Blog – words & images


About the ‘words & images’ blog

This blog was created in October 2020 as a place for all of my writing and photography which doesn’t naturally belong on Green Path, my long-running environment and wildlife blog.

Most of its initial content has been transferred from my older website and consists of book reviews (primarily fiction and mainly 2005 – 2010). It’s worth noting, however, that there are also book reviews (nonfiction and environmentally-themed fiction) on Green Path. All of my reviews are indexed here, whichever blog they are on.

Cameras for rambling greenies

The DSLR camera I have been using quite happily for five years was beginning to show its age before I visited Tasmania last November, miscommunicating with its lenses, failing to pop up its built-in flash on request, or under-exposing a series of shots, so I spent some time looking at replacements for it. That survey came to include most segments of the camera market, not just direct replacements, so I thought I might share its results here. I hope it will be useful but please bear in mind that it’s a personal perspective.

My needs are, as my title implies, off the beaten track. I want gear that I can carry easily enough while hiking and I want to take photos of birds (small and distant), bugs (smaller still but usually very close) and landscapes. People portraits? Rarely. Buildings? Sometimes.

Starting points

My starting point was my current line-up: Canon 70D DSLR with 100-400 mm zoom lens, 100 mm macro lens and a general purpose zoom lens. My investment in lenses was enough reason to look first at bodies compatible with them, i.e. Canon EOS and their full-frame cousins, although there’s nothing magic about the brand name: the same arguments would apply to anyone with a Nikon, for instance.

The Canon 70D is a mid-range, ‘enthusiast’, camera with an APS-C sensor rather than the full-frame sensor of the ‘pro’ models, 1D and 5D. Its nearest equivalents are its successive replacements, the 80D and 90D. The 90D isn’t (reportedly) much of an improvement on the 80D but it is still an improvement so it was a serious contender.

What about the full-frame Canon bodies? I borrowed an oldish 5D in Tasmania for long enough to see what I thought of it. Its upside was a slight improvement in picture quality. On the other hand its extra size and weight told against it twice over, firstly because it was more to lug and secondly because it was much harder to shoot one-handed at arm’s length (not standard practice, I know, but useful when pursuing bugs into their hiding places). It doesn’t have a built-in flash, either, so that’s even more extra weight to deal with.

The other point against a full-frame body is that the smaller sensor of the cheaper models means that their lenses are effectively longer: a 100mm lens on an APS-C acts like a 150mm lens on a full-frame camera, which is a significant advantage to a wildlife photographer. There are other differences, too, but they are fairly technical. This article explains them quite clearly.

Mirrorless cameras

Mirrorless cameras are relatively new but increasingly popular. They use a simplified system in which the image captured by the lens passes directly to the camera’s sensor for capture and is also projected to the electronic viewfinder (if there is one) and the LCD screen. They are compact and lightweight, making them some of the best travel cameras out there.

Mirrorless cameras offer excellent image quality and portability, and some are compatible with lenses built for their bigger, older siblings, the standard DSLR range. This site offers a decent overview of the range. (It’s a commercial site but my appropriation of their page does not imply a recommendation of their business.)

However, I need a viewfinder! Our bright NQ sunshine and correspondingly black shadows make LCD screens very problematic outdoors, as anyone who has used their smartphone outside will know, so a mirrorless camera had to work with my existing lenses, and to have a viewfinder, to suit me. That combination wasn’t on sale at any reasonable price when I looked at them, unfortunately, although that is likely to change.

Back-ups for ‘real’ cameras

So it looks like the best new camera for me will be much like my old one. What about a spare or backup for it when I get it, or one to carry on a hike where I don’t want the weight of the bigger one?

A few years ago, one of the better point-and-click (aka ‘compact’) models would have been the natural choice but when I tried one in Tasmania I found they are now being squeezed – hard – by smartphone cameras. Smartphones compensate for relatively poor lenses and tiny sensors with some really powerful in-camera processing and the results are getting better and better.

And point-and-click cameras are being squeezed on the other side by mirrorless cameras. For now, my backup is my phone. If my next phone doesn’t have a better camera, then my next camera purchase may be a mirrorless body rather than another lens.

There is one more category, ‘bridge’ cameras, which needs to be mentioned only to dismiss it. It was always a very narrow slice of the market between compact and DSLR, and the mirrorless camera has eaten it.

Madness Lies Waiting

Madness Lies Waiting was conceived, many years ago, as a piece of performance art for a dozen speaking voices, preferably live performers on stage.

At the time (1970s)  I was dabbling in poetry (including graphic poetry) and graphic art while studying music composition, particularly the (then) avant-garde represented by Cage, Cardew, and the (then) new resources of electronic music.

Madness Lies Waiting drew on all of these influences. I stopped developing it when I was satisfied with it, which is the only way a creative person will acknowledge a work as ‘finished’, but its anomalous nature condemned it to remain unperformed.

The image posted here was created many years later (2005) as an attempt to present it in graphic form, prompted by a call for submissions for a public ‘poetry wall’ in Perth: the exhibition was called ‘Out of the Asylum’ and I remembered Madness Lies Waiting, a poem which needed to be presented as a very long banner … I really had to send it. Once again, however, its format was against it: it really needs to be big – a couple of metres long.

Click on the thumbnail to see it at a readable, but still less than ideal, size.

madness lies waiting

It’s a very wide image, so you will very likely need to scroll across it. As you do, try to hear it as voices entering one at a time, whispering at first but growing steadily louder to end up shouting over each other.

If it isn’t scary, the vision in my mind hasn’t been recreated in yours.

Key classics of fantasy and science fiction

Once upon a time, no-one was considered truly educated unless they knew Shakespeare’s plays. More recently, but still not recently, an influential critic published a really big list of books which he thought were necessary for an understanding of western culture – sorry: Western Culture.

My ambitions are much smaller. All I claim is that anyone who doesn’t know the books on my list has missed key works of fantasy and science fiction, so they have missed some great books and will miss innumerable cultural references.

Continue reading “Key classics of fantasy and science fiction”

Littoral not literal

Most of my photography is documentary, expressly intended to show its subject as clearly and literally as possible. Occasionally, as here, I’m tempted into altering a shot for expressive effect. I saw these trees on the Strahan beachfront early one evening, when the light was already fading to mistiness and ethereality…

For a more mundane view of Strahan, try my other blog, Green Path.

Favourite Fantasy

In the last few weeks I’ve been asked by a couple of lovely people for recommended reading in fantasy and science fiction. My only qualification is that I have read so much in these genres over the last [redacted] decades that I have opinions based on vast experience, but here goes.

A few general points first …

I’m not going to mention a book or series by name unless it’s one I recommend. That saves me from saying “this is a good book” every time and it saves you from even hearing about bad books.

Inline links are (unless otherwise noted) to my own reviews, most of them very short, on this blog or on Green Path.

There’s nothing wrong with escapism but I do prefer fiction which provides insights into ourselves or the way we live. I’ve said elsewhere that SF is brilliant for thought-experiments, but so is fantasy.

Continue reading “Favourite Fantasy”