Winter scenes on Cootes Paradise

Contrary to the industrial stereotype of Hamilton, a great natural resource can be found west of downtown: the Cootes Paradise wetland area including Princess Point and the Westdale Ravine, all part of the Royal Botanical Gardens organization.

Living in an urban environment, the feeling is one must travel some distance to find peaceful isolation. Not so. It’s too easy to forget about this natural setting only minutes away.

While the sound of traffic humming along Highway 403 never abates, given the right conditions, it can be obscured. Such was the case this week. There had been snow over the weekend and temperatures remained well below zero. The ice on Cootes Paradise was once again thick and solid, invitingly calling for winter wanderings.

With the weather app on my phone indicating -11C and the winds gusting strongly, it was cold. Really cold! Mistakenly, I browsed my phone gloveless for 30 seconds, resulting in a hand that needed 10 minutes to recover full functionality. It was a slightly painful reminder of just how vulnerable one can be in such an environment, even only minutes away from home. But layers of technical clothing was an effective insulator and kept me cozy while wondering how people survived in similar conditions hundreds and thousands of years ago.

Overcoming the usual uneasy feeling of venturing out on ice for the first time, I made my way west from Princess Point towards Cootes Drive. About halfway the sound of the highway was buffeted away by the gusting wind. Facing west, there were few signs of urban life. Only some distant electrical towers and a few houses on the edge of the Dundas escarpment. Ignoring this and letting my imagination wander, I could picture the natural wonder of this nook at the west end of Lake Ontario and how it received its ‘paradise’ designation, named after British officer Captain Thomas Coote, stationed in the area in the 1780s.

The cold kept the snow as icy granules and the wind created a sea of desert-like dunes. Sitting down and just watching, I could observe their edges slowly growing and eroding, gently creeping east.

Off in the western distance, I watched each wave of wind approach, kicking up billowing clouds of snow along the ice’s surface, occasionally culminating in small vortices. There was something peaceful about sitting in the path of these chaotic waves of drifting snow. The howling sound of the wind. The tinkling, whooshing of icy snow crystals bouncing over the undulating surface. So detached from assurances of safe, modern urban life.

Ripples were etched across the dunes, packed hard by the wind, offering secure footing compared to the cold, hard, slippery ice over which my boots squeaked like wet shoes on linoleum. The snow was capped by a crust like shaped styrofoam. But my weight on the deeper drifts was too much and I would break through to softer snow underneath. it made for more of a trudge, like over a soft sandy beach.

I often avoided these areas. Not due to the harder slog, rather, to preserve their pristine, beautifully wind sculpted surfaces.

Always keeping an eye out for potential photos, it would frustrate me to find I had inadvertently wandered through a particularly interesting area of shapes or patterns, causing me to generally skirt the snow and stay on the ice, lest I should ruin more photo opportunities. But the slippery ice made for difficult progress against the powerful wind. Not that I was in a rush. Had there been someone watching, they might have been puzzled by my frequent tendency to walk briefly then stop, standing in one spot for a few seconds, or minutes. I was simply observing, but to someone else, it might seem strangely paranoid.

At times I felt boxed in by the abundance of potential scenes. It was a problem of information overload and took time to process for photographic merit. I didn’t want to mar potential scenes with footprints. But Cootes Paradise is expansive, and the western half appeared to receive few winter explorers. Occasionally I would run across other footprints, both old and relatively new. But they were exceptions; I was certain to always find fresh, untrampled scenes.

Sometimes it was interesting to follow these footsteps. Usually they hugged the shoreline, which I could understand. There is a certain vulnerability when out on the middle of the ice. Nothing is nearby in case of disaster. I had to remind myself that Cootes averages only 60cm deep. The ‘deeper’ question in my mind was the gooey, silty mud under the water…

In any case, there was no risk of falling through. It had been very cold long enough. Yet, along the shore tucked in small nooks were the occasional open patches of water. Maybe where a spring was bubbling through? Deer often seemed to stop here, based on their tracks in the snow.

The shoreline provided for some interesting motifs. Often this consisted of oak leaves, long turned richly brown, embedded in the ice.

Out in the middle were interesting patches of opal ice. Not the dark steel gray, reassuring kind. Walking here created painfully discomforting crackling and crunching sounds underfoot.

Stopping to examine these areas revealed an interesting ‘honeycomb’ layer of ice lattice sandwiched between a thin surface layer and solid ice underneath. Kicking through it brought a childish feeling of smashing things simply because I could. I suppose a kind of empowerment over the micro-environment underfoot; the shattering of glass-like ice shards provided a momentary diversion. Breaking through to the solid ice below was reassuring, though the unease of hearing the ice crunch underfoot as I continued wandering never fully subsided.

The afternoon sun skimmed along the treetops and soon was setting in the southwest. Rich, golden light feathered across sculpted snow, accentuating patterns of frozen ripples and backlit windblown snow sparkled like fine diamond dust in the air.

And then it was over. The sun set, its warm glow enveloped by cold blue shadows. The wind picked up and instantly it felt colder.

It was time to head home before it became too dark! At least the walk back was fast, pushed along by the unrelenting wind.

Sony DSC-RX1 Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2 Sonnar vs. Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon ZM comparison review

The Sony DSC-RX1 ultra-premium compact full frame camera with Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2 Sonnar lens has received a lot of praise for its technical achievements. Not only is it the smallest camera in its class (it’s perhaps in a class of its own at the moment), but it also attains very high levels of image quality, comparable to what one can produce from full frame interchangeable lens systems.

The Sonnar lens is the purpose of this review. More specifically, an examination of how well it and the RX1 hold up against currently available Carl Zeiss 35mm ZM-series lenses on the Leica M9 full frame 18MP camera.

Why the ZM lenses and not the ZE/ZF lenses? For a couple reasons:

1) It has been stated by some that for the price of the RX1 and a few accessories, one comes into used M9 territory. This is more so the case now that Leica has released the ‘M’ and used M9 prices have dropped below $4,000. For ‘only’ another $1,000 or so, one can add a quality ZM lens to the M9 and benefit from an interchangeable lens system not much larger in size with more flexibility than the RX1. Both options are much smaller than currently available full frame DSLRs with Zeiss ZE/ZF lenses.

2) I happen to use the M9 and am curious about how well the RX1 compares, and have access to both ZM 35mm lenses. If time and opportunities permit, I may revisit this comparison with some additional Leica M-series lenses.

Click on the image at top or here to continue to the review.

Pelican 1440 roller case for Elinchrom Ranger Quadra kit

An Elinchrom Ranger Quadra transportation solution

Added to my TechTalk section:

As a follow-up to my extensive review of the original Elinchrom Ranger Quadra system, I thought I would share a storage and transportation option I’ve recently added for my Quadra kit: the Pelican 1440 roller case (link to B&H – also called the Pelican 1444 for the divider set configuration).

Click here or on the picture above to go to the full review.

Fast M-series 21mm lens shootout on Leica M9, NEX-7 and Ricoh GXR

Can the $1249 US Voigtlander Ultron Aspherical 21mm f/1.8 compare favorably to the $7000 US Leica Summilux-M 21mm f/1.4 ASPH.?

I’ve added an extensive write-up to the TechTalk section of this site comparing the following lenses:

Leica Summilux-M 21mm f/1.4 ASPH.
Voigtländer Ultron Aspherical 21mm f/1.8
Zeiss Biogon T* 21mm f/2.8 ZM
Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH.

Click on the image above or on this link to proceed to the full review.

Canon EOS-1DX lock up Err 80 code

There has been some online discussion about the Canon EOS-1DX locking up randomly and reporting Err 80 error code. I recently received mine and have been able to reproduce the problem repeatedly and consistently.

I’ve posted my findings in the TechTalk section: Canon EOS-1DX lock up Err 80 code

Spain wins EURO 2012 – fans in Hamilton celebrate

Chants of España, España, España echoed along James Street North in downtown Hamilton on a beautiful, sunny and comfortable Canada Day afternoon, following Spain’s stunning, though not unexpected, 4-0 win over Italy in the UEFA EURO 2012 soccer championship in Kyiv, Ukraine, seven time zones away.

Early in the tournament, James Street became the place to be for soccer fans in Hamilton, following wins by countries such as Portugal, Italy and Spain, all represented by communities in the city. Especially Italy. Following each Italy win, and more so later into the tournament, large crowds of supporters gathered, to the point where the Italy win over Germany shut down James with hundreds celebrating, some decked out in wigs, face paint, and even a gladiator costume.

The anticipation was high on Sunday for an even larger celebration should Italy win. The police made plans to shut off vehicular traffic and I hoped logical favourite Spain would find its match and Italy would prevail. After all, it would make for some great images.

Sitting in my car nearby, listening to the game on the radio with 15 minutes to go, it was clear Spain would win. Downtown seemed eerily quiet, perhaps not unusual for a Sunday. With the game over, I walked a couple blocks to James Street, passing a few subdued Italy fans, dressed in azure jerseys walking the other way. Still very quiet, I reached James to find perhaps 30-40 Italy fans quietly milling around on the sidewalk and in the middle of the street. The police shut down traffic as soon as the game ended, but there were hardly any Spain supporters in sight. A woman draped in a Spanish flag danced in the middle of the street near the Italy fans. It was underwhelming. A quick walk a couple blocks south and back was disheartening. I contemplated a quick exit for home to get equipment ready for the night’s fireworks at Bayfront Park.

Slowly more and more Spain supporters arrived, perhaps initially stymied by the road closure that prevented the usual parade of flag-draped cars slowly driving by, honking their horns. CHCH TV was there, with a few Italy fans jostling to get in front of and block the Spain fans. All in good fun.

That seemed to get the Spain fans worked up a bit. Soon a critical mass of young fans gathered in the middle of the street chanting to a drumbeat and a real street party got underway. Well, at least for 30 minutes before police on a mounted patrol pushed everyone back to the sidewalks, restoring the street to traffic.

But of course that wasn’t the end of it. Now those in cars were able to join the party and parade through, extending the the revelry another 30 minutes, until the crowds on the sidewalks slowly dissipated.

It was fun, definitely worth sticking around for the experience. I still wish Italy had won, as the party would likely have been many times longer and more intense. So, there’s hope for next time, the World Cup in 2014.

Some more images:

For even more images in a gallery, click on the image below:

Equipment notes:

Cameras:

Canon EOS-1D Mark IV (now replaced by the 1DX) and Leica M9

Lenses:

Canon EF70-200 f/4L IS
Leica Summilux-M 21mm f1.4 ASPH.
Leica Summicron-M 28mm f2 ASPH.
Leica Summilux-M 50mm f1.4 ASPH.

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