Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Ancient cats, ancient cameras and an ever-ready misfit

Ancient cats, ancient cameras and an ever-ready misfit

Read on for some real cat and camera porn

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Phoebe stretched out on a wooden floor trying to keep cool on a very hot and humid summer’s day. This photo was very straightforward to take and it required very little post processing

This is a story about cats and cameras. Something for everyone, you’d think. But if you are not a cat lover (and I do understand there are some rather sad people who don’t like ‘em) don’t groan. Just read on and relish the gear instead.

Zoe is the wonder cat. She lost an eye 6 years ago and now she has diabetes. She is too old to put on insulin so she eats loads of food and drinks loads of water. Despite her maladies she is still going strong. She is a real trooper. This picture was more difficult. It was taken as a DNG file ( RAW) at ISO 1000 and, because of the contrasty scene and her very dark face, I had to do a fair bit of massaging in Lightroom to get it to what you see here. I did use autofocus for the shot and focused on her whiskers — not difficult as there are a lot of them — many at odd angles
Zoe is the wonder cat. She lost an eye 6 years ago and now she has diabetes. She is too old to put on insulin so she eats loads of food and drinks loads of water. Despite her maladies she is still going strong. She is a real trooper. This picture was more difficult. It was taken as a DNG file ( RAW) at ISO 1000 and, because of the contrasty scene and her very dark face, I had to do a fair bit of massaging in Lightroom to get it to what you see here. I did use autofocus for the shot and focused on her whiskers — not difficult as there are a lot of them — many at odd angles

Viral puss

You see, Mike wants to increase the readership of Macfilos and cat photos and cat videos are very popular. And when I say very popular I mean to say, to use the jargon, they go viral. So I’m pitching in to help Mike with some cat photos and, who knows, Macfilos may go viral.

Phoebe stretched out on a wooden floor trying to keep cool on a very hot and humid summer’s day. This photo was very straightforward to take and it required very little post processing
Phoebe stretched out on a wooden floor trying to keep cool on a very hot and humid summer’s day. This photo was very straightforward to take and it required very little post-processing

Mike also tells me time after time that the stories about gear get the eyeballs. Now that saddens me because I find all the gear talk very boring and rather depressing as I look at cameras as a means to an end — to take photos. I just like photos: My photos and other photographer’s photos. But as my second name is “pragmatism” I’m prepared to set aside my prejudices and to include gear talk this once for a good cause.

This image and all the following taken over the years with my trusty Leica X Vario
This image and all the following taken over the years with my trusty Leica X Vario

Money sponges

Now I am very fortunate to own a few Leica cameras. I used to own a big collection of Leica cameras, lenses and accessories but in 2008 I lost interest and sold much of it to fund the restoration of an early Porsche I had just found. The one thing that Porsches and Leicas have in common, apart from both being both German, is that both can absorb large sums of money if you pursue collecting them as a hobby. Indeed, sometimes I think that Porsche and Leica share the same pricing department.

Grim Sofort

So after the 2008 downsizing and subsequent restocking, I now have four current Leicas — a Sofort (am I allowed to mention the Sofort on Macfilos, Mike?), an X1, an X Vario and a Q. As I am advancing in years, I reckon that may well be the end of my Leica collecting. The quartet suits me just fine and I am certainly more than happy with the three real Leicas. As for the Sofort, well there always has to be black sheep in the family, however ready it is.

As well as a couple of old Porsches and the Leicas, I have two aged Himalayan cats, Phoebe and Zoe. Now both these lady cats are 18 years old which according to the Purina cat age scale on the internet is the equivalent of 88 human years which for pure bred cats is a remarkable old age. I am the first to admit that they are both spoilt rotten and cosseted which probably explains their longevity.

Cat’s Eye level

Of course over the years they have both been photographed hundreds of times but some of the photos I have taken recently are, to my mind, the best. The reason for this is that I have been getting down to cat’s eye level using the X Vario. As has been documented a number of times on Macfilos the Leica X Vario is a camera which was unloved by the market and heavily criticised by all those forum jockeys who freely give an opinion on any camera even if they have never seen an example, yet alone used one.

For the sake of new Macfilos readers and as editor Mike has explained in earlier Macfilos stories, Leica themselves were also culpable in the X Vario’s sad story. The X Vario is in fact a brilliant camera, with an exceptional lens, superb build quality and is capable of producing exceptional IQ.

On the floor

The X Vario’s real Achilles’ heel was the lack of an integrated electronic viewfinder. But that omission makes it an exceptional cat camera because using the clip on Visoflex EVF you can get the X Vario down to floor level. By tilting the EVF eyepiece 90º you can look the cat in the eye, which is something you cannot do with the Q or even the optical viewfinder on an X1.

After placed the camera down on the ground, taking the photo is always a challenge since cats do not take directions, instructions and definitely not orders. I am then faced with the task of getting on my feet, which readers over 70 will appreciate is the most difficult part of the procedure.

Cat lovers unite

Anyway, here are two cat-level photos taken with the “grounded” X Vario in recent weeks. I hope the cat lovers love them — and send them viral — and as for those who are dog lovers, well I hope you found the gear talk interesting.

As both I and several correspondents and fellow authors, including Kevin Armstrong and John Nicholson, never tire of mentioning, the X Vario is an exceptional camera. In camera lives my XV is very similar to my cats — very old. According to the Shingleton Camera scale it’s probably also 88. But, it is a camera you can own and relish for many years to come.

Don’t hesitate

The Leica X Vario (Image Leica Camera AG)

If you have a chance to acquire an X Vario don’t hesitate. They come up for sale on eBay from time to time. I know of an Australian Macfilos contributor (Editor’s note: Why not just name Wayne and get it over with?) who bought a mint X Vario for a great price a few years ago but in a moment of madness he sold it soon after. I don’t know why and I suspect neither does he. I would not be surprised if he soon buys another one. I keep showing him photos taken with mine. If you own one already hold onto it. It’s already a classic.

You can find more from John Shingleton at The Rolling Road. And on Instagram

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11 COMMENTS

  1. Hi John, nice article, and some lovely images – I have a ton of rabbit images as my daughter has her two constant companions living under my roof, well living in my outhouse – it has turned in to a total hay barn. But they provide excellent images.

    I must confess I did laugh about you owning a Sofort, at least I dont feel so lonely now, as my wife bought one for me the same year I bought the X. Its a good laugh camera for family events, but the film is just a shade too expensive in my humblest of opinion.

    Roll on Wayne getting another XV, for me I will pass, not because I wouldn’t like to try one, but more because the Df and X are enough for me at the moment.

    Dave

  2. Hear, hear, John, as they say in the British Parliament when they are (more rarely nowadays) being polite. And I really enjoy grandchildren as well as cats! (O my XV, that hair!)

  3. Nice images John, indicating the quality output from the X Vario.
    But I didn’t expect to be fingerpointed by you and t’Editor Michael as a “once-upon-a-time-but-no-longer” X Vario owner.
    It calls for a balanced and considered response. I’ll hold fire at this stage, and reserve my right of reply by way of an article for Macfilos 😉
    In the meantime, be assured that I have no issues whatsoever with the assertion that the X Vario provides excellent images. It is capable of outstanding results.

  4. Thanks John for the article. Amazing picture quality you get from the vario. I don’t read gear revues as I find them boring and prefer looking at the images. The bokeh on the two portraits is really beautiful. I think you’ve ignited my GAS syndrome again and I’ll be looking for a vario as soon as I can fund it. I already own the evf with the X2 and the viewfinder with its tilting position is really handy. So the vario definitely makes sense. I often portray our pets at home. I used to have two cats until a silly driver killed one of them and my wife and I loved him dearly and we miss him. We still own a dog and one cat who seem to get on well together. Thanks again for the enlightening article.
    Jean

  5. Thanks John, most enjoyable. One comment about the X1 which has always stuck with me was yours from a posting on Steve Huff’s site about your trip to Myanmar when you wrote ‘I ended up with 110 images which I am really pleased with including perhaps some of the best photos I have ever taken in the past 50 years’.

    We are currently dog sitting our son’s female Rhodesian Ridgeback and the X Vario has proved very handy when walking her out in the fields. So here’s a question. How many beautiful long legged models will do a photo shoot with repeated action shots for a smelly dog treat and a rub behind the ears? I wouldn’t even ask the cat!

  6. My 911 Porsche has long gone and so have my modern digital M Leica’s but like John not my X-Vario the performance of which never fails to amaze me, as indeed does the performance of my wonderful mere 26 megapixel Q which for much the same reasons as John talks about is not about to be replaced by a Q2, though I do also have a ‘Marmite’ camera.

    It in my case being a Leica CL, whose performance likewise is wonderful as long as I have not accidentally altered such as one of the two top control wheels or worse somehow moved the focusing point whence in a instant to my view at least it then becomes THE most frustrating camera known to man.

    Do I regret no longer owning such as my previously much loved MP240 and the large range of lenses I had with it? Not a bit as my own increasing age and disability in some ways has at least better focused my mind and hence I have at lat realised the tools I use to take photographs with are far less important than not being able to manage taking any pictures at all.
    Don

    • Wise words, Don. As it happens, I am currently putting together a little article on the shortcomings of the Q2 (focused on the video screen being set among the display options, thus too easy to access by mistake). But the lack of a focus centre lock is, as usual, frustrating. I agree that the CL is the most frustrating of the lot. Have you tried using the new lock function on the CL? This works like Panasonic’s lock on the D-Lux 7. On both cameras it stops the focus point being nudged out of the centre but it also locks other functions. The D-Lux 7 is ok because you still have physical access to aperture, speed and exposure compensation. Not so not the CL where the lock does indeed lock everything — no way of changing any of the important parameters of exposure.

  7. Problem with the lock feature is it does not remember so the locked setting is lost as soon as you switch the camera off, meaning for me at least I still risk getting all of my settings messed up again next time I switch the camera on to use it again. Ugh! (Or some other expletive)

  8. I absolutely loved this somewhat quirky article! I used to have a Himalayan male cat named Pepper and he looked almost exactly like Zoe – he had two eyes… I have discovered in life that I do not want to know people that do not like cats or dogs.

    The motorcycle photo is amazing and perfectly captured and processed. I also have a thing for braided hair images that surpasses understanding. I can spot the Leica aspect of the images as the objects/people have a nice tonal rendering and subject separation from the background that many lenses just do not have and goes beyond mere bokeh. The braided hair and last image are good examples of what I mean. If someone cannot see this, they are not a cat or dog owner!

    If Mike wants to increase readership, he needs to lower the quality of his articles to the lowest common denominator of shadow artists and 3 word sentences and limit the vocabulary to 100 words and include things like my nude self portrait series. I am also getting long in the tooth but photography for me is about having fun and I loved your article!

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