Monte Monega (with a quick jaunt to Cascata D’Arroscia for dessert)

After far too long away from the mountains cabin fever was starting to set in so, having dropped the menfolk off to help out on a friends new roof, Zed and I set our sights on Monte Monega, a hilltop we’d skirted on a couple of occasions but never summited.

Our starting point was Case Fascei, high above Montegrosso Pian Latte, by way of a road we hadn’t travelled before.  The weather was looking a bit patchy with possible cloud covered tops but we were really desperate for some altitude so pushed on anyway.

The path starts of as a track at the end of the tarmac road from the village of Casa Fascei – which looks to have been completely renovated and using the original materials making it very cute.

We pass a very impressive potato field, being tended manually by a local guy who no doubt keeps very fit hoeing his vegetables.  From here we turn right and wend our way up steeply through the trees on a fairly well signposted path which we only lose on one occasion due to daydreaming and soon pick up again.  We make heavy work of this but eventually pop out into the open, a very well kept rustico with an impressive solar array and cow herd on our left and grassy banks to our front and right, covered in wildflowers giving off a heavenly scent.

Afraid the cloud was about to engulf us we quickly scampered up to have a peep over the edge and were rewarded with beautiful clouds and Monte Guardia peeing out intermittently.

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Glimpses of Monte Guardia 1
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Glimpses of Monte Guardia 2
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Glimpses of Monte Guardia 3

We’d reached another track by now – the Via Marenca – and we followed this for a short time until we got to the signpost which pointed us in the direction of Monte Monega.  It was an easy hike up a grassy slope from here and aside from a strange dizzy spell (maybe from having a big dslr with a 100-400mm lens slung around my neck) we were quickly up at the top.  There were remains of what were probably old fortifications and a metal cross, typical of many peaks in the region, and what has to be one of the best views we’ve come across so far, and let’s face it, the bar was already set pretty high.  (It was so good in fact that we went up again two days later to show Ted and Joe and were rewarded with very clear views of the mountains, giving us some great ideas of where to go next).

 

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Looking across to Mezzaluna and Triora
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Back the way we had come, clouds rapidly encroaching the Passo Pian Latte.
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Beautiful clouds 1
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Beautiful clouds 2
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Beautiful clouds 3
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Monte Fronte making an appearance
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Gorgeous wildflowers
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A bit of macro action
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More wildflowers
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More clouds and a great view of Via Marenca

Although we would have loved to linger longer the clouds were building fast and we didn’t want to get risked getting caught in a storm (which we did manage to do two days later, thankfully just after we’d dropped off the summit ridge).  We headed back along to the Passo Pian Latte where the mist came up and surrounded us briefly, nothing to concern us given the size and quality of the track.  The occasional fleeting flash of light lit up the landscape in verdant green.

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From here we took the track down as opposed to retracing our steps through the trees, it made for a longer circular walk and took us through some very beautiful flower meadows before arriving back at the car.  A thoroughly rewarding and uplifting hike, and one I would recommend to anyone who’s good for an hour and a half slog up.

We hadn’t completely run out of energy though and on the road down we passed a sign saying the Cascata d’Arroscia was only half an hour away, and although we were a little pushed for time it was far too tempting to ignore, having heard about these legendary waterfalls.  We fast walked/ran the route and managed to get there and back in about 35 minutes give or take the odd stop for a quick iphone snap – there were some fantastic trees besides the path.  The waterfall had it’s charms, and reminded me of being in the jungle in Sri Lanka, but compared to the waterfalls we’ve got used to in Scotland, Iceland and the Faroes it was a bit of a whippersnapper in truth.

It was definitely time to call it a day after this so we headed home, just pausing for a refreshing dip much lower down this same river, in Borghetto D’Arroscia.

You can see both the routes by clicking on the links below:

https://www.relive.cc/view/1682294471

https://www.relive.cc/view/1682374135 (excuse the typo)

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Awesome tree 1
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Awesome tree 2
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Cute wee bridge.
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The Cascade, it’s taller in reality than this photograph suggests.

Pisso Di Ormea (not) part 2

14.7km    1245m ascent   4h 16mins

Who could resist the thought of a lunch date with a wild clematis? Not me, that’s for sure.

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Chionea (bottom right)

Zed and I got packed up and headed up the road through Nava and Ormea before climbing up to Chionea to start the walk. The first section unravelled pretty much the same as last time we were in these parts, a steep burst through the top village, flower meadows and vegetable gardens. The path forms a kind of small gully between two walls here, which seemed like the designated meet up spot for all the butterflies in the area.

We turn up onto the rocky and tree covered ridge and see the vibrant orange lilies are out in force. I’m sure this is where they belong but it’s still startling to see such a showy flower out in the high mountains.

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Lilies

A little further up as we come across the first pasture I’m chuffed to bits to find some arnica, for someone who manages to hurt themselves as much as I do it’s a brilliant ally. I leave this in the ground though as it’s not abundant.

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Arnica Montana

The roses are just starting to appear too, in numbers, although they are no match for the azaleas (yet).

(A lizard has just scampered up to the window to watch me while I write, tapped his foot a few times and then buggered off. No, me neither).

Legs are a bit tired today and its slow going, the top of the hill looks ominously cloudy though, although it’s a bit brighter when I take my shades off so we push on.

This time we manage to find the ridge top path straight away which leads along a spectacular rocky stretch and I’m immediately on the look out for more clematis patches. I’m certain I’ll find the one I saw last time  (how difficult can it be to find one particular plant on a whole mountain top?) but I’m curious to know if there will be more. Also I’ve decided I’m having lunch with the first clematis I find, and I’m bloody starving.

A flash of blueish purple catches my eye from under a rock and we’ve stumbled upon our first clematis of the day. Not having learned any lessons from the last time, I take a crappy iphone picture of it, knowing that I’ll find the larger specimen further up the track. Or not, as it turns out.

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Clematis Alpina

We stop for a clematis-less lunch with fine views over Liguria, we can even see down to Albenga which is our nearest coastal town. With the cloud lifting we decide to push on up to the mountain lake, it’s a steep grassy path with an impressive drop off to the right. As is often the way, as we reach the signpost to stop climbing and turn to the right, the cloud makes a swift and fulsome descent. I decide it’s best not to tangle with the next phase of the path and we turn and retrace our steps.

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We’re overtaken by a mountain biker not long after and Zedboy gets his hopes up that he’s still a trail dog, we both miss our biking days.

We make a brief stop at the unmanned rifugio, which is open today as there’s a family with a couple of kids staying there – what a wonderful way to spend the weekend. We fill up with water and have a general nosy inside – no dogs allowed inside unfortunately, so Zedboy frowns at me from the porch while I inspect the accommodation.

The views from here are spectacular, last time we passed the visibility was about 10 metres and we could only guess at the surroundings.

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Striking out along the high track we extend the walk by another 5km or so, returning by way of the lower track.
(At this point Ted phones me and says he’s about to take off from Milan and I’m truly boggled to receive a text from him as I arrive back at the car saying he’s landed – the time passed for me so differently than had I been on that flight.)

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iphone pano 1
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..2
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…3.

There are a couple of interesting abandoned buildings, one of which has a stream running right out of the front door, I’m assuming it won’t be standing for too much longer.  We linger for a while to enjoy the birdsong.

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My favourite signpost “hunting forbidden”

We’re also very taken with a couple of little grotto type spaces that have formed around the banks of a burn by the track.

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Heading down at what can only be described as a dawdle, stopping to photograph flowers and insects on the way we descend towards Chionea and a promise of a gig (The Fantastic Blue) and unlimited pizza for 8 euros at the Bar Centro in Borghetto D’Arroscia.

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Check out the animation of the walk here: https://www.relive.cc/view/1642424123

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Up Next?

Bocchino Del Aseo (well, nearly)

Bocchino Del Aseo_00378.3 miles 3650ft ascent 4h 05min

Having been out for a gentle stroll from Carnino to the Rifugio above Viozene on Sunday with Ted, Zed and I decided to tackle the route high up into the craggy peaks today.

Climbing out of Viozene on the steep path amongst the trees it wasn’t long before we had to navigate our way through a free ranging herd of cattle, with their usual jangly bells. Not much further and the path crosses the edge of the high pasture before climbing steeply through more mixed deciduous and pine woods, plenty of funghi and wildflowers here.

Walking steadily up and out of here we found ourselves on a detour (ahem), what is it about mushrooms that mesmerise you right off the path you’re following. We traversed around the hill for a while, through lots of lovely stingy nettles and ended up at a dead end snow shoot. Good excuse for a spot of lunch, and thanks to Mapout and a gander at the compass we could see we needed to retrace our steps before turning back up the hill again.

The landscape became increasingly wild and we stopped briefly to watch a herd of deer make their way up an impossibly steep snow field before heading back on up the sharp ascent.

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The Deer, braver than me

Finally reaching what I thought might be the top, only to find it was a plateau we soldiered on thinking there couldn’t be much between us and the summit. Except – as it turned out – a craggy high altitude landscape made up of scree and snow packs. Initially we thought it would be impossible to path but the path navigated the hazards surprisingly well for half an hour or so. Gingerly crossing some snow, glad of the walking poles we made progress. Not for long, we eventually came across snow lying on a 45° gradient and I decided my trail running shoes weren’t exactly the right footwear choice for continuing on.

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Erm, no.

Zed and I did make a half hearted attempt at scrambling over the top of the snow but several cuts later decided it probably wasn’t our best course of action given how remote we were and the pack I was carrying. The top of the pass and the lake beyond will have to wait for another day. Perhaps an excursion right across to the Rifugio at Mondovi on the other side of the mountains would be a good excuse for a second attempt.

Bailing half an hour earlier than our designated turn around time did give us plenty of opportunity for dawdling on the way back, and stopping to appreciate our surroundings.

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Start of the route down.

We startled a very large marmot but he got away before I could whip the camera out, and we were accompanied by the noise of what I think were young crows learning to fly for a while.

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Any ideas what this is? I’ve never seen it before.
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Lots of landscape views today, I suddenly developed a wide angle obsession.

Bocchino Del Aseo_0080Still plenty of wildflowers, including the gentian, which today the sky was giving a run for it’s money, one of the first really hot and sunny walks so far this year. As we reached the trees again the flora changed a little and the welcome smell of thyme underfoot became strong again.

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Looking back up the trail.
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And down…..
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Nice crags.
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Another deer, just chilling.
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More unidentified flowers.
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A great view of the crags above the scary Viozene to Upega road.
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The big peaks, looking strangely small.

We took a look at the Rifugio on the way back – it had been packed at the weekend but was quiet now with some renovations going on so instead of stopping for a drink we followed the track down to the road. Happily instead of turning onto the tarmac at the bottom we found a small path running parallel just a few metres higher up. The path meandered down and eventually reached the town, we passed through an area of really lovely looking summer cabins, most of which were still unoccupied. One last bit of road to do and we were back at the car. Happy and hungry.

If you’d like to see the animated map on Relive, click here:

https://www.relive.cc/view/1638268375

 

 

 

 

Pizzo Di Ormea

16km 1100m ascent

Climbing out of Chionea and Tetti Soprani we are almost immediately stopped in our tracks by an outstanding flower meadow, progress is halted for a while as we attempt to get some shots but mindful of the weather that might come in later and wanting to avoid any possible storms on the high open tops we tear ourselves away, vowing to return and do it justice on another occasion.

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Flower Meadow 1
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Flower Meadow 2

The track turns up and along a ridge, and is quite rocky in places, the sun and gradient making for sweaty work. Before long we catch sight of a porcini patch in our peripheral vision, some makeshift bags are prepared from coats and waterproof camera covers and we’re back on our hike with an few extra pounds of weight in the bag (Ted’s not mine by some stroke of luck).

After following a track for a while we realised the path we’d been trying to join was now above us, we must have been so excited by the ‘shrooms that we lost concentration, nothing a quick cut up the hill couldn’t fix so we traverse across the vegetation until we’re back up on the ridge. It’s here I spot the first wild clematis I’ve seen in the mountains, a real treat and I wish I’d stopped to photograph but thinking there would be more ahead of us, and with the cloud coming down we kept moving.   Not for long it turned out: not a hundred metres further along we looked down to our right and saw a sweeping expanse of wild azaleas – bright pink and impressively puncturing the mist swirling in the valley.

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A Gentian and Three Violas to make up for the missed Clematis

After a happy interlude with the flowers we stopped for a snack lunch, jackets on now the sun had disappeared for good. A quick review of the path forward and we opted not to go to the highest summit with visibility being less than ideal.

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Traversing around the hill we came across the Rifugio Valcaira (an unmanned site) and immediately decide we need to go and stay there for a week, we could only guess at the view but it was bound to spectacular. From here the route started to follow a track and flattened out across a plateau before we came to a crossroads where we began our descent in the direction of Quarzina.

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Rifugio Valcaira
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Ted and Zed disappearing into

Zed had the first of two run-ins with a husky here, luckily it’s owners were on the case and they called him back before any swords were drawn. All of this while we’ve stopped to photograph two old enamel baths up on the hillside, presumably at one time there as water troughs, although their current placement – one wedged end on in an impossibly small gap in the rocks and the other upside down suggested those days were past. More spectacular azaleas up here amongst a boulder strewn Tolkienesque landscape before we round another small peak – Monte Castello di Quarzina – and turn east again to head back to Chionea along the lower track.

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Azaleas and Boulders
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Bath Number 1

Not far along and we happen across a bizarre boulder and barbed wire combo – it wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Tate and we could only ponder it’s reason for existence as there were no old fences around suggesting it was abandoned materials from an old field boundary. We took some photos anyway, it was an interesting juxtaposition, especially surrounded by wildflowers.

 

The signposts were soon promising a lake, which was getting me quite excited, it was easily warm enough for a dip. We arrived to find it very small by Scottish standards but it was tempting enough for me to strip off and dip the feet in, before deciding to beat a retreat having found it occupied by hundreds of very fierce looking newts (or were they baby crocodiles?).

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A Brief View of our Path
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Baby Crocs?

The husky owners had also advised us to steer clear of the pastoral dog further down the hill (at least I think that’s what they said, my Italian not being quite what it could be).   On hearing the jangle of cow bells lower down we decide to make a detour to avoid their pasture, missing out on a church en route, but it’s always good to leave something for another day.

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Lofty stuff for a vertigo sufferer
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A few more flowers, because why not…

More mushrooms and an set of abandoned farm buildings peaked up out of the mist, grabbing Ted’s attention for a while, Zed and I pondered where the twenty or so horse riders had arrived from, their ranks being swelled by a steady trickle coming up the track to meet them, at a canter.

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A Lesser Spotted Ted

We were well out of high mountain territory by now and seeing more signs of civilisation, the path lit up by dozens of laburnum trees in flower. There were also some gigantic chestnut trees, they must have been hundreds of years old and very impressive.

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A handful of laburnums
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Two chestnut trees, can you tell we’d moved onto iphone pics by now?

Passing through another couple of remote villages with little or no car access and in various states of abandonment, and our weary legs were glad to see the rooftops of Chionea come back into view. We were both buzzing from the day, agreeing wholeheartedly it was one of the finest walks yet.

 

Stopping off to verify the mushrooms with Antonio who runs our local bar (Bar Centro in Borghetto D’Arroscia – highly recommended by the way) meant we were easily lured into staying for a primo – gnocchi with trombette and pancetta washed down with some delicious rosé. A fitting end to a truly grand day out.

If you would like to see an animation of the walk on a map, click on this link:

https://www.relive.cc/view/1627442895

First Thoughts on the Panasonic G9

FIRST DAYS WITH THE G9

Taking good photos is all about the grey matter behind the eye, as every individual sees the world with a unique perspective. The camera is our paintbrush, that enables us to present that vision to a wider audience. But as with any tools, they should operate intuitively and be a pleasure to use rather than slow you down or frustrate.

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Image – Hidden falls. Leica 12-60mm

With this in mind I headed out to a few local venues around our house here in Liguria to get a better feel of the Panasonic G9 camera with Leica 12-60mm & 100-400mm lenses. I should note that in these first escapades I am not seeking to test every function and indeed I doubt I will ever use many of the advanced functionality available to me, but when I head for the hills I want to be able to quickly and efficiently understand where the main buttons are and that they work seemlessly so I can concentrate on the images not the technology. So how did they behave?

Image – In the mist. Leica 12-60mm

Well my instant impression is one of quality. The equipment is not light and flimsy, rather solid and professional. The grip is very comfortable and all the buttons and dials are solid and firm. What does take a little getting used to is the sensitive shutter release button, and I had to take it out of silent mode to feel I was connecting with the moment of release. After 3 days I am now used to this and as with the location of some of the buttons (exposure compensation, ISO & display) once you are used to them they are generally very easy to find without taking your eye from the viewfinder. Most are “on” the camera and not buried deep in menus which is a real blessing. Less intuitive is the location of the playback button which I find a little awkward to reach with my left hand which doesn’t naturally sit within easy reach.

Image – Door detail. 12-60mm Leica

The EVF is thus far excellent and is one of the features I have become very accustomed to over the past few years over its optical cousin (I note I am shooting stills and have not tried its video capabilities to date). The tilting rear display has yet to be used very often but it feels very sturdy and it has significant adjustment options both high and low angles. The fact it can be folded away is very useful to me when working in rugged environments.

I do wish all manufacturers could sit down and agree terminology but this is not Panasonic’s fault per se and after a read of the manual I am becoming familiar with the main terms and features presented. (I often download alternative manuals eg the excellent Friedman archive manuals). But what I do like is the standard in camera ability for multi exposure and time lapse, both of which are likely to get an outing on the trek (almost a norm these days but still nice to see). A 60 second shutter release will address most normal long exposure requirements (and is better than many) though I was hoping the free remote app might allow for longer exposure but this does not appear to be the case.

Image – Rocchetta Nervina. Leica 12-60mm

I rarely use this feature in the field but I felt a 4 click single image delete operation to be a little excessive in truth but in its favour the multiple delete was extremely clear and effective.

Both lenses are very pleasant to use, solid, compact though not so light as to cause concern. The ability to zoom to 800mm on the longer zoom is quite extraordinary for one so small. Both have smooth confidence inspiring operation and the image stabilisation (though not often used) seems to allow what seems to be about 3 stops “extra”.

I look forward to pixel picking the results but on a constrained trip the lenses size and overall weight of the combined package saves a significant burden on my overall pack weight where every gram counts.

Image – Leaves in water. Leica 100-400mm

I have been out in low cloud and a small amount of rain though have yet to really test the weatherproofing functionality which is always a key for me. Likewise, this trip will not include any super cold environments (better not, I have not packed for anything below -5 degrees) so it would take a more northerly trip to test this. But I will report back in due course.

The burst speed on continuous is memory munchingly stunning, way more than I would need for most purposes but a level above anything I have used. I can envisage situations where this would be extremely interesting to try out but given I will have reduced capacity on this trip will probably leave this for another day.

Image – Water detail. Leica 100-400mm

Battery has been excellent for a small camera and I got at least 900 images on a single charge (low power mode and no lengthy review period) though it did seem to lose the second half of the charge quicker than the first, just like the fuel tank in my car! More testing needed here. It charges via a USB from my external battery pack – which incidentally is charging fantastically from the Anker 21w solar panel I will be carrying with me.

Image – Lone house. Leica 12-60mm

App functionality including WiFi/Bluetooth download has been very easy to operate and even I managed to set this up with no hair loss, swearing or camera throwing. No mean feat I can assure should. So I am now very hopeful to get posts onto social media and a blog. Another stress gone.

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I have left the format set to MFT with grid lines in the viewfinder and in truth am rather enjoying it as a format. I have decided for this venture I will stick with this for now and crop in post, though I might change my mind so make no promises.

I guess there are two main functions of image that are most relevant for me though. Firstly, overall quality across the frame at the various apertures across the zoom and depth of field. My standard is an ability to print up to 100cm in the long dimension (assuming I have done my bit and been technically competent). I realise there will be some compromises to be had given my requirements on weight for the trek (I simply cannot carry primes without breaking my back) and as with all lenses I firstly check the quality performance reviews (of which there are several) and bear in mind the limitations of any lens when out in the field. If I can avoid the “weak points” most issues can be resolved. This is true of any lens.

Image – In the clouds. Leica 100-400mm

The 9 leaf aperture should help a smooth Bokeh and I appreciate there may be a compromise here over full frame but I have yet to test this in any detail so will have to get back to you on this one.

I have only had the briefest of chances to review the images to date as I have been out in the field but attach a few of the images taken so far. They are taken from the jpegs with almost no adjustment and without printing but I am very happy with what I see so far. A more rigorous test will follow on my return.

Image – Main Street. Leica 12-60mm

CONCLUSION

To conclude, I am really enjoying using this system so far. I am very impressed with the build of both camera and lenses. Real world use in the field is intuitive save the odd button placement (is any camera perfect on this score?), battery is good for a camera so small and I can recharge it via USB (using solar power:-). I can honestly say that I now feel confident to take this as my solo camera into the field for 3 weeks which frankly is one less stress. We will sure find out soon enough as I head for the hills tomorrow!!!