Sony RX100ii

December in Prague: Random Travel Comments, the Sony RX100ii, and the B61 Bomb

Prague, #43, Czech Republic, 2017 (Spanish Synagogue)
Prague, #43, Czech Republic, 2017 (Spanish Synagogue)


What I learned on my visit to Prague

–The climate and history must weigh heavily on Czech humor. Yes, a decided dourness abounds, but nothing a few words in Czech can’t penetrate (at least learn “thank you”, or děkuji, if nothing else). I think the Czechs would say that American service employees are two-faced, with their false friendliness and smiley helpfulness intended only to improve profits, not to gain friendship. With the Czechs, on the other hand, you get honesty–WYSIWYG.

–Russian matryoshka dolls are the Prague equivalent of the flamenco and bull fighter figurines you find in many cheap Barcelona curio shops. And those furry USSR hats? Yep, same category.

–The Charles Bridge is the Prague people-and-touron–watching equivalent of La Rambla in Barcelona…or Times Square in NYC…or Pearl Street Mall in Boulder. OK, I’m stretching it a bit on the last one.

–The Charles Bridge is mostly empty at sunrise–except for a dozen or so tripods with their attached cameras and photographers.

–There are probably 10,000+ locks in and around the Charles Bridge area (not counting the locks the boats use), all left behind by hopelessly enamored couples confirming their committment to each other. How many keys are at the bottom of the Vltava River? How many couples now wish they could return to Prague with a pair of heavy-duty bolt cutters?

–I wonder what the rest of Prague is like? The heavily-touristed city center is gorgeous, but super-trampled. What is life like in Prague for the typical resident not living or working in the tourist zone?

–There are penguins in Prague, albeit yellow plastic ones. And giant brown-bronze babies, too.

–Some people who write on the Lennon Wall are outright idiots with no sense of culture or history. A few are thoughtful. Not too many.

–Winter is freezing-ass cold, what with the fog and humidity and all…and it wasn’t even quite winter for us. Oh, how it cuts right through all your lumpy layers whilst you wait in line for your warm trdelník.

–I could definitely live here–from April through October, that is. The city is gorgeous and there is a lifetime of history and architecture to explore. The cold rest of the year? How about Mallorca!?

–It was crowded as hell the first week of December…what must the busy summer tourist season be like???

–The public transportation is awesome. With the Metro, buses, and trams, there is almost no need to use a car or taxi, especially downtown.

–They might be using the Euro in the Czech Republic by 2020, but they currently still use Czech crowns, or koruna. Current exchange rate: roughly 24-25 koruna to the Euro.

–Prague is part of the Schengen group of countries in the European Union. What does that mean? It means no customs or passport controls when traveling to/from these countries. This is a major convenience…like going from Colorado to California, for instance.

–McDonald’s and Ryan Air must use the same interior decorators. You need sunglasses to visit both…then there are the fast food ads on the backs of the airline seats that look they came from a Dairy Queen menu.

The B61 Nuclear Bomb

Finally, and soberingly, I was once a young F-16 pilot (“lawn dart”, or “viper” driver), based in West Germany, tasked with the job of “laying down” a B-61 nuclear bomb (or “dial-a-disaster”, as the kiloton yield could be adjusted with a dial on the bomb itself) on some underground Warsaw Pact communications center outside of Prague. That is, if the big bad balloon had gone up and the USA and the USSR had pressed their respective and figurative red doomsday buttons. All this, of course, IAW the SIOP…which carefully integrated the US military’s triad into a massive end-times attack as the ultimate of various options.

Ah, fun times during the Cold War.

The real B61 nuke “device” to some, had a beautiful mahogany nosecone and was much smaller than you’d think–less than a thousand pounds and easily stored in most standard living rooms on a very sturdy coffee table. Upon delivery of the “package”, even at Mach-snot, the Escape Distance Actual was less then the Escape Distance Required, if I remember right. That was way BITD in 1987-1989. Then The Wall came tumbling down and suddenly we were all friends, Trabants (“spark plugs with roofs”) were putt-putting into Berlin to buy stuff (anything!), we shook hands with the guards in East Berlin, rented a hammer and chisel from a couple of young Turks, and ended up with a multi-colored piece of The Wall on our mantelshelf.

Interesting how times and politics change. Thank you, Slim Pickens!

Oh, yes, photography!

As to the photography theme…I used the Sony RX100ii exclusively during this trip. It fits in your pocket–a huge convenience–and has a 20mp sensor that does pretty well in low light despite its small size. Its image stabilization works fairly well also, thus making for a good handheld system for a traveler. The lens has a 28mm to 100mm equivalent optical zoom (f/1.8-4.9). Newer versions of the RX100, starting with the iii (3), have a 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 equivalent lens–so, you get a much faster lens for low light at the expense of telephoto range.

In the following pics, I will give you the basic EXIF data with each of these images (along with a few relevant comments) so you can judge for yourself how effective this little Sony might be in your personal paws. (They are up to version 5 now; the one I used on this trip was a version 2, or ii.) Click here to see a selection of Prague images, with commentary. Thanks!

Dirt Cheap Tripod Idea

Underpass Abstract, #3. Boulder, Colorado, 2014
Underpass Abstract, #3. Boulder, Colorado, 2014

The trail for most photographers to their final, ultimate, personal best tripod–as is often said by those who have gone before–is littered with the corroding carcasses of a half-dozen cheaper to progressively more expensive models starting with the incredible $9.75 WalMart special . This is known as constantly “throwing good money after bad”.

The best advice is usually this: The purchase of a tripod is in the same league as purchasing a new camera body or high-quality lens–don’t hold back spending the big bucks; get the best you can possibly afford.

This is all true. And, the tripod can indeed contribute as much to improving your image quality as a good lens or camera. So, the old craniums have it right.

However, what if you are a college student living off of a work-study salary and have trouble scraping up the funds for a Domino’s Pizza once a month? What then, Buckwheat?

Well, here is a real alternative: the 3-pound, aluminum, Vista Voyager Tripod with BHQ8 Ball Head, now available for around $50.00 at B&H or Adorama. We just bought one for use inside the house with a smallish point-and-shoot, the Sony RX100ii, and it does the job just fine–almost overkill, in fact, for such a compact camera.

For the price, I am actually surprised at how close they came to building a “normal” tripod. It has a very functional and easy-to-use ball head, it comes with a camera attachment plate (1/4″ screw) and a carry bag, folds to 21″, has a max height of 63″ and a max load rating of 8 pounds (oh, the optimism!). The kit even includes an Allen wrench (in the hidden pocket in the bag) to tighten the tripod legs when required. Finally, there is also a ten-year workpersonship warranty.

It is not of particularly high build quality, so you won’t want to knock it around much in the trunk of your car, or overload it with Ansel’s 8×10 view camera. Despite the eight-pound rating, I think a DSLR with a big lens up to that weight would be very marginal and a wobbly in any fluttering breeze at all. A compact DSLR with a prime lens, or a mirrorless machine, would be fine as a frog’s hair.

So, this tripod is definitely a consideration for that someone on a boa constrictor budget.

A Street Photographer in Action

Street Photographer in Action. Girona, Catalunya, 2014
Street Photographer in Action. Girona, Catalunya, 2014

I envy what my wife seems to get away with. She uses a high quality compact camera (the excellent Sony RX100ii) and walks around with it up and aimed as if she were videotaping her surroundings. No one seems to pay her much mind, if they notice her at all.

She also shoots away quite freely, often coming home with several hundred images–usually three to four times my count. She then erases loads of these, but she also strikes it rich with reasonable regularity. Also, some of the shots I would have thought to be pretty average (as I watched them being taken) actually turned out quite interesting–you just never know. I’ll get her permission to post a few at some later date.

I really do think being female helps. A big lunk like me pointing a camera around (even a small one like my Fuji) is just simply more threatening than a petite woman carrying what looks like a simple point-and-shoot tourist camera.

She is getting some great, candid images and I am learning from her. I just need to learn how to be more assertive but in a disarming and friendly way. We each evolve our own techniques…

The Confident Cat. Catalunya, 2014
The Confident Cat. Catalunya, 2014