Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Phoebe: Old camera, old cat, old software and an old photographer

Phoebe: Old camera, old cat, old software and an old photographer


A cat photo on Macfilos? Quelle horreur. But please stay with me even if you are not a cat person. It’s not a catastrophe. This story is about photography, and it features my beautiful, old and very gentle Himalayan cat, Phoebe, who is nearly 18 years old — exceptionally ancient for a purebred cat — but she is in very robust health. Because she is so photogenic, I have photographed her many times over the years. The photo above was taken just last week and shows her half dozing on her favourite rocking chair in the fading afternoon light. 

Photographing Phoebe, or indeed most cats, is not as easy as it looks. Sadly it’s not just a case of “watch the birdie” and click. The first problem is the complicated issue of getting a cat to stay still. Cats are very strong-willed. Many are the times I have spotted Phoebe in beautiful light and ran to fetch a camera only to find that she has moved away. 

Hocus focus

Then there is the problem of focus. Autofocus does not like fur, and even with manual focus, homing in on a cat’s coat is difficult — mainly if it is very white or very dark. The next problem is exposing for a contrasty cat which is very light in parts and very dark in other regions. Phoebe is not too bad on this score, but I have another beautiful old Himalayan called Zoe who has a very dark face and an almost white body. Photographing her is very challenging.

The final difficulty is getting down to the cat’s level. For me, it used to be easy. But as I have advanced in years, getting down on my stomach or even my knees is becoming difficult, if not entirely out of the question. If you are younger than sixty and reading this I say don’t yawn — just you wait. For the above photo of Phoebe, I used the X Vario because it has the EVF which swivels 90º so I can shoot from lower than eye level. The drop in height really made the photo above. I feel that this particular photo captures the the scene so well. It’s very Phoebe. 


Whenever I use the X Vario, I reflect on what a success the camera could have been if it had been given a proper launch and if it had a built-in EVF. If you are interested in reading some really nasty and entirely ill-informed comments, go to photoblogs from the time of its launch — but not Macfilos I hasten to add, because Mike has always valued the X Vario for what it is. Suffice to say the armchair photographers, most of whom had probably never even seen a Leica yet alone used one, canned it entirely. It was horrible.

The lens on the X Vario is outstanding, and the colour rendition is, to my eye, superb. In some ways I find the X Vario photographs more satisfying than those from the Q which are sometimes too clinical to my eye. I am not familiar with which sensor which camera has, so I am not able to give a learned exposition on the contribution the sensor and processing engines make to what I see. I just know what I like.

I did do some processing on this Phoebe photo in Lightroom. It did not pop out of the XV looking like this. I am still using Lightroom 5 which more than meets all my requirements. Life’s way too short, particularly at my age, to keep updating software for marginal or unwanted ”benefits”. Old camera, old software, old cat and an old photographer. That’s my cat photo story.



  1. Nice to know you are into cats as well as cars, John. (Only one letter different : there must be a relationship there somewhere!)
    Superb picture – the lighting, the fur……. I agree with you about the missed success Leica could have had with the XV, but thank goodness they didn’t give it an inbuilt EVF, it would have been fixed and not tiltable. The latter makes all the difference, given that the XV is no "compact" – especially if you add the handgrip for better purchase. I think "portable fixed zoom" would be a better description. It would have been interesting to know what focal length and aperture you were using to get that crisp yet soft result. At the moment there is a big tussle going on in my camera cupboard between the XV and the Sony a6000 with Zeiss 16-70 constant f4. And of course here your cat comes along and hands it to the XV on a plate! (For the time being.)

  2. Hello John
    A really nice shot. I do agree with you that it’s difficult to have nice shots of cats unless they’re dozing or sleeping in a snug place. It happened to me a few times with mine in the past. I also agree about the rendering of the FF and aps-c sensors. I used to have a full frame sony and I didn’t like it, too detailed, too clinical as you said. I remember going to my local beach and I thought there was a scratch on the lens but it was just the fishing line of someone nearby. They may look nice if you pixel peep on your computer-screen but I really prefer the sensor on the X2. It seems to me the images are more balanced with a soft passage from one zone to the other. The images also look warmer and get close to what we used to get from our analog cameras(no pang of nostalgia here). The only thing I miss sometimes is the bokeh on apsc but I know a 35 mm f1.4 would make the X much bulkier (as is the case with the leica X typ 113) and not as discreet although I admit the bokeh is really nice if open at 2.8 for a close shot with the X2. Thank you for posting photos on a Saturday. I tremendously liked the photos of the lighthouse and bay last Saturday.

    • Jean, John and John (symmetry here somewhere), just for the record, the other John, the Sage of Terrigal, is on vacation somewhere in deepest eastern Europe. I’m not sure if he’s monitoring Macfilos and, of course, Phoebe was sent in prior to departure so we wouldn’t miss him. No doubt he will respond in due course. Mike

  3. John,
    A pleasant image for a lazy Saturday, thanks to you and Mike! You make an interesting point about focussing on a cat’s fur, something I have trouble with when trying to photograph our all white cat Alfie. Perhaps it’s just me but I find the rear screen on my X1 easier to read in this respect than my X Vario, when manually focussing, possibly something to do with the way the X1 software renders contrast? Polite opinions welcomed!
    All the best,

  4. John I’m with you on still using Lightroom 5, I have no wish to use the subscription model offered now, and I have no idea what software I would want next if I needed to change. I love the way my X renders images, so assume it has the same sensor as the X Vario. Sure Mike will tell us.

    Nice images of your cat, I take images of the rabbits my daughter keeps, and they can be challenging to get decent images of.

    Enjoy your holiday. We can look forward to more images.

  5. Hello.
    Must admit I love cats..
    I have 3, and 3 small dogs who think they are cats too..
    Nice shot John, I like the look on the cats face, not easy to capture as you stated.
    Cats love to do their own thing, like run off..
    Or decide to wash their bum just as you try to take the shot..
    Nice shot John.


  6. John, thank you. The lighting really accentuates the furriness of the Phoebe’s thick coat. Clearly her ancestors in Nepal needed such protection in the winter cold.

    It is a lovely shot and captures a typical moment in her life.

    Focussing is a challenge with animal photography. Although the wide angle of the Q might not be the best focal length for a thick-coated cat, (try digital cropping to 50mm), do try its focus peaking and manual over-ride. I am currently running in a CL and I must confess that feature was a tipping point for me. I can use AF and quickly assess whether manual over-ride would help. It almost invariably does. Sadly the X and XV predate that technical feature. For the record I still enjoy using my X1 and XV.

  7. I do love my XV irespective of the fact that I also have the Fuji XT2 (with 16-55 f2.8) and M10. The XV is a joy to use and thr jpeg looks terrific provided there is proper light. I am keeping it.

  8. Thank you for all the kind comments on the Phoebe photo. As Mike says I have been driving around Romania for the past two weeks enjoying the scenery and taking a few photos along the way. I am now back in Bucharest having survived two weeks of the most terrifying driving I have ever experienced. From personal experience I’ll take my chance with open heart surgery any day over driving on Romanian roads. No wonder the rental car company warns that driving in Romania is not for nervous drivers. They should put a packet of valium in every glovebox.
    On my way to Munich tomorrow for few days of pre-Oktoberfest before that long flight home to see my cats. Romanian photos soon but none of the driving- way too much camera shake.


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