Irish Rail 223 Then and Now.

1998 and 2018

As it happens, Irish Rail 223 was one of the first Irish locomotives I put on film.

I made this view at Tralee back in February 1998. Expose with a Nikon F3T on Fujichrome slide film.

Additional views of 223 were exposed digitally in recent weeks.

Irish Rail 223 leads the up IWT liner from Ballina at Islandbridge in Dublin on a August 2018 evening.
The next day, 223 works the down IWT liner at Islandbridge Junction. One a locomotive is assigned to the IWT liner it often works if for several days in a row.

Comparatively little rolling stock in service back in 1998 remain active on Irish Rail today.

Who could have guessed that I’d be making photos of Irish Rail 223 more than 20 years after I caught it at Tralee on that cloudy Febraury morning!

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East Union—Digital Black & White.

Sometimes the medium fits the image in more ways than one.

Earlier this month, John Gruber and I visited the Illinois Railway Museum at East Union.

Among the photos I exposed that afternoon, was this digital black & white of a recreated vintage passenger train simmering at the East Union station.

Not real black & white exposed on film, but a camera created black & white JPG.

FujiFilm X-T1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit lens.

The scene emulates a classic view of a steam locomotive and heavy weight cars at a country station, the sort of scene that was once prevalent across North America.

The photo carries the spirit of a vintage photograph, yet it was exposed using modern techniques to distill the essence of the elements of scene now long gone.

It is just a view of a museum, but it lets us step back, maybe to a happier, simpler time.

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Les Paul and Whose Train is This?— Or a Wink of Sun.

These days, leading locomotives don’t necessarily reflect the operator or even the originator of long distance freights. In fact this is a Canadian National train, working the old Wisconsin Central line.

Musical legend and an electric guitar inventor, Les Paul was from Waukesha, and here a thoroughfare has been named for him. Its elevated crossing of CN made for nice vistas in both directions.

Although it was partly cloudy, momentarily brilliant morning sun made for nice illumination.

A unit potash train  led by Norfolk Southern 9400 rolls along below Les Paul Boulevard in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Notice the old-school code lines to the left of the railroad.

Exposed using my FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm lens.

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Belmond’s Grand Hibernian on the Middle Road.

On Sunday’s an Irish Rail class 071 works Belmond’s luxury cruise train, the 10-car Grand Hibernian, on its run from Dublin Connolly to Waterford.

Although slightly back lit, I found the famed ‘Gullet’ offers a good place to catch this train at work.

This cutting dates from the 1840s and features three tracks.

In this instance, Irish Rail 082 was accelerating down the middle road with the posh-looking train. (‘Down’ refers to traveling away from Dublin, and doesn’t reflect the gradient, which in this situation is actually rising).

Working with both my FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm telephoto and Lumix LX7, I made two sets of digital photos.

Irish 082 with Belmond’s Grand Hibernian cruise train. FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm lens.
Lumix LX7 view.

The locomotive sound was impressive as on this particular Sunday a couple weeks back the roads in the area were shut for a foot race and there was very little ambient noise compared with a typical day in Dublin. Perhaps, I should have made a recording!

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Old Signals: My Last Photos?

I was running a few final errands before heading to the airport.

CSX had been working on making CP83 in Palmer, Massachusetts compliant with positive train control requirements, which has coincided with commissioning new signal hardware.

By the time I return, the old signals will likely have been retired and the new system up and working.

Crossing the South Main Street bridge in Palmer, I spotted a New England Central local working the diamond, and a CSX intermodal train (Q022) waiting to the west.

This gave me enough time to set up and made a few final photos of the transitional arrangement at CP83 in Palmer.

Old signals to the left, new heads on the right; CSX Q022 holds to the west of the Palmer diamond.
A moment of sun as Q022 begins to pull forward. Modern signaling equipment is in the silver box at right.
Working with an 18-135mm zoom lens gave me needed flexibility to adjust the focal length as the train pulled forward.

Changeable lighting made for patches of direction sun under a partial blanket of cloud. I tried to use these sunny spots to my best advantage since the train was moving slowly through the interlocking.


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Sunset at Pinole, California.

Parallel Lines: Wisconsin & Southern Left and Right at Ackerville.

Parallel lines. On the left is Canadian National’s Wisconsin Central line from Fond du Lac to Chicago; on right is Wisconsin & Southern’s former Milwaukee Road line running from Horicon to Milwaukee.

On this day, Chris Guss and I were aiming to catch Wisconsin & Southern’s T-4 freight on its way to Janesville. This train joins CN’s route at Slinger, just a little ways north from our location in the curve at Ackerville.

My goal was to show the parallel routes, while featuring the freight accelerating through the curve, to demonstrate the power of the locomotives.

Complicating my composition were the rows of trees. When I place the train in the distance, the tops of the locomotives are below the tree-line, and the thus less dramatic. When I let the locomotives get closer, they obscure the freight cars and most of the interesting effects of the parallel curves.

90mm view at Ackerville.
Tight 90mm view. How do you like the fluffy cloud above the engines?

If I move lower, the angle would be more dramatic, but the second set of tracks would be nearly lost altogether. Longer focal length lens? Similar quandary, this minimizes the second set of tracks and features the trees more prominently.

Such are the challenges of perfecting railroad photo composition. Often there’s no one ideal solution.

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Cabbage Pan on the old Milwaukee Road

In the mid-1930s, Milwaukee Road introduced its high-speed streamlined Hiawatha on its Chicago-Milwaukee-Twin Cities route where elegant purpose-built shrouded 4-4-2 and 4-6-4 Alco steam locomotives whisked trains along in excess of 110mph.

Today, Amtrak’s Hiawathas have Siemens Chargers on the Milwaukee end, and former F40PH Control-Cab/baggage cars, known as ‘Cabbages’ on the Chicago-end.

While Amtrak provides an excellent corridor service, today top speed is just 79mph.

I can’t help but think that as a nation we’ve lost the plot on this one.

We went from elegant, fast steam streamliners to this?

Panning my Fujifilm XT1 plus 27mm lens in parallel with Amtrak’s fast moving Hiawatha has allowed for the effect of speed and motion. ISO 200, 1/125thof a second. Note: that my shutter speed wasn’t especially slow.

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Lumix Raw-Adjusted on the Train—Changing at Portadown.

Just moments ago, I changed trains at Portadown, Northern Ireland.

I’m writing this from the NIR service from Portadown to Bangor.

I uploaded Lumix files to my MacBook, and adjusted them using Lightroom on the train. Then scaled and uploaded to WordPress via NIR’s wifi.

Or at least that’s the theory.

NIR train at Portadown. Lumix LX7 photo.

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Lumix on the Enterprise—Extra Post

I’m on my way from Dublin toward Belfast on the cross-border Enterprise.

Working with my Lumix LX7, I made these photos and I’m posting them via the Enterprise Wi Fi using my Apple MacBook.

The light weight Lumix LX7 with its easy to use controls and flexible zoom lens makes it an ideal travelogue device. Yet, it’s more than just a snapshot camera.

It makes simultaneous RAW and Jpg files while allowing adjustment of exposure via shutter speed and aperture controls. Plus it has a variety of pre-sets and automatic modes.

View at Drogheda.
Old Great Northern Railway station at Dundalk. This morning just a few minutes ago.
Near Newry, Northern Ireland.

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Canadian National: Clear aspect on a Clear Morning.

Reading the signals is part of the challenge and joy of my railroad photography.

Three weeks back, Chris Guss and I were following a southward Canadian National freight on the Wisconsin Central line.

North of Slinger, we made photos from a wooden plank bridge near the north approach signal for Slinger, Wisconsin.

This displayed ‘green over red’, in other words a clear aspect.

Clear signal at the north approach for Slinger.

I made these views with my Fujifilm XT1. After exposing the view of the signal, I changed lenses, and used a 27mm pancake lens for the action photo of the passing train.

Canadian National 2813 leads freight M342-41-30 south near Slinger, Wisconsin.

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High ISO: Sturtevant Station at Dusk in the Rain.

Heavy rain had given the ground a lacquer-like gloss.

Chris Guss and I had arrived at Sturtevant, Wisconsin to roll by an Amtrak train. (Featured the other day in: FIRST ENCOUNTER: AMTRAK CHARGER.

While waiting for the northward train. I made a series of photographs of Amtrak’s relatively new Sturtevant station. I’ve always liked the effect of a twilight sky, when the blue light of evening nearly matches the intensity of electric lighting.

Fujifilm XT1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit at ISO 2000.
greater color saturation and contrast applied in post processing.

Here, I worked with my Zeiss 12mm Touit lens. This is flat-field lens, so keeping the lens level, minimizes perspective distortion.

I was without my small tripod, and I used the camera handheld at a low angle. To make use of the reflections of the station in the parking lot.

I set the ISO to 2000. Here are two post-processing variations of the Camera RAW file that feature different contrast curves.

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Wisconsin’s Byron Hill: Then and Now.

Two views almost 24 years apart.

Both feature southward trains on the former Soo Line, Wisconsin Central route ascending Byron Hill on their way south from Fond du Lac, exposed in the morning from the overhead bridge near the top of the grade.

In the interval between the images, the line was improved to two-main track and Wisconsin Central Limited became part of the Canadian National system.

The locomotives are very different too.

For this December 1994 image, I exposed a Kodachrome 25 slide using a Nikon F3t with Nikkor f4 200mm lens.
In August 2018, I worked with my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm Fujinon zoom, that approximates the perspective of the earlier photo.

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Irish Rail 222—The Bishop.

Many Irish Rail locomotives have nicknames. Engine 222 is ‘The Bishop’ or ‘Bishop Tutu’, which is an allusion to its number.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve caught this locomotive at many places across the Irish network.

Irish Rail 222 working push-pull set at Cherryville Junction on 20 September 2002. Exposed on Fujichrome with a Nikon.
10 June 2006; An electrical power cut at Westport, County Mayo had required the use of portable generators at the station. In addition to the discordant cacophony at the normally peaceful location, this had resulted in some unusual moves to get trains positioned properly, such as this view of 222 with Mark 3s beyond the station to the West.

See: DAILY POST: Timber and General Motors, June 10, 2006 

Irish Rail 222 works a Dublin to Cork Mark4 set nearing Kent Station, Cork.
Now officially 02-10222. The Bishop basks in the evening sun at Heuston Station in Dublin.
Working the IWT liner from Dublin to Ballina, at my all to often photographed location at Islandbridge in Dublin. Exposed digitally using my FujiFilm XT1.

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First Encounter: Amtrak Charger.

I was curious to experience one of these new locomotives.

The Siemens-built Charger is powered by a Cummins diesel and has a European appearance.

Among their Amtrak assignments is the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha corridor.

I waited on the platform at the new Sturtevant, Wisconsin station. The eerie blue glow of the locomotive’s LED headlights could be seen reflecting off the rails long before the train arrived at the station.

Working with my FujiFilm XT1 fitted with a Zeiss 12mm Touit, I set the ISO to 6400 and panned the train arriving at 1/30thof a second at f2.8.

To better balance the color and keep contrast under control, I modified the camera RAW file in Lightroom to produce this internet suitable JPG.

Here’s a screen shot of the camera-produced JPG with EXIF data for comparison.

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EMDs on the Roll! Conrail-Era SD60M.

Gosh, I remember when 6798 was NEW and blue. This is among Conrail-era SD60Ms still at work on Norfolk Southern.

To make for a more dramatic locomotive action photo, I’ve taken a low angle medium-telephoto view.

Notice how the angle features the wheels on rails, allowing you to see below the locomotive.

Engine exhaust blurs the wires beyond, demonstrating the engines are working.

By focusing on the locomotives; I’ve cropped most of the following freight, more than a mile of it in tow.

Exposed at LaPorte, Indiana on Norfolk Southern’s former New York Central Water Level Route mainline. FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm telephoto. ISO 200, f5, 1/500thsecond; JPG image processed from camera RAW file using Lightroom; contrast and exposure adjusted globally and locally to improve visual impact.

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Documenting the Common: Norfolk Southern Double-stacks at CP485.

Norfolk Southern’s Water Level Route is among the busiest freight routes in the East.

It features a continual parade of trains; long freights led by common modern diesels.

Here a cookie-cutter General Electric Evolution-series works east with a double stack train, ducking under the South Shore line at CP485 near Burns Harbor, Indiana.

Isn’t this freight the modern day equivalent of a New York Central freight led by F7s; or a generation earlier by a common Central H-10 Mikado?

Freight trains are about freight and I’ll often make photos of the consist.

But does it matter that I exposed this image? Where does it fit in the BIG picture?

I was pleased when I made this view. Chris Guss and I had enough time to set up, but didn’t wait long. I recalled a photo made more than 20 years ago in this same territory; Mike Danneman and I spent a snowy February morning photographing Conrail. Those photos are looking better all the time.

The common deserves to be recorded.


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Four Quadrant Gates in Michigan City.

Sorry, this is not a pretty picture.

Here we have a potpourri of necessary clutter; a patched well-traveled road, various electrical poles and lines, the cooling tower for a power station, a signal-relay cabinet, a stray street light, and of course an Amtrak P42 Genesis diesel of the much-maligned industrial design.

Not pretty; but portrays a four-quadrant grade crossing gate protecting the highway an Amtrak train from Chicago crosses.

Exposed digitally using a Panasonic Lumix LX7. ISO 200 f3.2 1/1000th second. Image processed from camera RAW using Lightroom.

But this is Northern Indiana, not Tehachapi.

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Curiosity of Northern Indiana: Some call it ‘the Chicken’.

The reference is a pronunciation of the Chesapeake & Indiana’s reporting marks; CKIN.

Chris Guss and I had hoped to catch this curious short line railroad on the move.

No such luck. But we did make some photographs of their General Motors-built locomotives near their interchange with CSX at Wellsboro. Some of these wear Southern Railway style paint.

Southern’s been gone since the 1980s so it’s a flashback to see these colors again.

If only I’d been more awake! I’d just traveled overnight on Amtrak 449 (Lake Shore Limited) from Worcester, Massachusetts.

Photos exposed on a overcast July morning using a FujiFilm XT1; files adjusted digitally for contrast and exposure to maximize highlight and shadow detail.

Union Mills, Wellsboro, Indiana.


High hazy sunlight in Northern Indiana with black locomotives makes for a photographic challenge.

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Did Someone Say FRA?

Last week I stepped on to Main Street in Monson, just as a single New England Central GP38 was working upgrade through town.

‘It’s a bit late for 608.’ I thought. (608 is the weekday turn freight from Willimantic to Palmer, often featured on Tracking the Light).

It wasn’t 608, as I quickly noticed. Rather, it was NECR 3850 leading a Federal Railroad Administration inspection train, including FRA’s ‘Gage Restraint Measurement Vehicle’.

I had other plans. But had my FujiFilm XT1 with me.

Plans were postponed, as I jumped in my vehicle and immediately headed south on Route 32 to intercept this unusual train.

I caught it twice; once at the Bob Buck inspired South Monson Rt 32 crossing, and then at Bob’s favorite, Smith’s Bridge at Stafford Hollow Road.

Route 32, South Monson.

In my youth this bridge offered an open view of the line; in Bob’s steam-era photo there were fields both sides of the track. Today, there’s only a narrow space between the trees. Lucky for me, the angle of the sun was perfect.

NECR 3850 leads the Federal Railroad Administration inspection train at Smiths Bridge, Stafford Hollow Road, Monson, Massachusetts. Telephoto view.
Wide angle view from Smiths Bridge, Monson.

Score one for being at the right place at the right time (and having my cameras).

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Indiana Harbor Belt Gen-Set at Burns Harbor, Indiana.

Mainline applications for Gen Set diesels are comparatively rare.

A gen set is a computer-optimized multiple-engine diesel electric designed for very  low emissions, and typically used for switching.

Indiana Harbor Belt gen-set works east at Burns Harbor, Indiana.

In July, Chris Guss and I chased this eastward IHB freight.

Although it was a dull afternoon, the locomotive’s brilliant orange paint made for a dramatic subject.

Working with a short telephoto, I aimed to emphasize the unusual shape of the Gen Set locomotive, panning it slightly to offset the cluttered industrial background.

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Irish Rail Workhorse Diesel; The Unremarked 221 in four photos.

Here’s four views of Irish Rail 221; two film, two digital; two orange, two green & silver; two with passenger, two with freight; one in snow, three without; but all showing this machine on the move.

221 leads the down Dublin-Cork liner at Ballybrophy on 25 March 2005. Exposed on Fujichrome Velvia 100F using a Nikon F3 with 180mm lens.

This is part of my on-going series depicting Ireland’s class 201 diesel electrics to mark my 20 years photographing in Ireland. Photographic details in the captions.

Irish Rail 221 leading Mark 3 carriages at Kildare on a damp summer day in 2005. Exposed on Fujichrome Velvia 100F using a Nikon F3 with 180mm lens.
Freshly painted 221 (with expanded number) leads the down IWT liner (Dublin to Ballina container train) at Islandbridge Junction in Dublin. Exposed digitally using a FuijFilm XT1 with 90mm Fujinon telephoto lens. Notice the effect of scale with the monument visually positioned over the locomotive. The date of exposure was 21 September 2017.
Irish Rail 221 in the snow at Islandbridge in Dublin on 28 February 2018. Exposed digitally with a FujiFilm XT1 and 27mm pancake lens.

Question: do head-on telephoto views portray the shape of the 201-class effectively?

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Worcester Union Station—Architectural Classic.

I remember when Worcester Union Station was a ruin.

It was restored to its former glory during the late 1990s, and today is the terminal for MBTA services to Boston over the the old Boston & Worcester (later Boston & Albany/New York Central route).

I wrote about this station in relation to the building it replaced in my book Depots, Stations & Terminals.

The old Worcester (Massachusetts) Union Station was a solid Romanesque structure designed by architects Ware & Van Brunt. It was demolished to make way for Samuel Huckel’s new Worcester Union completed in 1911.

I exposed these views in July using my Lumix LX7.

A view from Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited at platform level.

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South Shore Revisted

Last week, Chris Guss and I revisited the Chicago, South Shore and South Bend street trackage at Michigan City, Indiana.

This classic vestige of interurban railroading always makes for interesting photos.

My father, Richard J. Solomon first visited the South Shore at Michigan City back in 1958.

My first trip over the line was 26 years later.

I exposed this sequence of an afternoon eastward electric train using my FujiFilm XT1 with prime 90mm telephoto. I was playing with the focus.

At Michigan City the tracks are the subject.
In this view I’ve focused on the train. If the sun had been out, this would have been a harshly lit afternoon image.

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In Memory: Jim Shaughnessy.

Jim Shaughnessy signs his book ‘Essential Witness’ on visit in December 2017.

Yesterday, August 7, 2018, my friend Jim Shaughnessy passed away.

Jim’s photography and writing are some of the best known in American railroad circles; over the years he has been a strong influence on my own work.

He and I often discussed three interests we had in common: Ireland, railways and photography.

Jim had been visiting Ireland since the 1960s. In 2005, Jim visited me in Dublin and I gave him a walking tour.

He will be missed; his photography and writing lives on.

—Brian Solomon

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New Signals at Dusk—working with high ISO.

Saturday evening I used my FujiFilm X-T1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit to photograph CSX’s westward Q437 (Framingham, Massachusetts to Selkirk, New York) at Palmer, Massachusetts passing the new signals at CP83.

They’ve yet to be activated and the new signals are in place alongside the Conrail-era signals installed in 1986.

It was dusk and the light was fading fast. I pushed the camera ISO to 2500, and exposed this action shot at 1/250th of a second at f2.8.

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Pan Am Pacing View at the New York State Line!

With photographer Mike Gardner behind the wheel, we were in hot pursuit of Pan Am’s EDRJ (East Deerfield to Rotterdam Junction).

Rolling along with the train at the Vermont-New York state line west of Pownal, Vermont, I made this pacing view.

There’s wasn’t time for niceties such as carefully calculating exposure. I set the camera shutter speed dial to ‘A’ and exposed a burst of images in RAW.

After the fact I adjusted shadows and highlights in Lightroom to make for a better balanced photograph.

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Telephoto and Wide Angle of EDRJ at Rices.

Rices at Charlemont, Massachusetts used to be an interlocking, where the Boston & Maine’s line went from double to single track.

Back in the 1980s, I’d catch meets here between eastward and westward freights.

Much has changed.

Not only was the interlocking decommissioned and later removed, but almost all evidence of it, including the old signal bridge are now gone. Trees and brush have grown up between the railroad and the river, and trees along the road are taller than ever.

This now makes for a pretty challenging setting.

At some point I’ll present ‘then and now’ views, but these photos demonstrate telephoto and wide angle photos of the same train from the same vantage point.

There was nice afternoon light on Pan Am’s EDRJ (East Deerfield to Rotterdam Junction) so I settled on my traditional location, which still gets a bit of sun late in the day.

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Brian Solomon Guest Host on Trains News Wire August 3, 2018

Yesterday, August 3, 2018, I was invited by Trains Magazine’s Steve Sweeney to co-host the weekly recorded News Wire video program.

This was a thrill and an honor.

You can watch the video at:–a

Thanks to Steve and Kalmbach’s Diane for the broadcast!

Brian Solomon and Steve Sweeney preparing to broadcast on August 3, 2018.

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Hump-set in the Rain.

The sky opened up as the East Deerfield hump set was crossing the Connecticut River bridge at the east end of Pan Am Railway’s East Deerfield Yard.

I thought the effects of the cascading rain added atmosphere to the scene.

90mm Fujinon telephoto view.

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New England Central at Hospital Road—Two Views.

Far and Near, which do you prefer?

Both views were exposed on a soft morning at Hospital Road in Monson, Massachusetts of New England Central freight 608 on its northward run to Palmer.

Working with a 90mm fixed telephoto lens, I made a distant view that better shows the train in the curve, followed by a tight view focused on the locomotives.

Other features include the distant signal to the Palmer diamond and milepost 64 (measured from New London, Connecticut).

I set my exposure manually to avoid under exposure as a result of the camera meter reading the bright locomotive headlights.

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Bus Meet on Digital Black & White.

Here’s something different. I had my FujiFilm X-T1 set up to record monochrome with a digitally applied red filter to alter the tonality.  Working with a Zeiss 12mm lens, I made this view at Arlington, Massachusetts of two MBTA buses passing on Massachusetts Avenue.

This digital black & white image is unaltered from the camera-produced JPG except for scaling for internet presentation.

How does this black & white compare with film?

It is a lot easier, but is it better?

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