A week in Sicily with the Canon G7X MkII
Updated: Jan 14, 2021
I am a film photographer at heart. Without spilling my guts too much on the virtues of film photography, for me, the experience of shooting with a film camera together with the aesthetic of a film photography image feels more rewarding creatively. But in the modern era of megapixels and mirrorless there are moments when it can feel a little impractical. And I'd be lying if I said I haven't shot a whole roll of film and something either goes wrong or the film stock is bad and then I lose a whole bunch of photos I'm never going to be able to recreate...
So when me, my girlfriend and 2 other couples that we are friends with talked about a holiday and eventually settled on booking a villa in Sicily for the first week in June, I’d pretty much instantly decided that I was going to take my Canon Powershot G7X Mark II with me. This was exactly the kind of situation I’d shelled out on it for. At the back of my mind I had plans to travel more than I had done previously, I already had a DSLR: a Canon EOS 700D, an obviously more than capable digital camera that just about covers every single base I could ever need to have covered, but despite being lightweight and, in terms of a DSLR, reasonably compact, I felt that I needed something pocketable but powerful that would be easier to travel with for moments when it just isn’t practical to carry around a bulky DSLR, and for occasions when I didn't want to run the risks you take on when shooting film. The Powershot G7X Mark II (for convenience, commonly referred to as the G7XII on here and on my Instagram!) seemed to fit that requirement nicely. I won't go into massive amounts of detail here but the 4 things that made the G7XII stand out for me were: 1) the ability to shoot in RAW format as well as JPEG, 2) a 24 - 100mm 35mm equivalent focal length, 3) a max f1.8 / f2.8 aperture, and 4) an articulated LCD screen. After initially thinking about buying the G9X Mark II I decided, for the price, that it was worth upgrading to the next model up. I bought mine in June 2018 and after using on a few occasions, including on holiday for the week on Mersea Island, I knew I could rely on it enough to take it with me 1,100 odd miles to Sicily!
Our holiday started with a 2 1/2 hour flight from London to Palermo, followed by a 2 hour drive to Catutè, a little village just outside of Capo d'Orlando, on the coastline of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Naturally I had to shoot a photo out the plane window, otherwise have you even really been on holiday?!
We booked our villa in Catutè through Airbnb and I'm reliably informed that it was pretty cheap...! It was really nice, and accommodating, with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and it's own swimming pool, but because of it's location only really accessible by car. It did mean there was an amazing view from the gardens though looking out across the beach and the ocean, and the west facing side of the villa treated us to an awesome sunset almost every night.
My first recommendation for anyone planning to visit Sicily is 'rent a car'. Because there are lots of motorways and mountain roads separating everything and although we didn't really look into using public transport, the convenience of having your own transport is much better. Oh, and don't chance it and try to use your own car, hire an Italian one. Italian drivers are nuts! We had been in Sicily less than a day before somebody soft rolled into the back of our Fiat Panda!
The first place that we visited, naturally, was a Capo d'Orlando beach. One right next to the Marina. Whether it was because it was the day of the week: Sunday, or the fact that we picked an unusual beach, I don't know, but it was deserted and we were pretty much the only people on the entire stretch of beach! I took some time to walk along the coastline and photograph the volcanic rock formations and the unusual pebbles when I wasn't chilling on the beach, and later on in the afternoon we moved further down coast to get food, but even further down the beaches were not that busy? I got the impression that Capo d'Orlando wasn't massively touristy and more a kind of retirement village by the sea.
The first thing I immediately noticed when shooting with the G7XII here was how helpful the built in spirit level was. If you're using a small compact camera with no optical viewfinder it can be difficult to know if you have your horizon straight, I remember having that problem with my old digital compacts when on holiday, but the spirit level on the G7XII really helped me to keep everything straight. The combination of the bright sunlight, and me wearing sunglasses made it difficult to see what was on the screen sometimes though. There is the option to increase screen brightness and in hindsight I probably could have bumped it up a bit, but I kept mine at medium level, mostly to conserve battery power.
In the evening we took a walk down a palm tree littered seafront and stopped off a little shed by the beach to grab pasta. The guy who owned the place didn't speak a word of English but was really nice and opened the windows for us, just as the sun was beginning to set, and I got an awesome photo of the sun glistening off the ocean in front of 2 deck chairs and a parasol!
The next place we visited was Cascate del Catafurco, a natural waterfall about an hours drive from Catutè. Reaching the waterfall itself involved driving most of the way until our Fiat Panda's got stuck on a mountain trial... and we ended up having to reverse back down a dirt track to ditch the cars and hike another hour or so to the actual waterfall. Along the way there was the odd shack building still occupied by locals who looked like they were mostly farmers and we stumbled upon an abandoned old car with what was probably a feral cat underneath. There was also a very cool stone fountain with safe-to-drink water spouting from a sculpture of a fish! It was baking hot and I think we all got sunburnt and insect bitten during the hike, but completely worth it. The view as we trekked up the hillside was amazing and the waterfall was beautiful! There are very few places where you can find a natural waterfall in Europe that aren't spoiled by tourism and if you're ever in Sicily it definitely worth taking a day out to find it.
Here is where I ran into my first problem with my G7XII though. I'd been using it most of the day the day before and sporadically the day previous, by the middle of the day on day 3, my battery died. Thankfully I managed to squeeze battery life out of it by only turning it on to grab a photo and then turning it off, but by the afternoon it was completely flat. Luckily I didn't miss anything as we headed back to the villa afterwards, and I'd thought ahead to pack my battery charger just in case even though my battery was fully charged the day we left London and I'm glad I did. So if you're reading this and planning on using the G7XII for an extended amount of time, be sure to either have a backup battery or bring the charger. The battery does recharge reasonably quick though, taking about 3 hours to charge from flat to a full charge.
After taking a day to recharge ourselves, the day after we travelled to Cefalù; a coastal town about a 2 hour drive from Catutè. Cefalù was a bit more tourist friendly, definitely more little shops selling coffee, trinkets and keepsakes, but it was a really nice place. The two little beaches around the bay were nestled nicely in front of mountains and had houses and buildings built right along the coastline that made for really nice photos. The restaurants were more English friendly here than the ones we had eaten at up until now, but it was also far more expensive than in Capo d'Orlando. We also managed to get a look at the massive Norman Cathedral with it's twin bell towers which was really impressive. I'd definitely be up for going back to Cefalù again any time, I feel there was stuff we missed that you probably couldn't fit into spending just one day there.
I shot the entire holiday on manual, fixing my ISO at 400. The control wheel on the front of the camera can be configured to adjust whatever you see fit. For my setup, I have the control wheel adjust the aperture and then use the scroll wheel on the back of the camera to tweak my shutter speed whenever necessary. The whole set up makes adjusting aperture on the fly a doddle and feels natural to me as most of my film cameras have aperture adjustment on the lens barrel. But it's just as easy to configure to however it feels comfortable for you. I shot the photo below, back in Capo d'Orlando in the evening, without adjusting the ISO and instead just tweaking my aperture and shutter speed until I got enough of a silhouette to make the photo.
Our last day of the holiday was spent in Palermo - capital city. I wasn't massively impressed with Palermo; the parts of it we saw were not that nice. It's clear that it's an economically deprived region, there was graffiti everywhere, buildings abandoned or crumbling to bits and people living on the streets. It did give me the chance to shoot some documentary / street photography though. Something I don't often get the opportunity to do. And there was some pretty cool street art, but I wouldn't recommend making an extra special trip just to go to Palermo, unless you know of something there, maybe in a part of the city I didn't visit, because for me it wasn't that special. We visited Piazza San Dominico to see the column and the church but aside from that we didn't see much else before we headed to the nearest gelato stand and then the airport, although disclaimer: by this point in the week the temperature had reached 35 degrees and we were all more than a little sunburnt and irritated! Make sure you pack a good sun cream if you're heading nearer the equator!
I'm really happy with the photos I got over the course of the week! The G7XII worked exactly as I'd planned it to work; versatile enough that the focal length gave me the option to shoot some wide angle, but medium telephoto enough to highlight something in a composition. A high enough aperture range to take advantage of low natural light without boosting my ISO too high. And lightweight and pocketable enough to carry around with me without being weighed down or looking too intrusive. Because each photo was shot in RAW and JPEG I had the added benefit of really being able to tweak the brightness, shadows and highlights of each shot in post production back home, although to be fair the weather was that sunny, they didn't need great amounts of touch up! I'm really happy with my G7XII, and because I want to do a lot more travelling as I get older, Unless some major technological advancement causes me to upgrade or something goes terribly wrong, I can see me using mine a lot more, especially when I have to pack light!
You can check out the rest of the photos I haven't included in this post in my Sicily photo album on Flickr.