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