Last week, Conway Scenic Railroad temporarily evicted former Boston & Maine F7A 4268 from stall 4 at the North Conway, NH roundhouse where the locomotive has been undergoing an operational restoration by the 470 Club (that also owns sister F7A 4266 which is operational at CSRR).
Saturday morning (November 21, 2020) brilliant late-autumn presented excellent light to photograph this relic of mid-20th century dieselization. B&M 4268 was originally an EMD demonstrator and features the builder’s less-common ‘passenger pilot’, which makes it distinctive among B&M’s F-unit.
I made these photos using my FujiFilm X-T1 with recently acquired 16-55mm Fujinon lens. After exposure, I converted the camera-RAW files to DNG format using Iridient X-Transformer software, which does a more effective job of transforming these files for conversion by Adobe Lightroom, than either Lightroom itself or other image processing software.
After conversion, I imported the DNG files into Lightroom and made some minor adjustments to color temperature, contrast, and highlight/shadow detail plus saturation.
Below are examples of the in-camera FujiFilm JPG (using Velvia color profile, and a comparison DNG file converted from RAW using the Iridient software.
All photos were then scaled and exported using Lightroom.
Working with slide film had its perils. Normally, I used 36 exposure roles.
However, I’d carefully load my manual cameras and try to squeeze as many photos out of each rolls as possible.
This was risky, because often the last frame would get ruined in processing. So, I typically save that final frame for something less important, but still interesting.
On April 23, 1997, my father and I waited on a Shinkansen platform at Nishi Akashi west of Osaka. I made a few photos of this passing Series 300 Series highspeed train as it blasted by at approximately 186mph.
Working with my old Nikon F3T, I exposed this final frame on a roll of Fuji Provia 100 as the train passed me at speed. In processing, Fuji cut the last little bit of the slide (to the left of the train).
For years this slide sat in a box, unworthy of slide shows. I scanned it yesterday. Below are two versions. One is full frame, the other is cropped.
Using my FujiFilm XT1, I made this photo on First Street when visiting Los Angeles in August 2016.
I was pleased to catch then-new cars working the Metro Rail Gold Line light rail line.
Below are two variations. The top is the in-camera JPG, using the ‘Velvia’ color profile. The second view I converted from Fuji RAW to DNG format with Iridient X-Transformer (a specialized 3rd party software aimed at producing superior results with Fuji RAW files) before importing into Lightroom for final adjustment.
Back in July (2020), I posted a photo of Guilford Rail System 252 under the title ‘Unexpected Surprise’. See: http://briansolomon.com/trackingthelight/2020/07/23/unexpected-surprise/
The significance of the locomotive is that Maine Central 252 (pictured) is now owned by Conway Scenic, where I now work as the Manager of Marketing.
Today’s TTL photograph portrays the same train, Guilford’s EDLA (East Deerfield to Lawrence, Massachusetts) a little later on the same May 1997 evening.
After photographing it near Farleys, Mike Gardner and I had continued east on Route 2.
Here on the Wendell-Erving town line, I had aimed to recreate a photo that I’d made with photographer Brandon Delaney a dozen years earlier, when I caught an eastward train from the same spot. In that earlier photo a derelict barn was standing to the left of the road.
In this view all the remained of the barn was the foundation.
I offer two variation of the same photo. The top is a straight scan without post processing adjustment to contrast, color etc. The second features my processing to improve the appearance of the image.
Often I consider my Kodachrome slides among my finest photographs.
By not always.
In the mid-1990s, Kodachrome went through an unsettled phase and the film didn’t perform as well as it had in the late 1980s early 1990s. The reasons for these changes may be a discussion for another day.
On April 11, 1997, I joined photographers Mike Gardner and George Pitarys on a productive chase of New England Central’s southward freight, number 608.
At Willimantic, Connecticut, I made this photo along the river by some old thread mills (some since demolished).
April light can be challenging. Harsh contrast combined with a yellowish tint from air pollution makes for a raw ‘brassy’ quality that Kodachrome didn’t reproduce well.
I scanned this slide a little while ago and then imported the TIFF file into Adobe Lightroom, which I used to soften the contrast, lighten the shadows and correct the harsh color rendition. See adjusted version below
It isn’t perfect, but then again the lighting on the day wasn’t ideal.
I wasn’t prepared for what I saw last month when Kris Sabbatino and I re-visited Belfast, Maine.
In 1980, my father and I paid two visits to Belfast, one of which involved a train ride to Burnham Junction and back on the Belfast & Moosehead Lake freight. On those trips I made photos of B&ML’s yard and roundhouse on black & white film using my Leica IIIA.
In August 1997, I revisited Belfast, and found the B&ML yard intact, but ghostly quiet.
I’d read that the good citizens of Belfast despised the railroad yard and its environment and that they had evicted the railroad that the city had once owned.
I was shocked of how completely this quaint delightful compact railroad yard along the Belfast waterfront had been so totally erased from the scene. It has been replaced with a sandy parking lot.
I was unprepared because I had not brought with me the photos from my earlier visits. I found it very difficult to recall exactly where I had stood. The landmarks I knew existed only in my head.
The tracks, the structures, the trains and the character of the environment that I seen in my earlier visits were now gone.
Sadly, I’ll need to return again with my earlier photos in hand and attempt a more accurate series of ‘then and now’ images.
The views below are looking north. My attempts to recreate the roundhouse scenes looking west are not good enough to reproduce here.
Going back over my Fuji digital files from 2015, I’ve selected this image of a VR Group Stadler railcar working the then-new Helsinki Airport train at Leinelá, Finland.
Below are three interpretations of the same image exposed using my FujiFilm XT1. The first is the In-camera JPG without color correction or alteration except for scaling and watermark.
The second is the Fuji RAW file imported and adjusted strictly using Lightroom.
The third is the Fuji RAW file first converted using Iridient X-Transformer and then imported into Lightroom where I implemented the same color and contrast corrections.
One minor difference with this Iridient interpretation is that I turned off the the feature that automatically corrects for lens distortion, chromatic aberration, and vignetting. So this gives a slightly less invasive digital interpretation and a truer sense of the visual information as recorded by the sensor.
The ability to improve my interpretation of Fuji RAW files using Iridient X-Transformer made me curious to re-examine some of my Fuji photos from years gone by.
I selected a photo that I made on trip to Switzerland with photographer Denis McCabe in April 2017. This image was made at the Champery terminus of a TPC branch that extends into the Alps from Aigle.
Here I’ve presented a comparison between the Lightroom interpreted RAW (scaled and converted to JPG for internet presentation) and the same file converted into a DNG file using Iridient X-Transformer. Since it is difficult to appreciate the improved sharpness when viewed on a small scale, I’ve enlarged a portion of each image that focuses on the LED lamps and rivets on the then new Stadler railcar.
The final image was derived from the Iridient converted DNG and involved nominal adjustments to color balance, color temperature, contrast and saturation that are aimed a making a more pleasing final photograph.
Last Wednesday, October 14, 2020, Conway Scenic operated a work extra to Conway to assist with preparations for the annual Pumpkin Patch event being held for the next three weekends.
The train was organized with relatively little advanced notice, and the only available locomotive was former Boston & Maine F7A 4266, owned by the 470 Club. Our other locomotives were out on passenger assignments or out of service awaiting repairs or maintenance.
Since the cab of the locomotive was facing railroad timetable west, the decision was made to use a caboose as a shoving platform and the train reversed from North Conway down the former B&M branch to Conway.
I made these photos using my FujiFilm XT1 with 27mm pancake lens. Fuji RAW files were converted to DNG files using Iridient X Transformer and then imported into Adobe Lightroom for final adjustment.
Yesterday, October 15, 2020, I made a late season foliage photo of Conway Scenic Railroad’s Mountaineer descending from Crawfords at milepost 79 near the Arethusa Falls grade crossing.
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 and 90mm prime telephoto, I set the ISO to 1000. I needed relatively high sensitivity because I was working in the shadows of the trees and mountain side and wanted a sufficiently fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of the train, while using a smaller aperture to minimize headlight bleed.
Then I imported the Fuji RAW files directly into Adobe Lightroom for processing, while making a comparison set of files by importing them first into Iridient X-Transformer which converts the files to a DNG format and then imported these into Lightroom.
As previously described on Tracking the Light, the Iridient software does a superior job of interpreting the Fuji RAW files.
On a visit to New York City in 1998, my father and I made a trip on the Flushing Line of the New York Subway.
I exposed these photos using Fuji Sensia II (100 speed slide film) with my Nikon N90S.
Last week I digitized the slides using a Nikon Super Coolscan5000 scanner powered by VueScan software.
To make the most of the dark contrasty images I opted for multiple pass scans—a feature offered by VueScan that is similar in concept to the HDR setting used my some modern digital cameras—that blend several scans of the same image at different exposure values into one file to maximize shadow and highlight detail.
After exposure, I adjusted the scans using Adobe Lightroom and outputted these images with watermark for internet presentation.
On November 24, 1998, photographer Mike Gardner and I were wrapping our photography for the day, having spent it following the old Erie Railroad mainline in New York state. A railroad then operated as part of Conrail’s Southern Tier District.
Just after sunset, we were visiting the old bridge (since removed) over the east end of the Gang Mills Yard (near Corning, New York). A bit of evening ‘drop under’ sun had tickled the clouds pink, when a headlight appeared to the west.
Working with my Nikon N90S with 80-200mm lens, I made a sequence of photos on Kodachrome 200 of the passing Conrail piggyback train. This film offered speed, but it was difficult to work with. Not only was K200 grainy, but it had a fairly narrow expose latitude as compared with either Fuji Sensia or Kodachrome 25.
At the time I made the slide, I’d exposed for the sky, aiming to retain the texture and color, but as a result the tracks and train were a bit under exposed. Last night, I made a multiple pass scan from a slide in the sequence. Then in post processing, I lightened the foreground, while adjusting color and contrast for a more pleasing image, yet one that hopefully looks like it was exposed on Earth, and not on Mars.
Below are two comparisons. The first is the unadjusted scan (scaled for internet), the second is my adjusted scan.
In the summer of 1993, I attended an event in San Francisco hosted by Kodak to debut a new Ektachrome slide film. As part of the event, Kodak gave everyone a sample of LPP, a warm-tone emulsion with subtle color rendition.
I had recently bought a Nikkormat FTN from a co-worker, and promptly loaded the camera with the new film.
It was mid-August, when I climbed to the top of a hill over-looking Southern Pacific’s Cal-P route with a view of Suisun Bay/Carquinez Straits and the stored navy ships anchored there.
Curiously, this SP westward freight had a Conrail C32-8 in consist. This was one of ten built as test beds for Conrail in summer 1984 and routinely operated on the Boston & Albany route through the 1980s. They were known as ‘camels’ because of their hump-back appearance. It was odd to see such a familiar locomotive so far from home.
When I bought my Nikon Z6 a few weeks ago, the camera package came with a 24-70mm zoom (designed for the Nikon mirrorless system) and an FTZ adaptor that allows a variety of older lenses to be fitted to the Nikon mirrorless digital cameras.
This adaptor was among the attractions of the Z6 system, because it will allow me to experiment with a variety of my older lenses.
Saturday evening, I fitted my Nikkor f2.5 105mm telephoto to the Z6 and traveled with my girlfriend and photography partner Kris Sabbatino to the dam and park in Chocorua at Tamworth, New Hampshire.
Long ago, I learned that it is best to test a new equipment combination in a relaxed, non-pressurized photographic environment; in other words, NOT when a train is approaching at speed. The park was a perfect place to play with my new set up.
My old lens has manual focus and manual aperture controls, which requires greater attention than the 24-70mm. The camera’s viewfinder has a colored focusing aid to assist with manual focus lenses (when optimal sharpness is reached the focused area is highlighted in red), yet picking a focus point is still pretty tricky.
Also, the lens has older coatings that were designed to produce the best color with film, and are different than the coatings optimized to work with the digital system. This results in somewhat softer color rendition.
The lens is a very sharp piece of glass, and when used wide open (f2.5) allows for photos with very shallow depth of field.
Below are a few examples.
Soon, I’ll begin testing my other older lenses and try photographing some railroad subjects.
The railroad takes on different characters when view from line-side versus that when view from from the locomotive cab.
The perspectives and impressions you get when standing on the ground are very different than the views from a locomotive cab in motion.
Part of this is the difference in elevation. Part is where you can safely stand in relation to the railroad and how lineside obstructions alter your view.
Over the last few weeks and months I’ve made various headend and walking trips on the old Maine Central Mountain Division.
Among the most interesting places is the area east of Crawford Notch, New Hampshire.
Below are two views exposed three days apart from the same location near milepost 83 looking west. One is from the ground of Conway Scenic Railroad’s train 162—the eastward Mountaineer, the other from the headend of the westward train.
In the 1990s, I chased the glint with Kodachrome in my cameras.
Sometimes on the remote chance of getting a one in a 10,000 shot, I’d set up on some lightly used section of track in the golden hour on the off chance that I’d be rewarded.
My chances were better than the lottery
Sometimes I got lucky.
Last Saturday, September 26, 2020, I was driving around western Maine with Kris Sabbatino. We stopped near Bethel to get bottles of water at a convenience store. Ahead of me in line was a woman who spent $81 on a six pack of beer and lottery tickets.
Personally, I feel that lottery tickets are a waste of money. Although my grandfather had phenomenal luck with cards and lottery tickets and sometimes won.
Instead of spending money on the lottery, we took a slight detour to the old Grand Trunk tracks. This is now Genesee & Wyoming’s St. Lawrence & Atlantic. Operations are infrequent and largely nocturnal. The number of daylight trains through Bethel in a year can be counted on one hand. This year I’ve been aware of only three.
Despite these remote odds, I set up in the glint light and waited for a few minutes.
I was only rewarded with this sunset view of empty tracks. Yet my odds of success were far better than the lottery and I saved money on the tickets.
On Friday evening, September 25, 2020, I exposed this digital photograph on the former Maine Central Mountain Division at 4th Iron using my FujiFilm XT1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit.
There are four iron bridges between Bartlett and Sawyers along the Saco River. The easiest to photograph is 4th Iron, which not only can be seen from Highway 302—that runs parallel to the railroad—but even has its own parking area complete with a sign ‘4th Iron’.
I liked the spot because of the bright red trees on both side of the Sawyers River.
The train pictured is Conway Scenic’s Mountaineer that was returning from Fabyan to North Conway, New Hampshire.
Last Sunday, September 27, 2020, while following Pan Am Railway’s SAPPI-3 with Kris Sabbatino, I made this close-up view of the train led by GP40 345 on the Hinckley Branch near Waterville, Maine.
I was working with my FujiFilm XT1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit. For post-processing, I imported the camera RAW in to Iridient to produce a DNG file, which I then imported into Adobe Lightroom for adjustment.
As previously explained on Tracking the Light, Iridient software has a superior means of interpreting the Fuji RAW files for adjustment. However, the difference is very subtle and can be best noticed on extreme enlargement.
Which leads to a photographic quandary: is there really value in making image of superior quality if only a handful of viewers can appreciate the difference?
Today, I am posting three variations of the same image file.
This is from Sunday’s chase of Pan Am Railway’s SAPPI-3 and pictures the freight crossing Martin Stream near Hinckley, Maine.
The bucolic setting was side lit–a condition that presents a contrast challenge. I made the image using my FujiFilm XT1 with 28mm pancake lens.
Recently, and on the advice of my old pal TSH, I purchased Iridient software, which offers a different interpretation of the FujiFilm RAW files.
Below are examples of the in-camera FujiFilm JPG (using Velvia color profile), a DNG file converted from the Fuji RAW by Adobe Lightroom, and a comparison DNG file converted from RAW using the Iridient software.
All were then scaled and exported using Lightroom. I made identical color and contrast corrections to the two DNG files. (My interpretation, not Fuji’s)
My intent is to compare the Iridient processing with Adobe’s. The Camera JPG is a third reference.
Since this is one of my first experiments with the Iridient software, I cannot claim to be a master of working with it.
In late July 2020, Kris Sabbatino and I were returning from a wander around far northern Vermont, when we paused at Lancaster, New Hampshire.
This was shortly before sunset. I had HP5 loaded into a Nikkormat FTN.
I made these images using ambient light, then processed the film using a custom tailored two stage development recipe:
Before primary processing, I presoaked the film in HC110 diluted 1-300 for 6 minutes; then for primary development I used Ilford ID11 1-1 at 70F for 7 minutes, followed by ‘stop’, ‘first fix’ ‘2nd fix,’ 1st rinse, Permawash, 2nd rinse and final wash.
I scanned these negatives using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner.
In August 1984, I was on a big solo rail adventure. Among the places I visited by train was Montreal.
My friend Brandon Delaney had recommended Dorval as a place to watch trains. Here, double-track Canadian Pacific and Canadian National mainlines ran parallel to each other and there was a continuous parade of freight and passenger trains.
On August 14th, I traveled out on commuter train from Windsor Station and spent several hours soaking up the action.
Among the trains I photographed was this eastbound VIA RDC set on the CN heading for Central Station.
I’d positioned myself where the codelines crossed from the north-side to the south-side of CN’s line. This was my clever compositional trick that makes for a more interesting photograph by focusing the eye toward a secondary horizon.
After Conway Scenic’s Mountaineer arrived at North Conway, New Hampshire on Sunday September 6, 2020, I picked a new spot in the golf course adjacent to the big fill (on approach to Conway Scenic’s yard) to catch the train as it was being stowed for the evening.
Working with my Lumix LX7, I exposed this view in RAW and then processed the file in Adobe Lightroom.
I made two variations of the processed image.
The top has lower contrast; the bottom features higher contrast and increased saturation (see the screen shot of the Lightroom work window below)
Here’s a classic from my Kodachrome file: Southern Pacific SD40T-2 8378 West ascending Beaumont Hill on the Sunset Route at Cabazon, California on January 30, 1994.
I had Kodachrome 25 loaded in my Nikon F3T, which was fitted with an f5.6 Tokina 400mm lens.
My focus point was not on the front of the locomotive, but rather on the searchlight signal to the right of the train. Since the signal was the emphasis of the photo, you may wonder why I didn’t move a little closer to make it appear larger. The reason is simple: I wanted to include the ‘Cabazon’ sign on the signal relay cabinet, which identifies the location and was key to the interlocking.
Just in case you are curious, the second locomotive in the train consist is a Conrail SD40-2.