Rolling Freight by Harris Tower

Among the attractions of the historic former Pennsylvania Railroad Harris Tower in Harrisburg is the continual parade of Norfolk Southern freights.

While this is a good venue for watching trains, it is a visually challenging place to picture them because of the array of urban clutter around the Harrisburg, Pa station,

The combination of wires and cables with an urban background results in some difficult photo choices. I’ve found one of the best ways to picture trains in this type of setting is to pan from a broad-side angle using a slow shutter speed .

I made these images using my Nikon Z7-II with 24-70 and 70-200mm Nikkor Z-series zoom lenses.

Nikon Z7-II with Nikkon 70-200mm set; 90mm, f13, 1/50th second, ISO 100

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Peace Road, Leola

On an afternoon drive, Kris and I traversed Peace Road in Leola, Pennsylvania, where I spotted this iconic scene.

The next evening was bright and clear and so we returned, and this time I brought my Nikon Z7-II with 70-200mm telephoto to frame up this photo.

I was inspired by a similar black & white image that photographer David Plowden made decades ago, so I composed several of the angles using the camera’s ‘Carbon’ profile.

The Carbon profile created an in-camera high-contrast, full-tonality monochrome Jpg, which I then imported into Adobe Lightroom for final adjustment.

I posted a version of this image to my Facebook page a few days ago and it received considerable interest, so I thought it warranted attention on Tracking the Light.

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Pink Tree-Part Three

I made another attempt a scoring a westward Amtrak Keystone passing a blossoming tree on Jefferson Drive in Lancaster, PA.

In my first attempt at this location, my efforts were foiled by a passing pickup truck that altered my composition and confused the Nikon’s autofocusing system. See:

I did much better with my second effort, which featured Norfolk Southern’s local freight on the New Holland Branch (which is adjacent to Amtrak’s electrified line). See:

For this third effort, I reduced the size of my autofocus point and relocated it so it would not be affected by road traffic.

I also adjusted the zoom outward to provide a wider angle of view.

Although a car snuck into the photo at the last moment, at least the camera remained focused on Amtrak. This was more successful than my first attempt, but not as pleasing as my second effort. Time was running out for the pink blossoms, but I wasn’t done with this project yet!

Harris Tower & Museum

Part II of my Harrisburg tour included a visit to the former PRR Harris Tower that has been beautifully preserved by the NRHS.

Although this no longer serves to control train movements through the plant at the Harrisburg Station, the levers, interlocking bed and related equipment of the tower’s Model 14 Union Switch & Signal interlocking machine are maintained in working order.

A computer controlled simulation of trains, allows for a demonstration of how the tower worked, complete with illuminated indicator lights on the model board, and bells signaling ‘trains’ entering the plant.

Every so often a Norfolk Southern freight would roll by the tower for added interest.

I made this selection of images using Nikon Z7-II.

Special thanks to Dan Cupper for organizing my visit and to Jim Nowotarski and Brad of the NRHS for detailed explanations of the history and a working demonstration of the interlocking.

The tower is open for public visits seasonally on Saturdays. See:

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Dandelions and a Twelve-Wheeler at Cherry Hill Road.

The seasons change quickly in eastern Pennsylvania. This is a serious contrast to our experiences in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where winter seems to last for half the year.

In early April lush greenery abounded at Cherry Hill Road in Strasburg, Pa. Kris and I, aimed to roll-by Strasburg Rail Road’s returned 11am train led by 4-8-0 475. I wanted to catch the flowering dandelions with the train.

I positioned my Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm lens near to the ground, and composed my photos using the adjustible rear screen, which allowed me to look down.

A few days later the field was cut and the dandelion flowers turned to fluff.

24-70mm set at 32mm, f10, 1/320th of a second at ISO200.
24-70mm set at 32mm, f10, 1/320th of a second at ISO200.

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Black & White Composition-color save.

We had just a few minutes to wait for a Belfast-bound NI Railways train on the Bangor Line at Cultra.

I set my Z7-II to the ‘Carbon’ profile, which allows me to compose the photos in a high-constant, broad-tonality monochrome mode. This records the monochrome settings as a Jpeg, while saving the full color photo as an NEF RAW file.

I learned photography exposing black & white images, so it seems natural to look at black & white interpretations of color scenes. However, in this situation, I’m actually composing photos as black & white images.

For point of comparison, I’ve included both the in-camera JPG (scaled for internet presentation) and a scaled version of the NEF file (scaled as a Jpeg) but without adjustment to alter appearance though changes to exposure, color balance, saturation, contrast, sharpness etc.

Color version of the trailing photo

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Flowering Tree-Part 2; Crescent Cab

I’ll run out of intriguing titles before I get to the end of this thread.

Last week, following my compositionally challenged, autofocus mishap with the flowering tree photos, I had a second opportunity to work the pink tree into some railroad photos.

This time, I used it as a prop for some morning images of Norfolk Southern’s New Holland local approaching Jefferson Drive in Lancaster. I’d featured the reflecting pond here in an earlier post.

Bright morning sun made for nice lighting. I was impressed by the leading locomotive, which was one of Norfolk Southern’s 6900 series SD60Es featuring the so-called ‘Crescent Cab’ (the railroad’s blunt-nose variation of the safety-cab).

I was delighted to catch the local freight here, but was still hoping to work one of these colorful trees into a photo of an Amtrak Keystone, so I knew I had to try again. Although it isn’t obvious in these photos, Amtrak’s former PRR electrified line to Harrisburg passes immediately to the left of the flowering tree.

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A Vision of 1930s Modern Railroading

Two weeks ago, I visited the preserved Power Directors Office (PDO) located within the Harrisburg, Pa., station.

This historic former Pennsylvania Railroad facility is a vestige of its grand late-1930s electrification to Harrisburg, that consisted of Mainlines and connecting routes

This office was used to control and balance the distribution of high-voltage alternating current electricity to the various lines. Today it presents a fascinating map of the western extent of PRR’s electrification.

To my eyes, it has the look and aroma of an enormous Lionel electric train set from the World War II era. The style of the control panels and wiring reminds of my dad’s train sets from the post war period.

Dan Cupper arranged the tour, and NRHS’s Jim Nowotarski provided an excellent and exceptionally detailed explaination of how the desk performed and the background behind its restoration. I’ll need to sit through this talk several more times before I can begin to absorb the detail of this amazing installation.

The desk was closed by Amtrak in 2013, and its remaining functions transfered to its Centralized Electrification and Traffic Control office in Wilmington, Delaware.

The once important role of the PDO reveals the long-term failures of short-sighted decisions made during the Conrail-era, when freight traffic was routed away from former PRR routes east of Harrisburg, and freight-only lines stripped of their electrification, and in some cases abandoned altogether.

What may have made operational sense 45 years ago, represents a poor use of resources and infrastructure in the long term. Consider that in most of the industrialized world, railroad electrification has been gradually expanded, and not abandoned.

Photos exposed using my Nikon Z7-II.

See: //

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Amtrak & Pink Tree Blossoms—Fail!

Spring is a beautiful time of year in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Beautiful blossoming trees can be seen all along the roads and highways.

Finding trees near the tracks is more of a challenge, but not far from our apartment are some of the most rail-proximate photographable specimens .

Sometimes what seems so easy, proves difficult.

Last Monday, I planned to catch a westward Amtrak Keystone passing a beautifully blossoming tree along Jefferson Drive.

I set up a few minutes ahead of the train. However just as the westward train raced into view (cabcar first, ACS-64 electric at the rear), a pickup truck entered the scene. Not only did this truck present a distracting element in my composition, but as the truck passed it threw off the autofocus on my Nikon Z7-II. It changed the center of focus from the train to an indiscriminate point.

This all happened in the blink of an eye. By the time, I recognized there was a problem, it was too late to fix it.

The resulting images were something less than satisfactory. So I knew, I’ll have to try this again . . . .

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Double Stacks rolling west off the old Reading

The Harrisburg area is a maze of trackage, which is alive with freight and passenger movements. Among the of the busiest lines is Norfolk Southern’s former Reading Company route (operated as its Harrisburg Line), which joins the former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line route (operated as NS’s Pittsburgh Line) near Amtrak’s former PRR passenger station in Harrisburg, PA.

This route carries the lion’s share of east-west freight moving through Harrisburg, specifically traffic moving to the New York City and Philadelphia metro areas.

Prior to routing and infrastructure changes in the Conrail-era, the majority of freight coming east on the PRR route, continued east of Harrisburg on former PRR routes. Traditionally, the junction between PRR and Reading lines at this location was a relatively minor connection between the historic railroad systems.

It was a warm Tuesday in early April, when I made these photographs of a westward NS double stack container train from the Mulberry Street Bridge railroad-east of Amtrak’s former PRR Station. This freight is making the transition from the old Reading to the old PRR route.

Images exposed using a Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm lens, files adjusted in Lightroom.

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Old General Motors diesel idles under a Victorian Trainshed.

Irish Rail’s 071 class diesels are among the oldest railway vehicles in continuous service in Ireland.

When I made these images last month of Irish Rail 080 under the Victorian-era roof at Dublin’s Connolly Station, the other end of the train was getting all the attention. Dozens of curious on-lookers were anxiously awaiting the arrival of 4-4-0 131.

Old 080 had brought the carriages over from Inchicore and was idling away in comparative obscurity.

How many times have I crossed paths with this old diesel? Now almost a half century old, 080 is a relic among more modern rolling stock.

Where steam locomotive 131 will likely be around for generations to come, poor old 080 is nearing the end of its useful life.

I made these photos using my Lumix LX7.

Harrisburg Station

The former Pennsylvania Railroad Station at Harrisburg, Pa., is the western terminus of Amtrak’s Keystone service, and also served by the Pennsylvanian that continues on to Pittsburgh.

This is a comparatively important Amtrak Station, which retains much of its classic charm. It is a clean, well used facility, however, I was surprised by the relative dearth of services and facilities in and around the station.

Last week, I made these photos of the historic structure with my Nikon Z7-II, and then adjusted the NEF RAW files with Adobe Lightroom.

My friend Dan Cupper had arranged for me visit several facilities in Harrisburg that were preserved by the Harrisburg Chapter of the NRHS, and those photos will appear in up-coming Tracking the Light posts. Stay tuned . . .

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Great Northern Railway 131 at Connolly

After dozens of visits to Ireland over a span of 26 years, I finally witnessed former Great Northern Railway 4-4-0 number 131 under steam on 24 March 2024.

This also was a reunion with many of my old friends at the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI), Irish Rail and Irish Railway Record Society. And, it was Kris’s first trip behind steam in Ireland!

Many memorable photos were exposed that day!

I made these images at Dublin’s Connolly Station using my Nikon Z7-II.

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NS Reflections in a Pond

Last week, following days of rain, we had a crisp, clear, bright morning in Lancaster, PA. The grass was iridescent and the trees blossoming.

I timed my morning errands to bring me to the Greenfield Road crossing just about the time that Norfolk Southern’s New Holland local heads east on the old New Holland Branch.

Knowing the freight was on the move, I drove to Jefferson Drive, where the little pond by the tracks had been tidied-up over the winter, and which made for a nice place to picture the train as it came around a tight bend beneath Hwy 30.

The sun was perfect and my wait was very short. I made thise sequence of photos using my Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm zoom and was home before the train had reached Leola!

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Some Favorite Ulster Transport Exhibits

The other day I described my techniques for photographing in the subdued light at the Ulster Transport Museum in Cultra. [See: in a new tab)].

Below are a selection of the exhibits that caught my eye.

All photos exposed with my Nikon Z7-II.

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Green Grass at Cherry Hill & Old 89 under steam.

At the end of March, having completed much travel, Kris and I paid a short visit to Pennsylvania’s Strasburg Rail Road. There we caught former Canadian National 2-6-0 number 89 leading an afternoon excursion on its return from Leaman Place.

I made these views using my Nikon Z7-II with 70-200mm lens.

It was nice to see the green grass growing in the fields!

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Ulster Transport Museum at Cultra

The Ulster Transport Museum at Cultra (in Co. Down, Northern Ireland) has one of the finest static displays of restored vintage railway equipment.

This is comparable to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and California State Railroad Museum and well worth a visit.

Kris and I paid a visit to Cultra at the end of March and I made this selection of photos using my Nikon Z7-II.

Since the lighting is contrasty and relatively dim, I set the camera to record at comparably high-ISO. While this resulted in comparably pixelated images, found the overall quality of the photographs very satisfactory.

Where possible, I lowered the ISO to allow for higher image quality. However, since I exposing everything hand-held, I didn’t want to use a shutter speed much slower than about 1/15th of a second.

In post-processing, I lightened shadow areas and controlled highlights, while lowering overall contrast in order to improve the overall image quality, while preserving the relative atmosphere of the museum environment.

Adobe Lightroom work window showing camera settings (at right).
Adobe Lightroom work window showing adjustments to exposure, contrast, highlights and shadow areas.
ISO 4000, f4.0, 1/60th second, Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm Z-series zoom at 63mm. RAW Files scaled for internet without postprocessing adjustments to contrast, exposure, highlights or shadows.
ISO 4000, f4.0, 1/125th second, Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm Z-series zoom at 63mm. RAW Files scaled for internet without post-processing adjustments to contrast, exposure, highlights or shadows.

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A brief look at the old Lebanon Valley Branch.

The portion of the former Reading Company’s Lebanon Valley Branch/Crossline running between Reading and Harrisburg, PA is now operated by Norfolk Southern as the western end of its Harrisburg Line.

Since the Conrail-era, this route has hosted the lion’s share of through freights moving east of Harrisburg toward the New York City and Philadelphia metro areas.

This heavily built line is signaled for two-main tracks [bi-directional signaling allows moves on signal indication in both directions on either track].

Although conceptually interesting, I’ve found this to be a difficult route to photograph effectively.

Last Saturday, Kris and I were exploring the area and visited the town of Richland, Pa., which is bisected by NS’s Harrisburg Line. Shortly after we parked east of the main crossing, I heard a roar to the west.

“There’s a freight coming.”

Kris made a video with her phone, and I exposed a sequence of photos using my Nikon Z7-II with 70-200mm lens and Lumix LX3.

This was an impressive mixed carload freight. Following the lead locomotives were 136 cars and a single-engine DPU (distributed power unit) at the back.

The view at Richland was hardly the magnificent vista offered by the famous Horseshoe Curve, but it was a neat place to roll a train by.

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Riding the Bangor Line on Cloudy Day

We thought about traveling to Derry, but it was a dreary day and we had evening plans, so instead I suggested we take the train toward Bangor.

And, no, we were not in Maine!

So, Kris and I traveled from Belfast Great Victoria Street Station aboard an NI Railways train, and got off the train at Cultra to visit the Ulster Transportation Museum.

The museum has some of the finest preserved railway exhibits in Ireland, (and these will be the subjects of a future post.)

Overcast lighting makes atmospheric images at Cultra easier than on a bright sunny day. Oh, wait, have I ever visited Cultra on a bright sunny day??!

I made these images near the NI Railways station at Cultra using my Lumix LX7 and Nikon Z7-II digital cameras.

Lumix LX-7.
The old railway station building at Cultra makes for a nice prop, but the building is no longer serves the railway and has no modern affiliation with NI Railways nor any connection to the trains that stop here.
Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm Z-series zoom.
Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm Z-series zoom.
Nikon Z7-II with 24-70mm Z-series zoom.

Final Photos of Great Victoria Street?

The present NI Railways Belfast Great Victoria Street station is a creation from the 1970s . Functional, but not pretty, this is a busy city centre station.

The new Belfast Grand Central Station is under construction nearby. Over the coming months this modern facility will replace the older station.

I made these views of Great Victoria Street during our visit to Belfast at the end of March.

Although it isn’t pretty, I thought it was wise to document the old station arrangement, including in the Durham Street overpass, before progress sweeps this into history. I doubt these images will win any contests but they may make some interesting comparison views for our next Belfast visit!

View from the carpark of an NI Railways 3001 series railcar approaching Great Victoria Street.
Nocturnal view from platform 3. Lumix LX7. Note the Durham Street overpass in the gloom above the train.
View from Durham Street looking down at platform 1. The new Belfast Grand Central can be seen underconstruction to the right of the old station. Lumix LX7.

Photos were exposed using my Lumix LX3, LX7 and Nikon Z7-II digital cameras.

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Keystone with Blossoming Trees

Sunday afternoon, Kris & I went for a wee drive. This was neatly planned to coincide with the passing of a westward Amtrak Keystone at Jefferson Drive in Lancaster.

For a week, I’d been eyeing the Spring blossoms on decorative tress along Jefferson drive, but was discouraged by the ‘Irish’ weather we seem to have brought back with us.

Since Sunday was bright and clear, I recognized the time was ripe to make the most of the light and the trees.

Photos were exposed of Amtrak Keystone 665 on its approach to Lancaster, PA.

Nikon Z7-II with 70-200mm lens.
Nikon Z7-II with 70-200mm lens.
Nikon Z7-II with 70-200mm lens.

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How I photographed yesterday’s Eclipse

Yesterday was a working day for me, so I didn’t have time to drive hours to reach the path of totality.

I didn’t buy any fancy special equipment. I didn’t use any external filters. I didn’t use a tripod. I didn’t have special glasses. I also didn’t look directly into the sun, and so I didn’t damage my vision. Conditions were partially cloudy, which I found greatly aided my photography and made for more dramatic images.

The following photos of the solar eclipse were made on our back patio in Lancaster, Pennsylvania using my Nikon Z7-II mirrorless digital camera fitted with a standard f2.8 70-200mm Z-series zoom lens. This is the same equipment that I regularly use to photograph trains and other terrestrial subjects.

The Z7-II has a flexible/adjustable rear diplay screen that allowed me to point the camera skyward while looking away from the sun. I set the focus manually to infinity (confirmed by the digital readout on my lens). Likewise, I manually set the ISO rating to the lowest possible setting (‘Low 1.0’) which effectively provides an ISO rating of 40, and set the exposure (shutter and aperature) manually.

By exposing a series of test photos, I determined the optimal aperature/shutter speed combination to preserve the eclipse digitally. I’ve included this data in the caption below each image. I tried a few exposures at both ISO 64 and then ISO 40 at f22 1/8000th of a second, and ultimately settled on between f10 and f22 at either 1/2000th or 1/4000th of a second.

Just for frame of reference; f22 at 1/4000th of a second at ISO 40 is about 8 and 1/2 stops down (darker) than my standard daylight exposure for photographing trains in full sunlight.

After making several rounds of celestial exposures, I’d download the card to my Apple laptop to inspect the images before making additional images.

Using Adobe Lightroom, I scaled photographs from 51.4MB NEF RAW files to manageable sized JPGs to display via the internet. I made no corrections/alterations to color, constast, exposure etc.

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NI Railways—Vistas from Downhill Demesne.

The weather was rapidly changing when we walked across the grassy plateau of the Downhill Demesne located west of Castlerock, Northern Ireland.

Although it was bright and sunny, we could see dark clouds over the Foyle estuary to the west.

NI Railways operates an hourly service between Belfast and Derry, and one of our objectives was to capture views of these trains running along the coast. For my money, some of the finest views of trains in Ireland can be made from this plateau. The fee is putting up with the weather.

We timed our arrival well. A Derry bound train passed just a few minutes after we found a suitable overlook. Minutes later dark clouds obscured the sun, the wind kicked up and soon we were pelted with hail and soaked with icy rain. Before the eastward train to Belfast came into view the sky started to clear.

This pattern repeated itself about an hour later. Such is the price of getting great scenic photos of NI Railways!

Nikon Z7-II photo from the Downhill Demesne.
Trailing view: Lumix LX7 photo of a Derry bound NI Railways train from the Downhill Demesne. You can see the rain coming!

Tuesday evening (April 9, 2024), I am presenting a program on our recent travels in Ireland and the UK to the Harrisburg Chapter NRHS. My program is scheduled to begin about 6:30pm at: Hoss’s Steak and Sea House, 61 Gettysburg Pike, Mechanicsburg, PA 17055.

Tracing the old Burma Road

This last saw trains in the mid-1970s, yet much of the track and right-of-way remains intact.

The disused Irish railway that runs from Claremorris, Co. Mayo via Kiltimagh and Charlestown to Colloney, Co. Sligo is known as the ‘Burma Road.’

A railbike operation is based at the old station in Kiltimagh.

After St. Patrick’s Day, Kris and followed a portion of the Burma Road on our drive toward Sligo. In places the old line had been recently cleared.

I made these images using my Nikon Z7-II.

The area around the station in Kiltimagh has been preserved and a rail-bikes operation is advertised.
Kiltimagh Station.
The old station at Coolaney looking toward Colloney, Co. Sligo.
The old station at Coolaney looking toward Colloney, Co. Sligo.
Coolaney looking toward Charlestown.
Near Colloney, Co. Sligo.

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Vestiges of Narrow Gauge in Donegal—a dozen new photos.

County Donegal was once served by narrow gauge railways that connected many of the larger towns and carried freight and passengers.

These were all abandoned long before my time. Vestiges of the old lines survive and there is considerable nostalgia for these lost wee railways.

In March, Kris and I spent several days in Donegal and photographed vestiges of the old narrow gauge, including the tracks maintained by the Fintown preserved railway.

I can’t help but wonder if the old Donegal narrow gauge railways had survived, today they would be Irish national treasures worthy of world attention and admiration.

Co. Donegal narrow gauge railway carriage at Corcreggan Mill, Dunfanaghy.
Ruins of the Owencarrow Viaduct.
Ruins of the Owencarrow Viaduct.
Ruins of the Owencarrow Viaduct.
Abandoned railway culvert near Fintown, Co. Donegal, Ireland.
Abandoned railway right of way near Fintown, Co. Donegal.
Tracks of the preserved Fintown Railway, Co. Donegal.
Vintage photo of Gweedore Station inside Fara Óg restaurant located near the site of th old station, Gweedore, Co. Donegal.

Click this link for a map showing the locations and routes of Donegal’s railways. [!]

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The Elusive Timber Train

Irish rail freight is comparatively scarce today compared to my visits years ago.

While visiting county Mayo, I’d hoped to catch one of the several freights that still routinely grace the rails there.

On the advice of an old friend at Irish Rail, Kris and I paid our second visit to Manulla Junction on a rainy Monday March morning. After passage of the morning Dublin-Westport passenger train, we caught the once-per-week Ballina-Waterford timber train led by class 071 locomotive number 074.

I exposed these photos of the train as it squealed through the junction. It was like old times again! The sound of the turbocharged 12-645 roaring away brought me back many years.

Nikon Z7-II with 70-200mm Nikkor Z-series zoom.