Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
I think this is a diary for me, but you are welcome to read too. I'm just not promising anything interesting. I have a couple of photography challenges coming up: a new camera and a new shooting subject and I wanted a record of my preparations, primarily so I can remember what lessons I am learning in this process. My notes and, hence, less likely that I will forget.
First, the new camera. I have been getting interested in a simpler style of photography, particularly when we travel. Currently, I end up bringing along two big cameras, a small one, lots of lenses, a great tripod, filters, and stuff - always stuff. That's all OK if we have car space and time, but it is sending me off in the direction of camera technology, rather than photographs.
I decided to have a simpler option, high quality still, but closer to my original photography experience of 50 or 60 years ago. (Really.) Consequently, I ordered a "Leica Q2", still high tech digital, of course, but with fewer options than my normal gear or even an iPhone. No changeable lenses. Not a zoom lens. No built-in flash. Limited automation. Basically, no add ons, other than a camera case - a story for a different day. However, some of the "best glass" in the business and solid German construction that is even weather-proof, dust and drip, anyway.
Now, I need to learn how to use my new camera. That's Challenge #1. Challenge #2 is largely unrelated: a big air-show in nearby Lemoore Naval Air Station. The local camera folks, Horn Photo, have organized one of their "Clicking Caravans" and 30 or 40 folks are signed up to join them on Saturday. There was a Tuesday class to get some hints on airplane photography and one of the suggestions was to practice before the planes start flying. So, this is a record of my learn-the-Q2 efforts and airplane-practice.
After a little at-home practice with the new camera, I headed out to Fäsi Winery. I needed to pick up our Fall wine club selection and it was an opportunity for some familiar photo shooting. The cow was my start at wildlife, I suppose. Nice and stationary.
Next, I headed into the vineyard for different perspectives. The Petite Sirah vines had just been picked.
The vines and "raisin" leftovers gave me a chance to test camera perspective and depth-of-field. The lens certainly seemed to be clear from edge to edge. I have to admit that these simple shots took time since I needed to learn a number of new buttons, just for the first few "clicks." There is a combination of mental learning and physical, muscle-memory training.
Close ups of a grape bunch and of a flower required another set of learning/training. In the middle of this, I inadvertently shifted to movie mode and did not know how to go back to pictures, except by resetting everything. To avoid frustration, I had to (and have to) remind myself that learning and training will take time. At least I like the grape picture.
My next testing was intended to be mostly about photographing airplanes. When I asked my gps for directions to an "airport", she came back with directions to Chandler Airport, a small downtown airport that I had never visited. Seemed like a good suggestion.
I discovered a delightful set of buildings. Starting in 1929 on 100 acres of the Chandler farm, this was the original Fresno airport and in 1936 and 1937 the Art Deco structures were built under the Depression-era Works Progress Administration. They were restored in 1989, although scheduled airlines had left for "FAT" generations before.
Inside, the empty waiting room looked like the DC2's had just left with all the passengers. The ornate carved benches were a reminder of a grander age. And it all gave me a chance at indoor shots with my Q2. Again, I needed to learn and train anew, such as "zooming" with my feet when I wanted more detail on the bench.
Out on the airfield, things were pretty quiet. The only flight I saw were trainers, both small planes and an even smaller helicopter. I'm not sure these were good training for catching the Navy's Blue Angels on Saturday, more like a slow walk-through for a school play. I did learn that 1/800 second is not fast enough to freeze helicopter blades. However, the "old" camera's 200mm lens performed well enough, as long as the planes are not too far away.
For more airplane practice, I drove over to the real Fresno Airport, call-sign "FAT". I hoped to at least see some jet-speed action, but there was not much. One DC-9 (I think) landed and another one taxied around. Not hard to take pictures of, but the Canon D7II did not seem to yield the crisp pictures of the Q2. Dirty air, perhaps.
I was able to get reasonably close to a couple of the forest fire fighting planes based at FAT this time of year. Practice for on-the-ground shots.
Across the taxiway, I could see the Air National Guard fighters being prepped for their daily practice. This may have been about as distant as my gear is useful and that's something to keep in mind. Also, I ran out of patience and packed up just a few minutes before I heard the Guard fighters taking off. Another lesson: be patient.
My final test of the NEW camera was at Fresno's Shin Zen Gardens. I have used the park for pictures before, usually for Fall colors or Spring blooms, but late Summer did not promise much color, other than shades of green. It is still a good place for seeing what a camera lessons a new user might pick up.
Mostly, Shin Zen has "Japanese scenes", useful for testing closer-than-Sierras-in-the-background landscape photography. I love the clarity of the Q2 images. The large images linked to these thumbnails are the camera's original resolution, far more detailed than ANY screen can show, but indicative of all the available detail. Enough for movie-poster-sized prints. (Any interest?) (These are large files - 4 to 9 megabytes. They load slowly.)
Use of a single fixed-length (28mm) lens for the Q2 is justified by Leica on the grounds that cropping can produce the picture that a "longer" lens would yield. That is what I did here. Even after throwing away half the picture to get at just what I wanted, there is enough detail for a 20 by 30 inch printed picture. (Here, I link to lower, more screen-appropriate, resolution.)
The next experiment was a "macro" closeup. Leica uses the term "macro" with the Q2, but I'm not sure it is appropriate. In the old days, macro meant the image on the film was the same size as in real-life, a concept that does not make sense with digital images. Instead, I believe it is better to simply think of "macro" as meaning "close up".
The following threesome of a red Japanese-maple leaf shows the original picture, a normal", leaf-only, crop and a tight crop to see the hairs on the leaves. The later two are "closeups", even if the image on the digital film was not as-large-as-real-life and hence macro. Confused? I promise to not use the term macro, even though my Q2 has a dandy feature for close-ups that is labeled "MACRO". That said, the new camera does closeups really well!
I also ran an experiment of different "f-stops", from the camera's most open (f1.7) to its least open (f16). This small water fall was just a minor part of a larger scene, but one version was shot "open" (f1.7) and the other at f16. Since the shutter-open time for the two were different, the falling water blurs differently. In principle, the camera operator can choose the imagined effect. With this new camera, it will take me more time to get results I imagine. Something to practice.
My last piece of practice was not-so-wild-animal photography. I almost stumbled over a family of peacocks and I spent some film and time trying my safari techniques. (Open eyes, with catch-light. Detailed feathers. Some sort of activity.) This time, I felt I came up short. First, the birds were not doing much, so I had no chance for a dramatic bird-catching-fish moment and bird-catching-bug could have been happening and I would not notice. I missed the ability to get tight head-shots that my normal bird lenses give. Probably a lesson here: don't depend on the Q2 for wildlife.
Camera test conclusions:
New Q2: It may take a thousand pictures for me to get comfortable, i.e. to gain the required mind- and muscle-memory to reflexively take the pictures I want. Once there, the Leica should live up to expectations for almost all my normal shooting. In just my initial testing, sharpness is impressive. I haven't really tested "bokeh", that desired out-of-focus background that good lenses provide. Long-distance shooting, such as birds and wildlife will remain the domain of my cameras with "bigger" lenses.
Air Show Preparation: Practice helps every time, even if the Chandler and FAT flights were not really the Blue Angels. The Canon 7DII is my oldest "big" camera, but even so, setting it up for a particular subject requires thought and the little bit of practice. My practice pointed out some places where I need different settings and improved familiarity with controls that may need to change at the last minute.
All in all, I think I am (photographically) ready: 7DII for up-in-the-air and Q2 for ground displays. Stay tuned.