I got you a present! It’s a brand new camera, all for this blog. (Okay, it also happens to have a phone wrapped around it, and that part’s for me.)

I brought the GoPro to Africa, expecting to use it most of the time. What I hadn’t thought about until I got there was that the GoPro, while fantastic at taking shots or video while in motion, only has a 2X zoom capacity. That’s a problem when shooting wildlife. Even with the habituated animals we were seeing in the Delta, I usually needed more than that to get really good shots of the animals to show you.

So I put away my GoPro and took out the phone. What I had then was a Pixel, which has a pretty darn good camera, and that gave me a 7X zoom. It worked well enough to get by, most of the time.

But there were some pictures I wasn’t happy with. Particularly when I had to push the zoom all the way to maximum, the Pixel’s photos got, well, pixelated. But using the cellphone for my camera felt a lot easier and more comfortable than any of the good pure cameras I had tried to use, so I felt it might be a good idea to stick with it if I could. I asked my husband, who is one of the many techies in my immediate circle, to look for a phone with a better camera for me, and boy did he come up with a doozy. He found me the OnePlus Nine Pro 5G.

The Nine Pro is doing nicely as a phone, and I’m happy with it. It’s got a lot more storage than my old phone, which is a relief… even backing up my photos as soon as I could get the wireless for it, I had to strip my phone of absolutely everything I wasn’t going to use in Africa just in order to hold the pictures until I had a chance to stuff them into the cloud and get them off my phone. Once, I lost a whole bunch of pictures because I hadn’t realized the connection was iffy. I saw them start to back up and didn’t see that they’d stopped again as we lost contact, before I deleted them from the phone itself.

But the really cool thing this phone has is a Hasselblad camera.

Hasselblad made the aerial cameras for the Swedish military in the Second World War. Their cameras took the still shots from the moon landings. They’re about as good as it gets, and even though their phone camera for the Nine Pro is low end Hasselblad, it’s still Hasselblad. When I had a chance at a free Nine Pro through a promotion while I was adding a phone line to my plan for the new teenager, I grabbed it. And kept it. The teenager got my Pixel.

By this Sunday, I had been in possession of the new phone for all of 24 hours. Of course I had to try out the camera already!! Since the whole original issue with the Pixel was that it didn’t do quite as well as I hoped in shooting wildlife photos, Steve and I (and Chance, of course) went to the Woodland Park Zoo, here in Seattle, to test out the Hasselblad. That way, I could use it on wildlife shots and compare.

Results: mixed, but hopeful.

Woodland Park is a big, rambly sort of zoo that normally involves a whole lot of walking. I took my scooter — I wasn’t ready to handle that much walking. That also gave me a chance to check out how good the zoo was for people who need to use scooters or wheelchairs. Their parking lot had plenty of handicapped spaces, and they rent wheelchairs at the gate for people who need them for that long a trail but who don’t have their own. So I started out fairly pleased with their accessibility.

It’s still early April in Seattle, and that did, sadly, materially impact what we could see. It was chilly and damp, and most animals weren’t eager to come out on display. Often we could see them in their indoor habitats, but that made it very difficult to get good photos because the Hasselblad showed the reflections off the glass too clearly. Sometimes that got amusing — one of my favorite pictures is from the penguin exhibit, with a ghost of Steve visible in the glass beside the penguins as they fly through the water. But more often it was frustrating and lost me any chance to get a good shot.

A pod -- or is it a flock? -- of penguins swimming from right to left. Steve, wearing a red jacket, is reflected on the left.
Penguins with bonus ghost of Steve on the left

We started with the African animals. It was bittersweet to see the zebras in the savannah exhibit, grazing nose to nose just as they did when I saw them in the Okavango Delta… I still miss that place terribly. But there weren’t many other animals visible. The giraffes were indoors, and while there were a couple of hippos resting placidly in the water, the lions were hidden away under ledges — typical cats staying out of the rain.

A pair of zebras, grazing.  They are facing in opposite directions with their heads nearly touching.
Zebras grazing nose to nose

There were no elephants. I’m not sure if that was the zoo’s decision — many no longer keep elephants — or if they’re still just hiding from me the way they did in Zimbabwe. I’m never going to let them live that down.

The warthogs, however, were as active and cheerful as usual. They did stay under ledges pretty often (their habitat was, while distinctly separated from the lion enclosure for the safety of the warthogs, right beside it and similarly constructed) but they popped out periodically to visit the humans. I like warthogs. They’re usually so bouncy, and they always seem to be enjoying the world.

Warthog coming out from the rain shelter to hang with the visitors

There was also an aviary full of African weaver birds, which I had seen on video but never actually in the feathers. They were a lot of fun, especially since we got to watch them weave their complicated nests. Weaver birds are among the very few categories of birds who can actually tie knots with their beaks… their dexterity is impressive.

A small, bright yellow bird with a twig in its beak, working on the beginnings of a new nest.
African weaver bird industriously starting on a new nest

Once we got beyond the Africa exhibit, I became less critical, largely because I was now seeing animals I didn’t actually know. That was enough to keep me happy most of the time, except when we just couldn’t find any animals. Tigers and otters were both a miss, and I would’ve expected both to be more comfortable with the drizzle than that! They both like water normally. I guess they might have been reacting to the cold instead of the wet. Anyhow, we didn’t see them.

But we saw Asian rhinoceros, and we saw Komodo Dragon, and we saw a really beautiful kind of tapir with black and white fur like a giant panda. There were several different kinds of monkeys — I remember the Langurs, a species I’ve seen a lot on nature videos, and Siamangs, who are apparently very noisy when they want to be… there were signs halfway across the zoo warning us that if we heard howling, it was probably the Siamangs.

A juvenile Komodo Dragon practices its menacing expression
The tapir: nose like an elephant, colors like a panda
Siamang monkeys are reputed to be audible all over the whole zoo when they choose to howl. Fortunately for us, this one didn’t.

And there were two great apes: the orangutan, and the lowland gorilla.

The lowland gorillas aren’t MY gorillas, though I liked them anyway. When I wrote that the ones I visited in Africa live nowhere else in the world, I wasn’t kidding: nobody has ever successfully been able to keep a mountain gorilla in a zoo. They don’t survive, and the zoos have yielded to basic decency and ceased trying. But these had a lot of the same mannerisms, and it was lovely to see them even though it always makes me feel uneasy to see great apes in zoos. They’re so very close to our definitions of full sapience; is it really any more okay to keep them imprisoned than it would be to keep humans imprisoned for other people’s pleasure?

I was a bit less disturbed by the orangutans because these were apparently part of a breeding program designed to return orangs to the wild, and which was doing so successfully. Many zoo orangs were originally part of the illegal pet trade, turned over to the zoo when they got too big and strong for their owners to handle… by which point they themselves can’t be taught how to survive in the wild. Since they’re going to have to be under our care for the rest of their lives anyway, they might as well do it where we can see them, and they can help teach visitors about the needs of their cousins in the wild. Their babies, however, can be taught to live wild if they’re started early, so that’s what the zoo programs try to do. This helps to limit the damage done by the illegal capture of a critically endangered species: that generation might be lost from the wild, but at least their line isn’t forever lost from it.

Orangutans. No, I don’t know what the big male is doing with that paper bag.

The orangutans were part of the Asian exhibit, but the gorillas weren’t part of the African exhibit… they were in a separate section on rain forests. This made relatively little sense to me — orangutans are just as much creatures of the rain forest, right? But it did mean that, when I was near the gorillas, I also got to see red-ruffed lemurs… very pretty indeed and so much fun to watch jumping!

Here is where I discovered the limitations of the Hasselblad. With a 30X zoom function, I had no shortage of ability to get in close to the animals… but I’m going to have to learn how to handle a 30X zoom function without losing the animal out the side of the window!! It was really hard to keep my focus on something as quick and mobile as a lemur. When you zoom in that close — or even at ten or twelve, which was as close as I had any reason to get — you can’t see more than a very narrow window of space. If your lemur moves out of it, tracking them down again is not simple! If your lemur doesn’t move out of it but still twitches or moves its head, it takes the camera several seconds to refocus on the lemur’s current position.

Red-ruffed lemur, looking suspiciously over its shoulder — my last lemur photo

All that said, I did start to learn how to handle the camera by the time we left the lemurs, and my last lemur wasn’t bad. I think I’m going to get this to work; it’s just a more delicate instrument than I am used to, and I’ll need to learn with it. By the time I go to Colorado in a couple of months, I hope I’ll be able to bring you back some pretty great pictures with the thing.

Speaking of the Colorado trip, we’re taking a couple steps sideways and coming at it again from a different direction, as I tend to do when planning trips. My foster kid C has announced that he doesn’t want an RV after all; he wants a pickup truck. He did some thinking and decided he didn’t want to have to drive his house everywhere he has to go, even if that means that he won’t have a house at all until his group can build the one they intend to on their land. Till then, he’ll live in a camping tent or in the pickup.

This isn’t the way I would do it, but I’m not the one who’s going to have to live with the thing. So I told him that which way he wanted to play the tradeoffs were completely his own choice, and we have begun to look for pickups. That means we’ll be staying in hotels along the way to Colorado, instead of sleeping in the vehicle, but that probably would’ve been a good idea to do anyway, at least sometimes. I need a good bed under me at night, if I’m going to wake up and drive all day.

Next step: we go out to examine pickups for sale! Starting Friday, when C has a couple days in a row off from work. I have never even driven a pickup truck, so this will be interesting. Stay tuned!

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