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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Days of the Dead. A Mexican tradition to honor their past family members.
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These Days of the Dead figures were for sale in the Mexico pavilion.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hand held, the Pen-F stabilization and high ISO worked well capturing this image.
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Space Mountain building illuminated after dark.
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Dancing and music in Tomorrow Land.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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Barcelona Spain. Olympus E-M5.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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These guys were everywhere. Seems like either a lot of fun, or very monotonous.
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A gaggle of girls in Tinsel Town. Hollywood Studios.
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Somewhere in Morocco. Epcot.

Disney Eye Candy

No talk, no text, no bull. Just images for the eyes….

I decided to take in a few days at Disney since While in the area. I checked into Fort Wilderness as transportation would be easy, and I’ve never stayed here before. Very nice campground, although pricey for what you get. But, you’re in the Disney Bubble so everything is easy and convenient.  There is some value to that.

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Boat dock leading the unsuspecting into the Disney ‘bubble’. Once in, there is no escape.
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Part of the campground at Disney.
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Was treated with a great sunset.
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Another image from around the campground.
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Fort Wilderness beach area.
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People watching on the boat. I took a round trip just for something to do.
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More of the gorgeous sunset…
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…and even more 🙂
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More people watching.
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Not exactly my dream 😉  But fun.
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More gators and snakes.
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Being a super hero, I thought he might be able to help me with my radio failures and propane debacle. He just looked at me sideways when I asked. Captain America my ass.
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The monkeys area real, and I will use them when I have to.
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More pins and stickers for my wall of fame.
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Of course more Spanish moss.
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I wont be here long enough to enjoy the beach.

The Villages. ‘Golf Cart City’

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Spanish Spring Town Square

Or more correctly known as ‘The Villages’, but I’ll just call it Golf Cart City as it seems more appropriate. It is a 55+ active retirement community not far from where I am staying.  I made another trip here today to explore a bit more and grab some lunch. Last visit was for groceries, I didn’t have much time to explore.

 

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Nightly entertainment offered every night.

Spanish Springs Town Square, where these pictures were taken, is part of ‘The Villages’. There are a multiple town squares, no shortage of restaurants, shopping, and entertainment all centered around the many town squares. Overall the Villages have 48 golf courses, multiple lakes, 11 parks, tennis, bocci, pickle ball, and on and on. The population is around 100,000, and the Villages cover 38 square miles. All the services needed to support a population of that size seems to be present.

 

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I think the golf cart to vehicle ratio was about 1:1, seriously.

The golf carts are not for golfing, although some did have a set of golf clubs on the back. Most are for transportation around the Villages, between the town squares, shopping, post office, community centers, activities, and so on. There are even tunnels to allow the golf carts to cross under highways and major roads, so you can explore the entire community via golf cart.

 

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A sitting area around the springs in the town square

There was always something happening somewhere, and the town squares have nightly entertainment. Its a pretty interesting place. If I have time I’m going to pick an evening and see what the entertainment is all about. People were lining up chairs to save their spaces as early as 2pm, so it must be popular.

 

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Shops and restaurants lined the streets, much like an outdoor mall.

 

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Spanish Springs Town Square, hmmm. Ok, I guess it fits.

 

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Another view of the entertainment area.
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The ‘springs’ from another viewpoint
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I think this is one of the outdoor bars for the nightly entertainment. There were a several spread around the square.

 

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Looking back into the square.

 

I almost died at Meat Cove

After exploring the Bay of Fundy, our next destination was Meat Cove. We heard of an interesting campground that sits on the top of a bluff overlooking the ocean and cove below. You are literally camping on the edge of the cliff. Sounded intriguing, so off we went.

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Meat Cove campground sitting on the hillside overlooking the cove.

It was an 8 hour drive, so we decided to split it across two days. The first was a lazy crawl to Linwood Nova Scotia with sightseeing along the way. We did enough sightseeing that we left at 11am, and arrived at Linwood 9 hours later. Most of the morning was nice, but toward late afternoon it started to rain once again.

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We found a small hidden turnout off the road and along the cliff overlooking the ocean. A perfect stop for lunch. There were many seals playing in the surf which made for a fun spectacle. If we were in a larger motorhome, as in the past, we would’ve had to pass by this great spot. I love the trade off on size versus convenience of the Class B RVs over larger versions.

The rain was on and off, but the issue was the wind that came with it.
30mph sustained with frequent gusts made for some white knuckle driving. We arrived fairly late at the campground, around 8pm, but the owners kept the office open for us. Very accommodating owners, greatly appreciated, thank you.

I loved the wind whistling through the windows during the night. With 25-30mph winds, there was plenty of it. But then again, I am one of those nutcases that you will find wandering around photographing during a hurricane. Stormy weather always fascinates me, and I try to experience it, albeit safely. Other than the heavy rocking of the RV that sometimes woke me up, I slept very well, helped by a full day or driving to tire me out.

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Another class B RV was here when we arrived. I noticed far more class Bs, and a distinct shortage of class As, while in Canada. The opposite of what I see in the US. Canada knows how to travel light 🙂

Linwood Campground was on a hill overlooking the harbor. A small campground, but clean and friendly. We didn’t see much of it, due to arriving late and then leaving first thing in the morning. Rather than have breakfast at camp, we like to find a nice place along the road with a great scenic view. We have the capability to do so in the Roadtrek, and it was one of the draws to a smaller RV versus something larger. So we take advantage of it whenever possible.

Oh yea, back to the topic, Meat Cove.

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One of the campsites at Meat Cove Campground is on the other side of this rock. A picnic table barely pokes out from behind the rocks. I wouldn’t want to have to walk to the bathrooms from this site at night. There may be a liability waiver that needs to be signed to camp on it.

The final portion of the drive to meat cove was adventurous. The road turned to a mix of dirt, gravel, and occasional paved sections. The paved sections were on the steeper sections to allow for better road conditions during the winter months. A few sections were literally driving along a very steep and long drop off. Important to keep your tires on the road and pay attention! Pot holes were everywhere.  Due to the rain and wind, everything was muddy.  It really felt more like off-road back country driving.

Wait, that is pretty much what we are doing!

Meat cove is in the middle of no where. My wife said it very well, “We are driving to the edge of the earth, and the top of the world”. Somewhat of an exaggeration, but the furthest tip of Nova Scotia high on a cliff sounds close enough.  I wouldn’t venture to Meat Cove in a anything larger than a Class B. While you could make it on the road to the campground, once you are there it’s really only big enough for cars, vans, and tents, and maybe a small class C up by the parking lot.

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Campfire overlook the cove. Wonderful sunrises and sunsets each day. Wind was constant being on the ocean and up high.

Now the ‘How I almost lost my life at Meat Cove’ story. Click bait? Not really, but maybe a little. Remember the rain and mud along the drive? The howling wind and rain the day before? Keep that thought.

After finally arriving and pulling into the campground, we needed to find a spot and park. We were directed to a great spot right on the top of the cliff overlooking the ocean. The attendant dropped the rope separating the camp area from the road. A nice grassy knoll with small tiered campsites. I put the van in drive and slowly crept forward toward the edge. Once the rear wheels left the dirt road, I might as well have been on a sheet of glass covered with olive oil. The rubber tires had no grip on the wet grass. I knew immediately what the problem was. While the rain stopped an hour or so ago, everything was still wet and slippery.

I skidded for nearly 20′ and stopped 10′ from the edge seeing nothing by ocean below me through the front windshield. I can’t tell you what it did to my heart rate, but my doctor would most likely tell me I just passed the cardio stress test. Luckily, my wife was outside the van and had no clue what just happened. Only later when she saw the skid marks coming back from the restaurant did she panic. And yes, the campground at “the edge of the earth, top of the world, in the middle of nowhere” had a restaurant. And surprisingly an very good one.

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Definitely got my heart pumping. After it finally stopped, I slowly rolled into the position where it now sits. Wet grass and tires from the rain caught me by surprise. The hill wasn’t that steep.

Nearly on the very edge, I had two choices. Either abandon the idea and let it sit, or continue on. I’m adventurous, so you know what I did. But I am also cautious. I sat for a minute to evaluate my predicament, then unbuckled my seat belt, cracked open the drivers door, and proceeded very slowly to the left and got the van sideways to the to drop off. Any hint of sliding and I was bailing out.

Luckily, it slowly rolled into place without further incident. I was level and safe. Emergency brake, wheel chocks, and the van isn’t moving until we got a couple days of sun to dry out the grass. And we did, several days of sunshine and great sunrises and sunsets from our perch. The weather was perfect for the rest of our stay there.

This part of the trip was worth every penny, inconvenience, hours on the road, and accelerated heartbeats. No obstructions between us, the ocean and cove below, and Newfoundland in the distance. You couldn’t walk around the campfire pit since the back side is on the edge of the drop off. Needless to say, midnight walks after an evening of adult beverages are not recommended.

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Some of the campground sites behind us, and the cottages in the background.

A very unique campground in a very unique location. Spectacular views, no services per se, yet a restaurant that had the feel of any decent restaurant in town. Water is available at a single tap for the whole campground. No electric, no dump station, no other services. They did have showers which was nice, although they are in a building mimicking a 1950’s back country hunting shack. Pretty rough, but the water was warm!

Most class As or Cs are likely to bottom out coming off the road and into most of the campsites, so not recommended. It literally is a campground built on a sloping hill on the cliffs to the ocean. Which makes it unique and precarious, but great nonetheless.

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1500 miles ago, the van was clean and shinny. The rain washed off most of the mud and dirt, but the trip from Massachusetts to the tip of Nova Scotia still shows. The bugs on the front of the van may never come off.

The sunsets and views were so spectacular, we extended our stay for an additional day. Then another. Considered it yet again, but did have other interests we wanted to pursue. Next year, we will book a week and just stay.

Just you, the ocean, and spectacular views. Roughing it done right. A unique place worth the travel time to get there.

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So peaceful. This was a common activity.
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Another great morning sunrise to start the day.
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This never gets old.