Sunset, 5/6/20

I think the new camera is gonna do just fine. Have a good evening, folks.

Meet the New Camera

It’s the new Nikon d780. And it’s a beaut.

“But, Scalzi,” I hear you say, “Why did you choose that one when [insert your favorite recent camera] is clearly the best one?”

Well:

1. Because I like, and am used to, shooting with Nikons. Switching over to some other brand would require a bit of a learning curve, and right about now I’m not feeling like I want to do learning curves. Also, I like dSLRs, including their form factor, the optical viewfinder, and their other utility — for example, the battery on the d780 is rated for 2200 pictures, while a mirrorless camera battery craps out at about 400.

2. Because I already have a fair bit of glass that corresponds to Nikon’s dSLR line, which meant a) I didn’t have to add on the expense of new lenses, b) I could use the lenses I had to their fullest extent (i.e., not every dSLR lens is fully functional with Nikon’s mirrorless line).

3. Because Nikon pretty much stuffed the guts of its Z6 mirrorless camera into the d780, and in “liveview mode,” i.e., looking at the back panel LCD rather than through the optical viewfinder, the d780 has pretty much all the functionality of Nikon’s mirrorless line. Basically, it’s like getting two Nikon cameras — a dSLR and a mirrorless — for the price of one! And that both appeals to the utility junkie in me, and gives me a bit of time to get used to mirrorless functionality, because it seems likely that SLR cameras are going out to pasture in the next couple of camera generations.

4. The d780 had the same 24.5 megapixel resolution as the d750, which in theory I was not in love with — I was thinking I wanted at least 36 for the next camera. But then I thought about what I use the camera for and also my own storage and workflow. And in point of fact 24.5 megapixels is more than enough for what I do (especially since I’m not exactly printing out most of what I shoot), and a 24 megapixel RAW file is not so much of a monster, size-wise, that I will run out of archive space… which I might with the RAW files from Sony’s 61-megapixel shooters, as an example. Additionally, all the reviews noted that the sensor in the d780 was excellent, in terms of its functionality — great colors and sensitivity and so on. So that’s good.

5. Because I wanted it now (it’s my birthday present to myself), and while there’s a possibility that Nikon will come out with new dSLRs with bigger sensors, etc in the near-ish future, everything about this particular camera was pretty much what I wanted. So, you know, why wait?

And how are the pictures? I’m glad you asked!

They’re pretty good.

And will probably get better the more I learn how to use this particular camera. Because this time around I plan to do more with the camera than just leave it on “auto” all the time and then futz in post (although honestly that’s done pretty well for me to this point).

In any event: Here’s the new camera! I think I’m going to have fun with it.

The Big Idea: Jon McGoran

In the aftermath of writing his latest novel Spiked, author Jon McGoran found the reality of the moment catching up with the future of his fiction in ways he didn’t expect… and in ways that gave him food for thought.

JON McGORAN:

One of the things that has drawn me to science fiction since I was a kid is the way it embraces­—or, as a writer, allows one to embrace—big ideas. I have one of those restless brains that is always churning out ideas: not always big, definitely not always good, and probably 60% in the form of puns. But some of them are big, and some of them stick with me. And some of those make their way into stories or books.

My Spliced series started with a single big idea: What would happen if genetic engineering technology matured to the point that it was available on the street as a form of body modification?

That idea sparked many questions, and many other ideas. What would the world be like by then? Transformed in many ways by climate change. Who would actually get spliced? Probably mostly young people. Why would they do it? Many reasons, including solidarity with the natural world, protesting its destruction, and preserving and honoring species going extinct. How would others react to them?

That last one became one of the defining themes in the books. I knew that if these chimeras existed, some people would seek to use them: some demonizing them for political gain, some seeking to label them as non-persons, and some trying to physically exploit them for profit. And yes, there’s a lot of overlap among those groups.

Those ideas were at the core of the first two books in the trilogy, and they remain essential to the final one, Spiked, as well. But Spiked also goes in different directions that are incredibly relevant today.

The people most vehement about labeling chimeras as non-persons are also most enthusiastic about embracing computer implants, called Wellplants in the book, named for the character who developed them and who also leads the anti-chimera backlash. Is it kind of hypocritical for one group of transhumanists to try to dehumanize another group of transhumanists? Heh-heh. Sure is. But people are like that, amiright? In my mind, Wellplants are a way to explore the impact of smart phones, the digital divide, and the ways in which wealth and technology can make some people very different from others.

The other big idea is… Pandemics.

Pandemics have been a part of the Spliced world from the beginning. Part of the backstory of the trilogy is that a flu pandemic some time between now and then contributed to a depopulation that altered the social landscape. Combined with energy scarcity and a costly new super-efficient energy distribution technology, they caused a virtual abandonment of sprawling suburbs, a blight that mirrored in ways what happened to inner cities in the last century.

But pandemics reappear to take center stage in Spiked. I don’t want to go into too much detail (after all, the title is Spiked, not Spoilered), but it has been eerie. I spent a couple of years researching pandemics (especially the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic), first for the back story and then for Spiked, then writing scenes of a pandemic tearing through my city of Philadelphia, and finally watching one take place in real time, while waiting for the book to come out.

I write a lot of near-future science fiction and science thrillers, so seeing ideas from my books come to life is nothing new, but this has been orders of magnitude different. And much sadder and creepier.

There are a lot of differences between COVID-19 and the pandemic in Spiked, but a lot of similarities as well, like viruses jumping from species to species and widespread quarantines.

At the risk of revealing a little too much, the pandemic in Spiked doesn’t just happen, and part of the impetus behind its release is to save the environment in the face of dwindling resources and impending climate collapse, to save the Earth—for the right people, of course. It’s an idea I find both reprehensible and fascinating. (I explore another version of the same idea more deeply in another novel that is as yet unfinished).

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a human tragedy of colossal proportions on many fronts. But one razor-thin silver lining bears out some of the ideas in Spiked: the accompanying global slowdown has had a strikingly beneficial impact on the environment. In India, mountain ranges long invisible have reappeared in the distance. Satellites over China reveal a substantial decrease in air pollution and an increase in the clarity of the atmosphere. In a few short (or, subjectively, excruciatingly long) weeks, the air and water have grown demonstrably cleaner and healthier. In some places carbon emissions have plummeted to extents that have previously been declared unachievable.

No one expects these benefits to last, no one wants the pandemic to last, and no one seriously sees this as a long-term solution to climate change. But it does raise some interesting and difficult questions. Perhaps the biggest of them is this: If the world is capable of taking such drastic action (or inaction, as the case may be) to save hundreds of thousands of lives in the short term, why are we so incapable of taking similarly drastic action to save hundreds of millions of lives in the long term, not to mention, the planet itself?

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Spiked: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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