Sony RX100 VI pocketsize 8x zoom beats 10x Panasonic ZS100

The best and brightest pocketable 8x-zoom camera is now Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VI / RX100M6 (2018, 11 oz, 24–200mm f/2.8-4.5). But for less than half the price, image quality is nearly as good with Panasonic Lumix DSC-ZS100 (2016, 11 oz, 25-250mm equivalent lens f/2.8-5.9). Read my ZS100 review. Even cheaper is the smartphone-beating ZS70.

At a premium price, Sony RX100M6 buys us the following (versus Panasonic ZS100):

  • Sharper images. While both camera lenses tend to be sharp in the center, RX100M6 is notably sharper towards the edges of every frame, especially at 200mm equivalent. In dim light, ZS100 shots examined at 100% pixel magnification look smudgier and lower in contrast.
  • Superior viewfinder: 2.36 million dots (vs 1.66M), larger magnification 0.59x (vs 0.46x), with better OLED (vs LCD) blows away ZS100’s sketchy EVF. This one-touch viewfinder elegantly beats the inconvenient pop-and-pull action in previous RX100 versions.
  • Tilting TFT LCD display screen: 1.23M dots (vs fixed 1.04M dots).
  • Superior autofocus: Eye AF, new phase detection with 315 focus points (vs 49 points contrast-detection-only).
  • Smaller body, with lighter-weight batteries.

The 11-ounce RX100M6 beats ZS100 as my new multi-night backpacking camera (for when my 37-ounce main camera RX10M4 seems too heavy, totaling 4 pounds including chest-mounted-bag, batteries & accessories).

In its favor, Panasonic ZS100 costs 55% less, captures superior edge-to-edge macro (5 cm close focus magnification best at 45mm equivalent, versus 8 cm on RX100M6), has longer battery life (CIPA-rated 300 shots vs 240 shots), and has stronger flash (8.0 meters vs 5.9 m at Auto ISO). In historical perspective, this 2016 feat of miniaturization allows image quality from the 20-megapixel ZS100 to rival all of my cameras used over 34 years until 2012 (beating my cameras up to 4 times heavier, up to 11x zoom range, up to 12 megapixels, at base ISO 100). Yearly advances have now optimized zoom quality in portable travel cameras having a 1-inch Type sensor size (explained here).

Review of Sony RX100M6 / RX100 VI camera versus Panasonic ZS100.

Sony RX100M6 / RX100 VI is noticeably smaller than Panasonic ZS100, yet captures sharper images with a brighter lens as it zooms to telephoto (f/2.8-4.5 versus f/2.8-5.9). Enlarging RX100M6 at 200mm telephoto can equal the quality of 250mm on ZS100.

Accessories for Sony RX100 VI / RX100M6

Best rivals: cheaper pocketsize travel cameras

If Sony RX100M6 seems too pricey, consider the following cheaper options which beat rivals at their given price points:

  1. Panasonic Lumix DSC-ZS100 (2016, 11 oz, 25-250mm equivalent lens f/2.8-5.9) far exceeds smartphone resolution. Read my ZS100 review.
  2. Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS200 (2018, 12 oz, 24-360mm equivalent lens f/3.3-6.4) outguns all pocketable 1″-sensor rivals with a versatile 15x zoom, but sibling ZS100 is sharper and brighter through 10x.
  3. Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 versions IV, III, II, or I, within its limited 3x zoom, is sharper and brighter than that sub-range of Panasonic’s 10x-zoom ZS100. Save money with used or earlier III, II or I versions — read Tom’s Sony RX100 III review.
  4. Best value pocketable superzoom: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS70 (2017, 11.4 oz, 24–720mm equiv 30x zoom, 20mp, EVF) beats smartphone image quality. Or save on older ZS60.

Eye AF: superb autofocus tracks human eyes

For reliably sharper people photography, action and portraits, be sure to use Eye AF to override your chosen AF area, by holding down the CENTER key. Eye AF works great for sports photography at telephoto. This new AF paradigm beats most other camera brands. To change the default button assignments, I reassigned Eye AF to the C key (garbage can icon), and reassigned CENTER key to AEL toggle (Autoexposure Lock):

  • MENU > Tab 2 > List#9 > Custom Key for still photos > C Button > Eye AF
  • MENU > Tab 2 > List#9 > Custom Key for still photos > Center Button > AEL toggle.

RX100M6 improves focus acquisition speed to 0.3s versus 0.5s on the previous RX100 version 5. Eye AF is twice as fast. It is the first RX100 camera to include Sony’s High-density Tracking AF technology, where more points are concentrated around the subject to improve AF accuracy for moving subjects.

Recommended settings for Sony RX100 VI / RX100M6

  • MENU > Tab 1 > List#1 > File Format > RAW: is for advanced photographers using a raw file editor workflow system, such as Adobe Lightroom CC Classic. In my workflow, I don’t like “RAW+JPEG“, which creates unneeded extra files. “JPEG‘ has insufficient editing leeway for me; but if you choose to keep it as the default, select JPEG Quality = Extra Fine.
  • MENU > Tab 1 > List#4 > Focus Mode > [AF-S or AF-A or AF-C or DMF or MF]  but I usually prefer DMF:
  • MENU > Tab 1 > List#4 > Focus Mode > DMF (Direct Manual Focus): is like AF-S except after shutter button half-presses to lock AF, turning the lens ring then magnifies the subject to confirm what’s in focus. On List#11, set Focus magnif. Time = 2 or 5 Seconds.
  • MENU > Tab 1 > List#6 > Face Prty in Mlti Mtr = ON: measures brightness based on detected faces when [Metering Mode] is set to [Multi].
  • MENU > Tab 1 > List#11 > MF Assist > On: in MF (Manual Focus) mode, turning lens ring magnifies subject to confirm what’s in focus (as in DMF). Set Focus magnif. Time = 2 or 5 Seconds.
  • MENU > Tab 1 > List#11 > Peaking Setting > Peaking Display On [with defaults Mid & White]: flashes edges where focus is sharpest in the frame.
  • MENU > Tab 2 > List#5 > Release w/o Card > Disable: because we don’t want shooting effort wasted; we want to be prompted to put in a recordable memory card if not present.
  • MENU > Tab 2 > List#7 > Zebra Setting > On, Level 100+ for RAW; 70 for JPEG: indicates overexposed areas with zebra stripes.
  • MENU > Tab 2 > List#7 > Grid Line > Rule of 3rds Grid
  • MENU > Tab 2 > List#9 > Function Menu Set:  Lets you set the two rows of quick-access settings assigned to the Fn (Function) button. I like Fn = Drive Mode, Focus Mode, Focus Area, Touch Operation, ISO, Metering Mode, Flash Mode, Flash Comp, White Balance, Peaking Display, Zebra Display, ISO AUTO Min. SS
  • MENU > Tab 2 > List#10 > Audio signals = Off: to quiet the annoying beeps, better for non-intimidating people photos.
  • MENU > Tab 5 > List#5 > Date/Time Setup: always check if camera is set to the local time of day, especially if in your editing process you mix shots from two or more cameras.
  • MENU > Tab 5 > List#5 > Area Setting: if the minutes are set correctly in Date/Time, change the Area Setting each time you shoot in a new time zone, as a quicker way to set the hour.
  • MENU > Tab 5 > List#5 > Format: erases memory card; only format card after several backups have been made.

Sony RX100M6 at 200mm beats Panasonic ZS100 at 250mm & 200mm

The following test shows that a Sony RX100M6 image shot at 200mm equivalent telephoto beats Panasonic ZS100’s quality at 250mm or 200mm. RX100M6’s sharper 200mm shots can simply be digitally enlarged to beat ZS100’s 250mm equivalent zoom.

Telephoto comparison test of two cameras: Sony RX100M6/VI and Panasonic ZS100

Telephoto comparison test of Sony RX100M6/VI at 200mm versus Panasonic ZS100 at 200mm and 250mm.

Compared to a 37-ounce Sony RX10M4 camera, the pocketable 11-ounce Sony RX100M6 has the same sensor and nearly equal image quality up to 200mm equivalent. Or a pocketable Panasonic ZS100 costs half as much as RX100M6 and is nearly as sharp at center (but not at edges). In this duck example, compare 200mm and 250mm from two pocket cameras versus 600mm from RX10M4:

Telephoto comparison test of three cameras: Sony Cyber-shot RX10M4 at 600mm equivalent at f/5.6; Sony RX100M6/VI at 200mm equivalent; Panasonic ZS100 at 250mm

Telephoto comparison test of three cameras: Sony Cyber-shot RX10M4 at 600mm equivalent at f/5.6; Sony RX100M6/VI at 200mm equivalent; Panasonic ZS100 at 250mm.

Panasonic ZS100 captures macro shots superior to RX100M6

Although Sony RX100M6/VI can focus sharply beyond 12-24+ inches from the lens, it captures poor macro quality around the edges of the frame at 3.15-inch (8 cm) closest focus. It enlarges biggest at 50mm equivalent zoom. Closely-focused subjects will be sharp at the center of the frame, but can be very blurred around the edges, which can actually help to isolate the center subject, popping it away from the background. But copy work of small flat subjects such as printed text will have unacceptably fuzzy edges. See magnification test images below.

As a workaround for better macro, try:

  • A good smartphone with 2x tele second back camera, as in Samsung Galaxy S9+ or my Note9 (Amazon).
  • Earlier Sony sibling cameras RX100M5, RX100M4 or RX100M3.
  • Larger Sony RX10M4 or RX10M3 cameras with superior macro at 400-600mm f/5.6 and also fun results at 24-90mm. Read my RX10M4 review.
  • Excellent Panasonic ZS100 macro at 45mm equivalent. Fitting handily into a shirt pocket, Panasonic ZS100 enlarges best at 45mm equivalent. This optimum setting is very sharp and rectilinear from edge-to-edge, although the subject must be very close to the front of the lens, sometimes overshadowed. At 25mm, f/5.9 is sharper than f/3.5, but edges are still much too soft. For optimal close focus, zoom to 45mm equivalent and don’t forget to press the Flower Button (Macro, Left Arrow).
Macro magnification test of 5 cameras: Sony RX10M4, Panasonic ZS100, Samsung Galaxy Note9 smartphone, Sony A6300 + SEL1670Z lens, Sony RX100M6

100% pixel magnification test from five cameras: Sony RX10M4 is best at 600mm equivalent at f/5.6; Panasonic ZS100 best at 45mm; Samsung Galaxy Note9 smartphone best at 2x tele 52mm. Significantly poorer quality comes from the macro for SEL1670Z lens on Sony A6300 at its best 105mm enlargement. Inferior quality is captured by Sony RX100M6/VI at its best macro enlargement at 50mm equivalent.

50mm lens test in dim indoor light

Below, five cameras tested with 50mm equivalent lenses in dim indoor light are compared at 100% pixel magnification. All were shot in raw format and optimized similarly in Lightroom.

Five cameras tested with 50mm equivalent lens and compared at 100% pixel magnification: SEL1670Z lens on Sony A6300; Sony RX10M4; Sony RX100M6/VI; Panasonic ZS100.

Five cameras tested with 50mm equivalent lens and compared at 100% pixel magnification: SEL1670Z lens on Sony A6300; Sony RX10M4; Sony RX100M6/VI; Panasonic ZS100.

Results: Best image quality at 50mm equivalent in dim light is captured in the following order:

  1. The 4x zoom SEL1670Z lens on Sony A6300 does best.
  2. The 25x zoom Sony RX10M4 looks almost as good.
  3. The 8x zoom Sony RX100M6/VI has only slightly more noise than RX10M4, which could be fixed by shooting at ISO 800 instead of 2000. Impressive results from a camera weighing one third as much!
  4. The 10x zoom Panasonic ZS100, cheapest of the four, places last. Despite its noisier, lower-contrast results, ZS100 still captures decent quality, for less than half the price of any of the other three cameras.

Evocative images can be created with any camera. For travel, I recommend any of these good-quality zooms having at least 8x range for greater compositional flexibility.

Review: Sony RX10 IV / RX10M4 upgrades the ultimate travel camera

In 2018, Sony RX10 version IV (RX10M4) reigns as the world’s best midsize travel camera, with bright 25x zoom f/2.4-4 lens, remarkably sharp from edge-to-edge from 24-600mm equivalent. This all-in-one marvel is also my top pick for portable wildlife telephoto. Unprecedented versatility with publishable image quality have made Sony RX10M4 & RX10M3 my main travel cameras since 2016.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 version IV (Amazon) happily upgrades my version III camera with improved autofocus, menu reorganization, and touchscreen autofocus. This article reviews the RX10M4, reveals hidden settings, suggests accessories and compares with rivals. See our recent trips to southwest USA and Canada shot on RX10M4.

Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV (RX10M4) with 24-600mm equivalent f/2.4-4 stabilized zoom lens.

Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV / RX10M4 with 24-600mm equivalent f/2.4-4 stabilized zoom lens. 20MP 1″-type stacked CMOS sensor. Phase detection 315-point autofocus. Touchscreen AF.

Detailed Review of Sony RX10M4

Telephoto quality

Let’s talk tele first — the main reason to have this substantial 37-ounce camera. The duck and flamingo examples below show how wonderfully sharp is RX10M4’s 600mm telephoto for wildlife, hand-held with SteadyShot ON. If a 37-ounce RX10M4 seems too big, consider the pocketable 11-ounce Sony RX100M6 which has the same sensor and nearly equal image quality up to 200mm equivalent. Or a pocketable Panasonic ZS100 costs half as much as RX100M6, is nearly as sharp, and reaches to 250mm. In this duck example, compare 200mm and 250mm from two pocket cameras versus 600mm from RX10M4 to see how much detail is sacrificed:

Telephoto comparison test of three cameras: Sony Cyber-shot RX10M4 at 600mm equivalent at f/5.6; Sony RX100M6/VI at 200mm equivalent; Panasonic ZS100 at 250mm

Telephoto comparison test of three cameras: Sony Cyber-shot RX10M4 at 600mm equivalent at f/5.6; Sony RX100M6/VI at 200mm equivalent; Panasonic ZS100 at 250mm

Three extracts from this Chilean Flamingo image show the crisp 600mm-equivalent telephoto reach of Sony RX10M3 (same lens as RX10M4):

Chilean Flamingo, Woodland Park Zoo

Even at maximum telephoto 220mm (600mm equivalent), extracts from edges and center are crisp (enlarged at 100% pixel view in the above photo, shot at optimal aperture f/5.6, for 1/1600th second to freeze movement, at ISO 100 to minimize noise). Sony RX10 III is sharp across the frame at all zoom settings: optimally crisp at f/4 from 24-400mm equivalent and at f/5.6 from 500-600mm).  Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, Washington. (In Adobe Lightroom, raw file exposure was adjusted +1.86 EV, Highlights -84, plus Sharpening.)

Telephoto tips for RX10M4
  • For sharper hand-held shots at 600mm maximum telephoto, use 1/100th second shutter speed or faster, with Image Stabilization ON.
  • Zoom Assist: The big button on the base of the lens is Focus Hold by default. In order to more easily locate birds or small subjects at 500-600mm telephoto, to see outside of that narrow angle of view, reassign the Focus Hold button (or another button) to Zoom Assist as follows: press MENU > Camera Settings Tab 2 > List #9 > Custom Key(Shoot.) > page 2 > Focus Hold Button > [Zoom Assist]. While held down, Zoom Assist quickly widens the angle of view to allow re-centering upon a bird, so you can pan to follow the bird’s motion, then release Zoom Assist to restore your original narrow angle of view.
  • You can increase zoom racking speed from 24 to 600mm in just 2 seconds, by setting Zoom Speed = “Fast in MENU > Settings Tab 2 > List #6. I mostly use the default 4-second “Normal” for finer framing control, except where fleeting wildlife or sports require Fast. The Zoom Speeds of Fast and Normal apply to still shots; but Movie recording mode thankfully automatically invokes a slower, virtually silent zoom to avoid jarring video viewers. RX10’s power zoom being locked on track at all settings avoids the annoying zoom creep (slippage when pointed up or down) behavior of most 11x-19x manual (non-power) zooms made by Sony, Nikon, Tamron and others for APS-C cameras. The short 2 or 4 seconds to rack through RX10M4’s incredible 25x zoom beats the longer inconvenience of changing lenses on interchangeable lens systems such as APS-C or full frame, which I formerly used 1978-2015.

Close-focus enlargement / macro

is another compelling reason to own the Sony RX10M4. Examine how the flower looks at 24mm and lizard at 600mm equivalent:

Desert rock nettle flower, Death Valley National Park, California.

At 24mm equivalent, Sony RX10M4 can focus very closely to the lens, sharpest near the center. The flower’s stamens are captured crisply, as shown enlarged in the inset at 100% pixel magnification. A desert rock nettle (Eucnide urens / desert stingbush) shrub blooms with creamy yellow flowers in Fall Canyon, a wilderness area in Death Valley National Park, California. (Shot at f/5.6, 1/500th second, ISO 100.)

Zebra-tailed lizard / Callisaurus draconoides. Fall Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California, USA.

This small reptile was photographed several feet away by my Sony Cyber-shot RX10M4 camera at 600mm equivalent cropped by 2x, shot at f/5.6, 1/1000th second, ISO 100. The inset lizard head shows impressively sharp details at 100% pixel magnification. Zebra-tailed lizard / Callisaurus draconoides. Fall Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California.

Below, I test the close focus (macro) capability of five top travel cameras, to report their biggest magnification of a letter “e” printed on paper:

Macro magnification test of 5 cameras: Sony RX10M4, Panasonic ZS100, Samsung Galaxy Note9 smartphone, Sony A6300 + SEL1670Z lens, Sony RX100M6

100% pixel magnification test from five top travel cameras.

Three top travel cameras with excellent macro
  1. Best of the bunch, Sony RX10M4 / RX10M3 captures superb insect and flower macro at 600mm equivalent at f/5.6, with sharp rectilinear results, zero distortion, and tightest magnification of subjects down to 2.7 inches wide. At 600mm, RX10M4’s 28-inch closest working distance from the front of the lens avoids shadowing the focused subject and helpfully leaves undisturbed such flighty subjects as butterflies or lizards.
    • RX10M4 can capture excellent macro at 400-600mm f/5.6, though subject magnification declines to 3.2″ wide at 550mm, 3.8″ wide at 450mm, and 4.2″ wide at 400mm.
    • RX10M4’s macro can be fun and useful at 24mm, sharp in center but may be heavily shadowed at closest focus 1.2″ from the front of the lens, heavily warped with barrel distortion, and fuzzy at edges. Despite technical lens imperfections at 24mm, my intimate close focus shot of the desert rock nettle photo above looks fine, no problem. Emotional impact is more important than perfection.
    • Much more rectilinear than 24mm is 65-90mm macro of subjects as tight as 3 to 4+ inches wide, at f/4 — sharp at center but with soft edges and some barrel distortion. But Panasonic ZS100 at 45mm equivalent enlarges much more sharply and rectilinearly than RX10M4 at 70mm or 24mm.
    • Surprise: at middle focal lengths 110-380mm equivalent, minimum working distance from the front of RX10M4’s lens jumps — to 55″ at 250mm, which drastically widens the tightest magnification of subjects to 10+ inches wide.
  2. Fitting handily into a shirt pocket, Panasonic ZS100 enlarges best at 45mm equivalent. This optimum setting is very sharp and rectilinear from edge-to-edge, although the subject must be very close to the front of the lens, sometimes overshadowed. At 25mm, f/5.9 is sharper than f/3.5, but edges are still much too soft. For optimal close focus, zoom to 45mm equivalent and don’t forget to press the Flower Button (Macro, Left Arrow).
  3.  Samsung Galaxy Note9 smartphone enlarges surprisingly well at “2x tele” f/2.4 with deep depth of focus, using a second dedicated back camera with 52mm equivalent lens. Or use S9+ tele.
Two cameras with poor macro
  1. Significantly worse quality comes at close focus using a pricey SEL1670Z lens on Sony A6300, even at its best 105mm enlargement at f/5.6. As with most APS-C camera lenses, it focuses better on subjects from 2+ feet to infinity. Due to the physics of their larger sensors, APS-C cameras require specialty lenses for decent macro. But that macro lens money would be better spent on a good Panasonic ZS100 pocket camera, or paid towards the superb Sony RX10M4.
  2. Although it can focus quite sharply at subject distances further than 12 inches from the lens (sharper than ZS100), Sony RX100M6/VI captures very poor quality at macro, such as its tightest enlargement at 50mm equivalent zoom. As a workaround to achieve superior macro, try earlier Sony sibling cameras RX100M5, RX100M4 or RX100M3; or Panasonic ZS100 at 45mm close focus; or Sony RX10M4 or RX10M3; or a good smartphone with 2x tele second back camera, as in Samsung Galaxy Note9.

Editing raw profoundly beats JPEG

High Dynamic Range (HDR) is baked into Sony’s every raw-format image file, with plenty of leeway to brighten shadows in the following Grand Canyon image shot at wide angle:

Sunset seen through gnarly pine trees at Mather Point Overlook, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Starting at least 5 to 17 million years ago, erosion by the Colorado River has exposed a column of distinctive rock layers, which date back nearly two billion years at the base of Grand Canyon. While the Colorado Plateau was uplifted by tectonic forces, the Colorado River and tributaries carved Grand Canyon over a mile deep (6000 feet), 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sony RX10M4 is my do-everything camera, capturing this dynamic sunset view from Mather Point in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Shot in raw format with 24mm equivalent lens at f/4, 1/160th sec, ISO 100 and optimized in Adobe Lightroom. © Tom Dempsey

I strongly prefer shooting raw format, because JPEG format severely limits tonal editing. The foreground branches in the above image would have been irrecoverably dull if shot JPEG-only. Raw images can be best rendered back to my original perception using Adobe Lightroom CC Classic software on a PC.

Tip: To optimize signal-to-noise ratio at shooting time, I shoot near base ISO 100 or 200 and expose highlights of the Histogram curve to the far right (to the bright side), while avoiding truncation or Highlight Warning (or Zebra). If underexposure occurs unintentionally, thankfully  RX10M4’s base ISO (100 or 200) raw images can be brightened in Lightroom to have almost the same amount of noise as if shot at higher ISO 1600. This advantage is called ISO invariance, found in raw files of RX10M4, RX10M3, RX100M6 and RX100M5.

HDR (High Dynamic Range) software can now combine multiple RAW shots, for Night Photos

HDR techniques combine multiple shots to increase detail, improve dynamic range, and lower noise levels, as done in the latest top smartphones (to compensate for their tiny cameras).

New in 2018, we can now combine multiple RAW files with the free Kandao Raw+ tool, as described in dpreview.com. This is a great leap forward for night photography! No tripod is necessary. Simply stand in one place and capture a fast burst of 8 to 16 overlapped raw frames. Expose the Histogram curve to the right as usual. Don’t worry about exposure bracketing or subjects in motion. As a master reference, pick one frame, then import up to 16 overlapped frames into the program to create a single DNG file, which can be further edited in Lightroom. The software magically recreates the scene with improved dynamic range like your eyes see. The technique can theoretically recovery brightness detail of up to four Exposure Values greater than would be contained in a single raw file.

TIP: Bright Monitoring is a welcome new feature for night photographers, when subjects are otherwise too dark to see in the viewfinder/monitor. In PASM modes only, a Bright Monitoring toggle brightens the viewfinder/monitor to better see the composition, without affecting exposure compensation. I assigned it to Custom Button 2 (C2 on top of the camera):

  • MENU > Tab 2 > List #9 > Custom Key(Shoot.) > Custom Button 2 > [Bright Monitoring]
  • It only works with Manual Focus (MF on focus mode dial), and not with MF Assist or Focus Magnifier. It may slow shutter speed response.
  • Bright Monitoring continues after shooting, until you toggle its button or turn off the camera.

JPEG-only option: multi-shot HDR (High Dynamic Range)

Instead of shooting raw, most people like to shoot the default JPEG file format, which conveniently requires no editing step. Out-of-camera JPEGs are looking better than ever, especially from top smartphones, which have greater processing power than larger cameras. But JPEGs can still benefit from artistic editing to appear more like your eyes see. To brighten shadows with less noise, try shooting HDR:

If you shoot JPEG-only (Quality Extra fine, Fine or Standard), for high-contrast subjects, try the High Dynamic Range (HDR) “Exposure Diff. Auto” feature, where the camera makes three exposures which are merged in-camera into a single JPEG file:

  • MENU > Tab 1 > List #10 >DRO/Auto HDR > [Auto HDR: Exposure Diff. Auto]  or else [1.0EV – 6.0EV] lets you pick HDR strength as a fixed Exposure Value difference.
  • Choosing Auto is more practical than picking a fixed EV difference 1.0EV – 6.0EV.
  • Use only when the subject is motionless and lighting is constant.
  • It just works for picture Quality=JPEG-only. (“HDR AUTO” menu is grayed-out and unavailable if Quality=”RAW+JPG” or “RAW”).

Shooting JPEG automatically uses DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer)

If you shoot JPEG files, Sony thankfully invokes automatic Dynamic Range Optimization (DRO) by default. This brightens shadow details while preserving highlights, somewhat like your eyes see. More details:

  • MENU > Tab 1 > List #10 >DRO/Auto HDR > [D-Range Optimizer Auto] is a great default, or else manually pick [Lev1 to strongest Lev5].
  • These DRO settings create tags which affect raw file appearance in Sony raw conversion software, but are ignored in Adobe Lightroom (which is fine, as I prefer my own raw shadow-editing choices).
  • D-Range Optimizer Auto works if picture Quality is set to RAW+JPEG or JPEG-only (Extra fine, Fine or Standard).
  • If shadows still appear overly dark, try editing the JPEG, shooting HDR (several shots combined), or editing raw.

Dim light photography using SteadyShot and Hand-held Twilight mode

Impressively, Sony claims SteadyShot image stabilization of up to 4.5 stops of benefit for slower shutter speed hand-held, especially at telephoto angles of view. Sony SteadyShot sharpens my hand-held shots so well that I rarely use a tripod anymore. Unleashing your camera from a tripod releases inner creativity.

For dim light, Hand-held Twilight mode works great in caves, indoors, or night scenes. Introduced in 2010 Cyber-shot cameras, this innovative JPEG-only Scene/SCN mode combines a burst of shots to reduce subject blur, camera-shake, and noise. Hand-held Twilight mode has served well in my Sony NEX-7, RX100M3, RX10M3, and current RX100M6 and RX10M4 cameras.

Also melding a burst of shots, Anti Motion Blur uses a higher shutter speed (via noisier higher ISO) to help freeze subject motion indoors. Set with: MODE DIAL > SCN > Control Dial (adjacent to MOVIE button) > [Anti Motion Blur] or [Hand-held Twilight mode]

In Munot Castle's lower chamber, explore a spectacular, cool vaulted casemate built in the Renaissance, in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, Europe. The Munot, Schaffhausen's iconic circular fortress, was built by forced labor in 1564-1589 after the religious wars of the Reformation. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Shot with Sony’s Hand-held Twilight mode (combining several shots of 1/8th second, f/2.4, ISO 1000, 24mm equivalent, combined into one JPEG file, on Sony RX10M3). In Munot Castle’s lower chamber, explore a cool vaulted casemate built in the Renaissance, in Schaffhausen, Switzerland. This iconic circular fortress was built by forced labor in 1564-1589 after the religious wars of the Reformation. (© Tom Dempsey)

50mm lens test in dim indoor light

Below, five cameras tested with 50mm equivalent lenses in dim indoor light are compared at 100% pixel magnification. All were shot in raw format and optimized similarly in Lightroom.

Five cameras tested with 50mm equivalent lens and compared at 100% pixel magnification: SEL1670Z lens on Sony A6300; Sony RX10M4; Sony RX100M6/VI; Panasonic ZS100.

Five cameras tested with 50mm equivalent lens and compared at 100% pixel magnification: SEL1670Z lens on Sony A6300; Sony RX10M4; Sony RX100M6/VI; Panasonic ZS100.

Results: Best image quality at 50mm equivalent in dim light is captured in the following order:

  1. The 4x zoom SEL1670Z lens on Sony A6300 does best.
  2. The 25x zoom Sony RX10M4 looks almost as good.
  3. The 8x zoom Sony RX100M6/VI has only slightly more noise than RX10M4, which could be fixed by shooting at ISO 800 instead of 2000.
  4. The 10x zoom Panasonic ZS100, cheapest of the four, places last. Despite its noisier, lower-contrast results, ZS100 still captures decent quality, for less than half the price of the other three cameras.

Evocative images can be created with any camera. For travel, I recommend any of these good-quality zooms having at least 8x range for greater compositional flexibility.

Recommended accessories for Sony RX10 IV or III

Focus and exposure tips for RX10M4 / RX10 IV

  • Sony’s RX10M4 online Help Guide helps explain every feature.
  • I prefer half-pressing the shutter button to lock the exposure, except when the AEL button toggle locks exposure first, in which case the shutter button is freed to half-press-lock just the autofocus:
    • MENU > Camera Settings Tab 1 > List #8 > AEL w/ shutter > [On]
  • Set the AEL button (Auto Exposure Lock) to behave as AEL Toggle. Otherwise locking the exposure will require our thumb to be awkwardly stuck holding down the AEL button until the shutter button is fully pressed. An asterisk * on the LCD or EVF indicates when AE is locked.
    • MENU > Tab 2 > List #9 > Custom Key(Shoot.) > page 2 > AEL Button > [AEL toggle]
  • For static landscapes, I prefer Focus Mode dial = DMF or S. My typical shooting habit is:
    1. First press AEL button as Toggle to grab a test exposure of the subject’s midtone, or on an edge halfway between dark and bright.
    2. Then half press and hold to lock focus on a high-contrast edge grabbed from the subject.
    3. Keep holding the half press and recompose to your desired framing. Then fully click the shutter release to capture the image.
    4. Correct the exposure with AEL on a brighter or darker area on subsequent shots as needed. Delete unneeded extras in the field.
  • For subjects in motion, you can dial the Focus Mode (online guide) to A (Automatic AF, new in RX10M4) or C (Continuous AF).
    • Setting A invokes Single or Continuous according to the movement of the subject: when the shutter button is pressed halfway down, focus locks if the subject is motionless, or continues to focus if the subject is moving.
    • If Drive Mode is set to Continuous Shooting, then Continuous AF is used from the second shot onward.
    • The constant hunting of C (Continuous Auto Focus) can be problematic on any camera, so I almost always use DMF or S.
  • Know that the default Focus Area = Wide, using automatic AF points over the maximum area.
  • For landscapes and non-action subjects, I prefer the reliable accuracy of Focus Area =Expand Flexible Spot. If focus is locked onto a moving subject, take the shot as soon as possible, or half press again to refocus (or use Focus Mode C or A).
  • Sony names their touchscreen usage as “Touch Panel” on LCD and “Touch Pad” when using viewfinder.
    • You can override the default Focus Area = Wide with a specific AF point pressed with your right thumb on the “Touch Pad” (when eye is to viewfinder) or “Touch Panel“. To cancel a touched AF point, press the CENTER button, to return to automatic Wide. Only when you half press and hold down the shutter button will focus be attempted and locked. I suggest these touch settings:
    • MENU > Tab 5 > List#2 > Touch Operation > [Touch Panel+Pad].
    • Or if inadvertent touches get annoying, disable it with [Off] or restrict to [Touch Panel Only] or [Touch Pad Only].
    • MENU > Tab 5 > List#3 > Touch Pad Settings > [Operation in V Orientation=ON, Touch Pos. Mode=Relative Position, Operation Area = Right 1/2]
  • In Playback mode, to examine picture sharpness (magnified by 5.3 times), flip the zoom tele lever once, then back out slowly with wide zoom lever, or fully back with CENTER button. Or double tap on Touch Panel to zoom in or out.

Secret settings for Sony RX10M4 / RX10 IV

  • Yay, the MENUs are reorganized in RX10 IV, still deep but easier to use than version III.
  • Sharpest apertures: Through most of its 25x zoom range, RX10 III is sharpest when shot at f/4 aperture; but f/5.6 is sharpest at 500-600mm equivalent. These optimal f-stops give you the best balance between diffraction (through smallest apertures) versus chromatic aberrations (possible in all cameras at brightest openings; luckily hardly noticeable in RX10 III and IV due to automatic in-camera corrections before writing JPEG and raw files to the memory card).

Sun starburst (at f/16 using Sony RX10 III camera) shines on lichen growing on twisted old tree wood at Glacier Pass. Backback to Mirror Lake in Eagle Cap Wilderness, Wallowa–Whitman National Forest, Wallowa Mountains, Columbia Plateau, northeastern Oregon, USA. Hike 7.3 miles from Two Pan Trailhead (5600 ft) up East Lostine River to camp at popular Mirror Lake (7606 ft). Day hike to Glacier Lake via Glacier Pass (6 miles round trip, 1200 ft gain). Backpack out 8.7 miles via Carper Pass, Minam Lake and West Fork Lostine. From September 11-13, 2016 Carol and I walked 22 miles in 3 days. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sony RX10M4 & M3 can create a special soft-focus starburst effect at aperture f/16. Photo: Eagle Cap Wilderness (read Tom’s article), Oregon.

  • Starburst: Stopping down to f/16 aperture, RX10III creates a wonderful starburst effect emanating from intense pinpoints of light such as the sun or light bulbs. But as on most cameras, f/16 SERIOUSLY SOFTENS FOCUS (seen at 100% pixel view). Diffraction through the tiny f/16 hole cuts resolution in half compared to f/5.6 or brighter apertures. At all apertures brighter than f/16, down to f/2.4-4, rounded blades smooth the opening for more attractive bokeh (the appearance of the out-of-focus areas), and the starburst is NOT created. Using Adobe Lightroom CC, I like to stitch multi-image panoramas where the sun shot(s) have an f/16 starburst, and the remaining shots use sharper f/4 to f/5.6 settings. Alternative: For sharper starburst images at f/4 to f/5.6, you may want to use a starburst filter (screw-on or hand-held square glass) instead of suffering the detrimental effects of f/16, unless your artistic intent is soft-focus.
  • Fill flash synchronization down to 1/2000th of a second works exceptionally well for back-lit portraits in harsh sunshine. Most other cameras only synchronize as fast as 1/200th second.
  • Assign the following to the Fn button for quick access: ISO Auto Min SS = minimum shutter speed at a given ISO = STD (standard), SLOW, SLOWER, FAST, FASTER. I like the SLOW setting to hand-hold shots which can blur moving water in relatively dim light.
  • Turn on Face Detection and assign Eye AF to a button, for instant focus on human faces and eyes throughout the zoom range, great for portraitsaction & sports.
    • MENU > Tab 1 > List #14 > Smile/Face Detec. = [ON]
    • MENU > Tab 2 > List #9 > Custom Key(Shoot.) > Custom Button 3 (Trash Can icon) > [Eye AF].
    • Hold down the assigned Eye AF button, and a detection frame displays over the eyes when they’re focused. If the focus mode is set to Single-shot AF, the frame will disappear after a second. Continue holding down the Eye AF button while fully pressing the shutter release button. Not supported for focus mode = Manual.
  • Turn OFF the Pre-AF option, for more reliable half-press focus-locking and quicker autofocus in the telephoto range, especially 400-600mm equivalent.
  • Instead of hunting through menus, put favorite settings on the Fn button as follows: MENU > Tab 2 > List #9 > [Function Menu Set].
    • I inserted: Drive Mode, Flash Mode, Flash Compensation, Focus Area, ISO, Metering Mode, Smile/Face Detection, SteadyShot for video, HFR Frame Rate, Peaking Level, ISO AUTO minimum Shutter Speed, Zebra.
    • In shooting mode, set PEAK = MID (handily indicates area of sharpest focus).
    • Set Zebra = 100+ for raw files (highlight overexposure alert). [For shooting JPEG files, for Caucasian skin tones, consider Zebra =70.]
  • Use the quick Memory Recall (MR on mode dial, initially set within a confusing menu) to quickly set a whole palette of settings.
  • Affix painters’ tape to the following set-and-forget switches or dials, per personal preference. Otherwise, if you frequently take the camera in and out of a carrying bag (such as my Lowe chest-mounted for hiking), dials frequently get bumped to unexpected settings, causing confusion. Painters’ tape removes cleanly with no residue and protects the camera’s finish.
    • Exposure Compensation dial taped at zero. I prefer AEL Toggle button, which handily resets when camera is turned off; whereas the Compensation dial stays set, easily forgotten yet biasing every future exposure.
    • Viewfinder diopter-adjustment dial taped for your vision.
    • Focus Mode dial taped at DMF setting lets the front lens ring make fine manual focus adjustments with a magnified view after locking AF with half press of shutter release button (crucial for macro and telephoto).
      • DMF is like S (Single-shot AF) plus magnification.
      • If half-press AF lock is difficult to achieve (such as for a low-contrast telephoto subject), painters’ tape can be lifted and Focus Mode dial reset to MF (Manual Focus).
      • For subjects in motion, use C (Continuous AF).
      • Or more handily, A (Automatic AF, new in RX10M4) invokes S or C according to the movement of the subject: when the shutter button is pressed halfway down, focus locks if the subject is motionless, or Continues to focus if the subject is in motion.
      • If Drive Mode = Continuous Shooting, then Continuous AF is used from the second shot onward.
    • Focus Range Limiter switch taped at “FULL” allows shooting macro close focus at telephoto. (The other setting “∞-3m” is for reducing “focus hunting” time if shooting action subjects further than 3 meters away when zoomed between 150-600mm.)
    • The much-used and inadvertently-bump-able MODE DIAL should not be taped. Instead, turning ON the Mode Dial Guide helpfully reminds me of the current setting (AUTO, PASM, MR, MOVIE, HFR, PANORAMA or SCN).
      • MENU > Settings Tab 5 > List #2 / Setup2 > [Mode Dial Guide=ON].
  • Know that every time you half-press the shutter button, a harmless “FULL” message in a white box briefly displays on LCD or viewfinder, to indicate Focus Range Limiter status (or if set at “∞-3m”, then“LIMIT” displays if zoomed between 150-600mm, or “FULL” displays between 24-149mm equivalent).

Video tips for Sony RX10M4 / RX10 IV:

  • The MOVIE button marked with a red dot can record with the current video settings no matter where the Mode Dial is set.
  • Some video Settings can only be changed when the top Mode Dial is set to Movie mode (icon shaped like a film frame with spindle perforations).
  • Some videos can be less distracting with a constant manual exposure as you pan across subjects of varying brightness. You can set the following secret P, A, S and M exposure modes, when Top Mode Dial = Movie mode:
    • use MENU > Tab 2 > List #1 > “Exposure Mode” > press Center button, then scroll through PASM video options. To find it quicker, add movie “Exposure Mode” to My Menu1 (the sixth menu tab, marked with * asterisk symbol).
    • To get a constant exposure during a video, use video M (Manual) mode: set ISO 100 (or as desired to a constant ISO number, but not AUTO ISO), set Aperture with ring on lens, and set Shutter Speed with either of the back two dials.
    • To control subject-motion blur, set slow S (Shutter Speed) for more blur (as slow as the inverse of the frame rate in frames per second, fps).
    • A Shutter Speed about twice as fast as the frame rate makes video look “normal”.
    • Set a faster Shutter Speed (more than twice the frame rate) for a choppier, more jittery video, like in the film “Gladiator”.
  • Play with the amazing High Frame Rate (HFR) video mode, shot in XAVC S 1080p HD format. For example, slow down action by 8 times at 480p (shooting frame rate) at 60p50M (frame rate of movie playback). I like setting Shoot Time Priority; and REC Timing=End Trigger, which records the 4 seconds BEFORE you pressed the Record Button! Limitations: only 4 seconds of real time are recorded (with 10-20 second delay writing to card); minimum ISO is 800; you must lock focus and exposure before recording; and HFR requires fast SD Memory Card Speed Class 10 or UHS Speed Class 1. (Previous RX10M3 records only 2 seconds of real time.)
  • Assign a dedicated button to Focus Magnifier for use in Videos (else none is available). Tips: Focus is faster at brightest apertures (lowest f-number).
  • For high contrast scenes, to better preserve details in shadows and highlights simultaneously, as for later tonal editing of wildlife videos, set Picture Profile (in MENU > Tab 1 > List #10).
    • PP3 standard for HD television, not intended for tonal editing. Its natural color tone uses the [ITU709] gamma.
    • PP5 for Cine1 gamma for later tonal editing, or
    • PP6 for Cine2 gamma to preserve even more highlights for later tonal editing, or
    • PP7 for S-Log2 gamma (which requires even more editing than PP6 to compensate for the flat, dull appearance).
    • PP8 for S-Log3 gamma and the S-Gamut3.Cine under Color Mode. New in RX10M4.
    • PP9 for S-Log3 gamma and the S-Gamut3 under Color Mode. New in RX10M4.
    • Warning: the above Picture Profile that you set for video is remembered when the camera is turned off, and will also affect both JPEG and raw still images (but any custom settings for black level, black gamma, knee and color depth won’t affect raw).
    • Picture Profile, Gamma Display Assistant, Peaking Level, and other items buried in the menus can be assigned to “Custom Key (Shoot.)” and/or to the quick Fn button (using MENU > Tab 2 > item 9 > “Function Menu Set“).
  • Tip: only buy a Sony camera in a country having your native NTSC or PAL video format, or else every time you turn on the camera, you’ll forever be dismissing an annoying video notification message: Running on NTSC (on my PAL-native RX10M3 camera bought in the UK when set to nonnative NTSC).
  • RX10M4 lacks an electronic ND filter (Neutral Density), which is especially important for video in bright light, at bright apertures for shallower depth of field. Workaround: simply attach a glass ND filter to the 72mm threads on the front of the lens when needed, the old-fashioned way. Or try Panasonic FZ2500 with built-in ND filter.

RX10M4 negatives:

  • Touch Panel/Pad doesn’t support menus, Playback, or Text.
  • Cannot zoom while shooting a burst of frames in Drive Mode=Continuous.
  • In M/Manual mode, you must turn off Auto ISO every time, set ISO manually, then set back to Auto ISO when switching back to P, A or S mode. I prefer Manual mode to always default to manual ISO. It forces Manual mode’s ISO to that of the other PAS settings, and vice versa.
  • Avoid rain splatters: Despite Sony’s claim of “dust and moisture-resistant” body, DON’T EXPOSE YOUR RX10M4 or RX10M3 CAMERA TO RAIN (even if immediately wiped off), as wind-driven droplets killed my RX10 III. Yes, its weather sealing successfully kept dust and condensation out of the lens throughout my 16 months of use. But then one fateful rainstorm disabled the camera by shorting-out the focus and LCD, sadly outside of its 1-year Sony Warranty. Still, the lens interior remained pristinely clean and moisture-free. But rather than risking an estimated $656 repair, whose 90-day guarantee is voided by “liquid damage”, I recycled the camera. Buying a new RX10 III allowed completion of my UK photo shoot. Back in the USA, I sold the UK camera and I upgraded to a US-model RX10 IV.

World’s top travel cameras ranked by Tom

RX10M4 is first in my ranking of top travel cameras (shown with Amazon pricing snapshot from September 14, 2018):

  1. $1700, 37 oz: $1700, 37 oz: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV / RX10M4 camera (Nov 2017, 25x zoom 24-600mm equivalent f/2.4-4) is the best of the bunch. This all-in-one tool overpowers all rival superzoom cameras with 1″-Type sensors. The 20-megapixel RX10M4 and previous RX10M3 both beat 10x to 19x lenses on rival 24-megapixel APS-C DSLR cameras. I no longer need to carry a pocket camera for improving close-focus shots, as RX10 already has a 1”-Type sensor. With deeper depth of field than APS-C or larger-sensor cameras for a given f-stop, it enhances details from close flower shots to distant bird feathers at 600mm equivalent telephoto. Both versions IV and III weigh 37 ounces (including battery & card), plus adding 5 oz for strap, lens filter, cap & hood makes 42 oz.
    • $1400, 37 oz: Sony RX10 III (May 2016, 37 oz, 25x zoom 24-600mm f/2.4-4, no touchscreen): autofocus of version III significantly lags compared to IV, especially at 400-600mm .
  2. $1000, 33 ozPanasonic FZ2500 (December 2016, 33 oz, 20x zoom 24-480mm equivalent f/2.8–4.5): costs 25% less, adds a fully articulated LCD with touchscreen, increases viewfinder magnification (EVF 0.74x versus 0.7x), autofocuses faster, has better menus and improves video specs (ND filter, Cine/UHD 4K), in comparison to Sony RX10 III. But FZ2500’s lens collects a half stop less light, slightly lowering image quality; its telephoto doesn’t reach long enough for birders; and its CIPA battery life of 350 shots is shorter than RX10III’s 420 shots. (FZ2500 is FZ2000 in some markets.)
  3. $1200, 11 oz: PocketableSony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VI (2018, 11 oz, 8x zoom 24–200mm equivalent f/2.8-4.5, RX100M6): rivals the image quality of RX10M4 through 200mm equivalent, and at 30% of the weight. Avoid dropping its slippery body by adding Sony AG-R2 attachment grip. Fit into Tamrac Digital 1 Photo Bag with extra Wasabi Power NPBX1 batteries. Avoid LCD scratches with QIBOX Premium GLASS Protector to preserve resale. Exceptionally high quality from a miniature body ranks it above the following three-times-heavier DSLR:
  4. $600, 29 ozPanasonic FZ1000 (2014, 29 oz, 16x zoom 25-400mm f/2.8-4.0): best price-value for a midsize camera. Adds fully-articulated LCD, and autofocus for action & sports is a bit faster than RX10 III.
  5. $550, 11 ozPocketablePanasonic ZS100 (price at Amazon) (2016, 11 oz, 10x zoom 25-250mm equivalent f/2.8-5.9): Read my ZS100 review. ZS100 introduced the first pocketable 10x zoom on a 1-inch-Type sensor, capturing close macro at more zoom settings and enormously extending optical telephoto reach beyond my 3x-zoom Sony RX100 (read my 2012-15 review). Anywhere from 3x-10x on Panasonic ZS100 beats digital cropping of rival Sony RX100 (which stops at 70mm equivalent in versions III and IV).
  6. $1130, 32 oz with 19x zoom: Good value DSLR with optical viewfinder (if you like that kind of thing) using a legacy mirror box:
    • Nikon D3500 (2018, 13 oz body, ~$500, 24mp APS-C sensor/DX format, CIPA battery life 1550 shots) with travel lens:
    • Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD MACRO lens (2014, 19 oz, ~$630, 19x zoom 24-450mm equivalent, 3 x 3.9″) equals Nikon’s kit-lens quality (but Sony RX10 IV and III are sharper, especially at ≥90mm equivalent).
    • Upgrade: Nikon D5600 (2016, 16.4 oz body, 24mp) adds fully articulated (flip out) LCD touchscreen.
  7. $400, 11.4 oz: Pocketable and inexpensive: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS70 (2017, 11.4 oz, 30x zoom 24–720mm equivalent f/3.3–6.4, 20mp, EVF).
    • or ~$260 for older ZS60. These nice little cameras have a rare viewfinder and small 1/2.3″ sensor that still beats smartphone quality.

See my latest camera ratings on PhotoSeek BUY CAMERAS page.

Sony RX10M4 and RX10M3 beat the following midsize rivals for versatile lightweight travel:

  • APS-C flagship Sony A6500 (2016, 16 oz body, $1200) or earlier Sony Alpha A6300 (2016, 14 oz body, $900), plus mounting a SEL18200 11x zoom lens (27-300mm equivalent f/3.5-6.3, 19 oz, $900), totals 35 oz or 33 oz respectively.
    • A6500/A6300’s interchangeable-lens capability is made redundant by RX10’s sharp and bright 25x zoom (which more than doubles my former zoom range while improving image quality).
    • You must inconveniently interchange a much heavier, pricier set of lenses on APS-C cameras to rival the quality of RX10 III’s sharp 25x F4 zoom.
    • This APS-C flagship is at best 5% sharper than RX10M4 when using the wider end of a premium 4x zoom lens, but no better in dim light. I would rather have an all-in-one 25x zoom which astoundingly extends sharp f/4 telephoto reach to 600mm equivalent.
    • To my delight, RX10’s faster, larger-diameter lens (72mm filter size) plus backside illumination (BSI) sensor technology together magically compensate for the sensor size difference.
    • The professionally-sharp, bright 25x zoom of RX10 III resoundingly beats the resolution of my previous favorite Sony 11x zoom lens SEL18200 on flagship APS-C Sony A6300 anywhere above 90mm+ equivalent telephoto, even as high as ISO 6400. At wider angles, 27-80mm equivalent, both capture similar quality in bright outdoor light. Advantageously, RX10 stretches to a wide view of 24mm equivalent. In dim/indoor light, A6300’s larger sensor can sometimes resolve more detail than RX10III, but not consistently in my real world comparisons using SEL18200 and SEL1670Z lenses.
  • Canon PowerShot G3 X camera (2015, 26 oz, $850, 25x zoom, 20mp) has 24-600mm equivalent f/2.8-5.6 lens (which is neither as bright nor as sharp as Sony RX10 III). The G3 X buys you lighter travel weight, but you must separately add a pricey $240 viewfinder. Also its older, poorer 1″ sensor is a stop or two worse at ISO 800+ in terms of noise compared to FZ1000 or RX10. Panasonic FZ1000 is a better value than G3X.

How does RX10M4 compare to full-frame cameras?

In historical perspective, the Sony RX10M4 makes prints far bigger and sharper than my full-frame 35mm film cameras used 1978-2004. Compared to modern full-frame digital sensors, RX10M4’s 1-inch-Type sensor has a crop factor measuring 2.727 times smaller diagonally.

For a significant jump up in quality, night photographers and big-print professionals can consider using fast lenses on Sony a7R II (price at Amazon) (2015, 22 oz body), a big 42-megapixel full-frame mirrorless camera, featuring the world’s first 35mm-size BSI CMOS sensor, plus a 5-axis image stabilization built into the body, hybrid autofocus, and 4K video, good for capturing the northern lights or indoor action.

But for me, full-frame systems are too bulky and expensive for travel, especially in terms of zoom range. If money is no object, using Sony’s 10x zoom FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 lens (28 oz) on A7 IIR’s 42mp sensor (50 oz total camera+lens) should buy superior quality at wide angles, beating RX10M4’s smaller 20mp sensor (37 oz). But RX10M4’s f/4 quality should beat cropping down the 42mp to reach the 500-600mm equivalent necessary for wildlife and bird photos. Realistically, A7 IIR’s incredible sensor so greatly exceeds the quality of the FE 24-240mm lens that only sharper, faster lenses should be considered. In comparison, RX10M4 is much more portable (37 oz versus 50+ oz), and its 20 megapixels are plenty for my professional publishing needs.

Tom Dempsey

2018 July: Canadian Rockies, Columbia Mtns, Bugaboo & Kananaskis hikes

Radium Hot Springs made a great base for our day hikes in less-crowded areas of the Columbia Mountains and Canadian Rockies, in a two-week vacation from Seattle.

Photo gallery from this trip


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Trip details with selected photo highlights

Having just sold our VW Eurovan Camper to be upgraded with an RV next spring, we instead drove our Prius V car. We rented accommodations with kitchen in Brisco and Radium Hot Springs (which are cheaper than in Banff and Canmore). Two weeks from July 13-27 gave us eleven good day hikes in Yoho, Kootenay, and Banff National Parks plus Bugaboo and Peter Lougheed Provincial Parks.

In Revelstoke National Park, the Skunk Cabbage Trail allowed us stretch our legs and eat lunch in a natural setting with giant leaves.

Paget Peak Lookout and Cathedral Mountain. Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Paget Peak Lookout and Cathedral Mountain. Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


On a hot day in Yoho National Park (85F), we hiked turquoise Sherbrooke Lake combined with scenic Paget Peak Lookout (7 miles round trip with 1920 feet gain). Cathedral Mountain and Mount Victoria North Peak rose dramatically above us near Kicking Horse Pass.

On Stanley Glacier Trail, a waterfall plunges from the sheer walls of Stanley Peak, in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

On Stanley Glacier Trail, a waterfall plunges from the sheer walls of Stanley Peak, in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The Canadian Rocky Mountains reflect in the Kootenay River, in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The Canadian Rocky Mountains reflect in the Kootenay River, in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada. Stitched from multiple overlapping photos. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Multiple trips through Kootenay National Park rewarded us with rows of Canadian Rocky Mountains reflected in the Kootenay River. A herd of scruffy mountain goats attracted a line of parked cars, but we drove onwards. On the spectacular Stanley Glacier Trail (6 miles round trip with 1200 feet gain), a waterfall plunged dramatically from the sheer walls of Stanley Peak.

Just down the road, a worthwhile short walk is Marble Canyon, which cradles turquoise Tokumm Creek just above its confluence with the Vermilion River. For over 500 million years before tectonic forces thrust up the Rocky Mountains, a shallow tropical sea deposited carbonate sediments that became the limestone and dolomite rock seen here (not marble).

A little further west are the orange-yellow Paint Pots. Historically, humans have mined these natural ochre beds, which formed by the accumulation of iron oxide around the outlets of three cold mineral springs. The Ktunaxa (formerly Kootenay), Stoney, and Blackfoot tribes collected ochre here for important ceremonies and trade. The yellow ochre was cleaned, kneaded with water into walnut sized balls, then flattened into cakes and baked. The red powder was mixed with fish oil or animal grease to paint their bodies, tipis (teepees), clothing or pictures on the rocks. In the early 1900s, Europeans hand-dug and sacked the ochre for hauling 24 kilometers via horse-drawn wagons to the Canadian Pacific Railway line at present-day Castle Mountain, where it was shipped by train to Calgary and became a pigment base for paint.

Marble Canyon embraces Tokumm Creek just above its confluence with the Vermilion River, at the north end of Kootenay National Park in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia, Canada.

Marble Canyon embraces Tokumm Creek just above its confluence with the Vermilion River, at the north end of Kootenay National Park in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Bighorn Sheep / Ovis canadensis at Radium Hot Springs village, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Bighorn Sheep / Ovis canadensis at Radium Hot Springs village, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Every time I visit, wild Bighorn Sheep wander the outskirts of Radium Hot Springs village. Sinclair Falls is worth seeing from Juniper Trailhead, between Kootenay National Park entrance station and the hot springs.

The Hound's Tooth (2819 meters) rises above Bugaboo Glacier in Bugaboo Provincial Park, in the Purcell Range of the Columbia Mountains, British Columbia, Canada.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The Hound's Tooth (2819 meters) rises above Bugaboo Glacier in Bugaboo Provincial Park, in the Purcell Range of the Columbia Mountains, British Columbia, Canada. The Spires Trail to Conrad Kain Hut is 6 miles round trip with 2400 ft gain. This image was stitched from multiple overlapping photos. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


I booked our AirBnB lodging in Brisco for 5 nights near my beloved Bugaboo Provincial Park, which is accessible via 75-minutes of dirt road in the Purcell Range of the Columbia Mountains. Although short and scenic throughout, the Spires Trail to Conrad Kain Hut is very steep (6 miles round trip with 2400 ft gain), forged by climbers drawn to this park’s soaring rock pinnacles. The sun-drenched slope (85 to 91 degrees F in the sun) overheated Carol, who turned back just above the ladder. Starting closer to sunrise would have kept us cooler. I persevered to be rewarded by one of my favorite views in the world: the Hound’s Tooth nunatak rising above Bugaboo Glacier, plus Snowpatch Spire and other pinnacles soaring overhead.

The Lieutenants Range rises above Lake of the Hanging Glacier in the Purcell Range of the Columbia Mountains, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The Lieutenants Range rises above Lake of the Hanging Glacier in the Purcell Range of the Columbia Mountains, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


While it still remains a wild adventure, consider hiking to the Lake of the Hanging Glacier, which features floating icebergs calved from Jumbo Glacier. The lake’s scenic reward was worth the effort of hiking over and under 60 fallen trees each way. Drive 1.5 hours west of Radium Hot Springs on the dirt Horsethief Creek Forest Service Road, preferably in a high clearance vehicle. On 2018 July 19, our low-clearance Toyota Prius V succeeded in crossing a planked wetland and two streams to reach the parking pullouts at 1 km from the trailhead, where a deep road dip finally blocked the car. From there we hiked 11.7 miles round trip with 3100 feet cumulative gain to the impressive lake. Fascinating lichen and rock patterns lie on stepping stones across the lake outlet. The spectacular Jumbo Glacier perches precariously above Lake of the Hanging Glacier. This wilderness wonder is threatened not only by global warming, but also from the huge Jumbo Glacier Resort planned/debated immediately south of Lieutenants ridge.

Swirling orange & blue rock pattern. Lake of the Hanging Glacier Trail, Purcell Range, Columbia Mountains, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Swirling orange & blue rock pattern. Lake of the Hanging Glacier Trail, Purcell Range, Columbia Mountains, British Columbia, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

For hikers, I recommend a newly-updated book covering this corner of BC: Mountain Footsteps: Hikes in the East Kootenay of Southeastern British Columbia (2018 Fourth Edition). (I call it “Strong Mountain Footsteps” for short.) This area has much to bring us back, such as hiking Jumbo Pass, Hourglass Lake, and Tanglefoot Lake.

Lichen polygons. Boom Lake Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Lichen polygons. Boom Lake Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


In Banff National Park, the scenic Boom Lake trail featured the mother lode of lichen polygon patterns, a holy grail for this nature travel photographer.

Boom Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Boom Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Lawson Lake reflects the limestone fangs of Mounts Maude, French (3244 m), and Jellico. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Lawson Lake reflects the limestone fangs of Mounts Maude, French (3244 m), and Jellico in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Carol and I backpacked from North Interlakes Trailhead to Forks Backcountry Campground (10 miles round trip, 800 ft cumulative gain) in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta. From Forks Campground we day hiked to North Kananaskis Pass (13 miles round trip/2700 ft). The pass revealed fields of seed heads of Western pasqueflower (Anemone occidentalis, aka Pulsatilla occidentalis, in family Ranunculaceae), and acres of yellow Indian paintbrush (Castilleja). The next day we hiked to Three Isle Lake (5 miles round trip/1800 ft), then back to the car. In Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, roadside wildlife included a coyote casually crossing the road, plus a black bear.

The huge Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site was declared by UNESCO in 1984.

Seed heads of Western pasqueflower (Anemone occidentalis, aka Pulsatilla occidentalis, in family Ranunculaceae). On the right is Mount Beatty Glacier. Photographed along the trail from Forks Campground to North Kananaskis Pass (13 miles round trip/2700 ft) in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Seed heads of Western pasqueflower (Anemone occidentalis, aka Pulsatilla occidentalis, in family Ranunculaceae). The common name Pasque refers to the Easter or Passover blooming time of other species, and to the purity of the white sepals. On the right is Mount Beatty Glacier. Photographed near North Kananaskis Pass in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

For travel tips, see: BC & AB: Canadian Rockies & Columbia Mts

2018 April: SW USA. UT: Druid & Delicate Arches. AZ: Monument Valley; Hermit Trail. CA: Death Valley.

On a campervan trip to southwest USA from 7-26 April 2018, we enjoyed photographing some great sights shown in galleries below. Carol was delighted by her first visit to Death Valley National Park (further below), including sunrise at colorful Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon, and Mesquite Flat Dunes.

Photo highlights from this trip


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Trip summary

Our 17-hour drive from Seattle to the desert playground of Moab in Utah was split with an overnight rest in pleasant Three Island Crossing State Park on the Snake River in Idaho.

Important tip: By scheduling the trip to avoid the full week before and after Easter Sunday (both hectic school vacation weeks), our stay in tourist hotspots like Moab was markedly quieter and more enjoyable! Avoid crowded Jeep Safari week. We prudently booked our campgrounds several weeks in advance. Furnace Creek Campground in Death Valley was first-come first served after mid April, with no problem getting a site, though shade is in short supply. Despite checking 4 months in advance, we couldn’t get into scenic Devils Garden Campground in Arches NP, which allows reservations up to 6 months in advance.

Our favorite Canyonlands RV Resort & Campground hosted our pop-top VW Eurovan Camper for four nights conveniently in downtown Moab. On nearby BLM land, red rock Hunter Canyon was a delightful hike of 4.5 miles round trip, blooming with fragrant yellow barberry flowers along a gentle potholed stream. A massive cottonwood tree nicely framed photos of Hunter Arch. Check out the roadside petroglyphs on Moonflower Panel and walk its half-mile canyon. In fantastic Arches National Park, we hiked from Klondike Bluffs parking lot to impressive Tower Arch via the Marching Men rock formations (2.8 miles with 1280 feet gain). The freshly snow-dusted La Sal Mountains provided a dramatic backdrop, such as seen southwest of Balanced Rock. Just before clouds rolled in, golden late afternoon sun illuminated iconic Delicate Arch (3.8 miles with 900 feet gain). Its parking lot was thankfully only half full during mid week. Don’t miss seeing the Ute Rock Art (1650-1850) on Wolfe Ranch side trail. A pullout southeast of Garden of Eden allowed off-trail access to Cove of Caves area on the back side of Double Arch. Walk on rocks and don’t disturb the black biologic soil crust. Also in the Windows Section, we visited Turret Arch and looped a mile around North and South Windows.

In the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, Whale Rock and Upheaval Dome (beware of limited parking) made short but rewarding walks of 1.0 and 0.8 miles. We moved camp to spend 2 nights at dusty Needles Outpost Campground, picked for its hot shower (though Canyonlands’ nearby Squaw Flat Campground is more aesthetically attractive, at trailheads). Best of all was a long-anticipated 12-mile lollipop loop with 1980 feet gain from Elephant Hill Trailhead via Chesler Park to charismatic Druid Arch in the Needles District.

Driving south, I liked exploring little-known Recapture Pocket near Bluff. Fascinating Goosenecks State Park overlooks deep, curly meanders of the San Juan River near Mexican Hat. A side trip on Mexican Hat spur road gives a closer look at the red wavy patterns of Raplee Anticline (Lime Ridge) along San Juan River.

Just across the state line, don’t miss the spectacular sunset or sunrise at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in Arizona. At sunset, I rephotographed a favorite balanced rock in the foreground with West and East Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte on the horizon beyond. Sunrise was easy to photograph, as The View Campground looks directly east to the iconic West and East Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte.

We booked three nights in Mather Campground in Grand Canyon National Park, served by a handy free shuttle along on the South Rim. On the way into the park from the east, don’t miss the impressive Hopi artwork inside Desert View Watchtower, which was built by architect Mary Colter in 1932, integrating work by other southwest artists. Starting west of Yavapai Geology Museum, we enjoyed walking the 1.3-mile Trail of Time interpretive exhibit, backward in time from today toward the oldest rock in Grand Canyon, Elves Chasm gneiss, 1.840 billion years old. Our main hike was the scenic Hermit Trail from Hermits Rest to Lookout Point (7.6 miles with 2200 feet gain, plus walking between shuttle stop and campsite).

Death Valley National Park


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Late fall, winter, through early spring are good times to visit Death Valley National Park, which is otherwise beastly hot. During our visit 19-21 April 2018, some refreshing sprinkles formed a rainbow over the colorful geology. Parting clouds revealed fresh snow whitening Telescope Peak (11,043 ft), impressively high above Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America (282 feet below sea level). Cresting the Panamint Range, Telescope Peak has one of the greatest vertical rises above local terrain of any mountain in the contiguous United States. At our feet, evaporation from Badwater Basin concentrated crystalline mounds of sodium chloride (table salt), plus calcite, gypsum, and borax (famously mined 1883-1889 with Twenty Mule Teams). Artist’s Drive was worth the short side trip to explore the colorful geologic formation of Artists Palette. More than 5 million years ago, multiple volcanic eruptions deposited ash and minerals which chemically altered into a colorful paint pot of elements (iron, aluminum, magnesium and titanium).

We were delighted to photograph sunrise illuminating a tapestry of golden yellow striated landscape patterns at Zabriskie Point. Next, driving around to Golden Canyon Trailhead begins a great hiking loop uphill to Red Cathedral then back downhill via Gower Gulch (6 miles with 800 ft gain), our favorite walk in the park. Around lunchtime, I enjoyed photographing pioneer-era mining and transportation machines outdoors at the Borax Museum at Furnace Creek Ranch. In rising 90+ degree temperatures, we retreated into the nearby national park Visitor Center to absorb the excellent orientation film.

To escape increasing heat, we drove up Emigrant Canyon Road to 4100-foot Wildrose Campground, where faucets provided tasty drinking water. Helpful tip: dry air cools by 5 degrees Fahrenheit for about every 1000 feet ascended (or 3 degrees for wet air). Along the winding road, we luckily spotted some Desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) with two lambs. Campground quiet was suddenly shattered with the loud hee-haw braying of an alpha donkey keeping his herd in line. Invasive burros (Equua asinus, often called donkeys) can be found throughout the backcountry in Death Valley. Originally descended from the African wild ass, burros were introduced to North America. These invasive, nonnative burro populations can grow quickly, damaging native vegetation and spring ecosystems, thereby hurting native wildlife such as bighorn sheep and desert tortoise.

Along the hike to Fall Canyon’s dry waterfall (6.7 miles with 1250 feet gain) were some feisty Zebra-tailed lizards (allisaurus draconoides), some creamy yellow flowers of the desert rock nettle (Eucnide urens or desert stingbush) clinging to shaded canyon walls, plus some intriguing rock patterns. But this experience paled in comparison to our previous day in glorious Golden Canyon; so for dramatic build-up one should hike Fall Canyon or other hikes first.

Near Stovepipe Wells, the first light of sunrise high-lit Mesquite Flat Dunes so dramatically as to impress my wife Carol, who previously hadn’t been attracted by dunes. Optionally take your shoes off and enjoy this inland wilderness beach. I love being the first in the morning to form footprints across a tall virgin dune. Most nights, the slate of footprints is wiped clean and wavy. Discover why Lawrence of Arabia was personally attracted to the desert, saying: “It’s clean.”

Just outside Death Valley (on the way to or from Tecopah and Las Vegas), you can camp overnight at Shoshone RV Park and swim in a developed hot springs pool. Thought extinct in the 1960s, Shoshone pupfish (Cyprinodon nevadensis shoshone) were rediscovered in 1986 and protected by the land owner in nearby restored ponds. Found nowhere else on earth, Shoshone pupfish are unique to Shoshone Springs.

See also articles on each state: Southwest USA (Arizona, ColoradoNew MexicoNevada, Utah), California, and Texas.

2017 Sept USA road trip: hiking central Colorado, St Louis, South Dakota, Wyoming

Driving from the Northwest to Midwest USA round trip in fall 2017, Carol and I enjoyed 11 days of hiking and photographing the Rockies of central Colorado. St. Louis impressed us with glorious Gateway Arch, the tallest monument in the Western Hemisphere. I took a break from photography while visiting Carol’s family in Indiana. South Dakota surprised us with starkly beautiful Badlands National Park, magnificent Mt. Rushmore, poignant Crazy Horse Memorial, and exceptional Custer State Park. Plentiful wildlife cooperated with our cameras: bison (aka buffalo), bighorn sheep, a mountain goat, a bluebird, a black-billed magpie, and prairie dogs. Capping off a wonderful month, we revisited Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks in Wyoming.

See this trip’s sequential images in my Portfolio: 2017 Sep 21-Oct 17: CO, MO, SD, WY USA. We drove for 27 days across the USA from Seattle to Indianapolis round trip from Sept 21 – Oct 17, 2017.

New galleries from this trip are as follows:

The Rockies of Central Colorado

In galleries below, click “i” to display informative captions.

Colorado: Hanging Lake, Glenwood Canyon

In scenic Glenwood Canyon along I-70, one of America’s most scenic Interstate highways, beguiling Hanging Lake deserves its popularity for hikers (4 miles round trip with 1200 feet gain).


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Colorado: Rifle Falls State Park

28 miles west of Glenwood Springs, Rifle Falls State Park offers a distinctive triple waterfall.


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Colorado: Aspen: Maroon Lake, Ashcroft, Independence

Yellow fall colors brightened the resort of Aspen, where nearby 1880s Ashcroft and Independence ghost towns evoked the state’s mining history. Because no campground options were available around 8000-foot Aspen in late September, I booked at AirBNB.com a good-value condo with kitchen for 4 nights of necessary acclimatization, to prepare for hiking to high altitude. Snagging a parking spot midweek before sunrise at crowded Maroon Lake allowed us to capture the iconic Maroon Bells lit by magical morning light. From there, we grunted breathlessly upwards through fall colors via Crater Lake to desolate alpine Buckskin Pass (11 miles round trip with 3000 feet gain to 12,462 feet elevation) in Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness of White River National Forest. 


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Colorado: Leadville

We enjoyed strolling in historic Leadville, the highest incorporated city in the United States (elevation of 10,152 feet).


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Colorado: Vail

A relaxing condo stay near Vail allowed a pleasant walk through aspen fall colors to Booth Creek Falls (4.3 miles / 1400 ft gain) on Booth Lake Trail #1885.


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Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park

At Kawuneeche Visitor Center near Grand Lake, we learned that Trail Ridge Road was sadly closed ahead due to ice, which would have required driving around several extra hours to reach Estes Park. Luckily, driving upwards anyway allowed time for the problem to melt along the 12,183-foot-high crossing of Rocky Mountain National Park eastwards to our base at Estes Park KOA. We enjoyed hiking a wonderful loop from Bear Lake Trailhead with spur trails to an impressive series of lakes, waterfalls and peaks (13 miles gaining 2600 feet via Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, Lake Haiyaha, The Loch, Lake of Glass, Sky Pond, Alberta Falls then back; arrive early for parking or take the shuttle).


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Colorado: Roxborough State Park

Roxborough State Park features strikingly tilted red sandstone formations, appreciated via hiking up the pleasant Carpenter Peak Trail and back via Elk Valley loop and Fountain Overlook, 8.5 miles with 1600 feet gain. A shorter walk is to the Peak then directly back (6.2 miles and 1400 ft).


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Colorado: Garden of the Gods

Driving and strolling is a joy in Garden of the Gods National Natural Landmark, run by the City of Colorado Springs.


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Colorado: Paint Mines Interpretive Park

Little-known Paint Mines Interpretive Park will delight any admirer of rock hoodoos and colorful abstract patterns.


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St. Louis, Missouri

Clad in stainless steel and built in the form of a weighted catenary arch, Gateway Arch is the world’s tallest arch (630 feet high), the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere and Missouri’s tallest accessible building. Built as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States, and officially dedicated to the American people, it is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The Arch was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen in 1947. It was built 1963-1965 at the site of St. Louis’ founding on the west bank of the Mississippi River and opened to the public in 1967. (Although built to last for ages, it is eventually susceptible to a tornado impact which could rip off the upper two-thirds.)


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South Dakota

SD: Badlands National Park

In this peacefully remote park, bighorn sheep grazed fearlessly along the roadside and dramatic sunset/sunrise colors lit the colorful cliffs sculpted from ancient sediments.


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SD: Black Hills: Custer State Park and wildlife reserve

South Dakota’s largest and first state park was named after Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer. Completed in 1922, the Needles Highway includes sharp turns, low tunnels and impressive granite spires along the northern 14 miles of South Dakota Highway 87 (SD 87). The road lies within Custer State Park, 30 miles south of Rapid City, in South Dakota. Needles Highway is part of the figure-eight route of Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway. A magical sunrise warmed the freezing air over idyllic Sylvan Lake. Cathedral Spires Area is most impressive. A famous herd of 1500 bison freely roam Custer State Park, as seen along Wildlife Loop Road.


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SD: Black Hills: Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Sculptor Gutzon Borglum designed and oversaw the Mount Rushmore project 1927–1941, with help from his son, Lincoln Borglum. Mount Rushmore features 60-foot sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents: George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865).


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South Dakota historian Doane Robinson conceived the idea of carving the likenesses of famous people into the Black Hills in order to promote tourism. Robinson’s initial idea of sculpting the Needles was rejected by Gutzon Borglum due to poor granite quality and strong opposition from Native American groups. They settled on Mount Rushmore, and Borglum decided on the four presidents. Each president was originally to be depicted from head to waist, but lack of funding ended construction in late October 1941. Mount Rushmore is a batholith (massive intrusive igneous rock) rising to 5725 feet elevation in the Black Hills.

SD: Black Hills: Crazy Horse Memorial

The Crazy Horse Memorial is being carved into Thunderhead Mountain on private land in the Black Hills, between Custer and Hill City, 17 miles from Mount Rushmore, in Custer County, South Dakota. In progress since 1948, the sculpture is far from completion. It depicts the Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, riding a horse and pointing into the distance. The memorial was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to be sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski. It is operated by the nonprofit Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation. The sculpture is planned to be of record-setting size: 641 feet wide and 563 feet high. The head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet high (whereas the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet high).


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Crazy Horse (1840–1877) was a Native American war leader of the Oglala Lakota. He took up arms against the United States federal government to fight against encroachment by white American settlers on Indian territory. He earned great respect from both his enemies and his own people in several battles of the American Indian Wars on the northern Great Plains, including: the Fetterman massacre in 1866, in which he acted as a decoy, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, in which he led a war party to victory. Four months after surrendering in 1877, Crazy Horse was fatally wounded by a bayonet-wielding military guard, while allegedly resisting imprisonment at Camp Robinson in present-day Nebraska. In 1982 he was honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a 13¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.

Wyoming

Wyoming: Black Hills: Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower (aka Bear Lodge Butte) rises dramatically 1267 feet above the Belle Fourche River, standing 867 feet from base to summit, at 5112 feet above sea level. Devils Tower was the first United States National Monument, established on September 24, 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. This charismatic butte is comprised of intrusive igneous rock exposed by erosion in the Bear Lodge Mountains, part of the Black Hills, near Hulett and Sundance in Crook County, Wyoming. The 1893 wood stake ladder for the first ascent of Devils Tower (by Willard Ripley) was restored 1972. The last known use of the ladder was in 1927 by daredevil Babe “The Fly” White. In 1972, the Park Service removed what was left of the bottom section, and restored the top 140 feet of the ladder (see photo). In mid October, bright yellow cottonwood tree leaves framed Devils Tower in quiet Belle Fourche River Campground.


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Grand Teton NP images are now split off from Yellowstone into their own gallery; and new 2017 photos are added to both parks:

Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park


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Wyoming: Grand Teton National Park


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See the following master articles which consolidate galleries geographically for multiple trips:

Dream Alps Photo Workshop with Tom: July 26 – Aug 03, 2019

Master your digital camera surrounded by breathtaking Swiss peaks! Short walks to areas of concentrated beauty make this 8-night Alps tour especially attractive for those with limited vacation time. With a professional Alpenwild guide leading our trip, my time is freed for teaching photographic skills within our cozy group of 6 to 10 participants.

Sign up at Alpenwild for our Alps Photo Workshop with Tom Dempsey 2019 July 26 – August 03. Develop your photographic genius with a pro in Switzerland.

The following photos by Tom Dempsey are from our Workshop locations:


  • Welcome photographers of all skill levels! Your spouse, partner, or friend will also love our tour while you advance your photography. My wife Carol will be joining us.
  • We’ve thought of everything: all accommodations, meals, ground transportation, and instruction are included.
  • The Swiss Alps are a photographer’s dream trip, with inspiring landscapes, breathtaking mountain panoramas and vibrant cultural settings. Now imagine having a professional landscape photographer at your side to provide personalized instruction in these idyllic alpine locations. Capture the greatest shots you’ve ever taken, while learning and developing your photographic skills like never before. Learn important tips on exposing, focusing, composing, editing, and post-processing. Think of all the questions you’ve had in the past, but never had a pro landscape photographer to ask.
  • We’ve selected the world’s most stunningly beautiful mountains, meadows, waterfalls, and glaciers for your backdrop. The Alps are the most accessible mountains in the world, where cogwheel railways, mountain trams, and funiculars put you in the heart of the action.
  • We will have plenty of time for photography as you’ll rarely be walking more than three miles per day. After fieldwork will be time for critiques and post-processing help. Our small group provides optimal one-one-one instruction and group discussion.

Capture the spirit of Swiss icons including:

  • the Matterhorn, Zermatt
  • traditional chalets at Kandersteg
  • waterfalls of Lauterbrunnen
  • famous Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau above Grindelwald

See our complete itinerary and sign up at: www.alpenwild.com

Alps Photo Workshop with Alpenwild & Tom Dempsey

Swiss Alps Photo Workshop – Tom Dempsey & Alpenwild


Our professional guide is:
Greg Witt
1-800-532-9488 AlpenWild.com
Email: info@alpenwild.com

$4395 from Zurich or Geneva, per person, double occupancy.
$399 single supplement.
Sign up deadline by early February 2019.

Join me for summer in Switzerland!

Tom Dempsey, photography instructor
tom@photoseek.com
(206) 372-7673 mobile

See also Venice and Dolomites images from Tom’s Italy Photo Workshop.

SCOTLAND: hike Skye, castles, Callanish, Edinburgh, Stirling, Falkirk, history

12 days driving the length of Scotland enriched us with compelling history, striking art, and green landscapes such as Glen Coe. Favorites included hiking the Isle of Skye; admiring the 4600-year-old Standing Stones of Callanish in the Outer Hebrides; and seeing the dramatic Kelpies sculptures, triangular Caerlaverock Castle and iconic Eilean Donan Castle. Our 20th wedding anniversary in a romantic Scottish castle disappointed on comfort, but enchanted us with 1400s-1800s atmosphere, in restored Comlongon Castle. While Edinburgh’s festival crowds overwhelmed the many worthwhile sights, the impressive 1400s-1500s Stirling Castle furnished more elbow room to contemplate medieval history. Our self-guided tour of Scotland capped 34 days in the United Kingdom (2017 July 20-August 22), which started with hiking England Coast to Coast (click here). See trip map at bottom.

SCOTLAND gallery of favorite images, by Tom Dempsey


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More extensive galleries of Scotland:

Click here to see all my Scotland images in day-to-day order, in a single gallery in my Portfolio (where you can Add to Cart). Or conveniently below, see them grouped in galleries by area, with helpful travel tips and history:

Callanish Standing Stones, Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)


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Erected 4600 years ago, the wondrous Callanish Standing Stones are one of the most spectacular megalithic monuments in Scotland. The main site known as “Callanish I” forms a cross with a central stone circle erected circa 2900-2600 BC. More lines of stones were added by 2000 BC (the close of the Neolithic era), and it become a focus for rituals during the Bronze Age. From 1500-1000 BC, farmers emptied the burials and ploughed the area. After from 800 BC, peat accumulated 1.5 meters deep and buried the stones until removed in 1857. Visit this spectacular ancient site near the village of Callanish (Gaelic: Calanais), on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides (Western Isles) in Scotland.

The Highlands: Isle of Skye


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Skye is the largest and northernmost of the major islands in the Inner Hebrides.

Isle of Skye photo and travel tips:

Lodging is very limited on Skye, so make summer reservations weeks or months ahead. The 1995 Skye Bridge has been toll-free now since 2004, and in 2017 it overflowed the island’s services with international tourists. Arriving early is required each morning to squeeze into popular parking areas. 7 miles west of Skye Bridge, pick up several days worth of food supplies at Broadford Co-Operative Food grocery. Stop by the scenic Sligachan Old Bridge, backed by the Black Cuillin mountains. For several hours, enjoy walking to viewpoints at the 1909 Neist Point Lighthouse, which pokes dramatically into The Minch strait. Many of the best sights are on Trotternish peninsula:

  • As our strategic base for 5 nights on Skye, we loved this quiet, comfortable loft atop a croft in Digg village near Staffin: Quiraing View Self Catering Apartment through AirBnb.com.
  • In Skye’s largest town, see colorful houses reflected in Portree Harbor, and shop at the Co-op on Woodpark Road for groceries.
  • Ascend to the striking pinnacles of the Old Man of Storr (4 miles, 1400 feet gain round trip). Arrive early for limited parking. A massive ancient landside created this distinctive landscape of eroded towers. For the best outlook, continue up the trail over the fence stile past where most people stop, surmounting the next higher ledge, to see the needles silhouetted against Loch Leathan, the Sound of Raasay, Raasay Island, and the Cuillin range.
  • At scenic Kilt Rock viewpoint, carpeted with purple heather flowers, Mealt Falls plunges 60 meters into the Sound of Raasay. Between 61 and 55 million years ago, volcanic activity on the west coast of Scotland covered the northern half of Skye in layers of molten rock over 1200 meters thick. The pleats of Kilt Rock formed as molten rock squeezed between layers of Jurassic sandstone rocks then cooled slowly and shrank into striking polygonal columns. Location: A855 road, 15 km north of Portree, 2 km south of Staffin.
  • Starting from Lealt Falls Car Park, ponder the coastal ruins of Lealt diatomite works (a furnace, grinding machine and storage). The diatomite was mined inland at Loch Cuithir from 1899-1960, gratefully providing local jobs. Diatomaceous earth, or diatomite, is fossilized remains of diatoms (chrysophytes, or golden algae, a type of hard-shelled protist) creating a soft, siliceous sedimentary rock that is easily crumbled into a fine white powder. Its uses are many: filtration aid, insecticide, absorbent for liquids, mild abrasive in metal polishes & toothpaste, activator in blood clotting studies, a stabilizing component of dynamite, a thermal insulator, and even cat litter!
  • Amble up Bioda Buidhe mountain along Trotternish Ridge, with views south to eroded landslips and north to the Quiraing, an active landslip. Walk 2.2 miles round trip with 700 feet gain, starting southwards from the summit of the minor road between Staffin and Uig. Arrive early for limited parking. From the same trailhead, we also hiked the Quiraing:
  • For more adventure, try the popular, muddy loop (4.5 miles with 1200 feet gain) around the Quiraing landslip (Cuith-Raing in Gaelic, from Norse words meaning “round fold”), best avoided in rain or fog. The Trotternish Ridge escarpment is a spectacular series of landslips, still sliding in the Quiraing, requiring yearly repairs in the road below (near Flodigarry).
  • Near Uig: The Skye Museum of Island Life preserves a township of thatched cottages as they would have been in the late 1800s on the Isle of Skye, in Kilmuir village.
  • Near Uig: Walk the pastoral Fairy Glen (Faerie Glen) to Castle Ewen hill, looping 1.2 miles via grassy, cone-shaped mounds.
  • From Uig, catch the ferry to Tarbert, the main town of Harris in the Outer Hebrides (Western Isles), to drive to the Standing Stones of Callanish and blackhouse museums on the attached Isle of Lewis. Be sure to reserve a spot for your car weeks ahead at Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac).

The Highlands: Eilean Donan Castle, AD 1200s-1932


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Eilean Donan Castle looks spectacular when spotlit at twilight, in Kintail National Scenic Area. Since restoration in the early 1900s, a footbridge connects the island to the mainland. This picturesque island stronghold was first built in the 1200s in the western Highlands where three sea lochs meet (Loch Duich, Loch Long, and Loch Alsh) at the village of Dornie. The island is named after Donnán of Eigg, a Celtic saint martyred in 617. The castle became a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies Clan Macrae. In the early 1700s, the Mackenzies’ involvement in the Jacobite rebellions led in 1719 to the castle’s destruction by government ships. Lieutenant-Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap’s 1920-32 reconstruction of the ruins made the present buildings.

The Highlands: Glen Coe and Glen Nevis (Steall Falls hike)


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Found along road A82, Glen Coe is perhaps the most scenic and historic valley in Scotland. Glen Coe is the remains of an extinct supervolcano (erupted 420 million years ago during the Silurian period), one of the best examples of subsidence calderas. Heavy glaciation ending 10,000 years ago carved the U-shaped valley, reminding me of Norwegian scenery. The infamous 1692 Massacre of Glencoe happened near Glencoe village at the foot of the valley.

One of the best short hikes in Scotland ascends 220 meters to Steall Falls (3.5 km / 2.25 miles round trip) via scenic Nevis Gorge, an area owned by the John Muir Trust, which is attempting to restore wilderness here after centuries of burning and grazing. Steall Falls is Scotland’s second highest waterfall, with a single drop of 120 meters or 393 feet. Often hidden in the clouds above is Ben Nevis (1345 meters or 4411 ft, the highest mountain in the British Isles), here at the western end of the Grampian Mountains in the Lochaber area of the Scottish Highlands.

The Highlands: Inverness and Culloden


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We enjoyed seeing the lights of Inverness reflect in River Ness at twilight, in the administrative capital of the Highlands. The prominent red sandstone Inverness Castle (housing the Inverness Sheriff Court) was built in 1836 by architect William Burn on the site of an 11th-century fort. A settlement was established here by the 500s AD with the first royal charter being granted by King David I in the 1100s. The Gaelic king Mac Bethad Mac Findláich (MacBeth), whose 11th-century killing of King Duncan was immortalised in Shakespeare’s largely fictionalized play Macbeth, held a castle within the city where he ruled as Mormaer of Moray and Ross. Surveys rank Inverness as one of the happiest places in the UK.

Jacobites and the Battle of Culloden explained

Near Inverness is Culloden Battlefield visitor center, a Scottish mecca run by the National Trust for Scotland. As the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745, the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746 was part of a religious civil war in Britain. In the last pitched battle on British soil, in less than an hour about 1500 men were slain, more than 1000 of them Jacobites. Today, strong feelings are still aroused by the battle and the brutal aftermath of weakening Gaelic culture and undermining the Scottish clan system. The site of the battle is three miles south of Culloden village on Drumossie Moor, often called Culloden Moor.

Jacobites rebelled against the British government several times between 1688 and 1746. Jacobites were a political faction in Great Britain and Ireland aimed to restore the Roman Catholic King James II (House of Stuart) of England and Ireland (as James VII in Scotland) and his heirs to the thrones of England, Scotland, France and Ireland. The name comes from Jacobus, the Renaissance Latin form of Iacomus, from the original Latin form of James, “Iacobus.”

Stirling, the gateway to the Highlands


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Once the capital of Scotland, Stirling is visually dominated by Stirling Castle, sitting atop Castle Hill, an intrusive crag formed some 300 million years ago. Until the 1890s, Stirling controlled a strategic position as the lowest bridging point of the River Forth before it broadens towards the Firth of Forth, making it “the gateway to the Scottish Highlands.” As a principal royal stronghold of the Kingdom of Scotland, Stirling was created a royal burgh by King David I in 1130. Most of the fort’s main buildings date from the 1400s and 1500s, when it peaked in importance. The outer defenses fronting the town date from the early 1700s. Several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned at Stirling, including Mary, Queen of Scots in 1542. Stirling Castle has suffered at least eight sieges, including several during the Wars of Scottish Independence, with the last being in 1746 when Bonnie Prince Charlie unsuccessfully tried to take the castle.

Edinburgh, capitol city of Scotland


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Perched atop Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle is the most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked in the world, with 26 sieges in its 1100-year-old history. Few of the present buildings pre-date the Lang Siege of the 1500s except for St Margaret’s Chapel from the early 1100s, the Royal Palace, and the early-1500s Great Hall. Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, in Lothian on the Firth of Forth, in the United Kingdom.

The spectacular St Giles’ Cathedral (High Kirk of Edinburgh) is the principal place of worship of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. Its distinctive crown steeple is a prominent feature of the city skyline, at about a third of the way down the Royal Mile. The church has been one of Edinburgh’s religious focal points for approximately 900 years. The present church dates from the late 1300s, though it was extensively restored in the 1800s. Today it is sometimes regarded as the “Mother Church of Presbyterianism.”

Don’t miss seeing the abstract modernist Scottish Parliament Building, opened 2004 in the Holyrood area of Edinburgh. Scottish Parliament had previously dropped out of existence from 1707 through 1999. The original Parliament of Scotland was the national legislature of the independent Kingdom of Scotland, existing from the early 1200s until merging with the Kingdom of England under the Acts of Union 1707 to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. Following a Scottish referendum in 1997, the current Parliament was convened by the Scotland Act 1998, which sets out its powers as a devolved legislature, which first met in 1999. The Scottish Parliament has the power to legislate in all areas that are not explicitly reserved to Westminster.

If time allows, wander along the Water of Leith river through Dean Village, the site of old watermills in a deep gorge.

Falkirk Wheel and The Kelpies


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The Kelpies, built of structural steel in 2013, are the world’s largest pair of equine sculptures. Towering 30 meters above the Forth & Clyde Canal, these two proud heads are a monumental tribute to the horse power heritage (pulling wagons, ploughs, barges and coalships) vital to early industrial Scotland. Scottish sculptor Andy Scott designed these twin 300-tonne feats of engineering. Visit the Kelpies artworks in the Helix parkland project, in Falkirk, central Scotland.

Five miles west of the Kelpies is the Falkirk Wheel. Built in 2002, the Falkirk Wheel is the world’s first and only rotating boat lift. It reconnects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal for the first time since the 1930s. The wheel raises boats by 24 metres (79 ft) in just 15 minutes, then a pair of locks raises them 11 metres (36 ft) higher to reach the Union Canal.

1295 Caerlaverock Castle


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The formidable red sandstone walls of Caerlaverock Castle have a triangular shape, unique in Britain. First built in 1295 to to control trade, its wide moat, twin-towered gatehouse and lofty battlements give Caerlaverock a fairtale appearance, the epitome of a medieval stronghold. In the castle courtyard, walk through Nithsdale Lodging, a remarkable residence built in 1635, “the most ambitious early classical domestic architecture in Scotland.” Caerlaverock is near Dumfries, on the edge of Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve, in southwest Scotland. This stronghold defended the Maxwell family from the 1200s-1640, then was abandoned. It was besieged by the English during the Wars of Scottish Independence, and underwent several partial demolitions and reconstructions from the 1300s-1400s.

Comlongon Castle


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Our 20th wedding anniversary attracted us to lodging in a romantic Scottish castle, but Carol’s night in the 1902 Edwardian wing at Comlongon was haunted by steam radiator sounds and saggy bed. Luckily, the next morning compensated with good breakfast, beautifully landscaped grounds, and the swords-and-armor atmosphere of restored 1400s Comlongon Castle.

Oban and Castle Stalker


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Oban is an important tourism hub and Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) ferry port, protected by the island of Kerrera and Isle of Mull, in the Firth of Lorn, Argyll county. The 200-meter-diameter McCaig’s Tower rises prominently on Battery Hill overlooking Oban, built in Roman style 1897-1902 by philanthropic banker John Stuart McCaig, but left unfinished upon his death.

1440s Castle Stalker is a 4-story tower house or keep picturesquely set on a tidal islet on Loch Laich, an inlet of Loch Linnhe, near Port Appin, Argyll. Castle Stalker is visible from the A828 road midway between Oban and Glen Coe. The fort was occupied from the 1440s-1840, lost its roof, then was fully restored 1965-1974. It appeared in the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” in the final scene as “The Castle of Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh.” The name Stalker comes from the Gaelic Stalcaire, meaning hunter or falconer.

SCOTLAND and Northern ENGLAND: map

The following map of Scotland and northern England shows our key sights in 2017 (click for Google interactive version):

Map of sights in northern England + Scotland, UK

Map of our sights in northern England and Scotland, in the United Kingdom, for 34 days round trip from Seattle to Manchester 2017 July 23–August 22.

ENGLAND: Coast to Coast hike; Hadrian’s Wall; medieval architecture

My first visit to England filled us with surprisingly delicious pub food and admiration for spectacular medieval architecture. 13 days of mostly rainy weather didn’t slow our hike of 112 miles across “England Coast to Coast” which I photographed on commission for Wilderness Travel, 2017 July 23–August 5. Starting by dipping our boots in the Irish Sea, we cut a swath across England’s historic and literary landscape, over the fells of the Lake District to the pastoral beauty of the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks, to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea. Afterwards, we enjoyed guiding ourselves through York, castles and abbeys in northern England (further below), plus Scotland (in separate article).

ENGLAND gallery of favorite images, by Tom Dempsey


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The following more extensive galleries and trip map describe England in more detail:

Northern England Coast to Coast trek

Our group of 12 hikers plus 2 trip leaders rambled across a variant of the unofficial 192-mile “Coast to Coast Walk,” which is mostly unsignposted across Northern England. A luggage van with friendly driver Peter allowed us to walk with lightweight day packs and skip boring sections, ending each day in comfortable hotels. Professional guides Richard and Karen Bell cheerfully guided us across rolling hills averaging 8.6 miles per day with 1350 feet gain, which added up to a moderately strenuous effort surmounting sometimes rocky, often mucky terrain. Below are my images from the trek, in three parts (click “i” to display informative captions):

ENGLAND Coast to Coast trek part 1/3: Lake District National Park:


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ENGLAND Coast to Coast trek part 2/3: Yorkshire Dales National Park


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ENGLAND Coast to Coast trek part 3/3: North York Moors National Park


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Northern ENGLAND and SCOTLAND trip map, 34 days

Click here to see all my England images in day-to-day order, in a single gallery. The following map shows our key sights in 2017 (click for Google interactive version):

Map of sights in northern England + Scotland, UK

Map of our sights in northern England and Scotland, in the United Kingdom, for 34 days round trip from Seattle to Manchester 2017 July 23–August 22.

York, North Yorkshire

At the end of our athletic hiking tour, Wilderness Travel left Carol and I in fascinating York:


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The historic walled city of York lies at the confluence of rivers Ouse and Foss in North Yorkshire, England. York is renowned for its exquisite architecture, tangle of quaint cobbled streets (called the Shambles), iconic York Minster, the longest medieval town walls in England, and a wealth of visitor attractions. Founded by the Romans as Eboracum in AD 71, it became capital of the Roman province of Britannia Inferior, and later of the kingdoms of Northumbria and Jorvik (mostly controlled by Vikings 875 to 954). In the Middle Ages, York grew as a major wool trading center. In the 1800s, York became a hub of the railway network and center for confectionery manufacturing. The University of York, health services, and tourism have become major employers.

York Minster, built over 250 years 1220-1472 AD, is one of the finest medieval buildings in Europe. Also known as St Peter’s, its full name is “Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York.” York Minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the second-highest office of the Church of England. “Minster” refers to churches established in the Anglo-Saxon period as missionary teaching churches, and now serves as an honorific. As the center of the Church in the North, York Minster has played an important role in great national affairs, such as during the Reformation and Civil War.

Car rental tips

Renting a car one way from York to Manchester (our entry & exit airport) for 2 weeks allowed us to easily see the following sights in Northern England on our way to and from 12 days in Scotland. We rented a peppy Vauxhall Astra hatchback car with automatic transmission from AutoEurope.com for just US$33 per day (plus gas $6 per gallon, at 50+ mpg) and quickly learned to drive on the left through hundreds of efficient roundabouts. The United Kingdom still indicates miles and MPH on road signs, but metric for most everything else.

Fountains Abbey, Studley Royal Park


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Fountains Abbey is one of the largest and best preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England. Visit it near Ripon and Aldfield, in North Yorkshire. The adjacent Studley Royal Park features striking 1700s landscaping, gardens and canal. Founded in 1132, the abbey operated for 407 years becoming one of the wealthiest monasteries in England until its dissolution in 1539 under the order of Henry VIII. Studley Royal Park including the Ruins of Fountains Abbey is honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland


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Walk 3 miles round trip from Craster village to the impressive ruins of 1300s Dunstanburgh Castle on the coast of Northumberland. The castle was built by Earl Thomas of Lancaster between 1313-1322 on existing earthworks of an Iron Age fort. Thomas was a short-lived leader of a baronial faction opposed to King Edward II. This strategic northern stronghold never recovered from seiges during the Wars of the Roses 1455-1487 after it changed hands several times between rival Lancastrian and Yorkist factions. King James I sold the fort into private owndership in 1604. Dunstanburgh Castle is now owned by the National Trust and run by English Heritage.

Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland


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The site of Bamburgh Castle was originally a Celtic Brittonic fort known as Din Guarie, possibly the capital of the kingdom of Bernicia from its foundation circa AD 420-547. After passing between Britons and Anglo-Saxons three times, Anglo-Saxons gained control in 590, but it was destroyed by Vikings in 993. The Normans later built a new castle here, forming the core of the present one. After a revolt in 1095 (supported by the castle’s owner), it became the property of the English monarch. 1600s financial difficulties led to its deterioration. Various owners restored it from the 1700s-1800s, ending with complete restoration by Victorian era industrialist William Armstrong. Today, the Armstrong family owners keep Bamburgh Castle open to the public. It was a film location for “Robin Hood” (2010) directed by Ridley Scott.

Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland


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Holy Island history dates from the 500s AD as an important center of Celtic Christianity under Saints Aidan of Lindisfarne, Cuthbert, Eadfrith of Lindisfarne, and Eadberht of Lindisfarne. After Viking invasions and the Norman conquest of England, a priory was reestablished. A small castle was built on Holy Island in 1550.

Hadrian’s Wall


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Hadrian’s Wall (Latin: Vallum Aelium) at Steel Rigg, England, United Kingdom, Europe. As the Roman Empire’s largest artifact, Hadrian’s Wall runs 117.5 kilometers (73.0 miles) across northern England, from the banks of River Tyne near the North Sea to Solway Firth on the Irish Sea. Much of the wall still stands and can be walked along the adjoining Hadrian’s Wall Path. Within the Roman province of Britannia, it defended the northwest frontier of the Roman Empire for nearly 300 years. It was built by the Roman army on the orders of the emperor Hadrian in the 6 years following his visit to Britain in AD 122. From north side to south, the wall comprised a ditch, stone wall, military way and vallum (another ditch with adjoining mounds). The wall featured milecastles with two turrets in between and a fort about every five Roman miles. Hadrian’s Wall is honored as a World Heritage Site. The wall lies entirely within England, and is unrelated to the Scottish border, which lies north of the wall at distances varying from 1-109 kilometers (0.6–68 miles) away.

2017 Jan: Hawaii: Oahu, Kauai & Big Island, lava exploding into ocean

On the islands of Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island from January 16 – February 6, 2017, we rediscovered Hawaii. Since my last visit 20+ years ago, traffic is worse but the allure endures.

Hawaii favorites:


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Our biggest excitement was seeing lava jetting into the ocean and exploding:

Above video: From late afternoon through twilight on February 1, 2017 we rented bicycles for the 8 miles round trip on a gravel emergency road to see molten rock exploding in the ocean at Kamokuna in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, just west of Kalapana on the Big Island, Hawaii, USA. On Kilauea volcano’s south flank, Pu’u O’o crater has been erupting continuously since 1983, making it the world’s longest-lived rift-zone (or flank) eruption of the last 200 years. Since 1987, Hawaii’s southern coastal highway has been buried under lava up to 115 feet thick. Kilauea is between 300,000 and 600,000 years old and emerged above sea level about 100,000 years ago. (Tahitian drumming heard in this video was recorded on my smartphone from the evocative Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu.)

Click here to see all my images from this Hawaiian Islands trip in day by day order January 16 – February 6, 2017.

Hawaii galleries for each island:

Oahu:


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Kauai:


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Big Island:


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Maui:

1987 photo: A rare silversword plant blooms in Haleakala National Park, Maui, State of Hawaii, USA. Related to sunflowers, silversword plants grow for up to twenty years before a blooming with a huge flower stalk between May and November. After just a single gigantic bloom, the plant dies. In Haleakala Crater, the fascinating native silversword plants are endangered by feral goats. Silverswords grow only on Maui and the Big Island.

2016 Sept: Oregon: Wallowa: Eagle Cap Wilderness backpack

From September 11-13, 2016, we enjoyed walking 22 miles in 3 days backpacking to Mirror Lake and idyllic Glacier Lake in Eagle Cap Wilderness, within Wallowa–Whitman National Forest, in the Wallowa Mountains, on the Columbia Plateau of northeastern Oregon. Scenery of “the Wallowas” resembles that of California’s Sierras but is much closer to Seattle!


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Our 3-day, 22-mile route was as follows:

  1. Hike 7.3 miles gaining 2000 feet from Two Pan Trailhead (5600 ft) up East Lostine River to camp at popular Mirror Lake (7606 ft). This excellent base camp has lots of sites (but adjacent Sunshine Lake may be more photogenic and less crowded), with three good day hikes for extended stays:
  2. Day hike from Mirror Lake to Glacier Lake via Glacier Pass (6 miles round trip, 1200 ft gain), highly recommended! Other options from Mirror Lake include (not done by us):
    • Ascend Eagle Cap, a short and steep 3.5 miles round trip gaining 2000 feet.
    • Loop via Moccasin Lake to Douglas Lake and Horseshoe Lake, 8.6 miles gaining 500 feet (or omitting Horseshoe makes 5-mile loop).
  3. Backpack out 8.7 miles via scenic Carper Pass (800 feet gain) to remote Minam Lake and West Fork Lostine. Walking out this different route adds variety to the trip but creates a more-punishing 3000-foot cumulative descent back to Two Pan Trailhead. Minam Lake suffered from low water levels this September, but the outlet West Fork Lostine River was pleasant to explore.

If you have 4+ days, considering reversing the loop and camping the first night at less-crowded Minam Lake, then the second/third nights at one of the following: Upper Lake (good base for ascent of Eagle Cap), or popular Mirror Lake, or nicer Sunshine Lake, nearby Moccasin Lake, or most-beautiful Glacier Lake (which is more effort over a ridge 1000 ft up, 200 down).

Directions: In the northeast corner of Oregon, from Pendleton, take Interstate 84 east to La Grande. Turn north on State Highway 82 through Elgin to Lostine (10 miles west of Enterprise). In Lostine, go 7 miles south on Lostine River Road to the National Forest boundary where it turns into Forest Road 8210, up Lostine Canyon for 11 more miles to the end of the narrow gravel road with some washboard roughness. At the trailhead, backpackers self-issue their own Wilderness Visitor Permit, one per group. Horse-packers can be booked to assist your trip.

Other good hikes in the Wallowa Mountains:

From Wallowa Lake Trailhead, attractive Ice Lake is 15.4 miles round trip (not yet done by Tom). From Ice Lake, the scenic white granite Matterhorn is 1977 feet gain in 3.4 miles round trip to an impressive view. A good inexpensive base with hot showers is Wallowa Lake State Park (just south of Joseph and Enterprise, Oregon). Optional extension:

  • From the Ice Lake Trail junction (2.6 miles one way from Wallowa Lake Trailhead), the following scenic extension adds 21.3 miles round trip: a lollipop-shaped loop to Horseshoe Lake, Douglas Lake, Moccasin Lake, Mirror Lake and Glacier Lake.

See also our nearby hikes in Hells Canyon and Eastern Oregon.

2016 August: Switzerland via Alpenwild tours

In one of our best trips ever, Carol and I hiked in Switzerland 25 days out of 35 from July 27 to August 30, 2016. We walked about 200 miles via trailheads connected by the world’s handiest public transportation. Included was my professional photography of two wonderful tours by Alpenwild.com, the world’s largest provider of English-language Alps tours.

See my trip images: 2016 Switzerland galleries.

To plan your next trip, see my illustrated online guide to the Alps.

In the following video captured at unforgettable Eigeralp farm in Bussalp above Grindelwald, the cheesemaker gave an impromptu accordion concert, inspiring some to dance:

Video from within the slot canyon of Trummelbach Falls, Lauterbrunnen:

Switzerland itinerary map 2016

Switzerland travel map: Zurich, Schaffhausen, Stein am Rhein, Appenzell, Berner Oberland, Valais, Engadine. (Tom Dempsey)

A geographic travel map of Switzerland shows a month itinerary starting from Zurich (doing 25 hikes in 35 days July 27-August 30) in Schaffhausen, Stein am Rhein, Appenzell, Berner Oberland, Valais canton (Fiesch, Verbier, Zermatt) and Engadine Valley, in Europe.

Alpenwild.com

As an Artist in Residence for Alpenwild.com in summer 2016, I captured 4000 images in Switzerland (see my galleries) for company promotion. Alpenwild is the world’s largest provider of English-speaking tours in Switzerland. In response to my photos, Alpenwild founder Greg Witt said:

These are absolutely stunning—I couldn’t be happier. Some of us in the office today going through your 342 favorites and each one brought back a lot of memories and also generated a lot of excitement as we discussed where and how we can best use these for maximum impact.

While I had already designed a detailed self-guided trip covering 5 weeks, Alpenwild’s expert guidance further refined the trip, adding much to our comfort and enjoyment, including the following two wonderful week-long packages:

Sony A6300/A6000, best APS-C dim-light sports/action camera; rivalled by RX10 III

Are you looking for a great camera having an APS-C-size sensor? The best, most-portable APS-C camera can capture quick sports action and subjects in dim light with fast autofocus: Sony Alpha A6300 camera (buy at Amazon with 16-50mm lens) (2016, 14 oz body + 4 oz 24-75mm equiv zoom). Or save hundreds of dollars on earlier Sony A6000 (2014, 12 oz body), nearly as capable.

However, a smaller 1-inch-Type BSI sensor can now equal or beat virtually every advantage of APS-C cameras (which at best have no more than 5% advantage in real resolution or maximum print size). Compared to Sony’s RX10 III camera (read my review) which has an amazingly bright 25x zoom lens and more advanced stacked backside illumination (BSI) sensor, both Sony’s A6300 and A6000 now demand only the sharpest zoom or prime lenses to justify their APS-C sensor, such as:

Sony A6300 camera

Sony A6300 mirrorless digital camera

  • Sony 10-18mm f4 OSS E-mount lens (8 oz, SEL1018, 2012) captures exceptionally crisp wide angles for architecture & landscapes at 15-27mm equivalent (mostly wider than the 24mm equivalent of RX10 III, though you can easily stitch images to compensate).
  • Sony E-mount 16-70mm F4 Vario-Tessar T ZA OSS SEL1670Z lens (2013, 11 oz) clearly beats Sony’s 16-50mm kit lens, but costs $600 more! SEL1670Z lens is sharpest around f/5.6 across its range. However, my June 2016 field tests surprisingly revealed that a SEL1670Z mounted on A6300 is only slightly better than the new Sony RX10 III camera in bright light at wider angles up to 3x zoom, but is equally sharp in dim light and at 4x in any light. RX10 III’s remarkable performance in dim light is probably explained by its efficient BSI sensor design, plus its larger diameter lens of 72mm (versus just 55mm filter size on SEL1670Z), gathering more light.
    • Details: In side-by-side tests at optimal apertures (one stop down from brightest), from about 16-50mm (24-75mm equivalent) in direct sunlight, and for closest focus in dim light around 45mm equivalent, SEL1670Z on A6300 can resolve enough extra detail to make about 5% wider/taller prints than Sony RX10 III, but otherwise not. From 75-105mm equivalent in most lighting situations, or in dim indoor light across its range, SEL1670Z is equaled or beaten by RX10 III in half of my hand-held shots at optimally-sharp apertures.

While Sony’s E-mount 16-50mm kit lens is exceptionally compact, it isn’t as sharp as SEL18200 or E 18-55mm lenses. And since the May 2016 introduction of Sony’s RX10 III camera with superior optics, I no longer recommend using the following 10x or 11x zoom lenses on Sony A6300 or A6000 or NEX:

In order to equal or beat RX10 III, owners of a Sony A6300 or A6000 may need one of the following hefty, pricey Sony FE Series (full-frame) lenses:

  • Sony FE 24-70 mm F2.8 GM SEL2470GM lens (2016, 31 oz) is brighter than the F3.2-4 of RX10 III at this 36-105mm equivalent zoom range on A6300.
  • Sony FE 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G OSS SEL70300G lens (2016, 30 oz) reportedly grabs good sports & wildlife shots on A6300. But within this range from 105-450mm equivalent, I suspect that the significantly faster F4 of RX10 III rivals the image quality of SEL70300G lens when tested side by side. RX10 is a better value and more portable for travel.
  • Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS SEL70200GM (2016, 52 oz) has bright, premium glass, advantageous for dim light photography, a full stop faster than RX10 III (which is F4 within this 105-300mm equivalent range). Has anyone compared this side-by-side with RX10 III in the field? — please “Leave a Reply” at bottom.
  • Sony FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS SEL70200G lens (2014, 30 oz) has premium glass, but is no brighter than the F4 of RX10 III within this 105-300mm equivalent range.
  • Sony FE series lenses support Sony A7 series full-frame cameras, and also APS-C-sensor E-mount cameras (A6300, A6000 and earlier NEX-6 & NEX-7).

Clearly, Sony’s A6300 & A6000 are now outgunned for outdoor travel photographers, as Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 III camera (buy at Amazon) packs the ultimate all-in-one travel tool into just 37 ounces. The RX10’s weather-sealed, bright f/2.4-4 lens (72mm filter diameter) with remarkable 25x zoom is sharp across the frame from 24-600mm equivalent, well into birding territory (read my Telephoto article). With the latest 1”-Type stacked BSI sensor, RX10 captures great depth-of-field details, everywhere from close flower shots to distant bird feathers. In my testing, RX10 III clearly beats the 11x SEL18200 lens (62mm filter diameter) on flagship APS-C Sony A6300 anywhere above 90mm+ equivalent telephoto, even as high as ISO 6400, due to the faster lens and BSI technology compensating for sensor size difference. At wider angles, 27-80mm equivalent, they capture similar quality in bright outdoor light — but in dim or indoor light, A6300’s larger sensor can sometimes resolve more detail on SEL18200. The sharper zoom SEL1670Z is only about 5% better than RX10 in bright light, and no better in dim light.

Conclusion: Among APS-C sensor cameras, Sony A6300 is my pick for top quality and best value; but now the Sony RX10 III with a smaller 1-inch-Type BSI sensor, combined with superb 25x lens, is a much better value than APS-C for travel, sports or wildlife photography. To gain up to about 5% in real resolution over RX10 III, the Sony A6000/A6300/A6500 cameras require interchanging only the brightest, highest-quality lenses (such as pricey f/2.8 lenses, Sony FE 24-70mm or FE 70-200mm). Lesser-quality lenses on APS-C are now antiquated by the all-in-one Sony RX10 III camera.

Sony A6300 camera improves upon earlier A6000 as follows:

  • 425 phase-detection autofocus (AF) points across the sensor (versus 179 in A6000). These cameras use a hybrid of on-sensor phase detection (for depth awareness) and contrast detection autofocus (for high precision).
  • Big viewfinder OLED 2.36 million dots with optional 120 fps refresh (versus 1.44 million in A6000).
  • Battery life increased to 400 shots, or 350 with EVF (versus 360 shots, or 310 with EVF in A6000).
  • A6300 is one of the top APS-C cameras at high ISO: A6300 improves ISO 1600 clarity by about a half stop, ISO 3200 by a full stop less noise compared to A6000.
  • A6300 introduces UHD 4K video (3840 x 2160 pixels at 30p). With Samsung apparently orphaning its NX1, the A6300’s video abilities are only rivaled by Panasonic GX and GH models.
  • Horizontal level gauge added.
  • Body is now magnesium alloy, environmentally sealed.
  • 14-bit raw format introduced (when using mechanical shutter) versus 12-bit raw in A6000.
  • improved Auto ISO settings

All these improvements in the A6300 come in a slightly heavier 14.3-ounce body weight (with battery & card; versus A6000’s 12.1 oz), still significantly lighter-weight than most DSLR-style cameras.

Suggested accessories for Sony A6300 and A6000:

If you don’t need a viewfinder, a cheaper Sony A5100 adds touchscreen and includes A6000’s hybrid autofocus system.

Read about A6300’s predecessors and more lens analyses: Sony A6000 & NEX top Nikon for travel, 11x lens.