Decision Time

Our cat Boo stretches out on top of the cat tree

Back in June I pre-ordered Sony’s just announced A7R II mirrorless camera, guessing that its ground-breaking features might otherwise make it hard to come by in the early days, but also knowing that I had plenty of time to cancel before it shipped in August. I got an email from Amazon that the camera is going to ship in the middle of the week, the first date they are available in the US, so it’s time to decide if I should cancel or not.

I expected there would be plenty of reviews by now to help me make up my mind (the camera is already shipping in the UK for crying out loud) but the non-disclosure agreements must not be up until later in the week because there has been little information available since the initial announcement. I think Sony is even holding a press event here in Portland on Wednesday but reclusive cat bloggers must not have been high on their invite list.

I’ll sleep on it but I’m leaning towards canceling the order given the expense (I’d switch all of my non-wildlife shooting to Sony’s system). But I’ve been flip-flopping all over the place the past week as while there is much I like about my little Canon M, there is much I don’t, and the Sony solves some of my biggest complaints with the M.

For example, I grabbed the M this afternoon when I saw Boo stretched out and about to fall asleep on top of the cat tree, as it nicely contrasted how differently he sleeps than tidy little Scout who preceded him, but I had to stand scrunched in the corner of the room with the camera near my heart, snapping pictures before he changed his pose. The camera’s buffer fills quickly so I couldn’t take a shot when he yawned, not that the slow autofocus could have tracked him, but without image stabilization even this static shot yielded a bunch of unsharp pictures and thankfully one sharp one.

The Sony has built-in image stabilization, a high-res full frame sensor that would allow faster shutter speeds, is more responsive, and has a much better autofocus system. It can also do nice video (4K even).

But that price tag …

Eyes Wide Open

Our black cat Emma rests on the hardwood floor

A picture from a couple of years ago of our cat Emma with eyes wide open, keeping an eye on young Boo who we had adopted three weeks prior. We were just starting to give him limited time into the house at large and Emma was not happy about it, following him around wherever he went. In a year and a half disease would steal Emma from us and we found ourselves introducing another young cat, Trixie, but this time it was Boo (and Sam) who were not happy about the new arrival and we were in for another slow introduction.

I had just gotten my Canon M, their little mirrorless camera, when we got Boo and was taking most of my pet pictures (then and now) with it. While it was a very flawed camera, I got it on a fire sale so there was little financial risk and I treated it as an experiment to see if I would like mirrorless cameras (I did) and with the hope that Canon would get more serious about mirrorless (they didn’t). I loved how I didn’t have to hold the camera to my eye, which not only let me get a lot of shots of the pets I wouldn’t have otherwise, but Emma was also a lot more tolerant of being photographed since she could still see my face.

I’ve been thinking for a while now about moving to a mirrorless system that would better fit my needs, or possibly going to a larger full-frame sensor, and this morning two pretty groundbreaking cameras got announced that would allow me to do both with one camera, and best of all each offers built-in image stabilization. I haven’t had much time to read up on them and, unlike my little M, either would require a massive investment in a camera I haven’t made since my first digital camera.

Right before I left for work Leica announced the Q, a gorgeous little fixed lens camera. I’ve never shot with anything as wide as its 28mm lens, nor anything as fast as it’s f/1.7 lens, but at first glance a lot of thought went into its design. I’ve always wanted to own a Leica but never have, much like in cars I’ve always wanted a Volvo, Mazda, or Alfa Romeo. This one has my interest, but on the other hand, I’m not sure I’d use it enough to justify its price tag.

Leica Q 1024

While I was at work Sony announced their latest interchangeable lens full-frame camera, the A7R II. While it had been rumored for a while, they upgraded more from the original A7R than I was expecting (a camera that intrigued me but had too many foibles to seriously tempt me). This one seems to have fixed many of my issues with the previous model, and rather curiously, there are reports that Sony was demonstrating that with an adapter you could attach Canon lenses and still get autofocus. Not sure how well it would work, but if I could use my existing lenses with it …

Sony A7RII 1024

The Unexpected M

Boo

I’ve mostly used SLR’s for everything I shoot but for a while now I’ve suspected I’d be happier with multiple cameras targeted at different uses. Most of all I wanted something less obtrusive than my SLR for shooting the pets, or possibly something with better quality in the low light I shoot them in. There were a number of potential candidates amongst full-frame cameras, quality fixed-lens compacts, or mirrorless cameras.

On the day we adopted shy little Boo I could wait no longer so it was time to choose. That choice was Canon’s EOS M, surprisingly so since I was rather disappointed with it when it launched the previous year. But the price had plummeted to less than $300 for the camera and its 22mm pancake lens, and at that price the flaws of the camera suddenly became easier to bear. I’ve never spent so little on photography and received so much in return.

I’ve rarely shot with my SLR since. I still use it for wildlife shooting and anything that requires fast camera work, but for nearly everything else it’s been the charming little M.

Am I glad I waited so long to order it? Yes and no. On the one hand, the camera’s flaws would have been hard to live with at its debut price. On the other, perhaps I could have gotten a picture of Scout sleeping on me like this. But such is the clarity of hindsight, I had no reason to expect she’d die so relatively young.

I can’t change the past, only learn from it, and so by now I have pictures of all the pets sleeping on me. Sometimes all at once. On this occasion it was just me and Boo, snuggled in between my legs, one of my favorite shots of him.

Uh Oh

Sony_RX100

I have a long-standing yet unfulfilled desire for a small camera. Several cameras that came out within the past couple of years have piqued my interest, but none has been quite what I’m looking for, so apart from the occasional temptation of a really big sale I’ve found it pretty easy to stand my ground.

But I just went a little weak in the knees.

Sony announced the DSC-RX100, a little pocket camera that packs a much larger sensor than others in its class (good for the low light shooting I prefer), yet is also quick to operate. I’ve never bought a camera that wasn’t made by Canon — which isn’t as dramatic as it sounds, both because I haven’t bought a lot of cameras and because all but one have been SLR’s, where I buy Canon bodies because I have Canon lenses — but if it is as good in the hand as it looks on paper, this little Sony will be the first.

Doesn’t ship for another month or so, and something of this quality isn’t cheap, but oh my …

Moving in the Right Direction

ApertureGPS

For many years I’ve dreamed of having location data attached to my images so that I could see where I took my favorite pictures at my favorite places. Unfortunately none of my cameras have had GPS either built-in or as an attachment. My iPhone has the ability to do it but sadly it wasn’t until recently that I figured out how. I decided to take advantage of my recent renaissance and assigned myself the task of learning how to do it while visiting a super secret location over the Christmas break.

And so on a visit to Ridgefield (oh what a giveaway!) I fired up MotionX-GPS on the phone and had it keep a running tally of my travels around the refuge, then emailed the data file to my laptop. It took me a couple more weeks before I sat down to learn how to import that data into Aperture, and it’s a bit fussier than I hoped, so I also learned how to do it with a little command line utility called exiftool. Photo Mechanic can also do it, and did it quickly, but the locations weren’t right so I have a little more learning there.

I do wish my camera could do this natively, not just because of the extra steps required to add the data later, but because it requires that I remember to start and stop the GPS tracking. And anything that requires that I remember to do something, well …

This screenshot shows an example of how the GPS data looks when imported directly into Aperture, in this case it was my visit to Ridgefield on January 15th. The purple trace shows where I drove around the auto tour, the pins where I stopped and took pictures. Currently selected is a spot beside Rest Lake where I photographed a coyote hunting voles as the snow fell gently down.

On the map you can see the Columbia River running to the left of the refuge, and a little offshoot that comes by it on the right, plus the numerous sloughs that run through the refuge. Lewis & Clark visited Ridgefield but apparently Clark wasn’t quite as impressed with this blessed little place as I am, for he wrote,

“Opposit to our camp on a Small Sandy Island the brant & geese make Such a noise that it will be impossible for me to sleap.”

His prediction proved true, as the following morning he added,

“rained all the after part of the last night…I slept but verry little last night for the noise Kept up dureing the whole of the night by the Swans, Geese, white & Grey Brant Ducks & c. on a Small Sand Island they were emensely noumerous, and their noise horid…”

I’ve not seen brant at Ridgefield but the rain and swans and geese and ducks, those I know quite well, although in much smaller numbers it seems than William Clark once saw (and heard).

Finally

Our gray tuxedo cat Templeton sitting in the backyard

I’ve been spending money like a drunken sailor the past few days. The biggest purchases were a normal zoom for my camera (to replace the one that got smashed) and a laptop to replace my beloved but aging Powerbook.

The worst part has been deciding what to buy as my decisions changed on an almost daily (if not hourly) basis. I finally settled on Canon’s 17-55mm EF-S lens to replace the smashed 24-85mm lens and Apple’s 15″ MacBook Pro to replace my 15″ Powerbook. I went down last weekend to get the MacBook Pro but the store was out and didn’t get their shipment from Apple during the week. In the meantime I changed my mind and decided to get the regular MacBook instead of the Pro. If you’re reading this post faster than normal, it’s because it’s being written on my zoomy new white laptop instead of the old slower silver one.

And the lens? I changed my mind at the last minute on that one too and ordered Canon’s 24-105 L lens. That should be here on Tuesday (along with a circular polarizer, an 8 GB CF card, a remote release, an extension tube set, a card reader, a 2GB stick of memory for the MacBook, and a partridge in a pear tree).

Blame the drunken sailor.

And in case you’re wondering, the picture has nothing to do with this post, it’s just a picture of Templeton from last year that I finally got around to editing. He’s zonked out beside me at the moment but I’m sure he’d approve.