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08/20/16 Trouble at F-Stop? Maybe, Maybe Not

F-stop main page no1

F-stop main page no1


There has been a lot of negative press about F-stop recently.  It seems that there are many claims about long wait times, orders never shipping and extremely long back order times.  I had noticed earlier this year when I tried to order a Shinn backpack, that F-stop was showing them 4 to 6 weeks from being in stock.  I was not really in much of a hurry to get the pack in January, so I waited.  F-stop has come out with a new Orange color, that I really wanted as I hike during hunting season in Arkansas and bright orange is help against getting shot.  I finally got around to ordering and found that the Shinn was still sitting in the same status, 4 to 6 weeks, etc.  About this time some negative posting starting to appear and also some negative web based articles on the company.

It seems that some claim that they had paid for packs months ago, and still had not received anything, but they had paid at the time of the order.  Also several articles were concerned about the Kickstarter campain that F-stop had for a new pack.  I personally am surprised that F-stop went this route as that is not what I would do with a large company i.e try to gain funding via a Kickstarter.  However the owners are young and they are working a different business model.  The Kickstarter was supposedly cancelled and then issues came up about money again, since it seems that none of the money paid into the Kickstarter will be paid back?  Not sure on that but it started a big wave that F-stop was gone, going under, no longer in business etc.  Many folks reported that they were down to just 1 person in Customer relations, etc.  Not sure about that either, but here is my story, and it’s a lot more positive.

I called them, (yes I actually picked up the damn phone and called them). On the first try, I got a person at the other end of the line named Mick.  I mentioned to Mick I wanted a Shinn and XL-Pro ICU, in the orange color.  I also told Mick that I was starting to hear some really negative things about F-stop and I did not want to order a pack for $500.00 and then wait 6 weeks, never get anything, and then have to worry about getting a credit.  To my total surprise, Mick said just order it, and email the company (with their attached form on the website) and that he felt that he could get a orange Shinn shipped to me within a week!  He also told me that the only hold up was the extra wide ICU for the Shinn, that these were taking longer to be delivered to the US.  I was really not wanting the extra wide ICU, just an XL Pro ICU.  The issue is that the Shinn is about 3 inches wider and thus the XL Pro ICU will not fit tightly.  After talking to Mick for a while, I realized that the Sukha was the pack I wanted.  He gave me the same information, order a orange Sukha, and XL-Pro ICU and he felt I would have it ship in about a week.  Facts are F-stop shipped the pack and ICU in 3 days to me and I had it 4 days.  Free shipping!  To be honest, I sure that more folks will at least call F-stop as it seems they can manually get some things done.

BTW the Sukha is a great pack, and I will write more about it in a while.

I have now seen that one of the top company officials has written a formal note on the F-stop blog, mainly to talk to the delays in getting the product from China.  Hopefully F-stop will get this issue fixed and soon as with the modern web, it’s hard to recover from really negative press.  Again I stress, if you want an F-stop pack, give them a call and see what they can do for you.

Photographer’s Notes:

Everyone knows that about 3 years ago F-Stop packs came on the photo scene and they pretty much revolutionized the market.  The most important aspects of their new design were:

  1. Integrated ICU inner containers that would hold the camera gear and were 100% removable from the pack.
  2. The main opening for the pack was moved to the back instead of the front, which as far as I know had never been done before.

F-Stop came out with several packs of varying size and weight, but the ICU’s were all interchangeable.  The packs were made in China, and then shipped back to the US.  Really nothing new there.  And as their name grew across the photographic world, F-stop continued to come out with new packs, and new materials.  I have never figured out the percentage of the market that F-stop has over Lowe, but I have to feel based on all the forum posts I read, F-stop did very well in those first few years.  My first pack from F-stop was the Satori, which was a moderate to large pack and it served me very well.  I have used this pack extensively over the past 3 years, and have never had any problems with it.

The Satori was the first pack I purchased from F-stop and as I am 6′ 2″ tall, this pack always fit me a bit low.  However the pack itself was excellent in construction.  You have to get used to the opening up against your back, but that doesn’t talk long.  ONE note, if you are with another person who doesn’t understand the F-stop design, don’t ask them to move your pack unless you know that the back is zipped up.

With the Sukha, F-stop came out with a pack mainly for carrying long telephoto lenses, but I also figured that this pack would be a better fit for me and I was correct.  F-stop is now also using water-resistant fabric and they have a new material on the bottom of the backs as can be seen in the couple of side by sides I have posted.  This is much heavier black nylon than my Satori has.  There are also some changes to the ICU’s as the new style allow you to removed the top foam padding which is a nice feature.  The Sukha has a huge carrying capacity, as it will hold the XL Pro ICU and with that installed in the pack you still have 1/4 of the pack left for other items.

Hopefully F-stop will continue to produce these excellent backpacks and bags well into the future.


07/24/14 Rain and more rain brings up Arkansas’s Prime Creeks in July

Richland Creek Arkansas Ozarks

Springtime on Richland Creek in the Arkansas Ozarks

This is a view of Richland Creek in late May, taken in the 2007 time frame, but I wanted to use this photograph to show just what Richland Creek should look like now, in July!!.  Normally this time of year, the water levels in the Arkansas creeks is very low, to almost dry.  Richland will run a bit of water in the summer months, but not anywhere enough to make it worth a trip up the creek.  All that normally is available will the pools below each of the drops, like the one in this picture.

However in 2014, Arkansas has had a series of large rains, all of which hit the Ozarks.  Just 2 days ago, the Buffalo River, near Ponca was running at over 1000 CFS, which for the Buffalo in July is unheard of.  Richland was running in the 250 CFS range.

Water levels for the Buffalo River in Arkansas

USGS gauge levels for the Buffalo River in July 2014

As you can see in the graph above, the Buffalo was as high as 1000 CFS and is still in the 241 CFS range 2 days out from the rain.  This means that you could canoe the entire river from Highway 21 all the way to the mouth of the Buffalo where it runs into the White river.  But what is even more significant is look back 7 days and you can see that the Buffalo was holding in the 100 CFS range which is even more impressive.  Normally this time of year, you could expect to see around 15 CFS or less.  This is great news for the local canoe outfitters along the entire river as they can continue to rent boats into July.

Richland creek water levels in Arkansas Ozarks

Richland Creek water levels in July 2014

This graph shows the water levels for Richland Creek, which shows it did not hold to the 100 CFS range of the Buffalo but was still at 28 or so CFS before the last big rain.  Again, this is pretty impressive for a creek the size of Richland.

This means that if you like to hike the Arkansas Outdoors, July is a great time to get out.  Richland is not an easy hike in July as the undergrowth of the forest will make for a pretty hard hike.  There is no “official” trail up the creek, but if you get up there, work your way over to the left side of the creek, (when facing upstream) and you will find the age old trail that hikers have created from years of hiking up to Twin Falls or Richland Falls.  Your best bet right now is to start the hike from Richland Creek campground and after crossing Falling Water Creek, head up to the top of the adjacent ridge, where you can find the beginning of the trail that heads up Richland.




03/30/14 Mountain Lions in Arkansas–A follow up on my 1st report

Mountain Lion near Boxley Valley

This is a still taken from a Game Camera of a Mountain Lion near Fallsville Arkansas

Recently I was sent a copy of this video from a game camera near Fallsville Arkansas by David Smith.  The series is about 11 seconds long total, but clearly shows an adult mountain lion.  If one has any doubt, just take the tree in the background for scale.  If you are familiar with the Arkansas woods as I am this is about a 18″ inch and then a smaller 5 or 6 inch tree branching out from the main trunk.  You can see the entire video here:

It’s most interesting to watch this series, as the cat is at first turned away from the camera, then must hear the camera activate.  The cat turns towards the sound of the camera and then moves off the frame right below the camera.  The motion of the mountain lion is very much like any other large cat and is most definitely not a fake or a small cat, bobcat or other creature.  Notice the loping motion as the cat approaches the frame.  It’s also interesting to watch the mountain lion’s head as it comes in closer and begins to look up towards the noise the camera must be making.

mountain lion and game camera

This is another shot of the large mountain lion coming towards the game camera

I have followed all of the comments I have received from my first post on Mountain Lions in Arkansas which have number over 120 total comments.  Taking out about 10% which were fictitious you are left with around 100 comments from people around Arkansas.  Most of these people are reporting sightings within the last 2 years, however some are commenting on sightings which would go back as far as 20 to 30 years ago.

Occasionally I will get a comment where a person is reporting the sighting of a “black panther”, or a mountain lion in a full black phase.  I have looked into the possibility of this.  However so far, worldwide, there have not been any captured, killed or sighted, North American cougars in a black phase.  The panther, which ranges in South America and Mexico, can have a black or dark phase.  You can read more about that here:   Panthers may also have ranged into the southern United States, but so far I have not heard of a panther being sighted in Arkansas.  However many people still claim that they are seeing “black panthers” in this state.  I am not sure what they are seeing.

This camera video for sure tells me that the North American Mountain Lion is alive and well in Arkansas.  The cat shown in this video seems a bit thin, however it’s also March and natural food supplies may not be as readily available.  The fact that his cat was sighted near Fallsville, is what give me a bit of of concern as Fallsville, is very close to the Glory Hole, the upper Buffalo River and several other popular outdoor recreation areas in Northwest Arkansas.

David Smith, the owner of the video, told me that he had sent a copy of this video to the Arkansas Game & Fish, and their only comments were that this was a “significant sighting”.  I believe since the Arkansas Game and Fish are now allowing bow hunters to purchase a mountain lion tag which allows the killing of a mountain lion, they are starting to take mountain lions in Arkansas a bit more seriously.  Hopefully with the number of sightings I have had reported, that many of these have also been reported to the Arkansas Game and Fish.  In the past the standard response has been, “this must be a cat that was released to the wild”, meaning it was not breeding naturally.  This cat looks to have done just that and has matured into an excellent example of the species.








01/04/14 It’s offical Sam’s Throne is now a full featured Forest Service Campground.

Sams Throne rock climbing campground


This actually happened in Mid 2013, but I never got around to writing about it.  They finally finished the improvements and created a formal campground status for Sam’s Throne.  This spot is a climbers paradise and for me a photographic wonder.  I work this area year round and love to work the bluffs of Sam’s after dark.  If you have not ever been here, it’s worth the trip up Hwy 7 to the Hwy 123 Junction.  Take Hwy 123 for about 10 miles north and then start looking for this sign.  You won’t find a bunch of RV steps here, and it’s a very informal campground, but it now has facilities and that’s a big improvement.  Sam’s Throne is one of the most famous climbing spots in Arkansas and is featured by a over 1 mile long bluff line made from primarily sandstone.  You can also look off the bluff to to the rock prominence that is the actual throne.   The road down to the bluffs has been dramatically improved since the early day’s when it was just a logging road.  Sam’s throne campground is pretty much on top of the bluff and you can get a great nighttime sky from there.  Once you get down to the bluff line looking northward you get a great shot of Red Rock and the valley of Big Creek.  Looking south towards the throne gives you a great view of the rolling hills moving off into the distance.

I have photographed Sam’s in pretty much all types of weather and as I mentioned above love to work it at night.  It’s not a bad compromise as you won’t be too far out from your car.  This area does get some rough folks driving by at times during the week, and I would not consider leaving a car alone at the trail head after dark unless there are some folks camping near by.  During the summer months and peak climbing season you can expect to have people there.  At the Bluff line you can walk along the top of the bluff in either direction and find great subject matter for your photography.

This shot is one taken during the night after the moon had set at the campground.  There was a group that had started a huge bonfire and the way it was lighting up the trees really caught my eye.  This shot was taken as single long exposure for about 30 minutes and during the time I had the shutter open a group of people walked by with head lamps on, and I really liked the effect they created.

Sam’s is a great spot to take the family and spend the entire day, be aware that there are sharp drop offs everywhere so if you are taking young children be careful.

Star trails over Sam's Throne in Arkansas

Star trails over Sam’s Throne in Arkansas

07/21/12 Richland Creek has Flatlined, a first in 18 years of hiking and boating the best creek in Arkansas

USGS graph of Richland Creek for July 16th 2012

USGS graph of Richland Creek for July 16th 2012

Arkansas has many famous spots for outdoor recreation which feature lakes, or streams.  For sure one of the best is Richland creek, in the northwest part of Arkansas.  With Richland Creek one can find a stream that is the 2nd largest tributary of the Buffalo river which has a huge watershed that cross through several Arkansas counties before emptying into the Buffalo river at Woolum.  In the winter and springtime Richland is famous for kayaking both the upper and lower portions of the creek.  During the late spring and summer Richland tends to offer a quiet and tranquil location to get away from busier parts of Arkansas.  During the autumn, Richland can offer one of the most dramatic displays of fall color in the state since there are several areas along the creek that have trees approaching 50 to 70 years of age.  I like to try and hike Richland at least 4 times during the year to catch the creek at it’s different stages each of which can offer amazing photograhic opportunities.

On my weekly checks of Richland Creek’s USGS Hydro-graph I have watched as my favorite creek has slowly dropped down the chart.  However today when I checked the creek, I was amazed to see a flat-line 0.00.  I have never in 18 years of monitoring Richland seen it this low.  The gauge is near the concrete bridge immediately below the campground and I have to assume that the large pool at the bridge is now dry or very close to being dry.  Richland’s being this low really puts into perspective just how low the state of Arkansas’s wild stream flow is currently.  I also check the Buffalo River and it is now showing 0.25 at the Boxley gauge which is also very low, even for this time of the year.

[Read more…]

07/12/12 Rain comes to Arkansas and provides some much needed drought relief

Pine needles after the rain

Pine needles after the rain

All of the photos in this entry were taken with a Sony Nex-7, and a Sony 18-200mm E mount lens.  I used Adobe Lightroom 4.1 for all the raw conversions.  This first image was taken in color and converted to B&W by using the conversion process in Lightroom 4.1

I was out in my backyard and kept hearing the ominous sounds of thunder, but every time I looked around the sky, I couldn’t see any thunderheads.  Soon the wind picked up and it was clear that a good rain might be headed my way.  While walking around the side of the house, I was able to see a break in the trees and saw that all along the Arkansas River, that a large storm was forming and would soon be headed over to my house.  The wait was not long and soon we were blessed with about a 30 minute heavy rain that was really needed.  As soon as the rain stopped I decided to try and get some pictures since it had been so long that I had been able to work around water in Arkansas.

Robin after the storm
Robin after the storm

I wanted to try out my Sony Nex-7 with the Sony 18-200mm F3.2 to F6.3 lens.  I had not really used this lens in low light/high iso photography and was curious how well both the camera and lens would perform.  Since the Sony Nex-7 has a cropped sensor with a 1.5x factor, the 200mm lens would be the 35mm equivalent of a 300mm lens. I did not use a tripod and mainly used the cameras LCD for all the focus/framing of the various subjects I photographed.  The robins were a push at 1600 iso and a F stop of 6.3.  I quickly realized that the Sony 18-200 lens was not a low light lens.  I ran into immediate focus problems which I had not experienced before. Even though the lens was showing good focus confirmation, it was not really able to lock on to many of the finer subjects I was trying to work with.  The shot of the robin came out very well.  He was moving around quite a bit and this shot is a crop of about 1/25th of the full sized image.  In this case the 18-200 was able to lock in very well, but even with 300mm, it was really not enough to work this robin which was about 25 yards away from me.  Still after working up this crop in Lightroom 4.1, I was very happy with the results.  The robin had been through the worst of the rain as can be seen by looking at his head.

[Read more…]

07/07/12 Relief comes to Arkansas from both heat and drought

The high temperatures in Arkansas for the 6th of July set many state records.  LIttlle Rock hit 107 degrees and Russellville was at 108.  However yesterday, during the afternoon and into the night, Arkansas received the first rain in almost 30 days.  The rainfall was sporadic and thus not uniform but still offered greatly needed relief to parched areas of Arkansas.  The other added benefit was the addition of cloud cover over most of the state.  This also added relief since the sun’s direct effect was blocked.

I have noticed now that many of the parts of Arkansas are showing the effects of the drought.  If you hike along any ridge line in the central part of the state or in the northwest, you can see oak trees that have turned brown along with other deciduous trees.  These trees most likely will hold their leaves until fall and then drop them.  If they drop off now, more than likely the tree will not recover in the spring of 2013.  I am also starting to see some pine trees that are also developing brown needles.  Pines in Arkansas seem to react different than deciduous trees in that they will turn from green to brown in a few days and then die.  The short leaf pine which is native to Arkansas seems to be able to hold a bit better than the imported slash and loblolly pines.  The later two varieties are for pulp and paper only.

I have monitored a few very large short leaf pines around Pulaski county and have noticed that they are all developing some brown needles, but have not turned all brown yet.  Hopefully this continued cloud cover and lower temperatures will help keep things in Arkansas from getting out of control.  The weather forecast for the next week is for lower temperatures and chances of rain for the next few days.  The high temperatures are forecasted to be below 100 degrees for at least 5 days.

What does this mean to outdoor activities for Arkansas:

  1. Keep your campfires out for now as any type of spark or cinder could cause a major wildfire.
  2. If you are going to hike, get an early start and try to stay out of the sun.  Make sure you carry plenty of water.  Odds are you will not find any potable water on your hike.
  3. [Read more…]

07/03/12 Heat continues and burn bans abound throughout Arkansas

Yesterday, I saw the first clouds I had seen in the local sky for almost a week. In the morning, there were enough clouds to briefly darken the sky so that the local temperature was considerably cooler. The shot below was taken on a much different type of day in July about 4 years ago. When this shot was taken, Pulaski County was getting rainfall almost every other day.

Westward view from close to the summit of Pinnacle Mountain

Westward view from close to the summit of Pinnacle Mountain

Even in the shot, you can see some damage from fire however.  The amount of clouds in the sky do help a lot since they will block some the the direct light especially in the middle summer months.  For the past two days, Little Rock, has been blessed with clouds which has helped to keep our maximum temperature down below 100 degrees.

The long term forecast is showing some possible relief by the end of next week when we might be getting some more localize rainfall.

[Read more…]

07/01/12 The weather in Arkansas remains bleak–Heat and more Heat

The heat wave continues in Arkansas

The heat wave continues in Arkansas

Well as much as I would like to say “it’s all OK here in the State of Arkansas”, I really can’t.  This has to be the worst heat wave since the mid 1980’s when the state went almost 60 days with no measurable rainfall.  As you can see from the forecast page above, for the next ten days Arkansas temperatures will stay well over 95 degrees and on many days they will climb over 100 degrees.

If this continues for much longer, then you can safely assume a few things:

  1. Within 20 more days you will start to see large numbers of trees going into stress.  When this occurs the leaves will turn brown and stay on the tree until late fall.  However it also means that any hope of a good photographic fall will be ruined.
  2. Most if not all of the major trunk streams in the State are going to dry up totally, this includes the upper Buffalo River near Boxley, Piney Creek near Russellville, the Cossatot River in the Southwest corner of Arknasas, and the Mulberry River near Fort  Smith.  The smaller streams like Richland Creek have already dried up and unless the state gets some significant rainfall in July and August, I don’t think they will have anything in the fall either.
  3. The fire hazard in the state is at highest level.  On my last trip to the Buffalo River in early June, I was already seeing sights along the roads that let me know we were in for a long hot one.  The roadside wildflowers were gone and the grasses that grow along the road side were all brown.  Now almost a month later, all of these areas are going to be at a high risk if someone throws out a cigarette.
  4. Deer, Elk, and other large wildlife will stay in the deep glens and valleys of the state and not venture out in to the flats due to the excessive heat.  So wildlife photography will be much harder than stopping along the road side and taking out your camera.
  5. [Read more…]

06/19/12 Mountain Lions Exist in Arkansas!!, Finally the Arkansas State Game and Fish admits that the big cats are out there

In an article titled “Cougars moving toward Midwest” in the 06/18/12 Arkansas Democrat, it was reported that at least 8 mountain lions have been reported in Arkansas.  Most of these appeared in game cameras that were set out by deer hunters in various parts of Arkansas.  For years, I have been hearing reports by local Arkansas residents that they had either heard or seen a mountain lion.  The southwest corner of Arkansas up to Hot Springs seemed to be the main location for sightings, however more recently the northwest part of the state has reported sightings.

In 35 years of hiking throughout Arkansas, I have only seen what I would call actual evidence 1 time and that was very clear paw print on a hiking trail along the Ozark Highlands trail.  In all my night photography trips, I have not heard any cries from a mountain lion, but still at night you do start to really think that one may be near by.  Of course everything seems closer at night!

[Read more…]

06/02/12 Arkansas is drying up in a hurry!

After driving up to the Buffalo National River yesterday, I was made very aware of just how dry the state has become.  The entire Ozark Mountain area is now a tinderbox just waiting for a lightening strike or a errant cigarette butt.  My gauge for the dryness was looking at the road side grasses and wildflowers, or lack of.  The grass is now totally yellow and there is hardly any green along the roads.  You can even start to see a hit a stress showing on the trees, but they probably have one more month before things get really bad.

The Buffalo National River, near Steel Creek is so low that it really doesn’t look like a river now.  You can cross it at Steel creek without getting your feet wet.  The flow is more like what one should see in late August, not the 1st of June.  If you are planning to float the river, I would not consider putting on anything higher than Gilbert. [Read more…]