The Art of Packing

The other day I was thinking about packing. I know weird thing to randomly think about right. In the past when I’ve often traveled with my wife and our packing setup has been something like this. We each carry a backpack of some kind with things we need to keep handy. I swear by crumpler backpacks by the way. Then we have one large rolling suitcase that my wife pulls along with clothing and larger items. That’s the bag that get checked if we are doing a plane trip. You often have to pay to check bags at this point but we feel it's usually worth it. Sometimes I’ll also place another bag with handles on the back of my wheelchair over top of the backpack. I was thinking though what if I was traveling on my own or with someone I couldn’t share a suitcase with?

Packing is not going to be a one size fit all solution by any means. The fact that we all have different abilities and strengths means that some could push a rolling suitcase along while others may not be able to. I might be comfortable with a bunch of weight on the back of my wheelchair but for some that is a huge balance issue.

If you’re traveling and using a wheelchair I have a few basic tips.

  1. An under the seat pouch is great for things you need to be able to get right away and want to keep safe. Things like your passport or boarding pass are good to keep there. Maybe some allen keys for wheelchair repairs.

  2. If you’re traveling by plane or a train have a reasonable size carry on bag. For me this is a backpack that fits onto the back of my wheelchair. This is where I keep my camera gear, laptop or ipad. Maybe a change of clothes just incase and some snacks too.

  3. Regardless of the size or style of bag you use for you clothing make sure it's something you can maneuver without too much trouble. Perhaps this is less important if you’re just going to travel by car. But if you have to trek through the airport or from public transit to your hotel that bag is going to seem a lot heavier as time goes on.

  4. Consider if where you’re going to be has some kind of laundry facility. You can get away with packing light if you’re able to wash everything part way through you trip. Even if you have to pay it could be well worth it.

In all how you pack is going to be a very personal thing. If I was going on a long trip on my own I think I’d do something like this. A seat pouch bag which I always carry anyway. Next would be my backpack for carry on. Finally I'd take a four wheel rolling bag if it was a longer trip. If it was a short trip I'd take a bag I could strap to the front of my chair or put over my shoulder and rest above my feet.  

Packing is a pain, I don't enjoy it even though I enjoy planning a trip so much. However it's one of those things that has to get done. Take the time to think about what you really need and try and pack as light as you can. You'll thank yourself later. 

Let me know below what you do for packing. I'd love to hear some ideas.

Via Train Review

So last week we made our train trip out to the Ottawa area to visit some friends. To get there and back from Toronto we took the Via Train. This is a little report on how the train was and what you need to know about it’s accessible features.

As I've written about before the tie-down spot for wheelchair is in the business class section. In the end I decided I was going to be more comfortable in my wheelchair for the almost 4 hours trip. So we purchased an extra seat in business class and we all sat together there. This was of course more expensive but came with some nice perks. For starters you get to make use of the business lounge in Toronto if you’re early and need a nice place to wait around. There you’ll find wifi magazines / newspapers ,free coffee and soft drinks, all your standard fare for a business lounge really. Once it was time to board someone from Via visited and escorted us to the train which was really nice.

Up at track level I had to use a manual lift to make it up to train level. It’s a low tech solution but it works really well and most importantly to them I’m sure it reasonably quick to do. The tie down spot for the wheelchair is decent all things considered. Opposite from the tie down is two seats for those traveling with you. There is a fair bit of room and you can sit as close or as far from the table between you and the seats you’d like. There are a couple of plugs next to you so you can charge you laptop or phone. 

There is also an wheelchair accessible washroom on the train right next to where you’ll be sitting. This washroom was kind of a pleasant surprise to be honest. For one I could fit my chair inside without having to transfer unlike I would have to on an airplane. There is a fold out transfer seat in there if you need that as well. Now of course using the washroom on a moving rocking train isn’t going to be easy at the best of times. Still though I think the setup was quite well thought through and worked well for me.

Not accessibility related but perhaps still of interest for those considering taking the train was the food options. Again being in business class there was an included meal, in this case lunch. We had three options, two warm and one cold. I had a pasta which was fine but of course nothing special. Better than your average airplane food though I think. We were also offered drinks alcoholic and not and some various snacks here and there.

Train Vs. Plane

So what about the other obvious option which is flying. The main difference here is price of course. You’re playing for the fact that the flight is a total of an hour minus check in and boarding. Also there are a lot more options for flight times that there are train times. There are often sales on Porter however at the moment full price is approximately $875 including taxes. Checking Air Canada at the moment shows basically the same price. This compared to the $330 we paid to take the train and you can see the difference.

In all taking the Via was a pleasant experience all around. One could argue that this was because we paid extra to travel in business class. It’s true in economy we would not have gotten a meal or included drink or access to the lounge. However I feel that even if that was the case the Via staff would have done everything they could to make the trip as enjoyable as possible. We would have packed our own lunch and things would have been just fine.

 

 

Toronto Evergreen Brickworks

The Toronto brickwork has become one of my favourite place to head on the weekend this summer. They have a year round farmers market but it's outside may through October. The farmers market with its large variety of vendors is the main attraction for me. It's nice to go and pick up a week's worth of local fruit and veggies.

Even if you're not into the farmers market or you decide to go throughout the week when the market isn’t open there is still lots to see. It’s best to check their website for all the going ons of course. Through the week this summer though there are things like, Camp Night where you can sit around a campfire and make bracelets with the kids. Or perhaps pizza night where you can grab a pizza from the on site woodfired over then go for a bike ride after. There is a bike rentals and a bike repair shop on site so you don't even need to bring a bike. 

To get there you can either take a wheelchair accessible shuttle bus from broadview station or a TTC bus from Davisville subway station. The TTC bus only runs Saturday and Sunday though. I prefer going via davisville because the bus is easier to board. The shuttle bus has a lift but it's very small with limited tie down options. I don’t suggest trying it with a larger power chair. Both bus options only run every 30 minutes.  

The site is generally pretty wheelchair accessible. There are accessible washrooms in the main building. There is one large stall in each of the mens and womens washrooms. My only complaint was the automated hand dryer was too high up for me to use that well. The grounds can be a bit uneven depending on your route. I don't think most will have much trouble let with this though.

Over all the Brickworks is a fun place to go. It’s perfect for families but you’ll enjoy it even if you’re on your own or just going as a couple. It some how has a different feel than being in the rest of the city. Kind of a place to escape a bit even if you’re just in the Don Valley.

Fuji X100T - Review

The Fuji X100T was announced in September of 2014. It's always been a camera that I thought looked interesting and I wanted to give a try. Fujifilm Canada was gracious enough to lend me one for a few weeks to give it a try and I'm so glad they did. Obviously my main subjects for photographer are street and travel images. The X100 series has always been loved by street photographers for it's small size, rangefinder like handling and over all image quality. I am one of those photographers who could not be happier than to have a 35mm equivalent lens on my camera at all times and that's exactly what the X100 series gives you. In the past I've spent a bit of time with both the Leica M6 and M9 so I had a decent understand of what to expect from a rangefinder style camera. Although some will argue that the X100T is not a true range finder if you're going to be technical I suppose. As always I won't get into the super technical details of the camera as there many sites out there that will do a better job at that than I will. 

Controls and Handling and Style

This is what draws most people to the Fuji X100T and really the whole X100 line in general. The camera has a great retro style and comes in either black or chrome colours. Many of the controls are set with dials or sliders instead of just in a menu. I was stopped pretty much everyday when shooting on the street and asked about the camera by someone just because it looks cool. The camera has a good solid feel to it, It's like but sturdy. The finish has a good texture and the camera generally feels good in the hand. I could see wanting some additional grip of some kind though if you're out for a whole day of shooting.

Viewfinder

The camera is a rangefinder style camera where you're looking through the body of the camera instead of seeing through the lens like in a SLR. I've been shooting primarily with an SRL for something like 15 years so getting use to anything else was a bit of a challenge for sure. The viewfinder window is really nice to look through though there is no doubt about that. The viewfinder has 3 main modes. The first is what I think a lot of people are going to be drawn to this camera for and that is optical only. This means you’re just looking straight through the viewfinder window. Information and frame lines are projected into the view. The information you see if customizable as well so you can have as much or as little as you’d like.

The second is the hybrid option. This gives you the same view as the optical view but digitally overlays a zoomed in view of your current focus point. This is mostly for manual focus I believe, though I’m sure some people will find other uses for it. The final option is to go to a fully electronic view. This gives you your through the lens view if you need it. I found it good when doing close up work. It would also be good if you wanted to use one of the filter modes and see a real time preview of them.. Though I don’t do use them much I can see the use.

I guess I’m a bit of a purist in some respects. Although I think it’s great that Fuji gives you the option to use a fully electronic viewfinder I think that’s not what this camera is really about. 

Controls

The lens on this camera is a fixed 23mm F2 (35mm equivalent). There is a nice aperture ring with clicks to 1/3 stops. There are two nice grip points that I found easy to find and use while looking through the viewfinder. Closer to the front of the lens if the focus ring. I personally found it too small to get a really nice grip. It’s by no means unusable, it’s just a comprise Fuji made I think to keep the lens small. 

Your other controls on top of the camera are shutter speed and exposure compensation. Both are nice large dials that have a good solid feel to them.  ISO is changed via the quick menu and the rear control dial. I found the quick menu not too bad to use after you got used to it. It is also customizable so you can chose what shows up there I often left the camera on auto iso and that was fine as well.

Focus

Autofocus is what I shot with most during my time with the camera. I found it to work well and accurately most of the time. I didn’t find it as quick as my X-T1 but it was perfectly fine. It did miss the mark in some more challenging situations though. There are a few different auto focus modes depending on what you shoot. I personally prefer single point and just move it around the frame as needed.

Manual focus works okay but never really felt right to me. With the hybrid viewfinder there are several focus peaking options. I personally liked the highlight mode or none at all. I found the zoomed in overlay in the hybrid view was sharp enough to tell when things were in focus without any help. Manual focus to me still works best with the electronic viewfinder where you get focus peaking over the whole frame.

Image quality 

The X100T uses a 16 megapixel X-Trans II sensor. That meant I kind of knew what the image quality was going to be like heading into this. This sensor design has been around for about two years. I understand Fuji has their reasons but this would have been a great camera to go with a new sensor design in. The other major factor for image quality of course is the fixed lens. Thankfully the lens is quite good. At F2 I found the image quality to be more than acceptable. I didn’t find it quite as sharp at my XF 23mm F1.4 lens but I don’t think many people will really find anything to complain about. Like any lens its not at it’s best wide open but I think even at F2 it looks pretty good in most situations. 

High ISO performance was also good. Images at 3200 were just fine and even images at 6400 iso I thought were perfectly usable if a bit grainy of course. Colour rendering is great just like the Fuji X-T1 and several other cameras in the line up. If you’re into shooting JPEG all the film simulation modes are there and work really well.  

Who is this camera for? 

My main goal here was to see if this is the right camera for someone who wants to primarily shoot street or travel photography. This was never going to be a camera for everyone. Primarily it is going to be the fixed lens and price that might turn people away. Not everyone loves the 35mm angle of view and this is admittedly not an inexpensive camera at about $1499 CDN. That said if you love shooting with a 35mm lens or traveling small and light is your main goal I think there is a lot to like here. I only had the camera a few weeks but I shoot everything I could with it. I took tons of photos on the streets of Toronto with it. One great thing for street photography is that the camera is basically silent. You can shoot on the street and for the most part no one will even notice you.  I shot family functions, a few trips to the local farmers market and a trip to the Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto. Although I did not take the camera on a large trip of course I feel comfortable saying it could be the only camera you need to take with you. Unless you know for sure you need to shoot in some special situation where another lens is needed. Another great addition to this camera I think a lot of people will welcome is built in Wi-Fi. You can send jpegs straight from the camera to your mobile device and share from there. You can also remote control the camera from your device if you find a need for that. 

Conclusion 

Fuji has really come a long way with the X100 line up. The X100S and now X100T have each improved on the previous model by listening to their customer base and adding the feature people generally want. It’s an amazing all around camera that is stylish and unique in many of its features. It is not inexpensive but I feel if this is the kind of camera you are comfortable with the price will be well worth it for you.

Like a lot of my Toronto Fuji friends I purchase my gear at Aden camera. You should too if you’re able. They are friendly and have great prices. Speak to Matthew and let them know I sent you, thanks. If you're not able to visit Aden please try and support your local camera shop whenever possible.

Though I have friends who work for Fuji, they in no way pay me or provide me with free equipment to keep.

St. Lawrence Market

St. Lawrence Market is one of my favourite places in Toronto. No matter where I travel I always try and find a nice local market or grocery store. As I've written about before here it's great to have some nice food to keep in your hotel room for a snack in the afternoon or evening. Often I pick up cheese or fruit, whatever is local and in season. 

St. Lawrence market is really two spaces. There is the main market building that is open Tuesday through Saturday. The building contains over 120 vendors. There is a huge selection of meats, cheeses and pretty much anything else you could possibly want. There are vendors that sell every kind of seafood you can think of and a few good places that have lots of fruit and veggies. There are also a few vendors on both levels that sell prepared dishes. The highlights are Busters Sea Cover for great seafood and Carousel Bakery for their pea-meal bacon sandwich. So wether you have just have a small hotel room or a AirBnB that has a full out kitchen or grill you'll find something here to take back with you. 

If you're around on a Saturday morning there is also a farmers market. Currently located south of the main St. Lawrence building. Here local farms and vendors come out to sell directly to customers. I love this place as I really like dealing with the farmers directly. Almost everything is amazingly fresh and the prices tend to be quite good. 

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Accessibility 

The best way to enter the main building is off Front street. There are three doors off of front street and the elevator is located near the middle one. This will take you down to the washrooms in the lower level. There isn't any wonderful transit to get out to the market. It's about a 10 minute walk from Union Station and The Sherbourne bus # 75 is also just a few blocks away and can take you up to Bloor Street.

Fuji 27mm Pancake Lens

I was originally interested in the Fujifilm 27mm lens after seeing it recommended by Eric Kim for street photography. Also my friend and awesome photographer Ryan Tacay swears by it. I managed to get my hands on one for the last few weeks and I thought I'd talk a bit about it here. With this lens I was trying to discover two things. How does it work for street photography and would it make a good all round travel lens. 

Size, Weight and Handling 
The 27mm F2.8 is Fuji's smallest lens. When I unpacked it I was kind of amazed at just how small it is. On my X-T1 the whole system is pretty close in size to a X100 S/T. So if you're an X-T1 user and you want to go small and light then this lens is it. Of course it would also work on many other bodies like the X-E2 and X-Pro 1.

I was a bit disappointed to see that there is no aperture ring on this lens. You of course can still control the aperture manually with one of the control dials on the camera. This is set via the menu. It's not a big deal but when you're used to an aperture dial on your other lenses it's a bit of an adjustment. 

The focus ring is smooth but I found it to be a bit too easy to turn. It also infinitely turns in either direction. Again this isn't a huge deal but it's my personal preference that a focus ring stops at each end of the focus range. Auto focus was quite quick over all. Certainly fast enough for most general shooting siturations.

 

Image Quality 
Yes the image quality on this lens is as good as everyone says it is. Even wide open I found it to be very sharp right the the edges of the frame. There isn't much else to say about it really I don't think anyone is going to have anything to complain about in this department. Well someone will surely but they don't have much reason to. 

 

Every Day Usage 
So how does this lens work for street and general travel photography. For the most part it works quite well. The 27mm lens on a cropped sensor camera like the fuji lineup comes out to the same field of view as a  40mm lens in the 35mm equivalent. It's the middle ground between the popular 35mm and 50mm lens choices. This kind of makes it a jack or all trades and master of none in my books. While it's perhaps not ideal for landscapes I think if you're traveling you'd be quite happy with the focal length. It works well for things like portraits, street scenes and food photography. I used it to photograph family gatherings and work events as well.

 

Conclusion
Over all I think anyone looking for a compact and light lens to put on a Fuji camera body is going to enjoy this lens. Wether it be for travel photography or taking photos of the family. It's small and light, the auto focus is good and it's quite sharp. I don't think there is much to complain about here. My only objection is the price to be honest. Although it's built well I think the asking price of approximately $450 Cdn is a little steep. That's not to say it's poor value. I just think that when it comes between picking the 40mm or 18-55mm zoom when starting your kit it's not an easy choice. 

 

 

Like a lot of my Toronto Fuji friends I purchase my gear at Aden camera. You should too if you’re able. They are friendly and have great prices. Speak to Matthew and let them know I sent you, thanks.

If you’re unable to get to Aden and wish to help the site out please use one of the Amazon links below. Or better yet visit your local independent camera store of choice.

Thank you to Fuji Canada for providing a loan of this lens for review.


The Places I would go - 2015 edition

Like most years 2014 had been a year of ups and downs. I didn't do a lot of traveling in 2014 but my wife and I did go to New York for a week which was great. This year won't hold a ton of travel either. In fact this post obviously was go up in January. However a new addition to the family came a bit early and I just never got the time to finishing writing this until now. That said I though I'd provide a list of some of the places I'd go in 2015 if time and money were no issue. That's okay I normally don't travel until the spring anyway.

Paris 
When we were starting to plan our trip to New York last year there was a bit of a debate. New York or Paris. Since clearly New York won out in the end I'd go to Paris this coming year. I went once when I was in my mid teens but that was quite a while ago now. It might be the most popular destination for tourists in the world but I think that's with good reason. Everyone goes to Paris for their own reasons. For me its the food and get culture institutions like the louvre.  Though I think that's going to be a trend with the rest of this list too. 

Chicago 
I've visited Chicago in the past. It remains on of my favourite American cities though and I'd love to go back there. The art galleries and museums are top notch of course and I'd probably visit them again even though i've been. But like visiting anyplace for a second time there are things missed the first time around that I'd like to get to. I wouldn't feel that pressure though and it would be a more relaxing trip.

Montreal
One of the oldest cities in Canada. The history, the culture and the food. Those are the reasons you visit Montreal I think. I made a brief visit to Montreal in early highschool. However visiting it at this point in my life would be vastly different of course. Like many large cities Montreal is build out of a number of distinct neighbourhoods. Getting around Montreal by wheelchair could bit a little bit of a challenge it seems. Just like Toronto all the buses are accessible but the subway system leaves a lot to be desired. 

Iceland
Iceland seems to be the photographers dream location these days. This is doubly true if you're into landscape photography. I'm more of a street photography but I'm not immune to just how outstanding gouges Iceland looks. If i'm honest I don't know a lot about the country but I that's part of why it's interesting to me. From what I've read Iceland also seems to be reasonably wheelchair friendly too.

Ecuador
I have a few friends who have family in and visit Ecuador each year. I've never been to South America myself and I'd love to make Ecuador the first visit. there The capitol city Quito is a designated UNESCO world heritage site. Ecuador also has one of the highest number of different species of animals for a county it's size. Because Ecuador had Lenin Moreno, a vice president who uses a wheelchair the country is more wheelchair accessible than most in South America. So the changes of being able to get around see what you want might be better than most places.