting around the parks, no tours of each ride, just photography  I found interesting along the way.


These guys were everywhere. Seems like either a lot of fun, or very monotonous.


A gaggle of girls in Tinsel Town. Hollywood Studios.


Somewhere in Morocco. Epcot.