Unveiling the Arctic with the Leica X-Vario

Feb 18, 2016  By Ruth Oratz MD

The Far North has captured the imagination since ancient times – uncharted for millennia, believed to be at once an icy cold barren place and a paradise of sorts. As exploration and discovery unveiled the Arctic, the richness of the land and sea became ever more apparent. Since Viking times commercial and political interests led to exploration of Northern lands and surrounding seas. The search for a Northwest and Northeast Passages from Europe to the Far East across the top of the world, a clear channel in the otherwise frozen seas  ultimately became the goal of nations and private companies competing for fame, glory and gain.  Sealing, whaling, fur trading, fishing and most recently presented opportunities for great riches and led to the exploitation and depletion of natural reserves of many species.   Travelers to the Far North were ever thwarted by the harsh and unpredictable conditions of sea, wind, storms, darkness, cold, hunger and illness. Ships and crews were locked in the ice, crushed, starved.   Contact with indigenous peoples, the Inuit, opened new views to life in this formidable environment and helped others acquire the necessary skills for survival in the Arctic. Romantic notions of a land that was all light or all dark, frozen and veiled, permeated poetic and scientific descriptions alike.

We set out in late summer with Quark Expeditions to the Far North, chasing the dreams and following the journeys of explorers from times past.

Even today travel in the Arctic presents significant challenges. From the deck of our ship we viewed  enormous floating icebergs, coastlines of rugged, jagged mountains,  the moonrise and the sunset;  on small zodiacs we  cruised around on the water’s surface, into the tightest fjords, examining the details of ice and marine life, and landing on barren beaches we hiked up for 360 degree views of landscapes where scale is impossible to fathom.   Baffin Island and the West Coast of Greenland were our primary destinations –  with visits to local Inuit communities as the hidden and silent secrets of the north.

The Leica X-Vario was the perfect camera for this trip.  Versatile and reliable it performed flawlessly under the  most difficult situations.  The X-Vario is lightweight and easy to carry, comfortable while climbing in and out of zodiacs, or hiking up rocky points.  Because it is a fully enclosed system the X-Vario is less vulnerable to dust or sea-spray damage. The sturdy and ergonomic body is easy to handle and the 28-70mm zoom provides ample range for capturing the wide open spaces or focusing in on the loveliest details.

Weather and light change rapidly in the Arctic and the X-Vario readily adapted to these challenges. It is very easy to quickly adjust settings when confronting the glaring white ice, reflective water surface or dark misty skies.

At our visit to  the Inuit community at Arctic Bay the X-Vario  easily switched gears to indoor spaces and light,  picking up details, brilliant color and the nuance of human expression.  The camera is small enough not to feel intrusive when communicating in close quarters with others, allowing portrait photography in a friendly and non-threatening manner.

This was not our first trip to the Far North and undoubtedly won’t be our last. The Arctic commands our respect and awakens the senses to the beauty of its harshness.

Strange. There is always sadness on departure. It is as if one cannot after all bear to leave this bleak waste of ice, glaciers, cold and toil….  Fridjof Nansen 1912


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