Ahsoka, Halfway Through

Monday, Sep 11, 2023

I’m not sure which is more interesting: the Star Wars fandom itself, or the attitude towards the fandom. On hand, there are instances of terrible behaviour directed at sequel-trilogy characters which are appalling. On the other, there’s the reality that Star Wars post-Lucas has been largely treated like trash.

I’m not here to dunk on shows. I simply haven’t enjoyed many of them.

I found The Mandalorian season one and largely season two to be really enjoyable. In particular, I enjoyed the Ahsoka episode in Mando as well as the season two finale. Season three of Mando was probably the lowest point in Star Wars history. I’m uncertain if there was a single episode worth talking about.

The Book of Boba Fett started out sensationally. Episodes one and two were stunning, specifically the world building as Fett trained with the sand people in the Tatooine desert. The rest was some of the least gratifying Star Wars TV ever.

Obi-Wan Kenobi was clearly a feature film first and split into TV seasons later, either to catch some extra profit or to catch a trend. There are moments in Obi-Wan where you can be left in awe (the Vader-Kenobi fight was truly special, especially the details of how Vader “killed” Anakin). Yet others are head-scratchingly poor (specifically the instance where Kenobi just walks out of Fortress Inquisitorious dressed in a disguise.)

Andor was good! Like, wonderful. The biggest strike against Andor was how long it took before you remembered you were watching a Star Wars show. It took three whole episodes to see anything related to the Star Wars we’ve all grown up with, be it an Imperial Stormtrooper or an ISB agent of sorts. Andor writing was the best Star Wars writing yet, but I do think the show faces an uphill battle without Jedi and without the Force.

Spoiler warning.

Perhaps it’s a sign of future things to come, but Ahsoka most certainly follows the Andor path more so than the other paths. Ahsoka may well save Star Wars from certain doom. In the Disney era, only Rogue One has come close to Ahsoka. The show has everything a Star Wars fan could dream of:

  • Jedi and the Force
  • Dathomirian nightsister magic
  • Strong female lead characters
  • A true, scary villain
  • A looming, even scarier villain
  • A dual-wielding lightsaber hero(ine)
  • Past characters doing more than just fan service
  • Attention to detail

I want to draw attention to this last bullet point, as I feel this is the reason the fandom is so in love with this show.

Ahsoka, of course, is being written top-to-bottom by Dave Filoni. Handpicked by George Lucas himself, Filoni was always “The Chosen One” — the one meant to take over Star Wars after George retired. Filoni’s fingerprints are all over modern Star Wars stories, specifically The Clone Wars, Tales of the Jedi, and the very best pieces of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. His biggest achievement though is Ahsoka herself — Filoni created the character with Lucas and built out her story better than perhaps any other Star Wars character in history.

Filoni is Ahsoka. Ahsoka is Filoni. And Filoni is Star Wars more than any other person on the planet. The planets were aligned for Ahsoka to succeed.

Filoni doesn’t miss any details. He is masterful in ensuring no stone is left unturned. Did anyone notice the live-action debut of Kanan Jarrus in the latest Ahsoka episode? Of course, Dave would ensure that detail makes its way into the live-action show.

Or the attention to detail in the Ahsoka-Baylan fight. Each warrior chooses a particular lightsaber form — almost as though each were playing a former Jedi Knight video game — and attacks with precision and skill. Both warriors cycled through three or four different lightsaber forms in the fight, with Ahsoka notably using her former master’s preferred stance to cut down Marrock in a single slash. This reminded me of the greatest lightsaber duel in history — the Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Maul fight in the animated show Rebels — which was, of course, written by Filoni from start to finish.

I don’t believe even Lucas’s Star Wars had this level of detail. Remember how General Grievous pulled out four lightsabers, two of which were a Kenobi and Skywalker lightsaber? My gosh, it’s almost like the props director ran out of cash and needed a filler lightsaber.

The attention to detail isn’t just in production. It’s in the story itself. Sabine Wren’s attempt to use the Force on the empty cup is one for the ages — how many people have watched Star Wars, stuck out their hand while nobody was watching, and tried to close the door with the Force? Or tried to summon the TV remote with the Force? If you love Star Wars, I guarantee you’ve tried this.

Filoni found a way to inject this right into the story, and he ensured it doubled down on the democratic-elements of the Force. Filoni literally states anyone can use the Force — just like Broom Kid! — yet Filoni doesn’t get bombarded with death and destruction from the fandom. Filoni fulfilled Lucas’s midichlorian story arc in but a flash, and nobody is out there with pitchforks calling for his ouster.


Because Filoni gets it. Because Filoni is Star Wars.

My faith is being restored in the franchise. I was deeply afraid Disney would screw up Ahsoka and destroy my favourite Star Wars character. Other fans saw their Luke Skywalker childhood hero destroyed in The Last Jedi. Others, the same with Han Solo in The Force Awakens. I thought for sure Ahsoka would be headed down the same path.

So far, though, my darkest expectations have been averted. So far, Ahsoka has been genuinely wonderful. Ahsoka is full of lore, is paced like a Star Wars film of old, has an attention to detail unlike any Star Wars we’ve seen before, and has a truly enticing storyline fit for keeping folks coming back each week.

I wanted to get all this out there before the incoming bonanza of Episode Five hitting the airwaves this week. Presumably, it’s so good, it warrants a release in various theatres throughout the world. I have zero idea where the show will go, nor do I know if it will end as good as it has started. The episode is being directed by Filoni as well — who I feel has a slightly spotty track record as a live-action director — so we’re bound to have a few seismic charges go off.

For now, I’m going to bed each night knowing the story of my childhood appears to be back in very, very good hands. It just took 11 years of trial and error to get here.

Supported By

My First Impressions of the Larger 16-inch M2 Pro MacBook Pro

Saturday, Sep 02, 2023

I recently purchased a 16-inch M2 Pro MacBook Pro with the hopes of utilizing the larger display. It's been great, but also has some significant trade-offs.

My best Mac hot take in 3-2-1: The 16-inch MacBook Pro was totally built for me. However, so was the 14-inch MacBook Pro. And probably the 15-inch MacBook Air. And for sure the 13-inch M2 MacBook Air as well. There’s no doubt I (would) love all the latest machines from Apple.

And so would you! Each machine has been undoubtedly fantastic since the debut of these M-series chips.

Perhaps never in my life have I ever felt so “ho hum” about a Mac change. In 2009, the 15-inch Intel Core 2 Duo Pro was the best Mac for me. Not long after, the 21.5-inch iMac was best for me. Then surely the 11-inch MacBook Air with Thunderbolt Display was the best setup for me. Then the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Then the 27-inch iMac. Then the 14-inch MacBook Pro.

Every Mac change immediately signalled the very best Mac setup for me.

This M2 Pro 16-inch MacBook Pro bucks the trend. It’s not a slam dunk winner for me. It has great trade-offs for what I use a Mac for. But it has some bad trade-offs as well.

My experience doesn’t differ greatly between the 14-inch MacBook Pro and the 16-inch MacBook Pro. I use them in the same places for the same things. There are new “awesomes” and new “terribles” in the experience and that’s it.

First, screen real estate — This is the single largest difference between the two computers. There are a few ramifications in my life:

  • I can better place a full PDF on one half of the screen and a tax return or an Excel worksheet on the other. This largely eliminates the need for an external display for some of my work-from-home work.
  • Editing photos on the larger display is a nicer experience. I won’t say “better”. Just nicer.
  • I use Arc a lot in split-screen mode when completing year-end engagement work, which is vastly improved on the 16-inch display.

Second, ergonomics — The larger display seems to have changed ergonomics for me. The display sits at a sharper angle to my eye and my shoulders aren’t as shrugged as when working on the smaller 14-inch machine. I can work for longer periods of time on the 16-inch thanks to this improvement in ergonomics.

Third, muscle memory — I’m surprised how often I find myself searching for the Escape key or the right arrow key at the edge of the MacBook Pro body and come away pressing the wrong key, simply because of the extra space between the keyboard and the edge of the 16-inch chassis. I’ll learn to get over this. For now, I find it impressively annoying how often I press the wrong key.

Fourth, battery life — Perhaps the most surprising difference between the two machines to me is the difference in battery life. I work in Parallels all day, ensuring I have battery-sipping macOS paired side-by-side with a battery-gulping Windows VM all day long. Parallels sucks battery life. It gets better with each release, but it sucks battery life. The extra three or four hours of video viewing time the 16-inch provides translates into a noticeable amount of extra Parallels battery life. This has been such a nice surprise.

Fifth, the size itself — I hadn’t realized how often I move my MacBook between workstations until I threw a 16-inch MacBook Pro into the mix. I take the notebook home every evening with me. I move it between my office and the conference room about once a day. I’ve taken it on a family holiday. This MacBook gets moved around a lot more than I originally thought, and I pay the price each time I pickup this 16-inch beast.

Not only is the 16-inch larger both on a footprint basis and on a weight basis, but it’s also thicker than the 14-inch Pro. Why, I’m unsure. But this notebook is bigger in every dimension and you can sure feel it.

Lastly, trackpad size — The 16-inch Pro’s trackpad is ginormous — almost laughably so. It’s about one centimetre shorter than the external Magic Trackpad, which I’ve always found to be unwieldy and too big. It’s easier to rest the meat of your thumb muscle on the trackpad and cause the occasional inadvertent swipe. It also changes muscle memory habits in knowing where you are on the trackpad when clicking and dragging objects around.

I’m largely indifferent to the overall size of the trackpad. It’s just different and is taking some getting used to.

All in all, I’m happy with the M2 Pro 16-inch MacBook Pro so far. It’s ever so slightly faster than my M1 Pro before it. And it introduces a variety of new pros and cons to my everyday work. I’ll need a full year to know whether or not I’d re-buy a 16-inch in the future or go back to the 14-inch. For now, I’m overall happy with the tradeoffs.

The Leica Q2

Saturday, Aug 12, 2023

The Leica Q2.

There’s been this weird shift of mindset — of modus operandi — after the Leica Q2 arrived. Before, if you asked me to provide my status in the photography world, back-against-the-wall, I would have told you I was an amateur photographer.

By and large, I am just an amateur photographer.

I’ve made a chunk of money over the last decade with cameras. I’ve worked on developing a certain style of product photography that I’ve come to be proud of. But I’m still just an amateur or hobbyist photographer. It hasn’t become my job (though, photography becoming your job is a low barometer for skillset; I know many photographers who do it for fun who are better than full-time wedding photographers) nor have I amassed any sort of following on Instagram or Glass or this personal blog.

The Leica Q2 arrived and everything changed. For whatever reason, I feel as though I graduated to some sort of upper echelon of photography. Now, I feel as though I’ve finally arrived as a photographer.

I purchased a Q2 two days before the Q3 was announced. The rumours were stacking up in favour of the Q3, but the plethora of new features would be lost on me. As would the extra price tag.

Cliché, I know. You’re going to judge me. But I’d be able to look you in the eye and be honest about how I feel. It should never be the gear that makes you feel this way. But it does! I don’t know how else to describe it. For the first time in my life, I feel like a photographer — someone who makes art with a tool, captures light in new and creative ways, and shares the world in unique perspectives.

After the Q2, my photography output has reached two new levels:

  1. The quality of the image I’m capturing has improved significantly. I’ve learned to shoot at new apertures and at new angles, both of which have resulted in a somewhat-new photographic look with much more understandable light histograms.
  2. The confidence level I have when pulling out the Q2 has reached a new height. There’s no control, button, or feature I don’t have an understanding of on this camera. The skillset to use those features is a different story (I’m specifically referring to videography features here), but I understand all the features here.

At the very core of the Leica Q2 aren’t specifications or capabilities. You simply do not buy this camera to be bleeding edge — heck, leading edge — on the photography line.

You buy this camera for the intangibles: the shooting experience, the tactility, and the image quality. It feels nearly incomparable to any other camera on the market. And to think it’s not even the full Leica secret sauce honed into the M-series cameras.

I can do my best to describe the intangibles in a review. Yet putting words to an experience like this will surely be difficult. The Q2 was released in 2019 — this is hardly a new camera with nearly five-year-old technology. How can such an “old” camera bring out something so new in a semi-seasoned photographer? And how can that photographer somehow put that into words?

Build Quality

Undoubtedly, I’ve never held a camera (perhaps other than a Leica M10-R) that has this build quality.

The Q2 camera is heavy. Not so heavy that the camera would be unwieldy, of course. No, it’s heavy, but in the most pristine way. Were you to take my prior camera (the Canon EOS-R) and put on a plastic lens like the Canon 35mm f/1.8 RF, you’d be in the same weight class. But the weight on the Q2 is so much more balanced, so much more 50/50 between the body and the lens. The Q2 is a single unit with a non-detachable lens, but the camera as a whole feels like one complete unit in a way I’ve never felt before.

The magnesium alloy body provides the backdrop and housing for the entire package. It feels robust, but also as though it’s a work of art. I certainly wouldn’t want to drop the camera for fear of damaging it, but well recognize it would do damage if I were to drop it on someone’s head.

The rings are wonderfully smooth and dampened. Though I've had a chance to try true mechanical manual focus — focus-by-wire, even as good as the Q2 has executed, is nowhere near as nice as full mechanical manual focus.

The Q2’s buttons, lens rings, and switches are all robust and basically perfect. Everything clicks wonderfully, especially the aperture ring. The manual focus ring is focus-by-wire (read: digital), though it’s surely the best manual focus ring I’ve tried. The little thumb-indebted thingy is wonderful for practicing zone focusing as well.

There are a few other things I really like about the Q2 camera body that I haven’t seen on other cameras:

  • The strap lugs are angled forward and positioned in such a way as to avoid a lot of body damage by any metallic lens strap rings you may attach. I remember attaching this Cooph strap to an old Fuji X-Pro 2 back in the day and those metallic rings quickly wore out the edges of the camera. That doesn’t happen with the Q2.
The Q2's battery mechanism is incredibly well executed.
  • The battery mechanism is perfect. You flip the silver switch on the bottom of the camera to release the battery, but the battery doesn’t fall out on the spot. Instead, you have to press it in once more to unlock the battery and remove it from the camera body. It’s perfect — you can’t accidentally drop the battery to the ground, yet inserting the battery is a piece of cake. The battery door is one of the worst experiences of my EOS-R, so you indeed can get this wrong on a camera.
  • The SD card door clicks open in such a satisfying way. It opens and closes with a meaningful click and provides that extra kick of confidence.

The Q2 has an incredible build, there’s no doubt. And it’s this build quality that provides the backdrop for the rest of the qualitative features of the camera. Without a sturdy build, you can’t get that feel. And without the feel, you can’t experience what Leica wants you to experience.

The Featureless Q2

You don’t know what you got until it’s gone.

It took removing features for me to discover what I truly want in a camera.

My first perusal through the Q2’s menu was unlike anything I could have imagined.

Getting into the “Main Menu” is sort of annoying — first you hit “Menu” on the back of the camera, then tap the hamburger button with your finger, then scroll down to “Main Menu” at the very bottom of your Favourites list, and hit the right arrow button. Annoying.

But once there, you don’t have a whole lot to walk through.

There are only five menu lists, ranging from exposure compensation and Leica styles through to a few video settings and the rest of the camera’s meta information.

There’s so little in these menus. It’s such a breath of fresh air.

I worked through each setting and had a general understanding of what each feature and setting could do the very first time I picked up the camera. (Other than video; I’m not into video.) I understand the bracketing settings. I understand the style settings. There aren’t crazy recipes for capturing moving dogs, trains, and tiny children’s pupils from 100 feet away moving at the speed of light.

There’s what you need and very little more.

It’s this lack of features which instills a certain confidence over the camera. You pick it up and you lord over it, not the other way around. You can use the Q2 as a tool, quickly, and know you used the tool to its fullest.

I’m not advocating for dumb cameras. I’m simply advocating for amateur photographers who don’t need 40fps burst rates to embrace the featureless menus.

Paying more for less features seems to be a Leica cultish thing. But I am getting a better sense of the notion with the Q2.

The Sensor

The Q2’s 47MP sensor is what you came for and it’s probably the one thing I’m not glowing and gushing over.

There are a few aspects to a sensor in my little world:

  • The size — I am firmly in the camp of the bigger the sensor, the better your image quality. I know this is surely going to be a shortsighted comment for my friends reading, but it’s starting to become engrained. The smaller the sensor, the less happy I am with a photo. A full-frame sensor in a camera body this size is magnificent.
  • The colour — Whether the Leica vibrancy and contrast comes from the sensor or the glass is beyond my realm. What I do know is I’m capturing photos at about 1/3rd a stop underexposed, which saves highlights and allows for some deeper colours in the editing process. It’s those deeper colours I am swooning over — just look at some of these photos! I have never seen colour like this straight out of my camera, let alone after a few edits in Lightroom. I’m giddy and have never been so happy with the artistry I’m seeing in my photos.
  • The file size — Finally, the elephant in the room — if you want to shoot Leica raw DNG files, you’re going to be met with 86MB photo files. That’s 10 photos per gigabyte. I am chomping through my Lightroom cloud storage like a child with candy. The files are magnificent. You want to shoot more and more. But I am deleting at least 10x the photos I used to delete for the sake of saving space on my memory cards and Lightroom subscription.

And none of this mentions the megapixel count! At 47MP, there’s a fair bit of detail here, and it’s often surprising how much cropping you can get away with without anyone noticing. A trained eye will quickly pick up on a photo shot at the Leica Q2’s 75mm frame-line focal length due to the compression of the background. For those quick Insta stories though, you can snap, crop, alter, re-crop, and alter some more without skipping a beat. It’s fun and an entirely new way to shoot, altogether.

Overall, I love the Leica Q2’s sensor and image quality. I just have a hard time with the file size. I need new, larger SD cards and a significantly larger Lightroom storage plan.

The Shutter Sound

I recently shot a photo of a few folks in the office using the Leica Q2’s self-timer. After counting down the 12 seconds and the front amber LED blinking, the shutter fired.

Everyone looked at me as though something must have been wrong. “Did the picture get taken?”, “I guess we’ll have to do it again.”, and “I thought you said this was a really good camera?” were all blurted out instantaneously.

Another giggle moment, for sure.

Of course the photo had been taken.

But not so obvious was that shutter sound. The Q2’s shutter is discrete and unassuming. It comes across as little more than a subconscious sound, like the distant birds chirping when you’re not paying attention. The sound is short and crisp. It’s also complete and satisfying — you hit that shutter button, hear that click, and satisfyingly bring that camera back down to your side knowing your capture was perfect. It’s such a wonderful sound.

And I think I have a reasonably extensive list of camera experience to compare to! I’ve tried Canon cameras, Fuji cameras, Sony cameras, Olympus cameras. I’ve played around with Nikon cameras, Ricoh cameras, GoPro cameras, and more. And yet still, the Leica Q2’s shutter sound caught me off-guard. It is the most beautiful shutter sound I’ve ever experienced.

Other Anecdotes

Of all potential devices in my household, the Q2 is the most likely recipient of a long-term review — a review after, say, a year or two of use. So I won’t work to cross every T and dot every I here. Instead, here are a few more anecdotes I’ve found interesting in my first two or three months with the Leica Q2.

  • I use the included metal lens hood — which is, I believe, the only metal lens hood I’ve ever used — for two reasons: to increase contrast and reduce flaring, and to protect the front element from dings and bumps. Otherwise, I wouldn’t use it. The lens hood is an eyesore. Because it’s metal, it loses black paint pretty easily (though this does lend to a more “used” look, which ain’t half bad). And it’s loud when you bump it against anything. The Q2 looks significantly better without the lens hood.
  • The unboxing experience is the very best I’ve encountered. You unload the camera and accessories by pulling out each box from the package like you pull out drawers in the kitchen. Each accessory is packed in small fabric baggies. Apple’s minimalist unboxing experiences have been dialled in, but Leica’s maximalist approach is one for the ages as well.
  • My used Q2 was lucky enough to come with two first-party Leica batteries. Thank goodness. First, the Q2’s battery is worse than the Canon EOS R I’m coming from. Second, these batteries are stinking expensive. I’ve not yet shot out a battery from 100% to 0% (I’d need a larger SD card for that to hold all the massive files), but I get down to 50% way more than I used to.
  • The battery charger is laughably ginormous and includes a lengthy cord. I travelled with the Q2 the first week I owned it and the charger quickly became the least appreciated accessory to be carried on that trip.
  • I’m simply not a fan of the Leica Fotos app. I have a Lightning-to-SD Card adapter for transferring DNGs to Lightroom on my iPhone. This adapter provides at least 20x faster import speeds than the Fotos app.
  • The Leica Q2 is a perfect, perfect fit for any of the Leica x Cooph rope straps. I’d recommend getting a double-length rope strap, though I do like the regular length one I have. It’s not an ergonomic strap. It’s not utilitarian. It’s very expensive. But that Cooph rope strap takes the Leica Q2 aesthetic to a whole different level.
  • I have not enjoyed shooting product photos with the Q2 as much as I was hoping. Natural light photos beside a large window work great, as do the occasional semi-macro shots I like to take. But anything that involves an off-camera flash — a Canon-specific Godox flash, to be sure — hasn’t worked out as well as I’d like. Perhaps more investment in education and new lights would help out here.
  • The Q2 has a back button right beside the thumb inset for switching framelines when shooting. The lens shoots a 28mm image regardless, but switching the framelines between 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 75mm provides a sort of “in-camera crop” that imports directly into Lightroom. If you want to recompose the shot in Lightroom, you can do so — it’ll simply look as though the image is cropped on import. Things get a bit fuzzy at the 75mm frameline and the photo doesn’t have the correct compression for a regular 75mm photo, but it’s kind of nice to have every now and then to focus your eyes on the part of the photo you want to focus on.

Wrap Up

I’ve been stopped a total of three times to admire the Leica red dot and one of those times happened to be in the Toronto airport. It’s clear I live in an area where technology and cameras are both less common and less appreciated.

If anything, my experience has been the opposite — folks look at the Leica Q2 around my shoulder and write it off as an amateur’s camera. It’s small, doesn’t have a huge lens, is ultra quiet, and shoots 28mm photos. Because good photos are the ones with blurred out backgrounds, right?

This makes the Leica Q2 perfect for our family right now. I can take the Q2 anywhere. Its unassuming and unobtrusive nature makes it excellent for snapping photos of the kids, street photos of cool architecture, sights, and colour, and photos of bits and bobs throughout the day. I even take the Q2 to the office most days because it so easily fits into my Bellroy work bag.

I’ve been hoping a two or three month usage period would allow the Leica allure to gloss over and for reality to set in. I always want to sound genuine in my commentary.

The allure is still there, fortunately (unfortunately?).

The Leica Q2 has taken my photography to an entirely new level. Both in confidence and, I think, in actual output. But mainly in confidence. Which is an extraordinary photographical aspect I had never before considered.