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We started the day with breakfast at Polly’s whose speciality is gigantic cinnamon rolls and free coffee. When I say ‘gigantic’, I mean HUGE! – last time Eunice and I had to share one between us, couldn’t eat a whole one by myself.
When we went to Nikon’s Services in Beverly Hills last Friday it struck me that the D600 would make an excellent 2nd camera. While I had the D300 as my main camera, I would also carry my ‘previous main’, the D200, equiped with a wide angle zoom lens. This enabled me to take those low angled shots of cacti making them really stand out in the landscape. It’s a style that I first saw done very successfully by Leo van der Hoeven and while he did not want to tell me explicitly how he made those images, you don’t have to be a genius by looking at what he has in his kit bag and by observing what he did on our past trips. My first digital camera was the Nikon Coolpx 950 in 2001 for my first trip to Chile. At the time it was the favourite ‘pro-sumer’ digital camera. It was such a liberating experience to be released of the self imposed limit of 1 roll – 36 exposures per day for cactus trips – more would have taken up too much bagage space, too much package weight and too much cost in developing once we had returned home. And if not one roll as a limit, what would be right? 2 per day? 3 per day? The camera was loaned to me by Nikon to test the camera in some extreme conditions and the Atacame Desert, the driest desert on earth, is about as extreme as can be. With tears in my eyes I returned the camera on my return, only to be rewarded by an improved model, the Coolpix 990 as a gift for my trouble. My teenage son then lost contact with his work colleague at the local Burger King franchise whose father was a manager at Nikon Europe. Still, I was converted and subsequently bought the D70, D200, D300, D600 ast December, the D750. For me they are simply the best cameras that I can afford.  If Nikon put in a built-in GPS then they have another sale. For me it is important to know fairly exactly where I photograph my cacti to disprove claims from friends back home that it can’t be a specific species ‘because it does not grow there’. Seeing is believing.
Moving up to the D600 meant that I had bought into a new lens system – the FX series rather than the DX series for earlier Nikon DSLRs and still used on the lower spec DSLRs. At the Nikon Service Department I saw some very nice wide angle lenses, some with eye-watering price tags and some, with bulging front lens, unable to take a cheaper UV or clear filter to protect the expensive optics. Also, due to the number of lenses inside the lens housing, they were very heavy and I value light weight add ons as I hike in the heat over difficult terrain. And so I was pleased to find a recent addition that did not have the VR (Vibration Reduction) System and so was lighter than the others while still getting excellent reviews.
I wanted to visit a Fry’s to buy an adaptor to connect my Surface Pro3 to a VGA socket on a digital projector. At home, I use a HDMI rather than VGA connection, but VGA is still the most common connection, in case I need to use a borrowed projector, such as when I am on tour. Eunice suggested the Fry’s in Orange County, where we could also visit another Samy’s Cameras for a hands on look at the lens lens on my own camera. It was a dream, and much cheaper than in the UK.
Eunice suggested a visit to Gary James, who I had met again at the Long Beach meeting and who lives in Orange County, and so we managed to kill three birds with one stone, if you pardon the expression, Gary.  Gary has a detailed collection of African Euphorbias and bulbs and claims not to be able to grow cacti very well. I have the reverse problem where my cactus regime does not always coincide with the rainfall seasons expected by succulents in their natural environments. If you enjoy and are successful with what you grow, then don’t change a thing! Or move house, preferably to the area where your favourite plants grow naturally, so that you just walk into the field to enjoy them. So often we seem hell bend on growing – often killing – plants that are at home in quite different conditions to what we are prepared to offere them. These plants are often said to be ‘difficult’ or ‘impossible’ when in nature they have no problem. We just need to understand habitat conditions better and decide if we are prepared to try to create these conditions at home. Cacti and other succulents are extremely flexible in the conditions that they will tollerate. I am always surprised to see plants from the high Andes happily growing alongside plants that I have seen growing at sea level. Another fascinating aspect of our hobby!

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