Home Reviews Havana through the lens of Canon’s G7 X lightweight pro

Havana through the lens of Canon’s G7 X lightweight pro

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 Canon does its flashy timer stuff: With my
Canon does its flashy timer stuff: With my “casa particular” family in Havana, £24 a night and a warm welcome. That’s me on the left in case you’re wondering….

Three months ago I was sitting here in Yokohama contemplating a bit of travel. I was planning a job change and the resulting sabbatical was to provide a unique opportunity to take a longer-than-usual adventure. We Japanese don’t get long vacations, unlike most Europeans, so I have to grab my chances when they occur.

I’d been reading a lot about Cuba and it suddenly dawned on me that 2016 could be my last opportunity to see it as it (almost) was. Next year will be too late; it will be inundated with tourists and the Cuba Disney experience will leapfrog sixty years of state planning. I got to plotting and planning and booked a round-the-world series of flights—starting with Tokyo Haneda to Toronto, then to Havana, back to Toronto and, finally, to Britain which I had never visited before.

 On the street.... and on the beach
On the street…. and on the beach

Plans progressed, flights and hotels were booked, and I settled down to detail. I’m a well-organized soul and like my suitcase to be perfectly arranged, shirts and underwear folded neatly and stacked in serried ranks. But faced with packing for summer in Cuba and an indifferent Spring in Canada and Britain, I was running out of space. No room for loads of camera equipment; yet what was I going for if not to take photographs? A new, small camera was the answer, something specially for this adventure, something that would offer a comprehensive medium zoom range, something that wouldn’t strain the pocket (in either sense).

 Hemingway
Hemingway’s bar tandem

I started to look round and decided the Sony RX100 Mark III would be just about perfect in terms of small size and maximum performance from that one-inch sensor. I’d read a lot about it and even professional photographers seemed excited by its performance. So off I went to the local camera store in Yokohama to see if I could get a good deal. But even before I laid eyes on the Sony I saw a Canon G7 X sitting there in the sale corner for only ¥45,000 (approximately £287, $414 as of writing). I didn’t know much about it but….

 Lining up at the taxi rank for all the newly minted tourists
Lining up at the taxi rank for all the newly minted tourists

A quick Google and I realized that this camera is being superseded by a Mark II version, but the image quality from the 20 MP one-inch sensor (I wonder if it is the Sony sensor?) promised to be just as good and probably not much different to that of the Sony. I liked it, and the price was under half that of the Sony.

 Dusk over  Plaza Vieja , Havana
Dusk over Plaza Vieja , Havana

There was only one snag—the absence of a viewfinder. In common with most photographers I really like a viewfinder; but finally I decided I would make the best of the swiveling screen on the G7 X. So out came my credit card and bang went ¥45,000. Deal done. But would it perform?

Japan is never far away…..

Pocket sized

By the time I’d finished packing for the trip I was congratulating myself on my frugal photographic habits. The little camera is pocket sized and fits into a small case attached to the belt of my jeans. Ever ready. The one-inch sensor promised adequate image quality and the very useful 24-100mm equivalent zoom range was just what I needed, especially for the time in Havana. The more expensive Sony, despite its advantage of having a viewfinder, has a much less useful 24-70mm zoom range.

 Posing with Ernest at the bar. In the background, the old scribbler himself chattering intimitely with a youthful Comandante
Posing with Ernest at the bar. In the background, the old scribbler himself chattering intimitely with a youthful Comandante
 When Hemingway had the sniffles he probably patronised this time-warp pharmacy
When Hemingway had the sniffles he probably patronised this time-warp pharmacy

That extra 30mm at the long end proved its worth time after time and I congratulated myself on not having fallen for the shortie Sony. Both cameras have the same bright f/1.8-2.8 aperture range but Canon has done a remarkable job in squeezing such a wide range of angles of view into such a compact lens. I also love the possibilities offered by the wide-angle 24mm, something that I think is essential in a travel camera; I even like the distortion, with tumble-down buildings tumbling over one another in haste. The difference in practicality between 24mm and 28mm, which is more standard fare in starter cameras, is remarkable. That 100mm maximum zoom just clinches the deal in my mind.

Brothers in arms………..

After a day in Toronto I was feeling quite at home with the tiny Canon. It is so small that using the screen instead of a viewfinder feels quite natural, without having to hold it out at arms length like a real tourist. The swiveling, selfie-serving screen was going to be fun because I was on a selfie safari this trip.

 2016? It could just as easily be 1956. But it won
2016? It could just as easily be 1956. But it won’t last, modernization is on the way

Cuba was everything I had expected and I am so glad that I made the effort now rather than in a year’s time. The first signs of encroaching modernization were everywhere. Cellphones, previously almost unknown, were appearing all over the place. And those wonderful 1950s and 1960s American automobiles are now in danger of being relegated to the tourist trail like so many gasping, grunting bicycle rickshaws.

Well, what else does a real tourist do except take selfies? (click to enlarge)

Just go

I spent five wonderful days in the capital of Castro’s island and these shots give some small impression of the place. It’s a pity, but it won’t last long and I would recommend anyone to get up and go, definitely before the end of 2016.

The Canon proved to be a congenial companion and a good performer. You’re never going to get the same dynamic range and ISO performance from a one-inch sensor as from a full-frame, but the Canon performed really well. I was surprised. I shot only JPGs and (for my sins) left it on auto most of the time. I was too busy to fiddle and thought I would let the camera have its head, do its own thing. I also wanted to hand the camera to strangers so I could record myself enjoying the sights of Havana, although they sometimes managed to beat the autofocus, as in the lefthand photo below. But, overall, I think my choice of simplicity was right.

My journey continued to London where I spent some time out street shooting with my renowned photographer friend [Ed: Steady on there old chap] Mike Evans (another item ticked off the bucket list) before moving on to Dublin and Edinburgh.

Like many first-time visitors I decided to see as much as possible in the short time available. I loved Dublin and Edinburgh, it’s hard not to, but I flew back to Tokyo feeling that London has just become one of my favorite foreign cities. My only regret was that there were no Premier League games to be seen during my time there—football being my first love. A good second comes beer, though, and there was plenty of that to be had (not to mention the odd mojito) wherever I went. Did I mention Guinness?

As for the Canon, I think I made the right choice and it did a great job of recording this once-in-a-lifetime visit to Havana. I think it is a prettier camera than the Sony, it has more straightforward clearly marked controls and it outperforms dramatically in zoom reach to 100mm. This is a tremendous asset and puts the Canon ahead of the Sony in my book. Above all, it was a bargain.

¡Salud! Have a mojito on me.

Samon

6 COMMENTS

  1. Nice pictures and you’ve captured the spirit of Havana (lot’s of it, as far as I can see). Impressed with that camera. I’ve been using the first Sony RX100 for a few years and was about to upgrade to the Mk IV version. But I’m now looking at the G7X Mk.II thanks to your pictures. I think the extra 30mm zoom is very useful and I like the more manual controls. In particular, although you don’t mention it, I like the click lens zoom which can be used for choosing apertures when in aperture priority mode. I’ll be giving it a look and thanks again for an entertaining story.

  2. Thanks Samon. Your Canon has certainly delivered the goods for you. Your article brings back memories of my own trip to Cuba last year which featured on this website.

    Your photo from the Casa shows a picture of the ‘Sacred Heart’ on the wall behind. We found similar pictures in Casas on our trip. The Pope had been to Cuba the week before we arrived and there were posters welcoming him on a lot of the houses, but we were told by our guide that most Cubans do not engage in religious practice. On the other hand the present Pope who is from Latin America is acting as a conduit between Cuba and the White House.

    Cubans may feel that they have no real reason to like the US but on the other hand they absolutely adore baseball and follow the US leagues. This reminded me of my time in the Middle East when I would hear broadcasters on Al Jazeera Sports talking excitedly in Arabic about an upcoming match between Sunderland and Newcastle. Like the people of the Middle East, Cubans adopt a binary approach to what might broadly be called ‘Western culture’.

    The appropriate word may be ‘syncretic’ as that is how the Caribbean Santeria religion, which combines Christianity with African religions and uses the Yoruba language from West African, is described. In Trinidad (Cuba) we went to an Afro-Cuban musical night and a lot of the songs were in Yoruba rather than Spanish. This cultural tradition is to found at its strongest in the rhythmic elements in Cuban music which can be heard everywhere.

    I firmly believe that the Cubans will maintain their culture even if Disney and others land on their shores. What they have today is too strong to be washed away. I believe that their binary or syncretic approach will enable them to combine what they have with what is coming.

    Your pictures certainly capture the nature of the place as it is now and the warm and friendly approach of Cubans to visitors. Certainly our experience of the welcome in the Casas Particulares was one of the best guest experiences we have ever had. Your photo above with a Cuban family really brings that out.

    Mike had told me you were visiting Dublin a few weeks ago, but it clashed with my attendance at the Leica Society AGM in the UK. Now there’s a ‘syncretic religion’! Anyway, I hope that you enjoyed your weekend in Dublin and, perhaps, you will return sometime for a larger immersion in Irish culture.

    William

  3. William,

    Thank you so much for your wonderful comment. Wish I could see you in Dublin and talk about the Cuban culture. Well, I have to say that I’m still an absolute beginner and Mike helped A LOT for this article. His great hospitality made me addicted to photography and London! By the way, I’m originally a ‘beer-holic’ (Mike knows well), so hard to say not to visit Dublin again in the future…

    As you mentioned, I could find a mixed culture in Havana. As a Japanese, being among in that type of culture was a unique experience because I live in an isolated island country. Of course there’re tons of visitors from other countries, but I guess it’s because we have A unique culture.

    As for sport, in my opinion, I think young people nowadays prefer soccer to baseball. Of course baseball is still popular, as Obama visited there and the Rays had a friendly match with the Cuban National Team in March this year, which gathered about 55,000 fans, but I saw sandlot (would rather say, road?) soccer games many times and no baseball. Maybe they think soccer is much cooler than baseball, which is similar situation with in Japan 20 years ago. Salary-wise, obviously becoming a major leaguer is much better, though.

    Anyways, I love Cuba and hope I can visit there again. Hopefully they would keep their culture even if Micky and Donald Duck would attack there…

    Please let me know if you have an opportunity to come visit Tokyo!

    Samon

  4. James,

    Thank you so much for your comment. First of all, I’m crazy in traveling abroad. This is the reason to grab my camera. I bought the Canon just before the trip, so I will overwork the camera to improve my technique. As for the story, Mike gave me a great help… He was like an photographic teacher as well as a Spartan English educator…

    Samon

    • Samon, you are too modest. The pictures are excellent and I am sure you will become a natural photographer if you keep taking shots like this. Take the camera out every day and shoot away. And you write really well; the text needed little work. I’ve had worse from native speakers. I only wish my Japanese were as good.

  5. Thanks Samon. Now that you mention it, I did see some boys and young men playing football on a baseball ground in Vinales on the west side of Cuba. Football is the ‘world game’, of course with a much greater global reach than baseball. There is much evidence of baseball activity in Cuba and bats and balls were for sale everywhere. When looking for a present from Cuba for my grandson, a baseball was the most obvious choice.

    You don’t need to be modest about your photography which is excellent. The great thing about photography is that you continue to learn new things for the rest of your life. I took up photography seriously about 35 years ago and I learn something new every time I go out with a camera.

    William

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